Saturday, April 22, 2017

Happy Earth Day

Lately a lot of time has been spent on necessary things (the result of choices freely made) that have kept me either close to home or involved with meetings and similar things. Today Sweetie and I agreed that a day trip was in order, just for fun. Since Straight Shooter was up from the City, he came along and so, of course, did Pi doggie. We started out at about 3 pm. The sky was cloudy, but the weather pretty mild. We drove out past the blooming berry vines, ready for spring vistas.

We have had an abundance of rain this winter and spring. This is most appreciated since it follows way too many years of drought. We decided to celebrate Earth Day by going to the tiny town of Marshall on Tomales Bay and having an early dinner at Tony's.

The ride there is through lush countryside, much of it looking like the year could be 1857 or 1917 instead of 2017. Milk cows and beef cattle were seen enjoying the green, green grass. Sheep roamed the hills and valleys. Wildflowers were everywhere.

We stopped at Tony's, but they were closed because of needing repairs from recent storms. So we kept going to Point Reyes Station. We arrived about 4 and dinner started at 5 at most of the restaurants. Walking around town we spotted a feed store that also had a coffee bar, so Sweetie and Straight Shooter had coffee and a cookie. I didn't feel the need of refreshments, so I wandered around. SS pointed out the incubator with little chicks enjoying some feed. So cute!

We also made our way through the place where Cowgirl Creamery make their yummy cheese, inspected some used chippers and stump grinders across the road from there, and let Pi have a walk.

On the way back to the road that would take us to Petaluma, we stopped at the Marconi Conference Center for a look around. It is a lovely place with a variety of rooms for both conferences and just an overnight stay. I took this photo from near the common room which holds lots of Marconi memorabilia. We are looking toward Tomales Bay just south of Marshall.

The drive to Petaluma was glorious! The hills are soft along most of the drive and everything is so green. It reminded me of County Limerick in Ireland, up in the hills, south of the Shannon.

Eventually we made it to Petaluma and then along Stony Point Road to the Washoe House, a roadhouse that has been there since the 1860s, and it became a stop on the stagecoach  routes connecting the towns of Petaluma, Santa Rosa, and Bodega, CA during the 19th century. It was recently purchased by the folks who own the Petaluma Creamery and they have spruced it up some and brought in a chef. The food is quite good, although not fancy. It is also a bar, so try the Irish Coffee if you go there. They do it right. (Photo from Wikipedia)

It was a delightful day and a fun afternoon and early evening. Good to get out and about and to enjoy the spring. Happy Earth Day!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

An Australian Treat With The Cake Slice Bakers

We always have four choices when the month comes around, but this month there was really only one for me to make. The Japanese Strawberry Shortcake required dairy, the Pistachio Cake was too much like the Banana Loaf from last month, the yogurt cake was too dairy and too plain. Fortunately, the last choice was Lamingtons. Sounds sort of like lambs, right? Well, we have four little black lambs in our pasture, two born just a couple days before Easter, so lambs were on the brain anyway. These, however, are nothing like lambs, they are small packages of deliciousness.

Lamingtons are a traditional Australian treat of sponge cake dipped in a chocolate icing and then coated on all sides with dry coconut. Sweetie and I had some when we visited Australia. It was during one of the few super-tourist things we did in Sydney. We took a boat trip around Sydney harbor, which gave us a lovely view of the Opera House from the water, plus we enjoyed tea and Lamington cakes.

The recipe in our book, World Class Cakes, didn't seem right to me. I checked out a number of different sites online because I really remembered some sort of red jam being part of the treat, but I didn't remember any cream. Turns out that the cream and even jam are not in the best of traditional ways, but can be done for a fancy tea. Since I don't do dairy anymore I left out the cream and used a mixture of seedless raspberry jam and brandy and raspberry brandy to brush on the cut side when I split the sponge cake in two. Sponge cake is pretty plain tasting and can be a bit on the dry side, so the addition of a little sweet liquid is traditional with many European cakes and seemed like a good idea. Cakes sandwiched with jam would probably have slid apart even more than these with just  flavored syrup did.

The sponge cake is another story. The recipe in the World Class Cakes calls for an odd sized pan, so I used David Liebovitz sponge cake recipe, which bakes in a 9-inch square pan. It made a tasty sponge cake with was pretty moist for a sponge. Easy to work with, too. Be sure to either chill or freeze your cake to make it easier to handle.

I did use the delicious icing recipe in our book, but it wasn't terribly helpful since it didn't give the amount of water to add. At first I tried it with a somewhat thick icing but that was terrible (if you look at the back lamington in the group photo below on the cooling rack, you will see the misshapen one that had thick icing). I added some more boiling water and eventually had an icing that was glossy and thick enough. I probably could have added a bit more water, but I was worried about it getting too thin.

I used a whole package of the dry coconut. Even though the final product was delicious and made a great dessert for a dinner party, it was a bit fussy in production, so I probably won't do it again. The most exasperating part was that the top and bottom layer kept sliding apart as I coated the Lamington with the icing. Two forks for both coating and taking the iced cake out while removing excess icing seemed to work well. I also put the icing into two bowls so that I could use one and switch to the other when the first became less than glossy due to lots of cake crumbs.  It was a very messy deal. I can see why Lamingtons have not taken over the world like, say, croissants. Or, maybe, there are folks who enjoy fussy work like this. I bet a ten year old boy would love it! Still, it was fun to try them and these were far tastier than the tourist fare in Sydney.

makes 16
Sponge Cake - David Lebowitz
Icing and Coconut - Shannon Bennett from World Class Cakes
Jam Filling - Elle

Sponge Cake
6 large eggs at room temperature
3/4 cup (150 g)sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/3 cups (175 g) cake flour
2 1/2 oz. (70 g) melted butter (I used non-dairy butter), melted and cooled to room temp.

