Saturday, February 28, 2009

Decadent Chocolate in the Land of St. Honore'

As she sat by the fire somewhere in the Land of St. Honore', the old woman watched with amusement as the younger ones twittered on about the latest heartthrob.

They wouldn’t even know who she was talking about, but she remembered being a young girl and feeling that way about Valentino. They wouldn’t even know who she meant, despite the many sighs he had inspired in his career on the silver screen.

February being the month of romance and love, she decided to be daring and bake a Valentino Cake for the girls. Maybe over cake and tea she could share her memories, or at least find out who the latest version of Valentino was. After all chocolate reduces the generations gap significantly.

Such a simple cake.

Care must be taken to use the best ingredients. The chocolate, especially, is key because your cake will taste just like the chocolate you use. A mixture of bittersweet and semisweet Sharfenberger was her choice. Lots of chocolate!


and that wonderful chocolate are melted gently together. Doesn’t that look delicious?

Five egg yolks

Will be beaten with the cooled chocolate mixture

Five egg whites, beaten until stiff are folded carefully into the chocolate mixture.

Then the batter is put into a springform pan and baked just until the internal temperature reaches 140 degrees F.

After cooling in the pan 10 minutes, the pan sides are removed. More cooling is needed before the cake can be turned over and the parchment removed, then turned over again on the serving plate.

Drifts of whipped cream and dollops of raspberry jam, plus a scattering of fresh berries dress up this decadent dessert. Vanilla ice cream was contemplated, but time and energy ran out. Some old ladies really don’t have the patience to make ice cream after all.

The young ladies were impressed by the cake, but just giggled when she tried to explain why it was called the Valentino Cake. Cretins!

Yes, it's time again for the monthly Daring Baker's Challenge. Many Valentino Cakes (and ice creams) may be found using the Daring Baker’s Blogroll.

The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

The recipes may be found on their blogs: Dharm & Wendy

This was a truly decadent, ultra chocolate cake. Although best served in small pieces, because it is very rich, Sweetie, our daughter (home on a visit) and I managed to each devour a good sized wedge, which was made even more delightful with the berries, jam and whipped cream.

(The baker dog didn’t get any chocolate of course, but he enjoyed licking whipped cream bowl.)

The amazing thing about this cake is that it is restaurant quality and super impressive, but easy to make. Use the best ingredients you can and take care with each step, then enjoy the results. Sweetie claims it is the best chocolate cake I’ve ever made.

Thank you Dharm and Wendy for choosing such a wonderful challenge! Dharm is another Daring Baker who adds a little fiction to some of his monthly posts, so I hope he enjoys the story at the beginning of this one.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ruby Tuesday

My fellow blogger DaviMack over at Wish I were Baking posted a photo last week of a glorious red door as part of a blogging event new to me, Ruby Tuesday. The idea is to post a photo with red...a bit of red, lots of red, your choice. You can see what it is all about over at Work of the Poet.

Usually I post about food, but to do a Ruby Tuesday post I decided to share a photo from last fall. When I was in Taos my sister and I went to a wool festival on the town green. The scope and variety of wool and wool products was awesome. I only took a few photos...I was too busy feeling the nubby yarn and looking at hand knit sweaters and felted scarves to think about taking pictures. One view that did appeal to me was a stall that had bags of brightly colored wool.

This can't really warm you up if you are where it is cold, but the lovely mix of reds can brighten the day a bit, right?

xoxo Elle

Monday, February 23, 2009

Being a Buddy with Bread

I've wanted to be a Bread Baking Buddy, someone who makes and posts about the bread of the month baked by the Bread Baking Babes, but something always got in the way. This month, just in time for their first Anniversary, I finally managed to carve out the time to do it. It was a good month for it, too. The recipe for the BBB Anniversary Bread is Carol Field’s Pane ai Cinque Cereali con Noci, also known as Five-Grain Bread with Walnuts,Adapted from The Italian Baker by Carol Field.

The Kitchen of the month is Tanna's My Kitchen in Half Cups, which is very appropriate since she is described as the Den Mother of the Babes. The bread is chock full of walnuts, has five yummy grains, and makes a delicious loaf or two. I made both of mine into oval loaves and had them do the final rise and their trip in the oven on a baking pans for these loaves. As a result, they were flatter and wider than sandwich loaves, but really beautiful with two kinds of slashes on the top. One is what I've heard is a traditional wheat grain slash. The other is just diagonal slashes.

