Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Year of Blogging

What a year this has been! Looking back over the posts it seems like it was the year of BREAD for me. Even though I took a break from bread making (mostly) over the summer, there are still a large number of bread posts as well as all 26 posts on the Bread Baker's Dog blog,

which I started in March because all those bread posts seem to be overwhelming Feeding My Enthusiasms.

I found that I enjoy baking bread, especially yeasted bread, that I seem to have a knack for it, and that the creativity and mystery ('cuz 'ya never know if it will rise properly) appeal to me immensely. It's hard to hate the smell of freshly baked bread, either. Over the years I've posted over 50 bread recipes (not all yeasted, but many are) plus 26 more on the bread blog. Of special joy to me has been the fact that I gave yeast breads for Christmas gifts this year and that I spent a day teaching a dear friend how to bake bread from scratch ...helping her overcome the fear of yeast that is all too common. I also met two of my favorite Bread Baking Babes in Seattle this summer - Tanna and Lynn - which has encouraged me to keep going with bread baking.

An improvement to the blog this year has been the inclusion of an Index of recipes. Since I often use Feeding My Enthusiasm as my personal recipe box, and it has grown to have over 200 recipes, having an Index means I can find the recipe I'm looking for quickly...and so can you. Access the Index by clicking on the photo of a set table that is in the upper right on the blog. I tried to break recipes down by category to speed the search since I don't have an actual search engine. Hope it helps you try something new! Let me know if you tried something and enjoyed it, OK? If you post about it, I'm usually happy to have you link and can sometime provide additional photos...just e-mail me.

Many of the post this year were from cookbooks, often altered to suit my taste or cooking style. I usually borrow cookbooks from the library since my cookbook shelf is full to overflowing. Do you have any cookbooks you would recommend?

As often happens because I am blessed with very thoughtful family and friends, this year for the holidays I received a number of food goodies including yummy home made stollen, a gorgeous bay wreath, an assortment of farmers' market goodies ingeniously packaged with garden greenery instead of peanuts (with simply beautiful holly), a delicious persimmon bread, tasty candy and cookies, and little cakes. Mom's delicate and traditional crescent cookies are still being enjoyed! On top of that the generous gifts of kitchen scale, bread mat, instant thermometer, and King Arthur gift cert. will help with future bread baking and are much appreciated. I even received a monkey bread you know what I'll be baking soon! A cool gift that I used for the recipe below is a pair of herb shears from Sweetie's Super Second Sister...made the chopping of fresh rosemary very easy!

One of the best gifts has been the assurance by family and friends that even though they may not comment, they still enjoy reading the blog posts. Since I was beginning to lag on my enthusiasm for blogging that has made a difference. Thank you all.

Many thanks to readers who do really means a lot and encourages me to visit your blogs if you have them. You often inspire me and make me laugh and give me insight into other ways of cooking, baking and looking at the world.

I wish each of you a Happy New Year...another day to wake up and greet the morning...or afternoon :)


This recipe is a variation of one I've posted before, but this time I used some of the unique citrus from the farmers' market sent to us by Sweetie's Fabulous First Sister.

The orange like citrus had a pink-orange flesh so it wasn't a regular orange nor a blood orange, but it was delicious although milder than lemon, so the mustard flavor was more dominant than with lemon. I omitted the topping and it was still wonderful. The chicken gets very tender and moist by sitting in the marinade. This is a great recipe to make ahead and perfect for citrus season.

Orange Chicken with Rosemary and Garlic
Serves about 8

8-10 boneless skinless chicken pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil for coating pans
5-6 cloves garlic
2 oranges and their zest
1/3 cup Dijon mustard
3-4 branches fresh rosemary, each about 5 inches long, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
Optional topping:
3 tablespoons cup Parmesan cheese (use the real thing for best flavor)
1/2 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

Arrange the boneless skinless chicken thighs (or substitute some boneless skinless chicken breasts if you wish) in an 11 x 13 inch baking pan where the bottom of the pan has been lightly oiled with the olive oil. Keep the chicken pieces touching each other. Place whole, unpeeled garlic cloves between some of the pieces.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the Dijon mustard, the juice and zest of the oranges, and 3-4 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary. Whisk in the olive oil. Pour the mixture over the pan of chicken. Tuck a few sprigs of remaining fresh rosemary between some of the chicken pieces. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill 3-4 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Uncover the chicken and place the pan in the oven. Bake for 40 minutes or until the juice runs clear when a piece of chicken is pierced.

If desired, about 10 minutes before the chicken is done, mix together the Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs and parsley; sprinkle this mixture evenly over the chicken. Return to oven to bake last 10 minutes.

Serve over rice, mashed potatoes, or boiled potatoes, which bread to sop up the sauce. The sauce is mighty good. The chicken is amazing.

