Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hoping to post a pretty special pie that we had over the holidays, but waiting for photos from my daughter for that. In the meantime this photo reminds me that sometimes to make a cake...or other nice thing...you have to break some eggs. This has been a year with a lot of egg shells but many nice things afterwards, so I guess it was worth not being sure if the yolk would run, too, or if pieces of shell would get in with the eggs or if the whites wouldn't whip up as they should.

Sweetie says I need to cut back on worrying, so that is a good goal for 2011 for me.

Do YOU have any goals for the New Year? Want to share?

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Comfort of Soup

Xam, the Bread Dog, decided that Christmas wrapping tissue is actually meant to be dog toys...and he did enjoy shredding this ball of red tissue on Christmas Day.

It's been a wonderful week! Lots of quality time with our daughter, visiting from the land of drizzle for the holidays, fun with many relatives and some friends, walks along the beach and in the redwoods and at the Laguna, a mellow day for Christmas day with rain outside all day but a lit tree and gifts and good food and laughter inside. Hope that your holidays were magical!

Now things are quieter and something simple like a good comforting soup can fill the body with warmth and even some healthy ingredients...often a missing element in the delicious but rich spreads of the holidays. The great thing about soup is that besides being easy it can use up leftovers from the feasts.

Try this one which has leeks, corn, red pepper, sliced mushrooms , red potatoes and some cooked salmon (can you guess what we had for dinner one day this week?) I used canned chicken broth but if you have home made, by all means use that. I wouldn't use turkey broth because it is too strongly flavored so you will miss what the salmon contributes to the taste. Don't forget the lemon juice to taste...it sparks the salmon flavor perfectly. If you don't have any cooked salmon, canned salmon would work, just see if you can get good sized chunks from the can and leave the bones and mushy bits for some other dish.

Salmon Corn Soup
Serves 4

1 leek, split and washed well to remove grit
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup red pepper in a small dice
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 cup chopped carrots
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (or more, to taste)
about 20 oz chicken or vegetable broth (1 1/2 cans)
2 cups red potatoes, scrubbed, cut in 1 inch dice and boiled just to tender, then drained
1 cup fresh, frozen or canned corn kernels
1/2 cup - 1 cup flaked cooked salmon
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
lemon juice to taste

Cut the leek into four lengthwise and slice into thin slices, using all of the white and some of the green parts...all of which you have washed well first. Discard the thicker outer leaves.

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute' the leeks until translucent, about 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the red pepper, mushrooms, and carrots, stir to coat with oil, and continue to cook another two minutes.

Add the thyme, salt, pepper, broth, cooked & drained potatoes and corn to the pot. Cover and heat over medium heat until heated through. Add the salmon and parsley and continue heating for a minute. Taste, add lemon juice to taste and adjust salt and pepper.

Continue to heat until hot enough to serve. Ladle into bowls and serve very hot.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Savory Rice Pie

Growing up I remember that my Mom often referred to herself as frugal...and sometime as a frugal French housewife (although she is pure Irish as far as I know) probably because she rarely let anything go to waste. Dry bread ends were cut into cubes and frozen, to be resurrected later as part of stuffing or bread pudding. The drippings of bacon grease in the pan after the bacon was cooked were saved and used later to flavor steamed green beans or grits. Similar economies were practiced daily. It's a fine quality to have as long as it doesn't go too far. Fortunately she never made head cheese.

For Thanksgiving I purchase an assortment of small, colorful squash and sugar pumpkins for decorations. Once fall turned into the Christmas season I decided to emulate my Mom and use the squash for eating now that it had done its thing as decor. This actually happened over a week ago...but it has been busy people!

The squash were each cut in half, seeds and goop scooped out, laid cut side down on an oiled piece of foil which was placed in a large baking sheet. The lot were roasted in a 425 degree F oven until tender. Once cool, I peeled the skin off each and then cut the squash meat into a small dice.

Great...very thrifty...but now what? Well, the prepared squash sat in the fridge a few days waiting for me to be inspired. Fortunately inspiration came before the squash got tired of waiting.

Rice pie...similar to Easter time savory rice pie eaten in Italy...or at least that was the inspiration.

So this totally yummy way to make good use of cooked winter squash combines rice, meatballs, milk and eggs, cheese, onions, garlic and a pie shell...and the squash. It is hearty, savory, and delicious. I served it with steamed spinach and a bowl of seasonal fruit the first time, then with a large green salad the second time...both worked really well.

You can actually make this with winter squash that you have just purchased, too. It might even be better...but not as frugal. *grin*

Savory Rice Pie with Winter Squash

½ onion, chopped
1 tablespoon olive or grapeseed oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
3 eggs
1 cup cooked rice (I cooked mine in chicken broth, but plain is fine)
1 cup evaporated milk, undiluted
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon dried basil
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups roasted squash, seeds and skin removed, diced
8 oz. meatballs – I used chicken pesto meatballs, but any kind
of prepared meatballs…or your own…are fine. They do not need to
be cooked meatballs…they cook in the pie
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 unbaked pie shell

Heat oil in a skillet and cook onions over medium-high heat, stirring often, until translucent, about 5 minutes. About one minute before the onions are done, add the garlic and stir to combine with the onions. After onions are translucent, remove from heat and cool. Once mixture is just warm, spread it in the bottom of the unbaked pie shell. Set aside.

In a medium bowl whisk together the eggs. Add the rice, milk, salt, basil, pepper, nutmeg and Parmesan cheese. Stir to combine. Gently stir in the squash until just combined. Set aside.

