Sunday, June 29, 2008

June daring Baker Challenge

Return with me now to the Land of St. Honore':

Once upon a time in the land of St. Honore’, there lived a king with only one daughter, and she was most lovely to look at. Many suitors vied for her hand. They all had something to recommend them, but the king wanted his daughter to be happy as well as wed, so the king decided that she should choose whom she would wed. Time was passing and the king was looking forward to playing with grandchildren, so he asked her to be quick about it. Being very fond of baked goods, she decided to set a challenge for each suitor.

The first young man, Harry, was a prince with many servants and much property. The princess’s challenge was to bake something delicious. He spent hours in the kitchen and at dinner served a cherry pie with a flourish. The princess made a face because the pie was too sour and the bottom crust was mushy. One suitor down.
The next young man, Ellington, was a duke in a neighboring kingdom. He was well educated and nice looking but wasn’t terribly good at multi-tasking. The princess’s challenge was to bake something delicious. He spent hours in the kitchen and at dinner served a Gateau St. Honore’ with a flourish. The princess looked at it with dismay. The cream puffs were doughy and the caramel burnt, plus the pastry cream was curdled. Two suitors down.

The next young man, Ian, was a former soldier who had grown up on a farm. He was the best looking suitor so far, but he was sure that his simple background would eliminate him as a suitor. The princess didn’t care as long as he could bake, so the challenge was to bake something delicious.

He worried the princess because it seemed that every so often during the day she would look out the window and see Ian …and he was not in the kitchen. First she saw him playing catch with some of the stable lads, a while later he was helping the kitchen gardener fix some irrigation lines, and later still he was playing soccer with her brothers. Even so, at dinner Ian served a gorgeous Danish pastry with a flourish. The pastry was in the shape of a braid. The princess loved the tender, flaky pastry. She enjoyed the fragrance of oranges and vanilla and was delighted with the braided look of it and thrilled with the strawberry-orange-apricot filling.

Since he was looking promising, she asked him how he had made such a delicious pastry. It wouldn’t do to have a Rumpelstiltskin in the background doing the baking for him. He assured her that the dough included freshly squeezed orange juice along with lots of butter in the beurrage or butter block.

He described making the laminated dough with it’s layers of butter created by making many folds after spreading the beurrage,
of repeated chilling of the dough, of careful cutting of the dough and folding over the filling to make the lovely braid effect,
and of how he checked it often as it baked to make sure it didn’t become too brown.

He explained that between each of the times he rolled and folded the dough, then set it to cool, that he had a half hour, so he enjoyed meeting people around the castle during his time outside of the kitchen. She was satisfied that this was a true and daring baker and that he was a friendly, helpful fellow, too. It didn’t hurt that the man himself was easy on the eyes. She was sure that he was a good choice for her future husband. Marriages have been successfully made for lesser reasons.

Her father the king was so delighted that his only daughter was happy and that she had made a good choice that he made the former soldier an Earl, and as a dowry gave them a grand castle with the best kitchen in the kingdom. Many fine baked goods were made there, the king happily ate there often, and the princess and her groom lived happily ever after. Did his grandchildren inherit the baking talents of their sire? That’s for a future tale.

There are many Daring Bakers who have made this lovely Danish braid this month. Visit them by going first to the Daring Baker’s blogroll, here. The hostess and host this month have been Kelly of Sass and Veracity (who could use a virtual hug today...darn browsers) and Ben of What’s Cooking’. This was a wonderful choice from my perspective because I’ve never made Danish pastry and truly enjoyed the process. My braid is not perfect, but who needs perfect, really? Thank you Kelly and Ben, plus thanks always goes to Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice and Lis of La Mia Cucina, the founders of this super baking group.

Here is the recipe for the Danish Braid which comes from Sherry Yard’s wonderful book: The Secrets of Baking. I'm including the Apple Filling, even though I used preserves.


Makes 2-1/2 pounds dough

IngredientsFor the dough (Detrempe)
1 ounce fresh yeast or 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 large eggs, chilled
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

For the butter block (Beurrage)
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

DOUGHCombine yeast and milk in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed. Slowly add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice. Mix well. Change to the dough hook and add the salt with the flour, 1 cup at a time, increasing speed to medium as the flour is incorporated. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, or until smooth. You may need to add a little more flour if it is sticky. Transfer dough to a lightly floured baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Without a standing mixer: Combine yeast and milk in a bowl with a hand mixer on low speed or a whisk. Add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice and mix well. Sift flour and salt on your working surface and make a fountain. Make sure that the “walls” of your fountain are thick and even. Pour the liquid in the middle of the fountain. With your fingertips, mix the liquid and the flour starting from the middle of the fountain, slowly working towards the edges. When the ingredients have been incorporated start kneading the dough with the heel of your hands until it becomes smooth and easy to work with, around 5 to 7 minutes. You might need to add more flour if the dough is sticky.

BUTTER BLOCK1. Combine butter and flour in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle and then beat for 1 minute more, or until smooth and lump free. Set aside at room temperature.