Butter a 9-inch square cake pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Whip egg and sugar and salt on high in a stand mixer for 5 - 10 minutes until thick and a well-defined ribbon remains on top of the batter when it falls from the beaters. Stir in the vanilla.

Fold the flour into the egg mixture - sift and fold. Fold in the melted butter. Don't overfold. Scrape batter into prepared pan. Bake about 30 minutes. Cake will pull away from the sides when done. Cool completely.

When cool, unmold onto cutting board. Remove parchment. Trim the ends, then cut into two rectangles. Split horizontally.

3 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam (or strawberry jam if you prefer)
2 tablespoons brandy
2 tablespoons raspberry brandy

Whisk these ingredients together until smooth. Use a pastry brush to brush onto one of the cut sides of the sponge cake, dividing evenly between the two rectangles. Stack the top and bottom of each rectangle together, with the jam coating in the middle. Wrap airtight and freeze overnight or for at least 30 minutes. Cut frozen cake into 16 squares.

Icing and Coconut
2 1/4 cups sifted confectioners sugar
2 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa
boiling water
3 1/3 cups dry unsweetened coconut

Sift and mix the dry ingredients together, then add water while whisking until the desired texture is reached.

Place a wire rack over a parchment or wax paper lined baking sheet. Place the coconut in one bowl and divide the icing into two bowls (this way when one bowl gets filled with crumbs, you have a new bowl to ice cakes with). Have two forks handy.

Place a prepared cold Lamington cube into the chocolate batter, making sure all sides are coated. Using the forks, lift the cube from the icing and let extra drip off, (you can help it along near the bottom with a fork). Next dip the cube into a bowl of dry unsweetened coconut. Coat fully, then place on the rack to let the icing harden a bit. Only 15 more to coat...

Serve with a fork. Some raspberries on the side or a puff of whipped cream are nice, too.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Two A Penny...Hot Cross Buns

It's been years since I've baked these seasonal treats, which is a shame since they are so delicious. A fairly rich yeast dough becomes even nicer with the addition of candied orange and lemon peel, currants, and raisins. There are some nice spices, too and shredded fresh lemon zest for zing. I made an icing cross for some of them by mixing a small amount of confectioners sugar and fresh lemon juice in a Ziploc bag, then cutting a tiny bit off the corner for the icing to go through. I made them Wednesday so that I could take some to friends. A gift of some of them to trainers at the gym on Thursday had no cross, but then liturgically, the cross was for Good Friday. Still time to make these for Easter if you start right away, but bake them any time for a nice little sweet roll with dried and candied fruit.

Hot Cross Buns
Makes 16 buns

3/4 cup warm (100° to 110°) whole milk (I used soy)
4 1/2 teaspoons (2 packages) active dry yeast
1 large egg
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
Finely shredded zest of 1 large lemon
About 31/2 cups flour - I used 2 cups bread flour, 1 cup whole wheat flour, and 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped candied orange peel(or candied lemon peel or candied citron) or 1/2 cup orange marmalade*
1/4 cup dried currants, plumped with a little boiling water if dry, then drained well
1/4 cup golden raisins
2 teaspoons (about) fresh lemon juice
1 cup powdered sugar

1. In a bowl of a stand mixer, combine milk and yeast; let stand until yeast softens, 5 to 10 minutes. In another bowl, whisk together the whole egg, brown sugar, cooled melted butter, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and orange or lemon zest. Add to the milk/yeast mixture and beat on medium speed with dough hook until blended.

2. Whisk the flours together in a bowl or large measuring cup if using more than one kind. Blend most of the cup flour into the batter. Beat on medium speed until dough is smooth and stretchy, 10 to 12 minutes, using dough hook. Add just enough additional flour, a tablespoon at a time, (about 1/4 cup) so dough is only slightly tacky.

3. Add orange peel and currants and raisins to the dough, pick up dough, and mix with your hands to distribute fruit.(I turned the dough out onto a lightly floured board and kneaded the dough in...that way I was sure that I had the dough well kneaded before adding the fruit and that the fruit was well distributed.)
Return dough to bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 1/4 hours.

4. Punch down dough. With floured hands, shape into 16 smooth rounds. (With all the fruit added it might be difficult to have a smooth top...just do the best you can.) Evenly space rounds in two buttered 8- or 9-in. square pans.

5. Cover loosely and let rise in a warm place until doubled and puffy, about 40 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400°. Brush buns with beaten egg (egg wash is optional). Bake until deep golden, 13 to 15 minutes. Let cool in pans at least 30 minutes.

6. In a small bowl, stir together juice and powdered sugar until smooth. Spoon into a small, heavy-gauge plastic bag, snip a hole in a corner, and squeeze icing onto buns to form large Xs.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Springs Lambs

No, this isn't about a dish, but about the two newborn lambs in our pasture. They were born this morning and are pretty cute. They join two month old lamb cousins, also black. They are a sure sign of Spring, which is good because our weather is still pretty Sonoma County winter with rain today, tomorrow, and the next day. Pretty windy, too. Still, with new life comes the hope that one day soon we will be able to have breakfast on the the sun.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Spanish Chicken With Memories

One of my favorite casserole dishes from when I was growing up is Arroz con Pollo, or Spanish Chicken with Rice. It includes things my mom didn't use very often together, like saffron and sherry. This is a mellow dish with browned chicken (I used boneless, skinless thighs even though the original recipe calls for whole cut up chicken, with bones and skin), garlic and onion, peppers, tomatoes and rice, bay leaf and cloves and paprika, and the saffron and sherry, too. The finished dish is garnished with green peas, so it is a whole meal in one dish and once the chicken is browned, the rest goes pretty quickly. I made mine a day early so that the flavors would mingle. Because I was unexpectedly out of yellow onions, I used a red onion...worked beautifully. I was also out of sherry and used Port instead. That seemed to be emblematic of this cooking spree.

