Friday, November 30, 2007

It's Not Too Late

We have returned home from the land of St. Honore'. Thanksgiving has come and gone, but there is still time to enjoy fresh cranberries. Right now bags of fresh cranberries are pretty inexpensive where I shop, so I grabbed a few more bags and threw one in the freezer for later. For now there is Cranberry Pear Sauce, perfect with leftover turkey if you still have some hanging around, but also a great dish to go with roast pork or duck or chicken thighs. It goes together fairly quickly and is delicious!

We had this sauce at Thanksgiving and it was so good that my nephew said it was the best cranberry sauce he had ever had. I chose to cook it because I usually served the canned jellied stuff but wanted something fresh, but not too sweet. I'm taking some to Meeta's Monthly Mingle which is for Traditional Feasts this month. Meeta blogs at the wonderful What's For Lunch Honey and hosts these mingles often, which is really nice. Come by after the first of December and see what everyone has brought.

This recipe is faintly like a chutney since it has some cider vinegar, cinnamon and grated fresh ginger, but it is also like a nice cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving with both white and brown sugar and the sweetness of sauteed pears. The recipe is a slight variation on one I found in the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper November 14th. Give it a try while fresh cranberries and pears are in season. An addition of chopped toasted walnuts would be good, too.

Cranberry-Pear Sauce
Makes about 3 cups - serves 8

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 ripe pears, preferably Bartlett, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2 inch dice
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup, packed, dark brown sugar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
12 oz. fresh cranberries, washed and picked over for spoiled berries

Heat the melted butter in a large saucepan. Add the pears and salt and cook oer moderately low heat, stirring, until they begin to soften, 4-5 minutes. Stir in the sugars, vinegar, cinnamon and ginger and bring to a boil. Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally with wooden spoon to prevent sticking. (Your kitchen will smell heavenly!)

Add the cranberries and cook over moderate heat until the cranberries have fully cooked and thickened, 15-20 minutes, crushing the berries against the sides of the pan. Transfer to a bowl, remove the cinnamon stick if used, and let cool before serving.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

In the Land of St. Honore'

Tanna of My Kitchen in Half Cups is the hostess of this month's Daring Bakers's challenge. She chose this wonderful and flavorful Tender Potato Bread from Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Tradition Around the World, by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. You can find the recipe on Tanna's site and at the bottom of this post.

Be sure to check out the other Daring Baker's to read their stories and see their creativity with the Tender Potato Bread by visiting the Daring Baker Blogroll here.

If you have a moment, I'd love your comments. Just click on COMMENTS below and thank you for visiting and hearing the latest story from this Daring Baker.

Tender Potato Bread
(from Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour & Tradition Around the World by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid; who also wrote Hot Sour Salty Sweet)
Daring Bakers Challenge #13: November 2007

Host: Tanna (My Kitchen in Half Cups)
Post Date: Monday, November 26
Makes 1 large tender-crumbed pan loaf AND something more; one 10X15 inch crusty yet tender foccacia, 12 soft dinner rolls, or a small pan loaf
Suggested Toppings:
For Loaves and Rolls: melted butter (optional)
For Foccacia: olive oil, coarse salt, and rosemary leaves (optional; also see variation)
For Anchovy-Onion Focaccia: Instead of oil, salt, and rosemary, top with onions slow-cooked in olive oil or bacon fat, a scattering of chopped anchovy fillets, and flat-leafed parsley leaves.
Alternate fillings, seasons, shapes are up to you.

Some additional notes about this challenge, recipe and the dough:
If you are new to bread and already your whisks are shaking (or is that your boots), you may bake the bread (or one of it’s variations) just as written.
There are no pictures. I give you the recipe. I cannot give you a photo or drawing of the recipe because that part is yours. That being said there are lots of pictures of other bread recipes that will provide great ideas for you if you decide to unleash that aspect of this recipe.
Potatoes and potato water give this bread wonderful flavor and texture. The dough is very soft and moist and might feel a little scary if you’ve never handled soft dough before. But don’t worry: Leaving it on parchment or wax paper to proof and to bake makes it easy to handle.
Once baked, the crumb is tender and airy, with tiny soft pieces of potato in it and a fine flecking of whole wheat. The loaves have a fabulous crisp texture on the outside and a slightly flat-topped shape. They make great toast and tender yet strong sliced bread for sandwiches. The dinner rolls are soft and inviting, and the focaccia is memorable.

I have chosen this recipe because it gives directions for different ways of shaping the dough and provides oven times and temperatures for those variations.