Place the meatballs on top of the onion mixture in the bottom of the pie shell, distributing evenly. Cover with the rice mixture. Use a spatula to even out the mixture. Sprinkle liberally with the cheese.

Bake in preheated 425 degree oven for 10 minutes, then reduce heat and bake at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes, or until set. Cool on a rack for 5 minutes, then serve.

Makes 6-8 servings.

For a vegetarian version, cook the rice in water and omit the meatballs. Add a ½ lb chopped mushrooms and another ½ tablespoon oil to the onions after the onions have cooked 2 minutes and stir well. Continue to cook the onion mixture as described. Otherwise continue to cook the recipe as written.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Cranberry Cake Slice Delight

Want a pretty cake for Christmas that is absolutely wonderful? Look no further. The Cake Slice bakers have chosen the Cranberry Cake for December’s cake. It was so good that I’ll be making it again for Christmas dinner at Sweetie’s request. The top has crispy streusel with almonds and brown sugar. The interior is soft and not too sweet, especially because the fresh cranberries give a nice tart tang to almost every bite.

Due to advancing age or something like that, I forgot on the day I made the cake that I had taken a cup of slivered blanched almonds and ground them in the food processor with 2 tablespoons brown sugar the day before. The reason? I couldn’t find sliced almonds in my pantry. SO, the day I made the cake I bought a nice big bag of sliced almonds, and when it was time to make the cake I melted the butter, added the brown sugar and sliced almonds, stirred them together…and saw the other almonds in the food processor bowl.

My solution?...Spread the sliced almond mixture on the bottom of the springform pan, put the cranberry rich batter over them and then sprinkle the streusel, made as directed, including cooling in the fridge…but with chopped slivered almonds…on top.

I’m here to tell you that this kind of senior moment is divine! This may be Sweetie’s all time favorite cake and those sliced almonds crusting the bottom are part of the appeal. I followed the recipe as written for the rest, with the exception of adding ½ teaspoon dried, ground orange peel to the flour mixture. I just love orange and cranberry flavors together! The cranberries make the cake…they add just the right amount of tartness to play up the richness of the cake and buttery almonds. I baked my cake the full hour and ten minutes, then another five minutes and the interior was still pretty soft. Turns out that it is perfect that way. The photo at the top of the post shows a slice of warm cake with the interior still pretty soft…we couldn’t wait for it to cool completely.

Make this cake! Just be sure to whip that egg sugar mixture the full five minutes, to pour in the butter in a THIN and SLOW stream, and to gently fold in the flour mixture and in parts as suggested, stopping as soon as the flour is incorporated. Taking the time to do it right yields a soft, sensuous cake with a nice crust on top. I wouldn’t be surprised if your cake disappears quickly, but if it doesn’t I can tell you that it is just as delicious three days later.

Click HERE to view other Cake Slice Bakers renditions of this delightful cake!

December’s Cake: Cranberry Cake
Makes one 10 inch round cake

Cranberry Cake(Recipe from Cake Keeper Cakes by Lauren Chattman)

For the Streusel
1 cup sliced almonds
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 tbsp light brown sugar
(this is the mixture, uncooled, that I put on the bottom of the pan…see notes above)

2nd Streusel
1 cup blanched slivered almonds, chopped in a food processor with
2 tbsp light brown sugar, then mixed in a bowl with
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted, and then all of it chilled until cold
(this is the mixture I used for streusel on top of the cake batter)

For the Cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp dried ground orange peel
3 eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
¾ cup (1½ sticks) butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 bag (12 ounces) fresh cranberries

Method – Streusel
Heat the oven to 300F. Grease a 10inch round springform pan.
Combine first Streusel mixture in a bowl and, once combined, sprinkle over bottom of greased springform pan. Set pan aside.

2nd Streusel
Combine the butter, chopped almonds and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Work the mixture between your fingers to form large crumbs. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Method – Cake
Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt and dried ground orange peel (if using) in a medium bowl. Combine the eggs and granulated sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium high speed until the mixture is lightened and increased in volume, about 5 minutes.

With the mixer on low speed, add the butter in a slow stream. Turn the mixer to medium speed and beat for another 2 minutes. Stir in the vanilla.

Gently but thoroughly fold in the flour mixture, half a cup at a time. Then stir in the cranberries.
Scrape the butter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula. Sprinkle the streusel over the batter. Bake the cake until it is golden and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean, about 1 hour to 1hour 10minutes.

Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Release the sides of the pan and use a large spatula to slide the cake from the pan bottom onto the wire rack. Cool completely before cutting into wedges and serving.

Store uneaten cake in a cake keeper or wrap in plastic and store at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas Strong Bread

Most of my adult life I've been an explorer of sorts, almost always ready to try something new, to learn a new skill, read a new book, look at something in a new way. Success has not always followed, but I learn from my mistakes, too, so they are valuable in their own way.

For the last half year or so the impetus to try new things has hibernated while I worked on getting a handle on what I really want...probably easy for some people but lately a struggle for me. Not too surprisingly to those who know us, top of the list of what I really want is to be with Sweetie. Since I turned into a bit of a shrew during the bathroom project it's good to know that he still feels the same way and he is happy that I've returned to being the loving and mostly reasonable woman who was hard to find during the summer and fall. The optimistic office worker has also resurfaced perhaps because there are new tasks to master and a change of venue coming up.

So 'what does all this have to do with food blogging?' you ask...it means I'm back to looking for the enjoyment of challenges in the kitchen...and my first High Five entry in quite a while. As you may or may not remember, Lynn, known in the blogosphere as Cookie Baker Lynn, challenged us last winter to stretch ourselves in the kitchen, blog about it and then let her know our High Five accomplishment. The idea was to do one a month. Hahahahahaha. Great idea, but hasn't happened.

