Sunday, April 29, 2007

I Dare You

Read on and then tell me, would you bake this cake?

Day 1 – Just found out that our April Daring Baker’s Challenge will be a Crepe Cake…a Deep Dark Chocolate Crepe Cake with an Italian Butter cream Filling and Candied Nuts on top. Mmmmm.

Day 2 – Took a look at the recipe. It looks very detailed and I suspect that it can be broken down so that some of it can be done ahead before the final putting-it-all-together day. Sounds kinda exciting!

Day 3 – Talked it over with Sweetie. We agreed that we’re not big hazelnut fans, so I’ll come up with another filling flavor.

Day 4 – Went online and found the website for the flavored creamer with the hazelnuts called for in Martha Stewart’s recipe…that’s the one we are supposed to use for the challenge. Turns out there are other flavors. I kind of like the chocolate raspberry flavor…wonder if I can find it at the store.

Day 7 – Bought the chocolate, boxes of butter, eggs, lots of heavy cream, and the chocolate raspberry non-dairy creamer. This recipe will be hell on the arteries, but I’ll just have a tiny piece, right? Suuuure.

Day 9 – Served some of the non-dairy chocolate raspberry creamer at breakfast for a crowd. No one used any. Hmmm. I smelled it. Nope, I’m not going to use it either. It smells artificial and chemical. I’ll figure out another way to get the raspberry flavor. Out with the noxious stuff.

Day 12 – The reports on the crepes are a little scary. It seems that this recipe makes a delicate crepe that is difficult to flip, plus it might get rubbery after standing. Oh, boy. Guess I better allow time to experiment with the crepe cooking.

Day 15 – Finally have time to make the crepe batter. I decide to add the water to the egg mixture instead of to the chocolate mixture. I also decide to melt the butter and chocolate in the microwave like I do for truffle ganache. I use the food processor to chop the chocolate (from Trader Joe’s) up fine and it mixes together with the butter like a charm. The batter looks O.K. Into the fridge.

Day17 – Well, the batter is well chilled, hehe, but today was the first time I could spend the needed time to work on the crepes. First off I tried a seasoned cast iron small frying pan with butter. A disaster. No crepes survived the process, mostly tearing when I tried to turn them. Then I tried a similar size non-stick pan. Slightly better, but still no crepe that I can use for a cake. They taste pretty good, so if I ever get any that can be stacked, the cake should taste good although it may look strange.

Sweetie heard me cursing and banging things in the kitchen and took over the stove. He used a larger non-stick pan. At first his didn’t work, either. Then he managed to flip them correctly, but the crepe was slightly burned. No butter and lower heat, plus two spatulas seemed to work. I stood ready with waxed paper squares to put between each crepe and the next, then, eventually learned how to make the crepes.

(The waxed paper helped, but some still stuck to the paper and tore when I got around to stacking them with the filling, so I’m glad I made lots of extra crepes and decided to do a mini-cake about 5 inches in diameter, rather than a full sized cake.)
Wrapped everything up airtight and it all went into the fridge.

Day 22 – Time to try out the filling. I followed the recipe except that I used some juice drained from a package of frozen raspberries, plus a tablespoon of half and half instead of the same amount of the hazelnut cream. I’ve never made this kind of butter cream before, but it was really easy as long as I followed the directions. I’ll make it again when I need an easy to handle and really delicious filling, except that I would reduce the salt quite a bit next time. Didn’t anyone at Martha’s kitchen test the recipes first?

Once the filling was ready, I began to stack the cake. The filling was easy to use and the crepes were mostly the same size. It went quickly and the stack only listed to the side slightly when done. I wrapped the crepe stack tightly and put it in the fridge.

Day 24 – Here’s hoping that the crepes haven’t gone stale, but it takes time to do even part of a recipe like this. And more time to wash up all the pots, pans, bowls, spoons, spatulas, racks, etc. that are needed. First off I decided to do the Candied Nuts.

