Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Friday, October 26, 2018

Stain and It's Done

We started refurbishing the 25+ year old back deck in July. This week we had the same company that painted the house come and stain the front ( built a year or two ago) and back decks, including the minimal amount of wood that was original. They are DeAnda Painting in the Petaluma, CA area and I highly recommend them. They do indoor and outdoor work, are very careful and meticulous, easy to work with and fast.

Here are some views. The only thing not showing are the two strings of bright orange fall leaves that I added to the lowest deck today. We still need to put away the unused lumber and other cleanup, but the majority of the project is finished! Sweetie (with my help) did a spectacular job building it.

This morning, and yesterday, were spent clearing out the storage area by the driveway. Sweetie has a whole pick-up load to take to Goodwill. I still haven't been able to give up my stained glass supplies but if I don't use them by this time next year they will go, too. It feels good to have useable items going to a place where they can be purchased for very little by people who will actually use them. In the process of clearing out I discovered the plastic bin with the KitchenAid attachments that I have been looking for, plus some food processor blades, including a dough blade. Might have to use it for my next bread project!

Hope you, too, are having a happy, productive autumn week. No time for cooking and baking, to speak of, but hopefully the next post will have a recipe or two.

XO, Elle

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Cider-Glazed Apple Bundt Cake for Fall with #theCakeSliceBakers

Can you tell that I love the fall of the year? In our area things like tomatoes and roses do really well in October, plus there are the fall fruits like figs and quince, persimmons  and, of course, apples.

I missed baking with the Cake Slice Bakers last month, but this month I was able to bake one of the recipes, Apple Bundt Cake. I used my Bundt pan that has four small cake molds so that I ended up with four very cute little cakes. The cider is easy to reduce in a wide skillet and only took about 20 minutes, so plan ahead to create your apple reduction in advance. It really adds to the apple flavor to have it in the batter, brushed over the warm cakes, and in the sweet drizzle that decorates the tops.

This is an easy cake to make because you don't even need a is all mixed by hand. The dry ingredients go in one bowl, the wet ingredients, vanilla and brown sugar in another one. They get mixed together and then the apples are stirred's as easy as that. The most time consuming part is peeling and shredding the apples and waiting for the cake to bake...if you bake one cake in a full sized Bundt pan it's over an hour of smelling wonderful fragrances of apple and brown sugar and butter.  If you like you can decorate the baked, drizzled cake with seasonal decors...I used a Harvest blend.

Worth the wait for the cake to bake, because the final cake is moist and delightful, almost like a pound cake with apples, but with a more open texture due to the technique used for mixing the batter and due to the shredded apples. Here is what a cut piece looks like (with no decorations or drizzle).

It just so happens that this recipe is available at the American Test Kitchen website, so you can try it and see why you should really buy the book. Every recipe I've tried has been perfect.

Each month The Cake Slice Bakers are offered a selection of cakes from the current book we are baking through.  This year it is The Perfect Cake from America's Test Kitchen #atkcake.  We each choose one cake to bake, and then on the 20th - never before - we all post about our cake on our blogs. There are a few rules that we follow, but the most important ones are to have fun and enjoy baking & eating cakes!

Follow our FacebookInstagram, and Pinterest pages where you can find all of our cakes, as well as inspiration for many other cakes. You can also click on the thumbnail pictures below to take you to each of our cakes, or visit our blog where the links are updated each month. If you are interested in joining The Cake Slice Bakers and baking along with us, please send an email to thecakeslicebakers at gmail dot com for more details.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Bao Buns in a Steamer

When our kitchen of the month, Karen of Karen's Kitchen Stories, let us know that in October we would be making Bao Buns, which are fairly plain, yeasted, steamed buns, I was a little apprehensive. I've never made steamed buns before and I also needed to figure out a filling for them. I was also excited for the exact same reasons. I love a good challenge.

My first challenge was getting a steamer. Finally found one at our local hardware store. Then I had to figure out how much water to put in the wok so that there would be enough steam for 12 minutes, the time it takes to steam these little breads. I ended up adding more water when there were five minutes left because the steam evaporated more quickly than I expected.

Turns out that these cute little buns are pretty easy to make, other than the steam/water level challenge and the fact that they resist rolling out a bit. Figuring out the filling was actually more difficult, but after some searching online I concocted a sauce that seemed right without using hoisin sauce. Most of the barbeque pork recipes I saw called for hoisin sauce but I wanted to be able to control the heat level. My solution was to use teriyaki sauce and then added a tiny bit of Sriracha sauce for the heat. The sauce also used garlic, ginger, ketchup, rice vinegar, brown sugar, and dark soy sauce, so it had some complex flavors. You got a little bit of heat, some sweet, sour and umami flavors.