So if you need a blast from the past, or just a delicious, filling, fairly healthy but still slightly exotic flavorings, give this a try. The leftover are even better than the fresh dish, too, so be sure to make the whole recipe. I left off the pimento because I forgot to buy some, but if you have it, it adds greatly to the dish, both in flavor and color. Since I used red bell pepper instead of green bell pepper, that brought a bit of the flavor and color to mine, but not as much as the pimento. Give this one a try. It is well worth your time. We had the leftovers tonight and they were so good that I neglected to take a nice photo. What you have above is what was on the plate when I remembered. *Grin*

Arroz con Pollo (Spanish Chicken and Rice)

1 frying chicken (about 2½ lbs. ) cut up
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium green pepper, chopped
1 can peeled tomatoes (19 oz.)
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon paprika
1 cup water
1-2 bay leaves
1/3 cup dry sherry (I used dry Port...out of sherry)
1 pinch Spanish saffron
2 whole cloves
1 cup long grain white rice, uncooked
1 cup peas, cooked and hot
1 pimento, cut up

Dry chicken pieces. If desired, season chicken with salt. Brown in hot oil. Add onion, garlic, and green pepper; brown 5 minutes longer. Add remaining ingredients, except for rice, peas, and pimento. Cover and simmer 15 minutes. Add rice. Bring to a boil, stir; cover and
simmer for 30 minutes. Garnish with peas and pimento. Serves 6 - 8.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Cinnamon Raisin Struan Round-Up

The March Bread Baking Babes bread was Cinnamon Raisin Struan Bread from Brother Juniper's Sacramental Magic in a Small Town Cafe. (Brother Juniper is Peter Reinhart.)

We had three intrepid bakers join us as Buddies and each of their breads was different, but wonderful!

Gilad Ayalon of Gilad Ayalon Vegan mostly used the given ingredients but used a Tartine method of folding and made a beautiful loaf with marbled cinnamon and dots of raisins and a great crust. She said, "I changed the recipe and the sequence, but tried to keep the percentage between the flour and the other grains. The sequence is my modification to the Tartine’s bread sequence (A lot of kneading instead of the autolyze phase)."

Marcin from Poland, of Grahamka made a sourdough version. It "was made on real polish sourdough from wholemeal rye flour, which is a base for dark wholemeal bread and for the most famous Polish soup."

Shirley of Flour.ish.en Test Kitchen made the Struan bread using sprouted flour from King Arthur Flour. It opens up a whole other level of bread baking!

Thanks to Gilad, Marcin and Shirley for being stellar Buddies and pushing the envelope of this mixed-grain bread.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Twofer- Spring Salad and Date-Pecan Soda Bread

Although fall is my favorite time of year, spring comes a close second. The days are lengthening so there is more time to enjoy the sunshine, birdsong and fresh spring flowers. Yesterday I planted some strawberry plants and will soon be getting the seedlings crowding my sunroom into the ground outdoors. They just need a few days of hardening off first.

Inside the house there are changes, too. Sweetie and I decided to upgrade our tiny guest room with a queen size bed but, since that size bed takes up most of the room, we opted for a chest Murphy bed. Until we visited a home show a few weeks ago we didn't even know that such a thing existed. The memory foam mattress fold into three attached sections and fits into the chest. The chest also contains a drawer for storage and a couple of support pieces which fold or roll out. Closed up it's a pretty piece of furniture.

Yesterday I was in Santa Rosa and decided to stop by the new Safeway on College Avenue where G&G market was for over 25 years. They have done a nice job making it into a Safeway and near the front there is an amazing array of salad greens and fixings. I had a good time choosing some items to make a salad for dinner, and then went right next to the salad area and bought some already grilled chicken kabobs to top the salad with.

In my world a dinner salad is best accompanied by warm bread. I decided to make Aunt May's Irish Soda Bread, but changed up to include dates and pecans. After we had some I wondered why I don't bake this weekly. Then I remembered that I'm trying not to bake things that we feel compelled to eat immediately because Sweetie and I both are losing a few pounds that crept up on us during the winter. Weekly soda bread would put on the pounds, but it's nice for the rare treat.

Spring Salad with Chicken, Avocado, Broccoli and Snap Peas

2 cups mixed spring mix type greens...small red and green lettuces, mizuna, mustard, curly endive, spinach, etc.
2 cups mixed green salad...torn or chopped romaine, iceberg, red cabbage, etc.
1 cup shredded or matchstick carrots
2-3 tablespoons sliced almonds
1/4 cup cooked and cooled wheat berries
2-4 tablespoons cooked and cooled red quinoa
2-3 tablespoons raisins
1 cup sugar snap peas, rinsed and sliced into bite sized pieces
1/2-1 cup broccoli florets, steamed and cooled
1/2 - 1 avocado,peeled, pitted and sliced
1/2 cup cooked chicken, in bite sized pieces, warmed (I used to grilled kabobs, stick removed)
your favorite Asian dressing (I used Newman's Own Sesame Ginger)

In a large salad bowl mix the spring mix greens, green salad greens, carrots, almonds, wheat berries, quinoa, raisins and snap peas. Toss gently to mix. Add the broccoli and toss gently again. Add the amount of dressing you like and toss to coat lettuce leaves. Pile salad on large plates. Top with sliced avocado, arrange in a nice pattern, and chicken pieces. Serve at once.