2. After the detrempe has chilled 30 minutes, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle approximately 18 x 13 inches and ¼ inch thick. The dough may be sticky, so keep dusting it lightly with flour. Spread the butter evenly over the center and right thirds of the dough. Fold the left edge of the detrempe to the right, covering half of the butter. Fold the right third of the rectangle over the center third. The first turn has now been completed. Mark the dough by poking it with your finger to keep track of your turns, or use a sticky and keep a tally. Place the dough on a baking sheet, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

3. Place the dough lengthwise on a floured work surface. The open ends should be to your right and left. Roll the dough into another approximately 13 x 18 inch, ¼-inch-thick rectangle. Again, fold the left third of the rectangle over the center third and the right third over the center third. No additional butter will be added as it is already in the dough. The second turn has now been completed. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.

4. Roll out, turn, and refrigerate the dough two more times, for a total of four single turns. Make sure you are keeping track of your turns. Refrigerate the dough after the final turn for at least 5 hours or overnight. The Danish dough is now ready to be used. If you will not be using the dough within 24 hours, freeze it. To do this, roll the dough out to about 1 inch in thickness, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and freeze. Defrost the dough slowly in the refrigerator for easiest handling. Danish dough will keep in the freezer for up to 1 month.

Makes enough for two braids

4 Fuji or other apples, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch pieces
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Toss all ingredients except butter in a large bowl. Melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat until slightly nutty in color, about 6 - 8 minutes. Then add the apple mixture and sauté until apples are softened and caramelized, 10 to 15 minutes. If you’ve chosen Fujis, the apples will be caramelized, but have still retained their shape. Pour the cooked apples onto a baking sheet to cool completely before forming the braid. (If making ahead, cool to room temperature, seal, and refrigerate.) They will cool faster when spread in a thin layer over the surface of the sheet. After they have cooled, the filling can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Left over filling can be used as an ice cream topping, for muffins, cheesecake, or other pastries.

DANISH BRAIDMakes enough for 2 large braids

Ingredients1 recipe Danish Dough (see above)
2 cups apple filling, jam, or preserves (I used strawberry combined with apricot orange)
(optional)Cream Cheese on the bottom (From another Danish recipe in the same book)- combine ¾ lb. cream cheese, ¾ cup sugar, 1 egg and 1 tsp vanilla and beat together until creamy and smooth.

For the egg wash: 1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk

1. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll the Danish Dough into a 15 x 20-inch rectangle, ¼ inch thick. If the dough seems elastic and shrinks back when rolled, let it rest for a few minutes, then roll again. Place the dough on the baking sheet.

2. Along one long side of the pastry make parallel, 5-inch-long cuts with a knife or rolling pastry wheel, each about 1 inch apart. Repeat on the opposite side, making sure to line up the cuts with those you’ve already made.

3. Spoon the filling you’ve chosen to fill your braid down the center of the rectangle. Starting with the top and bottom “flaps”, fold the top flap down over the filling to cover. Next, fold the bottom “flap” up to cover filling. This helps keep the braid neat and helps to hold in the filling. Now begin folding the cut side strips of dough over the filling, alternating first left, then right, left, right, until finished. Trim any excess dough and tuck in the ends.

Egg Wash
Whisk together the whole egg and yolk in a bowl and with a pastry brush, lightly coat the braid.

Proofing and Baking1. Spray cooking oil (Pam…) onto a piece of plastic wrap, and place over the braid. Proof at room temperature or, if possible, for about 2 hours, or until doubled in volume and light to the touch.

2. Near the end of proofing, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Position a rack in the center of the oven.

3. Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan so that the side of the braid previously in the back of the oven is now in the front. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F, and bake about 15-20 minutes more, or until golden brown.

Cool and serve the braid either still warm from the oven or at room temperature. The cooled braid can be wrapped airtight and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or freeze for 1 month.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Almost Time to Visit the Land of St. Honore'

The people in one of the kingdoms in the Land of St. Honore’ are filled with suspense. A challenge has been issued. Two have faced the challenge and one is in the process right now. What will be the outcome? Check back here tomorrow about noon Pacific time to see.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Tanna Tagged Me

One of the blessings of a group like the Daring Bakers is that you end up making blogging buddies and finding new blogs that are interesting and beautiful. Tanna of My Kitchen In Half Cups was one of the early members of the Daring Bakers, so I've know her for a while. She has wide ranging interests and is a whiz at baking, especially bread, so it's always fun to visit her blog.

Now she has tagged me for a meme that consists of a series of questions. I learned a lot about her from her answers and hope to learn about the folks I'll be tagging, too.

Most of those I've tagged are relatively new to me, although TadMack who blogs at Wish I Were Baking isn't. I included her partly because I had the pleasure of meeting her in person recently and this gives me an opportunity to plug her new book.

