Friday, August 31, 2007

Happy Birthday Dear September Daring Bakers

As the blogroll of the Daring Bakers (those intrepid denizens of the kitchen enamored of ovens, butter, sugar, yeast and flour) grows larger with more and more birthday guys and gals, a single recipe stands as a Happy Birthday greeting to those born in the month of September from me to you.

This month wish a happy birthday to eleven talented women. (If I missed anyone I'm truly sorry.)They are Laura of Eat Drink Live, Anne of Simply Anne’s, Kellypea of Sass and Veracity, Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict, Baking Soda of Bake My Day, Sara of The Kitchen Pantry, Inne of Vanille & Chocolat, Deborah of Taste and Tell, Gilly of Humble Pie, Sara of I Like to Cook, and Morven of Food, Art and Random Thoughts.

The blackberry season is drawing to a close here in Northern California, but there are enough berries left to bake into the birthday treat for these lovely ladies. If you have almost any kind of fruit that is fresh and ripe, check out David Lebovitz’s book Ripe for Dessert for some terrific ideas of how to make the best use of them. I was quite taken with his Financier recipe. Combining the richness and almonds of Financiers with the juicy sweetness of blackberries is a winning combination. Using muffin cups instead of the little Financier molds also makes it accessible for most bakers. Happy year gals! Enjoy the little cakes.

Blackberry Financiers
From Ripe for Dessert by David Lebovitz
12 small cakes

7 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ¾ cups blanched almonds, sliced or slivered
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup powdered sugar
5 tablespoons flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 large egg whites
½ teaspoon almond extract
one 6-oz basket blackberries

Position the oven rack in the center of the oven and pre-hear to 400 degrees F. Butter a 12 cup muffin tin.

In a skillet, heat the butter until it begins to sizzle. Continue to cook over low heat until the edges begin to darken and the butter gives off a nutty aroma. Remove from the heat. (The butter may sputter and splatter while cooking. If you want, place an overturned colander over the pan to protect yourself.)

In a food processor, grind the almonds with the granulated and powdered sugars. When fine, add the flour and the salt and pulse to mix. While the processor is running, gradually pour in the egg whites and add the almond extract. Stop the machine, and add the warm butter, pulsing as you pour until the batter is just mixed.

Divide the batter evenly among the buttered muffin cups Batter will come up about 1/3 of the way. Poke 3 or 4 blackberries into each cake.

Bake for 18 minutes, until puffy and deep golden brown. Watch so they don’t burn. (I had a little trouble with the edges being a dark brown...still tasted great.) Let stand a few minutes, then remove them from the pan and cool on a rack. Store cooled cakes in an airtight container for up to a week.

Variations: Substitute peach, nectarine, or plum slices for the blackberries, peeling first if desired. Cut the fruit into ½ inch slices and lay them over the top of each little cake before baking. You can also sprinkle the top of each cake with untoasted sliced almonds before baking.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Kings and Queens of Tarts

Another Daring Baker challenge my friends...a tart. Veron and Patricia have given us a most yummy challenge in the form of a Milk Chocolate Caramel Tart from Eric Kayser’s Sweet and Savory Tarts. The recipe can be found at the bottom of this post.

Due to lots of commitments at the end of the month, I baked this tart early in the month, so mine included the cinnamon in the crust (which became optional later) and the dry method of making the caramel (which also became one of two options later).

Learning new skill, or revisiting old ones is part of the joy of these challenges. I'd never made caramel using the dry method, so I learned how, with a little experimentation (see below). Since the recipe was brief and assumed some experience in making the various parts, we were instructed to "read between the lines" in making the tart. Very glad to have made this recipe. It was rich, but delicious and surprisingly light. Despite my best intentions to give some of it away, I'm afraid that Sweetie and I ate most of it ourselves over a period of 5 days. The tart tasted better to us each day, especially the caramel, which got more and more gooey.

