Saturday, September 22, 2007

Vacation Coming Up

In a few days Sweetie and I will hop a plane for the East Coast for a week or so. Time to visit family and celebrate a birthday or two, eat well and talk endlessly...all things I enjoy.

During that time I won't be blogging, so here are a few photos of the heirloom tomatoes that have been ripening. Fortunately we have some family and friends who will eat some while we are gone because, naturally, the tomatoes have waited until now to really ripen in wholesale amounts.

Soon it will be time for butternut squash and some recipes using the walnuts that have been falling off the tree and onto the back deck. By the time I get back the Daring Bakers will have posted the latest challenge and decided on one for October. I may even have a recipe or two from "back east" to share.

Have fun and be good to yourself. See 'ya!

Now that the September Challenge has been posted elsewhere (this edit is taking place in 2008!) here is the recipe that the Daring Bakers made in September, 2007. I picked a terrible one to miss...the posts on these were truly drool worthy.

Cinnamon and Sticky Buns
(from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice)
Daring Bakers Challenge #10: September 2007
Host: Marce (Pip in the City)
Post Date: Sunday, September 30
Days to Make: One (1)Active/Resting/Baking Time: 15 minutes to mix, 3 1/2 hours fermentation/shaping/proofing, 20 - 40 minutes to bake
Recipe Quantity: Eight(1) - twelve (12) large rolls or twelve (12) - sixteen (16) small rolls

Making the Dough

6 1/2 tablespoons (3.25 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
5 1/2 tablespoons (2.75 ounces) shortening or unsalted butter or margarine
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon lemon extract OR 1 teaspoon grated zest of 1 lemon
3 1/2 cups (16 ounces) unbleached bread or all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast*
1 1/8 to 1 1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk, at room temperature OR 3 tablespoons powdered milk (DMS) and 1 cup water
1/2 cup cinnamon sugar (6 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar plus 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, or any other spices you want to use, cardamom, ginger, allspice, etc.)
White fondant glaze for cinnamon buns or caramel glaze for sticky buns (at the end of the recipe.)
Walnuts, pecans, or other nuts (for sticky buns.)
Raisins or other dried fruit, such as dried cranberries or dried cherries (for sticky buns, optional.)
*Instant yeast contains about 25% more living cells per spoonful than active dry yeast, regardless of the brand. Instant yeast is also called rapid-rise or fast-rising.

Step 1 - Making the Dough: Cream together the sugar, salt, and shortening or butter on medium-high speed in an electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a large metal spoon and mixing bowl and do it by hand).
Note: if you are using powdered milk, cream the milk with the sugar, and add the water with the flour and yeast.
Whip in the egg and lemon extract/zest until smooth. Then add the flour, yeast, and milk. Mix on low speed (or stir by hand) until the dough forms a ball. Switch to the dough hook and increase the speed to medium, mixing for approximately 10 minutes (or knead by hand for 12 to 15 minutes), or until the dough is silky and supple, tacky but not sticky. You may have to add a little flour or water while mixing to achieve this texture. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

Step 2 - Fermentation: Ferment at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

Step 3 - Form the Buns: Mist the counter with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Proceed as shown in the photo below for shaping the buns.

(Transcription in case photo did not print: (A) Roll out the dough with a rolling pin, lightly dusting the top with flour to keep it from sticking to the pin. Roll it into a rectangle about 2/3 inch thick and 14 inches wide by 12 inches long for larger buns, or 18 inches wide by 9 inches long for smaller buns. Don´t roll out the dough too thin, or the finished buns will be tough and chewy rather than soft and plump. (B)Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the surface of the dough and (C) roll the dough up into a cigar-shaped log, creating a cinnamon-sugar spiral as you roll. With the seam side down, cut the dough into 8 to 12 pieces each about 1 3/4 inches thick for larger buns, or 12 to 16 pieces each 1 1/4 inch thick for smaller buns.)

Step 4 - Prepare the Buns for Proofing:
For cinnamon buns: line 1 or more sheet pans with baking parchment. Place the buns approximately 1/2 inch apart so that they aren´t touching but are close to one another.
For sticky buns: coat the bottom of 1 or more baking dishes or baking pans with sides at least 1 1/2 inches high with a 1/4 inch layer of the caramel glaze. Sprinkle on the nuts and raisins (if you are using raisins or dried fruit.) You do not need a lot of nuts and raisins, only a sprinkling. Lay the pieces of dough on top of the caramel glaze, spacing them about 1/2 inch apart. Mist the dough with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap or a food-grade plastic bag.

Step 5 - Proof the Buns: Proof at room temperature for 75 to 90 minutes, or until the pieces have grown into one another and have nearly doubled in size. You may also retard the shaped buns in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, pulling the pans out of the refrigerator 3 to 4 hours before baking to allow the dough to proof.