Both loaves were given a milk/egg wash and they came out of the oven shiny and brown and gorgeous.

Often when I make bread using the stand mixer I let the dough hook do most of the kneading. This loaf was different, perhaps because the walnuts are added along with the flour near the beginning instead of being kneaded in once the dough is elastic. The dough hook just didn't want to hook up with this dough, so I had fun kneading it for a while.

Once the loaves where shaped I put them in the fridge and went off to work. When I got home they had risen a little, but the most interesting thing was that they looks a bit pale purple. I think that had to do with some chemical reaction to compounds in the walnuts. Once baked the purple hue mostly went away, but it did look weird for a while before baking. Sorry, didn't get a photo...dinner was underway and photos were not encouraged by Sweetie.

This bread is delicious, with a hearty taste from the different grains and some crunch from the walnuts. I was hoping for a stronger walnut flavor. Next time I might use some walnut oil in the dough and maybe even more walnuts. The crumb is good and the bread is moist enough, but not too moist for my taste.

Thank you Bread Baking Babes for a year of bread adventures, even though it was mostly vicarious enjoyment. Guess I'm finally a Buddy.

You can find the recipe at Tanna's blog, My Kitchen in Half Cups. I followed it very closely, using barley flour instead of the rice flour, but otherwise baking the recipe.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Just a Cookie

Sometimes all you want is just a cookie. A simple cookie, not something that is too complicated or has too many ingredients. It does have to have some good flavor, and maybe some texture. It helps it you don't have to go to the store for more ingredients, too.

I found just such a cookie today. A friend was coming over for tea. It was raining out, so not only did I not want to go to the store, I had a chilly kitchen, too. That meant that it might take some time for butter to soften, so I was also looking for a recipe that didn't need soft butter. The ingredients were all in the pantry and fridge. I warmed the eggs in a bowl of warm water and they were in the oven in a jiffy.

These cookies are called Pecan Chews. I found them in the Bar Cookie section of Maida Heatter's Book of Great Cookies. She describes them as "soft, tender, chewy squares". They are flavored with a quantity of pecans, with some coffee and some brown sugar. They go together quickly.

Once they were baked and had cooled a little on the counter, I cooled them in the fridge until they were cool enough to cut.

They were just right with a cup of tea and great with a cup of coffee. The house also had a nice welcoming scent of freshly baked cookies. Sweetie was appreciative of them as well.

Use fresh pecans for these. The nuts are a big part of the flavor and appeal.

Pecan Chews
16 squares

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon instant coffee
1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
6 oz. (generous 1 2/3 cups) pecans, cut into medium-sized pieces

(abbreviated directions - for full directions, go to the book itself). Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Turn a 9-inch square (although I used an 8 -inch square pan and it worked fine)baking pan over. Cover with aluminum foil. Take the foil off and turn the pan over. Using a pot holder, push the foil down into the inside of the pan to fit. Grease and flour the pan. Knock out excess flour.

Sift together the flour and baking powder and set aside.

Beat the eggs lightly just to mix. Add the vanilla, instant coffee, and sugar and beat only to mix; don't overmix. On low speed beat in the sifted dry ingredients only to mix. Mix in 1 cup nuts.

Turn dough into prepared pan. Spread to level. Sprinkle with remaining 2/3 cup pecans.

Bake for about 25 minutes until cake starts pulling away from sides of pan just a bit.

Remove from the oven. Cool in pan 20 minutes.

Turn out onto board, peel off foil, carefully turn back over. Cool in fridge about half hour.

Cut into 16 squares. A serrated knife works well.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Dangerous and Chocolate

As a post-Valentine treat my red-headed friend e-mailed me a very dangerous recipe. It's for a chocolate cake. She is a true chocoholic, so I was immediately interested. The cake is just enough for one person and is made in the microwave. Lookin' good. The ingredients are ones that I usually have on hand. Better and better. It's called the 5 Minute Chocolate Mug Cake.

So why is it dangerous? Because now you have a recipe (below) for a yummy chocolate cake that you can make anytime, day or night, when you have 5 minutes.

I immediately sent the recipe out to a lot of friends and family on my e-mail list, although I did copy it into a new document and I added that it might be good with some chopped walnuts thrown in.