This is another skill I’ve wanted to try and it really was fun. Unfortunately it takes a remarkably short time for the sugar mixture to go from lightly colored to dark amber. I saw that I’d overcooked it and promptly poured the mixture into a Pyrex measuring cup to stop the cooking. The nuts were on their skewers, almonds instead of hazelnuts, and at first the candy didn’t drip off correctly, but I played with it and soon had lovely candied almonds with wispy top knots. Then I dipped the tines of a fork into the candy and made fun threads of spun sugar on some waxed paper. They made a complementary decoration for the top of the cake. It was fun getting advice from some of the other Daring Bakers. One suggestion was to make the sugar decorations so that the extra drips went onto the open dishwasher door. Close it and run the dishwasher & cleanup is easy!

The last part of the cake was the Chocolate Glaze. It’s basically a ganache. Since I had experienced the over-salting of the filling, I reduced the salt to ¼ teaspoon, but otherwise followed the recipe. It makes a shiny, delicious topping, although I did have some trouble making it stick on the sides where filling was present. Back into the refrigerator to chill, and then time to decorate with the nuts and spun sugar. I used some of the glaze to act as glue to put the candied nuts on top. Time for photos!

Once sliced, you can see all of the layers of crepe and filling which is quite pretty. My resident tasters declared it a good cake, especially the filling. One comment was that the crepe itself didn’t have enough flavor to stand up to the filling and glaze. I look at it as a bunch of crepes that are needed to hold the filling and glaze together. We had the first pieces of cake for lunch since dinner was to be early. Despite my knowledge of all the rich ingredients, when a second piece was offered that night, I accepted and enjoyed the fruits of my labor.

Today – Along with most of the rest of the Daring Bakers, I’m posting my Crepe Cake for you to enjoy.

If you are going to make it, I recommend using less salt everywhere and making the smaller version. The crepes are a bit easier to handle, you can probably halve the recipes, and you’ll have just the right sized pieces when you have that second serving.

Darkest Chocolate Crepe Cake
3/4 Cup (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus melted for pan
8 Ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/3 Cup sugar
1/2 Teaspoon salt
2 1/2 Cups whole milk, room temperature
6 large eggs, room temperature
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Bring 1/4 cup water to a rolling boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add butter, 1 piece at a time, whisking to combine after each addition. Remove from heat; stir in chocolate until completely melted. Set aside.
Whisk together flour, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk together milk, eggs, and vanilla in another medium bowl. Gradually add milk mixture to flour mixture, whisking until smooth. Add chocolate-butter mixture, whisking until smooth. Pour through a fine sieve into an airtight container; discard lumps. Refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
Lightly coat an 8-inch crepe pan or nonstick skillet with melted butter. Heat over medium heat until just starting to smoke. Remove pan from heat; pour about 2 tablespoons batter into pan, swirling to cover bottom. Reduce heat to medium-low; return pan to heat. Cook, flipping once, until edges are golden and center is dry, about 30 seconds per side.
Slide crepe onto a plate. Repeat process with remaining batter, coating pan with butter as needed. Crepes can be refrigerated, covered, up to 1 day.
Place a crepe on a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. Spread with about 3 tablespoons hazelnut filling. Top with another crepe. Continue layering with hazelnut filling and crepes, using about 32 crepes and ending with a crepe on top. Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.
Spoon 1/2 cup glaze on top of the cake, spreading to edges. Spread remaining glaze around sides of cake, coating completely. Refrigerate until glaze is firm and set, about 20 minutes. Cake can be refrigerated up to 3 days. Garnish with toasted and candied hazelnuts.

Hazelnut Filling
Serving: Makes about 8 cups

2/3 Cup heavy cream
6 large egg whites
1 2/3 Cups sugar
1 3/4 Cups (3 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, softened
1 Teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 Cup hazelnut cream, (available from Whole Foods Market,
1 salt (I recommend much less salt)

Put cream into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment; beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl. Refrigerate 1 hour.
Whisk egg whites and sugar in the clean bowl of mixer set over a pan of simmering water until sugar has dissolved and mixture registers 160 degrees;, 2 to 3 minutes.
Attach bowl to mixer fitted with the clean whisk attachment; beat on high speed until slightly cooled and stiff (but not dry) peaks form, about 5 minutes.
Fit mixer with paddle attachment. With mixer on medium-low speed, add butter, several pieces at a time, mixing well after each addition (meringue will deflate slightly as butter is added). Add vanilla, hazelnut cream, and salt; mix until mixture comes together, 3 to 5 minutes. Fold in whipped cream with a rubber spatula. Use immediately.