The August challenge for the ever growing ranks of the Daring Bakers is a European style tart, thin and rich and elegant. The crust includes ground hazelnuts, cocoa, cinnamon, butter and confectioners sugar. Its texture is crisp and cookie-like. Inside this crisp, not too sweet crust is a layer of very sweet caramel topped with a frothy mousse of whipped cream and melted milk chocolate.

My caramel is soft but not runny and so the combination of textures works well. The flavor components are another matter. Both the caramel and the mousse are fairly mild and dairy flavored. The crust has a very strong cinnamon flavor and, less so, a cocoa flavor. The nuts give negligible flavor to the dish. If I were to do it again, I’d leave out the cinnamon, but maybe put some ground dark chocolate into the crust instead, or a good shot of vanilla. With some whipped cream decorations around the edge, the tart is pretty and perfect to serve to some favored friends.

I learned some new skills while making this tart and revisited some, too. I used a hand rotary grinder to grind the nuts, which is something I learned from a German friend of mine. It produced a finer texture, almost like a flour, than what you get with the food processor. One thing I made sure to do was to really beat the dough mixture well at each point. That resulted in a nice, plastic-like texture which made it easy to form into a crust in the tart pan. The recipe makes enough dough for 4 tarts, so if I were to do it again I’d cut the recipe for the crust in half. Blind baking by pricking the dough with a fork, then lining the tart with parchment, then filling it with dry beans (which I save for this purpose) resulted in a nice thin crust. Once I removed the beans and parchment, I put the tart crust back into the turned off oven for 15 minutes to crisp up the bottom.

The caramel presented even more of a challenge. I made my tart early in the month before a different version of making the caramel had surfaced. In some ways I’m glad, because I learned so much this way.

I had no trouble turning the sugar into caramelized sugar, but when I added the cream, which had been warmed a bit, the whole mixture seized up. Panic would have ensued without prior assurances by another Daring Baker that if this happened, to keep stirring and cooking until it all was smooth again. Well, I added the butter and tried that, but grew impatient. After straining the liquids from the solids, I returned the solids to the pot and, over high heat, let it liquefy again. Once that happened, still over high heat, I whisked the liquid into it, a little at a time. That worked well. The mixture thickened up a bit. When it came time to do the eggs, I added a tablespoon of flour to the eggs and saw that there were lots of lumps. I strained that mixture, too. Learning from my mistakes, I ended up incorporating some of the mixed eggs into the rest of the flour rather than adding the flour to the eggs. The resulting mixture easily mixed into the cooled caramel mixture. Then I poured it into the cooled tart pan and baked it 15 minutes. It looked perfect.

I let the tart cool overnight in the fridge and made the mousse the next day. Melting the milk chocolate in the microwave was easy. One minute at a time at half power, stir, another minute at half power, stir, and so on until its all melted. The cream whipped up in the chilled Kitchen Aide mixer just fine. I folded some of it into the slightly cooled melted milk chocolate to lighten the chocolate, then folded that into the rest of the whipped cream. Even so, I had a few little flecks of unincorporated milk chocolate, but that didn’t affect the taste. I suspect that if I had cooled the chocolate just a bit more that there would not have been any flecks.

I smoothed the mousse over the caramel as well as I could, then refrigerated it for about 4 hours. Then I removed the tart from the pan and decorated it with little whipped cream starting around the rim and a few in the center. For serving, I used a serrated small knife to make sure that I could cut the crust. It was a hit, aside from the strong taste of cinnamon. When I just tasted the caramel and mousse together, it was even clearer that I didn’t care for the cinnamon flavor at all with this tart.

Glad that Veron and Patricia chose this luscious Milk Chocolate and Caramel Tart for August. I learned that my idea of incorporating something was the exact opposite of what the recipe said. I stayed cool when my caramel turned bad and celebrated when it was saved. I barely resisted eating all the left over mousse in the bowl and did not resist having a second piece. Delicious! Even more delicious the next day.

