Sunday, February 28, 2010

Butternut Squash Calzone with Sage and Leeks

A week has passed since my last blog post (over at the Bread Baker's Dog), which isn't surprising to me. I don't know how all you full-time working people, especially ones with children, too, find the time to blog and take gorgeous photos and everything. I worked every day this week, but not full days on Monday and Friday and I still seemed to not have a spare moment for blogging, nor the energy. My hat is off to y'all who do it all!

The garden has also been calling. Seeds were pre-sprouted over a week ago and were finally put into soil filled little cells yesterday. Today some had already sprouted above the soil! The sugar snap peas sprouted more quickly, so they were tucked into soil filled paper coffee cups mid-week and will be ready to plant by this Wednesday...if I can find the time.

Yesterday and today were full of shopping for plants weeding, planting seedlings and sowing a few seeds directly into soil outside.

There is still a whole lot of weeding to do while the ground is still soaked...they come up much easier...and then mulch to put down. Plum trees are blossoming and spring seems to be coming. I know that there is deep snow in many parts of the country and world, but I am a spoiled Calgirl who expects spring flowers in mid-February.

Also woke early this morning and went west to the beach. There was a very high tide today and big surf so lots of surfers were having fun in the water. Going places with Sweetie is always the best and we both love Doran beach. Xam would have like it better with less surf...too much noise.

Since not much cooking or baking of note has been going on, I'm going to post a dish that I baked over a month ago. Sometimes good things come with time :)

Squash is a vegetable that I love, both summer squash and winter squash. Butternut squash is a favorite because of the deep orange color, mellow taste, and because once you prepare the whole squash, you have a lot of ready to cook with deliciousness at hand.

You can read about the other things I made with the squash here. That is also the post where I give tips for roasting halves of butternut squash.

This calzone was inspired by a pizza I had at a restaurant in January. It combines squash, pancetta, cheese and sage. I also added sauteed leeks that I cooked down with a splash of white wine. With pizza dough both over and under it seemed like a good idea to boost the flavor elements of the filling. I didn't have any pancetta and do believe that it would have been even better with the intense and savory flavor pancetta provides. I used some crisp cooked bacon instead and it was delicious but mellower. You can also eliminate the bacon/pancetta for a vegetarian version.

If you don't have a pizza stone bake this n a parchment lined baking sheet or jelly roll pan turned upside down and placed in the lower part of your oven. Just watch either way to make sure the bottom crust doesn't burn.

BASIC PIZZA DOUGH ~ To Use for Calzone
Original recipe for the dough taken from “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart.

Makes 12 calzone or 6 pizza (9-12 inch) crusts
4 1/2 Cups (20 1/4 ounces/607.5 g) Unbleached high-gluten (%14) bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled
1 3/4 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Instant yeast
1/4 Cup (2 ounces/60g) Olive oil or vegetable oil (both optional, but it’s better with)
1 3/4 Cups (14 ounces/420g or 420ml) Water, ice cold (40° F/4.5° C)
1 Tb sugar
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting


1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).
2. Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.

NOTE: If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour, so that it clears the sides. If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water.
The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50°-55° F/10°-13° C.

3. Flour a work surface or counter. Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper.

4. With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 12 equal pieces for calzone(or 6 pieces if you want to make pizzas).
NOTE: To avoid the dough from sticking to the scraper, dip the scraper into water between cuts.

5. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Gently round each piece into a ball.
NOTE: If the dough sticks to your hands, then dip your hands into the flour again.

6. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.

7. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to thee days.
NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil (a few tablespoons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make calzone, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.

8. On the day you plan to eat calzone, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.

9. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F/260° C).
NOTE: If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan.

Note: In case you would be having trouble rolling the dough or if the dough never wants to expand and always springs back, let it rest for approximately 5-20 minutes in order for the gluten to relax fully,then try again.

On a lightly floured surface roll each dough ball into a circle about 8 or 9 inches in diameter. Place on a sheet of baking parchment paper. Fill as desired. For the Butternut Squash with Sage and Leeks Calzone, fill as described below.