Step 6 - Bake the Buns:
Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) with the oven rack in the middle shelf for cinnamon buns but on the lowest shelf for sticky buns.
Bake the cinnamon buns for 20 to 30 minutes or the sticky buns 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown. If you are baking sticky buns, remember that they are really upside down (regular cinnamon buns are baked right side up), so the heat has to penetrate through the pan and into the glaze to caramelize it. The tops will become the bottoms, so they may appear dark and done, but the real key is whether the underside is fully baked. It takes practice to know just when to pull the buns out of the oven.

Step 8 - Cool the buns:
For cinnamon buns, cool the buns in the pan for about 10 minutes and then streak white fondant glaze across the tops, while the buns are warm but not too hot. Remove the buns from the pans and place them on a cooling rack. Wait for at least 20 minutes before serving.
For the sticky buns, cool the buns in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes and then remove them by flipping them over into another pan. Carefully scoop any run-off glaze back over the buns with a spatula. Wait at least 20 minutes before serving.

Toppings for the Buns:
White fondant glaze for cinnamon buns

Cinnamon buns are usually topped with a thick white glaze called fondant. There are many ways to make fondant glaze, but here is a delicious and simple version, enlivened by the addition of citrus flavor, either lemon or orange. You can also substitute vanilla extract or rum extract, or simply make the glaze without any flavorings.
Sift 4 cups of powdered sugar into a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of lemon or orange extract and 6 tablespoons to 1/2 cup of warm milk, briskly whisking until all the sugar is dissolved. Add the milk slowly and only as much as is needed to make a thick, smooth paste.
When the buns have cooled but are still warm, streak the glaze over them by dipping the tines of a fork or a whisk into the glaze and waving the fork or whisk over the tops. Or, form the streaks by dipping your fingers in the glaze and letting it drip off as you wave them over the tops of the buns. (Remember to wear latex gloves.)
Caramel glaze for sticky buns
Caramel glaze is essentially some combination of sugar and fat, cooked until it caramelizes. The trick is catching it just when the sugar melts and lightly caramelizes to a golden amber. Then it will cool to a soft, creamy caramel. If you wait too long and the glaze turns dark brown, it will cool to a hard, crack-your-teeth consistency. Most sticky bun glazes contain other ingredients to influence flavor and texture, such as corn syrup to keep the sugar from crystallizing and flavor extracts or oils, such as vanilla or lemon. This version makes the best sticky bun glaze of any I´ve tried. It was developed by my wife, Susan, for Brother Juniper´s Cafe in Forestville, California.
NOTE: you can substitute the corn syrup for any neutral flavor syrup, like cane syrup or gold syrup.
1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature.
2. Cream together for 2 minutes on high speed with the paddle attachment. Add 1/2 cup corn syrup and 1 teaspoon lemon, orange or vanilla extract. Continue to cream for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy.
3. Use as much of this as you need to cover the bottom of the pan with a 1/4-inch layer. Refrigerate and save any excess for future use; it will keep for months in a sealed container.

Tea at Last

Last weekend our daughter came home for a visit. One of my favorite times is having tea with her. Luckily the weather was lovely, so we had tea outside on the porch. That's her hand holding the cup.

This time was super special because, at last, I was able to share tea with her using the works of art she created, otherwise known as hand painted teapot and saucers and teacups.

It was such a treat to sit out in the sun and sipping tea from one of the cups she painted and watching her do the same. Delightful to pour tea into those cups and admire the colors she used on the flowers and how well they contrasted with the black of the handle and around the rim of the lid. When the last drop had been sipped from the cups, a cheerful painted three dimensional flower beams up from the bottom of the cup.

In our lives, if we are lucky, we receive many gifts. This one is of great importance because it is beautiful, made by someone dear to my heart, and it expresses such love. To share it with her is to complete the circle of love. I'm feeling blessed and very grateful for having such a daughter and friend and the time to be with her.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Few More Things About Meme

The darling Inne of Vanille and Chocolat in London has tagged me for a meme...and I, too, wonder how you pronounce that...and this time I can blog about a fact or tidbit using the letters of my first name. Fair warning...there will be four bloggers tagged at the end, one for each letter of the name...they will then get to do the same.

As some of you may know, Elle is my blogging name. Lucky pick..what if I had decided on Lucretia?

Since this is a food blog, the bits will be food related. Seems fair.

E - Easy - Although I occasionally enjoy complicated cooking or baking (which is good or I couldn't be a Daring Baker), mostly I prefer to make things that are easy and use seasonal ingredients. One reason you won't see too many of our regular meals on this blog is that they tend to be prosaic...meat, poultry or fish, prepared simply, with a simple veg or salad and something like baked potato or brown rice on the side. The most excitement is when Sweetie pours a slug of bourbon on the salmon before grilling. For entertaining I pull out the stops and do complicated and intersting dishes, but I've too many other enthusiasms taking up my energy, so I go for easy weekday meals.