Then it occured to me that I hadn't made this dangerous cake. Maybe it was terribel and I'd inflicted a bad recipe...not dangerous bad, but yucky bad...on loved ones. So I had to make it :)

This afternoon, after I had worked off some calories gardening...weed pulling and hauling potting soil and pots around can be vigorous exercise, right?...I made up a mug of chocolate cake. I included the chocolate chips, but didn't make any changes, nor did I add nuts. It seemed like a good idea to see how it was as written.

It was good...not great, but good. Best of all, it was warm! Warm chocolate cake with melty chocolate chips is pretty nice stuff. Since I love chocolate and raspberry, I put some raspberry coulis on the plate. It seemed a bit dry, so I added some half and half once I had cut the cake in half. It was a delightful afternoon treat. I might try it again sometime. Next time I would try it with the butter, with the nuts, and with some of the milk replaced with cold coffee. Doesn't that sound good?

So here is your own little dangerous recipe to try. You might even think of your own variations.

From Don Fulton: The most dangerous cake recipe


4 tablespoons flour

4 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons cocoa

1 egg

3 tablespoons milk

3 tablespoons oil ..or try real butter...worked very well

3 tablespoons chocolate chips (optional)

a small splash of vanilla extract

1 large coffee mug

Add dry ingredients to mug, and mix well. Add the egg and mix thoroughly. Pour in the milk and oil and mix well. Add the chocolate chips (if using) and vanilla extract, and mix again.

Put your mug in the microwave and cook for 3 minutes at 1000 watts (high). The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don't be alarmed! Allow to cool a little, and tip out onto a plate if desired.

EAT! (this can serve 2 if you want to feel slightly more virtuous). And why is this the most dangerous cake recipe in the world? Because now we are all only 5 minutes away from chocolate cake at any time of the day or night!

You are going to print this out straight away, aren't you?
Bet some chopped walnuts would go well, too. Mmmmm.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Triple the Oatmeal

It's probably due to my Celtic background, the Irish ancestors or something, but I love oats. Oats were once a staple grain for much of Northern Europe, especially England, Scotland and Ireland. They have a nice, nutty taste and lots of water soluble fibre.

When I was growing up, my Mom would often make a whole pot of oatmeal for breakfast during the colder part of the year. If made ahead and kept hot, oatmeal has a tendency to become gummy or gluey. Fraid that was the case with Mom's oatmeal if my memory serves.

Still, many mornings a week these days I eat oatmeal for breakfast and I love it! I add some golden raisins and pour a little milk on top once the cooked oatmeal cools a bit.

When I make quick breads or muffins, I often whirl some rolled oats around in the food processor to get some ready made oat flour to add to those goodies, just because I like the way they taste when I do. I know that oats are a healthy food, too, especially if you don't add quantities of butter, brown sugar, and cream. Another Irish staple, potatoes, also is pretty healthy until you start adding in the butter, sour cream and salt in large doses...but that's for another post.

Continuing on my bread baking journey, this week I decided to see what happened if I used some of the things I had learned making loaves in the past and applied that learning to making my own bread recipe. An oatmeal bread seemed like a good place to start.

First I made some oatmeal using steel cut oats. Once the oatmeal was cooled, it went into a poolish, along with whole wheat flour, all purpose flour and some rolled oats...the kind that are quick oats because you can cook them in the microwave in a little over a minute. Some sourdough starter also went into the mix, along with water and salt.

The next morning the third kind of oats came into play. The poolish went into the mixer bowl and was joined by old fashioned rolled oats...the kind you cook for at least five minutes, but usually some more whole wheat flour, some bread flour, some buttermilk and honey and egg. This made a wonderful, elastic, easy to work with dough.

Once the loaf had been shaped in a loaf pan and had risen, it received an egg wash and a sprinkle of some more of the old fashioned kind of rolled oats on top. A few slashes across the top and into the oven it went.

This bread browned up slowly...even when slices went into the toaster. It has a nice rough texture from the old fashioned oats and makes great sandwich bread.

If you like oats, you will love this bread. No sourdough starter? No problem. Just put a teaspoon of dried yeast into 1/3 cup of warm water (not above 110 degrees F) and let it sit 10 minutes to proof. Then add it to the poolish instead of the starter. This bread makes a great entry into Susan of Wild Yeast's Yeast Spotting event.