Chocolate Glaze
Serving: Makes about 2 cups

1 1/4 Cups heavy cream
1 Tablespoon light corn syrup
1 salt (less salt here, too)
10 Ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

Bring cream, corn syrup, and salt to a boil in a medium, heavy saucepan over medium- medium-high heat. Remove from heat. Add chocolate; swirl pan to cover completely with cream. Let stand about 5 minutes. Stir until smooth. Let cool completely.

Candied Hazelnuts
Serving: Makes 9

9 hazelnuts, toasted and peeled
1 Cup sugar
Thread each hazelnut onto tip of a long wooden skewer; set aside. Place a cutting board along the edge of a countertop; set a baking sheet on floor next to edge.
Cook sugar and 1/4 cup water in a medium, heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar has dissolved. Continue to cook, without stirring, until syrup comes to a boil, washing down sides with a wet brush to prevent crystals from forming. Let boil until syrup turns light amber, about 5 minutes; remove from heat. Let stand until slightly cooled, 8 to 10 minutes.
Dip 1 skewered hazelnut into syrup, coating completely and letting excess syrup drip back into pan. When dripping syrup becomes a thin string, secure end of skewer under cutting board, letting caramel string drip over edge onto sheet. Repeat with remaining hazelnuts. Let stand until caramel has hardened, about 5 minutes. Break strings to about 4 inches. Carefully remove skewers.

Martha Stewart Recipe via the website.

So, would you??

Now 30 strong, The Daring Bakers are now having a member choose the recipe each month instead of voting. Brilynn chose Martha Stewart's Darkest Chocolate Crepe Cake for April.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Future Food

There is a pull, irresistible and steady, pulling me away from the kitchen, out into the garden.

It all started innocently enough. I purchased some seed packets for six kinds of heirloom tomatoes and four kinds of squash. This is not really new...I grow a few things from seed many years. What was different this year was that almost every seed sprouted. And then, almost every sprouted seed turned into a seedling. And then none of the seedlings died. Well, that's a lot of seedlings let me tell you.

While they were little, it wasn't a problem. A month ago they were in our sunspace, bringing some welcome green when the rains were here. But then they needed to be put into soil in larger pots, and then I had to feed them and find room in the garden.

If I had the kind of garden where you just dig a hold and pop a plant in, I suspect that every one would have found a home. But by August I would be in trouble...too mahy squash by far (not sure that too many tomatoes is possible). As it is, my garden is overrun with gophers. This requires that plants be put into planters like half barrels, or that I put gopher cages in the ground first and put the plants inside. We used to have a cat who caught the gophers, but she is gone and Xam, our lab, shown here, tries to catch them but just digs up the yard in the process.

I did some of each kind of planting and now have enough seedlings planted to allow for a few to be eaten by critters, a few to not like their spot and to not thrive, and a whole bunch to fill my garden by harvest time with a rainbow of tomatoes, summer and winter squash, chard, cucumbers, beans and maybe even some peppers (I might buy a plant or two).

Now comes the daily watering, weeding, watching and enjoying their progress. When you raise them from seed, they are sort of like your progeny...more personal than something from the hardware or home store. I even found good people to give homes to many of the seedlings that wouldn't fit into my garden. Still have a few squash plants without homes. Any takers?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Ooooh! Muffins

Half the fun of blogging is trying out new things and sharing the experience. When Elena of Experiments challenged us to come up with muffins that had the 'ooooh' factor, something out of the ordinary, for Muffin Monday2, I looked on it as an opportunity to play in the kitchen with muffins.

I've always loved buttermilk muffins. Just like buttermilk biscuits, the addition of buttermilk adds a tang and moistness. With the addition of baking soda, you also get that acid/base reaction that can give them lightness. So I started with a Blueberry Muffin recipe that used buttermilk.

Next I decided that I wanted to have a surprise inside the muffins. First I tried chocolate covered caramel candy kisses, but the caramel just melted in and didn't really add much. Then I went with solid milk chocolate Hersey kisses, frozen, then chopped. They still sink to the bottom, making it tricky to remove the muffins without leaving some muffin (and chocolate chunk) on the pan, but they surely are a yummy surprise when you bite into a muffin that looks pretty healthy.

