Sunday, February 23, 2014


We are fortunate to have new grass after last week's wonderful, long awaited rain. We also have been lending part of our property to neighbors as pasture. This past Thursday we welcomed two new lambs! One is a boy and one a girl. They are so cute, but, as newborns, sleep a lot. These are photos from this morning.

The neighbors also bring in hay and the lamb with the black head was asleep on top of some of the hay when the mom sheep (a hair sheep, hence the weird looking coat...not fleece, but matted hair) decided that she wanted to eat that particular bit of hay, so she sort of ate under it and the little sleeping lamb slid off onto the ground and woke up. Guess all that nursing makes the ewe hungry! Top photo was taken after the lamb work up and she seems fine.

Happy Sunday!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Bad Babe

Today is the 6th anniversary posting date for the Bread Baking Babes and I've been a bad time. On the positive side I have been celebrating family, friendship, good food and drink, bread baking with friends (although not the BBB bread for February sadly), and becoming a senior citizen in good standing. With luck I'll post in a day or two.

In the meantime, check out the posts of the excellent Babes who have made and posted the Rgaif bread!

Kathy at Bread Experience, Jamie at Life's a Feast, Ilva of Lucullian Delights, Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen, Tanna of My Kitchen in Half Cups, Lien of Notitie van Lien, our Kitchen of the Month.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Rain and Gooey Cookies

We have been having a severe drought. Really bad. Winter is the time when Mother Nature usually gives our area of the country lots of water since once spring comes we usually don't see rain again until October.This year there has been virtually no rain, until this past weekend. Oh, there may have been a drizzle here and a brief shower there, but no rain to soak into the ground and replenish the water table and give the plants and trees and shrubs a drink. Then we had about 9 inches from Friday through Sunday. Yay!

Sweetie and I went for a walk yesterday to see the changes. At the Laguna the frogs were singing loudly, the red wing blackbirds were calling to each other, and the lumpy birds that we think are a kind of heron were back in the trees. They are usually here all December and January, but this is the first we have seen them. The Laguna itself was well past its banks, flooding the path we usually take

 and the nearby fields, too.


Today I made an early Valentine's gift for some friends. I used to call these seven-layer bars, but an even older name is Hello Dolly or Hey There Doll Face bars, an easy and quick layering of buttery graham cracker crumb crust, sweetened condensed milk, nuts, chocolate chips and coconut. I think that for seven layers there were also white chocolate chips and butterscotch chips, but I like this version better. It is still pretty ooey gooey and sweet, so your really only need small portions.

I got this version from a cookbook that Sweetie gave me for Christmas, Butter Baked Goods, by Rosie Daykin. She owns and operates a bake shop. By the looks of her recipes, I wish she had one near by. Recipes for lovely cakes, cookies, treats and breakfast goodies can be found in the book. Yay!

"Hey There, Doll Face" Bars
from Butter Baked Goods by Rosie Daykin

These quick to put together bar cookies are ooey, gooey, and a classic, combining graham crackers, pecans, chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk.

3/4 cup pecans
1/2 cup butter
1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
3/4 cup condensed milk
1 cup dark chocolate chips
3/4 cup sweetened fancy long shred coconut

Makes 16 bars

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a 9 x 9-inch baking pan by buttering it and lining it with parchment paper. Set aside.

Place the pecans on a cookie sheet and bake in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes, or until lightly toasted. Stir the nuts after about 5 minutes to ensure even toasting. Remove from the oven and cool. Chop lightly and set aside.

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Place the graham cracker crumbs in a bowl and pour the melted butter over the crumbs. Mix well to combine. Press the crumb mixture in the prepared 9 x 9-inch pan and press down firmly and evenly to make a crust. Spread the condensed milk over the crumb crust with the back of a spoon.

In another bowl, mix together the toasted pecans, chocolate chips and coconut. Sprinkle the mixture over the condensed milk in the pan.

Bake in the preheated oven for 15 - 17 minutes, or until the coconut is just lightly browned.
Removed from the oven and allow to cool completely in the pan.

