Friday, December 28, 2012

Yuletide Treat

When my Mom was a child the family would gather at one of the aunt's homes and the dessert highlight at Christmas was plum pudding with hard sauce. When I was little we always had lots of cookies, but the highlight of Christmas dinner was the Lane Cake. Lane Cake is a layer cake with a plain white cake for the layers and a rich, fruity, bourbon-laced filling and frosting between the layers and on the top and sides.

We used to start making the Lane Cake the day after Thanksgiving to give the concoction time for the bourbon to mellow and mingle with all those dried and candied fruits. Coconut was fresh and grated by hand. The raisins were put through the meat grinder and came out in long black snakes. The candied cherries were bright red and green and had to be cut up by hand...a sticky business. Pecans were chopped, too. It was a good thing that we had lots of willing hands to help out with all the prep. Mom baked the cake layers and I think Dad assigned us the different prep tasks. The most difficult part was getting the filling just right. Cook it for too short a time and it would slide down the sides and cook it for too long and it turned grainy. You served it in thin slices since it was so rich.

When I had children of my own I made Lane Cake once to carry on the tradition, but found that I was the only one who enjoyed it, so it really wasn't worth all the work. I found that gingerbread, both as cookies and as houses, was what my family wanted for Christmas...and cookies, too.

Last spring when I was working on the Classic Comfort Foods Cookbook I found out that my niece Mandy had become the family Lane Cake maker and that she had changed the recipe a bit, especially by using dried natural cherries instead of the candied ones. The family had also discovered that the cake was fine if you only made it a week ahead of Christmas and also that you could just put the filling between the layers and on the top (but not the sides) which made the consistency of the filling less of an issue.

This year we were thrilled to have Mandy's sister T with us for Christmas. I was thrilled that she made and brought a Lane Cake. I even had the pleasure of being consulted by phone on baking tips the day she made it. It was perfect...moist and flavorful and just a bit boozy. Gorgeous to look at, too, like T herself. We took our portion home and had it with some hot cocoa. It brought back sweet childhood memories for me. Thank you T!  Maybe next year we can bake the cake together?

XO Elle

Lane Cake
from Classic Comfort Foods

Prepare 4 cake pans by greasing them and lining them with waxed paper. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

1 cup butter at room temperature
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3¼ cups flour, sifted
3½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
8 egg whites

Cream butter; add sugar and vanilla. Sift together dry ingredients. Alternately add dry ingredients and milk to butter mixture. In separate bowl, beat egg whites to soft, glossy points, but not dry. Fold egg whites into batter until incorporated. Divide into the 4 prepared pans. Bake 2 pans to each rack, for 15-20 minutes in preheated oven. Cool 3-5 minutes, loosen edges, and turn out to cool. Remove waxed paper and turn right side up carefully. Set aside while preparing the filling/frosting.

1½ cups seedless raisins
12 egg yolks
1¾ cups sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup butter
½ cup bourbon whisky
½ cup pecans, coarsely chopped
½ cup red and green candied cherries, quartered - or try modern version (Mandy’s) below
1½ cups coconut, shredded (fresh or frozen)

Cover raisins with hot water, let stand to plump. Drain and dry. Chop or grind (Note: Dad used to grind the raisins in a meat grinder, but they can be chopped with a knife, too.) Put egg yolks in top of double boiler; beat slightly. Add sugar, salt and butter. Put over simmering water. Cook, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved, butter melts, and mixture thickens. Do not overcook. Mixture should be almost translucent and should mound when small amount is dropped on waxed paper. Remove from heat; add bourbon. Beat 1 minute with a beater. At this point, mixture can be transferred to a bowl. Fold in nuts, cherries, coconut and raisins. Cool. Spread between layers and on top of cake. (Sides optional) Wrap cake in plastic wrap and mellow one month (or less, about one week, for less stale cake). Serve in thin slices. Serves 20-24.

Niece Mandy’s Modern Lane Cake: “I made the cake the same as the recipe directs; I just did the cakes in 2 batches of 2 pans. 8” this year and 9” last year.

For the filling/frosting, I did a few things differently:

Rather than using 1½ cups raisins and ½ cup candied cherries, I did about 1 ¼ cups dried Traverse City cherries (I’m biased) and ¾ cup other dried fruits (this year was just raisins, but last year I also used currents). I also soak all of these in a combination of freshly-boiled water and a few splashes of bourbon. Just enough liquid to cover the fruit. I then ground about half the fruit and very coarsely chopped the rest, leaving a few whole.

When at the step of combining the eggs, sugar, salt, and butter on top of the double boiler (or bowl over boiling water, like what I used), note that it will take about 30-45 minutes to thicken.”

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Pfeffernuesse You Say?

We are again honored to have a post from guest blogger No Handle. This time he brings the gift of a wonderful spice cookie, pfeffernuesse, perfect for Christmas. Thanks No Handle!

(The 'p' is silent, so it's feffernoose; with an 'uh' on the end if you're German)

Pfeffernuesse You Say?

It started as a simple question from a good friend, “Do you like pfeffernuesse?” or something like that. That brought a blast from the past. I did like pfeffernuesse, but hadn't had any home-made (and precious few store-bought) pfeffernuesse in decades. The name means spice nut in German. Mom made them in my youth (embarrassingly long ago) so I asked her for a recipe. She pointed me to the Encyclopedia of Cooking. A later conversation revealed that she had probably used the one in The Settlement House Cookbook (“The way to a man's heart”). As luck would have it, I owned copies of both. I also asked Elle, a fountainhead of flour-based recipes, as you know, and my friend who had one from “Foods of the World – Germany” which she transcribed. Elle had two from the same (un-named) German cookbook, which she transcribed. One was nearly identical to" Foods of the World". Email is great. I settled (pardon the pun) on the Settlement House version for no particular reason, except perhaps nostalgia. I will hit some of the differences later in this post.

My next challenge was one ingredient that appears in many German fruit bread recipes (think Stollen) and in this one: citron. The search for this led me to another sister, whose husband is German, and who bakes Stollen as yummy Christmas gifts. Citron is a very bitter lemon flavored fruit. It is available (when you can find it) with the candied fruit, wherever the grocery store decides to put it. I struck out at Whole Foods, but the local Kroger store had some. Under another name, “etrog”, citron is used for blessings in the Jewish Feast of the Tabernacles, so I ask my friend Dave where he gets his. “From the Temple” was his response, but that holiday is in September or so, making that source interesting but impractical. Another closely related fruit is called “hand of Buddha” a visually interesting fruit in its own right, but I would have needed to candy it, and the hands are much too big for my needs. Whole Foods had that though, fresh in the produce section. If you strike out at your local grocery, you can use candied lemon rind in a pinch. It's a bit less bitter.

This is a sweet cookie using any of the recipes. It calls for brown sugar (8 oz.) and 1 cup each of corn syrup, and molasses (honey in the older recipes) which are heated before adding to the dry goods. Those are flour (5 cups), almonds ground to a flour, and baking soda (baking powder if you are using honey) with cinnamon for the spice, although other recipes often include cloves and allspice, which would be good. Add to this shortening (or sometimes lard and butter) and you have your ingredients.The recipe below uses double these ingredients (e.g. 2 cups each of corn syrup and molasses).

My recipe called for adding things in a particular order, but I simplified it some by sifting the dry ingredients together, adding the brown sugar, and then the warmed syrups, followed by the shortening. It is a very stiff dough (about like Play-Doh, or slightly stiffer) which makes mixing it an effort. I would recommend a stand mixer at low speed, but I can tell you that a really good hand mixer at low speed works too. It fills my largest mixing bowl, so care must be taken to keep it from flying everywhere.