Some Notes about Flour:
King Arthur Artisan Organic All-Purpose Flour is fairly new in the markets in the US now and is advertised to be best for making European-style hearth breads with a protein level of 11.3%

Conversion Chart for yeast:
1 oz/ 1 Tablespoon of fresh yeast = 0.4 oz/ 1.25 teaspoon active or instant dry yeast = 0.33 oz / 1 teaspoon instant or rapid rise (bread machine) yeast. Reference: Crust & Crumb by Peter Reinhart
Link to online conversion chart for converting recipes from Imperial to Metric: Cooking Conversion Online (
Remember, being a Daring Baker is about trying new recipes, techniques and taking risks. It’s reaching just beyond your comfort zone.
This is a Daring Baker Challenge, not a contest and not a competition because at its heart and soul is support and sharing the how to of the baking we do.

Challenge Recipe:
Metric measurements are from the European edition. Thank you Linda ( from Make Life Sweeter

4 medium to large floury (baking) potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks.
Tanna Note: For the beginner bread baker I suggest no more than 8 ounces of potato; for the more advanced no more than 16 ounces. The variety of potatoes you might want to use would include Idaho, Russet & Yukon gold, there are others.
4 cups(950 ml) water, reserve cooking water
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
6 ½ cups to 8 ½ cups (1 kg to 1350g) unbleached all-purpose
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (130g) whole wheat flour

Making the Dough (Directions will be for making by hand):
Put the potatoes and 4 cups water in a sauce pan and bring to boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and cook, half covered, until the potatoes are very tender.
Drain the potatoes, SAVE THE POTATO WATER, and mash the potatoes well. Tanna Note: I have a food mill I will run my potatoes through to mash them.
Measure out 3 cups(750ml) of the reserved potato water. Add extra water if needed to make 3 cups. Place the water and mashed potatoes in the bowl you plan to mix the bread dough in. Let cool to lukewarm (70-80°F/21 - 29°C) – stir well before testing the temperature – it should feel barely warm to your hand. You should be able to submerge you hand in the mix and not be uncomfortable.
Add yeast to 2 cups all-purpose flour and whisk. Add yeast and flour to the cooled mashed potatoes & water and mix well. Allow to rest/sit 5 minutes.
Note about Adding Yeast: If using Active Dry Yeast or Fresh yeast, mix & stir yeast into cooled water and mashed potatoes & water and let stand 5 minutes. Then add 2 cups of flour to the yeast mix and allow to rest several minutes. If using Instant Dry Yeast, add yeast to 2 cups all-purpose flour and whisk. Add yeast and flour to the cooled mashed potatoes & water and mix well. Allow to rest/sit 5 minutes.
Sprinkle in the remaining 1 tablespoon salt and the softened butter; mix well. Add the 1 cup whole wheat flour, stir briefly.
Add 2 cups of the unbleached all-purpose flour and stir until all the flour has been incorporated.
Tanna Note: At this point you have used 4 cups of the possible 8 ½ cups suggested by the recipe.
Turn the dough out onto a generously floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, incorporating flour as needed to prevent sticking. The dough will be very sticky to begin with, but as it takes up more flour from the kneading surface, it will become easier to handle; use a dough scraper to keep your surface clean. The kneaded dough will still be very soft. Place the dough in a large clean bowl or your rising container of choice, cover with plastic wrap or lid, and let rise about 2 hours or until doubled in volume.
Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead gently several minutes. It will be moist and a little sticky.
Forming the Bread:
Tanna Note: It is at this point you are requested to Unleash the Daring Baker within. The following is as the recipe is written. You are now free to follow as written or push it to a new level.
Divide the dough into 2 unequal pieces in a proportion of one-third and two-thirds (one will be twice as large as the other). Place the smaller piece to one side and cover loosely.
To shape the large loaf:
Butter a 9 x 5 x 2.5 inch loaf/bread pan. Flatten the larger piece of dough on the floured surface to an approximate 12 x 8 inch oval, then roll it up from a narrow end to form a loaf. Pinch the seam closed and gently place seam side down in the buttered pan. The dough should come about three-quarters of the way up the sides of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 35 to 45 minutes, until puffy and almost doubled in volume.
To make a small loaf with the remainder:
Butter an 8x4X2 inch bread pan. Shape and proof the loaf the same way as the large loaf.
To make rolls:
Butter a 13 x 9 inch sheet cake pan or a shallow cake pan. Cut the dough into 12 equal pieces. Shape each into a ball under the palm of your floured hand and place on the baking sheet, leaving 1/2 inch between the balls. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about 35 minutes, until puffy and almost doubled.
To make focaccia:
Flatten out the dough to a rectangle about 10 x 15 inches with your palms and fingertips. Tear off a piece of parchment paper or wax paper a little longer than the dough and dust it generously with flour. Transfer the focaccia to the paper. Brush the top of the dough generously with olive oil, sprinkle on a little coarse sea salt, as well as some rosemary leaves, if you wish and then finally dimple all over with your fingertips. Cover with plastic and let rise for 20 minutes.
Baking the bread(s):
Note about baking order: bake the flat-bread before you bake the loaf; bake the rolls at the same time as the loaf.
Note about Baking Temps: I believe that 450°F(230°C) is going to prove to be too hot for the either the large or small loaf of bread for the entire 40/50 minutes. I am going to put the loaves in at 450°(230°C) for 10 minutes and then turn the oven down to 375°F (190 °C) for the remaining time.
Note about cooling times: Let all the breads cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Rolls can be served warm or at room temperature.
For loaves and rolls:
Dust risen loaves and rolls with a little all-purpose flour or lightly brush the tops with a little melted butter or olive oil (the butter will give a golden/browned crust). Slash loaves crosswise two or three times with a razor blade or very sharp knife and immediately place on the stone, tiles or baking sheet in the oven. Place the rolls next to the loaf in the oven.
Bake rolls until golden, about 30 minutes. Bake the small loaf for about 40 minutes. Bake the large loaf for about 50 minutes.
Transfer the rolls to a rack when done to cool. When the loaf or loaves have baked for the specified time, remove from the pans and place back on the stone, tiles or baking sheet for another 5 to 10 minutes. The corners should be firm when pinched and the bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
For foccaia:
Place a baking stone or unglazed quarry tiles, if you have them, if not use a no edged baking/sheet (you want to be able to slide the shaped dough on the parchment paper onto the stone or baking sheet and an edge complicates things). Place the stone or cookie sheet on a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 450°F/230°C.
If making foccacia, just before baking, dimple the bread all over again with your fingertips. Leaving it on the paper, transfer to the hot baking stone, tiles or baking sheet. Bake until golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack (remove paper) and let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