She has written a book for the 11 to 17 year old demographic and it's the perfect book for a food blogger because it's about a young woman who wants to be a TV food personality. It's called A La Carte and you can find it on Amazon. It's a wonderful book and you might enjoy it yourself if you are young at heart and know how to dream.

So here is the meme...enjoy! All peach pies will be gratefully accepted...just e-mail me and I'll send you my address...just kidding!



Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. I love most of the Indiana Jones movies, although you can keep the second one. Last movie seen in a theatre before that might have been Titanic…not a regular movie goer to put it mildly


The Purrfect Murder by Rita Mae Brown…who can hate a cat who solves mysteries, plus I grew up in Virginia and know a lot of the customs

Cakes to Dream On by Colette Peters…because I plan on painting fantasy cakes soon

“A” Is For Alibi by Sue Grafton…it’s been so long since I read it the first time that I have totally forgotten everything in the book (so far).

The Brothers Grimm, Popular Folk Tales…because it’s almost time for another tale from the Land of St. Honore’ and I’m looking for inspiration


I’ve never cared for board games, but can tolerate Scrabble


Bon Appetit and The Family Handyman


Lavender, roses, mint, turkey, brownies or chocolate chip cookies baking, but best of all bread baking


Morning bird calls, butter sizzling in the pan, hummingbirds whir , waves washing up on the shore at the ocean


An unexpected call in the middle of the night


How the day looks…I live very much in touch with the out of doors, so a very hot or cold or stormy day can color how I approach the rest of the morning


Rarely do fast food, but occasionally will have a latte’ at Peets coffee shop in town


Hahahahahahaha…no more children for me!


How much is a lot?

A small ‘a lot’ would mean more travel.
A larger ‘a lot’ would mean being able to live where we live and near my daughter, too.
A larger ‘a lot’ would mean being able to create scholarships for students graduating from high school and needing that money to go on to college
A larger ‘a lot’ would mean new cars and trips for friends and tuition for my nephews and grand nephews and grand nieces and a private plane with a pilot at the ready for those trips and to go see my Mom a lot….
So how much are we talking about??




No, but sometimes I sleep with my dog


I love storms, but that same dog is frightened of thunder


A company car, no less, which was a white Mercury four door. The first one I paid for myself was a VW bus which I used to get to California way back when


Tea tops the list, followed by coffee and then wine. Love lemonade, too


Write more cards and letter to friends and family…it is a dying art


Nope, although sometime I make them into soup


Right now the dye is the same shade as my natural color was as a younger woman, so I look like me. One day in the future I’ll go totally gray, all at once and be done with it


Rocky Mount, NC
Falls Church, VA
Sausalito, CA
Berkeley, CA
My present location in N. CA
I don’t really like moving…can you tell?


Soccer…even grade school level games are fun to watch


Tanna at My Kitchen In Half Cups has a wonderful blog, with great photos and she is a dynamite baker…something that is an inspiration. Plus I suspect that if we lived close we would be friends.


Carpet and dust bunnies




Usually morning


Over easy


In bed…it’s also my favorite place to read




Peppermint (although not with peach pie…with that I like vanilla )


I am tagging 5 people who commented on my last post (hope that won’t scare off future commenters). They come from all over and I don’t know too much about most of them and would love to know more. They also each have great blogs (do check them out)! I hope they don't mind being tagged...even if they just take the time to visit I will be a happy camper!!

Giz from Canada who is blogging at Equal Opportunity Kitchen

Miss Kat from Mississippi who is blogging at All I Wanted Was a Diet Coke

Katie from England who is blogging at Apple and Spice

The beautiful Tadmack from Scotland who is blogging at Wish I Were Baking

Kj from Australia who is blogging at A Cracking Good Egg

Friday, June 20, 2008

Happy Birthday Bumbleberry Pie

I love round number birthdays! There is something about starting a new decade in your life that adds zest to the day and makes it worth blowing out all those candles.

Sweeties' sister's hubby had his 70th birthday party last weekend and a good time was had by all as far as I could tell. There were in-laws like us and children from both sides of a blended family, their children, niece and nephew and their son, Sweetie's namesake, plus his grandparents and some good friends, too. Lots of excellent food and drink, conversation and laughter. I enjoyed some time with the two year olds and their parents as the little ones propelled their trikes up and down the block.

My contribution to the feast was a bumble berry free form pie since the birthday boy enjoys pies. I picked some of the ollallaberries down by the road, added some fresh raspberries and strawberries from the store and dolled it up with some minced mint, also found down in the lower field. Under all the berries I had a layer of ricotta which I had mixed with egg and a little flour and sugar.

It helped soak up the great berry juices.

Once the crust had been folded over the filling and secured with some water, I sprinkled sparkle sugar around the edge for crunch and shine.

My tart was enjoyed, but the best desserts were brought by a daughter-in-law of the birthday boy. She made a fantastic cheesecake...the crust had macadamia nuts and the filling was rich and smooth and creamy. She also brought a strawberry-rhubarb pie that was delicious with a light, flaky crust that had a combination of butter and organic, non-trans-fat shortening in the crust. Parties like that make it worth turning 70, right?