My High Five this time is for baking Pan Forte di Siena, a sort of Tuscan fruitcake with a honey base. I've seen it at the specialty stores for an absurd amount of money for a small wedge and was sure that I could make it myself. Still, there is an awful lot of costly ingredients in this 'strong bread' so I was a little nervous about making it...it IS very different from anything I've made before.

For starters I scoured the Internet for recipes, looked at suggested techniques and proportions, then put together my own recipe with what I like and had on hand. The basic unit of measurement for my version is 3/4 cup. The toasted nuts add up to a double of 3/4 cup. The dried fruit is the same. The dry ingredients combined equals 3/4 cup and you use 3/4 cup each of sugar and honey for the syrup that binds it all together.

This cake/bread uses no oil other than to butter the pan and parchment and it has no eggs either. The syrup is boiled to a soft ball stage in all the recipes I looked at and almost all baked it in a low oven for about 30 minutes. There is far more fruit and nuts than 'cake' in pan forte (and it has no resemblance to Aunt Hattie's fruitcake brick).

This pan forte is a thin cake filled with fruit, nuts and spices with a lovely honey-citrus note. A little goes a long way, so you can see why this was historically considered the Crusaders Power Bar. There are versions with figs and walnuts, too. If you have made candied orange peel you will probably want to increase the amount of orange peel and decrease the citron. Dates would work in this, too, and pine nuts would be great for some of the nuts. Just keep the 3/4 cup and 1 1/2 cup proportions.

Pan Forte is available year round now but used to be one of the treats of the Yuletide in Italy, especially in Sienna. This is not a difficult recipe, although prepping the dried fruit and roasting the nuts takes some time. Sweetie and Straight Shooter assure me that it was well worth the time. Try it yourself and you, too, can have a High Five from Lynn!

Pan Forte di Siena

1 ½ cups toasted nut…mix of whole almonds and slivered almonds and chopped hazelnuts
½ cup diced citron
½ cup diced apricots & ½ cup diced dried cherries
2 tablespoons diced candied orange peel
zest of 1 lemon and zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon each: cloves, nutmeg, cardamom
pinch of pepper
½ cup flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup honey
2-3 tablespoons almond meal or ground almonds
parchment paper

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Butter a 9” springform pan, line bottom with parchment paper, butter that, sprinkle on the almond meal or ground almonds evenly & set pan aside.

In a bowl mix together the nuts, citron, apricots, candied peel, citrus zest, spices, flour and cocoa.

In a heavy pot stir together the sugar and honey. Over low heat, stirring constantly, melt the honey and sugar together. Increase heat to medium high. Stop stirring and let cook until mixture reaches 245 degrees F (soft ball stage), using a wet pastry brush to wash down the sides of the pot to keep crystals from forming. When soft ball stage is reached remove pan from heat and pour mixture into dry ingredients, stir it all together quickly to combine all ingredients. Pour mixture into the prepared pan and using slightly wet hands smooth the top. Work quickly as mixture hardens fast.

Bake in preheated oven for ½ hour - 35 minutes with pan set on rimmed cookie sheet.

Set on a rack to cool. When cool remove from pan, invert and remove the parchment paper. Invert again and sift liberally with confectioners’ sugar. Serve in small slices. To store wrap twice in plastic wrap and then in foil and store at room temperature.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

New Information and Some I Forgot

The Bread Baking Babes will have their third anniversary in February... and we need your help.

Dream your biggest, bestest dream of what bread you would like us to bake in February...and send it by December 29th to the Babe for that month, our dear Tanna of My Kitchen in Half Cups. Just e-mail the recipe or suggestion (including recipe is best) to her. One per person.
Remember thats DECEMBER 29th...coming soon. Actually you can send a suggestion up through January 7th!! Please do...we would love to bake YOUR suggestion!

Here is what Tanna said (includes her address):

"February is our BBB three years.
We’d love to have you pick the BBB bread to bake for that month.
If you will send me your recipe suggestions - only one per person please -
send to:
comments my kitchen at mac dot com
you know to leave out spaces and about the dot
put February Anniversary Bread in the subject line
by December 29 ."

The 'I forgot' part is that when I posted my cute taralli for the December Bread Baking Babes post, I forgot to include the invitiation to be a Buddy and bake them too. The recipe is on my blog and at our kitchen of the month for December, Ilva of Lucullian Delights. Again, you have until DECEMBER 29th to bake the taralli, post about them and send an e-mail to ILVA
(luculliandelights AT gmail DOT com, please write Bread Baking Buddy in the subject line)

so she can send you a Buddy badge and include you in the round-up of the Buddies.

Since the dates are the same, you could be a Buddy AND help us celebrate THREE years of BBB wonderfulness! Aren't you excited? GO big dear reader.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Italian Snacks for December Babes

Welcome to the December Bread Baking Babes challenge as baked by Elle. The babes are lucky this month. Ilva of Lucullian Delights, our kitchen on the month, has challenged us to replicate a delicious Italian snack, the Taralli Pugliesi. The savory little ovals are boiled and then baked like bagels and taste a bit like bagels and a bit like pretzels and a bit like breadsticks. I warn you, they are addictive, especially if you pair them with a glass of wine and, in my case, a handsome husband who was willing to let me eat the last one!