Read all about how each King and Queen of Tarts (Daring Bakers) made their tart by visiting the blogroll

Milk Chocolate and Caramel Tart
Daring Bakers Challenge #9: August 2007
Hosts: Veron (Veronica's Test Kitchen) and Patricia (Technicolor Kitchen)
Post Date: Wednesday, August 29
Quantity: One (1) 9" Square or one (1) 10" Round tartChocolate Shortbread PastryNote: The Chocolate Shortbread pastry can make 3 tart shells. So, if you want to cut that recipe into thirds then do so but Veron and Patricia are not promising it will scale down properly.
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Refrigeration: overnight
To make 3 tart shells: 9 ½ inches (24 cm) squareor 10 inches (26 cm round)

1 cup (250g ) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (150 g) confectioners’ sugar
½ cup (50 g) ground hazelnuts
2 level teaspoons (5 g) ground cinnamon
2 eggs
4 ½ cups (400 g) cake flour
2 ½ teaspoons (10 g) baking powder
1 ½ tablespoons (10 g) cocoa powder

A day ahead
1. In a mixing bowl of a food processor, cream the butter.
2. Add the confectioners’ sugar, the ground hazelnuts, and the cinnamon, and mix together
3. Add the eggs, one by one, mixing constantly
4. Sift in the flour, the baking powder, and the cocoa powder, and mix well.
5. Form a ball with the dough, cover in plastic wrap, and chill overnight.

Milk Chocolate and Caramel Tart
Preparation time: 40 minutes
Baking Time: 30 minutes
Refrigeration time: 1 hour

½ lb (250 g) chocolate shortbread pastry (see recipe above)
1 ½ cups (300 g) granulated sugar
1 cup (250 g) heavy cream (30-40 percent butterfat) or crème fraiche
¼ cup (50 g) butter
2 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
2 ½ tablespoons (15 g) flour
1 ¼ cups (300 g) whipping cream
½ lb (250 g) milk chocolate

1. Preheat oven to 325 °F (160 °C).
2. Line the baking pan with the chocolate shortbread pastry and bake blind for 15 minutes.
3. In a saucepan, caramelize 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar using the dry method until it turns a golden caramel color. Incorporate the heavy cream or crème fraiche and then add butter. Mix thoroughly. Set aside to cool.
4. In a mixing bowl, beat the whole eggs with the extra egg yolk, then incorporate the flour.
5. Pour this into the cream-caramel mixture and mix thoroughly.
6. Spread it out in the tart shell and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
7. Prepare the milk chocolate mousse: beat the whipping cream until stiff. Melt the milk chocolate in the microwave or in a bain-marie, and fold it gently into the whipped cream.
8. Pour the chocolate mousse over the cooled caramel mixture, smoothing it with a spatula. Chill for one hour in the refrigerator.

Alternate Caramel Method:
If you have problems with the dry method, you may use this method.
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon corn syrup
Set mixture in a pot over medium-high heat and stir slowly. When the mixture comes to a boil, stop stirring and leave it alone. Wait till desired color is attained. Proceed with the rest of the recipe.

Caramel Fragments:
Melt ½ cup (100g) granulated sugar in a saucepan until it reaches an amber color. Pour it onto waxed paper laid out on a flat surface. Leave to cool. Break it into small fragments and stick them lightly into the top of the tart.

Monday, August 27, 2007


Diving around the country roads near my home lately I've come across the following signs: Fresh Apples Next Left, followed a little ways down the road by Pears 69 cents/lb. The former price of $1 a pound had been painted over with the new price. A large billboard announced 4H Chickenque at the Fairgrounds the first weekend in September. Another sign tacked to a telephone pole offered: Stone Free Hay Delivered and a phone #. You can tell that this is still a rural area and it's possible to buy locally grown fruits and nuts and, sometimes, vegetables right in the driveway or front yard of the folks who have grown them.

Turning up my driveway I notice the pink trumpets of the Naked Ladies near the mailbox on the left, the olive tree overgrown with the muscat grape vine on the right. A little way up the drive on the left the pineapple quince are weighing the branches down almost to the ground and turning from fuzzy green to a bright gold. Straight ahead where the driveway turns left I can see the Gravenstein apples thick on the tree.