Bumbleberry Freeform Pie

A bumbleberry pie is one with a mixture of berries…you can use any combination of blackberries, blueberries, marionberries, strawberries, raspberries, ollalaberries, etc. I used about a cup each of ollalaberries and strawberries and about ¾ cup of raspberries. This recipe will, by nature, be a bit general about amounts. It’s pretty hard to mess up this recipe, so relax and throw in what looks good, pile it up, fold over the crust and enjoy some summer goodness.

flaky pie crust dough – enough for single pie crust. I used Pillsbury Ready Crust due to time constraints, but your favorite single crust recipe or half of your favorite double crust recipe is even better

about 3 cups mixed fresh berries, rinsed and patted dry. If using strawberries, hull them and slice.
¼ teaspoon minced fresh mint (optional)

1cup ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon sugar
1 egg or ¼ cup egg substitute
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Water to seal the folds of the crust

Sparkle sugar (optional)

On a lightly floured surface or board, roll out the crust until it is about 15 inches in diameter. It will be thin, but that is OK. Transfer, using your rolling pin, to a large cookie sheet or pizza pan. Since there will often be sticky juice seeping onto the pan, you might line it with baking parchment paper or foil.

Mix the berries together gently (and the mint if using) just to combine.

Spread about half of the ricotta mixture in the center of the dough and out to a diameter of about 8 or 9 inches. Top the ricotta area with the berries, mounding slightly in the center.
Fold the rest of the crust up and over the berries, pleating and folding the dough as needed to fit. There will usually be uncovered berries in the center…that’s OK.

Brush some water on the fold and press gently to stick the folds together. Run a wet brush around the edge and sprinkle with the sugar is using.

Bake in a preheated 400 degree F oven for 15-20 minutes until the crust is browned and berries are bubbly. Cool the pie still in the pan, placing the pan on a wire rack.

Once cool, carefully slide the pie onto a serving plate. If your baking sheet has sides, you may need to have assistance and use two wide spatulas (pancake turners) to transfer the pie to the serving plate.

Serve as soon as possible so that the bottom crust won’t get soggy. This is great with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

It's the Cheese, Gromit

If you are a fan of British humor, claymation, or both, you probably are familiar with Wallace and Gromit. Perhaps my favorite of the shorts featuring those two silly characters was the one where Wallace decided to take a trip to the moon for some cheese...he really loves cheese you see. Gromit is the long suffering dog and Wallace is a sort of an inventor.

Thinking of them got me thinking of cheese. For years I've seen various recipes for small buttery cheese crackers. In the 50s they were called Cheese Coins and they were very small and served with cocktails. Later versions jazzed them up with hot pepper, sesame seeds, nuts, sea salt, mixtures of cheeses, etc. In the end they are really a very buttery refrigerator cookie...that happens to be savory instead of sweet. I like them with cheddar and lots of butter.

After browsing a number of recipes, I found one that used a food processor for most of the recipe. Making lots of changes, as usual, I came up with a tender and flavorful cheese cracker with just a bit of a kick from cayenne pepper, lots of cheddar, a little Parmesan, and the best part, ground pecans. They add texture and their own wonderful nutty flavor.

I brought some of these to the watercolor show reception. The brownies made by a fellow student were finished off first, but a good dent was made in the bowl of cheese crackers, too. Try them with a salad on a hot summer night. They would be good with a tall glass of iced tea or with some soup, too. Since you can make them ahead and only bake as many as you need, they are a great item to have in the fridge or freezer for unexpected guests. A few of these and a glass of red wine would make them feel welcome while you are searching you pantry for the makings of a quick meal to serve them.
As you can see from the photos, I find the ingredients and things like the unbaked log of dough fascinating visually. The baked crackers are pretty, too.

Elle's Pecan and Cheddar Cheese Crackers
a variation on a number of recipes, most inspired by Cheese and Nut Biscuits recipe found in Kitchen Sense by Mitchell Davis

½ cup pecans
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
½ cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
½ cup spelt flour (or substitute ½ cup whole wheat flour)
¾ cup cake flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

In the bowl of a food processor, place the pecans and the Parmesan cheese. Pulse the processor until the pecans are finely chopped. Pour this mixture into a medium mixing bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor (no need to clean out the bowl after chopping the pecans) place the butter and Cheddar cheese. Process until blended, just a bit after a ball starts to form around the blade.

Sift together the spelt or whole wheat flour, the cake flour, the salt and the cayenne pepper. Add to the Cheddar mixture in the food processor and pulse just until combined. Stop before a ball forms.

Take a rubber spatula and transfer all of the mixture into the pecan/Parmesan mixture. Stir with the spatula (or clean hands) very briefly and gently, just until nut mixture in combined with Cheddar mixture.

Make two or three logs using plastic wrap, with the rolls having a diameter or about an inch or inch and a half. Wrap the plastic wrap tightly around the logs and refrigerate until firm, at least an hour or two. (It is OK to let these refrigerate overnight. If not baking them within 24 hours, store in the freezer. Can be frozen for 1 month.)

