Sunday, July 26, 2015

Ripe Tomatoes

As happens almost every year, this winter I started seeds for most of the garden I planted. Some years I do a vast number of tomato varieties, but this year I only planted three kinds. One is a grape tomato, sort of an elongated cherry tomato. Although I expected them to ripen first the one that actually is giving me enough tomatoes for salads is called Stupice. The tomatoes are about golf ball size and have a nice strong tomato flavor. Some of them have green shoulders at the stem end even when the rest of the tomato is fully ripe, but I just cut that part off and put it in the compost pile. A few of the grape tomatoes are ripe, too, but not many. The third tomato is my favorite Black Krim. They are lobed and get larger and are a brownish red and super delicious. I also planted the seed for them later than the others, so I probably won't harvest any until next month at the earliest.

Tonight we'll be having three kinds of grilled squash: white scallop, yellow scallop and zucchini. There will be sliced Stupice tomatoes with basil from the garden and Sweetie and Straight Shooter will enjoy grilled rib eye steaks from a local farm while I enjoy chicken thighs from a local market. A summery meal for a summers evening.

The morning glories are running rampant in the garden, climbing anything they can climb, including the tomato plants.

The lilies have just started to bloom, too.

I didn't really plant too many other flowers this year, devoting my water mostly to veggies. I'd like a few more cucumbers, too, but they have slowed down production. Only got one this week.

We finished our deck repair on the front of the house and even moved some wicker furniture and a rocker to the most recently repaired part near the door to the baking center. I just finished having a cup of tea while enjoying the rocker, a nice breeze and the company of Sweetie and Pi doggie. Bliss.

Hope you are having your own kinds of summer good times.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Ooo La La!

One of the pleasures of being invited to dinner is that hostesses who know me often ask me to bring dessert. I guess my obsession with baking has become well known.

Last weekend I was asked to bring a salad and dessert. The salad included tomatoes and cucumber from our garden. The dessert included raspberries from the market and beautiful plump ripe blackberries from our yard. This year promised to have a bumper crop of blackberries and since they are essentially weeds, there are a lot of those berry bearing brambles to pick from. At the moment most of the berries are still red and not ripe and even some that are black are teasing. They are tart enough to bring a pucker to your mouth. Finding the ripe, sweet ones requires a bit of effort, but it was worth it for the flavor they brought to this French style tart.

The recipe was one I found at the King Arthur Flour site and the fruit they used was pears. The crust used almond flour and the filling also used almond flour, plus almond extract, so the almond quotient was high. I made the tart in a narrow rectangular tart pan and had rows of berries marching up and down in the filling instead of pears. Not only did it taste amazing, but it looked so good that our host asked which bakery I had bought it in. I told him the bakery around the corner since my bake center where it was created is around the corner from the main kitchen.

This tart takes a little time, but isn't really difficult. Be kind to yourself and purchase fresh almond flour. King Arthur sells a good one, but so does Bob's Red Mill and you can sometimes find almond flour at health food stores, too. If you can't find it, you can make some yourself by putting blanched almonds into a food processor with a few tablespoons of the sugar called for in the recipe and pulsing it until it becomes flour. Keep an eye on it so that it doesn't become a paste and be sure to sift the finished flour to remove any large pieces of almond that didn't get fully ground up.

Use the best berries you can find. If you wash them, be sure to dry them well. For the jam on the bottom, I put a tablespoon of seedless raspberry jam and the juice of a quarter of a lemon into a small heat-proof bowl and microwaved it briefly to melt the jam, then stirred it well. Use a pastry brush to make a thin layer of the jam on the bottom of the tart. It adds flavor and keeps any juices from the fruit from invading the crust.

Raspberry Blackberry Almond Tart
based on a recipe from King Arthur Flour

1 tablespoon seedless raspberry jam
juice of 1/4 medium lemon

1/3 cup sugar
5 tablespoons soft butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (1 3/4 ounces) almond flour or finely ground almonds

3 tablespoons soft butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 large eggs
3/4 cup almond flour or finely ground almonds
1/2 pint fresh raspberries
1/2 pint fresh blackberries

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

To make the jam glaze: In a heat-proof small bowl combine the jam and the lemon juice. Microwave briefly to soften the jam.

To make the crust: Beat together the sugar, butter, salt, and flavorings.

Add the flours, stirring to make crumbs that cling together when squeezed.

Press the crumbs into the bottom and up the sides of a 4 1/4" x 13 3/4" tart pan; prick it all over with a fork.

Chill the crust in the freezer for 15 minutes, then bake it in the preheated 350 degree F oven until it's just beginning to brown on the edges, 18 to 22 minutes.

Remove it from the oven.

 Cool on a wire rack.

 Once cool, brush a thin layer of the raspberry jam glaze over the bottom of the tart crust.