Leftovers are delicious, too. You can also freeze this, well wrapped, for a month. Thaw in the refrigerator, then bake in a 350 degree oven until heated through, or in the microwave, reheating at no more than 50% power.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Tomorrow is the last day I'll be writing 2009 on my checks (I know, I'm old fashioned and still write checks sometimes) and the next day a new calendar will be tacked up. 2010 seems awkward somehow, but here it comes. We'll get used to it. Somehow we'll each decide to say either twenty ten or two thousand ten.

One of the things I've been noticing is that with the advent of 2010 people are doing lists of ten. I decided to list ten things that I'd like to post about.

The first five are things I've made before, enjoyed, and would love to add to my index, plus to share with y'all. The second five are things I've wanted to try making but never did. Perhaps by listing them at the beginning of the New Year it will give me a little push to actually cook or bake them and do a post.

Here is the list:
Black Forest Cake - I used to make this from scratch, including poaching the fresh cherries. It is a delicious combination of chocolate cake, whipped cream, cherries and kirsch, with some chocolate curls for decoration. A very fancy cake!

Fresh Coconut Cake - This is the favorite birthday cake of Next Sister Up. White cake layers are layered with 7 Minute Frosting and freshly grated coconut, with more coconut coating the sides of the frosted cake. It looks like a party and tastes wonderful as long as you love coconut.

Salmon en Croute - A fish shaped piece of pastry (usually puff pastry) is spread with layer os filling. I could have made this one as part of the Daring Cooks, but the timing was impossible for me. I've made it with a layer of duxelles (a fine mushroom concoction), then a fresh salmon fillet is laid over the mushroom mixture, a layer of rice combined with a sour cream and green onion mixture is spread over the fish (and sometines spinach is added tot he rice mixture) and then a larger fish shaped pastry is laid over it all and sealed. Sometimes I added pastry scales for a more fish like appearance, an egg wash is applied to the pastry then it is baked to a golden brown. This is an impressive dinner party dish and looks far more difficult than it really is.

Meat Loaf - Our recent return to tough economic times seems to have brought with it a bit of nostalgia for humble diner style food. Meat Loaf is a perfect example and was the set piece for countless Blue Plate Specials. My Mom made it with ground beef, but I like to make it with a combination of ground beef and ground turkey for a lighter taste. Don't forget the mashed potatoes!

The last dish that I've made many times but never put on the blog is just barely a recipe. Fish with Garlic Butter works well with fish fillets like red snapper or flounder. It's so easy that a microwave adept child can make it...and it has garlic!

Now we come to the items that I want to learn to make:
Princess Cake is one of my sister Natasha's favorites. I've been researching recipes and I think I know how to do it. Sponge cake, raspberry jam, whipped cream and...most important...marzipan combine to make a party perfect cake.

Another special occasion cake is one of Dorie Greenspan's. I thought that I had typed it up since I had to return the book it was in. I think it was Paris Sweets. Anyway I believe the cake is a spongecake soaked with orange juice and there is cinnamon involved, buttercream and maybe cranberries. It seems like a perfect Christmas cake, so I have almost a year to re-find the recipe.

Ever since I was a kid I've thought that it would be fun to make Baked Alaska. Ice cream, frozen hard, sits on top of cake and then meringue covers it all and you broil the meringue to brown it without melting the ice cream.

Another sweet to try making is a Pithivier, a puff pastry circle topped with rich almond cream, then topped with another puff pastry circle. Once the edges are sealed, you make a pattern with a knife over the whole circle, glaze it and bake it. A sweet glaze is sometimes baked on the top crust during the last part of the baking.

The last item is Shrimp Scampi. I've had good versions in restaurants but never tried it at home.

As you can see I lean toward the sweets in what I hope to make, but there are a few good savories, too.

As I make things from the list, I'll include this logo (at the top of this post) with the post. With luck, by this time next year they will all have been checked off.

What recipes have you been longing to make? If you share them with me I might just add them to my list...who says that I can only do ten?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ginger Lovers Pumpkin Pie Extravaganza

Pumpkin pie has always been a favorite and I love ginger, too, so the recipe that K brought home with her to make seemed like a winner. The recipe comes from the November issue of Southern Living magazine. A regular crust is topped with a layer of a gingersnap-based crunch...

and then baked. A filling that includes sweetened condensed milk and sour cream, along with cinnamon ... and more ginger ...

is baked a short while, then topped with a pecan and brown sugar struesel around the edges of the pie. Once the filling bakes until set the pie cools on a rack.

Right before serving it gets decorated with a cinnamon and ginger spiked topping. I used real whipping cream (although the sweetened condensed milk and sour cream were non-fat versions) because I had some and everything goes better with real whipped cream.

This pie is outrageously good! I felt like I was channeling Paula Deen once the whipped cream was lavished on the crust edge of the pie and a sprinkle of cinnamon finished off the presentation. You could almost hear my Southern accent as I served Sweetie the first piece.

