Sunday, January 28, 2018

Spiral Butternut Squash

For Christmas Sweetie gave me a fancy spiralizer attachment set for the Kitchen Aid stand mixer. I finally had time to play with it yesterday and used it to make a loooooong spiral of butternut squash. It was pretty fast and a lot of fun. One thing I found out, though, is that it leaves a fair amount of the squash untouched, so I used a sharp knife and turned the rest into smaller pieces of squash, mostly matchsticks about the same thickness as the squash spirals.

Then I had to figure out what to do with it. One idea was to boil it like pasta and make a pasta sauce with chunks of chicken and some mushrooms. Another was to coat the strands with oil, sprinkle on some salt and pepper and air fry it like french fries. What I finally decided to do was to put it into a baking pan after mixing it with sliced mushrooms and then pour on a mixture of soy creamer, egg, pepper, and vegan pesto to make a baked casserole.

That worked out pretty well. I did find that the squash had done some releasing of juices, so the casserole was soggy at the bottom. I also discovered that the sauce was prone to curdling, probably because I baked it at 350 degrees F. Next time I'll cook the squash in a frying pan first to make it less soggy, then bake it at a lower temperature so the sauce stays nice and smooth.

The taste was outstanding! The pesto sauce was a counterpoint to the slightly sweet squash and the mushrooms added an earthy component. Sweetie had two helpings, so I know that it was a hit.

Butternut Squash Spirals Casserole

About 4 cups spiralized butternut squash (skin and any seeds removed before turning squash into spirals)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms (or more, to taste)
1 cup unsweetened soy creamer or milk or half and half
1 egg
1/2 cup prepared pesto
salt and pepper to taste (I didn't use any salt but should have)

Line a 9-inch by 9-inch baking pan with foil. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

In a large clean produce bag or gallon ziploc bag combine the squash spirals, oil and mushrooms. Pour out of bag into prepared pan.

In a medium bowl whisk together the soy creamer, egg, pesto, salt and pepper. When fully combined, pour evenly over the squash. Use kitchen shears to snip any very long spirals of the squash.

Cover the baking pan with foil to seal and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Uncover and return to the oven and bake another 15 - 20 minutes, or until squash is tender and ends sticking up start to brown a bit.

Serve at once.

Optional: Shake together the squash spirals and the oil and then cook the squash over medium-high heat for 5-10 minutes, or until juices have been released and cooked off. Cool slightly, then combine with the mushrooms, put into the pan, and proceed as directed in the recipe.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Lemon Curd for January

In this day and age where imports allow U.S.A. consumers to have fruits and veggies of all sorts all year long, it's good to remember that most things are at their best when eaten during the season when they ripen locally. A perfect example would be the Meyer lemon. Although it can be found at the market, in California in January you are just as likely to find it for free at the gym, the club meeting, or church because the lemon trees often grow to such a size that dozens and dozens of lemons ripen at once and the lucky homeowner finds that there are plenty to share. It is a little like the zucchini in summer - an embarrassment of riches.

I've recently been gifted with quite a few Meyer lemons by friends and friends of friends, plus I had egg yolks left over from making the Pretzel Peanut Butter Cake, so I decided to try making one of my favorite lemon recipes, lemon curd, but with non-dairy margarine instead of butter. The curd is delicious and in flavor very hard to tell apart from the butter based curd, but it is interesting that the curd itself is just a bit more opaque that curd made with butter. Both are very only need a small amount on your toast, English muffin or biscuit or scone. (Worth making scones so that you can lavish them with this curd and maybe some raspberry jam and a little whipped cream if you can do dairy...)

You can also use the curd to fill thumbprint cookies, to fill layers of cake if you are making a layer cake, as a pie or tart filling as so on. Some people find that their favorite way to enjoy lemon curd is spooned directly from the jar.

I've had this recipe a long time and I don't remember where it came from. I know there are other ways to make lemon curd, but this one produces a curd that has body, a nice zesty lemon flavor, and a richness but it isn't overly sweet. It takes a little time to zest the fruit, then juice it, to beat the eggs and sugar long enough that it is truly fluffy, and then to whisk the mixture constantly for about 15 minutes, but you are worth the effort!

