Monday, July 30, 2007

Summery Daring Delight

In eight months, the daring Bakers have gone from two to eighty-nine members. Not all of them participate each month, but many do. We now, thanks to our founder Lis and Ivonne, have a website with a blogroll where you can link to other Daring Bakers' sites and see what they all have done with this challenge.

Strawberry Mirror Cake

Peabody of Culinary Concoctions by Peabody has given the Daring Bakers a challenge for July that produces a beautiful 10” cake, uses an awesome quantity of eggs and strawberries, and presented some new challenges for me. It’s called the Strawberry Mirror Cake - the perfect cake for summer. When it is unmolded from the spring form pan, the Bavarian cream forms a pale pink shell, topped with a glistening mirror of red tinted but clear strawberry gelatin. You can find the recipe on Peabody’s site here and at the bottom of this post. If you refer to it as you read through this post, it will make more sense.

First of all, I’ve never made a mirror cake before. I’ve never made a Bavarian cream either. My sponge cake skills were rusty since it’s been years since I made one. The good news is that I did have a small bottle of Kirsch (clear cherry brandy) in the cupboard, and some cake flour left over from the
March challenge. Although I use it once in a blue moon, I also had some cream of tartar.

The first part, lining the jelly roll pan with parchment paper, was easy and fun and I was so glad that I let Sweetie talk me into buying some new 11 x 17 inch rimmed pans recently…sure I probably would have bought them anyway, but it was nice that he wanted me to…I think he enjoys the challenges as much as I do. Being the official taste tester has its advantages.

Since I knew that I would be doing separated eggs for both the cake and the Bavarian, I separated the eggs for both at the same time, then saved the Bavarian eggs in sealed containers for later. Separating the eggs while they were chilly, then letting them come to room temperature to bake with seems to work well. I also made the strawberry juice the day before I made the Mirror. Since I was processing strawberries for the Bavarian cream, it seemed like a good time to do it.

Sponge Cake
One of the key things about making the sponge cake is to beat the eggs and sugar for a looooong time to get the air incorporated. Because I only have one Kitchen Aid mixer mixing bowl, I actually beat my egg whites first, with sugar added as directed, almost to glossy stage, then transferred them to another bowl while I beat the eggs and sugar.

Once the eggs and sugar were light and thick and yummy looking, with vanilla incorporated, I whisked the whites in the non-mixer bowl for a while to bring them up to glossy stage, then followed the recipe by sifting flour over the egg sugar mixture and folding it in. I lightened the mixture with some of the whites, then folded in the rest of the whites gently, taking the spatula down the center, then up the side of the bowl, turning the bowl a bit, then repeating…center, side, turn, center, side, turn.

The most nerve wracking part was spreading the batter in that huge pan, trying to keep the air in the batter in the process. This batter bakes up into a fairly thin cake, but that’s OK. You need room for two layers and the Bavarian cream in that spring form pan.

I also found that leaving the parchment on the cake while cutting out the two layers was a good idea, but peel the parchment off fairly soon so it doesn’t stick when the cake cools the rest of the way. The diameter of the cake needs to be about ½ to 1 inch smaller than the spring form pan to allow the Bavarian cream to surround it.

Bavarian Cream
I made the Bavarian cream a couple of days later. The cake was in the fridge and it seemed like it would keep for a couple of days. We had invited guests for dinner on Saturday and I wanted to serve the cake to them. I left the mirror part for Saturday morning, but I did make the juice early…more on that later.

The first thing I did was prepare the puree. Since I had bought a large clamshell of strawberries at the grocery store…about 4 pounds of them!...I estimated how many would make 1 ½ cups of puree. After removing the caps and slicing them, I put them in the food processor and let it whirl until it looked like a puree, seeds and all. Then I left for lunch and put it in the fridge. When I came home, I put the puree in a bowl and sprinkled on the gelatin, stirred the gelatin in, then set it aside.

When the yolks that I had separated the day before were at room temperature, it was back to beating eggs and sugar a long time until light. I had no trouble with the hot milk, with adding it carefully to the sugar and yolk mixture (and yes, I did temper it), nor with cooking that mixture the proper amount.

No trouble with adding the puree/gelatin mixture, but the cooling over ice water was a problem. Turns out that my ice maker was not making much ice, so the cooling too forever.

I finally added a package of frozen limas that no one wanted to eat. That helped. In the end I put the bowl of gelatin mixture directly in the freezer and stirred it about every minute until it was almost the right consistency, then finished it in the ice bath. Unorthodox, but necessary. Here is how the gelled bavarian without cream looks:

Folding the whipped cream into the gelatin mixture was similar to folding the whipped whites into the cake batter. You get the idea.

Now that the cake has had plenty of time to cool in the fridge and the Bavarian cream is made, it’s time to assemble the cake, up to the Mirror part.