When logs are firm, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place Silpat mat or parchment paper on two large cookie sheets. Using a sharp knife, slice the logs into crackers about ¼ inch thick. Lay the crackers on the prepared pans, leaving about an inch between the crackers to allow them to color. The crackers don’t usually spread when baking.

Bake until golden, about 10-15 minutes. About halfway through baking, switch the pan on the top rack to the bottom rack and the pan from the bottom rack to the top rack for more even cooking.

Once removed from the oven, let cool on the pan a couple of minutes to firm up a bit, then transfer with a spatula to a rack to cool completely. Store airtight at room temperature for a day, or refrigerate. If storing more than a day, you may need to crisp them up in a 400 degree F oven for3-4 minutes before serving. Serve cooled. Makes about 5 dozen small crackers.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Click - Mellow Yellow for Bri

Click - Special Edition - Fundraiser for Bri

Bri is one of the 5% of women diagnosed with breast cancer under the age of 30. That was two and a half years ago. Now she is fighting for her life and this event is a combination of the usual Click photo collection and a fundraiser to assist with the astronomical medical bills that almost all cancer patients have to face. The money raised will also make it possible for Bri, a fellow food blogger, to look at some alternative healing modalities. She was a teen when she witnessed her own mother's unsuccessful fight against breast cancer, so just imagine her courage as she faces her own illness with grit and the will to live. Click on the link above to see how you can be part of the fundraiser.

Yellow has become a color associated with the fight against cancer, in large part due to the efforts of Lance Armstrong's LiveStrong events. The photo above is my entry in this special Click event...Mellow Yellow for Bri, because sometimes even a fighter has to be mellow for a time and bananas are pretty mellow...and yellow. Hang in there, Bri!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Blatant Self Promotion

Being notoriously bad at self promotion, I've been reluctant to include anthing here about the art show that has a piece of my work displayed in it. Since the reception is this week, I've been encouraged to at least post the card that is being used to promote the show. I'm fairly proud of my piece, called 'Juicy' with oranges and stripes, one of the pieces chosen for the postcard. If you can come, do, but I don't really expect too many people are going to be thrilled by a student art show. By the way, all of the artists are well over 40, not that it matters. Some of the pieces are absolutely gorgeous, too. Since the graphic is small, you can always e-mail me for information. See top right of the blog for e-mail address.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Yes, We Have Some Bannanas

We have too many bananas. Last time I was at Costco, I bought a big hunk of them. Sweetie has been preparing fresh fruit compote every morning for breakfast, always with some banana, so it seemed like a good idea to have a big bunch on hand, The problem is that I left them in their plastic packaging and we had hot weather this week, so now I have a big bunch of ripe bananas.

There is a great event going on right now called Tried, Tested and True, hosted by Giz and Psychgrad of Equal Opportunity Kitchen. As part of this event, we are invited to blog a healthy version of a tried and true recipe. My mom had a fairly healthy recipe for banana bread that I've made many times, always successfully. For this event I decided to make a bit healthier with some of those ripe bananas and to do it as muffins instead of banana bread. I think you'll like it.

The first change was to add some spelt flour in place of the unbleached white flour. It is more of the stone milled spelt flour from the Bale Grist Mill. It add a nice nutty flavor, plus some extra nutrients. I also replaced all but two tablespoons of the oil with unsweetened applesauce. For the oil I used Walnut Oil to add some more walnut flavor. I cut the amount of walnuts in half and chopped them to about dried pea size so that they permeated the batter, but still had some crunch.

I substituted egg substitute for the 2 whole eggs. I used buttermilk instead of milk because it has less fat. As an extra treat I added a half tablespoon of honey-sweetened ricotta cheese, part-skim, in the middle of each muffin...a surprise that adds a nice dairy note. That part can easily be left out for a healthier muffing...and it will still taste wonderful!

If you use the ricotta surprise, make sure to work quickly. In the prepared muffin cups, place about 2 tablespoons of the batter on the bottom of each cup.

Then put the 1/2 tablespoon of cheese in the middle, then fill the cups about 3/4 full with the remaining batter, dividing it as evenly as possible. Handle the batter as little as possible, too. For unfilled muffins, just plop enough batter in each prepared cup to fill it about 3/4 full. I use a half cup measure to scoop up batter for the cups.

Be sure the oven is preheated. These bake up to a nice golden brown and rise above the pan. They are tender, full of banana and walnut flavor and still pretty healthy for a muffin.

Had to include a photo of my "Baker Dog". He just loves to lick out any batter bowl that I will give him...and he'd eat the whole pan of muffins if I let him. Whenever I bake, he perks up and stays just outside the kitchen, ready to "help" clean up any spilled ingredients or to do a taste test if I need another opinion. Since he will eat almost anything, he isn't the most discerning taste tester, but he sure is loyal.