On Wednesday I hope to make some more applesauce from them. The blackberry vines to the right have almost finished up for the year. Berries now often have an unripe spot somewhere on the berry that looks ripe. Up near the house are the vegetables I have grown from seed: butternut squash in a pale pinkish tan partially hide under heart shaped leaves. The cucumbers have been happy lately and producing round prickly balls that look a lot like lemons when they are ripe. The zucchini which have been feeding us since May are finally slowing down.

But my favorite right this minute are the tomato bushes, which are finally producing ripe tomatoes in yellow, orange, yellow streaked green, bright red and deep brownish red. There is something wonderful about harvesting something that you grew from seed, especially when it is something that you've never grown before.

I bought two packets of heirloom tomato seeds, each a mixture. The Brandwines have not yet ripened, but today I can plate a rainbow of slices of Marvel Stripe which is a beefsteak type and has wonderful red and yellow streaks throughout, of Green Zebra which have small fruits, but look great with yellow stripes under the kelly green stripes when ripe, of the mild flavor and softer texture of the orange Persimmon tomato, of small intensly red Costoluto tomatoes which are deeply lobed and have a full tomato flavor, of strangly colored Black Krim tomatoes...swirled with brownish red, bright red, lime green and dark green on the outside near the stem. They have the best tomato flavor of all and are a wonderful firm, juicy beefsteak size, too.

From tiny seeds, to little seedlings,

to big bushes that sprawl and grow like crazy and produce lots of tomatoes...homegrown tomatoes are something to really enjoy. Check out the Grow Your Own 2007 event at Andrea's Recipes to see more examples of homegrown goodies.

I prepare something this delicious very simply, with just enough added to highlight the flavor. First of all, never put these good tomatoes in the refrigerator. It wrecks havoc with the true tomato flavors.

I slice the tomatoes, fan them on a plate, sprinkle lightly with a good balsamic vinegar and drizzle lightly with a good quality olive oil. A bit of salt and/or freshly ground pepper goes well. Then mince some fresh basil, or cut in a chiffonade, then sprinkle on the tomatoes. Heavenly!

I couldn't choose which tomato photo to post, so here are a bunch. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Waiter, We're Tropical Grillin'

The gas grill has gotten a workout this summer. Grilled salmon, pork, chicken, Italian turkey sausages, ribs, plus pounds and pounds of summer squash have all been grilled by Sweetie. He presents quite a picture sitting by the grill with Merlin the cat on his lap, smoke swirling up from the grill, and a good book drawing his attention away from the food...but never for too long.

One day he came in while the pork roast was still cooking away and held out a tray of bannana halves that he has cooked on the grill. They were warm and sort of gooey in a good way, like caramel but a little firmer. The flavor was smoky and sweet and very tropical.

When Jeanne of Cooksister announced that this month's Waiter event was "Waiter, there's something in my... meatless barbecue", the grilled bananas immediately came to mind. Should I make grilled bannana financiers? Grilled bannana bread? Grilled bannana and peanut butter sandwich? A tart with grilled bannanas and mango curd? Too many possibilities.

Then decision was easy once we purchased some fresh pineapple. Grilled bannanas and grilled pineapple spears would go perfectly with some coconut pineapple ice cream garnished with a little toasted coconut. Tropical grillin' at it's best. The hot bannanas and pineapple contrasted nicely with the cold sweet ice cream and slight crunch of the toasted coconut. The great thing about this recipe is that it will work anytime you have ripe bannanas and some good fresh pineapple and the weather is OK for grilling. You could also grill other kinds of fruit to add to the fun.

A mention should be made about the ice cream. I used some store bought pineapple coconut light ice cream and it was very good. The part that I didn't anticipate is that the hot fruit melted quite a lot of the ice cream. If I did this again, I would make scoops of the ice cream and then freeze the scoops on a try in the freezer until they were very solid. That way the ice cream would start out hard and the hot fruit would soften it nicely instead of melting it into pools. Live and learn. I wrote the recipe with the addition of freezing the ice cream balls.

