Wednesday, March 14, 2018


Spring rains have come, along with the beautiful spring flowers, both brilliant bulbs near the front of the house and soft plum blossoms down the hill. As I come and go to chiropractic visits and trips to the gym, I enjoy the feelings of hope that they convey.

The accident was a week ago. I finally woke up this morning with no headache, the first time all week. I still am sore, especially my neck and shoulders, but the most debilitating part is that I tire very easily. I've had to cancel a number of social events because there was no way to enjoy the time and because what I really needed was another nap. Had hoped that by now that wouldn't be the case, but older bodies require more time I guess.

Maybe I'll be able to bake in time for the Cake Slice Bakers, but probably not for Bread Baking Babes day after tomorrow.

Sending you mid-week greeting on Pi Day! Had hoped to bake Sweetie a pie for Pi Day, but guess that won't happen. Soon I tell myself, soon.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Jerk Pork Braise

Keeping with the braised meats theme, another recent dinner was for a pork shoulder roast braised with jerk seasonings for a long time at low oven temperature. Not only does it taste wonderful, but your kitchen will smell great because first you rub the roast with the jerk seasonings and then you brown it. During the browning there is a lot of fragrant smoke. While it cooks more of those great smells drift out, making it hard to wait until the meat is truly cooked to falling apart.

I don't own stock in either King Arthur Flour or Penzey's spices, but maybe I should. They are my go-to sources for specialty flours (King Arthur) and the best spices around (Penzey's). I'm lucky that there is a Penzey's retail store in Santa Rosa, so not too far away, which means that I can buy a spice or herb the day I need to use it. They often have an additional small jar of spice that they give for free when you purchase some, which is a great way to find out about more of their products. The same is true for online purchases, so check them out if you prize excellence in herbs and spices.

When I visited our daughter in the LA area in mid-February, she wanted to invite the neighbors over and so we cooked this recipe in her InstaPot using the pressure cooker feature and the Penzey's Jerk Pork spice. I decided to try cooking the same recipe in a slow oven since I don't have an InstaPot and I do have wonderful cast iron dutch ovens. At her house we browned the beast of a roast (something like 8 pounds!) in her 10-inch cast iron skillet because it was too large to brown in the appliance. At home I was able to easily brown the much smaller (about 4 pounds) roast in my dutch oven on top of the stove, then add some broth and put on the lid. Easier clean up.

Do be patient and give the meat proper cooking time.As you can see from the photo, it is suppose to fall apart and be very tender. I served ours with coleslaw and baguette for sopping up the juices, but you can also serve it with rice or mashed potatoes or with rolls...just know that you are going to want to enjoy the juices along with the meat.

Jerk Pork
Serves 4-6

4 lb pork shoulder roast (if bone-in try for 5 lbs)
3-4 tablespoons jerk pork seasoning - I used Penzey's
1 cup broth - either beef, chicken, or vegetable - I used chicken
olive oil for browning

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Rinse and dry the pork shoulder roast. If there is a netting holding the roast together, remove the netting and discard it. Rub the roast all over generously with the jerk pork seasoning.

In a large dutch oven or other heavy oven-proof pot with tight lid, heat about a tablespoon olive oil until almost smoking hot. Brown the roast all over. Take care to keep the smoke away from you, especially your eyes and breathing since the browning spices are pungent. I used my over stove fan at the highest setting it would go.

Remove pot from the heat and add the broth. Cover and place in the preheated oven. Cook for 3 hours, checking halfway through (and as often as needed after that) to make sure that there is still enough broth in the bottom to keep it from burning. Add more broth as needed.

When meat is tender, remove from oven. Let sit 5 minutes. Remove from pot and either slice or shred. Serve at once with any juices still in the pot.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Lamb Shanks Savory Delight

I've had lamb shanks at restaurants, the last time being in Avignon in France, but have never made them least not that I can remember. Turns out that they are an easy braise and a savory delight. The key things are to brown the shanks very well before braising, and to start the dish early enough that you can allow it a nice, slow braise in the oven for tender meat.

So, what is braising, you may ask? It is slow cooking of something with additional liquid added. Pot roast is a well known example.

Sweetie and I provide pasture for lambs for our neighbors each year. As a thank you they usually give us some lamb. I was going through the freezer a week or so ago and noticed that they had given us a beautiful lamb shank, almost two pounds in size. This is the perfect size for a dinner for two. Although you can probably get lamb shanks that are boned by the butcher, for this braise a shank with the bone is best.

A quick review of online recipes revealed that you brown the shank, brown aromatics like onion, garlic, carrot and celery, then cook all of those with a liquid, often wine, and with aromatic herbs like rosemary and thyme. I also added a pinch of dried orange peel, a trick from Julia Child.