L - Love - Cooking with love should not be underestimated. Even those simple and easy meals are satisfying when made with love. Little things count, like inspecting the salad greens to remove any bruised lettuce and to snap off the extra long stems so often found in mesclun mixes. Adding some chopped fresh herbs to the rice or some grated lemon zest is still easy, but is a loving touch. Making a favorite dish or dessert for a special someone's birthday is a family tradition and a sign of love. Sharing recipes and food with friends is, to my mind, one of the best parts of cooking and blogging.

L - Local - As the world becomes more crowded and as resources become more scarce, perhaps the time has come to really think about eating local foods. I love that watermelon is available year 'round in the grocery, but the time may be coming when it will again be a seasonal treat of high summer. Shipping that heavy fruit from Chile (or wherever it comes from) to California uses so much energy. The garden gets bigger every year, so maybe next year there will be melons planted. Maybe I need to plant some more fruit trees too. Figs trees do really well in this area. I'm going to be spending some time this winter with seed catalogs, too.

E - Eating - I love to eat. Really. Guess I always have. It is especially fun to eat with others. I grew up in a large family. Truthfully, eating with 10 other people is a mixed spilled glass of milk after the other and lots of noise...but I still loved it. When I eat by myself, I usually bring something to read with me to the table. For so many years eating alone wasn't even a possibility, so I got used to company. The folks in a good novel can be company in a pinch, right?

Well, that's it for this meme.
Passing it on to Anh of Food Lover's Journey, Amanda of Little Foodies, Davimack of Wish I Were Baking, and Deborah of Taste and Tell. They are all amazing bloggers so you should visit their blogs often, especially at the end of the month when Daring Bakers run amok in the blogosphere. I won't be joining them this month, but you won't want to miss the fun and delicious goodies.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fun with Fall Figs

Mere minutes after I brought in the walnuts that had been drying on the table on the back deck...a whole basket of them...large drops of the first rain of the season started falling. Fall, at last.

Earlier in the day I was inspired by an article in our local paper, the Press Democrat. Grilled Figs with goat cheese sounded nice, but I wanted something sweeter, plus I had a few more Italian prune plums to play with. So I decided to combine the idea of figs stuffed with cheese with the idea of a plum clafouti from the American Heart Association's Low-fat and Luscious Desserts book. Naturally there had to be some chocolate involved...dark chocolate to complement the fall flavors of figs and plums.

I took the fresh, ripe figs...all soft and pretty with purple-brown skin and voluptuous insides, removed the stem, cut them from stem toward the bottom and again at 45 degree angle. A small slice of Rouge et Noir Breakfast Cheese, a mild soft ripened cheese similar to a young Brie, was placed in one part and small pieces of dark chocolate were inserted in the other cuts. Then these sweet packets were placed in a buttered springform pan in a nice circle with one in the middle. Around these at the outer edge I placed halves of the plums, skin side up. If I were to do it again, I'd put the suffed figs around the outer edge and the plums in the center...the clafouti would bake faster that way, so the texture would be softer and more custardy.

Now we were ready for the clafouti batter. Using the recipe from the book as a jumping off place, I used brown sugar for the batter, added a teaspoon of lemon zest, and used walnut oil...guess I was already thinking walnuts...instead of the melted margarine. You could probably use melted butter, or any vegetable oil that was lightly flavored. I carefully poured the batter over the plum halves and let it seep between the stuffed figs.

Into the oven the pan went and soon the house was filled with the fragrance of baking fruits, lemon, and brown sugar with undertones of vanilla, eggs and flour.

Cousins Tom and Nora arrived from Florida while the clafouti was still warm and we and a feast of figs together. They were particularly taken with the melted chocolate and warm fruit. I thought that the eggy custardy clafouti was a nice contrast to the crunch of the seeds in the figs.

SHF#35 - The Beautiful Fig, hosted this month by Ivonne also known as Cream Puff of Cream Puffs in Venice, has the theme of figs. I think that this makes a great entry. Who knew figs could be such fun?

Stuffed Figs and Plum Clafouti

9 ripe fresh figs
1.5 oz mild soft ripened cheese
2 oz dark chocolate - bitter or semisweet
3 plums, halved and pitted
3 eggs or equivalent in egg substitute
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup fat free milk
2 tablespoons melted margarine, melted butter, or nut or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon light brown sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a springform pan. Set aside.

Take each fig. Remove the stem if there is one. Using a small sharp knife, slice from the stem toward the bottom, going about 2/3 of the way down the fruit. Turn a 1/4 turn and repeat.

Slice a small slice of cheese and insert that into one of the cuts.

Coarsly chop or chunk the dark chocolate to the size of dried split peas or slightly larger. Place 5 or 5 of those pieces in the slits on each side of the cheese. Small bits of chocolate can be scattered over the cheese. Place fig into the prepared pan. Repeat until all are stuffed.

Place the stuffed figs equal amounts apart around the outer edge of the pan, about an inch in from the sides. Place the plum halves, skin side up, in the center area.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs or egg substitute and brown sugar. Let sit a moment to dissolve the sugar. Add the vnilla, salt, and lemon zest. Whisk to combine. Whisk in flour until combined (batter may be slightly lumpy).