Tropical Grilled Fruit over Ice Cream with Coconut

1 pint HaagenDaz Rich and Light Pineapple and Coconut ice cream (or a flavor of your choice)

3 medium bannanas, sliced lengthwise, skins left on

1 tsp. light olive oil or salad oil

3 spears fresh pineapple

1/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut

Scoop the ice cream into balls. Place on a cookie sheet and freeze until firm. Leave in freezer until after fruit has been grilled.

Lightly brush the cut side of the bannanas with the oil. Place the bannanas and pineapple on a tray.

In a small cast iron skillet or heavy bottomed pan, toast the coconut, stirring often, until most of the coconut is lightly toasted. Set aside.

Over medium heat, grill the bannanas, cut side down first, and the pineapple spears, turning once as soon as the first side carmelizes where it touches the grill, about 4-5 minutes. Continue grilling on the second side until the bannanas are softened and the pineapple carmelizes where it touches the grill. The bannana skins will hold the softened bannanas like little boats. Return to the tray and cut the pineapple into chunks.

Remove the ice cream balls from the freezer and place two or three in a bowl. Place pieces of the grilled bannana and chunks of the grilled pineapple in the bowls and sprinkle with the toasted coconut. Serve at once. Serves 3 or 4.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

An Unusual Tag

Dharm of Dad - Baker & Chef has tagged me for an unusual meme. The rules are below, but before we get to that, I want to acknowledge that he blogged the L is for Love, and sweetly, too. I'm also a romantic and have great faith in the power of love to transform individuals and, by extension, the world. It's one of the reasons why making new friends through blogging, like Dharm, is so satisfying.

So this meme works this way:

1. You have to post these rules before you give the facts.

2. Players, you must list one fact that is somehow relevant to your life for each letter of their middle name. If you don’t have a middle name, use the middle name you would have liked to have had.

3. When you are tagged you need to write your own blog-post containing your own middle name game facts.

4. At the end of your blog-post, you need to choose one person for each letter of your middle name to tag.

5. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

My name, Elle, is a pen name for blogging, purely invented, so my middle name is invented, too. I think that Marie goes well with Elle, don't you?

M - Memory used to be something I had in spades. I could find anything and rarely forget an important date or task. Now I rely on lists and PDAs and putting things away where they belong (you can see that I was not organized, just lucky) and leaving myself notes to help remember things. I still have a fair memory, just not as facile a memory as I had even a few years ago.

A - Art is one of the enthusiasms in my life and I've been lucky enough to attend a watercolor class most Monday mornings for almost two years. I love the light that you get with watercolor and also the fact that sometimes the 'mistakes' where the paint does things like runbacks and sort of has a mind of its own can create the best paintings in the end.

R - Roses are one of my favorite flowers. I don't have over a hundred roses like a couple of friends of mine do, but they are Rose Society members and would be very unhappy to see the state of my roses right now. I do prune and spray half of my rose bushes each year, but have yet to be diligent with each one every year. Something to aim for.

I - Ice cream is my least favorite dessert. Not sure why, but it's true. I don't enjoy icy drinks like smoothies, either. Icing, on the other hand, I can eat right out of the bowl :)

E - Eight children is quite a few to raise, but that is what my parents did, and I believe they did a good job. I enjoyed being one of the eight and was lucky enough to be the third from the top. An older brother and an older sister did a lot of the work of finding out what the rules were and I benefited by their experiences. Cooking for eight kids and two parents also helped me to be comfortable with cooking for larger groups, which is coming in handy with my new job where I assist with making lunch for 25 about 4 times a month.