I put together the soaking sugar syrup flavored with the kirsch, then prepared the 10-inch spring form pan. Covering the circle of cardboard with foil was not as simple as I had thought it would be. I ended up going over the whole disc with a rolling pin to flatten everything nicely. I also made sure to coat the sides of the pan all the way up to the rim with the oil. Notice the space between the edge of the cake and the sides of the pan in the photo below. That's where the Bavarian goes.

The syrup went on the cake nicely, the Bavarian cream needed a little pushing down with the spatula to make sure it covered the space between the cake and the pan sides, but putting the cake together was simple. I had lots of Bavarian cream, but needed to restrain myself from using too much so that there would be room for the Mirror. In the photo that came with the recipe, it looked like the cream was supposed to be about the same depth as the cake. I almost forgot to use the soaking syrup on the second layer, but remembered right before I covered it with the cream.

The top was as even as I could make it, but not really level.

Into the fridge it all went to chill overnight. The kitchen looked like a cyclone had hit it. Even though I made the cake early, there were still an amazing number of bowls, pans, and spatulas to wash.

The official recipe puts the Mirror next, but you need to make the Juice before you can make the mirror, so here we go…

The strawberries need to be processed first, caps removed and sliced or chunked to make them easier to crush. While the berries and sugar were simmering, I discovered that I had no more cheesecloth, nor a jelly bag, so I improvised by using a coffee filter. Worked like a charm. It is important to not press on the fruit, just let the mixture drip. That way your juice is clear and your mirror will be lovely.

On to the Mirror. It’s Saturday, in the morning. I have a ton of things to do to get ready for the dinner party, but the mirror is first.

I stirred the gelatin into the lemon juice, kirsch and water mixture. The hardest part was deciding how red to color the mirror. I think I used 4 drops of red food coloring. The ice bath situation was not any better than it had been for the Bavarian, so I did some freezer time, stirring the mixture with my clean fingers to keep the heat level even as it cooled, then finished it in the ice bath. The layer I poured over the Bavarian, which had been chilling overnight, was more than 1/16 inch because the top was not even and I wanted to make sure that the mirror was over the whole cake. The limitation was that I didn’t want to have it go over the rim of the spring form pan. Tricky!

It’s Saturday afternoon. The Mirror has set, the house is clean, the dinner prep is underway and it’s time to finish the cake. Oh, yes, and take photos, too.

The towel I use to wrap around the pan is too short! I add some paper towels quickly doused in hot water and wrung out. While they sit on the outside of the pan, I take a small sharp knife and run it all around the edge at the rim, making sure that the tip of the knife hits the Bavarian cream and that I get all around without taking the knife out. Now for the most daring part. I take off the towels, slowly unlatch the pan and….ta da!...the cake is ready for the serving platter. Well, almost ready. The sides of the cake look pretty plain, although the mirror is lovely. Since I still have lots and lots of strawberries, I decide to slice them and march the slices around the side of the cake. When I plated the slices after dinner, I drizzled a spiral of strawberry puree on each dessert plate first, then put on the cake slice.

Thank you Peabody for picking a very good challenge for July. Making the cake increased my skills and the cake itself was certainly enjoyed by our guests and by Sweetie. It was pretty, sweet, light, and rich…prefect for a dinner party. I would probably make it again, but most likely with raspberries. I would also make sure that I had plenty of ice for the ice water baths. Now I only wish I could give you a piece of the Strawberry Mirror Cake.

Strawberry Mirror Cake

Daring Bakers Challenge #8: July 2007
Host: Peabody (Culinary Concoctions by Peabody)
Post Date: July 30th

Recipe Quantity: One (1) 10" Cake

Special Pans: 11 x 17" Jelly Roll Pan, 10" Springform Pan, 8 1/4" Cake Round or Tin (or pattern)

A. Strawberry Mirror Cake

• 3 eggs
• 3 egg yolks
• ¾ cup sugar
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• 3 egg whites
• 1/8 tsp cream of tartar
• 2 TBSP sugar
• 2/3 cup sifted cake flour
• ½ cup water
• 1/3 cups sugar
• 2 TBSP kirsch or strawberry liqueur

1.Preheat oven to 450F. Butter and flour the sides of an 11-by-17 inch jelly roll pan(rimmed baking sheet). Line bottom of pan with a sheet of parchment paper cut to fit bottom pan exactly.

2.Beat eggs, egg yolks and ¾ cup sugar together in a medium bowl until thick and light. Beat in the vanilla.

3.In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy, ad cream of tartar and beat until whites begin to form peaks. Add the 2 TBSP sugar and beat until the whites hold stiff, glossy peaks(do not over beat).

4.Sift flour over the egg yolk mixture and fold in . Stir in one fourth of the whites. Then carefully fold in the remaining whites.