Zesty Lemon Curd Yields 3 Cups  - Stores up to 3 months in fridge

3-4 fragrant, bright-skinned lemons
1/2 Cup (1 stick) plus 2 Tablespoons butter (or margarine), cut up
Pinch of salt
4 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1 1/4 Cups sugar

1) Run 2 inches of water into the base pan of a double boiler and set over medium heat to come to a brisk simmer.

2) Boil water in a large pot and use it to sterilize three half-pint canning jars and lids and screw-on bands. Remove from water bath and drain on a tea towel. When cool, turn right-side up, ready for the curd.

3) Grate or shred enough lemon zest from washed & dried lemons to make 1 1/2 tablespoons, packed, lemon zest. Place the zest in the top pan of the double boiler. Juice the lemons and strain juice to make 1/2 Cup; add to the zest. Add the cut up butter & salt to the pan. Set aside.

4) Beat the egg yolks and whole egg together at high speed in the large bowl of an electric mixer until they are foamy; gradually add the sugar, continuing to beat the mixture until it is pale, fluffy, & very thick, about 5 minutes.

5) Scrape the egg mixture into the double-boiler top and set the top into the base containing simmering water. At once begin whisking the mixture; cook it, whisking constantly, until it has thickened smoothly and is steaming hot, about 15 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the curd; it is done when it will coat a metal or wooden spoon heavily. Remove the upper pan from the hot water.

6) Pour the curd into a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl and press it through with a rubber spatula, leaving the shreds of zest behind (discard shreds). (It is o.k. to leave the zest in the curd, but the texture is different.) Scrape the curd into sterilized jars. Let it cool uncovered. Cap jars of cooled curd with sterilized lids. Refrigerate the curd.

Note: This can be made with lime zest & juice. Use 1 Tablespoon lime zest and 1/2 Cup lime juice and follow the recipe the same way for everything else.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Cake Slice Bakers Peanut Butter Pretzel Cake

The Cake Slice Bakers are super excited because we have been given access to unpublished recipes for the book The Perfect Cake and this month we are baking some of those cakes. We had a choice between
  1. Fallen Chocolate Cakes p.96
  2. King Cake p.280
  3. Peanut Butter Pretzel Cake p.166
  4. Saffron-Orange Bundt Cake p.342
I chose the Peanut Butter Pretzel Cake because it had a technique I've never tried before and I wanted to see how well it worked. The usual process for a butter cake is to cream the butter and the sugar, add eggs and incorporate them, and then add the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients, often alternating between wet and dry.

This cake is quite different since the dry ingredients are mixed together, then the butter is basically cut into the dry ingredients until peas sized, similar to how you start a pastry. The wet ingredients, including the egg white, are mixed together in a glass measuring cup and then added to the butter/dry ingredient mixture in two parts.

Because this makes a three layer 8-inch in diameter cake I decided to divide the recipe and bake one third in a 6-inch diameter cake pan. I figured that would make it tall enough that I could just cut the layer in half and have a small cake. There are only two of us and so making a three layer large cake is silly. Unfortunately, the cake didn't rise very much, so I ended up baking another third of the recipe so that the finished cake would be proportionally tall enough.

I ran into another problem. My food processor isn't working at the moment and the recipe called for making a flour out of the broken small pretzels. My work-around was to put them in a plastic bag and crush them finely with a rolling pin. It worked pretty well, but the ground pretzels may have allowed for a taller layer. For the second go round I was also low on pretzels, so I substituted almond flour. For both I weighed the ingredients on my food scale. The almond flour layer had a much finer texture but we ended up liking the pretzel layer a little better, even if it was a bit just had a nicer crumb overall.