Run a small knife along the edges of the pan. Carefully remove the slab from the pan and cut into approximately 2 x 2-inch bars. Make sure to use at least a 10-inch knife to avoid cutting and dragging the knife across the bars (instead press the sharp, long knife down through the bars to cut them).

Bars will keep in an airtight container for up to a week, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Crisp and Chocolate and Cinnamon

One of the joys of being a long time baker is playing with a recipe. This past weekend we helped with a move and our neighbors across the street helped, too. While we were between loads, G mentioned that he liked Mexican chocolate. Since his birthday was coming up, this was music to my ears. I knew I could bake something with those flavors to surprise him. He really appreciates baked goods. His wife baked him the most awesome orange tart I've ever had for his birthday meal, so he knows good baking.

One of the things I've been doing this winter is going through old magazines and throwing lots of them out. Every now and then I do spot a recipe that needs to be saved. One of them recently was a recipe for Peppermint White Chocolate Cookie Brittle. Still haven't made that version of it, but I knew I could change a few things and make a delicious Mexican Chocolate Cookie Brittle for G's birthday.

A little dark cocoa was an easy addition. Subbing chocolate chips for the white chocolate was also easy, although I did include some hand-chunked ScharffenBerger bittersweet chocolate to replace the peppermint chunks on top. I added cinnamon and just a touch of cayenne pepper for the Mexican chocolate flavors. A sprinkle of red and yellow sanding sugars added a bit of crunch and sparkle, plus color on the top.

If I make this again I'll make sure to roll the cookie dough out a bit thinner, but otherwise I'm happy with the way it turned out. Chocolate is the first flavor you notice, but then you taste the cinnamon and a hit of pepper. So good with a cup of coffee, but I bet some hot chocolate would be great, too. I only had a taste since chocolate is not a recommended food for me, but Sweetie had a hard time stopping his tastes. Since he continues to lose weight, we gave all the rest to G and his Sweetie to enjoy.

Mexican Chocolate Cookie Brittle
adapted from a recipe in the Dec. 2004 Bon Appétit magazine
A giant cookie is topped with chunked dark chocolate and melted chocolate chips and sparkling sugars, then broken into irregular pieces.
Makes about 24 pieces
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons cocoa
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
dash cayenne pepper (or use more if you like more of a kick)
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, cooled slightly
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup golden brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips, divided
1 tablespoon shortening
1/2 cup chunks dark chocolate (I used ScharffenBerger bittersweet chocolate)
red and yellow sanding sugar, or colors of your choice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
Whisk flour, baking soda, salt, cocoa, cinnamon and cayenne in a medium bowl.
Whisk melted butter, both sugars, and vanilla in large bowl until smooth. Stir in flour mixture until just blended. Stir in 1 cup chocolate chips until well distributed in dough.
Transfer dough to prepared sheet. Press dough into 14 x 8-inch rectangle, about 3/8 inch thick. Bake cookie until top is firm and darkening at edges, about 30 minutes. Check at 25 minutes since chocolate tends to scorch.
Cool on sheet 10 minutes. Transfer to rack; cool completely.

Stir remaining 1/2 cup chocolate chips and shortening in top of double boiler over barely simmering water until melted and smooth. Using small spoon, drizzle about half of melted chocolate in think lines over cooled cookie.  Sprinkle chocolate chunks and sugars over melted chocolate. Drizzle remaining melted chocolate over top, especially over the chocolate chunks (to help adhere them). Let stand until melted chocolate sets, about 1 hour. 

Break cookie into irregular 2 - to  3 inch pieces. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature.)

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Of Pesto and Chicken

Pesto is one of my favorite flavors. There is something wonderful about the combination of basil, pine nuts, olive oil and Parmesan cheese. It can liven up rice, pasta, a baked potato and all manner of entrees. And that basil smells fantastic, too.

It was cold and rainy today, so I stayed inside most of the day. I am so thankful that it rained...we have been having a terrible drought this winter and usually winter is when we get most of the water for the year. It also made it nice to fool around in the kitchen trying out a new recipe, with the rain pattering against the kitchen windows.

