Sunday, December 31, 2017

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Ending the Year


This has not been my favorite year.

Too many people I care about dying, having terrible illnesses, the October wildfires here and all of the other fires and floods and hurricanes in other parts of the state and nation, and don't get me started on our national scene with the wholesale devolvement of government; removing funding and regulations for the things that help people, making it harder for those who already have it hard, and enriching and empowering those who are already blessed with wealth and power, without a commensurate requirement that they do anything useful with that additional power and riches. The amount of increased alienation is powerful as is the answering renewal of interest in making a difference at a political level amount the less powerful, including women and minorities. It will probably all work out in the end, but it has been disheartening to see so much hatred and finger pointing and scary to see how far we, as a nation, are from working with other nations to solve mutual problems. Well, I guess I got started anyway. Sorry.

On a personal level, there were a number of positives this year, including finishing up my tenure as chairperson of the California State P.E.O. Ethel O. Gardner Scholarship Committee after having awarded over 60 scholarships, finishing up my year as the Recording Secretary for the regional P.E.O. group, and beginning my year as President of my local P.E.O. chapter where we awarded seven scholarships. Made a new friend through the regional group, too. I also purchased two items that I have been wanting for quite a while; a new couch for the living room and an expanded toaster oven for the kitchen. Both have been getting plenty of use the last couple of months!  My garden flowers this year were a joy for such a long time, beginning with wildflowers in the spring and continuing on until now, although there are only a few primroses at the moment. The most abundant were the morning glories and I collected seeds, so there will be more in 2018! I've done some painting in my newly refurbished art studio and am currently working on a large piece for K, although it has taken a back seat since Beth died in late November.

Bread baking has slowed down at Sweetie's request. He has no willpower to resist warm freshly baked bread and our waistlines don't actually need any bread, so about once a month I bake bread...seems a reasonable compromise to me. My sourdough starter gets fed in between and when I bake and that seems to be working out, too.

Sweetie continues to be the most important person in my life and I feel very blessed that we can share each day with one another, still find plenty to talk about, still enjoy our walks together with Pi dog, and still enjoy watching the news together at dinner time, although lately we have watched local stuff for half the time, then switch to PBS. We are both slowing down a bit, but keep up our gym habit so the slowdown is slowed, too. Ha!

I find that at the Christmas holidays that I miss those who have died more than I do the rest of the year. My Dad was a kid at heart and he just loved Christmas, so I think of him when I decorate the tree and hang the stockings. My Mom made the best Christmas cookies, so I think of her while I'm baking cookies and making the special meals of the holidays. That is often when I think of Max, too, because he enjoyed decorating the cookies...and eating them too! Beth came to mind often this Christmas since she has been gone for such a short time. As I write this tears come to my eyes because she should still be with us. My dear friend Jean (the middle photo in the three at the top) is missed, too. I always took her a cookie plate and she gave me an amaryllis plant. Today I'll be visiting her daughter to meet the new puppy, so I'll take her the cookies. Not the same, but heartening nonetheless.

Wishing all of us a better, brighter New Year. More caring for first ourselves, then others. More good food and drink, more baking and painting, and all kinds of creativity. More gardens and birds and bees and walks. More time with friends and family and fewer funerals. Maybe even a train ride or two.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Turkey A La King and Memories

Christmas is past, and so is our Boxing Day party. Tonight I had some left over turkey a la king over two pieces of toasted Irish wholemeal flour sourdough with sunflower seeds that I made today. First time I've baked fresh bread in weeks! It was nice. I want to thank my daughter for the Christmas gift of the King Arthur Flour Irish Wholemeal flour. It is such a pleasure to work with and imparts a great texture and nutty flavor to the bread.