Triple Oat Sandwich Bread
recipe by Elle

1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup steel cut oats, cooked for 5 minutes in 3/4 cup boiling water, stirring constantly, then cooled to tepid
1/2 cup quick style rolled oats
1 cup sourdough starter
1/2 cup warm water
1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup buttermilk at room temperature
1 tablespoon honey
1 egg, beaten slightly, or equivalent egg substitute
all of the Poolish
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
2 cups + breadflour
1 cup whole wheat flour
Wash and topping:
1 egg yolk, mixed with 1 tablespoon warm water
2-3 tablespoons old fashioned rolled oats

Whisk all the ingredients for the Poolish together. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit in cool place overnight, or for at least eight hours.

In a heatproof measuring cup or bowl, mix together the buttermilk and honey. Warm slightly in the microwave. Cool if needed so that it is no hotter than 110 degrees F. Mix in the egg.

Take all of the Poolish and put into a stand mixer bowl. Using paddle attachment, mix in the buttermilk mixture, the rolled oats, and 1 cup of the bread flour. Remove the paddle and using the dough hook, incorporate the remaining bread flour and the whole wheat flour. If needed, use more bread flour, a tablespoon at a time, to make a dough that cleans the side of the mixer bowl. Knead with the mixer and/or by hand for 8 - 10 minutes until dough is elastic and somewhat smooth.

Place dough in oiled bowl; turn dough to oil other side. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.

Punch dough down and turn out onto a floured board. Knead lightly a few times to release trapped air. Divide dough in half. Shape each half into a loaf shape and put into a loaf pan. Cover and let rise until almost to the top of the pans, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. about 15 minutes before bread is ready to bake.

Brush egg wash over the top of each loaf and sprinkle liberally with the rolled oats. Cut slashes in the top of the loaf and bake in preheated oven for about an hour, until top of bread is golden and loaf sounds hollow when bottom is tapped. Cool on a wire rack for at least 45 minutes before slicing. Makes 2 loaves.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Darling Baker

Apparently it is a bit daunting to bake for a Daring Baker. There are worries about not measuring up. Well, this Daring Baker was absolutely THRILLED with the birthday cake that Darling Baker Sister Number One brought yesterday.

Candles were lit, the birthday song was sung, wishes made, candles blown out and then we each had a slice. The cake was baked in the same heart shaped cake pans that had been used to bake cakes for my birthday when I was a child. How is that for special? The cake was my favorite kind...chocolate...and iced with...YUM...whipped cream. Between the layers was spread a mixed berry jam, an excellent choice. The cake was moist and darkly chocolate and perfectly delicious. She even sprinkled pink sugar decorations on top. Sweetie liked it so much he had a piece for breakfast this morning :)

Happy Valentine's Day to the darling Daring Bakers, the sweet bloggers, and even you lurkers!

This evening Sweetie and Sister Number One, now known as the Darling Baker, will each receive a little Valentines gift from me.

Your gift is the recipe for the Anzac delicious if you don''t burn them...which I should have posted yesterday.

Anzac Cookies
makes about 2 dozen
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, melted
2 tablespoons hot water
2 tablespoons golden syrup
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup self-rising flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup dry coconut
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup mixed dried fruit (I used Sunkist Anti-oxidant blend)
1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2) Combine the melted butter, hot water, golden syrup and brown sugar in a mixing bowl (or the pot you melted the butter in if it large enough to hold the batter). Stir to blend well.
3) On a sheet of waxed paper combine the oats, flours, salt and soda. You could also combine them in a mixing bowl
4) Add the nuts, coconut, dry ingredients and dried fruit to the butter mixture. Stir to blend well.
5) Pack dough into small tart pans or make into drop cookies on a cookie sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minute until golden brown. (New note: Check cookies at 10 and 13 minutes :)
6) Cool cookies on wire rack. Store in airtight container. These cookies ship well. Enjoy!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Musings in February

Funny how we really don't see ourselves clearly.

This week I was having lunch with K and she gave me a wonderful birthday gift...a satin scarf in a lovely Baroque print in shades of brown and green. She was anxious because she wasn't sure it was my style (in fact it is just right for me!) and said that she doesn't have any style herself, which was why she was worried. That startled me because the day before I had been thinking that I wished I had her sense of style. She is always beautifully coordinated. She says that she just wears tops and bottoms, but her tops have embroidery, lovely wooden beads, and other embellishments, plus the colors are perfect for her.

Then I received a wonderful letter from Grandma L. She said that I am a formidable woman, as well as smart and other nice things. I had never thought of myself as formidable! Forceful, perhaps, and a go-getter, but maybe some of that translates into formidable. Who knew?

