Sunday, April 26, 2009

Daring Bakers' April Magic

It’s the end of April and the Daring Bakers are out in force. Time for another visit to the Land of St. Honore’. The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

Not so long ago in the Land of St. Honore’, the fairy godmother received an urgent summons from the castle.

Cinderella, now called Ella to distance her from her sordid past, was on the board of a charity. As is often the case these days just being a do-gooder wasn’t enough. She had been “asked” to provide a “Spectacular” dessert for an upcoming event and it was supposed to be something that she had baked herself. Now she had been a whiz at cleaning everything from the chamber pots to the fireplaces at her stepmother’s place, but no one had trusted her with baking since the fiasco of the well burnt cookies.

Her fairy godmother arrived and heard her tale of woe. “What did you have in mind”, she asked?

“Well, the only things in the castle kitchen include some plain cream cheese, plain cream, plain sugar, plain eggs, plain butter and the usual pantry items like crackers. I suppose there are some fresh strawberries, too. I can’t imagine that anything grand enough to be a centerpiece could come of all that.”

Ah, she certainly was a forgetful princess, wasn’t she? Didn’t she remember the transformations necessary to get her to the ball, all those years ago?

Wasting no time, “Bibity-bobbity-boo!”, cried the fairy godmother with a swirl of her magic wand. This time there were no gourds involved, but instead Ella saw a glorious cheesecake, crowned with strawberries and decorated with whipped cream stars appear on the counter in the kitchen.

“I’m sorry I doubted you”, she said breathlessly. “Now how do you suppose I’m going to carry that to the event in my Pumpkin SUV?”

But her fairy godmother had flown off to her yoga class, leaving Ella to call for her footmen. Surely they would figure it out. A cheesecake like this isn’t created every day.

If you’d like to work a little magic of your own, the recipe for the cheesecake can be found here.

The additions I used to make Ella’s fairy godmother’s version include adding 1 teaspoon of lemon zest to the batter, not using any liquor, and adding ½ teaspoon cinnamon to the crust mixture. The top is decorated with sliced strawberries.

Small stars of whipped cream are piped on the sides

and a swirl is piped on the top near the center. I didn’t wave a wand or cry any magic words, but this cheesecake is an easy one and really doesn’t require magic, just careful attention to the recipe and a few hours of your time.

For the water bath part, I used a double layer of heavy duty foil to wrap the bottom and sides of the springform pan and that was successful. No water infiltrated the foil, so the crust was dry and delicious.

This is a truly spectacular cheesecake, not just because it looks awesome, but because it isn’t too sweet, it has a rich, soft and creamy texture and, if left almost plain, has true cheesecake flavor. Try it and see!

Since the challenge this month encourages imagination, do visit other Daring Bakers’ blogs to see what magic has been created in hundreds of ways! Click here for the blogroll.

A huge ‘Thank you!’ to Jenny for choosing such a great challenge recipe!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Egg Scramble

Sometimes simple ingredients are all you need for a satisfying eating experience. Scramble a few eggs together with some fresh spinach and a little shredded cheddar cheese and you have a plate of simple deliciousness. The mellowness of the eggs gets a kick from the spinach and the cheddar gets nice and melty. Dig in! You could also use Swiss chard instead of the spinach.

Spinach Scramble
Serves 2

4 eggs
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup chopped fresh spinach
1 teaspoon butter
salt and pepper to taste

Heat a small cast iron skillet or saute' pan over high heat. If you are using a non-stick pan you might be able to skip the butter.

Crack the eggs into a medium bowl, then lightly beat the eggs with a fork. Put the butter into the pan to melt and heat a bit. Pour in the eggs, add the cheddar cheese and give the mixture a stir. Add the spinach and stir it in. Let sit for a few seconds, then stir again. Grind on some pepper and stir again. When eggs are cooked as firmly as you like, scoop onto two plates and sprinkle lightly with salt (if you want salt). All of this will take a very short time. Don't overcook the eggs.

Serve hot.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Oldie But Goodie Casserole

It is very interesting that newspapers and magazines are flooded with tips on ways to get through these tough economic times. I guess no one in the media knew a year ago that there were plenty of people going through economic hard took the loss of income by upper middle class folks when the stock market took a dive to alert them.

