Sunday, December 28, 2014

Rum A Tum Tum

The Little Drummer Boy would probably have turned up his nose at my Rum Cakes because of the good dose of rum, but they are delicious, even though I made them over a week ago. I decided to go with smaller cakes instead of the large Bundt that the recipe called for, and they are so cute!

Why Rum Cakes? Because this is the December Cake Slice Bakers choice I made. We had some really great choices from The Southern Cake Book, including little fig cakes, a decadent carrot cake, and a cheesecake that includes baklava as an ingredient, but I liked the simplicity of the Rum Cake.

These little cakes are very rich (three sticks of butter!), but they were easy to make. Butter and sugar are beaten together, eggs are beaten in along with some citrus zest and vanilla. The dry ingredients go in alternately with the wet, which is a classic way to make cake batter. I skipped the banana flavors and went with straight rum.

To fancy some of them up I put a pattern with pecan halves and a cherry in the middle on the bottom of the little square pans, then added the batter. That way when you turn them out you see the pattern on the top. I also doused them with some straight rum instead of a syrup, then let them age in the fridge for a few weeks.

I'm quite late in posting this, but was gone during the regular posting time due to a death in the family. Quite a few Cake Slice Bakers did post and their cakes look amazing! Do check them out.

Amy - Spin the Meal  made the same Rum Cake
Rachel - A Sweet Muddle made the darling little Fig Cakes
Anabel  - Oven Delights made the darling little Fig Cakes, too
Punetta - As Long As There's Cake made the darling little Fig Cakes, but with a different glaze
Kim - The Ninja Baker made cute cupcakes from the Carrot Cake recipe
Maria - Box of Stolen Socks made Baklava Cheesecake
Diana - The Domestic Goddess Wannabe made the Rum Cake and added Mixed Fruit for a seasonal treat
Emily - Emily's Cooking Foray made the Baklava Cheesecake in a smaller size

Rum Cake
from The Southern Cake Book by Southern Living Magazine

1 1/2 cups butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulates sugar
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons lemon zest
3/4 cup dark rum
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup whipping cream
shortening or butter for greasing the pan(s)

optional: pecan halves and cherry halves to decorate

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease (shortening or butter) a large 12 -cup Bundt pan or smaller pans which will hold the full amount of batter. Set the pans aside.

Beat the butter and sugar together for about two minutes. Mixture will be light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping bowl as needed, letting the egg incorporate into the batter before adding the next. Last, add the egg yolk and mix to blend. Add the vanilla and lemon zest and rum. Beat to mix well.

Sift the dry ingredients together. Make sure the whipping cream is at room temperature. With mixer at low speed, add the dry ingredients in three additions and the whipping cream in two additions, alternating between dry and wet and incorporating that ingredient before adding the next. Scrape bowl and beater(s) as needed.

Scrape batter into prepared pan(s). Batter will be thick. Use a spatula to even the top and rap the pan on the counter a couple of times to release any air bubbles that are trapped.

Bake in the preheated oven 55-60 minutes for the large Bundt pan and for a shorter period for smaller pans. Cake is cooked when a toothpick or skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool pan(s) on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then turn out and let cool completely. Serve at once garnished with a sifting of confectioner's sugar or store in a covered container.

Optional: If desired, make a syrup of 10 tablespoons butter mixed with 3/4 cup sugar & 1/2 cup rum, and cooked , stirring often for 10-12 minutes until thickened. Pierce the cake(s) with a skewer and pour on the syrup evenly over the cake(s) while they are still in the pan(s). Let stand 45 minutes before removing from the pan(s).

Optional: After pan is prepared, put a pattern of pecan halves and cherry halves on the bottom. When batter is ready, cover the pattern with the batter. Serve with the pattern side up.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Snowflake

We toasted Mom at the viewing with Irish Mist, revisited clouds of incense at the funeral Mass, ate and drank and hugged and cried and talked endlessly. It was all good. Came home in time to make a wonderful sweet yeast bread for Christmas morning. Posting quite late, but better late, right?

This delightful brioche bread, which is almost (almost but really not quite) too pretty to eat is brought to you in part by Cathy of Bread Experience, our Bread Baking Babe Kitchen of the Month. It is very impressive to look at and delicious to eat, but not as difficult to make as you might think. Thanks Cathy for choose the perfect December recipe.

The brioche dough goes together easily, especially if you have a stand mixer to do some of the heavy work. If not, just remember that kneading bread is very contemplative and relaxing. It is an easy dough to handle, too, and rolled out easily.

The requested filling is Nutella, but I'm not a fan of chocolate and yeast bread, plus I don't enjoy hazelnuts, so I made a filling of very thinly spread cream cheese, sprinkled with a mixture of brown sugar and cinnamon. Sure made the house smell like Christmas!

The shaping looks difficult, but is in fact child's play. I took the cap of a spice jar and indented a small circle in the middle of the stacked, filled layers of dough. That helped me to keep the cuts more even in the center. Turning the pairs of dough a few times outward to create the stripes  was easy and then I just stuck the ends together and turned them under.

Since I made the snowflake to this point on Christmas Eve, I covered it with oiled plastic wrap and stuck it in the fridge overnight. In the morning the dough rose while the oven preheated, so it was ready to eat by the time the fruit bowl was prepared and bacon cooked. Sweetie even made his signature scrambled eggs. What a feast!

Wishing you, dear reader, a joyful holiday season, no matter where you are.