Butternut Squash Calzone with Sage and Leeks
Makes 6
1/2 recipe of the pizza dough described above
12 thin slices cooked and peeled butternut squash, about 3 1/2 to 4 inches by 1 1/2 to 2 inches
1 cup ricotta cheese - if very moist, drain for 1/2 hour in cheese cloth over a sieve
1 tablespoon fresh sage, finely chopped
1/2 tablespoon fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
1 egg,lightly beaten, divided
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 large or two small leeks, washed well, quartered, and sliced in thin slices
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine
1/4 lb bacon or pancetta
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
salt and pepper to taste
additional Parmesan if desired

In a small bowl, mix the ricotta cheese, fresh sage, Italian parsley, half of the egg (reserve the other half to glaze the tops of the calzone), and Parmesan cheese. Set aside.

In a medium skillet, over low heat cook the leeks in the olive oil until translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the white wine, adjust heat to high, and, stirring constantly, cook the leeks until almost all of the liquid has evaporated. Set aside.

Wipe out the skillet and cook the bacon until crisp. If using pancetta, cook until crisp, but watch carefully to not burn it. Once crisp, remove to paper towels and let the towels absorb any fat.

To assemble the calzone, roll out as described above and place on pieces of baking parchment. Spread about 1 - 2 tablespoons of the ricotta mixture over half of the dough circle. Top with a sixth of the leeks, distributing the leeks over the ricotta. Do the same with the bacon or pancetta, breaking the crisp pieces into small pieces as necessary.

Top with one or two of the butternut squash pieces, having the curved side toward the outside of the circle and the flat side toward the middle of the circle of dough. Sprinkle on one sixth of the mozzarella cheese and salt and pepper to taste.

Fold the plain half of the dough over the filled half. Run a finger that you have dipped in water around the edge of the filled section and press the top dough to seal. Use the tines of a fork to press all around the edge to seal further. If desired, glaze the dough with some of the beaten egg and sprinkle with additional Parmesan cheese. Set aside and make the other five calzone. If there are dough balls left, save for pizza or more calzone. They can be frozen to be used later, too.

Once all the calzone have been filled, check to make sure that the pre-heated oven is hot.
If you are using a baking stone, slide the calzone, still on its parchment onto the stone and bake until the dough is golden brown. Repeat with each of the other calzone.

Let cool a couple of minutes, then remove from the paper to a cutting board and cut each into four pieces. Serve at once.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Lemon-Pomegranate Tango

Convergence is a wonderful thing. Just yesterday I was looking at a number of the Bread Baking Babes sites to see what bread they had baked this month. Since Karen of Bake My Day is hostess this month, if you want to see what she chose, go here. While on another Babe's site I saw that Gretchen had gathered a list of upcoming food blogger events. One that had immediate appeal for me was the one celebrating lemons, particularly Meyer lemons. Since a friend recently gave me some Meyer lemons I knew I wanted to participate. Now the convergence part...a box of bottles of POM Wonderful Pomegranate juice arrived yesterday, too. If I couldn't figure out a way to combine Meyer lemons and pomegranate juice then I shouldn't call myself a food blogger!

Today for lunch the lemon and pomegranate flavors did a tango with each other resulting in a flavorful sweet-tart dressing which went really well with fresh salad greens, chunks of cooked chicken, Braeburn apple slices, and chopped walnuts.

Since I used not only the Meyer lemon juice but also the Meyer lemon zest, the dressing was bursting with crisp citrus flavor which played up the delightful fruitiness of the POM Wonderful pomegranate juice. The dressing also had freshly ground black pepper for bite, and some olive oil, plus a small amount of dried thyme. It went together quickly. Why even consider using a bottled dressing when you can put this delightful dressing together in a flash, and enjoy the goodness of pomegranate juice and the zing of fresh lemon. If you don't have Meyer lemons, use whatever lemons you have available. Be sure to include some zest and make sure to use only the colored part. After you taste the shaken dressing, you may want to adjust the amount of any of the ingredients to suit your own taste buds. I threw this together without a recipe, but it is quite likely that there are other similar recipes elsewhere.

For a further convergence, not only will I send this along to Wine Imbiber for the Lemon Lovefest event, but I'll also send it to Annie for the Grow Your Own event created by Andrea of Andrea's Recipes and hosted this month by House of Annie. The round up for Grow Your Own can be found here. I think of it as cross pollination and a way to introduce bloggers to each other...something very appropriate for this time of year. Check out these events and their participants and you may find some new wonderful blogs to visit as winter turns to spring. For the Lemon Lovefest event, you can see the round up at the Lemon Lovefest Library here.