The pastry crust was crisp and golden, the gingersnap crust on top of that had absorbed some of the pumpkin mixture's liquid, so it was moist and a little chewy and full of ginger flavor! The filling (which I cooked less that the recipe suggested...I only baked it for 15 minutes before adding the struesel) was creamy yet firm enough to use a fork and not a spoon. The struesel added a nutty crunch and the whipped cream tied all of the flavors and textures together luxuriously. I left out the ginger cookie half rounds that were to adorn each slice...that was too much for me, which is a funny thing to say about such an over-the-top pie.

K and I baked the crust the morning of the Big Open House, but then had no time to finish it (part;y because the party went more than two hours past the planned time...but I wouldn't have it any other way since we were able to see so many of our friends and family that way) and she flew home the next morning, so I had to finish off the pie myself. I wish that I could just spirit a piece to her because it is really that good! This piece is for you, K!
If you make this pie, be prepared for compliments, requests for second helpings, and the need for small pieces. It is rich and intensely flavored in the best possible way.

Pumpkin Pie Spectacular
From Southern Living magazine Nov 09

½ (15 oz) package refrigerated piecrusts or home made single crust pie dough
2 cups crushed gingersnaps (about 40 gingersnaps)
1 cup pecans, finely chopped
½ cup powdered sugar
¼ cup butter, melted
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
2 large eggs, beaten
½ cup sour cream
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp ground ginger
Pecan Streusel
Topping: 7 thin ginger cookies, halved (optional)
Ginger-Spiced Topping & ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Fit piecrust into a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate according to package directions; fold edges under, and crimp.

Stir together crushed gingersnaps, pecans, powdered sugar and melted butter. Press mixture on bottom and ½ inch up sides of piecrust.

Note – if pie pan is not a very deep deep-dish type, you may have some of the gingersnap mixture left over.

Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely on a wire rack (about 30 minutes).

Stir together pumpkin, sweetened condensed milk, eggs, sour cream, cinnamon, vanilla, and ginger. Pour into prepared, cooled crust. Place pie on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes (but if you are using a shallower pie pan, only bake for 15 minutes). Sprinkle Pecan Streusel around edge of crust. Bake 35 – 40 minutes or until set, shielding edges with aluminum foil during last 25 or so minutes of baking if necessary. If using, insert ginger cookie halves around edge of crust.
Let pie cool completely on a wire rack (about 1 hour). Dollop with Ginger-Spice Topping; dust with cinnamon.

Pecan Streusel: Stir together ¼ cup all-purpose flour, ¼ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar; 2 tablespoons melted butter and ¾ cup pecans, coarsely chopped.

Ginger-Spice Topping: Stir together 1 cup whipping cream which has been whipped to a soft but firm stage (or use an 8 oz container of whipped topping, thawed), ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon and ¼ teaspoon ground ginger.

Recipe from Vivian Chateau, Mobile, Alabama Serves 8 - total time to make: 3 hrs, 25 minutes

Monday, December 28, 2009

Creating Christmas Memories

By dinner time on Christmas I'm usually happy to do something very simple, but this year we were fortunate in that Grandma L was going to be with us and so was our daughter!

This Christmas for our dinner she suggested that we make a dish that we had talked about making together sometime. It is inspired by an entree she used to enjoy at Belltown Bistro when she lived in the Belltown area of Seattle.

Tender pork cubes are marinated and skewered with dried apricots. A glaze is applied during cooking that creates a lacquered appearance. Sweetie did the honors of grilling the kebabs, but wasn't too successful in making the pork look lacquered...I guess there is a restaurant secret...but the dish was delicious, fancy and fun to make together.

We served it over a wild and brown rice melange than included dried cranberries and orange zest and juice. Grandma L brought her famous fresh green beens with bacon and they were the perfect side dish for this meal. We served a Porter Creek Pinot (thanks Kate W!) which was an excellent wine for the meal. Toasts were shared and we made merry! Holiday memories in the making.

Apple Lacquered Pork Kebabs with Apricot
1 pork tenderloin, cut in about 1 inch cubes
1 cup apple juice
1 teaspoon prepared Dijon type mustard
¼ teaspoon ground sage
2 tablespoons apricot jam
salt and pepper to taste

Apple-Apricot Lacquer
1 cup apple juice
¼ cup apricot jam

8 – 10 oz moist dried apricots
Wooden or metal skewers

In a wide, shallow pan over medium-high heat, reduce the apple juice by half, stirring occasionally with a whisk. It will thicken slightly and measure about ½ cup.

In non-reactive bowl place reduced apple juice, mustard, sage, apricot jam and whisk to combine. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.

Place the pork cubes in the apple juice mixture and turn to coat all pieces. Cover and marinate in a cool place (like the refrigerator) for 3-4 hours, stirring a few times to coat the pieces with the marinade.

Prepare the Apple Apricot Lacquer: In a wide, shallow pan combine the apple juice and the apricot jam with a whisk. Whisk over high heat until thick and syrupy, about 5 – 8 minutes. Set aside.