If you wish to be a Buddy you still have time. Bake the bread, take a photo or two, send Cathy an e-mail telling of your experience making the bread and do it by December 29th.

Please visit the other Babes sites to see their versions. Bet you will be inspired to make this yummy bread yourself.

The original version:

Nutella Brioche Flower

Makes: 1 large Nutella Brioche Flower


For the sponge:

1/2 cup (2.25 ounces) bread flour or all-purpose (I used Bob's Red Mill AP)
1 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1/2 cup (4 ounces) whole milk, lukewarm (90 to 100 degrees F.)

For the dough:

3 large eggs, slightly beaten
3 cups (13.75 ounces) all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
1-2 teaspoons milk, if necessary to form a smooth dough

For the filling and glaze:
Nutella or similar hazelnut chocolate paste for the filling
1 tablespoon milk plus 1 tablespoon water for glaze
Icing (confectioner's) sugar

To make the sponge, stir together the flour and yeast in a large bowl (or the bowl of your stand mixer). Pour in the milk and whisk the ingredients together until all of the flour is hydrated. Cover with plastic wrap and let it ferment for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the sponge rises and falls when you tap the bowl.

To make the dough, add the eggs to the sponge and whisk (or beat on medium speed with the paddle attachment) until smooth.  In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, and salt.  Add this mixture to the sponge and eggs and stir (or continue mixing with the paddle on low speed for about 2 minutes) until all of the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes to begin to develop the gluten.  Then mix in the melted butter by hand, using a wooden spoon or Danish dough whisk or with the mixer on medium speed using the dough hook. Add in a couple of teaspoons of milk if the dough is too dry. 

Transfer the dough to the work surface and knead for about 8 to 10 minutes until the dough is soft and smooth.  It shouldn't be too sticky too handle.

Form the dough into a ball and place it in a clean bowl.  It doesn't need to be oiled.  The butter should keep the dough from sticking to the bowl.  Let the dough bulk ferment in a warm place (70- 75 degrees F.) for 1-2 hours, or until doubled in size.

Meanwhile, cut out a circle of baking or greaseproof paper about 30 cm (12″) in diameter. Place the paper on a baking sheet.

To shape the flower, once risen, turn the dough out onto a surface, knock it back knead for 3-4 minutes. Divide the dough into 4 pieces and form each piece into a ball.

Roll a ball of dough out into a circle measuring about 25 cm (10″) in diameter. The dough should be about 3-4 mm (1/8″) thick.

Place the dough onto the baking paper and spread on a layer of Nutella, leaving a small gap at the edge. Don’t make the layer too thick but be sure to evenly cover the dough.

Roll out a second ball of dough, place it on the first layer and spread with Nutella. Repeat with the third and fourth balls of dough but do NOT spread Nutella on the final layer.

Cut the brioche into 16 segments but leave a small (3 cm/1½”) area in the centre of the dough uncut.

Take a pair of adjacent segments. Lift and twist them away from each other through 180°. Lift and twist through 180° again, then twist through 90° so that the ends are vertical. Press the edges together firmly. Repeat this process for all pairs of segments.

Place the brioche in a large plastic bag or cover with lightly oiled film. Leave in a warm place for 1-2 hours to prove.

Brush with the glaze then bake at 160°C/320°F fan oven, 180°C/360°F conventional oven for 20-25 minutes.  I baked it at 375 degrees F. for 15 minutes, then turned it down to 350 and baked it another 5 minutes or so.

Place the bread on a wire rack to cool. Once cooled, dust lightly with icing sugar.  

Friday, December 12, 2014

Sad News

A vibrant, classy, smart and loving woman, my Mom, died this morning. She will be missed by many, especially her large family. She was blessed with a long and wonderful life and slipped out quietly in her sleep. Rest in peace, Mom.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Bread Without the Sesame Seeds

The last time I made this bread I made it as rolls and it was a fun one where the bread snakes were rolled in sesame seeds. It's a King Arthur Flour recipe and a very good one. 

Since I'm no longer supposed to eat sesame seeds I decided that I would make this bread without. It's been a while since I've made baguettes, so that's the shape I chose for these. I'm really happy with the way they held their shape. I used the Julia Child shaping method and it worked well. It didn't hurt that this was a relatively firm bread. I let it sit in the fridge overnight, too, so it had just a touch of sourdough flavor. Delicious!

Look at the wonderful texture:

Three Baguettes
Based on a recipe from King Arthur Flour


1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 to 1/2 cup cool water, enough to make a stiff ball of dough
pinch of instant yeast


all of the starter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup while whole wheat flour or regular whole wheat flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons Baker's Special dry milk or nonfat dry milk
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2/3 cup lukewarm water
2 tablespoons olive oil


1) To make the starter: Mix the starter ingredients together, cover, and let rest at room temperature two - three hours. Note: This is a dry, stiff starter. If it's too dry to come together, dribble in sufficient water to make the dough come together, and proceed with the recipe as directed.

2) To make the dough: Combine the starter with the remaining dough ingredients, and mix and knead — by hand, mixer, or bread machine set on the dough cycle — to make a soft, smooth dough. You may need slightly more or less than 2 cups flour.

3) Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl or large (8-cup) measure; cover, and let it rise for about 90 minutes, till it's just about doubled in bulk.  Punch down in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let sit overnight in the fridge.