Lemon-POM Tango Dressing
1/2 cup POM Wonderful pomegranate juice
1/4 cup olive oil
zest and juice of 1 medium Meyer lemon (or regular lemon)
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a jar or other container with a sealed lid, place all of the ingredients. Seal with lid and shake vigorously to emulsify the oil in the rest of the ingredients. Check for taste and add more pepper if needed.

Use to dress any salad that will taste good with a slightly sweet dressing. I used mixed salad greens, sliced Braeburn apples, chunks of cooked chicken and chopped walnuts.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


These gems are not the sparkly kind...they are the eating kind, and sweet eating at that. There is something very appealing about a small treat. That is one of the reasons why cupcakes are so popular as well as scones, donuts, and muffins.

Recently I made a batter specifically to make a small cake called a gem. In old cookbooks I've seen recipes for jems and they are usually for muffins but with creamed butter instead of melted butter or oil. Sometimes they were just made with a regular cake batter. I don't think that modern books even recognize gems as a different little cake, but they are so cute that they should be.

Last fall we had a grand birthday celebration in the small town of Benecia near Vallejo. While wandering in a shop that had antiques combined with newer items, I found a genuine gem pan! The storekeeper said it had been her grandmothers pan. Not sure if that was something she said to sell it or not, but it was well used (and had to be cleaned quite a bit before I could use it) and there is an inscription that says Ekco Chicago Patent Pend. I got pretty excited when I saw the pan because I had read about gems but had never seen a gem pan! I love the little ribs up the sides and the small round indentation at the top. I think the cups hold a little less than a muffin cup does (although I haven't measured it).

Since I only have the one pan with six gems, I baked the rest of the batter in 4 small loaf pans. One was enjoyed by Sweetie and Straight Shooter and the other three traveled to Seattle with me as gifts for my friends and daughter.

It's been a while since I've baked a Dorie Greenspan recipe, but, as usual, it is perfect and worked really well for the gems and little loaves. This is a hot milk cake recipe which has been enriched with coconut and lime for a tropical flavor.

I added an extra dollop of fun by doing a warm coconut glaze which went on the gems and loaves while they were still warm and after I had poked them well with a toothpick to allow the glaze to seep into the cakes. You really taste the coconut that way and the cakes stay moist and delicious!

Coconut Gems
Based on Coconut Tea Cake in Dorie Greenspan's Baking:from my home to yours

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk, stirred well before measuring
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter at room temperature
the juice of one lime
4 large eggs
1 3/4 cups sugar
the zest from one lime
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons dark rum
3/4 cup shredded coconut

For Glaze:
1/3 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk, stirred well before measuring
2 tablespoons rum
1 tablespoon light corn syrup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour the gem pan and four small loaf pans (or use a 10 - 12 cup Bundt pan instead).

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together.

Pour the coconut milk into a small saucepan, add the butter and heat over gentle heat until the milk is hot and the butter is melted. Remove from the heat, let cool a few minutes and add the lime juice and stir to combine. Keep the mixture warm.
Put the sugar into a large mixing bowl and, using your clean fingers, rub the lime zest into the sugar until well combined. Using a whisk attachment on an electric mixer (or muscle power and a hand whisk) beat the eggs and sugar and medium-high speed until pale, thick and almost doubled in volume, about 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla and the rum. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed and stopping just when the flour disappears.

Keeping the mixer on low, add the coconut, mixing only until it is blended, then steadily add the hot milk and butter. When the mixture is smooth, stop mixing and give the batter a couple of turns with a rubber spatula, just to make certain that all ingredients are incorporated. Pour the batter into the pans, filling them about 3/4 full.

Bake in the preheated oven about 20-25 minutes for the gems and about 1/2 hour for the small loaves. Test by pressing center with a finger...if cake springs back it is done. For full size Bundt pan bake for about an hour or until cake is golden brown and tests done.

Transfer cakes to a rack and cool five minutes. While cakes are cooling prepare the glaze:
In a small saucepan warm the coconut milk over low heat. When warm, add the rum and the corn syrup and whisk to combine.