Another change was replacing some of the flour with toasted pecan meal becasue I thought it would go well with the chocolate. At Christmas I've made cookies by grating nuts in a cheese rotary grater, so I tried that, too. The toasted pecans add lots of flavor and they also offset some of the reaction between the buttermilk and the baking soda. These are not sky high muffins, but the crumb is lovely and having grated nuts gives them a wonderful texture. It does go really well with the chocolate, too. If I make these again, I might grate the chocolate instead of chunking it and fold it into the flour.

The last change, except for proportions of the baking powder and soda, was to substitute brown sugar for white sugar. I tried mixing some with the butter and melting it, but that just congealed when I tried to mix it into the egg mixture, so for the next batch, I just mixed the brown sugar right into the egg and buttermilk mixture.

This was a fun experiment process and leaves me really appreciating cookbook authors who have to make recipes 3-6 times, or more to get it all right. If I were going to include these in a cookbook, I'd play with the proportions more, but, as is, they are pretty damn good.

By the way, the photo below is of another weird looking great kitchen gadget that is essential for this recipe...the rotary grater used to grate those nuts into a flour like meal.

Toasted Pecan Surprise Muffins
Makes 1 dozen
Based very loosely on a Blueberry Muffin Recipe
In Jim Fobel’s Old Fashioned Baking Book

½ cup milk chocolate kisses (about 16), frozen, then chopped roughly
¾ cup pecan pieces, toasted, then grated (see below) and measured to make 1 cup grated pecan meal
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 cup buttermilk
½ cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Spray a 12 pan muffin tin with cooking spray, or line with muffin papers.
Freeze the milk chocolate kisses. Unwrap them and chop roughly, set aside.
Toast the pecan pieces. Using a rotary cheese grater, grate nuts into a fine powder. Measure 1 cup of the grated nuts. Set aside If there is extra, reserve for another use.
In a large bowl, mix together lightly the grated nuts, the flour, the baking powder and baking soda, and the salt.
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk, the brown sugar, and the vanilla extract. Whisk in the cooled melted butter.
Mix wet mixture into dry mixture in a few strokes. Blend in the candy quickly. Scoop batter into prepared muffin tin.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until muffins are golden brown and spring back when lightly pressed in the center.
Cool for 5 minutes, then remove from pan. Serve warm or cooled.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Friday, April 20, 2007

Twice Upon an Apricot

There are some things that take more than once to accomplish. In college I had to take chemistry twice in order to pass. Learning to tie my shoes took way more than two times. Learning to drive was so terrifying that after the first lesson my Dad & I agreed to not do that again any time soon, so I learned to drive over five years later when I was more 'mature'.

Ever since I heard that Helene at
Tartlette was hosting HHDD# 11, with the theme this time being mousse, I've been trying to decide what kind to make. I finally settled on apricot. You can make apricot mousse any time of the year if you use dried apricots, it has a distinct but gentle flavor which goes well with the light texture of a mousse, and I happen to love apricots.

So the first time around I simmered the dried apricots in 1/2 cup water, forgot about them and ended up almost burning them. So much for a delicate apricot flavor. I also wan't too sure about the recipe I had decided on. Then, after buying more dried apricots, I came upon a recipe for Raspberry Mousse in Flo Braker's
The Simple Art of Perfect Baking. It is a recipe for a filling for a cake, so I had to make a few changes, plus apricots are not the same as raspberries, but I was pretty sure that I could adapt it for a simple, elegant mousse.

This time I kept an eye on the apricots, but almost overbeat the whipped cream. The amazing thing is that it all worked out. The mousse has a stronger apricot flavor than I had thought it would, but is very delicious if you like apricots. The texture is creamy, with just a little bit of texture from the apricots puree. The cherry brandy lends an elusive note that offsets the richness of the whipped cream nicely. Garnished with fresh strawberries and some fresh mint it is perfect for an early spring dessert.