To make the filling: Beat together the butter, salt, sugar, flour, and almond extract.

Beat in the eggs, then add the almond flour, stirring just to combine.

To assemble the tart: Spread the filling in the bottom of the crust.

Place the dry raspberries and blackberries in rows on top of the filling, pressing them down gently so the bottom of the berries are covered.

Bake the tart in the preheated 350 degree F oven for 45 to 40 minutes, until the top is lightly browned. Cool slightly before serving. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Smooth and Chocolate For The Cake Slice Bakers

As usual there were great choices this month for baking with the Cake Slice Bakers. We are still baking from the Southern Living's The Southern Cake Book.

Lane Cake seemed too wintery to me and the Tiramisu Layer Cake too rich, but the Icebox Lime Cake was appealing. In the end I decided to go with the Mexican Chocolate Pound Cake, but I only made half the recipe and I baked it in a loaf pan. My plan was to create some ice cream sundaes with a slice of cake for the base. This would be rich, too, but it has been so hot here (mid 90's yesterday) that I wanted ice cream. While I was thinking about that I decided to swap out the cinnamon for espresso and bourbon. That would go well with some coffee ice cream, bourbon whipped cream, salted chocolate sauce (thanks Barrel House lady!) and chocolate sprinkles on top for the sundaes.

This cake has both semisweet chocolate, melted, and chocolate syrup. Since our kids have been gone we have not had a reason to buy chocolate syrup, so I had to ask where it could be found in our local market...sort of embarrassing, but it is by the potato chips and mixed nuts. Seems a strange place to me.

This is a simple cake to make. You melt the chocolate and let it cool while you give both the butter and the butter/sugar mixture a good long beating to make it thick and fluffy. In go the eggs, then the cooled melted chocolate and the espresso/bourbon and vanilla. The last step is the alternate the flour mixture with the buttermilk. The batter, once it's finished, is silky and thick. I did increase the flour by 1/4 cup since I dissolved the espresso powder in 2 tablespoons of bourbon which increased the liquid in the recipe.

I love this cake! It is moist and tender with a dense crumb and good chocolate flavor. It made a great base for those sundaes, having enough flavor to stand up to chocolate sauce and coffee ice cream and a lovely sturdiness in contrast to the melting ice cream, fluffy whipped cream and drippy sauce.  Our guests loved them and so did Sweetie. Maybe next time I'll make the whole recipe and have chocolate pound cake for days. We'll need a bigger container of ice cream....

Friday, July 17, 2015

Missing Max

Sometimes a person comes into your life who is wise, funny, curious, joyful, smart, loving and who makes you laugh. If you are lucky, it's your own boy. He brought all this, and more, to me, to his Dad and sister and to many family members, friends and others in the world for almost 17 years. Today marks 16 years without that love, except in our hearts. Miss you my son.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Bread Baking Babes Are Powerful

There is a powerful lot of friendship going on with the Bread Baking Babes and this special group was invited by our Kitchen of the Month, Judy of Judy's Gross Eats, to bake Power Bread from Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads book. She made a wonderful choice because this bread is complex, slightly sweet, with a nice chewy texture and moist crumb.

There is even an unusual ingredient... sunflower seed flour. Before you get too worried that you can't make this bread because ...well who can find sunflower seed flour in the store anyway?... I can tell you that you'll be OK if you can lay hands on a blender or food processor.

This bread does require a bit of advance planning. You make a pre-soaker and let it sit on the counter, covered, for a day or so, and there is a soaker and a biga that both get made and they also need some time to ripen...on the counter and in the fridge. I also chilled the finished dough, before shaping and before baking but after shaping, so that I could do the other things that life has been bringing me and not have to bake the bread at 4 am or something.

This is an handsome, delicious, bread with a lovely crumb and wonderful fragrance. Because I'm not supposed to have a lot of whole grains, I used white whole wheat flour for the soaker but used regular bread flour for the rest of the recipe. Also not supposed to do a lot of sesame seeds. I didn't add sesame seeds to the dough, but I did line the pan and sprinkle the top with a mix of seeds. I had to cover the top of the loaf with some foil during the last 15 minutes because it got pretty dark and I was afraid that the seeds would burn. Thought there would be some oven spring but that didn't seem to happen. Fortunately it rose fairly high in the pan, so it's a nice loaf, even if the top is a bit flatter than I would like.

I used the mixer for most of the kneading. A repeat of an intestinal bug has shown up and it comes with extreme fatigue. I think Sweetie was surprised that I even tried to bake this bread, but it really is an easy just takes time.

Bet you want to try making it yourself. Awesome toasted!

To be a Buddy, bake it up, take a photo or two and send to Judy by July 29th. She'll send you your Buddy badge for your blog. It will look a bit like this one:

Check out the other Babes who baked this one and see their variations. They have some really gorgeous breads this month!