Once mixed it needs to rest a while. The goal is small balls of dough, so I made a two foot long log of the dough and covered it in plastic wrap to rest overnight. Then I cut the log in thirds, reduced the diameter by rolling the log (just like in kindergarten) and cut inch-long slices and rolled them into balls in my palms. The result is a bit smaller than a golf ball, but I didn't measure them.

You get about twenty to a section, for about 60 total. They need about their own diameter separation on a cookie sheet, and cook for about fifteen minutes at 350 degrees.  This is something about which the recipe is curiously vague. It says to bake until brown, but the dough is quite brown to start with. Perhaps with honey instead of molasses it isn't. My recipe calls for a greased sheet, and some call for a floured and greased sheet, but with the shortening content, I didn't bother, and they came off easily. A bit of cooking spray wouldn't hurt if you want to be sure of an easy separation.

At fifteen minutes the cookie is crisp on the outside and somewhat soft inside. Sprinkle them with powdered sugar, or roll them in powdered sugar if you are a traditionalist.

As they cool, they get firmer within, and retain about the same crispness. The next day (and for a few days thereafter, the crispness softens some, and the interior firms slightly. This is the consistency I (vaguely) remember in Mom's (and I'm sure she rolled them in sugar; different health standards). Some recipes recommend keeping them in an air-tight container (cookie tins if you have them, Tupperware if you don't) for a week or so. They do keep well, so you can make these in Advent and enjoy them on Christmas day. “What about the taste”, you ask. My wife says they are unlike anything she has tasted, and that they taste different once they cool. Not much help for you. I will say they are similar to molasses cookies, almost like a soft ginger snap, but with that citrus bite from the citron. I think the citron (lemonish) flavor spreads over time. So that's my Christmas gift to you. Enjoy!

Here is the verbatim recipe (I halved it) from the Settlement House (The Way to a Man’s Heart ®) cookbook, 1965, which is still in print, but revised and expanded:

2 cups corn syrup
2 cups dark molasses
1 cup shortening
Rind and juice of one lemon
½ pound brown sugar
10 cups flour [I used unbleached]
1 teaspoon [baking] soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
¼ pound citron, cut fine [more is OK]
¼ pound almonds, chopped fine [more almonds is good too]
1 egg white

Warm syrup and molasses, add shortening and lemon juice and the remaining ingredients in the order given, flour and soda mixed. Citron and soda may be omitted [ but don’t]. Roll into little balls, brush with white of egg, place on greased cookie sheet far apart, and bake until brown [15 minutes at altitude], 350 degrees F. Roll in confectioner’s sugar. Will keep.

Reply to this blog and I will send (or post) a few variations for your enjoyment.

  No Handle

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Let's Hear It For Gingerbread!

Lots of emotions going on recently. I was remembering school Christmas nativity plays and all of the costumes and songs. I was painfully shy after about age 7, so never acted in any that I can remember, but a friend remembered being an angel and she said something interesting: "The tinsel made my shoulders itch." At first I thought she meant literally, but she was talking about feeling not worthy to be such a higher being as an angel. I know that feeling myself.

At this time of year I alternate between feeling good about myself as I choose just the right gift or make some quick bread as a gift and feeling inadequate when I realize that I don't have a gift for a friend who just made a lunch date with me or when I can't even seem to find the time to see someone I really enjoy spending time with.

I get a warm glow sending out cards to good friends and a sinking feeling that I'm going to forget to send cards to people I care about since my list hasn't been updated and I'm terrible at keeping my database clean with up to date addresses and phone numbers.

Then there is the well of sadness that lives just below the surface of my emotions and has for 13 years. Mostly it stays below the surface and I'm happy, even joyful, as I prepare for the holidays. Then something will poke a hole in that happy and the missing of my son wells up. It's OK. I ride with it, shed a few tears sometimes, and then the happy is all around me again.

It's part of the season for lots of people I think. Many of us have lost a loved one, are worried about the illness a loved one is dealing with, have to face loneliness or the death of a dream. So day by day I remind myself to live the meaning of the season. Be kind to those around me, be kind to myself, and patient, be grateful for my blessings. Share my love as generously as possible. It works. All the lights on the Christmas tree help, too.

Last, but not least, I find that making and sharing good food is my way of finding the happy. This morning we had a great breakfast with dear friends and I made Gingerbread Waffles. I'll bet you can imaging just how wonderful my house smelled as they cooked! There were topping of pure maple syrup, applesauce, an apple that had been sauteed, then mixed with some cinnamon and chopped pecans. For Sweetie there was a bowl of whipped cream which he even shared with the rest of us. Good man! Our friends brought a lot of fantastic candied bacon which also had some rice wine vinegar in the basting sauce to cut the sweetness a bit. It was a hit and I'll share the recipe if I get it. Could not have been a happier time.

The Gingerbread Waffles were based on the Amazing Overnight Waffles I love so much, but with the addition of some spices and substitution of molasses for the sugar. They were crispy and spicy and just wonderful!

Amazing Overnight Gingerbread Waffles

adapted for gingerbread flavor
from Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Cafe' Cookbook
1 packet dry yeast
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
½ cup water

Whisk together and let sit, uncovered, at room temperature for 2 hours

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon salt

all of the sponge
1/8 teaspoon instant yeast
½ cup molasses
2 cups milk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs

Nonstick spray
Butter (and bread) for the waffle iron
Sliced apples
Whipped cream if you are feeling decadent or maple syrup if you prefer

Combine the flour, spices, yeast, and salt in a medium bowl. Add the sponge that has sat for 2 hours waiting for this moment, and whisk to combine. Add the molasses, milk and whisk until blended. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand overnight at room temperature (or put in the fridge if room temp. is over 70 degrees F.)

The next morning, preheat the waffle iron. Melt the 6 tablespoons butter and let cool a bit. Beat the eggs in a small bowl (unnecessary if using egg substitute) then beat into the batter along with the melted butter.

Lightly spray the hot waffle iron with non stick spray, top and bottom plates, and then butter a piece of bread and use that to rub some butter on top and bottom plates.

Add just enough batter to cover the cooking surface…this varies by waffle iron…about 2/3 cup. Lower the top and cook until dark brown…it’s OK to check now and then. It takes about 2-3 minutes and it's usually when the steam starts to diminish. You want it medium-dark brown but not burnt.

Serve hot, right away, with sautéed apples, whipped cream or maple syrup, or toppings of your choice.

Note; If you have too many waffles for the number of people you are feeding, bake the leftover batter a little less than the ones you are eating, let cool on a baking rack, then freeze and store in the freezer tightly wrapped. Re-heat in the toaster.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Using Up the Egg Whites

Time has been flying! I finally looked at my photo set and discovered that I never posted about some cookies I made a couple of weeks ago. Making two coconut cream pies had left me with quite a lot of egg whites. My favorite thing to do with egg whites is to make macrons. The crispy shell of the cookie shatters when you bite down, which is when you discover the chewy inside and the delicious filling.

I decided to make two flavors in one batch. The simple one was chocolate cookies and ganache filling. The second half was raspberry. I used some freeze dried raspberries to flavor them and raspberry jam for filling. Both are fairly traditional and not odd flavor combinations, but the chocolate goes well with the raspberry, so you could easily switch out the fillings and still have awesome macrons.

Since I didn't want all the seeds from the dried raspberries, I decided to grind them up with a little bit of powdered sugar and then put that through a fine mesh strainer. There are still tiny bits of raspberry in the cookie but no chunks that way. I forgot to add food coloring, so they are pale, pale pink. Pretty tasty, especially with the red jam as filling.