4) Gently deflate the dough, and divide it into three equal pieces. Shape each piece into a rough log, and let the logs rest, uncovered, for about 10 minutes. This gives the gluten in the dough a chance to relax, which in turn will make the logs easier to roll.

5) Working on a lightly greased surface, roll each piece into a rope about 12" long.

6) Working with one rope at a time, start at one end of the rope and pull the dough around the rope. (I imagined one side of the rope to be the 'back' and pulled the dough toward the back, working my way down the rope. This stretches the 'skin' of the dough around the inner dough to help the baguettes keep their shape.)

7) Place each shaped baguette on a parchment lined baking sheet, When all three are shaped and on the baking sheet, cover lightly with oiled plastic wrap and then a tea towel, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk.The resulting loaves will be about 14" long

8) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and brush the loaves with egg white. Score on the diagonal three or four places on each of the loaves with a very sharp knife or a lame.

9 Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes or until loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when the back is tapped. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.
Yield: 3 baguettes

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Parsley Sage Rosemary and Thyme and Bacon!

"It is never too late to be what you might have been."    - George Eliot

A few years ago I read about a challenge that sounded a bit overwhelming. Bloggers were going to do a post to their blog each day for the whole month of November. The idea was to encourage more writing and maybe even to spark an interest in writing as a way of life. At the time I knew it was impossible for me to do a post every day, especially in November. This year I decided that I just might be able to do it, so I began on November 1.

As you may have noticed if you have read my posts, I think of this primarily as a food blog, so it is only right that most of the posts should be about food. Even better if they contain a recipe. A photo or two is part of the look and feel of this blog, so I rarely do a post without at least one photo. Looking back over the month I feel like I've done pretty well, A third of the posts didn't have a recipe, but some of those were about food and all had a photo or illustration.

It's been a good month, although a few friends have had major health problems. I'm glad that the month finishes off with Thanksgiving and post-Thanksgiving thoughts since turkey is one of my favorite foods. Today I cooked a turkey for our family since last Thursday we were treated to our neighbor's heirloom variety home grown turkey for the holiday meal. Mine is a frozen bird from a chain grocery store, so it should be interesting to see the difference.

Soon fall will turn into winter and my favorite season will hibernate until next year. Of course the run-up to Christmas will keep me busy and it means lots of baking, so I have a smile on my face as I type this and think of what great posts there will be in December.

I spoke with my Mom yesterday and she has already gotten an early Christmas gift from me. I created a book of our kitchen remodel project for her and had it published by Blurb, so it has a nice hard cover and lovely paper to really show off the photos I took as we went along and the finished kitchen, too. So glad that she and the family enjoyed learning about how the project went as they read through the book over the weekend while they were visiting her.

I hope dear reader that you have enjoyed the November posts and are getting in touch with your inner elf as we jump into the winter holiday season!

But before we leave November I want to share with you the stuffing I made today. I'm glad I made the stuffing because the frozen bird was not as fully flavored as the turkey raised right across the street that we enjoyed on Thursday. This time I took my Mom's classic recipe and added corn bread, mushrooms, bourbon and bacon. It makes a wonderful stuffing with a hint of Southern style. If I hadn't used up almost all of my pecans for the pies I would have put some pecans in, too. When you make this, and your really should, you can add pecans and think of me.

Parsley Sage Rosemary and Thyme and Bacon! Stuffing 

4 slices bacon, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 medium onion, minced
4 oz. mushrooms, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoons poultry seasoning
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 quarts soft stale bread cubes and cornbread
1 cup chicken broth
3 tablespoons bourbon
½ cup parsley, chopped

In a heavy pot or skillet cook the bacon over high heat until almost crisp. Remove and drain on paper towels. Saute’ the onions, mushrooms, and celery in the bacon drippings (grease) on medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the garlic and stir well. Continue cooking over medium heat another two minutes. Add the poultry seasoning, dried thyme, dried rosemary, salt and pepper and stir well to combine.

Pile the parsley on top of the bread cubes and cornbread in a very large bowl or pot. Pour sauteed mixture over the parsley. Combine sauteed mixture and the reserved bacon with the bread cubes (I always substitute some cornbread for some of the bread cubes).

In a large bowl or measuring cup combine the chicken broth and bourbon. Moisten the bread crumb mixture with chicken broth mixture. You may also add chopped apples, dried fruit, chopped toasted pecans, or oysters.

Use stuffing to stuff bird. Place inside bird lightly...don't pack tight.Stuffing expands a bit during cooking.  Extra may be baked in 425 degree F. oven ‘til brown (after turkey is out of oven).

Enough for a 10-14 lb. turkey.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Tuber Based Dinner Rolls

I was looking back at all the posts I've done in November and discovered that I never did share the recipe with you for the dinner rolls I made that were based on tubers I bought from the local farm stand. They looked like garnet yams, but turned out to be white starchy tubers, more like a very starchy Idaho potato than a yam. The flesh went from very white to a sort of dirty tan color as soon as they were peeled, so I wasn't sure how the rolls would look, but I guess there was enough flour to lighten them up.

These dinner rolls were based on a recipe from Tanna of My Kitchen in Half Cups that she gave as a challenge years and years ago when the Daring Bakers were just starting. It happens to also be the first post I wrote telling a tale in the Land of St. Honore'. At that point I think there were around 100 Daring Bakers and it seemed that many visited most of the posts that the other members put up. Part of the reason that I ventured into fiction was to make my post just a bit different from the others, in hopes that it would provide a nice break to those who were visiting lots and lots of sites. I guess I had gotten bored with my own posts and wanted to lighten up my offering. You may want to read the story if you have time.