5.Spread batter evenly in pan. Bake until light brown and springy to touch(7 to 10 minutes).

6. Cool in pan 5 minutes. Run a knife along edge to loosen. Invert cake tin to cut out 8 ¼ inch circles of cake. Wrap the cake layers, separated with waxed paper, and set aside. Cake may be frozen at this point.

B. Strawberry Bavarian Cream
• 2 ½ TBSP unflavored gelatin
• 1 ½ cups strained strawberry puree(1 ½ baskets)
• 5 egg yolks
• 2/3 cup sugar
• 1 ½ cups milk
• 1 TBSP lemon juice
• several drops of red food coloring
• 1 ¾ cups whipping cream

1.Sprinkle the gelatin over the strawberry puree in a small bowl and set aside until spongy.

2.Combine egg yolks and sugar in a bowl' beat until light. Bring milk to a boil in sauce pan. Pour hot milk into yolk mixture ans stir with a wooden spoon(it doesn't say so but I would temper the egg mixture first to be safe). Return this mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until your finger leaves a clear trail in sauce when drawn across the back of the spoon.(Do not boil or mixture will curdle.) Immediately remove from heat and stir in softened gelatin mixture. Pour into a stainless steel bowl places over a bowl of ice water. Stir in lemon juice and a few drops of red food coloring. Cool over ice water, stirring occasionally, until mixture thickens to the consistency of softly whipped cream.

3.While gelatin mixture is cooling, whip the whipping cream until it holds soft peaks. When the gelatin mixture resembles softly whipped cream, fold the whipped cream into the gelatin mixture.

Strawberry Mirror
• 1 tsp lemon juice
• 1 TBSP kirsch
• 1 TBSP water
• 1 TBSP unflavored gelatin
• Few drops of red food coloring

1.Prepare strawberry juice.

2.Place lemon juice, kirsch, and water in a small bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over this mixture; set aside until spongy and soft.

3.Measure 1 ½ cups Strawberry juice into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer; pour over gelatin mixture and stir to dissolve gelatin. Tint to desired color with red food coloring. Place bowl over bowl of ice water and stir occasionally until the mixture is syrupy and just beings to thicken(do not let jell); remove from ice water.

4.When mixture is syrupy, pour a 1/16-inch layer over the top of cake. Refrigerate until set.

Strawberry Juice
• 1 ½ pints of strawberries(18 oz)
• ¾ cup sugar
• ¾ cup water

1. Wash and hull strawberries; coarsely chop.

2. Place strawberries in saucepan; crush to start juices flowing. Place over low heat; add sugar and water; simmer slowly 10 minutes.

3.Pour juice and pulp through damp jelly bag or cheesecloth-lined colander and drain into a bowl for 15 minutes(Do not press down on fruit).

Soaking Syrup
Combine water and the 1/3 cup sugar in saucepan; bring to a boil to dissolve sugar. Cool to room temperature; flavor with liqueur. Set aside or refrigerate in glass jar until ready to use.

To Assemble the Cake:
1. Brush sides of 10-inch springform pan lightly with flavorless salad oil or almond oil. Cut out a cardboard circle that is exactly the same size as the bottom inside of the pan; cover cardboard with aluminum foil and fit into bottom of pan. Center one layer of the cake bottom of pan. Brush the cake with some of the soaking syrup to just moisten(not drench) the cake; set aside.

2. Prepare Strawberry Bavarian Cream. Immediately pour about half of the Bavarian Cream over the first layer of cake in the pan. Set the next layer of cake on top of the cream. Pour remaining Bavarian Cream over cake and smooth top of the cream with spatula. Refrigerate until the cream sets(1 to 2 hours).

3.Prepare the Strawberry Mirror.

To serve:
Wrap a hot towel around the outside of springform pan for a few minutes. Run a small sharp knife tip around the edge of the Strawberry Mirror to separate it form the sides of pan. Mirror will tear when sides are unlatched if it is stuck at ANY point. Slowly unlatch the pan and slide it off the cake. Slice cake in wedges and serve in upright slices.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Crazy Gadgets

Yesterday I was invited to join some other PEO members for lunch and to go to see a wonderful antiques collection nearby. Sue has been collecting antiques, particularly gadgets, for over 30 years. Her kitchen gadgets were stunning. Walls were lined with graters, grinders, pudding molds, colanders and cast iron corn stick pans.

On hooks were dozens of egg beaters, lots of gadgets to hold canning jars, soap savers, whisks, and so much more.

She had a cute metal measuring cup that was a coffee measurer. A thin piece of metal for the bottom slid in and out of slots to move the bottom up or down depending on how strong you wanted your coffee.