The frosting is delicious, with a true peanut butter flavor and it's very rich and fluffy. I made a full recipe, having forgotten that I didn't need that much. It was the next day and I was tired, to tell the truth. Still, I was able to be generous with the frosting. Although I didn't have a large number of pretzels left, I did have enough to circle the bottom of the cake with whole ones. I don't like candied peanuts, so I skipped that part, and then I decided to have the cake pop by using a small amount of ganache to decorate the top and down the sides. The tiny bit of extra bitter ganache really tempered the super rich and sweet frosting, so, even though the recipe doesn't call for it, you may want to add it if you make this recipe.

Because The Perfect Cake is not in print yet, I won't be including the recipe, but you can order it in advance to be sure that you can make this wonderful cake once the book is available.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Tartine Polenta Bread for the Babes

Seems like a long time since I've posted, but until the day before yesterday I've not been cooking or baking anything that warrants posting...boring! That has changed!!

Fortunately, Elizabeth of 'blog from OUR  Kitchen', the Bread Baking Babes Kitchen of the Month, chose a Tartine bread for our enjoyment. Tartine is an artisan bakery in San Francisco. They make slow-rise natural yeast breads with attention being paid to the crust and to a soft, moist, somewhat holey interior (think Swiss cheese). The extra holes are created by both using a high-hydration dough (lots of water) and careful handling so that air from the expanding yeasts is retained in the dough during shaping.

I was fortunate to find a copy of the Tartine Bread book at the library. It has many, many photos to help with understanding the methods described so well by Chad Robertson. The polenta version, which is what we made, adds toasted pumpkin seeds, soaked polenta, oil, and fresh rosemary to the basic recipe. It is a wonderful bread and smells delicious, but the taste is what takes it over the top. I highly recommend that you get a copy of the book and make this bread.

The thing to know is that this is a bread that takes time. Time to create the leaven, time to let the dough sit after water and flour and salt are mixed, time to combine the additions of the seeds, polenta, oil and herb, time to do the bulk fermentation, time to let the slightly shaped dough sit, time to let the shaped dough sit in the basket or brotform, and, finally, time to bake it, both with and without the cover. The good news is that most of the steps don't take much time on their own. You go to the dough, wet your hand, do the turns in a minute or less, and you are good to go on with other things for a half hour...this is during bulk fermentation.

I started with my own sourdough starter to make the leavener. I also used the recipe directly from the Tartine Bread book, not the one below, although they are almost identical. It makes two large loaves. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the leavener sat in the fridge for a few days until I had a day free to take the time needed to finish the dough. Even so, I only baked one bread loaf and finished that at 10 pm. Mostly that was poor planning. If I had done everything up to the brotform stage and then put it all in the fridge overnight, I could have baked two loaves the next day. Of course part of the reason I did it the way I did was because even in the rising stage, the rosemary called my name and I wanted to bake it right away. The good news is that because I baked it late at night, by the morning it was very slicable and I made an outstanding avocado toast with smoked salmon tartine for breakfast. (A tartine is an open faced sandwich on toasted artisan bread.)

I didn't read the instructions at first and made the basic dough with only 600 gm water instead of 750 gm, so it was a tight, dry dough (remember, this is the full two-loaf recipe). While Sweetie and I took the dog for a walk, that dough sat in the fridge and the polenta sat in it's boiling water and soaked. Since I shorted the water at the beginning, I kept all of the water used to soak the polenta (200 gm) and added 1/4 cup additional whole wheat flour when I added the polenta, seeds, oil and rosemary to the original dough. Once it was all squeezed together, it made a dough that felt right and, indeed, it turned out right, too.

For the first loaf I used a basket with a tea towel liberally spread with a mixture of flour and rice flour. That ended up on the top of the bread, which gives it the craters of the moon appearance. The top of the dough also had some whopper air bubbles, which expanded and those are the blackened bits. I baked the first loaf in a cast iron skillet with a large round and tall cake pan over it in my very large toaster oven. It gets hotter than my regular oven and browns nicely.

The second loaf is slightly smaller. I let it rise on a sheet of parchment and then slide all of it into the preheated oval Dutch Oven that was in the regular oven. Less flour and different environment gave it a different look. It has a thinner top crust, too, than loaf number one.