Soak wooden skewers for 20 minutes in warm water if using. Drain pork and discard the marinade. Thread two dried apricots on skewer, followed by a pork cube, two more dried apricots, another pork cube and repeat until there are 4 -5 pork cubes on the skewer.

Set aside and repeat with more skewers until all pork cubes have been threaded on skewers. Keep cool until barbeque is ready for cooking.

Heat barbeque, either pre-heating a gas grill or light charcoal and let burn until a light ash coats them.

Grill the skewers, brushing with the Apple Apricot Lacquer before putting on the grill and every few minutes as you grill them. The dried fruit may char a bit. Meat is done when one cube, cut open, shows very faint pinkness.

Serve at once, passing any extra Lacquer with the skewers. This is very nice served on a bed of hot Brown and Wild Rice with Cranberries.

Can be garnished with fresh sage leaves.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

I Still Can't Believe We All Squeezed In!

When I was little I remember going to the circus. Having things going on in three rings was confusing but kinda exciting, too. The animal tricks and acrobats were awesome. I most vividly remember the tiny vehicle that spilled a whole troop of clowns out of the doors and roof and many clowns from such a little space.

Yesterday was a bit of a circus here on the ranch. Our house is a fairly small 2 bedroom jobbie but somehow we managed to have a holiday open house party for family and friends that had aspects of a three ringed circus I suppose, but mostly was great good fun. The astonishing thing was that 45 people came and for a good part of the party at least 35 people fit into the downstairs of our home, with a few on the porch. Since it was first cold and then cold and raining our hope that the party could spill outside was thwarted.

Amazingly everyone seemed to have a good time, there were few glitches and plenty of food and drink. My daughter might think nothing of organizing a sit down dinner for 2,000 at work, but I've never thrown a party where 45 people came. Thank heavens she was here to help it all go smoothly!

Since at such a gathering you rarely sit down for more than a few moments, it's also normal (I think) to not eat very much of the food arrayed on the table. I did really enjoy a tasty yellow rice and black bean with pork dish that Sweetie's sister brought. If she gives me the recipe, I'll pass it on with her permission.

I feel just a bit tired now, really. As I write this part of the post it is the day after the party, I'm hungry today, and I've just had a nice lunch of After the Party Soup. I'm sure a different party might lead to a different soup, but this one is composed of things still on the table when the last guest had gone home, plus some chicken broth. It is savory and full flavored. The veggies are just warmed through so they still have some crunch and retain their own flavors...makes each spoonful an adventure. Somehow a soup like this is very appealing after the rich foods and sweets of the days before.

After the Party Soup
serves 2-4 depending on how hungry you are

1 can chicken broth or 2 cups home made chicken stock
1/2 cup White Bean Dip with Garlic (you can find the recipe here makes more)
1 cup cooked rice
1 cup assorted raw veggies, diced in small pieces - I used red pepper, fresh green beans, zucchini and carrots, plus some parsley that had decorated the veggie platter...use what you like to eat
3/4 - 1 cup diced ham
salt and pepper to taste

Stir all the ingredients together and heat through, but don't boil. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust seasonings. Serve hot.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

The stockings have been hung, the tree set up and decorated, the gifts placed beneath, the wreaths hung on doors, the swag with tiny red lights hung on the railing of the porch.

Cookies have been baked and decorated and the gingerbread people are joined with red ribbons, hand to hand, ready to dance together over the holiday table.

Our daughter has come home for a few days and helped with all of that on Christmas Eve while a funky remix of Christmas favorite carols and songs played on her iPhone.

We took the big black baker's dog on a walk at the laguna and spotted the flock of great blue heron perched on the bare branches in the sunshine. One flew across the water and we could see how beautiful it was and how wide the wingspan.

In the evening we enjoyed a salad of mixed greens, avocado, fresh oranges, golden raisins and a sprinkle of coconut with a lime dressing, plus some spinach quiche. Such is a Christmas Eve here at Elle's.

This morning we slept in (one of the advantages of not having any small children here), had a great breakfast with Sweetie's famous scrambled eggs, Willie Bird peppered turkey bacon, coffee and the Elephant Juice Yule Wreath.

Gifts were exchanged, phone calls made to my Mom and a few others, and Sweetie took a cat nap, with Merlin the cat in his lap! Relaxing is the watchword this Christmas for us.

This evening will include a special dinner with Grandma and either a movie or a game to play. Family is important to me and I feel grateful for having so many to cherish.

Hope that your celebration of the season suits you and gives you great joy. Sending virtual hugs to those I've gotten to know over the years through this are a delight and inspiration.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Ginger, cinnamon, molasses...wonderful scents of the season...will perfume your home if you make these cookies.

I've been making these for Christmas for a long time. I first found the recipe in a Woman's Day magazine December issue over 30 years ago, but later found it printed in Maida Heatter's first cookie cookbook called Maida Heatter's Book of Great Cookies.