She had bushel baskets full of cooking tools like spoons, forks, slotted spoons, potato mashers...and each basket had different colored handles. It was overwhelming. One item caught my eye and she agreed to let me photograph it for the one off event - That Crazy Kitchen Gadget hosted by Not Eating Out in New York. The photograph is above. Do you think you know what it is? Look below the next photo to see if you guessed right. Wish I had one of those myself.

It's a biscuit cutter. It rolls along and cuts a whole row of biscuits (or cookies, I guess) at a time. Did you guess correctly??

My Dad loved biscuits, so these quick and easy ones were baked often when I was growing up. Since I don't own the cutter, I'll be using a floured drinking glass. I'm also including a photo with jam and one with honey because I like eating them both ways. Mmmmmm.

Dad's Simple But Nutritionally Suspect Buttermilk Biscuits
3 cups sifted self-rising flour
1/2 cup shortening (Crisco was what we used)
1 cup buttermilk

Cut shortening into flour until consistency of coarse meal; add enough buttermilk to make a soft dough (you may need slightly more or less than 1 cup). Turn onto lightly floured surface; knead gently about ten strokes. Roll 1/2 of the thickness desired in finished biscuits. Fold over on itself and roll out again to same thickness. Cut with a floured biscuit cutter (or drinking glass OR crazy kitchen gadget if you have one). Place on a baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 400 degree F overn for 12-15 minutes. Makes about 14 - 2" biscuits.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

What's on Your Desk?

Since this blog is about enthusiasms of all kinds, there will be a recipe at the end for the Grilled Peach Salad in the photo, but the meme I tagged some other blogger for led me to Peabody's blog, where she charmingly described items on her desk. That led me to wonder what people have on their desks. This will not be an official meme, just informal. If you want to post what is on your desk and link here, then e-mail me that you have done so, I might attempt to do a round up, say next weekend. If no one e-mails, I'll have less to do *grin*.

So my desk is, first of all, not very neat.
I have stacks of cookbooks (what a surprise!) and some printed out recipes,
cards because I use snail mail to send birthday cards, being a lover of all things birthday,
a stack of CDs which I use to download some of my photo files since they seem to multiply at an alarming rate,
old ZIP disks with older photo and graphics files (someday these need to be transferred to another storage medium - UGGHH - but for now they are a cheerful mix of gold, red, green, black and blue.
The usual office supplies are there, too, plus a spool of gold and silver idea why that ended up on the desk :)

I have a hand thrown and glazed pottery cup to hold pencils, pens, markers and a boning tool,
a couple of watercolor paintings I have done recently leaning up against the wall,
a photo of my daughter,
cheery magenta fake daisy like flowers in a pottery vase,
two printers (I own and use three...another enthusiasm obviously)
and my Dammit Doll.

On the wall, a poster that says, "Misery is Optional",
one that says, "We come from the earth, we return to the earth, and in between we garden",
a framed needlepoint of the serenity prayer,
and a framed specimen sheet of Caslon type from Williamsburg.
Hanging from the window trim are a red dragonfly
and a green good luck elf.

So, what's on YOUR desk?

On to the salad. I'm certain that this is not an original idea, but earlier in the week I had a few ripe, perfect white peaches. I cut them in half, removed the pit (they were freestone peaches which makes it easy), sprinkled a bit of brown sugar on the cut sides, then grated a tiny bit of nutmeg on top of the brown sugar, then had Sweetie grill them briefly, just enough to carmelize the sugar and heat them through. When peeled, sliced, and added to the salad, they were such a treat. The grilling changes the flavor in much the same way that baking peaches in a pie does. I like fresh, uncooked peaches, too, but baked or grilled peaches have such a mellow juiciness.

Grilled Peach Salad
4 cups or more mixed field greens or mesclun or mixed salad greens of your choice
two ripe peaches - freestone variety preferred (I used white, but yellow peaches would also be good in this salad)
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg, freshly ground if possible
1/4 cup toasted pecans, broken into pieces
Balsamic Vinaigrette to taste (I added too much for my taste (about 1/2 cup) and will use about 1/4 cup next time. (see below)

Place field green or salad green, washed and dried, into a salad bowl. Set aside.
Cut peaches in half. Remove pits. On each cut face, sprinkle with the brown sugar and nutmeg, dividing among the 4 pieces. Grill cut face down 2-3 minutes or until sugar is carmelized and peaches are just heated through. Place peaches on a cutting board, peel off the skin, and slice each half into 4 or 5 slices, then cut crosswise into chunks. Drizzle peach chunks with 2 teaspoons of the vinaigrette. Add cut, dressed chunks to salad bowl.
Sprinkle top of salad with the nuts, then with the dressing. Grind a few grinds of fresh pepper over the salad. Toss to coat the lettuce leaves with the dressing and mix the fruit and nuts into the salad. Serve with more dressing on the side if desired. Serve cold.