Be sure to check out the other Bread Baking Babes to see their versions and to become a Buddy, by baking it yourself and then posting about it. Send Elizabeth the posting URL and a photo by January 29th and she will send you a Buddy Badge. Her email is on her website.

Thanks for continuing to join me on my cooking and baking journey. I'm hoping to put a little more of my thoughts about non-cooking/baking things in posts this year, but this one is long enough!

Elizabeth's recipe, based on the recipe for 'Polenta Bread' in "Tartine Bread" by Chad Robertson

makes one round loaf:


  • dessert spoonful of bubbling wheat starter from the fridge
  • 75gm (~2/3 c) 100% whole wheat flour
  • 75gm (75ml) water at body temperature
Polenta mixture

  • 70gm (.5 c) raw pepitas (shelled dried pumpkin seeds)
  • 61gm (.5 c) grains for polenta (coarse grind) - I used medium-grind  cornmeal  millet
  • 240gm (1 c) boiling water
  • pinch salt
  • 21gm (1.5 Tbsp) sunflower oil (Robertson calls for unfiltered corn oil)
  • 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped

  • 100gm floating leavener (stir the rest into the jar in the fridge)
  • 500gm flour:
       » 375gm (~3 c) unbleached all purpose (no additives) flour
       » 125gm (~1 c) 100% whole wheat (no additives) flour, sifted (reserve the bran - should be approximately 4gm)
       » 4gm (~1.5 tsp) wheat germ
  • 350gm (350ml) water, at body temperature
Adding the Salt

  • all of the Dough mixture
  • 10gm salt (approx 1.5 tsp table salt - but please see Salt is salt, right?)
  • 25gm (25 ml) water at body temperature

  • rice flour
  • brot-form (or bowl)
  • reserved bran from sifting whole wheat flour