This was a most delicious meal. I served the shanks in low, wide soup bowls with cooked yukon gold potatoes, smashed, and with cooked peas. I sprinkled gremolata on top to add a bring note and spooned on some of the delicious broth and vegetables. It was the perfect dish for a chilly winter evening. Try it yourself and see!

For those who are keeping track of what I am up to beyond food, a couple of days ago I was rear ended shortly before noon. The good news is that, other than some muscle soreness on my right side, I am fine. I was pretty shaken up and very sore yesterday, but rest and fluids, some movement and stretching, and chiropractic and ice and some ibuprofen have helped. The poor car will take some time to repair but in the meantime I scored a nice rental SUV. Thanks to everyone who expressed their concern. Although sometimes injury doesn't show up right away, as far as I can tell I'll be fine.
Sweetie was, as always, a rock and I'm sure I would have fallen to pieces without him. I'm a blessed and lucky woman!

Lamb Shanks with Red Wine and Herbs
Serves 2

2 one pound lamb shanks or one two pound shank
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large carrot, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 cups red wine
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
1 15oz. can diced tomatoes and juice
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon dried, crushed orange peel

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Rinse lamb shank(s) and dry thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Heat olive oil in heavy oven-proof covered dutch oven or similar large pot. Brown lamb on all sides. Remove to plate. Saute carrot, celery, onion and garlic in same pot, stirring often, until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add wine to the pot and stir to deglaze pan. Return the lamb to the pot, add the chicken broth, tomatoes and juice, herbs and orange peel. Cover pot and place in preheated oven. Cook for one and a half (1 1/2) hours, then turn pot 180 degrees and cook in oven at same temperature another one to one and a half hours, until meat is tender and falling off the bone.

Serve at once, with generous portions of the juices and vegetables in the broth. If desired, top with gremolata.

1 clove garlic, minced fine
lemon zest from one lemon
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat leaf parsley

Combine all ingredients. Sprinkle over cooked meats, poultry or veggies that need a flavor lift.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Best Oatmeal Cookies

I have a very thoughtful daughter. She knows that I love to bake. For my birthday she gave me the Zingerman's Bakehouse Cookbook and it is a treasure. The book combines great recipes, both sweet and savory, excellent baking tips and instructions, and an overview of their company both the people and the philosophy.

Finally had some time today to try a recipe from the cookbook. I chose to start with their oatmeal cookies, which they call the Big O Cookies. I'm past the time when a big-o should mean anything other than the best oatmeal cookie ever...and these really are. They are a generous size (although I was baking mine in my countertop oven, so I made them smaller than the recipe called for. They have chewy old-fashioned oats, a nice mixture of brown sugar and maple for sweetness, plus lots of raisins. There is just enough cinnamon and nutmeg and they are almost the right thickness.

I made half the recipe and couldn't figure out a way to halve an egg, so I added a little more flour...about 2 make up for the added liquid. Turns out I should have only added 1 tablespoon or maybe none since they were slightly more cakey that I had been expecting. However, even with that they were the best oatmeal cookies that Sweetie has ever had (according to him) and I just loved them, too. I did stray from the recipe a tiny bit...I used a bit more cinnamon and used golden raisins instead of flame variety, plus I used less raisins. Of course also I used non-dairy margarine instead of butter.

Thank you K for this great book and thank you to my dear sister G and niece T for letting me know about Zingerman' Ann Arbor, MI institution.

Big O Cookies
From Zingerman's Bakehouse Cookbook, slightly revised by me

Notes: There are both cup measures and weights here. I used the weights as much as possible because bakers find that this works better. If you have a scale, please use the will be glad. Smaller amounts don't have weights. Brown sugar is always packed if measured.

margarine, room temperature          1 cup + 2 tablespoons        250 g
brown sugar                                     3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons     154 g
maple syrup                                     1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon       172 g
large egg                                           1
vanilla extract                                  1 teaspoon
all-purpose flour                              1 3/4 cups + 1 tablespoon  255 g
baking soda                                      1 1/8 teaspoon
sea salt                                              1 1/8 teaspoon
ground cinnamon                             1 1/8 teaspoon
ground nutmeg                                 1/4 teaspoon
old-fashioned rolled oats                  3 cups                                 300 g
flame raisins (I used golden)            2 3/4 cups                           390 g

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180C).

Prepare a couple of cookie sheets by lining with parchment paper. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl use a wooden spoon or stand mixer on medium speed to cream the margarine (or use unsalted butter which will be even better) and sugar until light and fluffy. Add maple syrup in thirds to keep batter from curdling permanently. Add maple syrup slowly to blend it in easily.