Apricot Mousse
Loosely based on a recipe for
Raspberry Mousse, Flo Braker, The Simple Art of Perfect Baking

1 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cold water
2 tablespoons cherry brandy
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
1 cup heavy whipping cream, chilled
strawberries & mint for garnish

Simmer the dried apricots in a small saucepan in the water for 15 minutes. Add the sugar and heat on medium-high for 5 minutes, keeping an eye on the apricots so that they don't burn.
While the apricots are simmering, combine the cold water & cherry brandy. Sprinkle the gelatin on the water mixture and stir. Set aside.
When the apricots are finished cooking, process them in a food processor or blender until they are pureed. Then mix in the softened gelatin. Place in a bowl and place the bowl over ice water. Whisk every minute or so for 5 minutes, or until mixture is cool.
While the apricot puree is cooling, whip the cream until soft peaks form.
Fold about one quarter of the whipped cream into the puree to lighten it. Then fold in the rest of the whipped cream and fold until cream is fully incorporated.
Spoon or pipe the mousse into serving dishes. Garnish with strawberries and mint. Chill for 3-4 hours. Serves 4-6.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Let's Go On a Picnic

It's spring. Some of the time it's sunny and not too windy (but not today) and the out of doors calls when we are stuck inside being adult or something. It's picnic time in wine country.

Last Friday friends from New Orleans visited and gave us the perfect excuse to get on the road with a picnic basket full of food. With choices like a day at Bodega Bay, a hike in Armstrong Redwoods near the Russian River, a trip into the past at the Petaluma Adobe, or heading north for some wine tasting, there was no way to have a bad day.

Our guests chose the wine tasting tour, so we headed for the Dry Creek valley, one of our favorite places to taste wine, although there are hundreds of wineries within driving distance. One stop was at the Hop Kiln Winery which is housed in a historic old hop kiln. Inside on the stone walls there are photos from the turn of the century showing hops pickers harvesting the hops from the tall vines. Later those hops were toasted in the kilns and used to flavor beer. Now there are no commercial hops in the valley, but lots of wine grape vines. At this time of year the vines are just starting to leaf out and you can still see the twisting of the old vines.

Our favorite winery to eat lunch at is Armida Winery. You drive up a steep and twisting drive, past two ponds and a bocce ball court. The winery is in a geodesic dome building. They concentrate on reds, so we purchased a nice Zinfandel to go with the picnic. They provide glasses and a wonderful deck with comfortable tables and chairs and red market umbrellas. The view over the valley is wonderful. We nibbled, drank wine, had long rambling conversations and nibbled some more. I'm telling you this while risking the possibility that Armida will become so popular that there will be no tables available when we visit. We already have trouble getting to play bocce ball. Oh well, it really is a great picnic spot.

A favorite picnic for this type of trip includes a selection of crackers, cheeses, salami, nuts, fruits, crudites, and some chocolate.

This time I made sure to include an artisan baguette from The Village Bakery in Sebastopol and some Humboldt Fog goat cheese. The bread, sliced fairly thin, makes a nice base for the tangy cheese. Both are made locally. They really go well with the Armida Zinfandel. These will make a wonderful addition to the Blog Party Picnic hosted by Stephanie at Dispensing Happiness. See you there!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

You Guessed it

Congratulations to Lis and Cheryl! You guessed correctly. This is an old fashioned manual juicer. It does a great job with citrus fruits of all kinds. Can't you just smell the orange zest?

And taste that fresh squeezed zippy orange juice? Where's the champagne?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Name This Kitchen Item

Years ago, when I didn't already have a kitchen full of cooking gear, I used to haunt flea markets and second hand stores, with the occasional antique store thrown in, looking for old kitchen implements. I found old rolling pins and spatulas, egg beaters and tea strainers.I don't remember where or when, but that's how I aquired this lovely, useful item. My mother had one and we used it frequently, so it seemed like a good purchase.

It's made of metal; aluminum as far as I know. After I posted the last query on a kitchen item, Sweetie told me that most aluminum items that were heavy cast aluminum were donated during WWII to be melted down and used for war materiels for things like casings and airplanes. I guess a few homemakers were more fond of their cookware than of being patriotic.

This one is easier than the last one, but I wanted to post it because the curves are so elegant for such a utilitarian item. I'll tell you tomorrow what it is.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A Full Moon Bread

For years, on and off, I've baked bread. It's sort of soothing to mix up the batter, knead it, smell that fresh yeasty smell, and be pleased when it rises, then rises again, and again when it is baked.