Surprise Banana Muffins with Walnuts and Spelt

2 tablespoons walnut oil (or canola oil if walnut oil not available)
4 oz. unsweetened apple sauce
½ cup egg substitute
3 ripe bananas (or 2 large), mashed
¼ cup buttermilk
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup spelt flour (substitute whole wheat flour if spelt not available)
1 ½ cups unbleached flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup walnut, chopped to dried pea size

Surprise (optional)
½ cup part-skim ricotta cheese
2 teaspoons honey

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F., Grease a 12 cup regular size muffin tin cups. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together the ricotta cheese and honey until well blended, if you are doing the surprise option.

In a large bowl, mix together the walnut oil, apple sauce, egg substitute, mashed bananas, buttermilk, and pure vanilla extract. (I used a fork to mix it all together until well combined.)

In another bowl or on a sheet of waxed paper, combine the spelt flour, unbleached white flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Again, I used a fork to ‘whisk’ it together until well combined.

Quickly mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, mixing only until just combined. Stir in the walnuts.

Working quickly (if you are doing the surprise) place about 2 tablespoons of batter in the bottom of all the muffin cups. Put a half tablespoon of the ricotta mixture in the middle of each cup. Top with the rest of the batter, filling the cups about ¾ of the way full, dividing the batter equally among the cups.

If you are not doing the surprise, quickly divide the batter evenly among the cups, handling the batter as little as possible.

Bake in the preheated oven for 12 – 15 minutes. The finished muffins will be golden brown and with a good crust.

Serve warm or cool. Wrap well to store any leftovers. Store in the refrigerator if you make the muffins with the cheese center.

Makes 12 muffins

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

This Could Happen To You, Too

Been bitching and moaning about how much life has been a roller coaster since right after Christmas up until a few weeks ago. BUT the problem is that I know all of that to be true...after all I lived it...but the actual memory of specifics that made it such a roller coaster are scattered like thistle down. This could happen to you (or might have already).

I'd like to think that it is the fast paced life I live that caused this situation, but the truth is probably that my brains is too stuffed to accept any more...and I can't find the delete key. The good news is that I know a lot of the experiences were very positive ones, the bad news is that there were some difficulties and stresses and sad happenings thrown in, too. Driving home from work today I decided to do a mini-journal to tack on the end of posts as a way to keep a little better track of the day to day passing scene.

Before we get to today's mini-journal, it's time to revisit the Sin City Cake. This recipe is based upon one in the book Chocolate Cake by Michele Urvater. This book has bunches of great chocolate cake recipes, plus icings, sauces, decorations...the works! I made a half recipe last November and made a few changes, reflected in the recipe below.

It was so memorable that Dr. Wise requested a full cake as part of the party last Saturday. The reviews were all positive and so I thought it might be good to post it again. This time I made it with some of the quince jelly that I made last fall. There was no poached fruit this time, just cake, jelly, whipped cream, cake, jelly, whipped cream, cake, chocolate ganache. Just! I'm still drooling days later just at the thought of how wonderful it was. The cake was dense and fudgy, but still tender. The jelly brought out the best in the semi-sweet and bitter-sweet chocolate. Whipped cream is always a treat. When you want to impress, make this cake!

Sin City Cake

2 ½ cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups plus 1 tablespoon (1 pound) superfine sugar
4 large eggs
8 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
2 cups water or regular coffee

8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
8 ounces heavy cream

Quince jelly – about 6-8 ounces

1 pint heavy whipping cream, whipped

For the cake:
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Lightly grease and flour three 9 x 1.5-inch round cake pans, tap out the excess, and line the bottoms with parchment or greased and floured waxed paper circles. (Note from Elle: If you combine some cocoa with the flour for dusting the pans, your cake will have a nice chocolate edge to it.)

Sift the flour with the baking powder, baking soda, and salt twice, and set it aside.
With an electric mixer on low speed (or with a stationary mixer fitted with the paddle attachment), beat the butter for 1 minute, or until light. Slowly add the sugar, about 2 tablespoons at a time, and when all of it has been added, continue to beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes, scraping down the beaters and sides of the bowl as needed. The mixture will look like fluffy wet sand.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 10 seconds between additions, or until absorbed by the butter. Add the chocolate, scrape down the beaters and sides of the bowl, and beat for 1 minute longer, or until light and smooth.

With a large rubber spatula, fold the sifted ingredients into the batter in four additions, alternating with the water (or coffee) in three additions. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed for 1 minute, or until the mixture looks smooth.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pans, smooth the tops with a rubber or small offset spatula, and rap the pans sharply on the counter to break up any large air bubbles. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out dry.

Remove the cakes from the oven and cool them to room temperature in their pans on a wire rack. Unmold, peel off the paper circles, and frost when the cakes are cool. Serves 16.

For the Ganache
Set the chopped chocolate in a mixing bowl.

Pour on the cream and mix well.

At half power in the microwave, heat the mixture for a minute. Stir well. Repeat until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Let the ganache stand and come to room temperature before using.