These are really simple to make. I’m going to make them again for Christmas Day nibbling, probably with some added black pepper and some Parmesan cheese. They would probably also be good with some herbs added or a bit of dried lavender and some sweet wine. I used a combination of egg and white wine when I made them which worked well. I did find that I had to bake them longer and at a higher temperature once I found out that even 30 minutes at 200 degrees F wasn’t sufficient. Then I looked at the recipe and saw that I was supposed to use 390 degrees F! No wonder they didn’t brown at the lower temperature. Another 15 minutes at 400 degrees F did the trick.

Taralli Pugliesi
adapted from Anna Marie Gostti Della Salda’s monumental food bible Le ricette regionali italiane.

tepid water
12.5 g /.45 oz fresh yeast (I used a packet of rapid rise dry yeast and it seemed to be fine)200 g / 7 oz. extra virgin olive oil
1 egg
¼ cup dry white wine
1 kg/ 2.2 lb flour (I used all-purpose and it was fine)
1 tsp salt

Dissolve the yeast in 2 tablespoons of tepid water.

Whisk together the olive oil, egg, and dry white wine.

In a bowl whisk together the flour and salt. Add the liquid. Start working the dough (I stirred with a wooden spoon) and add small amounts of tepid water until you have a firm but pliable dough. (I turned the dough out onto a lightly floured board and kneaded it once the dough came together in the bowl.)

Start rolling 10 – 12 cm long ropes that are as thick as your little finger and pinch the ends together to make an oval. Put the taralli on a parchment paper. Cover with a towel and leave them to rest about 20 minutes.

Turn on the oven to 200 degrees C / 390 degrees F.

While the taralli are resting, bring water to a boil in a large pot.

Once taralli have rested 20 minutes or so, drop 3 - 4 into simmering water. When they surface, scoop them out of the water with a slotted spoon and let dry on a kitchen towel or a rack.

Once all of the taralli have been boiled and dried, put them on baking sheets lined with parchment paper and bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes. Try them to see if they are baked. They should be golden brown and crusty and not soft in the middle.

Cool on a rack, pile into a bowl or basket and enjoy.

This wonderful little bread is going to Susan of Wild Yeast's wonderful weekly Yeastspotting event. If you want to find the perfect yeasted bread to bake or to get ideas of recipes using yeasted breads, do check out Yeastspotting...it has great archives, too!

Speaking of inspiration, do use the links at right to visit the other Babes to see their renditions of these cute snacks. Some used the fennel that was optional...I'm afraid I'm not a big fennel fan except in sausages. Lots of cute taralli out there!

Last, but NOT least, for the Babes THIRD anniversary in February we will be baking a bread suggested by a reader. Dear reader, this means you. Just send me an e-mail at elle (dot)lachman (at)gmail (dot)com and, if at all possible, include the recipe in the body of the e-mail or as an attachment. The bread YOU suggest might be our Anniversary recipe!!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Fa La La - La La La

There is no way around it...the holiday season is in full swing. Instead of three calling birds, we had three Christmas parties this week, although the cioppino feed on Thursday wasn't officially a Christmas party, although there were Christmas decorations all over the house :)

For the hostess of one of the parties this past weekend I baked a small loaf of banana bread enriched with walnuts and dates. Just to make sure that it wasn't terrible; Sweetie and I had some of a matching loaf for lunch. It is a variation of a recipe of my Mom's in the Family Food book. Instead of 1/2 cup vegetable oil, I used 4 tablespoons softened butter and 4 tablespoons olive oil. Once you creamed it with the sugar you couldn't really taste the olive oil...partly because I used a very mild flavored one. The dates were cut into a medium dice and the walnuts were chopped. The bananas were mashed with a fork which allows you to keep the perfect amount of chunkiness in the fruit. I baked up four small loaves from the recipe, each the perfect size for two.

Banana Bread with Dates and Walnuts
Based on Mom’s banana nut bread in Family Food

4 tablespoons softened unsalted butter
¼ cup olive oil
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
3 ripe bananas (or 2 large), peeled and mashed
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon wheat germ
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup buttermilk
½ - ¾ cup chopped walnuts
½ - ¾ cup chopped dates

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cream the butter, add the olive oil and the sugar and continue to cream for about a minute.
Add eggs, mashed bananas and beat to combine.

Sift together the flours, wheat germ, baking powder and baking soda and salt.
Add sifted dry ingredients to the creamed butter-egg-banana mixture, along with the vanilla and buttermilk. Mix just until combined.

Fold in the walnuts and dates to combine thoroughly.

Divide batter among four small greased and floured bread pans (each about 5 ½” x 2 ¾” x 1 ¾”) or put all the batter into one greased and floured 9” x 5”x 3” loaf pan.

Bake in preheated oven about 35 minutes for small loaves or about 1 hour for the large loaf. When done a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with only a few crumbs on it.

Cool well and store overnight before cutting (Right, THAT happens! Never…banana bread smells too good to wait that long.)

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Fingers to Nibble

When my daughter was little my youngest brother came to visit and she was delighted with his playfulness. At one point he was teasing her that he was going to nibble her little toes...or maybe fingers, so she called him Uncle the Wolf. I guess she decided that she was Red Riding Hood. He still has a delightful sense of humor but I'm not sure that anyone else calls him the Wolf.

If you are in the mood to nibble some fingers, these chicken fingers are highly recommended by Sweetie. One of the nice things about them is that they are baked, not fried, so are fairly healthy. I was talking with my sis Natasha while I was making these so I completely missed the part about spraying the fingers with cooking spray. I did spray the rack both sides and had no trouble removing the fingers once they were cooked, so maybe the cooking spray isn't needed. With it you might have a crispier finish to the coating...ours was on the soft side, but very tasty anyway. That'll teach me to skip a step in the instructions! I had the last of them today for lunch (thats why the tangerine is in the photo) with no dipping sauce and they were just fine that way. They are very flavorful!