This recipe started off life as a sweet crostata with fresh grapes and golden raisins and a nut crust. The rustic look which is achieved by folding the outer couple of inches the crust over the filling is a favorite of mine, but I'd never tried it with a nut crust before. The filling is interesting, too, because it is based on whipped egg whites.

I decided that I wanted to change the recipe around to a savory crostata, filled with a pesto infused whipped egg white filling and then covered with sauteed onions, golden raisins and Parmesan coated chicken pieces. Since I was going with sunny flavors of the Med, I changed the dough to use pine nuts instead of walnuts or pecans of almonds.

The crust didn't turn out quite like I had tended to fall apart while I was working on it...but it tasted wonderful once baked and the filling was excellent. We had a slice for dinner with some steamed mixed vegetables and Sweetie was very happy, especially since he was able to watch the Super Bowl while I played in the kitchen. We did take a nice walk with Pi during half time when there was a break in the rain, so it was a pretty nice day all around. Guess I pretty easy to please.

Nut Pastry Dough
1/3 cup walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pine nuts or pecans
1 1/2  cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2  teaspoons granulated sugar
3/4  teaspoon salt
1 1/2  tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces
2 1/2  tablespoons walnut oil
5-6  tablespoons cold water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
Spread nuts in a pie pan and bake for 5 - 7 minutes, or until fragrant. Let cool

In a food processor, combine nuts, flour, sugar, and salt; process until nuts are finely chopped. Add butter and process until incorporated. Transfer to a large bowl.

Drizzle oil over flour mixture. Use your fingertips to rub oil into the mixture. On tablespoon at a time, add water and mix with a fork until dough is crumbly and holds together when pressed.

If making a single crust, gently form dough into a flattened disk. If making a double crust, divide dough into two pieces, 1 slightly larger than the other, and form each into a disk. (The dough will keep, tightly wrapped in plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days or in the freezer for up to 6 months. Return dough to room temperature before rolling.)

Chicken Pesto Crostata
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 recipe  pine nut Pastry Dough (see above)
1/2 yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1/3 cup prepared pesto
1/4 cup golden raisins
2 1/2 cups cooked chicken, cut into small bite sized pieces
pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon milk
Grated Parmesan cheese for dusting crust

Spread pine nuts in a oiled pan and bake in preheated 350 degree F. oven for about 5 minutes or until fragrant (can do this at same time nuts are being baked for pie dough if making same day). Alternatively, pine nuts can be toasted in a large cast iron skilled, shaking pan often. Let cool. Finely chop and set aside.

Raise oven temperature to 400 degrees F.

Place two overlapping sheets of plastic wrap or a wide sheet of parchment paper on a work surface. Set dough in center and cover with two more overlapping sheets of plastic wrap or another wide sheet of parchment paper. Roll dough into a 12-inch circle. Remove top sheets of plastic (or top parchment) and invert dough on to a large baking sheet with sides that has been lightly oiled or coated with nonstick spray. (I put mine on a large piece of parchment paper.) Pull off rest of plastic or the other sheet parchment. Sprinkle semolina (or cornmeal) over the crust, leaving a 1 1/2-inch border. Set aside.

In a skillet over medium-high heat, sauté the onion in the olive oil, stirring frequently, until onion is light golden brown, about 7 - 10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a small bowl, beat egg whites and salt with an electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add 1/3 cup grated Parmesan and beat until shiny. With a rubber spatula, fold pine nut mixture and pesto into meringue until thoroughly combined.

Drop spoonfuls of meringue onto crust and gently spread over semolina. Sprinkle raisins over meringue.
Distribute caramelized onions evenly over meringue.

In a bowl, toss the chicken pieces with the remaining 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese and pepper, to taste. Arrange chicken over raisins, onions and meringue, distributing evenly. Fold border of crust over filling.

Brush crust with 1 tablespoon milk and dust with some grated Parmesan.

Bake for 25 - 30 minutes, or until crust is golden and grapes are puffed. With 2 large spatulas, transfer crostata to a large platter. Let cool. Serve warm or at room temperature. 

Makes 8 servings.