Balsamic Vinaigrette
1/4 cup good balsamic vinegar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup water
Combine the vinegar, salt and thyme in a small bowl. Whisk in the olive oil to create an emulsion. Whisk in the water and keep whisking until fully emulsified.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Seven seems to be a popular number lately. Lots of couples paid extra to get married on July 7, 2007 because 7-7-7 is supposed to be lucky.

Today I got lucky because the lovely Jerry of Food and Photo tagged me for the Seven Random Things About Me meme. If it had not been random things, I'd feel unlucky, but, geeez, I should be able to to random. Thanks Jerry!

1. I don't like goat cheese. Here in California, especially in the Wine Country, goat cheese is served fairly often in lots of ways. If it's on the plate, I'll eat it, but I'd much rather have almost any other kind of cheese. I've tried many different brands and even fresh from Nan's goat (with some assist from Nan in making the milk into cheese), but it still leaves me cold. Guess I like cow's milk cheeses the best.

2. I don't knit or crochet. There is a story behind that. And a pun just made :) When my Dad drove my brother, sister, and myself to Alabama to visit my grandmother one summer, I had just learned how to crochet. We were driving a station wagon. At some point in the journey, I jumped into the far back part of the car and impaled my rear on one of the crochet needles. Ever since them I can't get excited about crochet or knitting needles as a way to pass the time enjoyably.

3. When I have a job I tend to be super neat and organized, but my office, pantry, linen closet, front hall closet, etc. look like a thief has just ransacked them looking for hidden jewelry.

4. My first cat was a marmelade colored cat, Muffin, but since then I've never had another cat that color. I do love marmelade on my English muffins, too.

5. I love making my own greeting cards. I use PageMaker, a graphics program, and Avery #3379 note cards. It allows me to make personalized cards with my own photographs or drawings. I also make calendars the same way for special people like my daughter.

6. My favorite music is Celtic, especially fiddle music. I know someone who is going to a Celtic fiddle camp in Scotland next month and I'm salivating hearing about what she will be doing and where she will be going in Scotland.

7. I love, love, love fall with crisp, cool days and golden sunshine and all the colors of the fall leaves, and enjoy spring and winter, but I hate summer. I don't like heat, and when I was growing up it was hot and humid and no air conditioning and we had to do chores all summer. I know I should get over it now that I am waaaaay past childhood, but summer is still my least favorite time of year, mellowed only partially by all of the zucchini in my garden right now.

That's pretty random, right?

So I'm tagging:

Peabody of Culinary Concoctions by Peabody because she loves autumn, too, plus she's an interesting person with great passions.

Kristen of Dish and Dine because she makes things very fascinating when she writes about them.

Lis of La Mia Cucina because she is such a funny writer and just plain fun.

Anna of Anna's Cool Finds because she has an international outlook and writes such great reviews.

Beth of West of Taos, who might not appreciate being tagged, but her writing is stellar.

Kellypea of Sass and Veracity because I enjoy her writing and opinions.

Monday, July 16, 2007

One Way to Remember

There are all sorts of ways to remember someone who has been a big part of your life. You can remember their humor, their interests, the way they spoke or looked, their favorite movies or books or music. One way to remember them is by what their favorite foods were.
Max had a granddad also named Max. They both loved foods that you enjoyed the most by picking at them. That might sound funny, but not everyone takes the same delight that they did at sitting down to a good picking session over a mess of Chesapeake Bay crabs that had been steamed with Old Bay seasoning. Although I enjoy cooking and baking with walnuts, I don't enjoy taking the time or concentration as they did in picking even the tiniest bit of walnut out of the cracked walnut shells. A related joy for the younger Max was the fun in taking steamed artichokes and picking each leaf off in turn, dipping it in butter, then pulling it through your teeth to extract the artichoke essence.

When we went to Seattle the first time Max was about 8. When we visited Pike Place and saw the great fish market, he talked Sweetie into buying a fresh King crab leg that had come from Alaska. The taste is nothing like frozen King crab legs, especially if you have a good palate like Max did. Being essentially spoiled from then on for anything except fresh, we were always on the lookout for them at fish markets and on restaurant menus. The same was true for lobster, another great opportunity for a picker. If it was fresh and on the menu, we somehow managed to find the funds to order at least one and enjoy the luxury.

When he was 15 Max became interested in cooking. We did a Parmesan cheese tasting one night when we were having pasta. First came the ugly stuff in the green cardboard container, then the already grated cheese sold in small plastic containers at the store, then an imported Argentinian Parmesan type cheese, then the wonderful cheese from Italy stamped with the Parmigiano-Reggiano stamp on the rind. As expected, he was wowed by the Italian cheese and could tell blindfolded which was which. Too soon he got his drivers license and the cooking lessons stopped. Still, on a day like today, eight years since the accident, it's good to remember the fun we had enjoying food in and out of the kitchen.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Scotch on That Salmon, Laddie

We don't entertain very often, but last evening invited two couples to join us for grilled salmon and a leisurely meal on the deck shaded by the walnut tree. Just to show that I don't just bake, here is the menu:

A starter of black bean dip with corn chips and assorted fresh veggies. The cucumber slices are the first from my garden this year. Everything else came from the market. We also had Italian country bread and little bowls with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping, and another small bowl with plain almonds to nibble.