Bookmark This For the Holidays

It isn't often that a recipe comes along that I know, right off the bat, is going to be one that I'll go to over and over. I had that experience the first time I made the 86 Proof Chocolate Whiskey Cake, and again with my favorite Spaghetti Sauce. It has happened again!

For Thanksgiving Pam the Kitchen Planner brought the perfect appetizer and she brought the recipe with her because she knew that I would love it. She was absolutely correct.

This dish is one to bookmark for the holidays because it is easy, goes together quickly (except for marinating) delicious, and best of all should be made ahead...the best results happen when you make it 48 hours in advance. Make it a couple of days before the big event and forget it about it, then wow your guests.

Brighten your holidays with Hands Down Best Shrimp Appetizer, a combination of shrimp, red onion, oranges, and a marinade that includes both lemon juice and red wine vinegar, plus lots of piquant spices. Once you have served it, along with copious amounts of napkins, you will get raves from your guests (unless they hate shrimp) and you'll want to make it again and again.

Hands Down Best Shrimp Appetizer
Based on a recipe from the New York Times Heritage Cookbook

1 large sweet red onion, halved, sliced thinly, and separated into half rings
1 ½ pounds shrimp – cooked, shelled and deveined (with tails left on)
4 oranges, peeled and sliced into wedges
1 ½ cup oil
2/3 cup lemon juice
1 cup wine vinegar
1/3 cup catsup
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Bed of lettuce leaves (optional)

Combine onion rings, shrimp and orange wedges in a large glass or ceramic bowl (or large resealable bag).

Mix together oil, lemon juice, vinegar, catsup, sugar, celery seeds, mustard seeds, red pepper flakes, garlic and parsley. Pour over shrimp mixture and marinate 24-48 hours (48 hours is better!) in the refrigerator.

At serving time, drain off the marinade and serve the shrimp, onions and orange wedges. Looks nice served on a bed of lettuce, but for close friends just pile on a platter. (Include a small dish to hold the discarded tails.) Provide plenty of napkins. Serves 6

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Warm Sweet Rolls with Chocolate

One of the enduring combinations in the food world is bread and chocolate. A croissant filled with some melted bittersweet chocolate is how I remember first learning about the joining of two of my favorite flavors.