The dough is easy to work with, something that is not true of all rolled gingerbread recipes. It's also fun to make these because when the baking soda is added to the boiling spice, sugar and molasses mixture it foams up dramatically! Try this with your kids (and if they are old enough be ready to explain about the chemical reaction of the acidic molasses and basic baking soda)...they will be fascinated.

These cookies can be baked thin and crisp or thin and chewy or thicker and more is up to you. Roll them thin and bake them longer for crisp.

This dough works well for making Gingerbread Houses, too. Use a sharp small knife to cut around cardboard templates...file folders make great template materials, then re-cut if needed, again using the templates, once the cookies are baked. Since the pieces for a Gingerbread House are usually large, you will probably need two batches of the dough and will want to bake them at a lower temperature (300 degrees F) and longer to have the house pieces nice and crisp and well shaped.

Royal Icing can either be used to decorate cookies or to be used as 'glue' to hold Gingerbread House pieces together and stick on decorations and for 'snow' and 'icicles'. I've made ornaments decorated with Royal Icing and cinnamon candies and silver dragees. I'll thread some fine ribbon through the hole to use for hanging them.

Decorating the cookies or gingerbread house can be a delightful project to do with children. If they are too little to cut out and bake the cookies, you can do that part and then have them help with decorations. The cups of a muffin tin are great for keeping small decorations like sanding sugar, mini dragees, mini M and Ms, cinnamon red hots, etc. handy for adding to the wet Royal Icing. The really good news is that these cookies not only look great and are easy to make, they taste wonderful! The spices and molasses give them some bite and depth of flavor.Sweetie has taste tested them for me and he assures me that they taste great undecorated, too.

Swedish Ginger Cookies
from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Cookies
Note: because cookie cutters and thickness of dough will vary, a count of how many the recipe makes isn't possible.

2/3 cup dark or light molasses
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
11 tablespoons butter, at room temperature (almost a stick and a half)
¾ tablespoon baking soda
1 egg
5 cups sifted all-purpose flour

For regular sized cut-out cookies, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. If you will be making large cookies, preheat to 300 degrees F.

Line a baking sheet or cookie sheet with foil, parchment, or silicone mat.

In a heavy 2-quart saucepan over moderate heat, bring the molasses, sugar, ginger, and cinnamon just to a low boil, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, cut the butter into 10inch pieces and place them in a large mixing bowl. (I use my stand mixer, so I use the stand mixer bowl).

When the molasses mixture comes to a boil, add the baking soda and stir until the mixture foams up to the top of the saucepan. Then pour it over the butter and stir to melt the butter.

With a fork, stir the egg lightly just to mix and then stir it into the molasses mixture. Gradually stir in the flour with a rubber or wooden spatula.

Turn the dough out onto a large board or smooth work surface and knead lightly until it is mixed thoroughly.

If you are making thin cookies, work with half the dough at a time (this is what I did) but for thick cookies work with it all.

Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and form it into a ball. With a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough to the desired thickness. (I baked mine about ¼ inch thick, but you can make them thicker if you like. If you are using this dough to make gingerbread houses, you will want it at least ½ inch thick and will want to bake the pieces at 300 degrees F for at least 15 minutes, but up to 45 minutes, until crisp. You will be able to judge by the feel of the cookie.) Cut the shapes you want, using cookie cutters or a sharp knife. You may find that you need to flour cookie cutters so they will release the dough.

Gather the scraps into a ball and roll out again, incorporating as little flour as possible. Repeat until dough is used up.

Place the cookies on the prepared cookie or baking sheets. At this point you can cut a hole in the cookie for hanging as ornaments if you wish (an icing tip makes a good hole).

Bake in the preheated oven, switching back to front half way through. Bake until cookies feel firm to the touch.

Cool on a wire rack for a minute or two, then remove from the baking sheet with a spatula to finish cooling. If you are using them for ornaments, check as soon as you remove them from the oven to make sure the hole didn’t bake closed. If it did, recut the hole.

To Prepare Cookie to Be Used As Christmas Ornaments:
If you have cut a hole in the cookie and re-cut once out of the oven, it is pretty simple to put a thread, thin ribbon, etc. through the hole for hanging. You can decorate the cookies as you wish, but a traditional way is to use Royal Icing. The Royal Icing can be used alone for a brown and white design, or it can be used to ‘glue’ on small candies, dragees, gumdrop slices, etc. Use a pastry bag with an icing tip or place some of the icing in a reclosable top bag, close it tight and snip a small amount off a corner of the bottom, squeezing icing through that hole onto the cookies.

Royal Icing for Decorating (This makes a generous amount)
1 pound (3 ½ cups, packed) confectioners’ sugar
1/3 cup egg whites (2-3 eggs), at room temperature
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar.