  • parchment paper
  • cast iron frying pan
  • large stainless steel mixing bowl

  1. Leavener and refreshing the starter: On the evening before baking the bread, put the leavener ingredients into a medium-sized bowl. Using your dough whisk (use a wooden spoon if you don't have a whisk), mix the leavener ingredients until all the flour is incorporated. Leave 100gm in the bowl. Mix the extra into the jar in the fridge. Cover the bowl containing the 100gm with a plate and leave in the oven with only the light turned on overnight - until it becomes bubbly and frothy like mousse.
  2. polenta mixture:Spread pumpkin seeds evenly in one layer into a dry cast-iron frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring from time to time with a wooden spoon, until the seeds begin to pop, changing from light green to brown (Robertson says this takes about 10 minutes but for me, it took about 5 minutes). Set aside and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes.
      1. Pour boiling water into a bowl and stir in cornmeal (or whatever grain you are using). Set aside for about 10 minutes. Put the raw grains into a pot over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally until they are turning gold and smell toasty (not more than 5 minutes). Add the water and a pinch of salt. Turn up the heat, stir and bring the mixture to a rapid boil. Turn the heat down to very low, cover the pot and allow the grains to simmer for about 15 minutes. Avoid the temptation to lift the lid. When the water has absorbed, remove from the heat and allow to cool.
      2. Add oil, rosemary and pumpkin seeds.
    dough: When a small spoonful of the leavener floats in a small bowl of room temperature water, you can go ahead and mix the dough. (If the leavener does not float, stir in a little more whole wheat flour and water - even amounts by weight - cover with a plate and leave for about 30 minutes more. Chances are that it will now float.) Put all the dough ingredients into a large mixing bowl along with the now bubbling leavener. Mix as well as you can with a wooden spoon. Cover the bowl with a plate and leave on the counter to rest for about 40 minutes. Chad Robertson says Do not skip the resting period. Working with the nature of the dough, the resting perod allows the protein and starch in the flour to absorb the water, swell, and then relax into a cohesive mass.adding the salt: Pour the 25gm water over-top of the mass of dough. Sprinkle on the salt, making sure that it goes onto the water. (Alternatively Chad Robertson recommends adding the salt to the Dough Mixture for Polenta Bread, rather than waiting until this step)
  3. kneading:Use one of your hands to squoosh the salt and water into the dough; use the other hand to steady the bowl - this way you always have a clean hand. At first the dough might be a bit messy. But persevere. Suddenly, it will seem more like dough than a horrible separated glop. Keep folding it over onto itself until it is relatively smooth. Cover with a plate and leave to rest for about 30 minutes.
    stretching and folding (part 1): About 30 minutes after adding the salt, run your dough-working hand under water. Reach down along the side of the bowl and lift and stretch the dough straight up and almost out of the bowl. Fold it over itself to the other side of the bowl. Turn the bowl and repeat until it's a little difficult to stretch the dough up any more. You'll notice that the dough feels significantly smoother. Cover with a plate and leave on the counter (or if the kitchen is cool like ours in winter, in the oven with only the light turned on) for about 30 minutes.
    Repeat the above step
    adding the polenta mixture: Add the polenta mixture to the dough. Run your dough-working hand under water and use it to squoosh the polenta, pepitas and rosemary into the dough. Allow to rest for 30 minutes
  4. stretching and folding (part 2): Repeat the stretching and folding step 1 or 2 more times (Robertson says it should be done 4 times in all). Robertson writes [N]otice how the dough starts to get billowy, soft, and aerated with gas. At this later stage, you should turn the dough more gently to avoid pressing gas out of the dough. [...] A well-developed dough is more cohesive and releases from the sides of the bowl when you do the turns. The ridges left by the turn will hold their shape for a few minutes. You will see a 20 to 30 percent increase in volume. More air bubbles will form along the sides of the container. These are all signs that the dough is ready to be [...] shaped
  5. prepare the brot-form: Put rice flour into a brotform and distribute it as evenly as possible. (If you don't have a brot-form, you can line a bowl, basket or sieve with parchment paper. You can also use a liberally rice floured tea towel (but then you have to deal with a floured tea towel once the bread is baked). If you do not have rice flour, you can use wheat flour. However, it makes it significantly more difficult for the bread to be released from the basket....
  6. shaping: Scatter a dusting of wheat flour on the board and gently place the dough on the flour. Using wet hands, stretch the dough into a longish rectangle, then fold it like a letter, gently patting off any extra flour that might be there. Continue folding until the dough is shaped in a ball. Place it seam side UP in the well floured (rice) brot-form. Evenly spread the reserved bran on and around the seam. Loosely wrap the basket and bread with a clean tea towel and enclose the whole thing inside a plastic bag and leave it in the oven with only the light turned on for 2 or 3 hours (until it has about doubled). You can also refrigerate the shaped bread overnight. Just be sure that it is in a large enough container.
  7. baking: To know when it's time to bake, run your index finger under water and gently but firmly press it on the side of the bread. If the dough springs back immediately, recover the bread with the plastic bag and leave it in the oven with only the light turned on. If the dough gradually returns back after being pressed, put the cast-iron frying pan and stainless steel bowl into the oven and preheat all to 425F.
  8. About fifteen minutes later, put a square of parchment paper on the counter (the paper should be large enough to cover the bottom and sides of the frying pan). Overturn the shaped bread onto the parchment paper. Using a lame (or scissors, or serrated knife), score the bread. Take the pan and bowl out of the oven (wear oven mitts!!) and place the frying pan on the stove (to prevent burning your countertop...). Transfer the bread to the middle of the frying pan and immediately put the stainless steel bowl overtop like a hat. Put everything into the oven and immediately turn it down to 400F. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the hat and bake for a further 30 minutes or so, until the crust is a nice dark brown and the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
  9. cooling: When the bread is done, remove it from the pan and allow it to cool on a footed rack before slicing and eating; the bread is still baking internally when first removed from the oven! If you wish to serve warm bread (of course you do), reheat it after it has cooled completely: To reheat any uncut bread, turn the oven to 400F for 5 minutes or so. Turn the oven OFF. Put the bread into the hot oven for about ten minutes. This will rejuvenate the crust and warm the crumb perfectly.
  10. Notes::: salt I urge you to weigh the salt. For more raving about this, please see Salt is salt, right?