Elle’s notes: As usual I didn’t follow the recipe exactly. as it was written. I added the jelly and the whipped cream between each of the layers. The top and sides were covered with ganache. It was so hot in the kitchen on Saturday that the ganache was too thin at first.

So you had cake layer, jelly and whipped cream, cake layer, jelly and whipped cream, cake layer, and ganache. I beat the whipped cream fairly stiff so that it would hold up under the weight of the cake. I piped it on top of the jelly, then spread it out to the edges.

Monday, June 09, 2008


Tonight I wish I had some of that cucumber with yogurt and herbs that I served on Saturday night. It has been pretty hot for Northern California reached 97 at work...and was still in the low 90s when I got home.

The combination of crisp cucumber chunks, tangy yogurt and herbs like fresh sage and spearmint leaves a cool, refreshing feeling in the mouth. Add in some lemon juice and zest and some Italian parsley and you have the perfect side dish for a hot evening...and it's very Mediterranean, too.

When I went to the lower field to harvest the spearmint for this, I discovered that most of the mint had been mown down when Sweetie mowed the field with the tractor last week. Since the stuff is usually all over the place...which is why you don't want to plant it with your prized flowers or takes over!...I was stunned. It took a bit of searching to find some small sprigs for this recipe, the salad, and for garnish. Next time I'll pick some before he gets out the tractor.

Cucumber with Yogurt and Herbs
Serves 2-3 persons as an appetizer

3-4 cucumbers
10-12 fresh spearmint leaves (dried doesn't work very well with this herb for this dish)
5-6 fresh sage leaves (or the equivalent in dry form)
2 tablespoons minced flat leaf parsley
1 quart of yogurt, plain...I used full fat organic, but I suspect that low or nonfat would work, too
zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon

Rinse and peel the cucumbers (I left some of the peel on for color) and cut into bite sized chunks. Mix the herbs into the yogurt. Pour the yogurt over the cucumbers. Add the lemon zest and juice and stir to mix well. Chill for at least an hour to mingle the flavors. Serve cold.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Greek Night

Well, I've just finished my first paying gig for making dinner for a private party.

The doctor I work for wasn't able to have his usual chef cater his latest dinner party, so he asked me. This is not too surprising since I treated him and a few friends to a birthday dinner in March, so he knew I could cook and bake.

The twist was that I only had a little over a week's notice and only knew the menu on Monday for a Saturday dinner. He wanted Greek Night with lots of Greek foods. Even more interesting is that he wanted moussaka for 16 and I had never in my life made moussaka. Since I am twisted that way, it made it sound like even more fun than cooking something I knew how to do.

Thank heavens for the Internet! After taking a close look at a half dozen moussaka recipes, I mixed them up to make my own version, made a shopping list, figured out the rest of the menu and on Friday afternoon started cooking.

Since I'd been told that there would be a music session before dinner, I made sure that there were lots of appetizers: hummus with pepper strips and cucumber slices and foccacia triangles for dipping;

marinated mozzarella balls,

toasted whole almonds, a tray with artichoke hearts, black olives, pepperoncini, and more marinated mozzarella balls, and sliced dense bread, which was perfect with my favorite recipe of the night, cucumber in yogurt Greek style.

The recipe will be posted in the next day or two. There was also a dish of pimento stuffed green olives. A wooden cutting board held a big wedge of Parmesan Reggiano for cutting into shards for nibbling like a little mouse. Very tasty spread.

For the dinner two trays of moussaka barely fed the 20 who ended up attending. The doctor had thought that there was too much food, but it worked out just fine. The most difficult thing about making moussaka is how much time it takes. The eggplant prep takes the longest, but the cheese bechamel takes quite a while, too, with constant stirring. I broke it down into two days of work, with the eggplant prep and meat sauce prep being done Friday, the layering done Friday evening and both trays of layered food being tightly covered and refrigerated about 16 hours. I removed them from the refrigerator about 10 am on Saturday to let them warm up a bit. The sauce was made Saturday in the late morning, then the sauce was spread over the casseroles, the cheese sprinkled on top and they were baked. I let them cool a bit before taking to the party. I reheated them for about 20 minutes in a 225 degree F. oven so that they were done about 15 minutes before they were served. Moussaka is usually served warm or at room temperature, not hot.

There was also some good local organic artisan bread, a big Greek salad with tomatoes, cucumber, mint, red onion, black olives, and feta and a dressing with herbs and lemon juice and olive oil.

Some of the appetizers were transferred to the main table, too.

Since there were two birthdays being celebrated, one of the wives had brought a decorated carrot cake. Another guest brought a delicious apple pie. Another guest brought cookies and a bowl of cherries. I provided a big bowl of watermelon. It was surrounded with sesame seed-pistachio cookies from a Mediterranean bakery. A tiered tray held some Personal Pavlovas, this time with strawberries (which worked out well...the tang of the berries offset the sweetness of the meringues) and key lime curd.