Aunt May's Soda Bread but with Dates and Pecans
makes one medium loaf

1 cup (about) soy milk
3 tablespoons plain yogurt (not Greek style)
1 egg yolk
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup Irish style whole-meal flour or whole wheat flour1/4 cup wheat bran
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
4 oz. (½ stick) cold butter or margarine, in thin slices
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup roughly chopped dried pitted dates
In a small bowl combine the milk and the yogurt. Let sit to 'sour' the milk, at least 5 minutes. Stir in the egg yolk. Set aside.

Sift the dry ingredients over the butter and cut in well with a fork or pastry blender. Add the brown sugar, pecans and date pieces; mix well.
Add the soured milk and mix just until moist - don’t over handle. You may need to add 2 - 4 more tablespoons of milk or a tablespoon more of flour. Some dry stuff is OK but the dough should be sticky.

Pat into a round on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle lightly with flour. Cut a cross on top. Bake 45 minutes at 350F. Cool a bit before slicing.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Quick Lemon Chicken

I love the Lemon Chicken for a Crowd that marinates for a while and then is cooked slowly to perfection, but sometimes you need dinner in a hurry. Last week I had one of those days, so I threw together Lemon Quick Chick, a recipe I've had for ages. I've used it so long that I don't even remember where it came from, but it was probably the newspaper or a magazine.

The thing that takes the longest amount of time is making the starch that it goes over. I like rice the best, but have used mashed potatoes and, for an even shorter cooking time, pasta.

After that cutting up the chicken takes a bit of time, but not much. Often I use chicken breast, which cooks up the fastest, but last week I had boneless chicken thighs, so that's what I used. You want the pieces to be on the smaller side of bite sized because they cook up faster that way.

You will also need a lemon, some chicken broth, a few tablespoons of butter and/or oil and a few tablespoons of flour, plus seasonings like poultry seasoning, pepper, salt, and thyme. I like my lemon chicken on the mellow side, but you could also add some hot sauce if you like more bite.

This is a combination stir-fry and braise. Have everything to hand since it does go pretty quickly.

You end up with a savory dish with a lovely sauce to spoon over rice, potatoes, pasta, etc. Barley would be good, too. I served mine with steamed rice and steamed broccoli. It made a great early spring dinner.

Lemon Quick Chick
Serves 4-6

1 lb chicken, preferably boneless
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons flour
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 1/4 cups chicken broth
1 lemon, sliced very thinly

Cut the chicken into small bite sized pieces. (I often use boneless chicken breasts or boneless chicken thighs). Set aside.

In a large frying pan heat the butter or margarine and the oil, then saute' the cut up chicken, stirring so that all sides get opaque.

Add the flour and seasonings and stir, then let brown a minute, then stir again and let the mixture brown. Add the chicken broth all at once and, using a wooden spoon or similar implement, scrap up the browned flour/butter bits and stir to incorporate into the sauce. Let cook, stirring, on medium, until the sauce starts to thicken.

Placed the lemon slices around the pan on top of the chicken mixture, then cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook for another 2 minutes. Uncover and serve.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Asparagus Season

We have gone to daylight savings time and the calendar said that this past Monday was the first day of spring, but many days have still been chilly and last night the temperature was in the upper 30s, so winter is having trouble letting go. Friday is supposed to bring a big storm with a lot of rain and maybe some thunder and lightning. Even so, things keep blooming. The plum trees are finished with their flowers and are sending out lots of lovely light green leaves. The pear trees are in bloom right now and the apples are in the bud stage, ready to bust out all over this weekend if it warms up a bit. This afternoon I re-potted some of the squash seedlings into larger pots since they were getting too big for the tiny cells of the seed starting trays. The tomatoes will need to be re-potted soon. Spring is all around.

One of the joys of spring are the fresh asparagus that show up in every market, often at a reasonable price. I love them just steamed lightly, but they are great grilled with just a mist of olive oil to keep them from sticking, in an omelet, added to a stir fry, as part of a pasta dish, with Parmesan cheese and ricotta, and even as the star of a yummy bread.

Today I made a flatbread with halved asparagus spears that I cut into 2-inch long pieces. First down on the parchment was a sourdough pizza dough made with Italian 00 flour instead of all-purpose flour. It is very easy to work with, stretches thin for a nice crust, and tastes great, too. On top of that I put some almond milk ricotta cheese (thank you T-Rose for helping me find it at Community Market), very thin slivers of red onion, and the prepared asparagus. A drizzle of olive oil finished it up, ready for baking in a hot oven. Since Sweetie and I prefer different amounts of salt and pepper, we added it at the table. I used my baking stone, well pre-heated, and slid the parchment paper holding the flatbread right onto the stone. You get a really nice bottom crust that way.

The asparagus flatbread went really well with a green salad that had fresh orange segments and avocado, dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette. What did you have tonight?

Monday, March 20, 2017

A Lovely Banana Loaf with the Cake Slice Bakers

Happy first day of Spring!

The 20th of the month is always a fun day to check out this blog because I often have a post for a recipe from the Cake Slice Baker group's latest book, this time Roger Pizey's World Class Cakes. 

Although we had four choices this month, the multi-layer chocolate cake used a mousse as filling, which is hard to do for the dairy-impaired. The cake with coconut on top was no good because I had a guest who hates coconut. The mandarin and macadamia cake is too similar to my favorite orange cake from Orangette, so I went with the Banana Loaf. I didn't really expect much, but Sweetie went wild over it and he really isn't a big cake fan. I thought at first that it was because I served slices still a bit warm from the oven, but he enjoyed it just as much this morning when it was cold.