The dinner rolls were made from a nice potato bread dough...nice, but sticky! I rolled it out thinly enough that I could slather it with butter and sprinkle lots of freshly chopped Italian parsley on top of the butter, then roll it up jelly-roll fashion and cut the rolls as you do for cinnamon rolls...with a length of dental floss, crossed. Then I put about 8 or 9 rolls in each greased cake pan and let them rise. I baked them in a 350 degree F oven until light golden brown. They were a big hit at a luncheon the next day. Still in the pan I refrigerated them overnight, then baked them another 10 minutes before lunch to finish baking and to warm them and crisp up the crust. If you serve them the same day as the original baking, bake longer until deep golden brown, then turn out of the pans and serve hot.

Tender Potato Bread

(based on a recipe in Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour & Tradition Around the World by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
Daring Bakers Challenge #13: November 2007

Makes 24 soft dinner rolls

Some additional notes about this recipe and the dough:
Potatoes and potato water give this bread wonderful flavor and texture. The dough is very soft and moist and might feel a little scary if you’ve never handled soft dough before. But don’t worry: Leaving it on parchment or wax paper to proof and to bake makes it easy to handle.
Once baked, the crumb is tender and airy, with tiny soft pieces of potato in it. The dinner rolls are soft and inviting.

Some Notes about Flour:
King Arthur Artisan Organic All-Purpose Flour is fairly new in the markets in the US now and is advertised to be best for making European-style hearth breads with a protein level of 11.3%

Conversion Chart for yeast:
1 oz/ 1 Tablespoon of fresh yeast = 0.4 oz/ 1.25 teaspoon active or instant dry yeast = 0.33 oz / 1 teaspoon instant or rapid rise (bread machine) yeast. Reference: Crust & Crumb by Peter Reinhart

4 medium to large floury (baking) potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks. (Elle's Note: I used those red-skinned tubers that looked like yams on the outside and by shape. They worked just fine.)
Tanna Note: For the beginner bread baker I suggest no more than 8 ounces of potato; for the more advanced no more than 16 ounces. The variety of potatoes you might want to use would include Idaho, Russet & Yukon gold, there are others.
4 cups(950 ml) water, reserve cooking water
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
6 ½ cups to 8 ½ cups (1 kg to 1350g) unbleached all-purpose
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (130g) white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) salted butter, softened
2-3 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley

Making the Dough (Directions will be for making by hand):
Put the potatoes and 4 cups water in a sauce pan and bring to boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and cook, half covered, until the potatoes are very tender.

Drain the potatoes, SAVE THE POTATO WATER, and mash the potatoes well.

Measure out 3 cups(750ml) of the reserved potato water. Add extra water if needed to make 3 cups. Place the water and mashed potatoes in the bowl you plan to mix the bread dough in. Let cool to lukewarm (70-80°F/21 - 29°C) – stir well before testing the temperature – it should feel barely warm to your hand. You should be able to submerge you hand in the mix and not be uncomfortable.

Add yeast to 2 cups all-purpose flour and whisk. Add yeast and flour to the cooled mashed potatoes & water and mix well. Allow to rest/sit 5 minutes.

Note about Adding Yeast: If using Active Dry Yeast or Fresh yeast, mix & stir yeast into cooled water and mashed potatoes & water and let stand 5 minutes. Then add 2 cups of flour to the yeast mix and allow to rest several minutes. If using Instant Dry Yeast, add yeast to 2 cups all-purpose flour and whisk. Add yeast and flour to the cooled mashed potatoes & water and mix well. Allow to rest/sit 5 minutes.

Sprinkle in the remaining 1 tablespoon salt and the softened butter; mix well. Add the 1 cup whole wheat flour, stir briefly.

Add 2 cups of the unbleached all-purpose flour and stir until all the flour has been incorporated.

Note: At this point you have used 4 cups of the possible 8 ½ cups suggested by the recipe.
Turn the dough out onto a generously floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, incorporating flour as needed to prevent sticking. The dough will be very sticky to begin with, but as it takes up more flour from the kneading surface, it will become easier to handle; use a dough scraper to keep your surface clean. The kneaded dough will still be very soft. Place the dough in a large clean bowl or your rising container of choice, cover with plastic wrap or lid, and let rise about 2 hours or until doubled in volume.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead gently several minutes. It will be moist and a little sticky.

Forming the Rolls:
Divide the dough into 2 pieces. Place one piece to one side and cover loosely.

Butter a 13 x 9 inch sheet cake pan or two shallow cake pans. Cut the dough into 8-9 equal pieces. Roll one piece out on a lightly floured work surface to a rectangle about 16 x 10 inches. Spread 2 tablespoons salted butter over the rolled out dough, leaving a 1/2 inch unbuttered edge on one long side. Sprinkle with half the parsley.  Roll up jelly-roll fashion and use a crossed length of dental floss or a sharp knife to cut the log into 8-9 pieces.  Place each piece, cut side up, into a buttered cake pan or into the larger pan, leaving 1/2 inch between the pieces. Repeat with second piece of dough. filling the second cake pan or filling up the larger pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about 35 minutes, until puffy and almost doubled.

Baking the rolls

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Place a baking stone or tiles (if you have them) or a large baking sheet on the middle oven rack to preheat along with the oven.