The dipping sauce calls for horseradish and I don't care for it, so I subbed cayenne pepper and that worked out well. They would probably also be fine with plain old bottled barbecue sauce, too.
The cute fingers are likely to be gobbled up by your kids ...and adults will love 'em too.

Baked Chicken Fingers with Pecans
From Southern Living Cookbook 2008

16 saltine crackers, finely crushed
½ cup pecans, toasted and ground
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons paprika
4 (6 oz) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 egg whites
Vegetable cooking spray
Honey-Mustard Dip

Stir together cracker crumbs, ground pecans, salt, pepper, paprika. Place in shallow dish or pie pan. Set aside.

Cut each breast half into 4 strips.

Whisk egg white until frothy; dip chicken strips into egg white, and dredge in saltine mixture.

Coat a metal rack with cooking spray and place in a broiler pan. Coat each chicken strip on each side with cooking spray; arrange on rack.

Bake in preheated 425 degree oven for 18 – 20 minutes or until browned.

Serve with Honey-Mustard Dip.

Honey-Mustard Dip
½ cup plain nonfat yogurt
¼ cup coarse-grained mustard
¼ cup honey
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish or 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
Stir together all ingredients. Refrigerate any leftovers.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Merry Cherry Bread

I found a wonderful bread book, The Festive Bread Book by Kathy Cutler, in a secnodhand book shop and immediately fell in love. There are so many seasonal festive breads in this book and some nice photos to inspire you.

The section for the Christmas season is, naturally, the largest. Today I took one of the recipes and changed it a bit, eliminating some of the spices, adding almond extract, and using cherry jam and cherries as a filling. One of the biggest chaanges was coiling the ropes of filled dough instead of braiding them. With the rainy weather we have been having, the snails are out in force in the garden, so this bread shape was an easy one to think of. Since the bread rises in the center higher thanat the sides, it also looks a bit like a bee hive.

This would makde a great bread for Christmastime eating...or the rest of the year when you want a sweet bread that isn't too sweet and has the added benefit of nice sweet-sour cherries.

I'm going to send this over to Susas at Wild Yeast for her Yeastspotting event...this week devoted to Holiday breads. Do visit her site to see fabulous breads!

Sourdough Cherry Almond Coil

¾ cup warm water (not over 110 degrees F)
½ cup sourdough starter
4 – 4 ½ cups flour (I used bread flour)
1 stick butter at room temperature
½ cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon almond extract
½ teaspoon lemon peel
2/3 cup sliced almonds
about ½ cup cherry preserves
about ¼ cup prepared sour cherries, drained
1 tablespoon milk
2 cups confectioners’ sugar or to taste

Combine warm water, sourdough starter, and 2 cups flour in a large bowl. Cover and leave on counter overnight at room temperature.

The next day, in the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter, sugar and egg yolks together. Add 1 cup flour, salt, nutmeg, almond extract and lemon peel. Mix to combine. Add the sourdough mixture and mix thoroughly to combine. Add enough remaining flour to make a soft dough. Knead in mixer or on a lightly flour surface until smooth – about 10 minutes.

Divide dough into thirds. Roll each, one at a time, into a 14 – 16 inch rope. Use your fingers to flatten the rope about 4 inches wide. Down the center of the long oval spoon a thin line of preserves and then place the cherries down the line. Using fingers moistened with water, moisten along one long side of the oval. Pick up the opposite long side, a little at a time and fold toward the center, overlapping the filling, then, using the other hand, pull the moistened long side over that, pinching to seal. Continue down the long sides of the oval. Pinch the ends to seal. When all three ropes have been filled and sealed, beginning in the middle of a silicon mat or parchment lined large baking sheet, coil the ropes like a snail shell or coil or rope, pinching the ends together as you go and tucking the last end under the loaf.

Place a piece of parchment over the loaf, then a damp tea towel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Toward the end of the hour preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Remove tea towel and parchment. Bake in preheated oven for about an hour, or until golden brown, turning the baking sheet around about half way through the hour of baking time.

Remove from oven and let cool on a rack. When cool, mix together the milk and confectioners’ sugar to make a glaze or drizzle and use to glaze or decorate the loaf. Let the glaze or drizzle dry and the loaf cool completely before serving. (If you like you can decorate the glaze or drizzle with more sliced almonds.)

Makes 1 large loaf. (You could also shape the three filled ropes into a braid and continue the rest as written.)

Happy Holidays! XO Elle

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hearty Beef Stew

There are certain dishes that evoke fond childhood memories...that fresh coconut birthday cake or crescent cookies and rum balls at Christmas or Dad's hush puppies with fried fish in the summer.

This beef stew is such a recipe. It was a favorite for dinner when it had been snowing all day and we had been out sledding with our friends. There was a hill down by the creek that was a favorite...easy to climb but a good swift ride down and a nice long flat area at the end to slow down in. Returning home with chilled fingers and toes and a nose that would do Rudolph the Reindeer proud it was so red, it was great to open the door and smell the rich aroma of beef and potatoes and onions. Usually we would have biscuits, too, so the kitchen would be warm from the oven being on. Even if it was my turn to set the table I didn't mind...we were having stew!

A good stew is thick and hearty and loaded with good things. The long simmering tenderizes the beef chuck (which is not the most tender of cuts) and you can even do as I do and make the first part, with just the meat, onions and seasonings and water, and then refrigerate it overnight to allow the flavors to blend. The next day allow some time for it to reheat, then continue on with the recipe.