The other morning I didn’t have time to even think about the first little part of making croissants, but I figured out a way to make Sweetie some sweet rolls for breakfast that combined chocolate, jam and fruit. When it's cold outside (and we had frost on the grass this morning) a pan of warm sweet rolls is a wonner.

The day before I had peeled, cored and thinly sliced a quince. Then I had candied the slices. These, chocolate, nuts, and some quince jam went into a lovely pan of breakfast rolls. The photos at the beginning of the post show the progression of rectangel of biscuit dough with jam, then fruit, then chocolate. Don't forget to add the nuts. Too bad I had to go to work and didn’t get to have any until dinner time. He said that they were much better fresh out of the oven. I didn’t even have time to glaze them, but I included directions if you want to.

The wonderful thing about these rolls is that the biscuits are a great foil for the chocolate. You taste the richness of the chocolate and tang of the buttermilk. The jam and quince lend sweetness and an almost haunting flavor that stays with you. These take a little while to prepare, but will make a memorable breakfast or snack. Use the best quality chocolate you can find because the chocolate shines here.

Bread and Chocolate Sweet Rolls

2 oz semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (a food processor works well)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 to 3 1/2 cups Bisquick (I used the lowfat version because that’s what was in the cupboard) - use enough to make a firm dough
¼ cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup quince jelly
1 quince, candied (see below)
½ cup walnuts, toasted and cooled, finely chopped with 1 tablespoon of sugar A food processor works well)

In a small bowl, microwave the butter and chocolate one minute at half power. Stir. Microwave again one minute at half power. Stir. Repeat until the chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.
In a mixing bowl, mix the Bisquick, sugar, and buttermilk to make a dough. Turn the dough out on a floured board and knead a few times, then roll out in a rectangle about 12 inches x 8 inches.
Take the jam and put it into a bowl. Stir with a fork to break up the jam to make it more liquid. Spread the jam on the dough rectangle, stopping about an inch away from the edge on the long sides.
Take the candied quince slices and spread them out as evenly as possible over the jam, stopping about 1 inch from the edge on the long sides.
Take the cooled chocolate mixture and spread it over the jam and fruit. Sprinkle at once with the nuts, distributing as evenly as possible over the chocolate.
Roll up starting at one of the long edges. If the biscuit dough is very soft, you may need to freeze the rectangle for 10 minutes so it can be rolled. Slice the roll into 12 slices, each about an inch thick. Place each roll, sliced side down, in a greased cast iron skillet.
Bake in a preheated 400 degree F. oven for about 40 minutes, until rolls are cooked and golden brown on the top.
Serve warm. If desired, drizzle when they have cooled 10 minutes with a mixture of 1 cup confectioners sugar and 1 tablespoon warm milk. Let the glaze harden before serving.

Candied Quince
1 medium to large fresh ripe quince, peeled, cored, and sliced thinly
½ cup sugar
¼ cup water

Mix the sugar and water in a medium sized pot and stir over medium heat until the sugar melts and mixture is clear. Add the quince, turning and stirring until all slices are covered with the sugar mixture. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Uncover, stir, cover, and simmer for another 15 minutes. Uncover and simmer, stirring occasionally, another 15 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let stand until cool.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Celebratory Dessert

Clinic finished up tonight with a celebratory dinner. The young chef made a wonderful lemon-mustard-garlic-rosemary chicken dish that is his own creation. If I get his permission, I'll do a post on it later, with recipe. My office partner made a delicious ratatouille with eggplant from the physical therapist's garden. There were lots of veggies, salad, and local bread. My contribution was made in response to a large number of ripe Bartlett pears. When you buy a flat of fruit, they all seem to ripen at once.

The solution was a pear and cranberry crisp. It is a very good dessert for autumn. This one was really nice because it was not too heavy nor overly sweet. The pear flavor really stood out and the contrast of soft silky pear slices, tangy cranberries, zingy orange flavor and a crunchy oat topping was lovely.

Credit for most of this recipe goes to Dorie Greenspan, although I made a few changes. Dorie's book Sweet Times is a wonderful collection of sweet recipes. As usual, the recipe was well written and foolproof. As you can see, we had no trouble in convincing everyone to help themselves.

I think that this is the perfect dish to bring to Peabody's open house. It should travel well and feeds a lot of people, plus it's sweet and baked! See you there on December 8th.