This cake is not too sweet and it's very moist. I goofed and used both bananas in the batter when you are supposed to put one, sliced, on top of the loaf. That probably made it too liquid a batter and definitely made it too much overflowed quite a bit. Fortunately I put a sheet pan underneath to catch any drips, so no harm done. I did use ground almonds instead of hazelnuts because that was handy and I did add 1/2 cup chopped pecans to the batter. No banana on top, no glaze. Still an awesome cake! The half pecans I put on top for decoration just sank into the batter, so I photographed the upside down looked better. Not the best photos in the world, but a delicious banana loaf!

Banana Loaf
serves 8

2 really ripe bananas
2/3 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup ground almonds
2 eggs
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a loaf pan (I used a 8.5 x 4 x 2.5 pan...a larger one would be better). Set aside.

Mash one banana in a bowl. Set aside.

Cream butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add the ground almonds, followed by the eggs. Scrape bowl and beaters and mix a little more until well combined.

On a piece of waxed paper or parchment, sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder. Add to the batter and mix well. Mix in the sour cream, then the banana puree, and pecans.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 10 minutes.

Removed pan from oven and add the remaining banana, sliced lengthwise, in a long along the length of the loaf. (I missed this part and had both bananas, mashed, in the batter...the pan overflowed, so go with the correct directions!) Return pan to the oven and bake and additional 45-50 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center will come out clean.

Remove to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes, then turn out of pan and turn right side up. Serve warm or cool.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Apricot Tart So Sunny

No, it isn't apricot season, but I've always wanted to try an apricot tart using canned apricots, so I actually had two cans in my pantry waiting for such a day. Finally, the day came last weekend. I used a sweet tart dough from Dorie Greenspan and a frangipane for the filling. It's made with ground almonds and puffed up around the apricots.

Almonds and apricots are a great flavor combination, so it was bound to be delicious. I took it to Natasha's for a lovely lunch with Natasha, her hubby, my hubby, our older brother, and Lex. There were even a few candles since Sweetie and I were jointly sharing a birthday, even though mine was last month and his is days away. Birthdays are very movable feasts in my family!

At the end of the post is a photo that shows the three views of one scene that I am using as the inspiration for a painting I'm doing in the refurbished studio. Great fun to work there, especially now that the weather is warmer. I'll post the finished art when it is done.

Apricot Tart

Sweet Tart Dough from Dorie Greenspan's Baking; From My Home To Yours

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

Put the flour, confectioners' sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine. 

Scatter the cold pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in. 

Stir the yolk to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses, about 10 seconds each, until the dough forms clumps and curds. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that still exist in the mixture.

Gather dough into a ball, then flatten it and put it into a 9-inch tart pan, using your fingers to push the dough into the corners and flutes of the pan, while keeping the thickness as even as possible. Use a rolling pin, rolled over the top rim, to clean the top. Gather up any leftover pieces and wrap in plastic wrap, and put in the fridge for patching, if necessary. Prick all over and freeze for at least 30 minutes, but longer is O.K.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Put the rack in the center of the oven.

Remove tart shell from freezer. Spray a sheet of foil with cooking spray/oil and put, oil side down on the tart, pressing down to mold the foil to the tart shape.

Bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil carefully and use the back of a spoon to gently press down any puffed crust. If necessary, use the extra dough from the fridge to patch any holes, then bake another few minutes. Let crust cool.

Chop up 2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate. Put in a microwave safe bowl. Add 1 teaspoon butter or margarine. Heat on high in the microwave, a half minute at a time, stirring after each heating, until mixture is melted and smooth. Use pastry brush or silicon brush to coat bottom of tart with the chocolate. Let cool until hardened. This layer prevents the filling from making the tart soggy on the bottom.

Prepare the filling:

3 tablespoons soft butter or margarine
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 large eggs
3/4 cup almond flour or finely ground almonds
1 can apricot halves, drained and patted dry

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

To make the filling:  Beat together the butter, salt, sugar, flour, and almond extract.

Beat in the eggs, then add the almond flour, stirring just to combine.

To assemble the tart: Spread the filling in the bottom of the crust.

Place the apricot halves in rows on top of the filling, pressing them down gently so the bottom of the fruit is covered.

Bake the tart in the preheated 350 degree F oven for 45 to 40 minutes, until the top is lightly browned. Cool slightly before serving. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Sweetly Fragrant Sturdy Cinnamon Raisin Struan Bread

Sometimes doing a end of year clear out of the bookcases brings a surprise. That's what happened to me. I found a small paperback by Peter Reinhart mixed in with the mysteries. In it I found what I think is the perfect March bread for gathering round our Bread Baking Babes kitchen table. Since I'm Kitchen of the Month, I'm inviting you, dear reader, to bake it too.

Peter Reinhart has been encouraging bread baking for a long time, especially slow food bread baking where the dough is given plenty of time to develop its flavor. When Struan bread was available commercially at the market in the 90s, I often bought it for making sandwiches. I loved the complex flavors and the substantial body of the bread, still rare at a time when most sandwich bread was soft and squishy. 

I have a copy of a book he wrote in 1994 called Sacramental Magic in a Small-Town Cafe - Recipes and Stories from Brother Juniper's Cafe'. In it he gives the recipe for his (at the time) all time favorite bread - Cinnamon Raisin Struan, which is a variation of Struan bread.

This is supposed to be a complex bread, consisting of lots of grains and ingredients. Brother Peter says, "Struan, incidentally, aside from being the name of a Scottish clan, also means "the convergence of two or more streams" which he feels is quite appropriate considering all the different convergences of ingredients. You will need to cook some brown rice ahead of time and allow it to cool to room temperature and be prepared to knead longer than usual. You might have to make a trip to the store for polenta, wheat bran and/or buttermilk, but most of the ingredients are probably already in your pantry.