Once cakes have cooled about five minutes, place pan with gems in it on a rack with a pan under it to catch drips. Place the small loaves, still in their pans, on the rack, too. Use a toothpick or small skewer to poke holes into the cakes about every inch. Slowly pour the glaze over each, using more of the glaze for the loaves than the gems. I used a 1/3 cup measuring cup for pouring so that I could pour a small amount at a time. Use all the glaze and let cakes sit for 10 minutes.

Unmold the gems and loaves. Leave gems with the small indentation side up and take the small loaves and turn them upright. Let all the cakes cool completely, then serve. Leftovers can be stored airtight for four days at room temperature. Otherwise freeze leftovers...although it is unlikely you will have any!
No photos of the small loaves...guess I was so excited about giving them away that I neglected to take photos...baaaad blogger :) These were baked at night, too, so the lighting is terrible, hence poor photos, but good enough to see that these are yummy little treats.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Weekend in Seattle

Although I've only been in Seattle 4 or 5 times, I still feel like I've come home when I arrive...who knows why.

Took the light rail from Sea-Tac up to the International District stop, which is actually closer to the Seahawks stadium than the Stadium stop. It was great! You really get to see the neighborhoods south of the city. At this time of year the trees are bare although there are plenty of evergreens. Here and there you can see plum trees in blossom. Unlike last year when it was amazingly snowy, apparently this year has been a mild winter. There was still rain and drizzle and sprinkles all of the days except today, but it didn't put a damper on the trip.

No recipes this post. For those of you who are interested, here is a brief of the trip highlights:

My daughter has a wonderful offbeat sense of humor...and so does her friend Miss A. We had wine and pizza and then expressed our creativity by making fused glass pieces in a party setting at Paint Away in Renton area. There is lots to paint, too, if you prefer ceramics painting. Great vibe at this store and good instructions for newbies like me.

The next morning we met up with Lynn and Peabody for breakfast at Portage Bay Cafe' in Ballard. Had such a good time gabbing that I forgot to take any photos, even though I really liked the porridge with dried fruits and nuts and mixed grains. The time flew by! It is such a treat to spend time with both of these wonderful women...maybe next time I'll be able to stay longer and cook or bake with them. Thanks for the cookbook Lynn...cookie recipes from the Cookie Baker and an amazing red velvet/vanilla cupcake toe eat!

Ballard is a neighborhood that I wasn't at all familiar with. It has dozens of interesting shops and restaurants and fun architecture, too. The photo at the top of the post is of the window display of one of the businesses there. There is also a smoked salmon 'outlet' right next to Portage Bay Cafe' with good prices on the kind of smoked salmon that goes into gift baskets.

That evening we had a girls night in, watching a movie and some Netflix TV episodes, too. We decided to have nibbles, including the corn, bean, and tomato salad, some hummus from Trader Joe's, sea salt pita chips from the same place, apple slices, red pepper strips and mini carrots. A bottle of Washington State red wine was too much for the two of us, but a delightful drink with our nibbles.

One morning we walked to Fremont and ate breakfast at Homegrown. What a great place - the egg and bacon 'sandwich' included local eggs, very very yummy bacon and a house made roll. The oatmeal comes with it, is served in a coffee cup and had crystallized ginger and currants on top. The coffee is delicious. Surprising that I needed some of theirs after having a latte' from Kuma Coffee the same morning, but when you are in Seattle, coffee drinking to excess seems somehow appropriate.

My birthday present was a trip to the IMAX too see the movie Avatar...I had waited to see it with my daughter. I loved it and got energized by watching all of that creativity and imagination on screen. It helps that I love science fiction and have read everything that Anne McCaffery has written...although there were lots of other influences in this movie, too. The message of interconnectedness is very appealing.

Our Valentine's day brunch at a small Seattle neighborhood restaurant, Avila, was delicious, too. The watercress salad was an unusual side dish with an omelet, but quite delightful. We even tried their elbeskivers that were filled with cream cheese and huckleberries and topped with powdered sugar...yum!