Pear-Cranberry Crisp
based on a recipe by Dorie Greenspan

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup broken walnut pieces, toasted
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces

6-7 large ripe Bartlett pears (about 3 lbs.) cored and stems removed
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 cup fresh cranberries (if using frozen, do not thaw)
1/2 cup golden raisins
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Topping: Place all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until the mixture forms large curds, about 1-2 minutes. Alternately, mix everthing but the butter in a bowl, then cut the butter in with a pastry blender or two knives. Set aside.

Fruit: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Quarter the pears and cut each pear quarter lengthwise into 3 slices. Dip the slices in a bowl containing the orange juice. Then arrange the slices in the bottom of a deep dish pie pan or a 2 quart baker. (I left on the peels, which worked out fine.) Repeat with all of the pear quarters, coating the slices in the juice to keep them from darkening. Sprinkle the cranberries evenly over the pears, then sprinkle on the golden raisins.
Evenly sprinkle the brown sugar over the fruit.
Sprinkle the orange juice that you dipped the pears in over all, then sprinkle the topping evenly over the fruit.
Place the crisp on a baking sheed with raised sides and bake 40 -45 minutes, until the top is brown and the fruit juices are bubbling. Remove the crisp from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Let cool at least 20 minutes before serving, but can be served warm, at room temperature, or chilled. Serve vanilla ice cream, heavy cream ot pour, or whipped cream to garnish if desired. Serves 6-8, or more at a buffet.

The photo below was taken in the morning where the fog was burning off right near the clinic building. That is a very old redwood tree on the left.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Get Well Soup

I've been making this soup when people are sick with a cold or the flu for so long that I can't remember when I started. Chicken rice soup is what my Mom used to make for us and a good friend makes chicken noodle to take to sick friends, but my version uses potatoes...appropriate for a lass of Irish heritage I guess.

I remember one time when my daughter was in college. She was really miserable with the flu and had no energy to cook or even go find a restaurant with soup. I drove three and a half miles up to her college and made her a big pot of this soup, bringing the ingredients with me and leaving her more, and the recipe, in case she needed to make another batch. She said she started feeling better very soon after I made the soup, so maybe it's the soup and maybe it's the TLC.

This past week Sweetie has been down with the flu, so I made him some. I used some of our autunm jewels, the late harvest heirloom tomatoes that had been sitting on the counter.

He is starting to feel better, but it will be a few more days before he has his energy back and probably longer before the cough goes away. Guess we should have been more alert to when the flu shots were being given.

This is a great soup to make for a friend or loved one, but also delicious to enjoy yourself on a cool autumn evening for supper. I served it with a green salad and some warm, crusty cornbread baked in a cast iron skillet.

Get Well Chicken Soup
Serves 4 - 6

1 small to medium onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced (use more if you like)
1 tablespoon grapeseed or canola oil
1 cup thinly sliced celery
2 cans chicken broth or 2 cups home made broth
1.5 - 2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and cubed (leave unpeeled if you wish)
1 cup fresh tomatoes, chopped or 1 can already cut tomatoes
2 chicken breasts, cut into bit sized dice
1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 cup frozen peas

In large soup pot, heat grape seed or canola oil until hot (olive oil is not great to use where the temperature will be hot enough to saute') add the onion and garlic and saute' a few minutes until the onion is translucent. Watch to make sure the garlic doesn't burn.

Add the celery and stir to coat with oil, then lower heat to medium and cook 2 minutes.

Add the broth, potatoes, tomatoes, chicken pieces, rosemary, thyme, and pepper. Stir well, cover, and bring to a simmer. Simmer about a half hour, until the potatoes are fork tender.

Remove from heat and stir in the peas. Cover and let stand 10 minutes. Uncover and serve after tasting for seasoning and making corrections if necessary.

It's the Cheesiest - But Would You Miss It?

The persimmons are orange lanterns on the tree, but the leaves have not changed color and the fruits are still hard, so not yet ready to harvest. No persimmon bread for Thanksgiving, but maybe persimmon cookies for Christmas.

As Thanksgiving draws near one of the things that I am thankful for is being an American and being able to live in a sturdy home in a beautiful part of the world with a garden and fruit and nut trees. I’m also thankful for loving family and friends and for the opportunity to love them back. This year I’m especially grateful for the job I started in the summer. We help people who have been in pain to learn how to control and diminish, and sometimes to conquer that pain. I’m doing the clerical part mostly, but I do get to assist with the lunch prep, too. I'm thankful that I enjoy cooking.