The 'big deal' dessert was Sin City chocolate fudge cake with quince jelly and whipped cream. I made a half batch last November with a different fruit, but made the full cake for the party. I had no idea that so many people would be bringing desserts as well, but it was still the hit of the party. There is something about the the haunting flavor of quince jelly that went so well with the chocolate and whipped cream.

So, would I do it again? Probably, although it is a lot of work and exhausting, too. If catering was the only thing I did in life, then it would make more sense. As it is, I worked my real job Monday, Tuesday and Thursday and did a Convention report and ran the meeting of the P.E.O. Scholarship group on Wednesday, so the rest of my life took up my time and energy until Friday. What I did enjoy was trying something new, cooking and baking yummy food, and seeing so many people enjoying it. That is the real joy...knowing that your food is appreciated. It was also a treat to listen to some wonderful musical performances, including guitar, violin, piano, and vocal.

Yesterday was exhilarating. Now I need a nap.

Moussaka with Lamb, Potatoes and Eggplant

Much of the success of this recipe goes to Nancy Gaifyllia, a great Guide to Greek Food,
although there are a number of variations due to other recipes from the web

Serves between 10 and 20, depending on how hungry they are

5-6 medium eggplants (5-6 pounds)
olive oil
4 large onions, chopped
2 pounds ground lamb
1 pound ground turkey
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (15 oz.) diced tomatoes in juice, drained and juice reserved
8 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
3 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon finely minced mint, preferably spearmint
1/2 cup dry white wine
freshly ground pepper - about 1/2 teaspoon
1 cup grated Kefalotyri, Romano or Parmesan cheese (I used a combination that included Romano, Parmesan and some Mozzaarella, shredded)
1 cup dry breadcrumbs, divided
2 cans (15 oz each) sliced potatoes, drained but not rinsed
7 cups bechamel with cheese - recipe follows

Peel strips of the skin of the eggplants lengthwise, leaving about 1/2 inch in between, all around the eggplant. Cut eggplant lengthwise into 1/2 inch slices. Spread the slices out on paper towels on large trays, then sprinkle liberally with salt and let them sit for 30 minutes while you make the meat sauce. (Note: Salting the eggplant removes any bitterness and absorbs some of the natural liquids, so don't skip this step).

For the meat sauce, saute' the onions in a large frying pan in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until onions are transluscent. Add the lamb and turkey, breaking the meat up into chunks and continue to saute' until lightly browned. Add the tomato juice drained from the canned tomatoes and stir until the juice cooks off. Add the tomatoes, garlic, cloves, cinnamon, alspice, bay leaves, mint, 1/2 cup breadcrumbs and the white wine. Mix well and reduce heat. Cover and simmer until all the liquid has been absorbed, about 45 minutes to an hour. You may need to uncover and stir the last 15 minutes to make sure the mixture is dry enough. It is important to have the mixture as dry as possible.

Now, return to the eggplant. Rinse them well, drain, and pat dry. Put foil on baking sheets and lightly brush the foil with olive oil. Lay the eggplant slices on the foil in a single layer, then lightly brush with olive oil. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Bake the sheets of eggplant until lightly brown (some parts of mine didn't brown, but the edges did) and eggplant is soft. It took me a while to do this because I had five big sheets of eggplant slices and could only bake two at a time. Each sheet took about 15 minutes. Cool slightly, remove to a tray, and let cool completely.

Spread the drained potato slices on the oiled foil. Sprinle with a litte salt and drizzle with some olive oil. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Let cool.

When the meat sauce is dry enough, take two large flat casseroles and oil the bottom and sides lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle 1/4 cup dry bread crumbs on the bottom of each casserole dish. Spread the potatoes on top of the breadcrumbs, half in each casserole. Top the potatoe slices with eggplant slices in a single layer in each casserole. Spread half the meat mixture in each and then make sure each layer is even and packed. Tope the meat layers with another layer of eggplant slices. At this point you can cover tightly and refrigerate or you can make the cheese sauce and bake them.

When the bechamel cheese sauce if cooked, pour half over each casserole and spread evenly over the top. Bake in a preheated 350 degree F. oven for 30 minutes. Then sprinkle half the cheese over each casserole and bake an aditional 15 - 30 minutes, until golden brown.

Remove the moussaka from the oven and allow to cool for 20 - 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Bechamel Cheese Sauce

4 cups water
8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) cornstarch
2 cans evaporated milk, undiluted
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter, softened
2 eggs, beaten
pinch of grated nutmeg
1/2 cup grated Kefalotyri or Parmesan cheese

In a large saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Once it boils, dissolve the cornstarch in one can of evaporated milk, and add to the watter, stirring briskly witha wire whisk..Lower the heat to medium and add the second can of milk, then salt and the butter.

Continue to whisk until the sauce thickens. It took mine about 15 - 20 minutes to thicken.
Add the beaten egg and nutmeg, whisking very quickly (so the eggs don't cook) until well blended. Remove fromt he heat, stir in the cheese, mix well and set aside, covered, until ready to use.