In a small bowl, whisk together the milk and liquid fat; gradualy whisk into the flour mixture until combined.

Pour batter over the plums and let it spread around the stuffed figs. Figs will be higher than the batter. That is O.K. Sprinkle brown sugar over the whole pan.

Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F. and bake for 30 - 35 minutes, or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Let cool for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm, making sure to include some plums and at least on stuffed fig in each serving. Serves 6-8.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Charming Tomato Tarts

My dear friend Peabody is going to be annoyed with me. Another post about tomatoes. If she ate these tarts she would end up in the hospital, so Pea, these are not for you. I bet you could replace the 'maters with squash circles or asparagus spears and it would still be yummy.

Minis are so much fun. There is something about a smaller version of foods that we like that is somehow more charming than the larger version.

Tomato tarts are one of the nicest ways to capture the essence of warm tomatoes now that harvest season for tomatoes is in full swing. Smaller tomato tarts, like the ones I made tonight, have the added delight of being made with just one type of tomato in each tartlet and of being small enough to eat in a few bites, held in the hand, so that you can smell that great tomato fragrance each time you bite into the tart.

The inspiration came from an article in the Press Democrat, our local paper. Since they are part of the New York Times stable, they often carry articles from that paper. This is one. Melissa Clark wrote about 'A week's worth of sweet, summer tomatoes', published in the P.D. on Sept. 5.

Her tartlet recipe used mascarpone cheese for the filling. I used ricotta cheese mixed with an egg, and then I folded in chopped basil and freshly ground pepper. I pinched my little tartlets up around the tomato slices, but they decided to flatten out during baking. Even so, they were delicious. The pastry was flaky and buttery, which combined well with the sweetness of the hot tomatoes and the nutty Parmesan cheese, lively basil and mellow ricotta. We each had three and I sure wish I had made more.

Multicolored Tomato Tartlets

2-3 small firm but ripe heirloom tmatoes, preferably in different colors
1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted but cold
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1 small to medium egg
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
Freshly ground black pepper - about 1/4 teaspoon
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the puff pastry sheet on the parchment paper and cut out circles using a small sharp knife. (I used a wide mouth canning jar lid) Set aside the rest of the puff pastry that isn't circles, or cut rectangles from the scraps if any are large enough. Set each puff pastry circle or rectangle evenly apart on the baking sheet.

In a bowl, mix together the ricotta cheese, egg, basil, and pepper. Set aside.

Slice stem and bottom ends from the tomatoes. Save for another use or discard.

Slice remaing tomato crosswise into rounds 1/2 inch thick. You will need 6 or more nice rounds. (You may have to trim the slices to fit the rectangles if you are using them, or slice cherry or small pear tomatoes in half for the rectangles.) The tomato slices should be about 1 inch smaller in diameter than the pastry rounds.

Place about a tablespoon of the ricotta cheese mixture in the center of each pastry piece, spread out to about 1/2 inch from the edge. Place a tomato slice on top.

Pinch edges of pastry up around the tomato slice edges. Scatter parmesan over the pastries.

Bake until the pastry if puffed and golden, about 10-12 minutes. Serve warm.

Friday, September 14, 2007

A Second Chance

Which of us doesn't need a second chance? The first time we messed up somehow...spaced out or were immature or too tired or a hundred other possible things got in the way. Mother nature, bless her, rarely gives us a second chance with the progression of the fruits that find their way through the seasons. With the right cultivar we might get a fall harvest of strawberries. With a green house we can turn the seasons on their head. But to have a whole extra crop without any effort on our part...that is a true bonus...a second chance to take advantage of, in this case, an extra crop of blackberries.

This had been a great year for blackberries. For weeks I harvested a handful each morning to sweeten up my breakfast oatmeal. I did make a few dishes with the berries, but I grew busy with the new job just when the berries were at their peak and most bountiful. So many were never harvested and just dried on the vines.

Then we had a weird combination of some cool followed by a long sustained heat spell. Well, the blackberries must have thought it was spring and summer all over again. A whole new crop came into being and now they are hanging ripe and sweet, juicy and very seductive in clusters, just waiting to be picked and appreciated.

The other day I spent long enough picking them to fill a pint basket. The Gravensteins are almost finished, but there were some nice apples just right for combining with the berries in a berry-apple cobbler. The topping is not difficult...just a combination of ground almonds, packaged biscuit mix and sugar, plus enough milk to make a cobbler dough that can spread over the fruit. Sweetie had two helpings and was duly appreciative that Mother Nature gave us a second chance for summer's berries in mid-September.

Andrea of Andrea's Recipes is hosting a second round of Grow Your Own. Even though I didn't have to do much of anything to grow these great berries and apples, I think this dish qualifies. Go on over later in the month to check out the yummy dishes in the event. You'll be glad you did.