One thing I'm not is perfect (well, who is really?) and I proved that last night. I decided to bake some Anzac cookies for Sweetie for Valentine's Day in heart shapes. After dinner I put together the batter, even adding some anti-oxidant dried fruit mix to offset the butter. In to the preheated oven they went, I checked my watch for the time, then went and did some e-mail. My nose is notorious...I can't smell things burning until they are well and truly charred. That is what happened! The poor things were black on the bottom and sides. The broiler had been on to broil pork chops for dinner and I guess it made the oven hotter than it should have been. So the bad news is that there won't be any cute cookies for V-Day, but we are such sick puppies that the good news is we ate about half of them anyway, char and all.

I'm including a photo of how they looked, plus one of a batch I made a while ago that look like they are supposed to look. Also a shot of golden syrup dripping into the pan...the golden syrup is the 'secret ingredient' for these yummy bites. I use Lyles' Golden Syrup from the import section of my grocery store.

Happy birthday to me and Happy Valentine's Day to y'all. Hope your Valentines treats work out better than mine did!

xoxoxo Elle

Monday, February 09, 2009

Goes Well with Soup

Yesterday I posted a recipe for some great Potato and Spinach Soup. This bread, full of the brawny flavors of ale, cheddar and rye, goes really well with soup. The crust has some crunch, the interior is soft and with pockets of holes, some left by melting cheddar. As you can see by the photo of the shaped boule, it is loaded with cheddar shreds.

It probably makes good toast, too, but Sweetie and I just ate it warm and as butter needed.

A huge thank you goes to Jackie for this recipe which comes from Jackie's blog: Toxo Bread. She modified it from Tomi's recipe Brown Interior's Ale Bread recipe, which was in turn adapted from Richard Bertinet's Crust. Since the measurement were given in grams and I'm not fluent in metrics, I may have changed the recipe more than I know when I converted it to cups. The addition of rye was my own idea, too. Some thing about cheddar, rye and ale seemed right and it did turn out a great pair of loaves of bread.

I made two round loaves, better known as boules. That gave maximum crust territory and I love a good crust! Going to send this over to Susan at Wild Yeast for the Yeastspotting roundup this week. If you love bread, it is a great place to go for new ideas.

Ale and Cheddar Bread
adapted from Jackie's recipe at Toxo Bread

1 cup ale (or any beer you’d just as well drink)
1 cup bread flour
1/4 tsp instant yeast (or 1 cup sourdough starter)

Final dough
all of the poolish
2 cups bread flour
½ cup dark rye flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup Vermont sharp cheddar, shredded
1/4 tsp instant yeast
½ cup water, lukewarm
1 teaspoon salt

Mixing the poolish

Combine all of the poolish ingredients, cover and let ferment for 3 to 5 hours, until risen and bubbly.

Mixing the dough
Mix all of the final dough ingredients except for the salt. Knead for 10 minutes by hand until supple. Add salt and cheese, and knead until they’re fully incorporated, another 3 to 5 minutes.

Bulk ferment
In an oiled bowl for two hours, with one stretch and fold at the one hour point.

Shaping and proofing
Shape according to your heart’s desire - I divided the dough into two portions, and made two boules. Proof for one hour. I proofed them on a baking sheet on top of a silicone mat, covered with a linen dish towel.

After proofing, I slashed each boule in a cross shape, and placed the baking sheet into a preheated 450 degree F. oven and baked it about ½ hour, until deep golden brown. If you turn the boule over and tap on the bottom, it should make a hollow sound. Cool before serving.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Soup - Looks the Same..but What a Difference!

I’ve made a vegetable soup, usually spinach, but sometimes broccoli or chard, for years, thickening it with mashed potatoes.

This time I wanted to make it using roasted potatoes and onions, instead of sautéed onions and mashed potatoes that had been boiled. I used the floury kind of potatoes even though I usually use waxy red potatoes in this soup. They really respond well to roasting.

To up the ante on a different taste, I decided to add a little balsamic vinegar to the vegetables to be roasted. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but was game to try it.

Once the soup was finished it looked much the same as the old Spinach and Potato Soup…a rich green, with flecks of potatoes and onions visible. I always leave the skin on, so this is never a smooth puree soup. Once I tasted it I was ecstatic. The roasting and balsamic really brought the potato flavor to the forefront.

Before the spinach was the star. Now the potato was king. The roasting also made this an earthy tasting pottage. The onions are a back note and you don’t really taste the balsamic vinegar as such.