According to Wikipedia, ebleskivers are somewhat similar in texture to American pancakes crossed with a popover. We found ours to be more like a donut crossed with a fluffy muffin. They are not particularly sweet, but the fruit added some and so did the powdered sugar. I could see these becoming the next scone or mega-muffin if marketed properly. They are baked on the stovetop in a special pan, so have the delight of a warm donut but are not deep fried. They can seemingly be filled with all sorts of things. Any energetic business person want to run with this idea? BTW I’d skip the powdered sugar for takeout.

Back home safe and sound. Thank you dear daughter for a delightful trip!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me

I won't tell you the exact date, but I will tell you that my lovely and talented daughter has given me a trip to Seattle for my birthday so there will be few posts until next Monday. I'm really excited! We will be seeing Avatar in IMAX and I've been waiting to see it with her. I'll get to meet one or more of her friends, do some glass fusing, do some shopping and eating out and walking around her neighborhood. She and I are also slated to have breakfast with two of my favorite bloggers...Lynn of Cookie Baker Lynn (now a blogazine author at Simple Bites) and Peabody of Culinary Concoctions by Peabody, one of the most drool worthy sites you will ever find and home to excellent photography, too. Even if it rains...and it probably will...I will be having a blast!

As far as birthdays go, my take on it is every year I celebrate a birthday means that I have lived and experienced another year...and usually learned wonderful things and had fun with great people and often helped some other human beings along the way.
Bread has been baked, delicious dishes cooked and photographed and posts made on this blog. Other blogs have been visited, often with delight and laughter...most bloggers seem to be far funnier than I am. Walks will have been taken with Sweetie and the bread baker's dog. Project will have been undertaken and time spent in hardware stores (almost as much fun as cookware stores :) Books have been read and conversations taken place. This year has included a new haircut, too, after many years of more or less the same old same old. Life is a never ending source of amusement and fascination to me. Ever year I want another one, so here's to my next birthday, too!

Some days at work I get a surprise like I did today. I didn't bake my birthday cake, or even a Valentines cake, but I did get to bake a cake for Walter. He wanted a cake with pineapple and whipped cream. I went online and looked at a lot of pineapple cakes. Although some were similar, none were exactly like the one I ended up making, so I'm calling it Walter's Pineapple Cloud Cake.

Since I wasn't expecting to bake today I didn't bring my mixer with me. It seemed best, since all the batter would be hand mixed, that I use cake mix from a box. I changed it a bit by using melted butter and Greek yogurt instead of vegetable oil. That provided both moisture and fat. Considering all of the whipped cream, it was probably gilding the lily, but should taste wonderful that way!

Speaking of the whipped cream, I'm here to tell you that a whisk will do the trick quite well, but my wrist was tired by the time I did two batches. If you are using an electric or stand mixer, you can beat it all at once and then divide it.

This cake is a vanilla cake baked in a baking pan (normally I would use a 9" x 13" pan, but this was going to the home of an ill man and I didn't want them to have to worry about keeping track of the pan). A can of crushed pineapple in juice is drained while the cake bakes, and the juice is used to moisten the baked cake while it is still warm. The remaining pineapple is folded into half of the whipped cream (one of my batches) and spread over the ends up being about an inch thick. Then the remaining whipped cream is spread over the pineapple mixture and given some pretty swirls. Once it has chilled for a while it is ready to eat.

Since I didn't have an opportunity to either cut a piece of this cake or to photograph or taste a piece, you'll have to go with my photo of the top of the cake and the assurance that it is a delicious cake, simple and elegant and light as a cloud!

Walter's Pineapple Cloud Cake

1 box yellow cake mix
1/2 pint Greek style yogurt, plain
2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 1/4 cups water
1 can pineapple in it's own juice (about 15 oz)
1 pint heavy whipping cream, chilled
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Prepare the cake mix according to package directions, but use the yogurt and butter in place of oil. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven about 30 minutes, or until cake springs back when you poke the center.

While cake is baking, drain the pineapple, reserving the juice.

When the baked cake is removed from the oven, use a skewer to poke holes all over the top, about 1/2 inch apart. Pour the drained pineapple juice evenly over the cake, letting it seep into the poked holes. Set pan in the refrigerator to cool while you whip the cream.

In a large bowl whip the cream. Divide in half.