    Leavener- The leavener is a 100% hydration and takes about 5 days to make. (Please see our take on Jane Mason's Natural Starter made with Wheat Flour.)

    If you're too afraid (or don't have time) to take five days to make a natural starter and still want to bake this by using commercial yeast, I think what I'd do is create a poolish - say 50gm water, 50gm flour and a few grains (not more than 1/8 tsp) yeast stirred together, covered, and left overnight. And then proceed as written. I confess I haven't tried it but don't see why it won't work. If you're really worried, you could probably add few more grains of yeast into the dough itself as well.

Friday, January 05, 2018

A Milestone

Dear Readers,

When I looked at my stats today I discovered that sometime in the last couple of days this blog passed the 1 million mark of pageviews. Glad that over the 12+ years I've been blogging that so many pages were viewed by you , dear readers, in aggregate. Thank you.

Here's to more cooking and baking fun in the next million pageviews years!

Love, Elle

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Here's to Mixed Up Blondies

Over the years I've tried a number of different combinations when I bake blondies, the brownie like bar cookie that has butterscotch instead of chocolate as the dominate flavor. I've done Big Blondes, Irish Blondes, Dumpy Blondes and California Blondes. This time I decided to go with Mixed-up Blondes. Mixed-up because I combined the basic blondie recipe with some of the aspects of the Dumpy Blondes, particular the sweet-salty combo you get by adding in potato chips and pretzels, with the Irish wholemeal flour that I used for the Irish Blondes, the fruit I added made them almost like California Blondes.  I added a few macadamia nuts, but not very many since I was almost out of them, some pecans, some dried cranberries, toasted coconut, and, of course, chocolate chips. At the end I added about 2 tablespoons golden raisins, to. Truly a mixed-up bowl of add-ins.

The resulting cookie is moist, sweet, and has some salty elements, some fruity elements and some nutty elements. I'll be taking them to a party tomorrow to honor a friend, Jean Anderson, who died last year. We're celebrating her birthday and I know she would have enjoyed these cookies.

Mixed-up Blondes
A variation of a recipe by Jill O’Connor in Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey, Desserts for the Serious Sweet Tooth.

1 cup (2 sticks) non-dairy margarine
3 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup Irish wholemeal flour (or whole-wheat flour)

¾ teaspoon baking powder

1 cup pecan halves
1/4 cup macadamia nuts
1/2 cup sweetened toasted coconut
1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries
1 cup pretzel pieces (I used small ones and broke them up)
1/2 cup sea salt potato chips, lightly crushed
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons golden raisins

Use cooking spray to lightly coat a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.

Melt the butter and brown sugar together in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the butter and sugar are blended and completely melted and starting to bubble gently. Remove the pan from heat and let the mixture cool slightly. Mixture should be room temperature before you proceed.

Preheat to 350 degrees F. Position oven rack in the middle of the oven.

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla and salt. Slowly whisk the cooled butter and sugar mixture into the eggs just until combined. Whisk in the flours and baking powder to form a loose batter. (Make sure the batter is cool before stirring in the remaining ingredients, otherwise the chocolate will start to melt before the bars are baked.)

Stir the nuts, coconut, dried cranberries, pretzel pieces, potato chip pieces, chocolate chips and golden raisins into the cooled batter. (I usually mix together all the Add-ins in a bowl before adding to the prevents a clump of one ingredient here, another ingredient get a better distribution by mixing before adding.) Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula.
Bake until the top is shiny and slightly crackled and feels firm to the touch, 30 – 35 minutes. A wooden skewer inserting into the batter should come out with moist crumbs clinging to it. Let cool on a wire rack to room temperature, then turn out onto a board and cut into bars and serve.
Makes 15 large or 30 small bars.