Blackberry-Apple Cobbler
1 pint fresh blackberries, washed and drained
1 cup tart apple chunks, peeled or unpeeled
1 cup biscuit mix, such as Bisquik
1/2 cup almonds, ground until fine in a food processor with
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup milk
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
In wide baking dish place berries and scatter the apple chunks over them evenly. The apple chunks should be about the same size as the berries. Cover the dish with foil and press edges to seal. Place dish in preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes, or until the berries give up some of their juice and the juice bubbles.
While the fruit is cooking, mix the ground almond/sugar mixture with the biscuit mix in a mixing bowl. In another small bowl, mix together the milk and the brown sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar.
When the berry-apple mixture juice is bubbly, remove the foil. Stir the milk mixture into the biscuit mixture and stir just until combined. If the mixture seems too stiff, add a little more milk. Drop the biscuit mixture over the hot fruit, spreading a little if needed, to cover most of the dish. It's OK if some of the fruit is not covered. The biscuit mixture will spread a little more as it cooks.
Bake for 15 minutes or until the biscuit topping is golden brown.

Serve while hot or warm, with some light cream or ice cream over the cobbler if desired. Serves 4-6.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

September's Ripe Fruit

Autumn is my favorite time of year, hands down, and it has been for as long as I can remember. I didn’t even mind that it meant the beginning of school because I like to learn new things. I love fall colors with all of the reds and golds and browns and oranges of the turning leaves. Fall is also harvest time. The apples ripen, the winter squash harden their shells, the tomatoes become almost unbearably sweet and juicy and the pears are in season, too.

The property where I live used to be part of a large farm. Near the old farmhouse, which is over 100 years old, there is an enormous shrub. It grows at least 7 feet high and as much around. The first year we lived here I noticed that the shrub (which is not a tree as far as I know, because it has many, many shoots growing up from the ground, not a central leader) had what looked like fuzzy funny shaped pears growing on the branches in the summer. In late August those fruits had changed to a yellow with green tinges and, eventually they were bright yellow gold and all the fuzz went away. The stem then came easily away from the branch and they smelled heavenly. I knew they weren’t pears, but I didn’t know what they were. I filled a bowl with them, put the bowl on the dining room table, and the perfume kept the room smelling really nice for over a week.

At the fairgrounds in early October that year we went the county Harvest Fair. One of the exhibits of fruits had those strange knobby pear shaped fruits with a name label…now I knew that they were pineapple quince.

Grandpa Merrick moved back to our area a few years later. When he spotted the quince he immediately asked if he could take some when they ripened to make jelly. Since I didn’t know what to do with them, I agreed readily. In exchange I received a couple jars of rosy colored quince jelly. My daughter was his favorite granddaughter, so he gave her a jar just for her. She still remembers how much she liked that jelly.

She will be coming home for a flying visit soon. There just might be a jar of quince jelly waiting for her, a fond collaboration between Grandma Loyce and myself. Neither one of us had made jelly for ages and ages, but today enough of the quinces were ripe enough, we had the time, and I had made sure we had the equipment, so we made jelly. It was fun cooking with her in the kitchen I designed and helped to remodel, in the old farmhouse where she now lives. If Grandpa Merrick were here he would have joined us, I’m sure.

In case you want to make some quince jelly yourself, make sure that the quinces are ripe, with no soft spots. Quinces are not good to eat straight off the shrub because they are quite hard and astringent. You don’t need to add pectin because quinces are loaded with pectin (a natural jelling agent). The version we made allowed you to keep the skins on, but I did cut off any blemishes on the skin, along with the stems and cores. The actual time that you work in the kitchen is only a couple of hours, but the process takes most of the day since the cooked pulp needs to slowly release the juice over 3-4 hours so that you get a nice, clear, rose colored jelly. It tastes somewhat floral, too.

This recipe seems to be a good entry for In The Bag: September which asks us to use a seasonal fruit. This innovative event asks participants to make something using the items that have been designated as being 'in the bag' that month. It is an ongoing event hosted, turn and turn about, by Scott of Real Epicurean (this month), Julia of A Slice of Cherry Pie and Cherry of Cherry’s English Kitchen.

Oh, and another use for quinces (the ones that are overripe or have major soft spots) is to bowl with them, especially if you live at the top a hill as we do, on a country road. In the morning when we walk down to get the paper, we bowl a few quinces down the middle of the road and see which one goes the furthest. Ah, the simple joys of country life, heheheh.

Quince Jelly

3 1/2 lbs of quince, washed, stems removed, cored, quartered (leave skin on)
7 cups water
Enough sugar to add almost a cup of sugar (about 1 cup) for every cup of juice (about 4 -5 cups)

1 Put quince pieces in a large stockpot with a thick bottom and add water (if you are eyeballing it, put in enough water to cover the pieces of quince by about an inch.)

2 Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for 45 minutes to an hour, until the quince pieces are soft.

3 With a potato masher, mash the quince to the consistency of slightly runny applesauce. Add more water if necessary. If the mash is too thick, you won't get enough juice out of it.