OK, so now I have to tag 5 bloggers:

Cynthia of Tastes Like Home

Kristen of Dish and Dine

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Walking Through the Garden Pie

As I've mentioned before, summer is not my favorite season. This summer of 2007 has been such a lovely summer that I might have to change my tune. With the exception of the occasional heat spell, we have had beautiful days and cool nights, fog to clean and cool the air, and some of the best stone fruits and berries that I can remember. To top it off, my garden is one of the best in 20 years. The squash plants have been giving a steady harvest of tender green and yellow zucchini and rounded beige butternut squash, with one hardy crookneck producing a squash a week. I never grew cucumbers before, but will next year. It has been a joy to pick a nice green regualr cucumber for a mixed green salad, or to combine that with some round, prickly yellowish lemon cucumbers for a relish style salad with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and some chunks of tomato.

Best of all, the heirloom tomatoes that I started from seed are finally ripening. Red, deeply lobed Costellutos came first. They were not very large in size, but had a sweet tomato flavor.

Next I served our first Black Krim tomato sliced with a drizzle of olive oil and a dash of garlic salt, then scattered some chopped opal basil over the plate. Black Krim originate in the Black Sea reagion of Europe and have a dark, almost brown red flesh, shot through with bright red and spring leaf green. They have a very deep, delightful tomato flavor and are firm, but juicy. The little yellow pear tomatoes ripened just as the first Green Zebra tomato began to grow golden under the green stripes. I served chunks of marinated mozarella cheese on top of chunks of Black Krim and Green Zebra for a delicious taste of summer.

But what about the pie? It was a spur of the moment idea to make for dinner last weekend. Don't be too envious of my garden. This is the first time in almost 15 years that I've had more than about 6 food plants total in the garden. Finally this winter and spring I had the time to sow seeds for tomatoes, squash, and chard and, late, for cucumber. What really takes time is finding enough places to plant those seedlings that are not vulnerable to gophers and then finding the time to water every day. So these summer jewels are rare for me and very appreciated.

Imagine walking through the garden and picking some fresh chard, some of that dark opal basil, a few zucchini, a few tomatoes, and then heading for the kitchen to make a pie that tastes just like high summer. I blind baked a pie shell (using a round of parchment paper and my much-used and saved for pie baking kidney beans to keep the pastry from rising or forming big bubbles in the crust. Then I put chopped onions and mushrooms into a skillet with olive oil to saute'. While that was cooking, I made half moons of zucchini and cut tomatoes into chunks. I chopped basil and sliced well-washed chard into ribbons about 1 inch wide, after removing the stems. Once the onions and mushrooms were tender, I added the squash and tomatoes, let them cook until the squash were tender, then placed the chard on top, added a couple tablespoons water, and covered the pan to steam the chard.

While the chard steamed, I mixed 1/2 cup milk, egg substitute workth three eggs, 1/4 cup pesto, and a few grinds of pepper in a bowl. When the chard was tender, I mixed the vegetable mixture into the egg mixture and poured it all into the pie shell. After baking at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes until the pie filling was set and browned lightly, I let it cool just enough that it could be cut, then served it at our little eating place on the porch to Sweetie with those sliced tomatoes and some lemonade. Wish you could have joined us.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

A Local Sweet Specialty

Gravenstein apples were once the mainstay of agriculture in Sonoma County, along with hops, chickens and eggs. They are suited to this area because they are drought tolerant and we get very little summer rain. They are a beautiful apple with a green skin streaked with red striation. The flesh is white and the apples don’t keep and bruise easily, so they don’t ship or store well like Red Delicious and Pippin, for example.

One of the things that Gravenstein apples are superior for is applesauce. They cook down easily and retain a nice tartness and strong apple flavor. You can purchase Gravenstein applesauce at some Trader Joe’s, but as wine grapes have been slowly taking over the county, the number of apple ranches has diminished to a very small number.

The Arc of Taste, a project of Slow Foods, which is preserving endangered food products, one species at a time, includes the Gravenstein apple among them. To read more about it, go to :

I am fortunate enough to have a large old Gravenstein apple tree on my property. I don’t spray, so the apples are not perfect and not for sale, but I do try to make some applesauce every year with the apples. This is my entry to the SHF event for August hosted this month by the Passionate Cook. The apples show in the photo above were early, (I couldn't wait for them to be fully ripe), so you don't see much red on the skin. The apple sauce was a bit tarter than when they are fully ripe as they are right now. This photo was taken right before I mashed them into a tasty, chunky sauce.