This recipe makes a lot of bread - three 1 1/2 pound loaves. As long as you keep the ingredients in proportion, you can reduce the amounts of ingredients to make less.

In keeping with my no-dairy regime, I substituted a combination of soy milk and plain yogurt (which doesn't seem to bother me, probably because of being fermented) for the buttermilk. I also forgot all about doing oil and cinnamon sugar on the top of the loaf (probably because I was baking these well after dinner time and my brain turns off, mostly, after about 7 pm). I also divided the recipe in half and still made two smaller loaves. This bread is fragrant with the cinnamon...a full tablespoon per loaf!...and has a nice sturdy crumb and thin but delicious crust. One loaf received only cinnamon...I forgot all about the sugar...and the other loaf received some melted butter and brown sugar along with the cinnamon. Both were delicious in different ways.

Come on, become a Buddy! Bake this bread and then email me at plachman at sonic dot net, along with a photo of your bread and a short description of your baking experience. Get it to me by March 29th to be included in the round-up. Don't be surprised if this bread is gone in a flash. While it is baking in the oven the kitchen begins to smell like those cinnamon rolls at the mall and soon everyone wants a taste. Just let it cool a bit or you might get a burnt tongue from the hot sugar!

Be sure to visit the blogs of the other Bread Baking Babes, too, to see what they have done with the recipe. I'll do a post tomorrow with links if you don't have them already.

Cinnamon Raisin Struan Bread
makes three 1 1/2 pound loaves
from Sacramental Magic in a Small-Town Cafe by Br Peter Reinhart

7 cups high-gluten bread flour
1/2 cup uncooked polenta (coarse ground cornmeal)
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup wheat bran
4 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons active dry yeast activated in 4 tablespoons lukewarm water
(alternately, use 2 tablespoons plus one teaspoon instant yeast, mixed with the dry ingredients)
1/2 cup cooked brown rice
1/4 cup honey
3/4 cup buttermilk
About 1 1/2 cups water (be prepared to add more if needed)
3 cups raisins
1/2 cup cinnamon sugar (1 part cinnamon to 2 parts granulated sugar)
4 tablespoons melted butter, margarine, or vegetable oil

In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients, including the salt and yeast (unless you are using active dry yeast, which should be activated in warm water and added with the wet ingredients.)

Add the cooked rice, honey, and buttermilk and mix together. Then add 1 cup of water, reserving the rest to add as needed. With your hands, squeeze the ingredient together until they make a ball. Sprinkle some flour on the counter and turn the ball out of the bowl and begin kneading. Add small quantities of water as needed.

Because Struan has so many whole grains, it takes longer to knead than most breads. Allow at least 15 minutes, but be prepared to knead for 20. The dough will change before your eyes, lightening in color, becoming gradually more elastic and evenly grained. The finished dough should be tacky, not sticky, lightly golden, stretchy and elastic, rather than porridge-like. When you push the heels of your hands into the dough it should give way but not tear. If it flakes or crumbles, add a little more water.

When the dough seems ready, add the raisins and knead for 2 more minutes, until the raisins are evenly distributed. (I kneaded my raisins in after the first rise.)

Wash out the mixing bowl and dry it thoroughly. Put in the dough and cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap, or place the bowl inside a plastic bag. Allow the dough to rise in a warm place for about 1 hour, until it has roughly doubled in size. (Mine took longer...closer to two hours. Once I kneaded in the raisins, I put it in the fridge overnight for more flavor.)

Cut the dough into 3 equal pieces (or more if you want to make smaller loaves). With a rolling pin, roll out each piece into a rectangle. Sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of cinnamon sugar over the surface, spreading it evenly (used brown sugar and some melted butter on one loaf at this stage). From the bottom of the long side, roll up the dough into tight loaves, tucking and pinching the seams into one line on the bottom. Put the loaves, seam side down, in greased bread pans (for full-sized loaves your pan should be around 9 x 4 1/3 x 3 inches). Cover and allow the loaves to rise until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. When the loaves have risen, cresting over the tops of the pans, place on the center shelf and bake for about 45 minutes. The loaves should be nicely domed and dark gold. The bottom and sides should be a uniform light gold and there should be an audible, hollow  thwack when you tap the bottom of the loaf. If the loaves are not ready, remove them from the pans and place them back in the oven until done. They will bake quickly when removed from the pans.

When done, brush a little butter, margarine, or oil over the tops, then sprinkle with the remaining cinnamon sugar, coating each loaf with a layer of cinnamon crust. (Didn't do this part.)

Allow the breads to cool on wire racks for at least 40 minutes before slicing. This bread makes exceptional breakfast toast and French toast!

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Busy Times

Not sure why I used this title, since most times seem to be busy times in my life, but lately has been busier than usual and looks to continue that way for a while. Although baking and cooking are always near the top of my list of passions (along with Sweetie, Kate and Pi), at this time of year the growing season starts taking up some of my time and thoughts. I have flats of cells of soil with tiny seedlings in the sunspace and more seeds to plant in others.

Not only is the ground saturated from all the rain, but the nights have been cold, so it may be another month before anything goes into the ground. During the next week or so I hope to do the annual check-up of the irrigation system with Sweetie so that I know where I can plant things once the soil is warm.

My involvement with the women's scholarship group P.E.O. continues to be complex and rewarding and even more time consuming (is that possible?) since I'm currently wearing three hats, one at the local level, one at the regional and one at the state level. At the state level we just awarded over $76,000 in post-secondary education scholarships for the 2017-2018 academic year, and that was just my committee! Pretty gratifying to be able to help women reach for their educational goals.