4 To strain the juice from the pulp, place a metal strainer over a pot. Drape 2 layers of cheesecloth over the strainer. (Can skip the cheesecloth if you are using a fine mesh strainer). Ladle the pulp into the cheesecloth. You may need to have two strainers set up this way. Let the pulp strain for 3 to 4 hours. If you aren't getting enough juice out of the pulp, you may need to mix more water into the mash.5 Measure the amount of juice you have. It should be about 4-5 cups. Pour into a thick bottomed pot on the stove and bring to a boil. Measure out the sugar – about a cup for every cup of juice. Add sugar to the juice.6 Bring to a boil, initially stirring constantly, until the sugar is dissolved, so that the sugar does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Insert a candy thermometer to monitor the jelly temperature.

7 As the jelly cooks, skim off the foam that comes to the surface with a spoon

8 As the temperature rises above the boiling point of water (212°F), you will notice the consistency of the jelly/juice begins to change. When the temperature is approximately 8 degrees higher than boiling point at your altitude (anywhere from 220°F to 222°F at sea level) the jelly is ready to pour into jars.
Note that candy thermometers aren't always the most reliable indicators of whether or not a jelly is done. Another way to test is put a half teaspoonful of the jelly on a chilled (in the freezer) plate. Allow the jelly to cool a few seconds, then push it with your fingertip. If it wrinkles up, it's ready.

9 There are several ways to sterilize your jars for canning. You can run them through a short cycle on your dishwasher. You can place them in a large pot (12 quart) of water on top of a steaming rack (so they don't touch the bottom of the pan), and bring the water to a boil for 10 minutes. Or you can rinse out the jars, dry them, and place them, without lids, in a 200°F oven for 10 minutes.

10 Use a large ladle to pour the jelly into the sterilized jars to 5/8 inch from the top rim of the jar. Use canning jars with canning lids to seal the jelly. Sterilize the lids by letting them sit in just boiled hot water for a few minutes. You will hear a popping noise as a vacuum seal is created as the jars of jelly cool.

(To be safe, we put the jars full of jelly, topped with sterilized lids and bands, into a canning pot, added boiling water to cover, plus an inch, and simmered that for 45 minutes, then let cool. Check the lids for a good seal my noticing if the lids are concave. If not, push down on the center. If the lid stays down, it is sealed. If not, refrigerate and use the jelly within a week. )

Makes 4-6 cups of jelly. We got 6½ 8-oz. jars of jelly.

Posted by Elise on Sep 28, 2005 on Simply Recipes

Friday, September 07, 2007

A Welcome Chill

September has brought to our part of California, as it often does, days of intense heat. The fog that often cools the air, at least at night, during the summer is missing so the smog increases and the house retains the heat of the day all night long. Without the marine layer, as the weather folks call it, the temperatures rise during the day into the 90s, which is hot in our neck of the woods.

A couple of evenings ago I was sitting in bed, with the fan going, reading a great cookbook called 'From A Cooks Garden'. I had a bunch of tomatoes on the kitchen counter that needed to be used before the heat turned them to sticky mush. This fine book had a recipe for Gazpacho that really looked good. As I read through it I realized that I had most of the ingredients in the kitchen and pantry. Clearly it was too hot to sleep. The gazpacho needed to chill 4 hours or overnight. Bingo! The light bulb went on over my head as it became clear that making the soup was the right thing to do, even though it was 10 PM. I am not a night owl and my eyes usually start to droop right around 10 PM, so this was most unusual.

So, in my cool cotton nightgown and with bare feet I headed for the kitchen to finely chop tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, pepper, and parsley.

Fortunately we live in the country so no one noticed that, bare foot and barely clothed, I went and harvested some dark basil by moonlight. Chopped, it went into the bowl. The red wine vinegar and olive oil were added, I gave it a good stir to combine the ingredients and into the fridge it went. By now it was after 11 and I was tired enough to go to sleep despite the heat.

Today we served the lovely gazpacho, full of the flavors of summer, to Grandma Loyce. We had invited her to dinner and were glad we could cheer her up on a day when she had to see her sister, a victim of cancer, for the last time at the mortuary. Loyce loved the soup and we did what family does at times like these and told stories of the past, shared laughter and sober thoughts, and reminded ourselves of how fortunate we are to have each other. The rest of the meal was great, too, but the soup was somehow comforting and a welcome chill, all at the same time.

Tami of Running with Tweezers is hosting the second annual Super Soup Challenge to honor her mom and to remind us that "food (and blogging) can heal the soul and bring people together" . This savory, full flavored soup from the garden, topped with garlic croutons, is summer comfort food at it's finest and, I believe, a worthy entry.