Gravensteins also make a stunning apple pie. Because they soften so much while cooking, even when you pile them high in the pie, by the time that you serve it the top crust arches over a space before you reach those lovely sweet tart cooked apples.

This weekend in Sebastopol is the annual Apple Fair, dedicated to the Gravenstein apple. If you get there, be sure to purchase one of the apple pies baked by the folks at the Community church. They have been making hundreds of pies for the fair for years and years. Also, look for Walker Apple Ranch apples. They are one of the handful of farmers still growing Gravensteins for sale. Then you can make your own authentic Gravenstein Applesauce.

Gravenstein Applesauce
4-5 large apples, peeled or unpeeled, stem and core removed, cut into 1” chunks
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon

In a heavy bottomed pot, combine the apple chunks, water, sugar and cinnamon, Bring to a boil, cover, and turn down to a simmer. Simmer for 5-10 minutes until the apples are soft and tender. If you like chunky apple sauce, mash with a potato masher. The applesauce is now ready to eat warm, or you can cool it. For smoother applesauce, put the apple mixture through a food mill. The smooth applesauce is now ready to eat warm or cooled.

Gravenstein Apple Fair
Ragle Ranch Park, Sebastopol, CA
Aug 11 (10 am – 6 pm) & Aug 12 (10 am – 5 pm)
Live music, free parking, no pets
Admission: Adults - $10, Seniors - $8, age 6-12 - $5, under 6 – free
Sponsored by Sonoma County Farm Trails

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

In Harmony and Friendship

It's been a while since I've seen Anna of Anna's Cool Finds. She has been consulting, going to school to get her Ph.D. and also dieting and exercising...something that I should be doing more of. We were finally able to get together this evening in Marin and Sweetie came with me and Anna's Dad came with her, so we had a great evening with good conversation and stories.

We ate at Harmony, a Chinese restaurant which is less than a year old. Harmony Restaurant is in Mill valley, in the Strawberry Village center, right off of Hwy. 101 and about an hour south of our home. It's a very elegant place with lovely stone tiles and highly polished bamboo tables. The serving pieces are beautiful to look at and functional, too. No paper wrapped chopsticks here. The elegant wood chopsticks looked like rosewood and were smooth and pleasant to use.

It was packed most of the night and for good reason. The dishes are prepared carefully and the cooks use fresh, high quality ingredients. The flavors really shine. This is some of the best Chinese food you are likely to eat outside of China (or Chinatown in a large city). They also have a busy take out section.

We started with dim sum. These small bites are traditionaly served for lunch and rarely after early afternoon. We were thrilled that at Harmony dim sum can be ordered all day and into the evening. The steamed dim sum are brought to the table in beautiful bamboo steamers. The morsels themselves provide taste and texture contrasts. Small dishes of soy sauce, sweet and sour sauce which includes Meyer lemon, and a medium hot red pepper sauce come with the dim sum.

Everyone seemd to enjoy the steamed scallop dumplings.

The shrimp gow have rice wrappers, succulent shrimp and some bamboo shoots. We also had the pea shoot gow which were my favorite. The shoots were very fresh and had a little crunch and there were also mushroom slivers. Sweetie liked the spinach dumplings and the buns with Peking duck.

Anna encouraged us to try the turnip cake. It was delicious and unlike anything I've ever had with turnip. The texture was creamy with a nice crust and it was slightly sweet, but the crust was slightly salty.

Next came calamari which had been quickly fried in a tempura type batter. It was tender and flavorful. It came dusted with a mixture of fried chopped garlic, green onion, jalapeno peppers and red peppers and garnished with lime slices The mixture was quite good; even when all of the calamari were gone it was eaten by itself and we noticed that the garlic bits were tasty all by themselves.