The turkey recipe sure does bring back memories. It was one of my Mom's favorites for using up leftover turkey after Thanksgiving. She usually served it over toast, but sometimes we had it over waffles, which I loved. Rarely it was served over steamed rice, which my Dad loved, but then he loved rice and would have eaten it at every meal. Another favorite was to serve it over buttermilk biscuits. She also made something called Turkey Tetrazzini which had turkey and pasta, but I never cared for it (and it uses a lot of Parmesan cheese), turkey soup, and lots of grilled turkey sandwiches. Once I learned how to cook, I learned how to make all of them. I do miss my Mom at this time of year, and my Dad, too, so I guess making this dish is comfort food in a very real way.

I love turkey. Anyone who knows me knows that. So, of course, when I didn't get to make a full, roasted, big turkey for Thanksgiving since we purchased a pre-cooked one when we were in LA, I had to make one in December. Because Sweetie and K are not nearly as fond of turkey as I am, we didn't have it for Christmas dinner. A few days before K came I roasted it and then enjoyed grilled turkey sandwiches for a few days at lunchtime. Still, there was some cubed turkey left after we cleaned up the leftovers. I decided to make a variation of one of my Mom's Turkey a la King. This recipe is a kind of gravy and turkey sauce which can be served over rice, toast, or biscuits. I decided to make biscuits to serve it over and we had some hot peas on the side.

You start with peppers. Mom used green peppers, but I really don't like green pepper, so I used red. There are also mushrooms. I found some nice whole small criminis and sliced them. The mustard and capers I added were my own variation and I think they really added some zest to the dish. I had leftover turkey stock, so I used that in the gravy, which really added a full on turkey flavor to the dish. Great if you love turkey like I do! You could also make this with cooked cubed chicken and chicken stock and it would still be delicious. It is the kind of dish that improves with a little age, so it was even tastier tonight.

Turkey a la Elle
serves 4

1/3 cup mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup green or red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons margarine
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon mustard
1 cup chicken or turkey broth
1 cup cream, evaporated skim milk, or soy creamer
1 cup cooked turkey, diced
1 tablespoon capers (or fewer if you are not a big fan of capers)

Saute' mushrooms and bell pepper in margarine. Removed from heat and add flour, salt and pepper. In a small bowl, combine the mustard, broth, and cream or milk or creamer. Slowly stir the broth mixture into the mushroom mixture. Bring to a boil over low heat, stirring constantly. Add cooked turkey and capers and continue cooking at same heat until poultry is heated through. Serve over toast, rice, biscuits, or waffles.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas Y'all!

Hope that your Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were as delightful as mine was. On Christmas Eve a dear friend of our daughters, R, came and joined us for tree decorations, warm spiced apple cider with Irish whiskey, Christmas carols, snuggles with Pi dog, Christmas Eve dinner of ham, roasted butternut squash, delicata squash and lentils, kale salad, and fougasse. Somewhere in there we had Christmas cookies and tea, some Sees candy was sampled, stockings were hung and stories told.

On Christmas morning we lounged around and talked, read the paper, sipped coffee and tea and eventually had eggs, bacon, kringle, and fruit salad. After all that lounging we needed a walk, so we went into town and checked out the cows and the geese and the birds at the Laguna. Once home there were naps, phone calls and texts, and in time gift exchanging with more laughter and stories and good times.

All that gifting helped us work up an appetite so I had grilled turkey sandwich and some soup and many had pizza and leftover squash and lentils. R heard some of Sweetie's Micronesia stories, too.

After R left we geared up for the movies where we went to see the latest Star Wars epic. Very fun and visually stunning. Max would have loved it! Now we are home again and ready to call it a day.

Hope that you got what you wished for and felt the love that is in the air all around us. Tomorrow we will host 30 to 60 never know how many will show up for Boxing Day...and more fun will ensue. Better get some rest now. Goodnight!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

December Fun with the Cake Slice Bakers

We have finished baking with our chosen book for the year, so December is an opportunity to bake from any of the past cookbooks used by the Cake Slice Bakers. Next month we will start a new one and it will be unlike any others we've used in the past, so check back here in a month, too.