The part I often forget about is that you need to make the batter, pipe them onto the baking sheets, and then wait at least 30 minutes before you bake them. That helps create the little 'feet' and round smooth tops. My tops were not smooth and one batch had no feet, but they still were wonderful to eat.

Two Kinds of Macrons - Chocolate with Ganache and Raspberry with Raspberry Jam

90 gr egg whites (about 3)
30 gr granulated sugar
200 gr powdered sugar
110 gr almonds
1/4 cup cocoa powder (Dutch process preferred) for the chocolate half of the batter
3 tablespoons freeze dried raspberries (or 2 tablespoons powdered raspberries)

Prepare the macrons: in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam, gradually add the sugar until you obtain a glossy meringue. Do not overbeat your meringue or it will be too dry. Divide meringue in half (in two bowls) if making two flavors from one batch as I did.

Place the half the almonds, half the powdered sugar and all of the cocoa in a food processor and give them a good pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Add them to one bowl of meringue, give it a quick fold to break some of the air and then fold the mass carefully until you obtain a batter that falls back on itself after counting to 10. Give quick strokes at first to break the mass and slow down. The whole process should not take more than 50 strokes.

Test a small amount on a plate: if the tops flattens on its own you are good to go. If there is a small beak, give the batter a couple of turns.

Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip (Ateco #807 or #809) with the batter and pipe small rounds (1.5 inches in diameter) onto parchment paper or silicone mats lined baking sheets. Let the macrons sit out for 30 minutes to an hour to harden their shells a bit.

Place 1/4 cup powdered sugar and all of the dried raspberries in the food processor and process until the raspberries are as fine as possible. Strain the mixture into a small bowl, discarding the pieces too large to go through a fine mesh strainer. (If using powdered raspberries, just add to the food processor and continue with recipe.) Place the strained mixture, half the almonds, and the remaining powdered sugar in the food processor and give them a good pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Add this mixture to the second bowl of meringue, give it a quick fold to break some of the air and then fold the mass carefully until you obtain a batter that falls back on itself after counting to 10. Give quick strokes at first to break the mass and slow down. The whole process should not take more than 50 strokes.

Pipe this mixture the same way you piped the chocolate macrons. Let these sit out for 30 minutes too.

Preheat the oven to 280F and then bake macrons for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on their size. Let cool. Remove from pan.

If you have trouble removing the baked macrons, pour a couple of drops of water under the parchment paper while the sheet is still a bit warm and the macrons will lift up more easily do to the moisture. Don't let them sit there in it too long or they will become soggy.

Once baked and if you are not using them right away, store them in an airtight container out of the fridge for a couple of days or in the freezer. When ready, fill with ganache or jam.

Semisweet Chocolate Ganache Filling
Heat ¼ cup heavy cream in the microwave 1 minute on high power. Remove bowl from microwave and add 2 oz. of semisweet excellent quality chocolate that has been chopped finely. Stir with a small spatula, very gently, until chocolate melts and thoroughly combined. Avoid adding extra air.

Let cool 2-3 minutes, then put into a pastry bag and pipe about ½ tablespoon on half of the macarons on the flat side. Top with the other half of the macarons, rounded side up. Let the ganache firm up before serving.

Filling for Raspberry Macrons:
Fill them with best quality raspberry jam. Sandwich together as described above.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Babes December Tray Bake

When you read British food blogs, I think they refer to today's recipe as a tray bake...a treat baked in a rectangular pan (or even a square one) and served as slices or slabs. It doesn't sound all that appealing, but tray bakes are usually my favorite dessert recipes. In Germany they are kuchen. The Bread Baking Babes are gathering around the table of our December Kitchen of the Month, Gretchen of Provecho Peru, to make Apple Kuchen.

The holiday run-up is in full swing! Worked on the annual Christmas letter, but made sure to keep it to one page, including photos. Took in a holiday party or two, visits with friends where I admired their superior Christmas decorating skills. We do have our tree decorated and a wreath on the door and one string of lights up the banister but I am in awe of friends who do little groupings of trees or Santas or snowmen and make them look just right, something I don't feel I know how to do very well.

One thing I do know how to do is bake, especially breads and cakes. On Saturday I pretended I was in Gretchen's kitchen baking kuchen with her. The recipe she gave is for an apple kuchen with a yeasted dough on the bottom of the pan and an apple topping (although I used apricots as you can see below) with a yummy, rich crumble on top.

Gretchen gave us a description of the different kuchens:

"Kuchen is said to be the German word for cake. Maybe someone more German than I can confirm that? There are several “types” of kuchen that can be prepared:

Rolled - filled dough in a long spiral, baked & sliced to serve
Custard - thick cake-y crust with sweet custard filling
Cheesecake - yeasted crust with fruit and a cream cheese filling
Coffeecake - cinnamon sugar streaks in a butter cake
Pie - thick cake-y crust with apple-pie filling and sweet white icing

We are making something (that I think) is closest to the 'Pie Kuchen'."

I'm convinced that nothing succeeds like excess, so I changed a few things (as I often do) to make the treat even more luxurious. I used white whole wheat flour, browned the butter, then added the sugar and did a bit of stirring to let the sugar begin to dissolve. I also added a tiny bit of almond extract to the liquid mixture. I love nutmeg, so added some to both the dry mixture and to the crumble. On Gretchen's suggestion I doubled the crumble mixture but, because I decided to go all-out on the almond flavors, I used 1/2 cup almond flour and 1/2 cup flour. Still being excessive, I added thin sliced almonds to the bottom and sides of the pan after greasing it. They toasted while the kuchen baked and added a nice crunch to each bite. Last, but not least, I substituted canned apricots for the apples. I've always loved almonds and apricots together.

This was a wonderful, flavorful, almost extravagant kuchen! I skipped any creamy topping because with all that crumble it was rich enough 'plain'.

The dough was easy to work with, although I did used 2 1/2 cups flour to make the dough stiff. Mine didn't rise a lot but that was probably due to the house being cold and damp. We had a raw day Saturday. Of course that made this treat all the more welcome. It was great with a cup of coffee for an afternoon snack.

Thank you Gretchen for choosing such a great December recipe! Do check out the other Bread Baking Babes sites for their take on this festive treat.

I'm sending this over to Susan at Wild Yeast for her Yeastspotting event. I've been remiss in not joining that round up lately, but I recommend it to you as a marvelous place to be inspired to bake with yeast! Lots of great recipes every week.

The recipe can be found at Gretchen's blog, HERE.

Happy kuchen baking!

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Not So Irish Stew

A few weeks ago we purchase some local lamb, both stew pieces and ground. My original idea was to make traditional Irish stew, but somewhere along the way it morphed into lamb with red wine, rosemary and garlic. I started out with the traditional onions, celery, carrots mix and with the lamb shaken with seasoned flour and browned, a few at a time. Sorry to say I also have lost the amounts I used, so this isn't as much a recipe as a recounting.

Along about the time that I was supposed to braise the browned lamb and veggies with broth I decided I like my lamb marinade for grilling so much that I would add those ingredients, too. Red wine, fresh rosemary, a few cloves of crushed garlic, a couple of bay leaves, a shake of dried orange peel and some freshly ground pepper was added to the chicken broth. A nice long simmer later the meat was tender, almost falling off the bone.The next step could be skipped but it does add to the flavor. I removed the meat and simmered the liquid until it was reduced by about 1/3. Then I removed the bay leaves, added back the meat and I added some red skinned waxy potatoes that I had cut into bite size pieces and cooked until tender in a separate pot. I didn't want red potatoes from the red wine.