To one half of the whipped cream add the drained crushed pineapple and fold in with a spatula until well blended. Spread this mixture over the top of the cake and smooth the top evenly.

To the second half of the whipped cream, add the vanilla extract and beat that in until combined.
Place dollops of the whipped cream over the pineapple mixture on the cake and spread over the cake, making decorative swirls or peaks as desired.

Chill cake for at least an hour to combine flavors and set the whipped cream. Keep refrigerated if there is any left to store after serving.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Sweets for Your Valentine

My birthday comes near Valentines Day, so I have a special fondness for the holiday. I love heart shaped cakes and cookies, red and pink and lilac...although mostly not together. Romantic movies like Sleepless in Seattle and Notting Hill where, despite the odds, the girl gets the guy in the end are never too sappy for me to watch again. Fluffy romance novels provide reading without any effort at all...and sometimes that's exactly the kind I need...hearts and flowers and an inevitable happy ending.

Life is a bit more messy. There is no inevitable get lucky if you find relationship happiness and then you put effort into keeping it. Even with effort sometimes the happiness slips away like water down the drain.

I wish I had words of wisdom that would give the secrets to keeping it, but I don't. I am still often mystified when my Sweetie bears the brunt of my temper and yet still loves me even though cross words really hurt him. He is still amazed when I laugh at his jokes...sometimes jokes I've heard a few times before, but they still bring true fun is that? When you have the benefit of over 30 years with the same partner and have weathered the ups and downs that all relationships seem to bring, it's time to be grateful...and I am.

If you are thinking about Valentine's Day and want to surprise your sweetie with an unusual bread then you have come to the right place.

This may not lead to wild monkey love…or it may…but rest assured, this coffee cake is a winner, especially if you like coconut and raspberry flavors.

Traditionally Monkey Bread is made with small balls or pieces of dough dipped in butter and rolled in cinnamon sugar, with some nuts sometimes thrown in. It is delicious but can be super sweet if a lot of the cinnamon sugar is used. But you can monkey around with the flavors and ingredients if you want to.

I gave sweetie the option of the traditional flavors or of this version. He chose the coconut raspberry combo. It is a little more complicated (not much) and is more subtle…doesn’t hit you over the head with a blast of spice or sugar…but it is charming. The tint of pink that the coating takes on makes it just right for Valentine’s Day.

I made the dough and held it overnight but you could make it the same day if you plan on serving it in the late afternoon or in the evening. Getting all those chunks of dough dipped and then dipped in the coconut takes some time. My dough also took longer than average to rise because it is stormy here and chilly…and perhaps because I used all sour dough starter and it sometimes is slower than if I beefed it up with a little dry yeast.

If you used quick rise yeast and if your kitchen was warm and if you started at 8 am, this could be ready by lunch time.

Unlike the traditional version, this kind doesn’t have as much gooeyness to it, but it is a great flavor combo with the coconut, raspberry and almond flavors playing off the sweet yeast bread. Some people like to ice their Monkey Bread once it has cooled slightly, but I served it the way it came from the oven and everyone wanted seconds, so I think icing is delightful, but optional. If you use icing, you may want to tint it pink with some food coloring to make it even more of a Valentine delight.

Coconut Raspberry Monkey Bread
Makes 1 Bundt or coffee cake Variation on recipe from Marcy Goldman of
1 1/3 cups warm water
4 1/2 tsp instant yeast
3 tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
5 tbsp butter, melted
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1-2 cups bread flour

Note: I used 1 cup sourdough starter and 1 cup warm water instead of the amount of water and instant yeast given above. I added less than 2 cups bread flour, trying to keep the dough soft and with not too much flour.

1/2 cup melted butter
¼ cup coconut milk (I used the canned Thai style, unsweetened)
½ cup seedless raspberry jam, melted and cooled a little
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 cup grated coconut (I used ½ cup fresh grated and ½ cup sweetened shredded coconut)
1/2 cup whole almonds, chopped

Optional Icing:
2 cups confectioners' sugar
2-3 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla

1. Dissolve yeast in warm water with 1 tbsp of sugar for 2-3 minutes. Add in melted butter, remaining sugar, salt and the all purpose flour. Mix it in by hand or using a dough hook until it forms a soft mass, adding bread flour as needed to form a soft dough, not too much flour! Let rise, covered, in a warm place for 30-45 minutes until almost doubled.