After paging through three of the cookbooks used in the past (since I haven't been active for all the years that this wonderful group has been together), I decided that I needed to bake something chocolate and something Bundt since I was going to bring it to a group dinner an hour away and Bundt cakes usually travel well. Since it was a December gathering, I used by Circle of Trees pan. A light dusting of powdered sugar looked somewhat like snow on evergreens...and the fellow guests were enchanted by that. I think that I got the pan at a yard sale and I've not seen one like it. It even has a tiny train going around the rim, although that detail is usually lost. This time the cake overflowed the pan, so we did get most of the train, too. No photos showing has been to hectic. Even the photos I have are not top quality. Will see if I can do better in January.

Happy Holidays to each of you and to all the Cake Slice Bakers. It really is a delightful group!

Edit on December 22...I completely forgot to tell you what cake in what book and what I you know if you have been reading this blog for long, I almost always change something!

I baked Big Daddy's Cake in the Maidia Heatter Cake Book. I left out the pecans so the outside didn't have a pecan coating. I exchanged margarine for butter. I think that is all.

XO, Elle

Sunday, December 17, 2017

A Baba For Christmas

Days seem to pass so swiftly in December. Hard to believe that there is only a week until the tree will be lit and decorated, with brightly wrapped packages under it and stockings hung by the fireplace.

The Bread Baking Babes were invited by our Kitchen of the Month Lien of Notitie van Lien to bake an elegant festive dessert, a Champagne Baba. Yes, it does have yeast. No, you don't knead it or even shape it because the dough is like a batter. Yes, it goes together fairly quickly and easily compared to some of our past December breads, like this Snowflake Bread, the Lardy Cake made with real lard (fresh rendered pork fat...not easy to find), or a tray bake Kuchen with apricots, or a traditional German Stollen, or the snackable but time consuming Taralli Pugliesi to name a few. 

Yes, this Baba does rise both in the pan and in the oven. Yes, you do need to cover the top with foil if it seems to be browning quickly as mine did. Yes, it is delicious. Yes, I encourage you to make it for Christmas...or even before...and be a Buddy by emailing Lien with a photo and a short bit on how it was making it and a URL if you blogged about December 29th, so you have time after Christmas to actually do the email.

So, as usual, I did make a few changes. Because of my dairy allergy, I used melted margarine. Because I was tired after a full day of baking things like Christmas cookies, as well as this delightful dessert, I didn't top it with anything other than the syrup. It didn't really need anything else, being like a nice combination of a pound cake and bread with some moisture from the syrup and a faint champagne flavor.

In case you have been following the Babes all these years, you would know that Lien has baked every single bread. That's 12 months times 10 years (minus January the first year since our anniversary is the month of February)...a lot of bread and a lot of dedication. Not sure that anyone else can make that claim.  She has certainly been a guiding light for our group and she creates those gorgeous badges each month, too (except for this month). The sad news is that she will be going on hiatus now and will join a wonderful group of women who have been active Babes and are now busy with other things in their lives, but still Bread Baking Babes in our Hall of Fame! When you send that Buddy email, consider thanking her for all that she has done to make our group a shining one.

Don't forget to visit the other Babes to see how they handled this challenge. I think you'll be inspired!

Happy Holidays dear reader. I know some of you are in the background, but I also know how loyal you are and it gives me great pleasure and joy to know that you sometimes find a recipe to try while keeping up with my enthusiasms. There will be a few more posts in 2017, but those of you who know what a year I have had will join me in being anxious for 2018 to start. It has to be an improvement on this year!

Champagne Baba
Makes on large or 12 small babas

100 g water
1 tsp instant dry yeast
1 TBsp sugar
100 g bread flour

180 g bread flour
½ tsp fine salt
¼ tsp instant dry yeast
1,5 tsp vanilla sugar
3 large eggs
90 g melted butter (I used margarine, melted and cooled)

soaking syrup:
150 g sugar
150 g water
120 g champagne (or Asti Spumante or fruitjuice)

200 g apricot jam (or use a sugar glaze) (I skipped this step)

Mix all the ingredients for the sponge together in a large bowl (the one you’ll be kneading the dough in). Now sprinkle 180 g bread flour over the sponge, so it is covered and leave to rest for about 1 hour.