Strain the sugar by pressing it with your fingertips through a large strainer set over a large bowl. In the small bowl of an electric mixer beat the egg whites with about half of the sugar at high speed for 5 minutes. Beat in the cream of tartar. Continue to beat while gradually adding more of the sugar, about ½ cup at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition, until the icing reaches the desired consistency…it should be thick enough to hold its shape without running or flattening on the cookie, but not so thick that it is difficult to use or will not stick to the cookie. Usually you won’t need to use all the sugar. If the icing is too stiff, add more egg white or a few drops of water, very little at a time. If it is too soft, add more sugar. Keep the icing covered with plastic wrap to keep a crust from forming. If desired, divide the icing into small bowls and color with food colors for several different colors.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Better Than Baking By Myself

Although I really enjoy baking bread in my kitchen, a few days ago I had even more fun sharing bread baking with a good friend who wasn't sure that she could bake bread from scratch. Since she loves to eat bread and really appreciates good bread, that was unacceptable. Now Miss G is not only a super intelligent and delightful, high-energy person, but she bakes wonderful things all the time. I was pretty sure that she would take to yeasted bread baking like a duck to water...and I was right! Her Knotted Wheat Rolls were better than my attempt at that recipe and the Cranberry Walnut Braid was magnificent!

Read all about it over at Bread Baker's Dog. Speaking of dogs, if you love dogs, you would adore her rescued grayhound Zeph. I don't have a photo, but he is elegant, the golden brown of a lovely loaf of bread, and very curious, too. If you have any interest in having your own grayhound, the effort to rescue them is very worthy and saves their lives once their racetrack loving owners have tired of them. Miss G would be happy to send information...just leave a comment for me ore e-mail me at elle dot lachman at gmail dot com and I'll let her know.

I'll be posting here soon with some Christmas goodies. Spent lots of time today doing the getting ready for the holidays, wrapping gifts, baking gifts, wrapping the baked goodies, cards and cleaning. Hard to believe that there is less than a week to go before Santa arrives! Yikes!!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Bebe Eclair Tea

There are fewer things that bring a sense of hope as the immanent arrival of a new baby. My friend Hil, who baked with me a few months ago and whom I also work with, will be a new Mom in late January or early February. One of the pleasures of being a friend is being able to host a baby shower. Since Hil loves all things French, we decided the theme should reflect that. Although this little one has already been dubbed baby Jal, for the shower he or she was bebe eclair...small and sweet.

Although it is the Christmas season, for the tea is was more like a rainy day in April in Paris. We had a toile tablecloth, fine china teapots and teacups, crystal servers and the napkin holder place cards each had a sweet pea (fabric) attached.

Since I knew in advance that this would be a tea, I was able to make fresh lemon curd ahead of time for the home made scones. There was also some purchased raspberry jam and freshly whipped heavy cream to adorn the scones. The scones themselves, also made in advance, were frozen until the shower and then re-heated.

The French theme was helped by a dish of pistachio macarons with ganache filling.

The cranberry bread I made after Thanksgiving was also frozen and, once thawed, cut into thin slices. A creamy orange cream cheese filling and a few flicks of a sharp knife turned them into tea finger sandwiches. Tiny cupcakes sat on a cake stand and were adorned with white frosting and either little white chocolate stars of crushed peppermints.

Purchased brownie bites and mini quiches rounded out the teatime array of goodies. Nine of us consumed at least 5 pots of tea!

Hil started off the party with lovely Kir Royal cocktails which helped brighten the mood. Some Parisian music on the stereo, a poster of the Tour Eiffel and we were transported to France (with a hint of England) for the afternoon. I think that everyone had a good time and I know that everyone involved made Hil feel very special...which she is!

Here is the recipe for the scones. The lemon curd, macarons (substitute ground pistachios for half the almond meal, and cranberry bread can be found using the Index at the upper right hand corner of the blog.

Simple Scones

Heat oven to 425 degrees F. Grease two cookie sheets.

3 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (no substitutions)
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel

Glaze: 2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar (I used white sanding sugar)

In a small bowl use your fingers to rub together the sugar and lemon peel until fragrant.
Combine flour, lemon-sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl. With pastry blender or two knives, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Pour buttermilk over crumb mixture. Stir together with fork just until mixture comes together. Gather dough gently into a ball; knead 4 or 5 times. Cut dough in half and transfer pieces to prepared cookie sheets. Shape each piece into two 6 inch x 1/4 inch thick circles, 2 inches apart. Using floured knife, cut each circle into 8 wedges.

For glaze, brush tops with cream and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake 20 – 25 minutes until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 16 scones.

If you are going to freeze these to re-heat later, bake them just short of golden brown and re-heat, thawed, for 5 minutes at 425 degrees F.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Merry Cranberry Bread

Hope you had a good weekend! I did lots of baking this weekend so I'm a happy camper. Sweetie didn't mind, either, since one goodie was freshly baked barley wheat bread, this time baked in a loaf pan and toasted...well, except for the first couple of slices that were gobbled up still warm from the oven and needed nothing more than a touch of fresh butter.