2. Make coating: Put melted butter in a bowl and stir in the coconut milk. In another bowl, mix melted raspberry jam and the corn syrup. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons raspberry mixture and half the almonds into a well greased and floured Bundt pan or Monkey Bread pan. On the counter, gently deflate dough and divide into 1/2" pieces. Roll into balls. Mix the melted butter mixture with the raspberry mixture and stir well to combine. Place the coconut in a shallow bowl. Dip balls in raspberry butter mixture, then roll in coconut. Layer them in the prepared Bundt pan. Sprinkle remaining chopped almonds over the dough balls halfway through the layering. My Monkey Bread pan from King Arthur only needed two layers to use all of the dough. Cover with plastic wrap; let rise about 1 hour or until doubled in size.

3. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30-35 minutes until golden brown. Cool 15 minutes in pan then invert. Cool 20 minutes. If desired, while bread is cooling make the icing: In small bowl, combine icing ingredients until smooth. Drizzle over slightly cooled bread. Serve at once.
Verdict: I like the contrast between the tang of the sourdough bread and the sweetness and richness of the butter/raspberry/coconut/almond combination. If I did it again I might make the dough balls smaller and use more raspberry jam, pouring some straight melted raspberry jam directly over the first layer of dough balls. That would mean setting aside some raspberry jam and not adding it to the butter mixture. This might give it a bit more of the ooey-gooey factor that was missing with this recipe. Adding some mini chocolate chips could be fun, too…I mean, when is it a bad thing to add chocolate?

I’m sending this over to Susan at Wild Yeast for this weeks’ Yeastspotting event. Check it out! You might get lots of Valentines ideas.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

More Black Beans

So you get a phone call from a friend who is looking for a dish for a luncheon and it has to be something that a non-cook can make. It would be nice if it is also vegan and not too expensive. Even better would be something that doesn’t need to be re-heated or even refrigerated. Oh, yes, can it also be delicious?

If you get that kind of phone call I have just the thing for you. We served it to our scholarship group yesterday and it was a hit! We had a four person committee and three of them were non-cooks, but they did a great job with this salad. Parkay made a great chairwoman! We served it on lettuce leaves accompanied by a gorgeous big strawberry that had been fanned out, plus fresh blueberries and some bakery rolls. Delish!

Black beans and corn work together here to make a complete protein, plus they taste great together and look colorful, too. Add tomatoes, red pepper and Italian parsley (the flat leaf kind), plus some red onion and you have a very jazzy looking salad. A red wine and olive oil based dressing ties it all together and a hint of cayenne makes it sing. Since it uses frozen corn and canned beans and tomatoes, the only cooking is some chopping of peppers, onions and parsley.

Even if you are a proficient cook, this is a great meal to have in your repertoire, especially if you keep some of the ingredients on hand. You can pull it together at a moment’s notice when you have unexpected guests or are just too tired to do ‘real’ cooking. Just remember, the best reason to make this salad is that it tastes great!

Black Bean, Corn and Tomato Salad

1 (16 oz.) bag frozen corn, thawed
½ - 1 cup fresh tomatoes, diced, plus any juices that collect (you can remove the skin and seeds or not, as you prefer) OR 1 (14 to 15 oz ) can diced tomatoes and their juice
½ cup red pepper, cored and diced
½ medium red onion, diced
½ cup fresh parsley, finely minced – flat leaf gives a stronger flavor than curly leaf
1 14 to 15 oz ) can black beans, rinsed and drained
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
(OR ½ cup red wine vinegar and NO balsamic vinegar)
½ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (or more to taste)

Place thawed corn, tomatoes, diced pepper, red onion, parsley and beans into a bowl.

Shake the dressing ingredients together in a small jar with tightly fitting lid. Pour dressing over salad and stir to mix ingredients thoroughly.

Cover salad and chill for at least an hour and up to 12 hours until thoroughly chilled.

Serves 6-8.