This is the perfect hearty soup for a cold day or evening. We might eat ours by the woodstove tonight, listening to the rain blowing against the windows, chasing the last drops of soup with a chunk of freshly baked cheddar ale bread (which I will post about in the next day or two).

Hearty Potato and Spinach Soup
Serves 2-4

2 large or 2 medium Idaho type potatoes (the floury kind), cut into 1 inch dice
1 medium onion, cut into wedges, about 10 or 12
3- 4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 large colander washed fresh baby spinach leaves (about 8 cups), steamed and chopped or
1 -10 oz. package frozen, chopped spinach, defrosted
2 cans low sodium chicken broth

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. In a gallon zip lock bag or other large disposable bag, place the potatoes and the onion wedges. Add the olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Close bag and shake to completely coat the veggies with the oil and vinegar. Turn out onto a foil lined large baking sheet. Spread so that they are in a single layer. Bake for 30 minutes, or until potatoes are browning. Don’t burn the onions. Remove pan from oven. Cool veggies slightly and remove the onion s to a chopping board. Chop the roasted onions to roughly ¼ inch dice.
When cool, turn the potatoes into a saucepan and mash with a fork or potato masher. Add the can of low sodium chicken broth, the onions, and the chopped spinach. Stir to combine. Put into a food processor or blender and blend until soupy, but still a little rough in texture. (May take two batches if doing in a blender.) Return to saucepan, add the nutmeg and warm over low heat until heated through, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking.

Serve hot, garnished with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle of cayenne.

This soup is perfect for the event No Croutons Required, hosted this month by Holler at Tinned Tomatoes. The theme is using potatoes. Toward the end of February be sure to check out all the entries.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Delicious Light Dinner with Peppers

The last time I tried a Martha Stewart recipe, it was a disaster. That doesn’t stop me from looking at the recipes in her magazine Martha Stewart Living.

In the February issue I was inspired by a stuffed pepper recipe. I loved the Italian flavor given it by the oregano, feta cheese and garlic. Since I have long ago decided not to follow one of her recipes as written, I just ran with the Italian flavors idea.

I added freshly chopped Italian parsley. There was a half of a tomato in the fridge, so I chopped that up and threw it in the stuffing bowl. About a half cup of diced zucchini added some more green. Since I didn’t have any on hand, I omitted the scallions that she used. Last, I toasted some pine nuts to sprinkle on top once the peppers were baked.

This is a healthy meal and vegetarian. If you take out the feta cheese, it could also be vegan. Still has some protein from the beans and pasta combo. The great thing is that it goes together fairly quickly, if you don’t mind a little time spent chopping. It smells wonderful before it is cooked and even better once cooked.
It is really pretty, too, with the colored peppers, red from the tomatoes, green from the zucchini and parsley, and pale beige from the beans. You can make this with whatever color bell pepper you have on hand. I suspect that replacing the couscous with cooked rice would taste great, too.

The key thing is to have fresh ingredients because you really taste them. I served them with some early asparagus, simply steamed. It made a nice, warm, easy meal for after work today.

Speaking of work, now that we are getting longer days, it is still a bit light when I leave. Today we had some very welcome rain overnight and it kept raining until early afternoon. As I was driving home I saw that there was ground fog from the moist earth and behind it a sunset.

In this photo that combination really sets off the dark gnarly bare old apple tree limbs.

This is a good dinner for an entry in Meeta's great Monthly Mingles event, this month highlighting Healthy Family Meals.

Italian Medley Stuffed Peppers
Inspired by a recipe in Marth Stewart's Living magazine Feb '09

4 large bell peppers, any color
1 can (15 oz.) cannelli beans, drained and rinsed
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1-2 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley
1/2 large tomato diced
1/2 cup diced fresh zucchini
1/3 cup couscous
1 cup (4 oz.)feta, crumbled
salt and pepper to taste

1 cup water
Slice off the tops of the peppers. Remove the seeds and ribs. If needed, slice off some of the bottom of the peppers so they sit flat. Chop the pepper part of the tops, discarding the stems. Put that into a bowl.

To the bowl add the beans, garlic, oregano, parsley, tomato, zucchini, couscous, feta and salt and pepper. Stir to blend thoroughly. Stuff this mixture into the pepper shells.

Place stuffed peppers in a baking dish. Add 1 cup water. Cover tightly, using foil if the baking dish doesn't have a tight cover.

Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 1 hour. Serve garnished with 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts if desired.