This one is my Mom's recipe and, good frugal housewife that she is, she adds leftovers whenever possible...all those small containers and plastic bags of corn or carrots or green beans or peas (to name the most popular ones) thaat have been hiding out in the fridge now have a place to go...but you can just add about 3 cups of mixed cooked or frozen vegetables of your choice. This makes a stew that is all about the beef flavor, but it isn't spicy. If you like some heat in your stew, add some cayenne or pepper sauce if you must, but try it without first...you may decide that it's perfect as written. Must be those childhood memories again, but I wouldn't change a thing!

BTW the photo is not top notch but I'm at work when there is daylight, which is what I try to use for photos. Trust me, it tastes even better than it looks!

Beef Stew
From Family Food

2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1 ½ -inch cubes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 clove garlic
1 medium onion, sliced
1 -2 bay leaves
a dash of allspice or cloves
4 cups boiling water
6 carrots
6 Idaho potatoes
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 small can white onions or ½ bag frozen small white onions
leftover vegetables or frozen mixed vegetables
Flour and water paste to thicken gravy

Brown the meat in the fat. (If you wipe the cubes with a paper towel first they will brown more easily and spatter less.) Cook the meat in batches, removing browned meat to a bowl until all are browned. Remove any excess fat and return all the meat to the pot. (I use a large enameled cast iron Dutch Oven to cook the stew but any large pot with lid is fine.)

Add Worcestershire sauce, garlic, onion, bay leaves, allspice or cloves, and the boiling water to the meat in the pot. Cover, bring to a simmer and simmer 2 hours. Remove bay leaves.
Add the carrots, and the potatoes, both of which have been cut into bite sized pieces. Cook, covered, until carrots and potatoes are tender. Add the onions and any leftover vegetables desired. ( If no leftover veggies are available, add some frozen mixed vegetables or any cooked vegetables you like. I usually add at least 3 cups of veggies.)

Cover and heat through. Make a paste of flour and water to thicken the gravy. Add to the stew and simmer until thickened. (I usually use ¼ cup flour and an equal amount of cold water to make the paste, but you may want to experiment to get the kind of gravy thickness you like. I also removed some of the cooked potatoes this time and mashed them, then returned them to the pot for an even thicker stew.)

Serves 6 -8.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Tender Flaky Biscuits

It's been downright chilly around here. Had to move my geraniums under cover on the porch because of the heavy frost that comes during the night. The photo above is a true winter sunset taken on the way home from work. Clear and cold!

When the evenings are chilly, a good beef stew warms you up and is hearty enough that I didn't even want to snack last night once I'd had some. I used the family recipe which I will post in a day or so. Then I made biscuits from scratch, something that I haven't done for ages.

Look at these tender, flaky biscuits! By using self-rising flour they go together very quickly. Since they bake in a pretty hot oven (400 degrees F.) they bake up fairly quickly, too. The whole process takes less than a half hour.

Never made biscuits from scratch? I warn you that you might never go back to the kind in the can in the refrigerator section of your grocery store. These taste sooooo much better!

The only trick to making these is to use a light hand. Cut in the shortening (or butter if you are feeling decadent...it works just fine)gently, and stir in the milk or buttermilk just enough to combine. These are NOT beaten biscuits. My mother taught us that a good way to shape them is to roll the dough out thinner than you want (again, gently), then fold the dough over itself, roll just a bit more, then cut out with biscuit cutter or a glass. I use a straight sided wine glass...the stem makes it easy to hold!

Biscuits Mom's Way
From Family Food, 1994

3 cups sifted self-rising flour (do not use all-purpose flour)
1/2 cup cold butter or room-temperature shortening (like Crisco)
1 to 1/2 cups milk or buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut the shortening into the flour until consistency of coarse meal using a pastry blender or two knives. Add enough milk to make a soft dough. Turn out onto lightly floured surface; knead gently about ten strokes to form into a ball. Roll to a little less than 1/2 of the thickness desired in finished biscuit. Fold half of dough over the other half. Roll to 1/2 the thickness desired in the finished biscuit. Cut with a floured biscuit cutter (or glass).

Place on baking sheet. Leave about an inch between biscuits. No need to grease the baking sheet.
Bake in preheated oven for 12 - 15 minutes until golden brown.

Makes about 14 2" biscuits.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Musings at a Funeral

I attended a memorial service yesterday for a good man who was a volunteer fire fighter with our local fire association, a exemplary father, husband, grandfather and friend to many. While standing outside the chapel with the crowd of people who came to honor him...so many that we couldn't all fit inside...I thought, off and on, of some of the funerals and memorials I've attended over the years. This isn't a food post at all BTW...so you can skip to the next blog today if that's what you are looking for. Will probably be back to food in a day or so.

These kinds of memorial services really are for those left behind by the dearly departed. They give the family support through crushing grief, they give the community an opportunity to honor people like Walt who live their family values daily, who give us their time and expect little in return. The thing that most struck me is that a repetition of these memorial gatherings, time after time, creates a sort of shared bond...the attendees change but honoring the dead strengthens our ties to friends, family and strangers alike. It is part of the notion of community.

It is a physical reality, something that is needed even more in these days when the ephemeral Internet connection has become the standard for relationships with acquaintances, sometimes replacing the chat over the back fence or chance meeting in the produce section of the local market. Walt was a great one for chatting over the fence between our place and the fire station and he always had something nice to say.