The good news is that I've been there, done that, and have the scars to prove it. The mid '70s were difficult ones for me. I was laid off at a retail store...not enough sales...sound familiar? I did temp work, odd jobs, street vendor sales at Christmas, sewed my own Christmas gifts by hand because the sewing machine was broken and there was no spare money to fix it. When I went to the grocery store I added up each item in my shopping cart and returned the least needed items to the shelves until I had the amount of groceries that I could pay for with the cash in my pocket. I was young and had no expectation that I should be living a cushy life yet, so it really wasn't bad, but you do learn how to be frugal while having fun.
In ancient times, right around 1978, since we were experiencing a similar shortage of cash as many folks today, we turned to recipes that were less expensive to cook. The cookbook Moosewood Cookbook by the lovely and artistic Mollie Katzen had just been published and going vegetarian was one way of eating more healthfully and frugally at the same time. Her illustrations were wonderful. Everything was done by hand, then turned into a book. How appropriate.
One of my favorite recipes from the book can be made even healthier these days by using low fat cheese and egg substitute, although that costs a little more than with plain eggs and regular cheese. You could cut the amount of cheese, too . Even though fresh spinach is delightful, there was a sale the other day on frozen spinach, so I used that for this recipe. It needed to be defrosted and drained, but was then perfect for this dish.
I cooked the brown rice about an hour before I put the casserole together. You can also use leftover rice. The brown rice has lots of nutrients and I like the chewiness it gives this dish.

You can use this as a side dish, a main dish if you have a big salad on the side, or even for brunch. If you added some crumbled bacon or turkey bacon or veggie bacon bits to it, it is super brunch food.

Hope that you are experiencing enough prosperity that you can make this dish just because it appeals to you!

Spinach-Rice Casserolebased on a recipe from Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen, 1977

2 cloves minced garlic
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt (More, to taste)
3 tablespoons butter (I used 2 tablespoons olive oil)
2 lbs. raw, chopped spinach
4 cups cooked brown rice
4 beaten eggs (I used the equivalent amount of egg substitute)
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 tablespoons tamari (optional)
a few dashes each - nutmeg, cayenne
1/4 cup sunflower seeds

Saute' onions and garlic with the salt in butter (or oil). When onions are soft, add spinach. Cook 2 minutes. (Alternately, thaw and drain a 10 oz box frozen chopped spinach. Add to onion mixture, but don't cook any further.)
Combine the onion mixture with the brown rice, eggs, milk, cheese, parsley, tamari, nutmeg, cayenne. Spread into buttered casserole and sprinkle sunflower seeds, paprika on top.
Bake, covered, 25 minutes at 350 degrees F. Uncover and bake 10 more minutes.

Serves 4 - 6

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Bread baking never has to be dull. Using wild rice puts it on the wild side.

Making a bread with low salt content that is still tasty is a challenge, but one that sounded intersting to me, too. A friend had requested this when I offered to make her some bread.

I decided to go with my whole wheat sourdough starter, but it would taste good if you used some Rapid Rise yeast and water for the first part, too.

Wild rice cooked with no salt in the water was bound to give some good flavor. I added a piece of lemon peel, including lots of the pith, to the cooking water to impart some bitterness and the essential oil of the lemon. To punch up the flavor of the bread I decided to carmelize half an onion in a little olive oil. I added that just before shaping the dough into loaves.

This makes a great bread to go with soup or a stew and it makes wonderful sandwiches, too. When still warm from the oven it is delicious with just a touch of butter spread on the slice. We ate nearly half the loaf that way!

You can cook the rice the day before and drain it, but you can also cook it a while before making the dough, letting the rice cool and drain. Doesn't it look wild with the batter?

I used the drained liquid mixed with the milk for part of the dough liquid...more flavor added to the bread that way. you could also use buttermilk instead of the milk/lemon combination.

Wild Rice and Caramelized Onion Bread

As with all my sourdough recipes, if you don’t have sourdough starter, just substitute ½ cup warm water in which you soak 1 packet Rapid Rise yeast for 10 minutes. When it gets foamy, add another ½ cup water and use it where the starter is called for.

1 cup cooked wild rice, cooled and drained – cook in unsalted water with a large piece of lemon peel, including the pith, in the water. Save the drained liquid.
1 cup sourdough starter (I used the whole wheat version Polly)
2 tablespoons maple syrup
3 cups whole wheat bread flour, divided
about 4 cups unbleached bread flour or all-purpose flour, divided
juice of ½ a lemon
about 1 cup low fat milk
½ a medium onion, diced fine
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 egg beaten with ¼ cup water – egg wash

In a large mixer bowl combine the wild rice, sourdough starter, maple syrup. Add the lemon juice to the milk and stir. Let sit 5 minutes. Stir into the wild rice mixture.
Mix together 1 cup of the whole wheat flour and 1 cup of the all-purpose flour. Add to the wild rice mixture and stir to combine thoroughly. Let sit uncovered for 1 hour in a warm, draft free place.