Another baked good that was an unexpected hit was cranberry bread. For Thanksgiving dinner I had purchased two cans of cranberry sauce. One was jellied and one had whole berries. Due to the ravages of time my brain burped and the cranberry sauce never made it to the table on Thanksgiving. Some of the jellied sauce made it to the table with the leftover turkey, but I still had a lot of cranberry sauce sitting around.

Then I remembered a recipe that I had seen a number of times as I paged through the Fannie Farmer Baking Book by Marion Cunningham. Each time I thought that it would make a great sweet quick bread, but found that I was out of whole cranberry sauce. This time I was ready!

This moist, slightly sweet bread goes together pretty quickly if you have that whole cranberry sauce. I used a cup of whole wheat flour in place of one of the cups of all-purpose flour. It added a nuttiness that went well with the berries and walnuts. A key is to avoid over mixing, something that is true of most quick breads. I suspect that mine sank in the middle because I didn't mix it properly when I added the dry ingredients. I'd also recommend that you put a baking sheet near the bottom of the oven to catch any batter that spills over the sides of the bread pans. Very glad I did!

This recipe makes two loaves. The first one disappeared pretty quickly. The second is slated to be sliced for the Saturday baby shower, then the slices will be sandwiched with a cream cheese orange filling and cut into fingers. It should make a nice addition to the tea tray offerings. I hope to put up some photos on Sunday showing all the pretty tea things in use.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Elephant Juice and the Yule Wreath

Update: The photo at the start of the post is now one sent by NoHandle. It shows the glorious Elephant Juice Roll he made for his family, with a whole lot more glaze than mine...I think I like his better! He also made some suggestions for improvements in the directions in the recipe, so I've made those changes in italics. I think you'll find it improves the recipe. Thanks NoHandle!

When our daughter was very young she had the most wonderful imagination. She still has a great imagination, but the flights of fancy of a young child are a special joy. Sweetie was enchanted with her and used to pretend that there were fairies who lived in the corner of the kitchen, near the ceiling. He would point that way and say “look at the fairies” and while she was distracted he would do a little ‘magic’ and pull a coin from ‘behind her ear’ and similar fun. One of his favorite drinks was apricot nectar. Just for fun he called it ‘elephant juice’ which encouraged her to drink it. I think the thicker texture of the nectar drinks was not as appealing as watered juice drinks, but who could resist elephant juice?

Recently I was remembering the fun we had during those early years and began to wonder if I could make a sweet bread for Christmas morning with ‘elephant juice’. Having sweet rolls or bread on Christmas morning has become a tradition. After looking unsuccessfully through a number of books and online sites, I decided to make major changes to the Yule wreath recipe from last year (which I filled with a sausage and spinach stuffing) and do a sweet apricot almond version.

Almonds go so well with apricots, so it was a no-brainer to combine them. Since dried apricots can use a little plumping, I decided to soak the finely chopped dried apricots in warm rum. I used some of the rum that was drained after soaking as liquid for the glaze that was drizzled over the top. I also made a large wreath for Christmas which will be frozen until then, plus a small ring for Sweetie and me to try. With a new recipe you never know how it will turn out.

Since I have a nice sourdough starter going, I used some of that, but you can always substitute a package of instant dry yeast, rehydrated in ¼ cup warm water instead of the sourdough. Since there would be a fairly heavy filling, I added a bit of yeast to the dough, too.

The smaller ring turned out really well…it will be hard to let the large one stay in the freezer until Christmas! You can really taste the apricots in both the dough and the filling. The almonds are the perfect complement in taste and texture. The cream cheese adds a richness very appropriate to the season. All in all, a very successful recipe for a fancy holiday bread.

Allow some time for making this. The apricots need to soak (I left mine overnight and it really allowed the rum flavor to shine), the dough needs to rise twice and then bake for almost an hour. You should cool the wreath before slicing. The glaze, if you are using it, needs to go on the cooled bread and be allowed to dry, too.

Now you know why I made mine early. I’ll take it out of the freezer on Christmas Eve to let it thaw in the fridge, then reheat it in the morning, let it cool 10 minutes, then glaze it and let it sit another 10 minutes. By the time Sweetie has the bowl of cut up fresh fruit ready and the coffee is made we will have a delicious, slightly warm, fragrant, almond and apricot yeasted delight to eat.

Elephant Juice Wreath
adapted from Betty Crocker's International Cookbook

1 package active dry yeast
(I used 1 cup sourdough starter instead, plus ¼ teaspoon active dry yeast mixed into the water - below)
1/4 cup warm water (105 to 115 deg. F)
1/4 cup lukewarm milk
½ cup lukewarm apricot nectar
¼ teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 egg
2-1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt

1-Whisk together 2 1/2 cups flour (1 cup bread flour and 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour), cardamom, nutmeg, sugar and salt. Stir in milk, nectar, extract, butter, egg and proofed yeast (or starter and proofed yeast if using). Beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to make dough easy to handle.