Dust risen rolls with a little all-purpose flour or lightly brush the tops with a little melted butter or olive oil (the butter will give a golden/browned crust). Immediately place baking pan(s) with rolls on the stone, tiles or baking sheet in the oven. Place the rolls next to the loaf in the oven.

Bake rolls until golden, about 30 minutes.

Transfer the rolls to a rack when done to cool.  Note about cooling times: Rolls can be served warm or at room temperature.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Scenes From Turkey Day Plus One

Had some fun this afternoon with my sweet daughter. We got in touch with our crafty inner kid and made ornaments at a local pottery and fused glass place. We had thought that we'd paint pottery, but ended up with the glass because it's so much fun.

For the food-related, we have two glass gingerbread cookies, ready to go in the oven. Not sure how they will turn out once all the added glass slumps, but it should be interesting to see.

We also made an ornament shaped one and a snowman. Lots of fun. I'll try to remember to put up a post showing the finished ornaments once they are fired.

Happy day after turkey day!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving - Throwback Thursday

Something like 60 years ago - our family Thanksgiving table.

To everyone who reads this - God bless you, every one.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Pumpkin Pie Spectacular

Still looking for a showstopper dessert for Thanksgiving (or any fall meal, really)? Southern Living has a gorgeous, delicious pumpkin pie that is enhanced with an extra crust of gingersnaps and pecans and, after the filling has partially baked, is further adorned with a brown sugar-pecan streusel topping. To put it really over the top, just before serving it is embellished with whipped cream. The recipe calls for ginger flavored whipped cream and some ginger cookie garnish, but I think that plain, luxurious whipped cream is garnish enough.

Because this pie starts with a refrigerated pie crust, it is not as difficult as it sounds. The pie crust is fitted to a deep dish pie pan, then a mixture of finely ground gingersnap cookies, finely chopped pecans, powdered sugar and melted butter are mixed together for the inner crust. The filling is rich with pumpkin, sour cream, sweetened condensed milk, eggs and spices, plus vanilla. The streusel has flour, brown sugar and pecans, moistened with more melted butter. No one said that this was health food!

The finished pie, glamorously topped with dollops of whipped cream, has elements of both pecan and pumpkin pie. You only need thin slices because this is a rich, decadent dessert. I'm betting that this pie pan empties out first!

I have my smart daughter to thank for this one. She found the recipe a few years ago and we tried to make it while she was home for Christmas, but time ran out. Then I made it for Thanksgiving two years ago, but never posted the recipe, just the photos. This time she will get to have some of this inspired pie. It's hard to go wrong with Southern Living for over the top desserts. My thanks to them.

Pumpkin Pie Spectacular
makes one pie
recipe from Southern Living Magazine 

1/2 (15 oz.) package refrigerated pie crusts (one disc of pie dough)
2 cups crushed gingersnaps (about 35-40 cookies)
1 cup pecans, finely chopped
1/2 cup powdered sugar
4 tablespoons butter (1/4 cup), melted
 15 oz. canned pumpkin
14 oz. canned sweetened condensed milk
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Pecan Streusel (see below)

Whipped cream, ground cinnamon (optional)

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

2. Stir together crushed gingersnaps and next 3 ingredients. Press mixture on bottom and 1/2 inch up sides of pie crust.

3. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack (about 30 minutes).

4. Stir together pumpkin and next 6 ingredients until well blended. Pour into prepared crust. Place pie on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet.

5. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Sprinkle Pecan Streusel around edge of crust. Bake 40 to 45 minutes or until set, shielding edges with aluminum foil during last 25 to 30 minutes of baking, if necessary. 

Let cool completely on a wire rack (about 1 hour). Dollop with Whipped cream; dust with cinnamon.

Pecan Streusel
1/4 cup all-purpose flour 
1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
3/4 cup pecans, coarsely chopped

4 tablespoon butter, melted
1/4 cup pecans, chopped

Stir together flour, brown sugar, melted butter, and chopped pecans.

P.S. Photos show pie without whipped cream garnish...that will go on tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Delicious Local Snack

As a theory, I support the idea of locavorism...eating things grown or produced nearby to where you live. Since I am lucky and live where there are lots of good things grown and produced, it is not a hardship. The main thing getting in the way seems to be finding the time to shop that way without breaking the bank. My nearby Whole Foods has the nickname 'whole paycheck' for a reason. Even farmers markets seem to have sent prices sky high for many items. I do belong to a fruit CSA where the annual 'fee' is to purchase something like six bottles of an outstanding Asian pear juice. It is reasonably priced and so are the pears and apples we pick up at the farm.

Of  course I also have the blackberries, ollalberries, mint, apples, pears, persimmons, quince and plums that grow on our property, plus whatever veggies I plant as annuals. I hope we get a lot of rain so that I can expand what I plant next spring.

Today we went to a friend's house for lunch. Before we went we stopped at a deli near the gym for the amazing apricot chutney that they make there. Ulia's chutney is only available near Thanksgiving and between then and Christmas. It has the perfect balance between sweet and savory, with a tang of vinegar. The fruit pieces are large.  It goes really well with turkey.

We also stopped after that at our local cheese factory where they make a semi-hard Portuguese cheese from raw milk called St. Jorge. It is mellow and tangy at the same time. The piece we had was extra aged, so it was also just a bit crumbly and fully flavored. Heaven! The chutney went well with it and we served it up with crackers. Unfortunately I was enjoying eating it and the conversation around the table and forgot to take photos. We left the remaining cheese and chutney with our host and hostess, so the photos I took of the wrapped up local goodies will have to do.