Note: Sometimes you can find frozen corn that has red pepper bits already in it. If you do, you can skip dicing the fresh red pepper…just use the frozen corn with red peppers.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Food for the Journey

We are all on a journey but some periods of time stand out. In the last few weeks I have been the friend to a few people who have experienced one of the major aspects of the journey. A long time ago there was a TV hospital show, I think it was Ben Casey MD, where they started the show with someone writing on a chalk board (the precursor of white boards) the symbols for birth, death and infinity, because those are daily experiences for many in the medical profession. Some of those came into play in the last two weeks.

My friend Arcadia experienced the loss of her brother; sudden death by a heart attack. While it is very difficult to lose someone close to you, it is especially trying to be the last of your generation, and the eldest one alive in your family. All of the people who knew you as a child, in the ways that only family members know you, are gone. It is extremely upsetting for the one left behind and being their friend seems like a powerless, mostly unhelpful place to be. Fortunately Arcadia found some comfort in a painting I gave her, and in the flowers that another friend planted.

My friend Hil experienced the other end of the journey, delivering into the world a healthy and long-awaited and wanted baby. Congratulations to her and her hubby and all the blissful grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends! New life brings such hope and joy, and it spills out to cheer more people than you might imagine. One day soon I'll be bringing her some dinner so that she can rest a bit....or maybe macarons.

Another wonderful soul, Walter, is walking his own journey of healing. It is unclear where the path leads and this is a challenge for his family. I was able to help a little by making some chicken soup the other day. Medical science has even decided that chicken soup can be a restorative. Who knows? It might just help. If you are reading this far, send a good thought to Walter, OK? I happen to believe that positive thoughts and energy are even more powerful than chicken soup. By the way, this is not Natasha's Walter, but someone I met through work. Both men are wonderful, but the local Walter is most in need of your good thoughts.

In case you need or want the actual is supposed to be effective with the common cold I'm told...or just want the warmth and deliciousness of it for your own journey, the recipe that follows is what I made the other day. The amounts are can vary it quite a lot and it still will taste wonderful.

Chicken Soup for W in 10 Steps

1 whole organic chicken, cut up (about 2-3 pounds), rinsed
1/4 cup celery leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh Italian parsley, chopped
1 pound (or a little more) boneless, skinless organic chicken thighs, rinsed and cut in bit sized pieces
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 cup chopped carrots
1 large potato, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil or garlic olive oil
1 bunch Swiss chard, well rinsed, stem and any stringy ribs removed, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

1) Find one cutting board to use for chicken prep and one for veggie prep.
2) Fill a medium saucepan half full with water. Add the whole chicken pieces, the celery leaves and the Italian parsley. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. Skim off any foam that rises to the surface. Reduce heat and simmer for 1/2 hour while you continue to prepare the veggies and the other chicken pieces.
3) Heat the olive oil in a skillet. Saute' the onion until translucent and lightly browned, but don't char any of the onions.
4) Fill a large stock pot with cold water about 2/3 of the way up. Bring to a boil. Add the chicken thigh pieces tot he pot of water and stir. Skim off any foam that rises to the surface. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the sauteed onions, the carrots and the potatoes. Let simmer until the potatoes are tender.
5) Remove the chicken pieces from the first pot and let cool until cool enough to handle. Reserve the broth in the pot.
6) Remove the skin from the breasts, legs and thighs. Remove the cooked chicken from the bones of those pieces. Return the skin and bones and any other pieces to the pot. Place the pot over high heat and boil until the broth is reduced by half.
7) While the broth is reducing, cut the breast, leg and thigh meat into bite sized pieces and add to the large pot.
8) Once the potatoes are cooked in the big pot and the broth is reduced by half in the smaller pot, remove all the remaining chicken pieces and bones from the smaller pot and set aside. Pour the broth through a strainer held over the large pot, so that the reduced broth goes into the large pot.
9) Remove the remaining meat from the pieces you removed from the smaller pot, or discard, as desired. Discard bones, skin, and what is in the strainer.
10) Taste for seasonings in the big pot...this is your chicken soup! Stir in the chopped Swiss chard and let cook long enough to wilt, or longer if you prefer. Serve as is, being sure to scoop up some of the chicken pieces and veggies. If you prefer, you can puree a portion of the soup or all of it for a different take on chicken soup.

No photos of this soup...sorry! Forgot to bring the camera to the kitchen where I was making the soup.