I served the stew in bowls because it was on the soupy side. A sprinkle of freshly chopped flat leaf parsley was the final garnish.

This was excellent stew folks! You could really taste the lamb...a good thing if you love lamb...but the potatoes still had their own flavor and the veggies were soft and added a touch of tradition. The red wine and garlic and rosemary provide robust flavor but are not dominant. Great with good bread to sop up the savory liquid. Just have a plate for the bones if yours, like ours, is bone-in stew meat.

Finally have some time to start thinking about Christmas. I did do a couple of online bits of shopping on Cyber Monday, but now have the fun of finding local items, mostly, for family and friends. The crafts scene especially has just blossomed so there are lots and lots of quality hand crafted items this year to choose from. Hard to choose...

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Sweet Bananas and Persimmons

The rains came last week (about 8 inches in 5 days) and knocked most of the leaves off the trees. That made some trees look pretty bleak, but not our persimmon tree.

One of the harbingers of winter around here are the bright orange persimmons hanging like early Christmas ornaments on the bare branches of their trees. Our tree is a Hayachi, the kind that need to be soft, almost squishy, in order to be edible. I brought an unripe, hard one in to be part of the Thanksgiving table decorations and it is finally soft enough to use.

Today there were also a few very ripe bananas on the plate with the new greenish ones that Sweetie likes. I decided to combine the two fruits in one sweet quick bread. With the addition of some molasses and spices it is the perfect seasonal treat. This one is very moist. You get a hint of the persimmon flavor and a bit more of the banana. Fortunately they complement each other. Sweetie was a big fan of this combo and of the moistness, plus he has always liked thing with molasses flavors.

The butter needs to be soft, the eggs at room temperature and the fruit very ripe. It only makes one loaf, but it just might become your favorite tea bread when persimmons are ripe. Now you know what I'm going to be baking when the persimmons now on the tree are ripe in a few weeks. Hope you'll try it, too.

Persimmon Banana Spice Bread

1 fully ripe persimmon (about 1/3 pound)
2-3 ripe bananas
1 ½ plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon dried orange peel, ground
2 large eggs
¼ cup molasses
½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1. Adjust oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter an 8 ½ by 4 ½ by 2 ¾ inch loaf pan; set aside.

2. Pull the stems off the persimmon and cut lengthwise in half. With a teaspoon or grapefruit spoon, scoop the pulp out into a bowl. Use a pastry blender or potato masher to chop or mash the pulp into small pieces; you should still have some pieces of persimmon mixed with the pureed pulp. Set aside. Peel and mash the bananas, also leaving some small pieces mixed with the very mashed pulp. Set aside.

3. Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, spices and orange peel together; set aside.

4. In the bowl of a stand mixer beat the butter until light. Add the brown sugar and beat until light. Add the molasses and beat to combine thoroughly.

5. Add the eggs to the butter mixture and beat to combine. Mixture may look curdled. That is OK. Stir in the persimmon pulp and banana pulp with a rubber spatula. Add the flour mixture and stir only until the batter is smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s) and smooth the top(s). (Note: I stirred in the fruit and then the flour mixture using a stand mixer and was careful to not overmix…it worked fine.)

6. Bake for about 1 hour and 5 minutes, until the bread is well browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. The bread will be quite dark, especially on the edges, but if loaf/loaves start to brown too much before being done, lay a piece of aluminum foil, shiny side up, loosely on top during the last 30 minutes or so of baking.

7. Cool in the pan(s) on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Run a small sharp knife around the side(s) to release the bread, and carefully unmold. Set right side up on a rack to cool completely. Wrap airtight. The bread can be frozen for up to 2 months.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Creamy - Coconutty - Bliss!

I've rarely thought of myself as competitive but sometimes it creeps up on me. Sweetie tried a small single-person size coconut cream pie at a cafe' near here and went on and on about it. I tried a bite and was not convinced. I told him I could make a much better one (which is about as competitive as you can get!) and yesterday and today I did. This pie...actually a tart in the final version...was going to be part of a late Thanksgiving dinner at dear Natasha's near Sacramento. That never happened since Sweetie wasn't thrilled with the idea of driving for about three hours each way in heavy rain. Rain is wonderful if you don't have to drive a lot in it, right? So I had all the ingredients for the pie/tart and some of them don't keep well. I also have a dear friend with a birthday coming up, so we invited her, and her hubby, to join us for coffee and pie/tart today to celebrate her birthday a little early. Good thing, too, because otherwise Sweetie and I may have eaten a half tart each. It really was that good.

There are various ways to make the cream filling for coconut cream, banana cream, ginger cream or similar flavors. Basically you are making pastry cream. I decided to make a variation on the pastry cream that we put into cream puffs when the Daring Bakers made Gateau St. Honore' in 2007.

It uses both egg yolks and flour, both whole milk and whipping cream. Some gelatin is added, too, which helps stabilize the filling. The recipe calls for whipping egg whites and folding them in but I skipped that step since I wanted the filling to be denser than that. I also added some vanilla. To make it coconut cream I also folded in fresh coconut that had been hand grated a few days before, then stored in the 'fridge.

For the tart shell I used a recipe in Dorie Greenspan's book Baking, from my home to yours. It makes a nice shortbread type crust. This would have been perfect for surviving a trip past Sacramento since it is pretty sturdy, but it is also perfect because the buttery crispness makes a wonderful contrast to the creamy, coconutty bliss of the filling. Once the filling had chilled after being spooned into the tart shell, I topped it with dollops of whipped cream and a sprinkle of toasted coconut for garnish...and flavor. This really is a special occasion dessert, but worth the effort. Sweetie agreed that it was far better than the one at the cafe'. The good news is that I'll be making another for the trip to Sacramento area in early December. The bad news (for my waistline if nothing else) is that now I know I can make a killer coconut cream tart and will want to prove that again and again. Ah, competition.

Coconut Cream Tart

1 envelope unflavored gelatin (7 gr.)
¼ cup cold water (60 ml)
½ cup + 2 Tablespoons sugar (130 gr)
½ cup all-purpose flour (70 gr)
¼ teaspoon salt
5 egg yolks
2 cups whole milk (500ml)
1 tablespoon rum
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ cup whipping cream (57 gr)
1 3/4 cups lightly toasted fresh coconut, divided
1 9-inch blind baked tart crust, cooled to room temperature

Soak the gelatin in the 1/4 cup of cold water.

Put the sugar, flour, and salt into a saucepan and stir together with a whisk. Add the yolks and enough milk to make a paste. Whisk in the remainder of the milk.

Place over low heat and stirring constantly, cook until thick. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and the gelatin. Stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.

Stir in the whipping cream (and rum if using). Set the mixing bowl in cold water and stir until the cream is cool. Fold in 1 1/2 cups of the coconut. Pour into tart or pie crust and spread evenly. Chill until set. Garnish with whipped cream rosettes and rest of coconut. Serve at or close to room temperature for the best flavor.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Rainy Weather Comfort Soup

The rains have come. Well, actually, they have been coming, now and then, during October and November, but this time we are having heavy precipitation that is going to continue for days in a row. That's exactly what should happen in late fall here in Northern California. The trees, shrubs and grasses are happy. The new dog, not so much. Perhaps being out in the rain reminds Pi of his time on the streets. Perhaps he has become spoiled by his new 'parents'. For whatever the reason, he really tries to avoid the rain, even going close to the house to take advantage of the eaves when he can.