The gathering at a memorial creates moments that are shared and which are memorable. Yesterday that included shared tears as the young granddaughter spoke of her Pappa (and that she was his monkey and that she would miss him) and those tears drew the crowd together. You cold hear people sniffling and see them wiping their eyes.
The sweet plaintive notes of the bugle at the end of Taps hung on the air. That shared experience, for that moment, broke down the walls between strangers. Due to my own loss I have found memorials and funerals to be extraordinarily difficult to attend, but now I can see the band of connection...from one service to another...between the people who have come to honor the ones we have lost. Maybe the next time it will be easier now that I can think of it that way. This might not be making too much sense to you, dear reader, but with luck you won't have to test it out any time soon.

And so the connections hold. Yesterday's service was held in the same chapel at the cemetary where we buried our son. It was expected that memories would rush in, but it ended up being a comforting thing for me to experience. Walt was an exemplary member of Gold Ridge and a fine human being. My son was also a fine human being. Here is a tip of the hat to Walt and to Max, and to the friends and loved ones honored in between.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Apple Cake with a French Flair

Apples are one of the joys of the fall. Sweet or tart, crisp and juicy, red, green, yellow and pink, apples might just be the perfect food. They can be eaten out of hand without any preparation except being washed or you can make any number of dishes with them.

As my contribution to the Thanksgiving feast at a family dinner I chose to make Marie Helene’s Apple Cake. To serve the large group I doubled the recipe and baked it in a well-buttered 9-inch springform pan instead of in the 8-inch one called for in the recipe.

This a very French cake…simple but elegant for a dinner party. This apple cake is moist and mellow and not too sweet. It’s rich with butter and hauntingly fragrant with rum, vanilla and apple scents as well as that of butter. When you cut a wedge to serve, you can see the tender filling and the layers of apple chunks or slices. It really doesn’t need anything added but some cinnamon ice cream was suggested by Dorie Greenspan. The recipe came from her book, Around My French Table, which I borrowed from the library. I may have to ask Santa to buy it for a Christmas present…it is another winner, just like Baking: from my home to yours, a true masterpiece by Dorie Greenspan.

Hope you and all those you love had a great Thanksgiving if you celebrate that feast…or a fine fall day if you don’t. Either way, you might want to try this lovely, barely sweet cake the next time you feel in the mood for an apple dessert. Sweetie usually isn’t thrilled with apple dishes but he loved this cake! I used Fuji, Pink Lady, Honey crisp, and Braeburn apples.

The original recipe is given first. It serves 8. To make the larger cake, use the amounts listed at the end of the recipe, the larger spring form pan, and bake longer….for 80-90 minutes. After 50 minutes of baking in the center of the oven, I put the larger cake on the next lower rack, laid a sheet of foil on top, very loosely, and continued to bake it, checking at 65 minutes, 75 minutes, 85 minutes and finally seeing that it was done at 90 minutes. Your oven may vary, so checking it often (inserting thin knife to see if it comes out clean)is a good idea. You don't want to over cook the cake. Bon App├ętit!

Marie Helene’s Apple Cake
From Around My French Table, by Dorie Greenspan

¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
4 large apples (different kinds if possible)
2 large eggs
¾ cup sugar
3 tablespoons dark rum
½ teaspoon vanilla
8 tablespoons (1 stick)melted & cooled

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place oven rack in center. Generously butter an 8-inch round spring form pan. Place a Silpat mat or piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet and put the spring form pan on it. Set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a bowl. Set aside.

Peel the apples. Cut them in half. Use a melon baller to remove the seed area and a sharp knife to remove the rest of the cores. Cut the apples into 1 -2 inch chunks, or use a food processor or knife to slice thinly. Set aside.

In a medium bowl whisk the eggs until foamy. Pour in the sugar 3-4 tablespoons at a time and whisk a minute or so to blend. Whisk in the rum and vanilla. Whisk in half the flour mixture and, when it is incorporated, half the melted butter. When that is incorporated, whisk in the rest of the flour mixture, followed by the rest of the butter, mixing gently after each addition so that you have a smooth, rather thick batter. Switch to a rubber or silicon spatula and fold in the apples, turning the fruit so that it’s coated with batter. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and move it around a bit with the spatula so that it’s evenish.

Bake for 50 – 60 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean. The cake may pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 5 minutes.

Carefully run a blunt knife around the edges of the cake and slowly and carefully remove the sides of the pan. Allow the cake to cool until it is just slightly warm or at room temperature. If you want to remove the cake from the bottom of the spring form pan, wait until the cake is almost cooled., then run a long spatula between the cake and the pan, cover the top of the cake with a piece of parchment or wax paper, and invert it onto a rack. Carefully remove the bottom of the pan and turn the cake over onto a serving dish.

Makes 8 servings. The cake can be served warm or at room temperature. Served with a spoonful of cinnamon ice cream is one suggestion, but it is lovely by itself.

The cake will keep for about 2 days at room temperature. Leave the cake on its plate and just press a piece of plastic wrap or wax paper against the cut surfaces.

Ingredients for the larger cake:
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
8 large apples
4 large eggs
1.5 cups sugar
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons rum
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 sticks butter, melted & cooled

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place oven rack in center. Generously butter a 9-inch spring form pan. I lined the whole inside of the pan with heavy duty foil, snipping off any foil that came over the top of the pan, then I used the back of a spoon to smooth the foil as much as possible before generously buttering all of the foil. Place a Silpat mat or piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet and put the spring form pan on it. Set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a bowl. Set aside.