The main dish was Sweetie's speacialty, grilled salmon fillets with Scotch. Yes, I said Scotch, laddie. The alcohol burns off leaving a nice, subtle smoky taste. The liquor also does a little tenderizing of the fish. He does the same sort of thing with other fish, with chicken, pork, lamb, etc. using Irish whisky, bourbon, and so on depending on his mood.

He also used a little olive oil and a smidge of garlic. Along side he grilled some slices of fresh-from-the-garden zucchini.

I made a big salad or field greens, chunks of tomatoes, cucumber, zucchini, avocado and feta, which I tossed with a lemon-balsamic vinaigrette and toasted pine nuts.

One of our guest brought some enjoyable wine. Lots of iced water (since it was hot) and more bread rounded out the meal.

The best part of all was sharing all of this with friends who had not met each other before. Everyone seemed to enjoy the others company, so it was absolutely worth the effort. We should do it more often, but probably won't anytime soon...maybe in August.

Dessert? Well, that would be telling...the challenge recipe for the Daring Bakers was on the menu. Check back at the end of the month to see how that went.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Date Night

Thursday is Date Night, at least some of the time. When Sweetie and I had been married about 15 years we started having date night every week. As often happens when you get busy with jobs, homemaking, errands and all of the seemingly endless activities surrounding raising kids, we had very little time as a couple. Our focus was on the kids, job, etc., not on our relationship. I watched people I knew who were another 10 years or less past us in the baby to adult curve of childrearing and saw that there is a sort of danger time for relationships. One way to avoid the danger is to date your spouse! Sweetie got a lot of ribbing from co-workers about why he had to date his wife. Even so, it allowed us to reconnect as a couple and rediscover why we had married each other. It worked. Twelve years later we are still dating, although not every week, and having fun together.
Tonight the date was to Bodega Bay. The weather is often foggy at the beach but today it was beautiful in the late afternoon with a bright blue sky and golden late day light on the waves. We brough our dog with us and took a long walk on the crescent beach with him.

After the walk we went to Lucas Wharf restaurant which is right on the inner part of the bay. The breeze came in the window. Sweetie had saute' of calamari with a lemony sauce and I had a Caesar salad and then we both had bowls of excellent clam chowder. Near the end of our meal I noticed a fisherman on a nearby dock cleaning freshly caught salmon and then tossing them into a box filled with ice. Later he agreed to have his photo taken. Guess what we will be having for dinner soon :)

So why is there a photo of cookies at the beginning of this post? It's a belated birthday treat for fellow Daring Baker Veronica of Veronica's Test Kitchen. She recently experienced the Culinary Institute of America's French Cuisine Boot Camp, so these French inspired cookies seemed quite appropriate.

It is also because I don't have a recipe for the calamari or chowder, but I do have a recipe for the cookies taken directly from Dorie Greenspan's Baking from My Home to Yours . They are called Chocolate Spice Quickies for a very good reason. Except for chilling the dough, the making of these delicious sables type cookies is super quick and very easy. They have a good chocolate flavor and some texture from the almonds, with just a touch of spice. Since they are refrigerator cookies, you can slice and bake some, then freeze the rest for baking at another time.

Chocolate Spice Quickies
From Baking From My Home To Yours by Dorie Greenspan

Makes about 40 cookies

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup blanched almonds, whole, sliced or slivered (I used raw, unblanched)
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice or cloves
pinch of salt
¾ cup sugar
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter at room temperature
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled

Put the flour, almonds, cocoa, baking powder, spice and salt in a food processor and pulse, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary, until the almonds are finely ground. Turn the ingredients out onto a sheet of wax paper.

Put the sugar and the butter into the processor and whir for a minute, then scrape the bowl and process for another 15 seconds; the butter and sugar should be smoothly blended. Add the vanilla and egg and process for 30 seconds, then scrape and process for another 30 seconds. Add the chocolate and pulse to blend. Finally, add the dry ingredients and pulse until they are fully incorporated. You’ll have a soft, fudgy, very malleable dough. Scrape it out onto a work surface.