Do you have any local foods that you particularly enjoy? Do you buy any at the source?

Ulia's Deli and Catering              Joe Matos Cheese Factory
130 Stony Point Rd,                    3669 Llano Rd
Santa Rosa, CA 95401                Santa Rosa, CA 95407                          
(707) 525-8542                            (707) 584-5283

Monday, November 24, 2014

Warm Wonderful Corn Bread

We had the leftovers of the seafood chowder last night. At first I was going to make some biscuits to go with the soup but couldn't find the self rising flour and I was intent on making that version. Remembered in the middle of the night where I had put it. Isn't that always the way?

So I made corn bread instead, and it went so well with the flavors of the seafood and veggies. I made it in an 8" x 8" baking pan instead of a skillet, but it was just as delicious. It makes a wonderful addition to your Thanksgiving stuffing, too, if you have any left.

Here is the recipe from my book Comfort Food:

Skillet Corn Bread

1¼ cup yellow cornmeal
½ cup all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 egg, beaten or two egg whites
1 cup buttermilk
¼ cup vegetable oil, divided

Combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Add the egg, buttermilk and 3 tablespoons of the oil.  Mix just to combine the wet and dry ingredients.

Pour 1 tablespoon oil in an iron skillet (8” or 10 “). Place the skillet in a preheated 425 degree F oven for 5 minutes, then pour batter into the skillet and bake at 425 degree F for 20 minutes or until golden brown, (or grease a baking pan and pour in the batter, smooth the top and bake at 425 degrees F in a pre-heated oven until golden brown, about 20 minutes).

Serve hot. Serves 6 - 8.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Along the Laguna

The recent rains knocked quite a few of the leaves off our trees. Today's walk along the Laguna de Santa Rosa showed that the waters were higher on the banks and the trees, mostly live oaks, let a lot more light through the branches than a week ago. Soon the migratory egrets will be hunkered down in those same trees and we will know that winter will soon be here.

Let's Pretend

Should have posted early in the day when the computer was working, but for a while I've been posting in the evening. Bad idea. By evening the computer was having trouble finding Windows (according to my tech guru), so I turned it off to give it a rest. Of course that meant no post on Saturday, breaking the chain. Let's pretend that I posted this yesterday as planned, OK?

I've been doing a happy dance because we got about 2 inches of rain between Wednesday night and Saturday noon. We still have a long way to go, but it really helps put a little moisture in the aquifer.
Although we had leftover pork roast and steamed yams and peas for dinner, I do have a recipe for a wonderful casserole that I made earlier in the week.

It is sort of a strata or maybe a savory bread pudding with cheese. Elaine, who gave me the recipe, calls it a cheese souffle. It does puff up during baking, but by the time I was able to serve it, it had deflated. Not low calorie, but pretty easy to make and you make most of it ahead, a bonus at this time of year when time seems to just fly by!

You butter day old bread and cut off the crusts. Pi was quite taken with the crusts that kept showing up in his food bowl. Then you cut the buttered bread into cubes. The cubes get layered in a buttered baking dish with shredded cheddar cheese and green onions. A custard mixture which includes Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar and cayenne pepper gets poured over it all. Seems like an odd combination of flavors, but it works. The baking dish gets covered and the whole thing sits overnight and is baked the next day. Don't forget to take the baking dish out of the fridge enough in advance to let the whole thing warm up to room temperature before baking.

You could get creative and add things like cubed ham, or cooked bacon, or add some chopped spinach to the custard or to the layers. Herbs or a different kind of cheese would change the flavors but it would still be easy to make. Since it serves 12 it's great for a holiday buffet. Imagine what other times you could serve it!


10 slices day old bread, trim, butter and cube. ½ tsp. pepper
1 lb. sharp cheddar cheese, grated ½ tsp. Beau Monde Seasoning (I used Penzy's Mural of Flavor and it worked fine)
6 eggs beaten ½ tsp. Salt
1 tsp. brown sugar ½ tsp. Worcestershire Sauce
1 bunch green onion, chopped 2 ½ cups milk
¼ tsp. paprika
½ tsp. dry mustard

Put ½ of the bread in a buttered 9 x 13 casserole. Top with half of the cheese and the chopped onions. Repeat the layers.

Mix all remaining ingredients and pour over bread mixture. Let covered casserole set over night in refrigerator.

The following day, remove from refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Bake uncovered in a 300 degree preheated oven for 1 hour. Serves 12.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Silver Linings

When we are struggling with terrible events like the loss of someone dear to us it is pretty hard to see any redeeming value to it. I guess there might be someone here and there who can, but when I've had those times things have seemed pretty bleak.

Years, often decades, later we can sometimes see the silver lining. When Sweetie lost a good friend to the sea, despite heroic efforts to save him, he says he thought that it should have been him. Now he can look back on his life and can see that he would have missed so much love and laughter if it had been him. Others, especially yours truly, would have never know him, and that is too awful to even contemplate.

I feel the same way about my first marriage. It was far from a good marriage, but I was blessed because a wonderful woman, my daughter, came out of it. She has brought a lot of joy to a lot of people over the years. What if she had never been? Unthinkable.