We are having a clinic this week where I work and the folks attending come from all over the world. It is an eye-opener to talk with them and to learn the many things about their countries that are different, and sometimes better, than our country. Even folks from the other side of the United States remind me that I live in an area of exceptional natural beauty. I’ve never doubted it and am very grateful. Sometimes I do take for granted how easy it is to shop for the food we serve.

We serve a gourmet lunch each day for 25 or so people with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, bread baked at a local bakery, low fat poultry, hummus, goat cheese, and things like corn and bean, tuna, salmon, and lentil salads. Since we live in California, the availability of a variety of fresh fruits and veggies and herbs makes it easy to prepare these meals. Because a lot of the shopping takes place at Costco, we are buying foods from many other countries, too. Except for the hummus, all of the foods are prepared from scratch. As we cooked, chopped, sliced, stirred and grated, we happened to talk about some friends and relatives who have moved abroad and what U.S foods they miss. Today's local paper also had an article about ex-pats in France missing American foods as they prepare for Thanksgiving, and what they miss. It got me thinking.

Even though we have access to a lot of high quality, nutritious foods in the United States, the foods that Americans seem to miss when they go abroad are things like Top Ramen soups, Triscuits, and the classic, cheesiest dinner, Macaroni and Cheese with that bright orange cheese powder in the packet. That seems odd to me since I haven’t eaten those foods in ages. I might miss frozen pizza, one of the few fast foods that I eat, usually when I am too tired to cook. It’s not that I don’t like Mac and Cheese, but I don’t crave it and the sodium levels are pretty high for me health-wise. Pizza isn’t too great that way, either, but I guess I crave it more often.

Mostly, if I lived somewhere else that had regular seasons, I’d miss good salad greens year round, and a steady supply of melons, oranges, and lemons. Perhaps we should eschew them when they are out of season here, but melon in the morning is such a great way to start the day. Also, bananas are almost always at hand to have with the melons, as a snack, or in a sandwich. They might be hard to come by year round in some places. I’d probably also miss turkey. It is readily available here at the Willie Bird store, but might be a seasonal item elsewhere.

What would you miss if you were living someplace other than where you live now, especially in another country from where you grew up? If you already live away from your native country, what do you crave that you can't find where you live? What foods are you thankful for? Are you a fan of Macaroni and Cheese with the bright orange powdered cheese like many people are? Is it the Cheesiest?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Bacon Lovers' Salad

A favorite destination on Date Night is Borders Books. Recently Sweetie and I sat in a couple of their comfortable chairs and browsed our way through favorite magazines. I also picked up a copy of Southern Living's Our Best Recipes, Vol 4.

For starters, the cover had a delicious sweet roll recipe that can be baked in a cast iron skillet. It looked prefect for Christmas breakfast - brunch. We have a tradition of eating on sweet breads on Christmas morning. Since our daughter will be home for Christmas this year, I'm beginning to think about what to bake.

I ended up buying the book because it had so many great sounding recipes. (I also remind myself that it isn't the library, so they need us to purchase books and magazines to stay in business.)

The one I wanted to try first is sure to be a hit with bacon lovers (Y'all know who you are).
It combines roasted chunks of sweet potato (I actually used Garnet yams) and onion, crumbles of crisp bacon, fresh baby spinach, and a warm dressing using bacon drippings, red wine vinegar, orange juice and a little honey which wilts the spinach a bit. I made it tonight and it's a winner.

The vinegar, honey, and orange juice cuts the richness and fat of the bacon while the spinach adds it's distinctive flavor and the roasted yams and onions have a sweet note, too. I added some orange zest which brightened up the whole dish beautifully.

This would be a great salad for Thanksgiving. If you added some dried cranberries it would also work well for Christmas. We had it tonight with a pork loin roast, sliced tomatoes, & steamed broccoli.

Roasted Sweet Potato Salad
Serves 6-8

1 1/2 lb. sweet potatoes (or yams)
1 large red onion or 1-2 large yellow onions
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tablespoons olive oil (or, even better, use grapeseed oil)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 (6 oz.) bag fresh baby spinach, thoroughly washed, then dried
Warm Bacon Dressing (recipe follows)
3-4 slices cooked and crumbled bacon (from the dressing recipe)

Peel the sweet potatoes / yams, and cut into 1 inch cubes. Cut onions into quarters, and cut each quarter in half.

Toss together sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, and oil (I put it into a plastic bag, seal, then shake well to coat the vegetables witht he oil and garlic). Place on a lightly greased aluminum foil-lined 15 x 10 inch pan. Sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper.