Divide the dough in half and roll each piece into a log 7 to 8 inches long and 1 inch in diameter. Once the logs are formed, wrap them in plastic wrap, twisting the ends of the plastic firecracker-style to tighten the rolls. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours. If the dough is too soft to wrap, let cool for 15 minutes in the fridge and then divide and wrap as described above. (The logs can be wrapped airtight and refrigerated for up to 4 days or kept frozen for up to 2 months; slice and bake the frozen logs without defrosting – just add a minute or two to the baking time.)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
Using a thin knife, cut the logs into 1/3 inch thick rounds and place the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving at least 1 inch between rounds.
Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 7 minutes, or until the cookies are slightly puffed and their tops look dry. Transfer the sheet to a rack and wait 1 minute before carefully lifting the still-fragile cookies onto a rack to cool to room temperature.

The cookies can be stored in a tin for about 4 days.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

A Plum Cake for Mercedes

Much as I might want to, it's not possible to post something for all the birthdays that Daring Bakers have. Time for baking is limited and will be more so soon due to job pressures. Even so, today I baked a nice coffee cake for sweet Mercedes for her birthday tomorrow. If you haven't seen her blog, Desert Candy, do yourself a favor and do so. She has some incredibly good recipes and lovely photos, too.

This cake is a bit unusual since it combines yeast and biscuit mix. I found it when I was sorting out my card file the other day. There is no indication of how old it is or where I got the recipe. I don't actually remember making the cake, but there were juice stains on the card, so I probably baked it a dozen years ago or more. That's a shame because it is a tasty coffee cake and delicious with the fresh plums that are falling off the tree in the yard right now. The original recipe didn't say to peel the plums, but I did because Sweetie found out recently that he doesn't dislike plums, but he doesn't care for the plums with the skin still on them. The dough is tender, but not terribly moist and that is a good foil for the tangy, juicy plums and sweet, spicy streusel.

Since this is a sweet dish and uses fresh, seasonal fruit from my own yard, it is also a good fit for Jerry's of Food and Photo's summer challenge, Summer Flavor.

Despite having yeast in the dough, this recipe doesn't take too long to make. If you have fresh plums (or peaches, nectarines, cherries, blueberries) this is a wonderful coffee cake for breakfast or a snack.

Fresh Plum Coffee Cake

1 pkg (1/4 oz.) active dry yeast
¾ cup warm water (105-115 degrees F.)
½ cup sugar
1 egg
3 tablespoons melted butter, cooled
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
4 ¼ cups biscuit mix (like Bisquick)
1 ½ pounds fresh sweet plums (Santa Rosa, Laroda, Nabiana, prune plums, etc.)
Streusel Topping (see below)

Dissolve yeast in the warm water and proof (let sit 10 minutes to make sure yeast is active)
Combine sugar, egg, butter, lemon zest, and extracts. Beat until thick and lemon colored, about 5 minutes. Stir in dissolved yeast and 3 ¾ cups of the biscuit mix. Knead until smooth, kneading in the rest of the biscuit mix as you go, about 25 times of kneading. Cover and let rest in a warm place for 15 minutes.
Roll out and place in a buttered 10” X 13” rimed jelly roll pan, pulling an pressing the corners to form a rim of dough.
Cut plums into ½ “ slices (I peel mine first, but unpeeled is fine, too.)
Arrange the plum slices on the dough in a pleasing pattern. Sprinkle with the streusel. Let rise in a warm place 35 minutes. Bake in a preheated 350 degree F. oven for 40-50 minutes. Cut in squares to serve. Serve warm or cooled.

Streusel Topping
Mix ½ cup brown sugar, 1 cup flour, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon cloves and ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg. Cut in ½ cup cold butter with pastry blender or two knives.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Out On the Porch in the Morning

When Sweetie said that dry rot had done it's thing to our front porch and that he would have to take the porch apart and build it again, I had no idea that it would be a good thing.

The old porch had three steps up to a landing and then three more steps up to the right to the front door, or a single step up to a platform where you stepped up into the sunspace at the side of the house. In the planning process for making the replacement, I asked if we could change things a bit. Sweetie was willing, so we now have the same three steps from the sidewalk to a landing, but now you step up one step to an expanded deck, then into the sunspace, or up the three step to the right and to the front door. The expanded deck goes beyond the side of the house a couple of feet and now has a railing around it, too.

Why am I blogging about this? Well, the unexpected thing is that we now have a front of the house eating area on the new expanded deck and we are eating there almost daily now that the weather has warmed up. This is especially nice for breakfast because the deck faces east. It has become routine to fix up our coffee, bowls of mixed melon and other fruits, yogurt for Sweetie and oatmeal with golden raisins and milk for me. We sit in the sun (I wear a sunhat) and eat, sip, and read the morning paper. Bliss.