From the Cooks Garden by Ellen Ecker Ogden

4 large tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
1 large cucumber, peeled and finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium red pepper, seeded and finely chopped
½ cup chopped fresh basil
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup rice vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
chiffonade of basil for garnish

Garlic Croutons
4 slices French or Italian bread, cut into ½ inch cubes
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced, and salt, to taste

Mix all the gazpacho ingredients, except the salt and pepper and the basil garnish in a large bowl or puree’ in a blender, depending on if you like a rough or smooth textured soup. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

Meanwhile make the croutons. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss the bread cubes, oil, and garlic with your hands in a large bowl until well mixed. Spread in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Bake for 5 minutes. Stir to turn the croutons, and bake until golden brown, about 5 more minutes. Cool completely. Best used within a few hours, but they can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Serve the soup chilled, seasoned with the salt and pepper and garnished with the croutons and the basil garnish. Serves 8.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Adam Had It Right

In the Garden of Eden all was well until Eve was tempted by the snake and Adam and Eve bit into that apple. Now Adam could have resisted, it was one of those 'just say no' opportunities, but the apple is a very delicious looking fruit. Adam had it right. An apple is worth almost anything. Now, this can be seen as Gospel truth or a parable or story, but what matters is the apple was eaten.

Vanielje of
Vanielje Kitchen is hosting TGRWT #6 (They Go Really Well Together) this month and she chose to challenge bloggers to make something that combines apples and lavender.

I have an apple tree with fruit just waiting to be picked and cooked with, and a couple of lavender plants still driving the bees crazy with blossoms, so this seemed like a natural.

A while back I was given a recipe by someone I barely knew. It was one of those 'secret handshake' kind of recipes, sure to drive a new baker crazy...minimal instructions, comments like 'add nuts and raisins' with no measurements, no pan specified, etc...but it makes a great apple cake. It also seems to be missing an ingredient, which takes the secret thing a bit far. This time around I just used it as a template to begin from since it is so minimal anyway.

This apple cake starts out with browned butter. You could substitute vegetable oil or canola oil, but the browned butter adds amazing flavor. I also used a 1/2 cup brown sugar instead of a full cup of white sugar, although there is still a cup of white sugar. I added 1/2 cup milk, the potential missing ingredient. Next time I think I'll try it with buttermilk. For the nuts I used chopped walnuts since I like the way they go with apples. I also added 1/2 teaspoon baking powder since I wasn't using buttermilk or sour milk. The 2 teaspoons of cinnamon would have drowned out any lavender flavor in the topping, so I only used 1 teaspoon, although I added 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg since I like that spice with apples. As you can see, I've gone a fair distance from the original recipe. Given that, I'm going to print the recipe I used, not the original.

To keep with the event theme, the cake is topped with a glaze that includes honey infused with lavender. I scattered a few flowers over the top, too, for flavor, fragrance, and taste. Apples and lavender do go well together, at least in this lovely apple cake. Sweetie just had a piece and he loved it. Since he generally doesn't like cake, that's saying something. He said he really likes the moistness and he could taste the lavender, but it wasn't too strong.

It's apple season from now well into the fall. Go wild! Make something with apples and'll be glad you did.

Natasha’s Apple Cake

½ cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup brown sugar, packed
2 eggs, beaten, or the equivalent in egg substitute
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup walnuts, chopped
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk or buttermilk
4 cups sliced apples ( don’t peel mine, but you could)

1/2 cup mild honey, such as clover
1 tablespoon lavender flowers (fresh if possible)

1) Preheat oven to 350degrees F. Grease and flour a Bundt pan.

2) Take the butter and melt it over low heat in a heavy bottomed pan or cast iron skillet. Once melted, turn up the heat and, stirring constantly, cook until the solids begin to brown a bit. Remove from heat. If brown enough for your taste, pour into a bowl and let cool. If you want it browner, leave in the pan a few minutes to continue cooking, then pour into bowl when desired brown color has been reached.

3) In large bowl mix together the two sugars until well mixed. Add the browned butter and eggs and mix well. Add the vanilla and mix well. Add the walnuts and mix well.

4) On a sheet of waxed paper (or in another bowl) mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.

5) Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix just until combined. Add the milk and mix until fully incorporated. Stir in the apple slices.

6) Place cake mixture into the prepared pan, then level top by pushing down on the batter with a spatula and spreading as needed.

7) Bake for 1 hour. Cool in pan on rack 10 minutes, then turn out onto a serving plate with a rim.

8) While cake is baking, in a small saucepan heat the honey over medium heat until liquid. Add the lavender flowers, stir, reduce heat to simmer and simmer for one minute. Strain honey through a fine wire mesh strainer into a bowl. Once the cake is on the serving plate and is still warm, drizzle the lavender honey over the cake until it is all used. Decorate with more lavender if desired.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Boy Did I Goof!

Many, many weeks ago Lis of La Mia Cucina sweetly awarded me the Schmooze Award, for which I am grateful. This award was created by Mike of Ordinary Folk and Danielle of Pink Reviews to “recognize people who have a positive influence on the blogging community by developing and nurturing relationships. You know – commenting on other’s blogs, joinin in on and sustaining a “blogversation” according to Lis. What I didn’t read was that I was supposed to nominate other bloggers to receive the award. Perhaps the difficulty lay in the fact that when Lis gave me the award I was totally focused on a new job. With aging brain cells the only ones at my disposal, it really required complete concentration to learn a new job, even one in a field that is familiar to me like this one. Thank you, dear Lis. I’m blushing for the award and in embarrassment that it has taken me until now to pass on the award (and to feel even a bit competent at the ‘job’.)