Bake at 400 degrees F. for 40-45 minutes or until tender and lightly browned, stirring occasionally.

In a large bowl, combine the baby spinach, the roasted veggies and the warm dressing. Toss well to coat the spinach leaves with the dressing. Garnish with the crumbled bacon. Serve at once.

Warm Bacon Dressing

4 bacon slices
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons orange juice
the zest from one orange
2 tablespoons honey
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Cook bacon slices in a large skillet, over medium-high heat 8 - 10 minutes or until crisp. Remove bacon and drain on paper towels, reserving 1 tablespoon drippings in skillet. Crumble bacona nd set aside for garnish.

Stir red wine vinegar and remaining ingredients into hot drippings in skillet; cook over medium heat,stirring occasionally, 1-3 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Immediately pour over the salad.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Seasonal Salad

The green salad is a boon for keeping the calories at bay and adding some nutrition to the meal at the same time. I tend to use mesclun, a mix of small sweet and bitter lettuce. It's sold at our local store as 'Spring Mix', even when it ought to be 'Fall Mix' because you know those tiny leaves have not been growing since the spring.

One of my favorite ways to uses these cute greens is to mix in some sort of cheese, some sort of fruit and some sort of nut. Recently I made a salad that seemed perfect for the autumn. To the lettuce mix I added some slices of 'Red' Gravenstein apples from the tree down by the garden...they have a little more red on the skin and they ripen later than the greener some tangy blue cheese crumbles and walnuts from the tree out back. I toasted the walnuts first to bring out their flavor. A handful of chicken chunks from an earlier meal (although you could buy a cooked chicken at the market and use some of that, too) added some more protein and flavor. I dressed the salad with a sprinkle of rice wine vinegar that was seasoned with a little balsamic vinegar. The salad was refreshing, savory, and seemed just right for Fall. (I know there is no chocolate in this post...a girl has to have low calorie meals sometimes... but there will be some soon :)

Saturday, November 03, 2007

A Slice of Czechoslovakia in Davis

Today was beautiful with sunny skies, mild temperatures, and all the colors of fall spread out in the vineyards that are ever present in my part of California north of the Golden Gate. A friend and I drove up to Davis, home of the University of California at Davis, and also the home of Little Prague, a delightful, atmospheric restaurant

in the downtown, not far from the Ace Hardware store. (Note: There are hardware stores and hardware stores, but this one in Davis is quite something for an independent, non-chain hardware store. Not only do they have a separate building for pets and plants, but they have another full sized building, across the street a ways, that is devoted to housewares. If you get to Davis, CA, check out the Ace Hardware are sure to find something to delight you.)

Little Prague makes a fantastic goulash, serves Pilsner Urquell beer from Czechoslovakia, has a carb heavy but delicious vegetarian lasagna, and yummy sandwiches and salads. However, the star of the meal is always the desserts. The selection of cakes is awe inspiring and the cakes are delicious and wickedly full of butter, sugar and cream and often chocolate, too. We met my sister there so there were three of us, which meant that we could order three different desserts and split them in three, then each have a small portion of each. It worked very well.

A fair amount of time was taken with standing by the rotating cake and dessert display looking at the gorgeous choices. The princess cake had a pastel green marzipan topping, the lemon tart was pretty with golden crust and deep yellow filling. There was a New York style cheesecake that was covered with three kinds of fresh, ripe berries. There were two minis that were mousse's, one all chocolate, and one with dark chocolate, light chocolate and white chocolate layers. None of these ended up being the ones we chose, although they may be our choice the next time.

I chose a Strawberry Chocolate Torte that combined deep chocolate layer cake with whipped cream and strawberries and a dark Belgian chocolate ganache.

My sister chose the chocolate nut cake which included walnut and chocolate layers, chocolate buttercream filling and white chocolate buttercream frosting, then a dusting of toasted walnuts around the side.

My friend chose the chocolate Napoleons, layers of puff pastry, chocolate pastry cream, whipped cream, vanilla pastry cream and a drizzle of ganache on top.

Not too surprisingly, I liked my choice best, then the Napoleon, then the nut cake. The white chocolate buttercream icing was a bit sweeter than I liked, but it was still awesome.

Fortunately later in the day I did lots and lots of walking (at the outlet mall in Vacaville - but that's still walking) to burn off some of those calories from the delectable trio found at Little Prague. They still have some for you...maybe you'll try that cheesecake and tell me how you liked it.