We had mu shu chicken accompanied by plum sauch and the thinest pancakes I've ever seen. The chicken was finely chopped and the mixture included fresh spinach, crisp bean sprouts, shitake mushrooms, and scrambled egg with wonderful seasoning.

The final dish was chow fun with barbq pork. The wide noodles held lots of a delicious savory sauce and the dish included lots of bean sprouts, onions, and tender pork slices.

We finished with a trio of hot teas. Oolong, Poy Nay black tea and jasmine tea provided contrasts in tastes and a fine way to enjoy more conversation and laughter.

As we were getting ready to leave, Sweetie and I were thinking of a few more friends in Marin who might enjoy meeting us at Harmony. It would be worth the drive.

Harmony Restaurant
800 Redwood Highway, Suite 401
Mill Valley, CA 94941
(415) 381-5300
Open Daily:
Lunch: 11:00 - 2:30 p.m.
Dinner: 5:00 - 9:30 p.m.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Getting To Be 13 Again

Just a week ago our cousins from Florida came to visit for a few days. We had never met until a year ago at Tom and Nora's 50th anniversary, but I had enjoyed their company a lot, so was excited that they could come across the country this summer.
Chuck is a true wine connoisseur, so being very close to hundreds of wineries let him pick and choose which ones he and Sharl would visit. We also took a visit to the county fair, to the old growth redwood grove near the Russian River,

the Bodega Bay where they took a dip into the Pacific ocean.

I even took the teenagers shopping and to see the new Simpsons movie. The best part was just being together, talking, laughing, and even playing board games. I got to be about 13 again and insisted that we play Scattergories by my house rules, which included letting Sean have 'lemon pepper chicken sandwich" for an 'L' menu item. I thought that was pretty good thinking. My 'L' item was lemonade...not very creative, now is it? Below is Sean and Xam.

We also had some great meals together. The first evening we grilled some zucchini from the garden and had grilled local Willie Bird Italian turkey sausages on rolls. Some red wines from our 'collection' were a good accompaniment.

The next night we were joined by Grandma L and enjoyed grilled leg of lamb. Sweetie boned it and I marinated it for a few hours in garlic, fresh rosemary, red wine and a little Dijon mustard before grilling. To go with we had mashed potatoes and a big salad with field greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and feta with a red wine dressing. Poizin zinfandel wine from Armida winery in Dry Creek valley complemented the lamb.

The next night we took it easy and had Round Table pizza. That was the day I'd gone shopping with Ashley and Sean, plus to the movies, so I was more than a little tired. Guess I'm not 13 after all :)

Friday, August 03, 2007

Happy Birthday August Daring Bakers

Better late than never, I guess. It's August third and there are a bunch of birthdays in August for Daring Bakers, so I made all of them one dessert...a Plum Bread Pudding. This is similar to Peabody's, but with fresh off our tree plums. Hers was so good that an encore seemed appropriate.

We have two deer who have decided to live under the plum tree, so I didn't get too many this year, but there were enough to add a sweet fruitness and tang to the mellow custard of the bread pudding.

Happy Birthday to:

Gale’s Bread Pudding with Cherries

A recipe from 1971, from a Fredricksburg, Maryland friend

4 cups dry bread cubes
3 cups milk, scalded
1 tablespoon butter
4 slightly beaten eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup peeled, sliced sweet red plums. Cut into chunks if plums are large.

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2) Melt the butter in the milk. Add a little of the milk to the beaten eggs, then add eggs to rest of milk. Stir in the sugar, lemon zest, salt, and vanilla.
3) Put the bread cubes in a large bowl. Pour the egg/milk mixture over, stir gently, and let sit 15 minutes.
4) Butter a large baking pan. A deep one will give a softer center, a shallower one will give more crispy crust. Gently stir plum slices or chunks into bread mixture and pour into baking pan.
5) Bake in a pan of hot water until firm, about 1 hour. Serve warm.