Sweetie's Fruit Bowl
Sweetie keeps this seasonal but he likes melon, so there is usually some.
1/2 watermelon, cubed in bite sized pieces
1/2 ripe cantaloupe, cubed in bite sized pieces
1/2 honeydew melon, cubed in bite sized pieces
1 basket strawberries, in season, washed, hulled and sliced
Mix these fruits in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap and chill.
To serve, fill a cereal bowl 2/3 full of the fruit mixture for each person. Add more fruit...whatever is in season.
At this time of year it is often blackberries, blueberries, or peaches or nectarines. We often add a bannana, sliced, on top, divided between two bowls.
This is good topped with plain or vanilla yogurt and some nuts or a handful of granola.
The fruit mixture should be enough to serve 4-6 people depending on the size of the cereal bowl.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Happy Birthday Peabody!

When we were sitting at lunch in Seattle in June, Peabody, of Culinary Concoctions by Peabody, mentioned that she loves bread pudding. When I was trying to think of what to make for her birthday, I remembered that I had this great recipe from the stone ages…well 1971 actually, but close enough. My friend Gale was active in her church and they did a lot of pot lucks. She said that this was her favorite thing to bring and when she didn’t bring it, she got grief.

What makes this bread pudding a stand out is the dark red cherries. A can is about 14 or 15 oz., but you can substitute about a cup to 1 ¼ cup of fresh, pitted cherries if you want to. I used some drained cherries from a jar that I bought when I went to Hatam’s with Anna of Anna’s Cool Finds. I suspect that a cup or so of any stone fruit or even berries in season would work well with this bread pudding. Peabody, hope that you find this to be a fun birthday gift…just wish you were here to have some.

Gale’s Bread Pudding with Cherries
A recipe from 1971, from a Fredicksburg, Maryland friend

4 cups dry bread cubes
3 cups milk, scalded
1 tablespoon butter
4 slightly beaten eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 can dark red cherries, drained

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2) Melt the butter in the milk. Add a little of the milk to the beaten eggs, then add eggs to rest of milk. Stir in the sugar, lemon zest, salt, and vanilla.
3) Put the bread cubes in a large bowl. Pour the egg/milk mixture over, stir gently, and let sit 15 minutes.
4) Butter a large baking pan. A deep one will give a softer center, a shallower one will give more crispy crust. Gently stir drained cherries into bread mixture and pour into baking pan.
5) Bake in a pan of hot water until firm, about 1 hour. Serve warm.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Wow Them at the Next Potluck

Do you always bring the same thing to potlucks? I know everyone loves your smoky sassy baked beans or asian cole slaw or molded sunshine salad...and you can bring that next time. But maybe for the 4th of July bash or the Bastille Day picnic you want to try something different this year.
A good place to start is with the Lentil Salad with Bacon (which tastes great without the bacon, too, if you don't want bacon in your salad). It's an adapatation of a recipe by Alton Brown of the Food Network.

Lentils are jam packed with nuturients and fiber and they also are the second best source of plant protein after soybeans. The thing that I like is that they cook up really fast, without soaking, so they are ready to go into the salad quickly. The salad can also be served at room temperature or warm, so it's perfect for the potluck at the soccer game or baseball game. No need to worry if it sits out on a hot summer day.

The best thing about this salad is that it tastes so good. I tried it before I added the bacon and it was yummy that way, too.

For mine, I used 1.5 cups of regular green lentils, and 1 cup of the tiny French green lentils. I added the French lentils to boil 15 minutes after I started the regular ones so that they wouldn't overcook. They added a slightly mineral taste. The salad would probably be fine if made completely with either kind of lentil. The other change I made was due to poor planning. I didn't have any red wine vinegar, so I substituted balsamic vinegar, white vinegar and lemon juice. The fresh herbs certainly give the salad a positive flavor, so try to use fresh instead of dried.

Lentil Salad
based on a recipe by Alton Brown

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
(the above three ingredients can be replaced with 1/2 cup red wine vinegar)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon salt (kosher salt if you have it)
1/2 teaspoon pepper (freshly ground is best)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 recipe Basic Cooked Lentils (see recipe below)
2 strips bacon, cooked until crisp, cooled, and crumbled (or more, to taste)

Whisk the vinegars, lemon juice, olive oil, mustard, salt, pepper, parsley and thyme together in a large mixing bowl. Add the warm lentils and bacon and stir to combine. Serve warm or at room temperature. If you will be serving this much later, save the bacon in a zip-lock bag and add it 1/2 hour or so before serving. (That way the bacon stays crisp.)

Basic Cooked Lentils
1 pound brown or green lentils, approximately 2 1/2 cups
1 small onion, halved
1 large clove garlic, halved
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 pound salt pork, optional
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Pick over the lentils, rinse and drain. Place the lentils along with the onion, garlic, bay leaf, salt and pork into a large 6-quart saucepan and cover with water by 2 to 3 inches. Place over high heat and bring just to a rolling boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until the lentils are tender, approximately 25 to 30 minutes. Drain any remaining liquid and discard the onion, garlic, bay leaf and salt pork. Stir in black pepper and taste for salt. Serve immediately or use in Lentil Salad.