Andrew of Spitoon Extra is hosting Waiter, There's Something In My...Bread this month and I've had a lot of fun looking through various cookbooks getting ideas for a bread to bake. Today I came upon a bread I'd never heard of in Monday Night at Narsai's by Narsai David and Doris Muscatine. It's Sweet Potato and Garlic Bread and you bake it in a skillet, so it makes a lovely golden loaf that looks like a full moon in the autumn.

I used yams instead of sweet potatoes, since that is what I had in the pantry, and that worked just fine. The yeast got 'proofed' in a little of the water that the yams were cooked in because I wasn't sure if it was too old or not. Because of that I added some extra flour during the last part of the machine mixing to make up for the extra liquid. Otherwise I followed the directions given.

The garlic taste here is mild but present and the yams give it a faint sweetness as well as the mellow color. Yams are also fairly healthy with lots of fiber and vitamin A and beta carotene. The crumb of this bread is tender and moist and the crust is thin but crisp. This is a great bread to go with soup.

Yam and Garlic Bread
Narsai David

1 cup warm water (preferably the water the yams were boiled in)
1 cup mashed yams (boil until tender, then peel and mash)
2 teaspoons sugar
1 package yeast, or 1 tablespoon dry yeast
2 small cloves garlic, crushed
3 cups white bread or all-purpose flour (about)
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter, softened or salad oil

Place the water, sweet potatoes sugar, and yeast in a mixing bowl. Let rest for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, flour and salt. Mix well with a dough hook or heavy paddle. The dough will be quite soft and sticky. If using a dough hook, you may need to add a little more to keep the dough around the hook. Continue mixing for 2-3 minutes if you are using a mixing machine, 3 to 4 minutes by hand. Spread 1 tablespoon of butter or oil over the dough.

Place the dough in a warm plate to rise, covered with a dish towel. When the dough has doubled in volume, anywhere between 1 and 2 hours, turn it out onto a floured surface and punch it down to get out the air that has inflated it. Kneading a few times also helps in this step. Shape the deflated dough into a ball. This is a very soft dough, so handle it gently and use plenty of flour to keep it from sticking to the board.

Butter or oil a 10-inch skillet. Put the dough in the skillet, and set aside, uncovered, in a warm place until double in volume.

About halfway throught the rising, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

When the dough has doubled, bake for 35 to 40 minutes to brown well. Turn out onto a rack to cool.
Makes 1 round loaf.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Love That Golden Syrup

April 23rd is England’s neglected national day, St George’s Day. When I saw that Sam of Becks and Posh was hosting a one-off event called Fish and Quips, just the title drew my interest. The theme of showcasing good British cooking is a winner.

Along with things like the traditional Afternoon (not High) Tea, with its cucumber tea sandwiches, small tarts, and rich scones slathered with clotted cream and jam, other sweet foods came to mind. There is the classic Victoria Cake, with sponge cake, jam and whipped cream, and the traditional trifle with sponge cake, jam, brandy, custard and whipped cream. (Are we seeing a pattern here?) Well, one thing is for certain, the Brits know a thing or two about sweets.

Originally I was looking for a recipe for Spotted Dick, a steamed pudding mentioned often in the O'Brian novels about Captain Aubrey and Dr. Maturin during the Napoleonic Wars. It seems to be a favorite dessert. Unfortunately, once I found the recipe, it sounded too sweet for even my overdeveloped sweet tooth.

Then I remembered a dish I enjoyed at a Father's Day meal years ago at Doce Lunas Restaurant east of Santa Rosa. It was Sticky Toffee Pudding, a sponge pudding that has a lot of dates in it, along with molasses and Golden Syrup. Well, the Golden Syrup in the recipe decided it. Golden Syrup is a golden pure cane syrup and is a British treasure. I also bake Anzac cookies using this lovely syrup as a key ingredient.

The pudding itself is moist, sweet and mellow. The sauce that goes with it is a sort of caramel sauce and it uses more of the Golden Syrup. The brand I use is called Lyles and it can sometimes be found in the market with other British imports. I combined elements from three different recipes. One had the size pan I wanted to use, another used the Golden Syrup, and another used some molasses, too. I don't know of a good substitute for Golden Syrup if you can't find it. Karo dark is nothing like it, although it might be the closest regular American grocery item.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Serves 4-6
For the Pudding:

5 oz. dates, pits removed, chopped

1 cup hot water

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter, softened

1/4 cup brown sugar, packed

2 tablespoons molasses

1 tablespoon golden syrup

2 eggs

1/2 cup, plus 1 tablespoon, self-rising flour

For the toffee sauce:

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon golden syrup

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Butter an 8-inch square cake pan.