Cook the the onion in the olive oil over medium low heat, stirring often, until lightly browned (caramelized). Set aside to cool.

Mix together the remaining flours.

Put the dough hook on the mixer and engage the bowl with the dough. Add the flour mixture to the dough a little at a time until the dough climbs the hook and cleans the side of the bowl. Let the mixer knead the dough this way for 5 minutes.

(Alternatively, stir in about half of the remaining flour mixture, then turn dough out onto a clean surface and knead in about another cup of the flour mixture until the dough is satiny and only a little sticky. Shape into a ball.)

If using dough hook, turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead more flour into the dough, for about 3 minutes, until dough is satiny and only a little sticky. Shape into a ball.

Oil a large bowl and add the dough ball, Turn to coat the ball with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap or damp linen towel and let sit in a draft free warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 ½ hours.

Punch dough down and turn out onto a clean surface. Knead for a few turns to force out air. Spread the dough out into a rectangle about 9 by 10 inches. Scatter about 1/3 of the onion onto the rectangle. Roll up jelly roll fashion and turn the ends in. Turn over and again press into a rectangle. Spread with another 1/3 of the onion mixture. Roll up jelly roll fashion and turn the ends in. Repeat with the last of the onions. (This distributes the onions throughout the dough...the final distribution is made by the kneading.)Begin kneading and knead a few minutes until the onion is evenly distributed.

Divide the dough in half. Shape each half into a loaf and put into a greased loaf pan. Cover pans with plastic wrap of damp linen towel and set in warm, draft free place to rise for about 45 minutes to an hour, until dough has doubled in bulk.

Lightly brush each loaf with the egg wash.

Place in a preheated 350 degree oven and bake for about 40 – 45 minutes or until top is golden and bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom after turning out of the pan.

Makes 2 loaves.

I'm sending this over to that bread bakers's wonderland, Yeastspotting on Susan's Wild Yeast blog.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!

Tulips and daffodils,

green, green grass, sunshine (we got lucky), colored eggs; all are part and parcel of Easter at our house.

Without kids at home, we skip the Easter basket and candy, although I do have a brightly colored Easter basket on the table filled with colored egg shells from a few years ago. The ends were pierced and the egg blown out of them, then they were rinsed out and decorated. I keep them in an egg carton with the season decorations. They may last forever!

Today was the first morning that it was warm enough to eat breakfast outside (and we ate a few hours later than usual, too, which helps). We had a festive breakfast that included Sweetie's famous fruit bowls

plus the Bread Egg Nests with colored eggs that I tried this year.

Read all about the nests at the Bread Baker's Dog. They are yummy and you get a sweet roll and a soft boiled egg in one pretty packet.

Hope that your Easter, Passover, or other rite of Spring is delightful!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Perfect for Easter Breakfast or Brunch

This recipe makes enough dough for two pans of sweet rolls. The first pan I made was Raspberrry Pistachio Swirl buns. They were good and pretty, too.

To use the second half of the dough, I decided to make something that has flavors similar to Hot Cross Buns. The citrus zest comes off almost like citron and the raisins combine with the pecans and brown sugar for a sweet kick. Somehow the coconut, although only 1/4 cup's worth, ties it all together.

These were so good that it was really hard to stop eating them, expecially when they were still warm from the oven!

If you double the citrus/raisin/nut mixture you can easily make two pans of sweet rolls and be ready for a crowd at Easter brunch. This dough is very easy to work with and has the richness of milk and egg. Very festive and impressive.

Spring Citrus Raisin and Nut Sweet Rolls
Makes 10 sweet rolls in each pan

6 1/2 tablespoons (3.25 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
5 1/2 tablespoons (2.75 ounces) unsalted butter or margarine
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon almond extract
3 1/2 cups - 4 cups unbleached bread or all-purpose flour
1 cup sourdough starter
1 1/4 cups whole milk (I used evaporated milk and water)
¼ cup (4 tablespoons or half stick) butter, melted and cooled
½ cup brown sugar, packed
¼ cup regular raisins
¼ cup golden raisins
zest from ½ a lemon
zest from ½ an orange
¼ cup grated coconut
½ cup pecans, chopped

Making the Dough:
Cream together the sugar, salt, and shortening or butter on medium-high speed in an electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a large metal spoon and mixing bowl and do it by hand).