Add the egg and vanilla extract and mix until thoroughly incorporated.

In another bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg...I used a whisk to mix it all together. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixer. Stir with wooden spoon or with electric mixer on low speed until evenly combined. Add the oats and raisins and mix to distribute evenly.

Scoop about 3 tablespoons of dough, or use a 1 1/2 oz.(48 ml) scoop (disher) onto the prepared cookie sheets, spacing far apart to allow for spreading. Press down so that dough rounds are about 1/2-inch thick.

Bake cookies for 15 -17 minutes, until golden brown around the edges and just set in the middle. Cool on a rack to room temperature.

Tip: Dough can be refrigerated uncooked and kept a week. Bake cookies right from the fridge. Expect to bake for and additional 2-3 minutes since they are cold.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

A Different Take On Onion Tart

For the tea party last week I baked a version of my favorite onion tart. Usually I use puff pastry as the base, but the puff pastry I had in the freezer turned out to be spoiled, so I had to improvise.

Fortunately...since time was an issue...I had some already made pie crust dough. The tart shell was a long, thin, rectangle and the dough was a circle, but I just sliced off a little of the side dough and added it to the ends. Because I wanted the sides to be thicker than a single layer of crust, I also added an extra layer of the dough to the sides, then pressed the dough into the indents in the sides, rolled a rolling pin over the tart pan top to cut off the dough, and put the whole thing in the freezer for 20 minutes to firm up. Then I pricked the dough lightly all over and baked it briefly. No need to fully bake it since it would bake the rest of the way when the tart was filled.

The filling stayed the same as the previous recipe except that I used drained plain yogurt for the base instead of creme fraiche. Don't use Greek's difficult to drain. Don't use vanilla yogurt either...too much sugar and this is a savory tart. Do use a mellow honey, a dry white wine and freshly grated nutmeg.

It turned out really well. The crust sides were strong enough to hold up to cutting into portions and the filling was delicious. It made such a nice part of our savories for our Afternoon Tea.

Honey-Roasted Onion Tartbased on February 2011 Bon Appetit magazine recipe

1 single pie crust (I used Pillsbury ReadyCrust)

3 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces

1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup dry white wine
2-3 large sweet yellow onions (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut into 1/4 inch thick rounds
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1/2 cup drained plain yogurt (I used Russian low fat yogurt, drained briefly in a fine mesh strainer)
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
Few sprigs fresh thyme leaves

Using lightly floured rolling pin, roll out pastry on lightly flour surface. Cut sides and piece at either end to make a  rectangle to fit your tart pan, plus extra for the sides.I used a X by X-inch tart pan with removable bottom. You could also use an 8-inch round tart pan and roll the pie crust dough to fit, with enough to fold the dough back down the sides all around. Press doubled sides against the tart pan sides firmly. Roll a rolling pin over the top edges of the tart to trim off excess dough. Chill crust in freezer at least 20 minutes.

Cook bacon in small skillet over medium heat until brown and crisp. Position rack in top third of oven and preheat to 375 degrees F while bacon is cooking. Transfer crisp bacon to paper towels to drain. Reserve 1 tablespoon bacon drippings from skillet.

Whisk honey, wine and reserved 1 tablespoon bacon drippings in large bowl. Add onions; toss to coat. Coat another large rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Spread onion mixture in even layer on sheet. Roast 30 minutes. Turn onions over, allowing rings to separate. Roast until onions are caramelized, turning often for even browning, 30 to 45 minutes. (I cooked them until the least colored ones were pale gold, which meant that some edges were charred, but mostly the mass of onions was medium gold, not darker because they will still be browning while tart cooks later.) cool onions slightly. (At this point, and without leaving the oven on, you can refrigerate the onion mixture, then bring it back to room temperature the next day for the baking part if you prefer to do it in two parts.)

Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees F. Remove tart pan from freezer and use a fork to lightly prick the crust all over. Bake for 8 minutes, then remove from oven and cool ten minutes.

Mix drained yogurt, sea salt,nutmeg and dried thyme in small bowl. Using offset spatula, spread yogurt mixture mixture over crust  to the edge. Arrange onions atop yogurt layer. Sprinkle with bacon. Bake tart until crust is light golden brown and topping is bubbling, 20 to 25 minutes. Check at 15 minutes to make sure that crust isn't over browning. If it is, put strips of aluminum foil over the crust sides to shield until topping is done. Onions will have some very dark brown strands. Sprinkle with fresh thyme and serve.

Makes about 6 appetizer servings.