Heat the water in a small pot, add the chopped dates and the baking soda. Let stand while you prepare the butter, sugar, egg mixture.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. I use an electric stand mixer.

Add the molasses, golden syrup and mix well. Scrape the bowl and beaters.

Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix well.

Add the flour on low speed, then increase to medium to combine. Add the dates mixture and mix well. The mixture will be somewhat thin and curdled looking. That's OK.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Place into the oven and bake 35-40 minutes, or until cooked through. Top will be springly when touched.

To make the sauce, melt the butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and golden syrup. Mix well. Add the whipping cream and mix to thoroughly combine. Simmer for five to ten minutes to thicken slightly.

To serve, spoon out a portion of the pudding into a shallow bowl and pour over some of the hot toffee sauce.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Arabian Nights...and Days

There is something very wonderful about the food from the Mediterranean area, especially from the eastern part. The flavors usually are deep and complex with spices and the combinations of those spices are different from those I usually use. Meeta of What's For Lunch Honey has invited us to the Monthly Mingle with the theme this month of Arabian Nights. I considered a number of different recipes, but in the end went with simplicity.

Sometimes the best part of the food from the eastern Mediterranean is the freshness. Recently I ate at a Persian restaurant, Hatams in Marin, CA, with my blogging buddy Anna. After we indulged in those wonderfully robust and complicated foods, I purchased some items to take home from the small grocery/deli that is in front of the restaurant. One of those items was fresh feta cheese. I took it home and later had it the same way it had been served at Hatams; the feta was joined by pita bread triangles and fresh mint from my garden. It is a wonderful combination with the salty feta, the wheaten pita and the zing of mint joining forces in your mouth. It makes a great appetizer for an Arabian night...or day.

Monday, April 09, 2007

It's A...

Potato cooker is what it is. It is roughly a triangle with rounded sides. The lid is slightly domed and has a glass knob. There is a place at the back that looks like it used to be where the handle connected, but that was long ago.

To 'bake' the potatoes, you wash off baking potatoes, pierce the skins a couple of time with the point of a sharp knife, then fit them into the potato cooker (it holds up to 4 large ones), put it on the stove top with the heat at low and cook for about 45 minutes. The potatoes come out with fluffy interiors and crisp skins as if you had baked them in the oven, but the energy use is far less. We've also baked yams in it and they are wonderful cooked that way.

I'll bet that you could also pop corn and cook rice in this pot, but have never tried it.

Thanks for the great guesses. If you ever see one of these for sale at a yard sale or antiques place, snap it up if it isn't too expensive. I'd love to know what it cost and what they said it was for, too.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Name That Kitchen Item

Not long ago I was attending a meeting of the group I belong to, P.E.O., which raises money to provide scholarships for women. The member who was giving a program that day had borrowed a number of antique kitchen and laundry and farm tools. She challenged us to guess what some of them were and our answers led to lots of laughter.

The item shown here was passed down from Sweetie's mother to him and probably belonged to his grandmother, too. I've never seen another one like it. It seemed like a fun gadget to challenge you bloggers and lurkers with. Do you have any idea what it is used for? It's made of cast aluminum. As you can see, it's gotten a lot of use over the years.

I'll post the answer tomorrow.

Happy guessing, but keep it clean people.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Spring Tonic the Sweet Way

There is a tradition that in the spring you take a tonic to give yourself a boost after winter deprivation. Since we now have oodles of things in the market all winter, there really is no deprivation. Still, a blast of tonic of some sort is great. One old fashioned one is rhubarb. It certainly has a robust taste, but if you cook it, it becomes more civilized.

Rhubarb looks a lot like red celery stalks when you buy it at the market. They have usually trimmed off the chard-like leaves, which is good because you shouldn't eat the leaves. The perfect companion for rhubarb is strawberries, another spring favorite.

I already had some strawberries when I saw the rhubarb at the store. When I got home I couldn't decide how to use them together. Jam is always wonderful. Strawberry-rhubarb pie is a favorite of mine, but I was feeling more like muffins or cake.