Whip in the egg and almond extract until smooth. Then add the flour, sourdough starter, and milk. Mix on low speed (or stir by hand) until the dough forms a ball. Switch to the dough hook and increase the speed to medium, mixing for approximately 10 minutes (or knead by hand for 12 to 15 minutes), or until the dough is silky and supple, tacky but not sticky. You may have to add a little flour or water while mixing to achieve this texture. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

Ferment at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

Form the sweet rolls:
Mist the counter with spray oil and transfer ½ the dough to the counter. Reserve other half of dough for another batch of rolls, or double the citrus/raisin/nut mixture and make two pans of rolls.
Using your hands, push at dough to spread it into a rectangle approximately 8 by 10 inches. Spread the rectangle with the citrus/raisin/nut mixture (see below), leaving about an inch around the edges jam free.

Citrus/Raisin/Nut mixture:
In a mixing bowl combine the butter and brown sugar. Add the regular raisins, golden raisins, coconut, lemon zest, orange zest, and chopped pecans. Stir well to completely mix the ingredients.

Shape the sweet rolls:
Roll the dough up jelly roll fashion along the long side, sealing the edges once all rolled up. Pinch the ends of the roll closed. Using a serrated knife (like a bread knife) or dental floss, cut rolls about 1 inch wide.

Butter the bottom and sides of a 9 inch diameter cake pan with sides about 3 inches high. Put 3 of the rolls in the middle and put 7 more rolls around the edges, evenly spaced, leaving some space between the rolls. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a draft free place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Bake the Buns:
Preheat the oven to 375°F with the oven rack in the middle shelf.
Bake the sweet rolls for 20 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Cool the buns:
Cool the sweet rolls in the pan for about 10 minutes. Remove the sweet rolls from the pans and place them on a cooling rack. Wait for at least 20 minutes before serving. Delicious when served warm. These rolls are sweet enough that you don’t really need to ice them.

These Spring Sweet Rolls are my entry this week in Yeastspotting event usually at Susan's wonderful blog, Wild Yeast. For a yeast lover this even is a never ending inspiration and delight. This week it's being hosted by Zorra of 1x umruhren bitte blog instead, and you can find it here.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Still Wonderful

Although this dish was created last month, there has been a lot going on lately, so it had to wait it's turn.

A steak is Sweetie's idea of good eating. It's not exactly healthy, but prepared this way it's wonderful. Using another of those cute bottles of POM Wonderful pomegranate juice, I created a marinade for the steak. It was delicious.

The rosemary and garlic went really well with the pomegranate juice and I think the juice kept the steak moist and juicy. There are healthier ways to enjoy this great juice, but if you are a meat and potatoes kinda person...try this.

Here's what it looks like after it's been marinated. The marinade begins cooking the meat a bit.

Pomegranate Rosemary and Garlic Marinated Steak

enough for steak for 3-4 people

8 oz. POM Wonderful pomegranate juice
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped roughly
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

Place the marinade ingredients in a gallon size zipper lock plastic bag. Shake well to mix. Lay the plastic bag in a large baking pan, carefully un-zip and place the steaks in one layer in the marinade. Close plastic bag. Let marinate at room temperature for an hour, then turn the bag over and let the other side marinate for an hour.

Remove steaks from the marinade and discard the marinade. Grill the steaks to the degree of pinkness you desire. Serve at once.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Early Spring

April, here at last.

The apple blossoms have just begun to open their pale pink petals around the countryside. The winds have been pretty strong, so the pear blossom petals, always earlier than the apple blossoms, fly by the window like a shower of snow. The Easter candy is on sale at the grocery store, so it must surely be SPRING! After autumn, spring is my favorite season.

This salad is one that can be enjoyed year round, but seems sprightly, like spring. The crisp greens, juicy orange segments and kiwi slices contrast nicely with the chopped, toasted almonds and sweet dried cranberries and golden raisins. Use your favorite raspberry vinaigrette as dressing, or even a creamy one with blue cheese.

Early Spring Fruit Salad
6 cups mixed greens…I used romaine and butter lettuces
1 can mandarin orange segments in water, drained
1 ripe kiwi fruit, peeled and sliced thinly
¼ cup almonds, toasted, cooled, and chopped
2 tablespoons dried cranberries
2 tablespoons golden raisins
In a large salad bowl place the greens, orange segments, and kiwi slices. Toss gently. Put salad on plates and sprinkle with the almonds, cranberries and golden raisins. Drizzle with dressing. Serve cold. Serves 4.