I enjoy rainy weather as long as I don't have to do a lot of driving in it. I much prefer to stay at home baking bread and simmering soups and stews. One of my favorite rainy weather comfort soups comes from the Classic Comfort Food cookbook. It is Split Pea Soup. It makes enough for a couple of meals and can be doubled if you have a group for lunch or dinner. I usually add a ham hock for flavor but it is delicious without it. Onions and carrots add their own flavor notes and the dried peas cook up nice and tender with lots of simmering. You can take off the pot lid towards the end and simmer enough to make the consistency as thick or thin as you prefer. I like mine on the thick side so I allow an extra 45 minutes to an hour to get there.

I rarely find any debris in the dried split peas, but do check as you are rinsing them. You can jazz this up with herbs, too.

By the way, Classic Comfort Food cookbook, written by yours truly, contains lots of great recipes for fall and winter, including some classic Christmas cookies. It would make a great gift! You can order copies to be mailed directly to your loved one from Blurb, the online publisher. Click HERE. Between now and December 3rd, add the code HOLIDAY25 at checkout and save 25%! There is also a link at the top right of this blog. It is also the link to go directly to the Blurb store. This is not a moneymaker for me, dear reader. I think my profit is something like 50 cents. The reason I'm suggesting it as a gift is that it really will be a great one for friends and family who like sweet and savory classic dishes like macaroni and cheese and fresh coconut cake (both great recipes for this time of year).

Split Pea Soup
from Classic Comfort Food

2 cups dried split peas
8 cups hot water
1-2 lbs. ham bones or hocks
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, minced
1 stalk celery and tops, chopped
1 tablespoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper

Pick over and rinse the dried split peas. Combine ingredients. Heat to boiling, reduce heat, and simmer for one hour and fifteen minutes, or until peas are very soft. Remove ham bones and put soup through food mill or blend. Reheat and serve. Often served with croutons made from stale bread cubes baked until dry. Serves 8.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Buttery Ravioli

I'm not a big fan of standard time, having decided years ago that daylight savings time is far better and should just be the time we use year 'round. It makes no sense to me that as the days grow shorter we switch to  standard time where an extra hour at the beginning and end of the day is in darkness or nearly so. Sweetie has been playing tennis with his friends after they finish work for most of the spring, summer and fall. Once the time was moved to standard they had to quit playing an hour earlier. If that meant that in the morning it would be light maybe I could understand but the days are so short by the time that daylight savings time ends that it is still pretty dark at 7 am, which became 6 am. Does that mean that there is more light at 8 am, which became 7 am? A little but hardly enough to warrant switching.

For me the worst part is that my photos of food suffer. I mostly use natural daylight for my shots and so that means middle of the day photos. When I'm trying to get a good photo of breakfast or dinner food I turn on all the lights I can, but everything takes on a golden tone. Sometimes that is pretty, sometimes not.

Tonight I cooked a lucious dish for dinner. It closely resembled one I had for lunch at a Santa Rosa restaurant a week before. The photo makes it look more orange than it really was, but those round butternut squash ravioli were a bit orange to begin with. You can't see it, but underneath there is a bed of fresh baby spinach. On top of that there is a warm mixture of fresh white corn, cut off the cob, mixed with diced red and yellow bell pepper and just a hint of finely chopped red onion. Next come the just cooked ravioli and a sprinkle of cubed fresh butternut squash which had been roasted until very soft and tender inside and a bit crusty on the outside. A drizzle of melted butter to which a lot of fresh, minced, sage was added and you have the dish. It was a wonder of contrasts...crisp chilled spinach, warm, soft, buttery ravioli, crunch but warm corn, zesty red bell pepper, zingy red onion, very herby sage. Sweetie loved it and ate every last bit. I served it with some sliced heirloom tomatoes and corn muffins. It was almost comfort food and seemed very much a harvest meal.Totally delicious!

The key for this dish is planning. The squash needs to be roasted first. The spinach has to be washed and dried and put in the fridge to crisp up. It doesn't take lond to cut the corn from the cob or dice the peppers or chop the onion and sage, but those are good things to do while the water comes to a boil for the ravioli. While they cook you can melt the butter and add the sage, slice and arrange and dress the tomato slices and heat the corn mixture. Just before the pasta is done is the best time to layer the spinach in the bowls. While the cooked pasta drains you can add the warm corn mixture on top of the spinach, then the pasta, the roasted squash and the butter drizzle. It's a good idea to serve it right away while the pasta is still warm and the spinach hasn't wilted from the warm elements in the dish.

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Warm Corn Salad, Spinach, Butternut Squash and Sage Butter

2 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash, seeds and stringy parts removed
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
4-5 cups fresh baby spinach
2 ears fresh corn, husks and silks removed
1/2 medium red bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed
1/4 medium yellow bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed
1 tablespoon finely chopped red onion
4 tablespoons salted butter, melted
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh sage
1 5-oz. package fresh butternut squash and cheese ravioli, uncooked

Toss the butternut squash cubes in a plastic bag with the oil, salt and pepper. Spread on a parchment lined baking sheet and roast in a preheated 450 degree oven for 10 minutes. Stir and roast another 10 minutes. Remove from oven and keep warm.

Wash and drain and dry the baby spinach. Wrap in a tea towel and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Using a sharp knife, cut the corn from the cobs. Dice the red and yellow peppers into 1/4 inch dice. In a microwave safe bowl combine the corn kernels, all the peppers, the red onion. Set aside.

Heat 4 quarts water in a large pot over high heat until it comes to a boil. About 10 minutes before you plan to serve the dish, slide the ravioli into the water and stir. Continue to stir and/or turn the ravioli over as the pasta cooks, with the heat on medium-high, for 5-6 minutes or until pasta is tender.

While pasta cooks, mix the melted butter and fresh sage and keep warm.

Heat the corn mixture in the microwave on HALF power for 2-3 minutes, until just barely warm.

In a large bowl, like a soup bowl, layer the fresh spinach, topped by the corn mixture. Gently remove the pasta from the simmering water when it is cooked and drain in a collander. When drained, place about 5 ravioli for each serving on top of the corn mixture in the bowl. Scatter the warm squash cubes over and drizzle with the sage butter. Serve at once. Serves 2.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Say Cheese

Do you like having your picture taken? I don't care one way or another but it amazes me how many people cringe when the camera is aimed their way. Often these are good looking people, too. I know that the mental picture I have of myself usually doesn't match up with what the camera sees, but I think it's fairly usual to have a different view of ourselves than others do. I'm hoping you'll tell me if that isn't true. Anyway, I hope you ignore the photo-phobes now and again because one thing I do know is that it is a great comfort to have nice photos of loved ones when they are no longer with us.  Can't guarantee you will get a smile in that photo, but you might. Sweetie dislikes having his photos taken, but recently I went though lots of old digital photos to find some choices for him to use for his Facebook page and I discovered a few that I took when he wasn't aware of it and even some where he was smiling. Now he is glad to have 'em. See.

While we are on the subject of cheese (you DO have everyone say 'cheese' when you snap their picture, right?) let me tell you about an appetizer we had yesterday for our Thanksgiving feast. It was a big hit with everyone (all 5 of us!) and was easy to do. I was inspired by a recipe in the catalog of a local company, Kozlowski Farms. They make wonderful jams, jellies, salad dressings, mustards, pies, cookies and more goodies. The recipe was for a cheese ball coated with toasted pistachios. First they layered softened, whipped cream cheese with some of their yummy fig and muscat wine preserve. Since I had neither the nuts nor the preserve I went with what I did have. I also added a tablespoon of Greek style plain yogurt so that the cheese ball would stay just a little softer, which makes it easier to serve.