Power bread (adapted from Peter Reinhart's "Whole Grain Breads")

71 g (or 2.5 oz or 6.5 Tbsp) raisins
14 g (or 0.5 oz or 1.5 Tbsp) flaxseeds
170 g (or 6 oz or 3/4 cup) water

Mix all pre-soaker ingredients together in a small bowl, cover, and let sit at room temp for 8-24 hours.

All of pre-soaker
170 g (or 6 oz or 1 1/3 cups) whole wheat or white whole wheat flour
14 g (or 0.5 oz or 2 Tbsp) oat bran
4 g (or 0.14 oz or 1/2 tsp) salt

Puree the pre-soaker in a blender, and mix with the remaining soaker ingredients in a medium bowl. Stir for about a minute, until everything is thoroughly combined and it forms a ball. Cover the bowl and leave at room temp for 12-24 hours (or, refrigerate it for up to 3 days, but let sit at room temp for 2 hours before mixing the final dough). Go ahead and make the biga now.

170 g (or 6 oz or 1 1/3 cups) whole wheat or white whole wheat flour
1 g (or 0.03 oz or 1/4 tsp) instant yeast
142 g (or 5 oz or 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp) milk, buttermilk, yogurt, soy milk, or rice milk, at room temp

Mix all of the biga ingredients together in a large bowl. Wet your hands, and knead for 2 min. Then let it rest for 5 min and knead again for 1 min. Transfer the dough to a clean bowl, cover, and refrigerate for 8 hours to 3 days. Two hours before you're ready to mix the final dough, let the biga sit at room temp for 2 hours.

Final dough
All of soaker (at room temp)
All of biga (at room temp)
56.5 g (or 2 oz or 6 Tbsp) sunflower seeds, ground into a flour
56.5 g (or 2 oz or 7 Tbsp) whole wheat or white whole wheat flour
28.5 g (or 1 oz or 3 Tbsp) sesame seeds, whole
4 g (or 0.14 oz or 1/2 tsp) salt
7 g (or 0.25 oz or 2.25 tsp) instant yeast
21 g (or 0.75 oz or 1.5 Tbsp) honey or agave nectar or sugar or brown sugar

Cut the soaker and the biga into 12 pieces each. Grind the sunflower seeds into flour in a blender, food processor, or spice grinder (gently pulse or it will turn into sunflower seed butter, not flour). Mix ground seeds with remaining ingredients, including the soaker and biga pieces. Knead the mixture with wet hands for 2 min, or until everything is thoroughly mixed. Dough should be slightly sticky; if it's very tacky, add more flour; if it's very dry and not sticky, add more water. 

If using a stand mixer, put the pre-dough pieces and all of the other ingredients except the extra flour into the mixer with the paddle attachment or dough hook.  Mix on slow speed for 1 minute to bring the ingredients together into a ball. Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium-low speed, occasionally scraping down the bowl, for 2-3 minutes, until the pre-doughs become cohesive and combined.  Add more flour or water as needed until the dough is soft and slightly sticky.

Dust your counter (or whatever you're using) with flour, and roll the dough around in it. Knead it for 3-4 min. Let the dough rest for 5 min, and then knead for another minute. At this point your dough should pass the windowpane test. If not, knead more until it can pass the test. Then form your dough into a ball, place it into a lightly oiled bowl, roll it around in the oil, and let it sit covered at room temp for 45-60 min (until it's about 1.5 times its original size).

Lightly flour your counter again, and form your dough into either a loaf shape or rolls.  Put the loaf-shaped dough into a lightly oiled 8.5" x 4" loaf pan, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let it sit at room temp for 45-60 min (until it's 1.5 times its original size).  Or, if making rolls, place them on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or a silicon mat.

Preheat the oven and a steam pan (an empty metal pan on the bottom oven rack) to 425. Put bread in the oven, pour 1 cup hot water into steam pan, and reduce oven temp to 350. Bake for 20 min. Then remove steam pan, rotate bread 180 degrees, and bake for another 20-30 min, or until loaf or rolls are brown, have an internal temp of at least 195, and have a hollow sound when thumped on the bottom. Remove the bread from the pan and let cool completely (at least 1 hour) before serving.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Peach Purse Pie

Peaches seem to be coming into their own right now. I think they are a tiny bit early, but that is probably due to the hot weather we have been having and to the drought. A couple of nights ago I had some really ripe peaches on hand and some refrigerated pie dough circles, so I made a quick gallette, which is really just a disc of dough rolled out a bit more and folded over the fruit. Because you don't have to fit the crust into a pie plate, nor seal and crimp a top crust, it is a really speedy way to go and it makes a pie that looks a lot like a draw string purse. I love the folds of dough that result and the rustic look of it, too.