Peel the apples. Cut them in half. Use a melon baller to remove the seed area and a sharp knife to remove the rest of the cores. Cut the apples into 1 -2 inch chunks, or use a food processor or knife to slice thinly. Set aside.

In a large bowl whisk the eggs until foamy. Pour in the sugar 3-4 tablespoons at a time and whisk a minute or so to blend. Whisk in the rum and vanilla. Whisk in half the flour mixture and, when it is incorporated, half the melted butter. When that is incorporated, whisk in the rest of the flour mixture, followed by the rest of the butter, mixing gently after each addition so that you have a smooth, rather thick batter. Switch to a rubber or silicon spatula and fold in the apples, turning the fruit so that it’s coated with batter. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and move it around a bit with the spatula so that it’s evenish.

Bake for 80 - 90 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean (Check starting at about 70 - 75 minutes and keep checking for doneness). The cake may pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 5 minutes.

Carefully run a blunt knife around the edges of the cake and slowly and carefully remove the sides of the pan. Allow the cake to cool until it is just slightly warm or at room temperature. If you want to remove the cake from the bottom of the spring form pan, wait until the cake is almost cooled., then run a long spatula between the cake and the pan, cover the top of the cake with a piece of parchment or wax paper, and invert it onto a rack. Carefully remove the bottom of the pan and turn the cake over onto a serving dish.

Double recipe serves about 14. The cake can be served warm or at room temperature. Served with a spoonful of cinnamon ice cream is one suggestion, but it is lovely by itself.

The cake will keep for about 2 days at room temperature. Leave the cake on its plate and just press a piece of plastic wrap or wax paper against the cut surfaces.

Takes the Cake

Had a fine Thanksgiving yesterday...hope your day was wonderful, too! Was asked to do dessert so I made the French apple cake in Dorie Greenspan's new book Around My French Table. It is a winner!

Will be back later today with a post that includes the original recipe and my version, which was basically just doubling the recipe since there were 11 at the feast last evening.

A big thank you to our host and hostess who do a magnificent job with a comfortable home, great libations, a well-set table and a discerning selection of guests. One of the results is fantastic food and conversation, but the best part is spending time with them and the high volume of laughter around the wine country table.

XO Elle

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ideas for YOUR Feast

The most common complaint, or at least comment, that I hear after Thanksgiving or other food related family gatherings is "I'm so full I can't eat another thing", and then we bring out the dessert and everyone finds rooms for just a little more. Why do we do this? Well the essence of hospitality in many cultures is to provide far more than enough food when you entertain.

Now that we have clearly entered the time of year when the groaning board is expected, anticipated with delight, and set up proudly by hosts and hostesses, here are some ideas from past posts to help you exceed expectations and create an even more festive holiday meal.

Some of these are simple but satisfying, like the pear-cranberry crisp. Some are quite traditional, like the Stuffing recipe from my Family Food cookbook. Some are over the top like the Pumpkin Pie Spectacular...your family and friends will be very impressed...and grateful...if you make it.

No matter what you serve, here's wishing you and yours very happy holidays!
XO Elle

Holiday Recipes from Soup to Nuts:

Soups -Butternut Squash Soup http://feedingmyenthusiasms.blogspot.com/2006/11/soup-shared-with-friends.html - Very seasonal, smooth and delicious!- Pumpkin Spinach and Rice Soup http://feedingmyenthusiasms.blogspot.com/2010/10/frost-is-on-pumpkin.html - Simple to make and very warming, plus the flavor combination is great!

Salad - This one is perfect for this time of year - Paula's Winter Salad has greens and oranges and raisins and it's a composed salad so you can make it ahead.


I'm not going to do a roast turkey recipe because Butter Ball does such a great job with that. I will, however, give you my favorite STUFFING recipe! Click HERE.

Side Dishes - The all time favorite, and one which is requested often, is a savory combination of wild and brown rice with the tang of cranberries. It goes REALLY well with roast turkey, but is great with pork roast, roasted chicken and roasted duck. Click HERE for a great seasonal side dish.

Still in the cranberry frame of mind? Try Cranberry Pear Sauce with your meal. It uses fresh cranberries which are plentiful most places this time of year. It's a bit like a chutney since it has some vinegar to offset the brown sugar.

It makes a great condiment with left over turkey, too. Click HERE for the recipe.

Looking for a healthy veggie side dish? Try Chard and Spinach with Onions, Currants and Lemon Zest. The flavors are clean and lively which is a nice counterpoint to the richness of other dishes on the groaning board. Find the recipe by clicking HERE.

Now it's time for my favorite part of the meal...dessert!

If you really want to WOW everyone, make Pumpkin Pie Spectacular with Gingersnap Crust. It takes pumpkin pie to the next level and really isn't too much more difficult than regular pumpkin pie. Click HERE to find the recipe.

Maybe you want to go with something seasonal but a little less rich? Try Pear Cranberry Crisp, maybe with a scoop of frozen yogurt added to each bowl when served. The crisp recipe is HERE.

With pomegranates all the rage, you might want to try a tart that uses pomegranate juice to make a fruit curd for the filling and is also used to poach pears for the topping. It's unusual and delicious. Click HERE for the Pomegranate Lemon Tart with Poached Pears.

Last, but not least, HERE is a recipe for a Mosaic Nut Tart (see, nuts came at the end as promised and the photo is at the top of the post) that is similar to pecan pie, but just a little different. Dollop on some whipped cream and enjoy a sweet slice...maybe as you watch the last Bowl game of the day?

If you enjoy any of these recipes and have the time, come back and let me know, OK? Always fun to share and rewarding to know that others liked 'em.