I had a delicious fig and caramelized red onion confit in the 'fridge which I used in place of the Kozlowski preserves. You could also use a pepper jelly. For the nuts I used toasted pine nuts. I also used reduced fat cream cheese and you would never know the difference in this kind of recipe. It was delicious on toasted baguette slices...the crunch of the toasts was a nice contrast with the creamy cheese. I only have a photo of the cheese ball before it was served. Once we started digging in no thought was given to taking pictures.

Fig and Caramelized Red Onion Cheese Ball with Pine Nuts
Base on a recipe from Kozlowski Farms

5 oz. Fig and Caramelized Red Onion Conserve
(or use a pepper jam)
2 -8 oz. packages lower fat cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1/4 teaspoon herbs de Provence
1 tablespoon nonfat, plain Greek yogurt
3/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 bread baguette, sliced thin and toasted in the oven

Toast pine nuts in a pan over medium heat, stirring often, for about 2 minutes until golden. Set aside.

With a mixer, whip the cream cheese, herbs de Provence, and Greek yogurt until smooth and creamy.

Spread a length of plastic wrap at least 12 inches long over a clean counter or cutting board. Using a spatula spread on some of the cheese mixture. Using a teaspoon, spoon on some of the conserve. Repeat, with the top layer being cheese, until all the cheese mixture is used up. Some of the conserve may remain and can be used for another purpose.

Lift the edges of the plastic wrap, creating a ball of the cheese/conserve mixture. Tightly wrap the plastic wrap around the ball. Secure the plastic wrap. Place the ball in a bowl and refrigerate about 15 minutes to help the ball retain its shape.

Lay another two layer of plastic wrap on a clean counter or cutting board, with the second layer perpendicular to the first. Sprinkle the pine nuts in a circle in the middle. Take the chilled cheese ball and put it in the middle of the circle of nuts. Bring up the sides of the plastic wrap. If necessary, use your hands to help coat the sides and top with pine nuts. Wrap the cheese and nut ball in the plastic wrap and return it to the bowl. Chill until the ball is firm, about 3 - 4 hours.

Unwrap cheese/nut ball. Arrange on a platter and serve garnished with figs and slices of toasted baguette slices. Be sure to include a spreader for serving the cheese.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Making Progress

I used to think that I would love to have the time to just loaf around and do nothing. When you are working full time and have a couple of kids to look after, a great guy to build a life with, and the usual errands and cleaning and shopping that building a life, or just having a life, entails, it's easy to daydream about a carefree time in the future without all those time eaters.

Turns out I'd rather have projects to do and even the occasional deadline than too much time doing nothing. I like having enough things to do that I need a list to keep track of them. It usually means that I'm interacting in some way with other people (which I usually love) and that I'm making progress on something that is meaningful to me. Somewhat surprising, but not a lot. I've always enjoyed the process more than the product and you have to have things to do in order to have processes, right?

So the carpet was installed, lots of stuff found new homes and some of the old stuff returned to it's place (like this computer), although there is more to do.

The book I'm doing for my InDesign class was uploaded to the publisher today *Yay!* and will be a real book at my doorstep in early December. There is still lots more to do for the class but it feels good to have the book part of it to print.

Thanksgiving will be at our house this year so I have lists and more lists and couldn't be happier! I made the Pocketbook Rolls again, this time with my sourdough starter, so we will have puffy, slightly sour, tender rolls to go with the turkey dinner. Since I have been fairly successful with my weight loss program so far I think I'll even allow myself a good size piece of pumpkin pie!

In no time Christmas will be here, too, so there will be more fun stuff to do to get ready. That will likely mean an increase in posts as I find new recipes to try for entertaining and for gift giving. I'm stoked!

Today I have a new and simple pasta recipe that I threw together one evening. It had to be simple because my eyes were still crossed from too much time proofing the book. It starts with a bed of fresh tri-color pasta (from a package in the refrigerator section of the grocery store...any good brand will do), topped with a melange of sauted onion and garlic, wilted fresh spinach, fresh chopped tomatoes, leftover grilled chicken, and some herbs and spices. Over it all I sprinkled a generous amount of toasted pine nuts. It was wonderful! If you don't have any leftover chicken, you could substitute some rotisserie chicken, cut into bite sized pieces and dinner can be on the table before you know it!

Chicken and Spinach Pasta with Pine Nuts
my own recipe
1/2 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped (or more, to taste)
1 tablespoon olive or grapeseed oil
4 oz. sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 cups diced tomatoes and their juice...fresh tomatoes if possible
1 - 2 cups cooked chicken, cut into bite sized pieces
4 cups fresh baby spinach, rinsed well
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat leaf parsley
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup pine nuts
Hot, freshly cooked, drained, fresh pasta ribbons - I used tri-color, but any fresh pasta will work

In a large saute pot, saute the onion and garlic in the grapeseed oil, stirring often, until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, cover the pot, and cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Uncover the pot. Add the chicken broth and deglaze the pan, stirring to release any bits stuck to the side of the pot. Add the tomatoes and cook over medium-high heat uncovered, stirring often, until sauce has thickened, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken and stir to combine. Heat 2 minutes. Add the baby spinach, stirring until it wilts. Stir in the parsley and thyme, salt and pepper.

On a dinner plate pile a serving of fresh pasta. Top with some of the sauce. Sprinkle with the pine nuts. Serve at once. Serves 4.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

In With the New

Perhaps it is the result of growing up on a restricted budget, followed by being married to someone who couldn't keep a job (which led, eventually to divorce), so learning to be frugal was necessary. Thank heavens my marriage to Sweetie has none of those problems.

Perhaps it is due to my natural aversion to sorting. Who knows why, but for many years we have needed new carpeting in the upstairs of our home and I never focused on taking care of that.

Whatever the reason, the wait is over. The old carpet is gone and the new one installed. I wish that process has been as quick as the telling.

One of the first things I did in preparation was to finally paint our master bedroom. Every other room in the house has gotten at least one coat of paint but never the bedroom. The only way it happened at all was that I painted some of the walls last spring, some in October and the final wall two days before the carpet was due. The trim was painted bright, shiny white and the walls a mellow pale gold.

Another obstacle was that I am a pack-rat. I love to collect things and am terrible about sorting out things that should be donated to charity or just plain be discarded. Since I wanted this carpet it was worth doing all that hated sorting. Many, many bags went to Goodwill. Fewer but more than I had thought it would be went to the dump. Sweetie is much better at throwing things out but he found he had over 40 ties to donate to Goodwill. Another of the joys of being need to wear ties almost every day. We probably could have just moved all our things to other places and avoided the sorting, but I'm glad we didn't. Things feel lighter somehow.

When we re-did the bathroom a few years ago we never figured out how to organize the linen closet. It doesn't have a door so I see the contents, however they look, every time I use my computer. As part of "in with the new", we took everything out of the linen closet (which is also carpeted) and replaced what was there with a new storage unit from Costco which has cloth bins. Each bin has a sleeve for a label. Now everything is in the proper bin and easily found. There is even space (and a new hook) to hang a few table cloths so they are ready to put on the table. Should have done all this years ago!

We still have to return some of the things to the closet but I can only take just so much organizing at a time. I start to get stressed if I have to make too many decisions at once. I also have more trouble these days remembering where I put stuff, so I have been taking photos of some of the items that will be hidden from view and have made up sheets with the photos so that I can find things 6 months from now. Lately I have understood the old adage "Out of sight, out of mind" all too well.