In The Fannie Farmer Baking Book by Marion Cunningham I found Buttemilk Lemon Pound Cake.

That provided the perfect base for a lovely Strawberry Rhubarb Pound Cake. It is light but rich, with a golden crust and sweet-tart tang from the buttermilk as well as the rhubarb and strawberries. A slice is the perfect thing with a cup of tea on a spring afternoon.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pound Cake

4 eggs at room temperature
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup strawberried, diced in roughly 1/2 inch dice (about 1/2 pint)
1 cup rhubarb, diced in roughly 1/2 inch dice (about 2 stalks)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2 inch loaf pans.

Combine 3 cups of the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; sift them together onto a large piece of waxed paper. Reserve the last 1/4 cup of flour for the berries and rhubarb.

Put the butter in a large mixing bowl and beat until it is smooth and creamy. Slowly add the sugar, beating constantly. Continue beating until smooth and well blended. Add the eggs all at once, and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.

Combine the berries, diced, and the rhubarb, diced, in a bowl. Sprinkle with the flour and toss to coat. Add the lemon zest and toss to distribute the zest. Set aside.

Sprinkle the butter and egg mixture with about half of the flour-leavening-salt combination and beat until well blended. Stir the lemon extract into the buttermilk. Beat half the buttermilk mixture into the batter. Add the remaining flour and buttermilk mixtures and beat until the batter is smooth and well blended. Fold in the strawberry-rhubarb-zest mixture gently but thoroughly to distribute the fruit throughout the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake for 40 - 45 minutes, or until they test done. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack for 5 minutes, then turn out onto the rack, turn them right side up and allow to cool completely on the rack before serving. Makes two loaves.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Chicken and the Egg

Easter eggs are nice and all, but with only two people living in our house, the question arises at once. What to do with all those hard boiled eggs? Do I make deviled eggs? Nah, too much like picnic food and it's still a bit cool for that. Egg salad is always a winner, but I'm thinking about dinner and egg salad sounds like lunch to me.

After trolling through the recipe files, I came across a recipe that is from 1972 or earlier. I made a few adjustments to better comply with current nutritional guidelines, but it still tastes decadent and used some of those hard boiled eggs. It's also perfect for FF#1 (Food Fight #1) hosted by Allen at Eating Out Loud. He chose eggs for the monthly theme. Great choice!

Continental Chicken Casserole, where the chicken meets the egg, can also be made with turkey, it can be prepared ahead, it can serve a crowd, and it's fairly easy to make.

The key is in the mixture of spices in the sauce and the addition of sherry. You don't really taste the sherry as a strong's more of a grace note. It's important to use a good sherry that you wouldn't mind drinking. I used an Amontillado sherry from Jerez de La Frontera in the district of Macharnudo in Spain. It's dry and light enough that it enhances the spices, but doesn't drown them. Don't forget the eggs. They bring all those flavors together. I served this with yolkless egg noodles and steamed peas, but you can use rice too.

Continental Turkey Casserole
3 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour
2 cups chicken broth (I used the almost fat free kind of canned, but fresh is better)
1 cup non-fat milk
1 teaspoon mustard (I used standard ballpark style yellow, but other kinds would be good, too)
1/2 teaspoon salt, dash pepper
1/8 teaspoon each: allspice, ground nutmeg, cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon each: paprika (I used sweet Hungarian), and seasoned salt
1/4 cup dry sherry
4 hard cooked eggs, cubed
4 cups cooked turkey (or chicken) cubed in roughly 1/2 inch cubes
1 teaspoon butter
crumbs from one slice whole grain bread

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour until smooth. Using a whisk and over low heat, slowly blend in the broth, then the milk, stirring constantly until smooth.
Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until sauce is thickened.
Combine all the seasonings in a small bowl, then blend into the sauce. Stir in the sherry, fold in the eggs and chicken.
Turn the chicken and egg mixture into a buttered (or spray with cooking spray) 3 quart casserole dish.
Melt the 1 teaspoon butter in a small pan. Add the crumbs and stir to coat with the butter. Top the casserole with the crumbs, spreading evenly. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 - 30 minutes or until the sauce bubbles and the crumbs are browned. Serve hot. Serves 10-12.