Even a great loss like losing a child has its side of light. Although I would rather have him back over anything else, the loss did teach me to appreciate the help of others, to appreciate each moment as a blessing, and to be more sympathetic in general to others. He wasn't perfect, but he was a mighty good person and changed a lot of lives for the better during his short time here.

So why these somber thoughts? I guess it's because the winter holidays draw near and that seems to be a time when those lost to us are missed more than usual. It's a reminder to me to appreciate even more, and more actively, those who shine in my life right now. Their light and love will keep the winter darkness at bay.

Something else that warms up a chilly late fall evening is a bowl of hearty soup. Last night I cooked up a seafood chowder that was a hit. I served some crusty bread with it and that filled us right up.

The method I used for this chowder was to cook the potatoes in one pot and cook the onion, carrot, mushrooms and bell pepper in a skillet. Once the potatoes cook and are drained, the milk and broth go into that same pot to heat, along with the peas, corn, and seasonings. It takes a few minutes to heat up the peas and corn, but once the liquid is back to boiling it only takes a short while for the seafood to cook. Before it is done the cooked onion mixture is added and stirred in to distribute the flavor.

This is not a thick chowder. If you prefer your chowder thicker, at the end stir in a slurry of flour and water and stir until mixture thickens.

Either way this is a great soup for cold weather.

Seafood Chowder
Elle original recipe - Serves 4-6

1 large yellow or white onion, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup carrots, chopped or sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
4-6 oz. sliced mushrooms
1/4 cup red bell pepper, diced
2 cups red potatoes, washed and cubed
1 1/2 cups milk
14 oz. chicken broth
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup frozen corn
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt (or garlic salt) and pepper to taste
1 bag Trader Joe's frozen mixed seafood (bay scallops, shrimp and calamari)

In a large skillet heat the olive oil and then saute the onion and carrots, stirring often, for 5 minutes, or until onions are translucent. Add the mushrooms and bell pepper, stir, and continue to cook, covered and on medium heat, until pepper is soft about 5 minutes.

While onion mixture is cooking, put the potatoes into a large pot and add water to cover. Boil until potatoes are tender; insert the tip of a sharp knife to test for tenderness. Drain and set aside.

Once potatoes are drained, use the same pot to heat the milk and broth to boiling. Add the frozen peas and corn and cover. Return to a boil. Remove the cover and add the chopped parsley, dried thyme, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Add the frozen mixed seafood and stir. Put cover on the pot and cook for 2 minutes. Uncover, add the onion vegetable mixture and stir. Reduce heat to medium-high and cook, uncovered, until shrimp are pink and curled slightly, stirring often.

Serve at once. Garnish with more chopped parsley if desired.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Pound Cake with the Cake Slice Bakers

A few years ago I baked cakes with a wonderful group of bakers called the Cake Slice Bakers. Life got busy, so I dropped out after a while, but was invited recently to bake with them again. Life is still busy, but since the chosen book is the Southern Cake Book by the Southern Living magazine, how could I resist? Pecans, bourbon, lots of butter, as well as cream cheese, sweet potatoes and red velvet cake are well represented in the book. I'm going to attempt to do a linky link so that you can also visit the other Cake Slice Bakers and see which recipe they chose and how it went. Will be back about the same time next month with another delicious cake.

This is the first post using that book and we had a number of choices. I chose to bake the  Orange Pecan Spice Pound Cake recipe. I have lots of pecans on hand for Thanksgiving pies, had a few oranges in a bowl and my cupboard has lots of spices in it. I decided to only make half the recipe and to bake it in a loaf pan instead of a tube pan, but otherwise I followed the recipe as written for ingredients...strange for me, but part of the deal. I did change the method just a bit. I rubbed the orange zest into the sugar a la Dorie Greenspan, mixed the orange and lemon extracts into the milk and the spices into the flour. That way I was less likely to forget to add an important ingredient at the end.

This has been an absurdly busy week due to a lot of baking for my scholarship group and also due to helping a friend who is struggling with an illness. With the overload I can just imagine leaving out the sugar or something unfortunate like that!

This is a delicious cake with the typical density of pound cake. It smelled heavenly while baking, both from the nuts and spices and from the heady scent of orange. I love the texture that the chopped pecans give to the crust and was happy that the spices are more hints than hits. This is not a terribly sweet cake if you skip the Orange Syrup like I did, which is great. It is nice and moist and folks went back for seconds last night. We had it with a little good bourbon on the side to keep in the Southern spirit of things.

Orange-Pecan-Spice Pound Cake
adapted from the Southern Cake Book by the Southern Living magazine

1 cup finely chopped toasted pecans, divided
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 cup butter, softened
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon orange extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Take about 1/2 cup of the chopped pecans and sprinkle them over the sides and bottom of a loaf pan that has been generously buttered. Evenly coat the bottom and sides by shaking the pan.

In a small bowl, combine the sugar and the orange zest. Use fingers of your clean hands to rub the zest into the sugar.

Beat 1 cup butter until creamy. Gradually add the orange sugar. Beat well to add air. Add the three eggs, one at a time. Scrape bowl sides and beaters often to keep the mixture from clumping. Blend well.

In a large bowl combine the flour, salt, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg (freshly ground is wonderful!), and ground cloves. Set aside.

In a small bowl combine the milk with the vanilla, orange and lemon extracts.

With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture alternately with the milk mixture to the butter mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat until well blended after each addition, keeping speed at low.

Stir in remaining pecans, mix well and spoon the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top.