Another new-ish situation  is that we have some great neighbors who have been in their new home less than a year, and they live right across the street from us. Even though they are not old foggies like us, we have a lot in common and enjoy each others' company. We had dinner with them last night, sort of spur of  the moment since it all came together late Friday. The main dish was a savory and delicious stew with dove breasts, something I've never eaten. The meat was sort of dark, like duck but a milder flavor althoughs till rich. Perfectly cooked, too. I'm afraid that it is unlikely I'll ever have the main ingredient to cook, so no recipe here, unless my neighbor wants to share.

I offered to bring a dessert and it was a hit. It's a very seasonal tasting recipe with nuts and cranberries and spices. A rich, nut infused shortbread is topped with a slightly gooey mixture that includes maple syrup and those nuts and dried cranberries. It makes 16 pieces and is rich enough that I only needed on cookie to satisfy me. The guys, on the other hand, polished of a few more. A true baker just loves that many men really appreciate quality baked goods and let you know it, too. Makes it worth the time to bake. I started with a recipe from Sunset magazine but changed the nuts, added dried cranberries and made lots of changes to the method for making the shortbread, using a technique that I've been successful with before...but you do need a food processor. Give it a try for yourself, or for a nice gift.

    Mixed Nut and Cranberry Shortbread Cookies Based on a recipe in Sunset magazine, November 2012

The Nuts
1 1/2 cups walnuts, divided
1 1/2 cups pecans, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and bake until golden, about 10-15 minutes. Watch the nuts as they burn easily at the end. Remove from oven and stir together. Divide mixed nuts into 1/2 cup to go into the crust, 1/2 cup to chop for the topping, and 1 cup whole to go in the topping.

The Pan and the Oven

Grease a 9-inch square baking pan, line with foil (let it hang over edges), then grease foil. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. (Or just turn down the heat to 325 degrees F. if you just toasted the nuts.)

The Crust
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups flour
1 cup cold butter, cubed
1/4 teaspoon salt

Put the 1/2 cup oven toasted nuts for the crust and the granulated sugar into a food processor. Pulse until nuts are finely chopped. Add the cinnamon, flour and salt and pulse to mix completely. Place the cubed cold butter around the work container, on top of the flour mixture. Process until the mixture forms a dough ball. Press the dough evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven until golden and firm, about 45 minutes.

The Topping
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons butter, cubed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons pure maple syrup
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup dried sweetened cranberries

When crust is almost finished baking, bring cinnamon, butter, granulated sugar, salt, maple syrup and brown sugar to a boil in a small saucepan, whisking frequently. Remove from the heat and stir in the 1 cup whole oven toasted nuts and the 1/2 cup chopped oven toasted nuts. Stir in the dried cranberries. Pour over baked crust and spread evenly. Bake until set when pan is tilted, about 18 minutes.


Let cool on a rack. Lift foil with cookie to a board. Cut cookie into 16 squares, then cut each square in half diagonally. (I found the cookies to be crumbly enough that I stopped when I had cut the squares.)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Pucker Up

One of the delights of the Bread Baking Babes (thank you Tanna and Karen for creating the group!) is that you never know from month to month what sort of bread you will be making.

This month our Kitchen of the Month hostess is delightful Astrid of Paulchens FoodBlog. She chose the perfect recipe for this month and next when family gathers around the table and nice hot dinner rolls are part of the feast. These, called Pocketbook Rolls, look so much like lips that you just want to pucker up and give them a kiss.

I have a sad tale to go with my rolls. Sometimes the posting day falls on the wrong day for the other things going on in my life. Thursdays are busy for me due to a class I take in the evening. I often leave homework for the last minute, too. Yesterday I baked the rolls but I had gotten so caught up in working on classwork that I forgot to preheat the oven as early as I should have, so the rolls were only baked 5 minutes, although I did put the dough in the fridge overnight and allow plenty of time for rising. Here they are rolled, cut, shaped, brushed with butter and ready to rise.

 Using the information on freezing the rolls that Astrid provided, I decided that wasn't a bad thing since half the recipe needed to be frozen and baked the rest of the way for Thanksgiving. I put those in the microwave for safekeeping. The second sheet of rolls I left on top of the microwave with a note to Sweetie that he should bake them for 4 mintues in a preheated 400 degree oven. Sweetie was off playing tennis as he usually does on Thursday afternoons, but I knew he would enjoy some rolls with his dinner.

When I arrived home from class after 9 pm I found out that he had misunderstood the directions and baked both sheets of rolls. I suspect that he didn't preheat the oven and that he baked them far longer than 4 minutes because they were almost flat (which baking them the rest of the way in a cool oven might do) and dark brown on the bottom (which probably meant too long in the oven as it got hotter). They are still tasty rolls, but don't look so great and when they sank the puffy lips went away, too. The results can be seen in the photos on this post. I wish I'd had time to photograph the rolls when they came out of the oven the first time...pale gold, puffy and beautiful!

Do check out the post for the other Bread Baking Babes because I know theirs will be gorgeous!Some may not have posted yet, but keep checking, OK?
If you would like to be a Buddy, bake these and do a post with photo, then e-mail Astrid a link so she can send you a Buddy badge.

Here is what Astrid said:
These rolls are so named because the folded dough resembles small purses or pocketbooks.
In the book it says it is essential that you let rise them at least 2 hours to attain the right feathery texture they are famous for.
They also suggest that these rolls are easily stored in the freezer: if you intend to do so you should bake them no longer than 5 minutes, cool them and then store in an airtight container in the freezer until further use. When you want to serve them bake them in preheated oven at 400°F about 5 minutes or until golden.

Pocketbook Rolls
makes about 2 dozen rolls
recipe adapted from The Glory of Southern Cooking by James Villas

1 packet active dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm whole milk
1/4 cup vegetable shortening, room temperature
4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar-
1/2 cup boiling water
1 large egg, beaten
3 cups all purpose flour (I used King Arthur Flour White Whole Wheat flour)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
8 tablespoons butter, melted
Proof the yeast in the lukewarm milk until bubbly. Should take about 5 minutes, depends on your yeast though.

Meanwhile cream the shortening, butter and the sugar in a large mixing bowl. Gradually beat in the boiling water.
Add the yeast mixture and stir until well blended.

Add   the egg and stir until well blended.

Add  the flour and salt and mix very well. (I used about another 1/2 cup flour).
--- from here you can keep the mixture up to one week in the fridge covered lightly with plastic wrap for further use.

Three hours before ready to use:
Roll out the dough. About 1/2 inch thick.
Cut into rounds with a 2 to 2 1/2 inch biscuit cutter.
Fold each round in half and place on greased baking sheet.
Brush each roll generously with melted butter, cover with a towel.
Let rise in a warm place for about 2 1/2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Bake the rolls until golden brown. Should take about 7-8 minutes (but slightly longer OK if needed to get golden brown).
Serve hot. 

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Pumpkin Season

Not only does fall bring spectacular color to the trees and a nip to the air, but it brings pumpkin season, a time when my thoughts turn to pumpkins and winter squash in general. Before we get to pumpkins and apples, however, I want to let anyone reading this who knows our daughter that she has a new job (in Oakland) and a new house not far from her boyfriend's work...and only about an hour from us! Looking forward to spending more time with them once they are moved in.