‘So what is this job?’, you ask. Well, I’m still finding out some of it, but it is an admin job for a pain clinic. The clinic, and intensive 6 day affair, is held once a month. The two weeks leading up to the clinic are filled with lots of preparations, paperwork, communication with the patients, and preparing the clinic and kitchen for the participants.
The doctor who hired me was stoked to find that I have a food blog…somehow he thought that I’m a professional foodie or something…far from it, but I do enjoy cooking. That is a good thing.

You see, a freshly prepared lunch is served each day to about 25 people. Veggie trays, fruit trays, salads, and whole grain breads are joined by rolls of smoked salmon with capers, rolls of turkey breast and ham, sliced onions, olives, pickles, roasted red peppers and similar foods. On the last day of the clinic such a lunch is followed by a celebratory dinner, so a whole lot of cooking is going on that day. Although I love to cook, so far my main duties have been to assist the other cooks and to keep track of all the paperwork. It may eventually be my turn to be in charge of the cooking, who knows? This time I brought a lentil salad that I wanted the group to try. For Tuesday dinner I also brought some heirloom tomatoes which I turned into an insalata caprese, with slices of fresh mozzarella cheese, olive oil and basil, plus a drizzle of reduced balsamic vinegar. The vinegar isn’t traditional, but delicious nonetheless.

So I now have two clinics worth of experience and space in my elderly brain to realize that I spaced completely on the award. There are many who deserve this award and, fortunately, many have received it while I have been otherwise occupied. There are still plenty of bloggers who qualify, especially those who visit all kinds of blog, famous and unknown and everything in between, who are positive in their comments and who are caring and, often, funny. They make such a difference in many folk’s days.

Without further ado (or excuses) I nominate… Quellia of All Things Edible. Not only is she always upbeat, but she participates in lots of events, which is so supportive, plus she has the cutest kid.
Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice, one of the co-founders of the burgeoning Daring Bakers and she is as sweet as the lovely tarts she makes so well.
Peabody of Culinary Concoctions by Peabody. Not only does she get around the blogosphere and spread joy, but you can’t visit her blog without seeing something truly delicious on the screen... usually sweet and baked.
Morven of Food Art and Random Thoughts who is both a talented writer and a thoughtful commenter.
Brilynn of Jumbo Empanadas who is probably the world’s best booster for ice cream and Dorie Greenspan, as well as being a talented writer and photographer.

That’s as many as I’m allowed to nominate for this award. Go check out their blogs and give them a nice comment…they deserve it. Just hope they don't take so long to nominate others :)

Saturday, September 01, 2007

'Mater and Cuke Salad

It must be August, it’s so hot. No, wait, it’s September and still hot for northern California. Well, can’t argue with Momma Nature, so dinner will need to be something that doesn’t heat up the kitchen. It’s also a good evening to bring something to Lis and Ivonne’s La Festa al Fresco, the blog world’s biggest patio party. A party celebrating good, fresh, seasonal food with friends in the fresh air is perfect for warm and sultry evenings.

Now that the heirloom tomatoes have kicked in with plenty of ripe fruits, what better way to enjoy them than in a tomato and cucumber salad?

'Mater and Cucumber Salad
To a mixture of about 3 cups of chunks of a whole rainbow of colors of tomatoes, I added another 2 cups of chunks of seeded cucumber from my garden. I used two medium green cucumbers and 1 large lemon cucumber. Over those I poured ½ cup red wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons good quality balsamic vinegar and ¼ cup Meyer Lemon flavored olive oil (although unflavored olive oil would also work fine). ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper was sprinkled over the top and I folded the mixture together until well mixed. If you like you can add 1 – 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh basic, and/or ¼ teaspoon minced garlic.

Tomatoes, to retain their best flavor, should not be refrigerated. Leave the bowl on the counter and stir it a couple of more times to make sure that everything has a chance to bathe in the marinade.

After marinating for a few hours, taste to see if the salad needs more pepper or an addition of salt. This salad is so pretty that you can just serve it in a nice bowl with a slotted serving spoon, or you can place mounds of it in lettuce cups for a fancier presentation.

The rest of dinner on this hot evening? We had grilled fresh zucchini, some of the last from the garden, I’m afraid. The poor zucchini plants have been producing faithfully since May, so they deserve to reduce production.

Sweetie also grilled some chicken thighs which he had seasoned with garlic salt and a nip of bourbon. Who needs barbeque sauce when you have bourbon? It gives grilled meats, poultry and fish a nice smoky taste.

“Tutti a tavola” which means “everyone to the table”. See you on the patio!