Now add the salt, ¼ tsp dry yeast, vanilla sugar and eggs. Start to mix this. If using a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment. When it comes together after a few minutes, add the melted (and slightly cooled) butter and keep working it. The dough is a bit batterlike, but be sure to get some gluten developed.

For one large Baba:
Place it in the moulds. You can use a loaf tin or a round baking form (Lien used a paper Panettone mould  - and I used a 6-inch diameter springform pan), filled about half way up. Cover with plastic and leave to rise until 2-3 cm under the rim of the mould.

In the meantime don’t forget to preheat the oven to 180ºC (350-360ºF).

Bake for about 45-55 minutes, until golden brown on top. If the bread gets too dark too soon, protect the top with a sheet of tin foil. Check the temperature in the bread with a thermometer, it should be about 93ºC (200 degrees F).

Take out of the oven and the tin and place on a deep dish. Poke the bread with a long wooden skewer from top to bottom. Brush the syrup all over it, and get as much as possible inside the bread, so take your time. Collect the syrup from the plate and keep pouring and brushing it, until all in absorbed in the bread.

For 12 small baba’s:
Grease a tray with 12 little moulds (containing about 75 ml each) and divide the dough in them. The dough shouldn’t be filling more than half of the shapes. Cover with plastic and let rise until almost to the rim.
In the meantime don’t forget to preheat the oven to 180ºC (350-360ºF).

Place in the oven and bake for about 18 minutes, The Baba’s should be golden on top. Check the temperature in the bread with a thermometer, it should be about 93ºC. Take them out of the oven and out of the mould. Place them in a wide shallow dish in one layer. Pour the champagne syrup over the baba’s. Now keep turning the baba’s one by one on all sides, including top and bottom, until all the syrup is absorbed.

Topping and serving:
Now heat the apricot jam in a small pan and let it boil, add a little water if it is too thick. Brush or pour it over the top. You can also opt for a simple sugar glaze. This topping keeps the moisture in. If you eat the baba’s on the baking day, you can also skip the topping
For an extra festive feel, serve with whipped cream and fresh fruit or jam.
The baba is best eaten on the day that it’s baked. But if not, keep in the fridge.

For the syrup
In a small pot combine the water, sugar, and champagne. Bring to a simmer and simmer until syrup thickens a bit, about 5 minutes. Let cool before brushing on the baba.

(inspired by a Beth Hensperger recipe)

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Proper Pouring Custard

My friend Anne Marie has been binge watching the Great British Baking Show on Netflix. I didn't even know this until we went to dinner at her house and found that we were on the same wavelength. I had brought baked apples, but also a pouring custard using a recipe of Mary Berry, one of the hosts of the show. It was called a Proper Pouring Custard, which in British-speak means it's the one to make and use to embellish the 'pudding' course, also know as dessert time. Since it was a Mary Berry recipe it was surely authentic.

A little over a year ago we were dining with our Irish cousins. The pudding was a lovely plum tart and it was served with an amazing custard sauce. Barbara said that it was a mixture of a pouring custard and whipped up heavy cream. Since the Irish have some of the best dairy products to be had, you can imagine how delicious that sauce was. I have to imagine, too, since I can no longer tolerate dairy. I'm going by the exclamations of delight, especially by Sweetie, as the sauce was devoured.

This time I made four baked apples using the recipe HERE. I used Jonagold apples because they have enough tartness to stand up to the filling and the sauce, but also because they hold their shape after being cooked. For the sauce to go with the baked apples, I used non-dairy soy creamer instead of whole milk and cream. I suspect that it meant a thinner sauce, but it was still delicious. Of course the thinner sauce might have been created by whisking in about 3 tablespoons of good bourbon. Hard to say.