 It is also the silly season, otherwise know as election time. Although I know that it is fashionable to be cynical and to not vote, maybe because it seems that it doesn't make much difference, I urge you, (if you have the right to vote in the U.S.A.) no matter what party or cause you support or dislike, to vote this time. In many ways we are at a crossroads in the United States, so it is your opportunity, right, and obligation  to participate in our political system. That is the only way that it can stumble along and the other political systems that might replaced our current one if too many of us stay home will probably not allow you a exercise that voice now before you lose it. Even if you don't particularly care about the Presidential contest, there are still important local issues being decided and they are often the ones that impact your day-to-day life the most. So vote! 'Nuff said.

Back to pumpkins! Since good quality pumpkin puree is available in cans, the quickest way for me to get a pumpkin fix is to throw something together using that instead of fresh pumpkin. I did get one small pumpkin from the garden this year...the gophers got the others when they were still small (and they nibbled on the one I have before I protected it with chicken wire), plus I have a couple of butternut squash still in the garden, encased in chicken wire while their skins harden up a bit, so there will be recipes in the future using fresh squash.

Today's recipe also uses the last of the Gravenstein apples. I roasted them with just a sprinkle of cinnamon and drizzle of maple syrup. The roasting intensified their flavors and softened them, too.

I love pumpkin pie but decided to just do the filling part and bake it in small ramekins in a water bath to keep the texture nice and creamy. I used non-gat evaporated milk and reduced the sugar, plus I used brown sugar. The spices were the same as usual but I used egg substitute and that canned pumpkin, so the final pudding was surprisingly healthy and quite delicious. With a good sized scoop of warm roasted apples on top of the chilled puddings it was like eating the essence of fall. Sweetie wanted some whipped cream on his but mine was without and I enjoyed it just the way it was.

This recipe goes together quickly, although you do need to allow time for the puddings to chill. You can roast the apples while the pudding chills, or you can do it the day before like I did and reheat the apples at serving time. Since the apples don't need to be peeled, they go pretty quickly, too. Imagine how delighted your family or friends will be when you serve up this delicious dessert!

Individual Pumpkin Puddings
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 large eggs or equivalent egg substitute (about 1/2 cup)
1 can (15 oz.) canned pumpkin puree', not pumpkin pie mix
1 can (12 fl. oz.) non-fat evaporated milk
cinnamon sugar
boiling water
Roasted apples (see recipe below)
Whipped cream (optional)

Mix brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger and cloves in small bowl. Beat eggs in large bowl (not necessary with egg substitute). Stir in pumpkin and sugar-spice mixture. Gradually stir in non-fat evaporated milk.

Spray 6 ramekins with baking spray. Sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar (optional). Pour the pumpkin mixture evenly among the ramekins, leaving at least 1/2 inch room at the top.

Place a baking pan with 3 inch high sides which is large enough to hold all the ramekins in the oven. Add boiling water to at least an inch. Carefully place the ramekins in the pan, leaving space between them. Add additional boiling water so that ramekins sides are at least half covered by the water. Bake in preheated 350° F oven for 40-45 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 20 minutes, then chill in the refrigerator at least 2 hours or until completely cold.

Remove from the refrigerator and put each ramekin on a small plate. Top generously with the roasted apples. Serve. If desired, top with whipped cream before serving.

Roasted Spiced Apples with Maple Syrup
maple syrup

I didn't have measurements for this recuoe, Cut apples in half and use melon-ball tool to remove the core in each half. Use a sharp knife to remove any stem or blossom end debris. Cut each half in 4-5 wedges and lay, cut side down on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment or a silicon mat. Once all the apples have been placed on the baking sheet, sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg. Drizzle with maple syrup. Bake in preheated 400 degree oven for 20-30 minutes or until apples are cooked and edges are beginning to brown. Cool on pan. Remove to a bowl and chill if not serving right away. Reheat if necessary when serving.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Irish Music in West Virginia

Now there is a face that isn't too hard to look at for the better part of four days, right? A dual citizen of Ireland, where he was born, and U.S.A., where he has lived and worked since the late 1960s, Mick Moloney was the one who took a roomful of about 50 men and women on a visual and aural journey to learn about Irish culture and history through music.

I was a Road Scholar neophyte and so was my Mom, but my older sister, who took the great photo of Mick, has been to a few before, so she was our guide in all things Road Scholar. The population of these classes tends to be gray haired but also well read, educated, and often well-traveled.

One of the delights of our time there at the beautiful Cedar Lakes Resort (the large lake is in the photo above) was watching my Mom enjoy meeting and getting to know new people who were invariably kind and interesting folks. No one sent me a personality profile before registering so I don't know how it is that each person we met was someone I wished I'd met sooner. The other great pleasure (well, besides not having to menu plan, cook, clean up, etc for most of 6 days) was getting to spend quality time with my sister and my Mom. Nothing earth-shattering, but some deeper conversations than can usually be had during my flying visits east. A true pleasure in fact.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the classes, but was pleased to find that we were given a sort of sampler about various aspects of Irish culture, beginning with a bit about the Celts, about the Irish in Ireland and in America, about the similarities in the experiences of the Irish, Jews and African-Americans of being at the edge of the dominant cultures (which Mick maintains is where artists should be to create great art) and of being looked down on, too, and often abused. He is a skilled and enthralling folklorist so the days just flew. We ended with a little about the current peace between the opposing sides of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Each sampler was illustrated with film and music, some recorded and some live.

Joining Mick was his assistant Joey Abarta, an accomplished young Uilleann pipes player and 'a mighty man', especially with the electronics.

Mick Moloney is a master of banjo, guitar, and (I think) lute or mandolin, plus a delightful singer.
He is also a professor at NYU, an impresario and has recorded many, many CDs. If you want to know more his website is found HERE. He is leading a few tours in Ireland in 2013. Classmates who have toured with him before say that it is a not-to-be-missed experience. Wish I had the funds to join them.

I've often thought that the best thing I learned in college was to always ask more questions and try to find out more. At the end of this set of classes there were many new things learned which led me to want to find out lots more. Now that my cold is starting to retreat I'll have more energy to do just that. Finding the time may be more difficult, but there is no actual rush. Thanks Mick!

So there was plenty of food, cafeteria style food, but with a great salad bar, good conversation, beautiful fall color, a covered bridge (photo below), and lots of great music and information about Ireland and the Irish in America. No cooking, so no recipe this time. But just think, you got a tiny bit of 'culture' this time.

P.S. Thanks sister #1 for many of these photos!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Another Year

Looks like this blog's birthday passed by while I was traveling. Heading into the seventh year...what an exhilerating time it's been!

The early years included more community with other bloggers, especially when I was part of the Daring Bakers enormous group. At that time I went through a heavy sweets phase, learned lots of new techniques and tried new recipes, for fancy desserts especially.

Once I discovered sourdough the bread phase began and it is still going, but not as strongly. The Bread Bakers Dog is gone and so is the dog it was named for. Our new dog, Pi, isn't given 'people food' so there is no begging when we sit down to eat...a nice change.

These days I spend less time visiting other blogs or even surfing the Internet. Since starting my page layout and design for books business I seem to have less time for other forms of computer fun. My cookbook, Classic Comfort Food, continues to sell on Blurb's site. It would be a great Christmas gift for friends who love to cook! If you want to order a copy or two, just click on the photo of the cover at the top right of this will go right to the sales page and in no time could have your own copy!

The Bread Baking Babes posts are still a monthly source of fun and learning, but I'm also experimenting more with savory dishes, especially ones that have healthy ingredients. It's a whole new world with things I haven't tried like Isreal couscous, dinosaur kale, quinoa and more.

Hope you'll keep stopping by to see what's new on the journey. Here's to another six or seven years! Cheers!