Travel and picnics start to become interesting now that the weather is nicer, and home project are also coming to the top of the list. Hope to be posting picnic-worthy recipes soon.

I finally have a studio to paint in and a painting started, plus the next one being planned in my head.

I'm the Kitchen of the Month for the Bread Baking Babes in March, so be sure to check back on the 16th for that post! Sweetie has a birthday coming up and my brother from Denver area is visiting California, so we hope to see him in the Sacramento area this coming weekend. With luck that will be when I bake the cake for the Cake Slice Bakers, which is revealed on the 20th.

Last weekend we visited Kate in the LA area and had a great time. It was a very short visit, but we got to meet her excellent neighbors and their friends, have some cocktails and BBQ, play with some dogs and a puppy. We visited the Manhattan Beach pier and had breakfast with Adam, Julia and the kids on Saturday. There was time to talk, hear about  jobs and, later, watch some videos showing the good that EcoMedia does in the world, discover a new TV series, learn about Uber Eats, have a little birthday celebration with a tiny cake I brought along (I was too sick on my real birthday to even think about cake!), and we even helped hang some art. Good times!

So, as you can see, nothing earth shattering in all this busyness, but no time to get bored, either.

Hope that your days are filled with your own busy times, as long as those times are good times.

Monday, March 06, 2017

No Knead Sort of Irish Bread

Every once in a while I return to the No-Knead kind of bread because it is easy and you get a very artisan looking loaf with not much trouble. This time I used a good amount of the King Arthur Flour Irish Wholemeal Flour to make the bread, plus some nice sourdough starter, so it isn't an authentic Irish bread, but surely similar to some that might have been made on that green, green island.

It makes wonderful sandwiches and toast and French toast and can be eaten with pleasure, while still a little bit warm from the oven, without any butter, jam, topping of any sort and as just the simple, unadorned, unprocessed slice to enjoy.

I sort of poured the dough after the first rise onto a heavily floured sheet of parchment, then used that to flip half of the loaf over the other half, then it all went into the preheated Dutch oven which I had sprayed lightly with oil. I put the lid on for the first half of the baking and then removed it so that the top crust crisped up an became a lovely golden brown. It didn't fill the whole pot, but that was OK.

Oh, yes, below the recipe is a photo of the two little black lambs born in our field this morning. Sooo cute! Kinda hard to see them, but we were keeping well away until they bonded with their ewe. No interest in bummer lambs.

No-Knead Bread in a Pot Elle's Way

makes 1 large loaf

1 cup sourdough starter
1 cup Irish Wholemeal flour
1 1/2 cups water
2 -3 cups bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Put the sourdough starter in a large bowl. In another bowl whisk together the wholemeal flour and the water. Add it to the starter and whisk to blend. Let bowl sit, uncovered, on the counter for at least 1's OK for it to sit longer (another hour or two is OK) for a stronger sourdough flavor.

Stir the bread flour into the starter mixture 1/4 cup at a time with a wooden spoon, stirring until all the flour is mixed in before adding any more. You should have a shaggy dough that doesn't hold a shape. When you have added 2 cups of flour, sprinkle in the sea salt, then another 1/4 cup of the flour and finish stirring it in. You will have a very slack dough. You can stop here or add more flour, 1/4 cup at a time but the less flour the more holes.

Let the mixture sit, uncovered, on the counter for 1 1/2 to 4 hours. Mixture will be bubbly.

Place a large piece of parchment paper on the counter and flour it heavily. Place/pour the sourdough mixture over the flour. Using a bench scraper, lift up the dough all around the edges and sprinkle heavily with flour under the edges, then let dough fall on top of the flour. When you have gone all around the dough mass, use the bench scraper to flip half of the dough on top of the other half. Sprinkle top heavily with flour and let sit until pot is ready.

Place heavy cast iron pot or Dutch oven, with lid, in the oven and preheat for 20 minutes to 450 degrees F. When 20 minutes have passed, remove pot and lid from the oven and slide the dough into the pot, discarding the parchment paper. Cover with the lid (remember to use oven mitts for all of this...the pot is very hot!) and return the covered pot to the oven.

Bake for 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 -25 minutes or until loaf is dark golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Let cool, outside of the pot, for 10 minutes on a rack. Serve warm or cool before eating.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Cranberry Chicken For A Chilly Evening

We finally have gotten a few days of sun, but it's still pretty chilly, so I decided to make a baked chicken dish last night. I found it in a Rachel Ray magazine and it is a keeper! The skinless chicken stays moist under a shingling of bacon, plus the presence of a mixture of chicken broth and red wine. In general I can't drink wine, but I have found that I can eat things where the wine has been cooked. Yay! All the alcohol gets cooked off, but something else must get mellowed, too.

The components, besides the chicken and bacon, are sweet from the dried cranberries, savory from the broth and wine and balsamic vinegar, mellow from the translucent cooked onion wedges, and hearty from the red potato chunks. Add in the flavors of garlic, thyme, pepper and bay leaf and you have a dish that smells wonderful and tastes even better. All you need with it is a small salad or steamed veggies and, perhaps, some bread to sop up the delicious juices.

Because I never make anything quite how it is written up, I did change the chicken to boneless thighs, I added a 1/4 teaspoon fresh orange zest (cranberries  and orange are a match made in heaven), and I reduced the dried cranberries by 1/4 cup...and will reduce them by another 1/4 cup next time. I also didn't have fresh thyme, so I used dried thyme...2 teaspoons in the broth mixture and none for garnish.