This is another one of those not-really-a-recipe-exactly recipes.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. If you have a baking stone, put it on an upper shelf, but make sure the shelf is low enough to allow for the pie.

Take the dough for a one-crust pie. If you are using the refrigerated stuff, just warm it up a bit and spread it out on a piece of parchment paper. Use a rolling pin to roll it out a little more into a circle about 11 or 12 inches in diameter. If you are being wise and using real pie dough, roll it out into a circle about 11 or 12 inches in diameter on a piece of parchment paper.

Prepare your fruit as you usually would for a pie. I like my peaches peeled, but my nectarines not peeled. Be sure to get rid of the pits and to slice the fruit. Sprinkle with some flour if your peaches are really juice and then toss lightly and gently. Sprinkle with some ground nutmeg. If the peaches are not really sweet, sprinkle with some sugar.

Pile the fruit in the center of the rolled out dough. Fold the dough up around the fruit. The excess dough will fall into folds.

Take an egg and beat it in a small bowl with a teaspoon of water. Brush the pastry with this mixture using a pastry brush. Sprinkle top with sparkling (sanding) sugar if you like.

Bake on the baking stone or slide the parchment and pie carefully onto a baking sheet and put in the oven. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the fruit juices are bubbly.

Remove from oven and cool 10 minutes on a rack. Serve warm or let cool longer and serve cool.

Note: if fruit is really juicy, use a pan with sides under the pie, even if using the baking stone. A pizza pan or sheet pan works well. No one enjoys cleaning spilled peach juice from the oven bottom.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Started thinking about 4th of July and summer when I was a kid. I think when I was really young...kindergarten age...that we had boiled hot dogs for dinner, probably with buns and ketchup, mustard and pickle relish. For veggies we most likely had carrot and celery sticks crisped in a glass of ice water and, if we were lucky, Mom made potato salad. Iced tea would have been in our cups. Fresh, ripe peaches, maybe with some sugar cookies, would have been a likely dessert. When we were a little older I remember one 4th of July when Dad purchased some fire works. My brother would have been 7 or 8 and my sister a year younger. I would have been 5 or 6 and the next two down about 2 and 3 so they mostly watched the fun.

Before it was dark Dad nailed a pinwheel firework up on one of the maple trees. We were given these little boxes of snakes...a kind of firework I guess. We made sure we were on the sidewalk and my brother lit a match and held it to the side of this little black pellet. As the fire took hold, a snake shaped gray ash emerged from the pellet. Sometimes it would even wrap around the matchstick and carry it along as the ash snake grew longer and longer until the pellet was used up. I was really fascinated with those snakes.

As the evening grew darker we began seeing the fireflies glowing on and off, on and off as they flew around. When it was dark enough, but not full dark, Dad had each of us hold the end of a sparkler. It was a long wire with some chemicals fused to the top third or so. We would hold it over the flame as Dad also kept it steady until it began to throw off bright white sparkles of fire. We made sure to keep the burning tip away from others and mostly drew circles with it as the sparkles made their way down the wire. When it burned out, we thrust the hot end into the bucket of sand Dad had at his feet.

The last and most exciting part was when Dad lit the fuses for the pinwheel and it spun around shooting out white and red and blue sparks as it turned. Once that was finished he lit the top of each fountain fire work. The sparks shot straight up toward the tree tops, spread a bit like a fountain at the top.

By that time we were pretty tired and ready to get ready for bed. As we grew up I think that we sometimes had a game of kick the can in the dark back yard, with the fireflies keeping up their random glowing.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Happy 4th of July

Had a wonderful picnic today at the Marin French Cheese Company with Sweetie and some of his family members. Pi loved the breeze and birdsong and the lake, but he adored taking a run with our LA cousin and his young daughter. Before they arrived he also enjoyed some play time with another dog...both on leashes, which was interesting.

I brought cucumber from our garden, sliced, some yummy grape tomatoes and sliced fresh strawberries from our local farm stand, hummus and pita chips and a package of fig bars. My sister-in-law brought delicious artisan bread and, my favorite (even though I'm not supposed to eat chocolate)...freshly baked brownies. We purchased a nice array of cheese at the Cheese Company store and matched it up with three kinds of salami from San Francisco.

It was the perfect 4th of July afternoon and delightful being able to catch up with the LA folks and the SF folks.

Right now the fireworks at the fairgrounds are almost done and soon I'll be able to stop worrying about Pi and his sensitivity to those noises that sound like gunfire. He did spend some time on the streets of Oakland and the fireworks set him to trembling. Playing loud music helps! I guess it drowns out most of the sound from the fireworks.

Hope that is you are American or a fan of America that you have enjoyed our Independence Day, too.