Bake at 300 degrees F for 1 hour. Long wooden pick inserted in center should come out clean. Cool cake in pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes slide a knife around the sides of the pan and turn the cake out onto a wire rack, bottom side up. Let cake cool completely before serving - about an hour.

The original recipe called for an Orange Syrup to be brushed over the cake, but I skipped that part...too sweet.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Golden Braid

Still on the subject of cooler weather and what that means in the kitchen, it is also fun now to bake bread. It did get cool enough in the house that I used a heated pitcher of water to help the dough rise by putting both in the microwave and closing the door because it just wasn't rising in the chill of the house. The good news is that the oven warms everything up once it gets going and the fragrance of fresh yeast bread has a soul satisfying warmth for the spirit all its own.

This particular bread was made for today's auction at P.E.O., the women's scholarship group I belong to. Every year we have a silent auction to raise funds for the scholarships and freshly baked bread gets lots of bidders. I made a golden braid of dried fruit laced deliciousness. Orange zest complements the dried cranberries, golden raisins and chopped citron. Since the bread has very little sugar, it can be used with soup or sliced thin and buttered for a breakfast or afternoon nibble.

The recipe is from a book that has festive holiday bread recipes. I added dried cranberries and chopped citron, increased the amount of orange zest and added a bit more water. The recipe said to put the dried fruits in with the flour, but next time I think I'll knead them into the dough once it it mixed and kneaded.

Fruited Braid
Makes 1 loaf
Adapted from a recipe in The Festive Bread Book, by Kathy Cutler

1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoons warm water (105 – 115 degrees F)
2 ¼ - 3 cups unbleached bread flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons grated orange zest (colored part only)
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons golden raisins
½ cup dried cranberries
¼ cup chopped citron
3 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup warm milk (105 – 115 degrees F)
1 egg
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Set aside for 5 minutes.

Combine 1 ½ cups flour, salt, orange zest, raisins, dried cranberries, citron and sugar in mixing bowl. Mix thoroughly.

Mix together the warm milk and egg. Add the milk mixture, yeast mixture and butter to the dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly.

Add enough remaining flour to make a soft dough. Knead on lightly floured surface until smooth, about 10 minutes.

Place in greased bowl, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in warm place until double in bulk – about 1 hour.

Punch down dough. Divide the dough into thirds. Make three ropes. Braid on a greased, parchment covered, or silicon mat covered baking sheet.

Cover and let rise in a warm place until double – about 30 -45 minutes.

Brush with melted butter. Bake in a preheated 400 degree F oven for 20 minutes, then turn down temperature to 325 degrees F and bake another 20-30 minutes until loaf is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the back.

Cool on a wire rack.

OPTIONAL: If you want to decorate the loaf: Make the Confectioners’ Icing, then drizzle it over the cool loaf. Sprinkle with the almonds and candied cherries to decorate. Let the icing dry before serving.

Confectioners Sugar icing: Mix together 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 1/4 teaspoon grated orange zest and 1-2 tablespoons milk. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pasta Sauce With Italian Sausage and Mushrooms

With chilly weather finally here, the time has come for slow cooked dishes and stir fry dishes and casseroles. We still have meals from the grill, but not as often.

One of my favorite pasta sauces is based on zucchini squash blended with tomatoes or tomato sauce, then mixed with cooked onions, herbs, garlic and maybe a dash of wine or some mushrooms. It really doesn't need meat, but now and then I'll add browned ground turkey or, as I did this week, browned bulk Italian sausage.

On the the great things about this sauce is that the squash soaks up the flavorings and so even after a short time on the stove it tastes like Mama had it on the stove simmering all day. Give it a try when you are in a hurry to get dinner on the table.

Squash Based Pasta Sauce with Mushrooms

1/2 lb ground meat (beef or turkey or Italian sausage - I used Italian sausage this time)
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced or chopped
2 medium squash, cut into chunks (any summer squash, but zucchini works best)
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes in juice
2 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon dry basil
1/4 teaspoon dry rosemary
note - fresh oregano, basil and rosemary can be used - use twice as much, or more, to taste
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

In large skillet heat oil over medium high heat. Brown ground meat. Set aside.

Using same pan, cook onion and garlic until translucent and barely brown, about 5 minutes, stirring now and then. Add the mushrooms, stir, cover pan and cook another 3 minutes, stirring once half way through.

While meat and then onions/garlic cook, put half of squash in a blender. Add 1/2 of the can of tomato sauce and 1 tablespoon of water. Pulse blender, removing top and stirring every couple of pulses, until mixture is broken down but still chunky. Once onion mixture has finished, pour this squash mixture into the pan. Lower heat to simmer and deglaze the pan with the tomato mixture, scraping up the browned bits.

Return browned meat to the pan and stir. Put the rest of the squash into the blender, add rest of tomato sauce, pulse the same way the first batch was done. Add this batch to the pan of meat mixture and stir.

Add diced tomatoes, herbs, salt and pepper to pan, stir.

Return to boil, cover, turn down heat and simmer at least 2 minutes, stirring about every 10 minutes to avoid scorching. (The longer the sauce simmers, the better it will taste.)

While sauce is simmering, bring large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to directions on package, until al dente. Drain pasta well.

Put generous serving of pasta on plate. Top with pasta sauce and garnish with fresh basil and/or good Parmesan cheese shards.

note - this sauce tastes even better if allowed to cool and left in the refrigerator overnight to blend the flavors. Reheat over low heat until simmering.