2-Turn dough onto lightly floured surface: knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Place in greased bowl; turn greased side up. Cover and let rise in warm place until double, 1 to 1-1/2 hours. (Mine took 2 1/2 hours)

3-Prepare Filling
½ cup dried apricots
½ cup warm rum
8 oz cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons milk
¼ cup sugar
1/3 cup sliced almonds, plus 2 tablespoons for top of wreath

Soak finely chopped dried apricots in rum for at least 2 hours. Drain well, reserve the drained liquid, and set both aside.
Cream the cream cheese and milk in the bowl of an electric mixer, until light, then add the sugar and mix well to combine.

4- Punch down the dough. Roll into rectangle, 15 x 9-inches, on a lightly floured surface. Spread with the cream cheese mixture to within 1/4-inch of the edges. Evenly distribute the chopped, drained apricots pieces over the cheese mixture. Sprinkle on the 1/3 cup sliced almonds evenly. Roll up tightly, beginning at the wide edge. Pinch edge of dough into roll to seal well. Stretch roll to make even. With sealed edge down, shape into ring on lightly greased cookie sheet.
Pinch ends together.

5- With scissors or kitchen shears, make cuts 2/3 of the way through the ring at 1-inch intervals. Turn each section on it's side (90 degree turn), to show off the pretty swirled filling. (Grasp top of each 1 inch wide "piece", which is still attached to the ring at the bottom, and twist is so the filling side is facing the ceiling.) Cover ring loosely with plastic wrap sprayed with cooking spray. Let rise until double, about 40 to 50 minutes.

6- Heat oven to 350 deg. F. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes or longer if needed, until loaf sounds hollow when tapped. (If it browns too quickly, cover loosely with aluminum foil.)
7 – When loaf has cooled, it can be drizzled with a glaze.

Glaze – ½ cup confectioners sugar whisked with enough reserved apricot drained liquid to make a good drizzle consistency. Sprinkle drizzle with reserved 2 tablespoons of sliced almonds.
Let the glaze harden before serving.

I'm sending this seasonal recipe over to Susan of Wild Yeast for Yeastspotting, a wonderland of yeasted recipes. Do check it out here.
BTW: The thawed ring was great on Christmas Day, although the fresh one was better. It was nice to have it already to warm in a low oven and serve. Hope you enjoy this if you try it!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Mini Cupcakes Inspire My Inner Elf

December brings the end of fall and thoughts turn to the coming winter holidays.

My inner elf has come to the front of the line, so to speak, and I've been spending wonderful time in the kitchen messing with flour, sugar, butter and such. One recent baking session yielded pretty little cupcakes topped with a white chocolate star.

I was inspired by the cake on the cover of Holiday Baking by Sara Perry. A snowy white frosted white cake is decorated with a snow flurry of white chocolate snowflakes, each flake decorated with silver dragees (little edible silver balls). It looks so pretty.

My variation is to make mini-muffin size cupcakes, swirl on a decadent sour cream and cream cheese frosting, then top each with a white chocolate star. Each point on the star is decorated with a silver dragee.

I used Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake for the tiny cupcakes, but you could also use any white cake recipe you like or even packaged white cake mix. The Perfect Party Cake recipe can be found in Dorie's fab book Baking: from my home to yours. Just use mini-muffin size cupcake papers and put about 2 tablespoons of the batter into each cupcake paper. The baking time is much shorter...about 8-10 minutes, but since ovens vary, check it after 6 minutes and keep checking until done.

The frosting is the one I used for my very first Daring Baker challenge...Red Velvet cake! It can be found here.
The creamy cream cheese sour cream frosting goes so well with the vanilla cakes.

The stars can be just as easily made into snowflakes. You pipe the melted white chocolate onto foil in a cross shape, then pipe two more lines as shown below:

If you want to make stars, just 'draw' it with the melted chocolate as you would with a pencil (see photos to get the idea). The shapes of both will be a little irregular, which is fine. After all each snowflake is supposed to be different from all others and some think the same is true of stars.

Snowflakes (stars) Decorations

1 ½ (3 oz) white chocolate candy bars
Silver dragees

Line a baking sheet with foil. Put the chocolate into a reseal able plastic bag, close fully, and immerse the bag in hot water until the chocolate melts. Dry the bag.

Snip a small piece from one corner of the bag of melted chocolate. Pipe as many 2-inch (or other size) snowflakes (or stars) onto the foil as possible, and decorate the points with the dragees. Place the sheet of foil with the snowflakes (or stars) in the freezer until ready to use.

Remove the snowflakes (or stars) from the freezer and gently peel off the foil. Be careful – these flakes (or stars) are fragile. Use to decorate frosted cakes, cupcakes, or cookies.