I had wanted to add whipped cream for the sauce for the other diners, but I made the sauce too late in the day and it was still pretty hot when we left the house. Any whipped cream I added then would have just melted. Might try it again some other day to see if it in any way comes close to the Irish standard. Even without the whipped cream, it was smooth, delicious and took the baked apples to another level...a higher one. There will likely be leftover sauce, but it is fine over brownies, pound cake, gingerbread, fruit get the idea. Would probably also be a great sauce over pancakes or waffles, especially if you included some fruit in or over the baked breakfast goodies.

Proper Pouring Custard
Mary Berry's with some substitutions of mine
makes about 2 1/2 cups

1 pint (2 cups, 570 ml) milk (I used plain soy creamer) 
2 oz heavy cream ( 55 ml) (I just used more of the soy creamer) 
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons cornstarch / cornflour
1 oz (30 grams) granulated sugar / caster sugar
4 egg yolks

In a small pot, over very low heat, heat the milk, cream and vanilla until it just starts to simmer.

While the milk is heating, whisk the sugar and the cornstarch together in a small bowl. Add the egg yolks and whisk until well blended.

When milk has just started to simmer, scoop about a half cup of it out of the pot and whisk it into the egg mixture, then pour the egg mixture into the hot milk, whisking all the while. Once the two mixtures are thoroughly blended, stir with a wooden spoon, constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 5-8 minutes. Don't let the mixture boil.

Once thickened, pour into a bowl or serving jug and cover the top surface with plastic wrap / clingfilm to keep a skin from forming as the sauce cools.

Optional: after sauce has cooled a bit, remove the plastic wrap and whisk in 2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup bourbon or Irish whiskey until blended. Replace the plastic wrap and continue to let the sauce cool.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

December Tea Party

It's already December 6th. I'm glad that 2017 is almost at an end. It has been a difficult year with too many wonderful people lost to death or saddled with illnesses, along with the October fires which have changed things so much in our community.

The good news is that I was able to have a nice Tea Party yesterday with Natashya, my Sacramento area sister. Sweetie spent some time with us and enjoyed one of the Pecan Tarts with a little whipped cream. He made a cute face when we told him that he had cream on his mustache.

We started with savories, including a store bought quiche for N and hummus and carrots for me. All three of us enjoyed the Avocado Toasts with Smoked Salmon and the fruit mixture of strawberries and kiwi fruit.

Next there were Currant Scones, accompanied by raspberry jam and whipped cream. Lots of Earl Gray tea was poured during all of this and the conversation ranged over many areas as good conversation does.

Then we got to the really sweet part with Pecan Tarts. More whipped cream was available to top them if you chose to do that. More tea was poured. More conversation.

Last we had the birthday cake...Natashya's birthday was in late November, so we only had to move the feast a short ways. It was a purchased Chocolate Rum loaf. Since that had butter, I had a couple of tiny vegan chocolate tarts instead...more tea...more conversation.

It really was a lovely afternoon. Happy Birthday Natashya!

We'll start with the recipe for the Avocado Toasts with Smoked Salmon:
Makes six toasts

Six slices baguette, between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick, toasted
1 avocado, ripe
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste (I only used pepper since the salmon is salty)
enough thinly sliced smoked salmon to cover the slices (not sure of the weight)
Optional- a few Italian parsley leaves.

Place the toasted baguette slices on a clean work surface.

Cut the avocado in half. Peel and remove the seed. Mash both halves in a small bowl. Add the lemon juice and mash it into the avocados. I used a fork, which worked well. Make it as chunky or smooth as you prefer.

Spoon the avocado mixture evenly dividing it between the toast slices. Spread out to cover the slices. Sprinkle with salt and/or pepper. Top each slice with one layer of smoked salmon.

If desired, garnish with a single Italian parsley leaf