Little Prague
Bohemian Restaurant
330 G St
Davis, CA 95616

Friday, November 02, 2007

Sinfully Chocolate

One of my co-workers is half a hundred, so I made half a cake to help her celebrate. Since Sweetie and I had to make sure that it wasn't poisoned, the birthday celebration included less than half a cake, but it was a spectacular cake nonetheless.

This cake is the one I promised you, after tantalizing you with that photo of the batter on the paddle with lots of bittersweet chocolate all over it. Make it for a special day, make it for someone you care for, make it to cheer yourself up, or for no good reason other than the need to have a rich, fudgy, very chocolate cake with hints of fruit and cream. Even the batter looks decadent.

This recipe is based upon one in the book Chocolate Cake by Michele Urvater. This book has bunches of great chocolate cake recipes, plus icings, sauces, decorations...the works! As usual, I played around a bit with the recipe (details can be found after the recipe) but I'm sure it would be great as written, too. It was even better the next day, chilled, but do keep it closely wrapped to keep that moist, dense crumb.

The recipe in the book didn't include the jelly and fruit and whipped cream additions. You can use poached apple or pear for this, or even fresh raspberries or strawberry slices, but I'd use strawberry jam in that case. Instead of the jelly you could use apple butter with apple get the creative. You can see in the photo below how lovely the crumb was almost falling a good way.

Sin City Cake

2 ½ cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups plus 1 tablespoon (1 pound) superfine sugar
4 large eggs
8 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
2 cups water or regular coffee

8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
8 ounces heavy cream

Raspberry or current jelly – about 6-8 ounces
Poached fruit, sliced thin – pears work well

For the cake:
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Lightly grease and flour three 9 x 1.5-inch round cake pans, tap out the excess, and line the bottoms with parchment or greased and floured waxed paper circles. (Note from Elle: If you combine some cocoa with the flour for dusting the pans, your cake will have a nice chocolate edge to it.)

Sift the flour with the baking powder, baking soda, and salt twice, and set it aside.
With an electric mixer on low speed (or with a stationary mixer fitted with the paddle attachment), beat the butter for 1 minute, or until light. Slowly add the sugar, about 2 tablespoons at a time, and when all of it has been added, continue to beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes, scraping down the beaters and sides of the bowl as needed. The mixture will look like fluffy wet sand.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 10 seconds between additions, or until absorbed by the butter. Add the chocolate, scrape down the beaters and sides of the bowl, and beat for 1 minute longer, or until light and smooth.

With a large rubber spatula, fold the sifted ingredients into the batter in four additions, alternating with the water (or coffee) in three additions. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed for 1 minute, or until the mixture looks smooth.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pans, smooth the tops with a rubber or small offset spatula, and rap the pans sharply on the counter to break up any large air bubbles. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out dry.

Remove the cakes from the oven and cool them to room temperature in their pans on a wire rack. Unmold, peel off the paper circles, and frost when the cakes are cool. Serves 16.

For the Ganache
Set the chopped chocolate in a mixing bowl.

Pour on the cream and mix well.

At half power in the microwave, heat the mixture for a minute. Stir well. Repeat until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Let the ganache stand and come to room temperature before using.

Elle’s notes: As usual I didn’t follow the recipe exactly.

I cut the recipe in half (because with cake this rich, who needs a full recipe?) and baked it as one layer in a 9 inch spring form pan. After it had cooled, I cut that layer in half horizontally with a long serrated knife. I took off the top layer and set it aside. When I was ready to frost the cake, I spread raspberry jelly on the cut layer, added some poached fruit, sliced very thin, then put the other layer on top. I used the same knife to cut the cake in half to make two half moons. I beat up some whipping cream with a little sugar, spread that on one of the half moons, then topped it with the other half moon. So you had cake layer, jelly and fruit, cake layer, whipped cream, cake layer, jelly and fruit, cake layer, just half a cake instead of a full round.

Then I made the ganache and let it cool until it was thick enough to spread. Although the cake listed slightly since I can’t make a horizontal cut to save my soul, the ganache covered a multitude of sins and the cake as a whole lived up to it’s name…very dense and fudgy, sweet from the chocolate ganache and rich, too. The fruit and heavy dairy flavor from the whipped cream helped tone down the sweetness a bit but the jelly added to it . Still, it was a delicious cake and the piece I took to my boss had him on a real sugar high since he usually does not eat things that are sweet, rich, or so chocolate. I made the cake so that I could do a little birthday party for my co-worker who will be leaving soon. She seemed pleased. She is a sweet person, so a sweet cake seemed just right.