There are a number of good reasons to make this dish besides the fact that it is yummy. First of all, it is relatively inexpensive. Then there is the bonus of a short prep time and about 30 minutes cooking time. Add to that the easy clean-up, especially if you line the casserole with heavy duty foil like I did. Last, but not least in my world, there is no dairy in this dish...and you don't miss it either. With no added oil, butter, cheese, or cream, it is fairly healthy, too...well, except for the bacon, but that adds so much flavor and fragrance that it would be a shame to leave it out. Sweetie helped me out by eating half my bacon. Isn't he the best?

Roasted Cranberry Coq au Vin
Serves 4
from Rachael Ray Every Day, March, 2017

1 1/4 cups dried cranberries (I used 1 cup but 3/4 cup would be better)
1 cup red wine, such as Pinot Noir or Beaujolais (I used Zinfandel)
1/2 cup chicken stock
6 large cloves garlic, chopped (don't worry, the garlic gets mellow in the oven)
4 bay leaves
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons onion salt
Optional: 1/4 teaspoon orange zest
3 tablespoons fresh thyme, divided (I used 2 teaspoons dried thyme)
4 bone-in chicken thighs (about 8 oz. each), skin removed (I used boneless skinless chicken thighs)
1 pound red potatoes, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 large yellow onion, cut through core into 3/4-inch wedges
4 slices thick-cut hickory-smoked bacon, each cut into 4 pieces
8  1-inch thick slices French bread (didn't have any...didn't miss it)

Position oven rack to upper third of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees F.

In a bowl, mix the first 7 ingredients and 2 tablespoons thyme (or all the dry thyme if using). Optional, but good: add 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest to the mixture.

In a large baking dish, arrange the chicken, potatoes and onion in a single layer. Shingle the bacon on the chicken. Add the cranberry mixture, pressing cranberries to submerge. Season with salt and pepper.

Roast in preheated 460 degree oven until an instant-read thermometer inserted into a chicken thigh registers 165 degrees F., about 30 minutes. If using fresh thyme, garnish with remaining 1 tablespoon.

Serve at once. If desired serve with bread to mop up the juices.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Intensely Lemon

This post has been sitting in my files, waiting until I'm feeling better (have had a nasty cold since about Feb. 10), but I think it is getting stale, while I'm still coughing, so posting it anyway! I would probably be completely back to normal but I have kept doing scholarship group work and have even gone out for a couple of meals, so not everything has been on hold. True, I've read a lot of books and spent time in bed...never a terrible thing, right? The lemon bread is long gone, but I will make it was really good!

I've always loved the flavor of fresh lemon. Lemonade is still one of my favorite beverages and lemon sugar cookies were my favorite as a child, even more than chocolate chip. Our local dairy made a lemon custard ice cream to die for. There is something fresh and bold about lemon that wakes things up.

Recently a friend gave me some Meyer lemons from her home garden. It took me longer than I would have liked to get to this next recipe, but life has been super busy, so what can you do?

Although I've made lemon quick breads before, this time I tried a new recipe from Rosemary of An Italian In My Kitchen. I was intrigued that you cut soft butter into the dry ingredients as you do for pie crust, then add the egg-milk mixture. I really wanted to see how that turned out! It also meant that I could do everything by hand and in just two for the egg-milk mixture one one for the batter. Of course I used soy milk and cut in soft non-dairy margarine, but I'll bet it would be even better with unsalted butter and whole milk. Keep an eye on it toward the end of baking time. There is enough sugar in the batter that it burns easily. Check it with a toothpick earlier than the suggested time, just to be sure.

This is a delicious, intensely lemon flavored loaf, with the texture of a pound cake. I doubled the amount of lemon zest called for and doubled the amount of syrup for brushing on after the loaf is finished, while still warm. I also poked some thin holes all over the top before adding the syrup, so that it could penetrate into the loaf. All of that added to the lemon effect and to making each bite moist and delicious. With a cup of hot tea it's pure heaven!

If you only have one lemon, I'm sure that you could follow the recipe and it would still be a yummy lemon loaf. This would make a wonderful gift, too, and it is dense enough that it would probably ship well. Extra lemons? Make one to give and one to keep!

Fresh Lemon Bread
adapted from Rosemary at An Italian In My Kitchen

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (zest from one lemon) (I used zest from 2 lemons)
4 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice (22 ml) (I used about twice this amount, juice from two lemons)
2 1/4 cups flour (270 grams)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (7 1/2 grams)
3/4 teaspoon salt (4 grams)
1 1/4 cups + 2 tablespoons sugar, divided (276 grams)(I added another tablespoon for the pan)
3/4 cup butter softened (170 grams) (I used non-dairy margarine)
3 eggs, large
3/4 cup milk (177 ml) (I used soy milk)

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 C), grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan. (I sprinkled a tablespoon extra of sugar over the part I greased, but it would be fine without and might not burn so easily).

In a large bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and 1 1/4 cups sugar, add the softened butter and, with a pastry blender, blend until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the lemon peel.

In a small bowl, put the eggs and beat lightly with a fork, add milk, and mix until combined, then pour this mixture into the flour mixture and stir just until flour is moistened.

In the prepared loaf pan add the batter. Bake for 1 - 1 1/4 hours (or until toothpick comes out clean). Cool, then move to a wire rack.

In a small pot add 4 1/2 teaspoons of lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of sugar. Stir to combine. Over medium heat, stirring constantly, bring to a boil until thickened. With a pastry brush, brush syrup over the top of the bread. (I poked holes with a wooden skewer while bread was warm and then brushed on the syrup over the warm bread until it was all absorbed. I let it sit in the pan until cool, then turned it out onto a serving board.)

Tightly wrap any leftovers and store in the refrigerator.