The buns themselves have very little flavor and are a great vehicle for an assertive filling. We had some pork chops that were already grilled, so I thinly sliced one of them for the filling. I also made a fine julienne of pickled ginger and of green onion to add to the filling. Cilantro was also available but I forgot to add it until I was eating the last one. It was a good addition, so next time it will go in first!

These end up being sort of like sliders. Very tasty. I served them with a chopped salad with Asian flavors, plus some brown rice. I only made half the recipe since Sweetie is still trying to eat less. He has lost 25 pounds! If I avoid baking and cook lots of fruits and veggies he is likely to continue to lose...and so am I (although not nearly as much and I'm not being as vigilant about what I eat).

Thank you Karen for choosing this recipe. Will be making these again. Happy World Bread Day!

You, dear reader, can be a Bread Baking Babes Buddy by making the recipe, taking a photo or two, emailing Karen with your bread baking experience for this recipe + the photo, and she will send you a Buddy Badge and include you in the Round-Up. Deadline is October 29th.

Be sure to check out the other Bread Baking Babes to see what their Bao Buns look like. Besides my self and our Kitchen of the Month, Karen, we have:

Aparna - My Diverse Kitchen
Cathy - Bread Experience
Elizabeth - Blog from Our Kitchen
Judy - Judy's Gross Eats
Karen - Bake My Day
Kelly - A Messy Kitchen
Tanna - My Kitchen in Half Cups

Bao Buns
by Karen of Karen's Kitchen Stories

·                     2 cups (250 grams) all purpose flour, plus more for rolling out the dough
·                     1/2 teaspoon baking powder
·                     1/3 cup (70 grams)  sugar
·                     4 grams instant or active dry yeast
·                     1/2 cup (120 grams) water, about 100 degrees
·                     1 teaspoon neutral oil

1.            Whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the water, and mix with the dough hook on medium for about 30 seconds. Add the oil, and knead on low for 5 to 7 minutes, until smooth. The dough should not stick to the sides of the bowl. This dough can also be kneaded by hand. 
2.            Cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled (30 minutes to 2 hours). 
3.            Cut parchment paper into 10 four inch squares. You could also use lettuce leaves. (the purpose is to keep the buns from sticking to the steamer). 
4.            Deflate the dough and divide it into 10 equal pieces (about 50 grams each). Give each piece a quick knead. 
5.            On a floured surface roll the dough out into a 3 inch by 6 inch rectangle with rounded edges. Fold the dough in half lengthwise, and place on a parchment square. Cover lightly with oiled plastic wrap or a damp towel, and repeat with the rest of the dough pieces. Let proof for 30 to 45 minutes, until slightly puffy. 
6.            Bring a pot or wok of water to a steady boil (just slightly more than simmering) and fit your pan or wok with a steamer, bamboo basket, or steaming rack just above the water. Place the baos in the steamer, cover, and steam for 12 minutes. Cool slightly, fill with a filling of your choice, and eat. 
7.            You can refrigerate or freeze (I prefer freezing) leftovers. You can either thaw and re steam for 3 minutes, or wrap one in a damp paper towel and microwave for 20 to 30 seconds. 

BBQ Pork Filling
By Elle of Feeding My Enthusiasms
Makes enough for a half recipe (6 buns) of the bao buns above

1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons teriyaki sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon (or more, to taste) Sriracha sauce
1 pork chop, cooked, thinly sliced
1 green onion, julienned
a few slices pickled ginger, julienned
cilantro leaves, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 1 minute. Add one thinly sliced cooked pork chop and heat through. Garnish filled buns with thinly sliced green onion, pickled ginger, and cilantro leaves.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Quince Jelly

When we first moved to our rural property over 30 years ago there was a shrub near the old farmhouse (circa 1904) that had fruit on the boughs that looked like pears, but with fuzz on them. In September they started to turn yellow and in late September the fuzz mostly disappeared and they were bright yellow and smelled wonderful, but not like pears. We found out that this was a pineapple quince shrub and that the fruits were hard and not edible until cooked.

One of the easiest things to do with the quince is to make jelly because you don't even need to peel them, just remove the stem and core them, then cut into quarters or chunks. I do give them a good wash before I do that and I remove the flower end, too. Since I don't spray the shrub or fruit with any kind of chemical spray, the fruits also often include evidence of insect infestation, so those parts need to be cut out, too.

This time I cooked a larger quantity than in past times. Turns out that wasn't the smartest thing to do because as I boiled the mixture to bring it up to the correct temperature, the mixture threatened to boil over and eventually did, making a big mess on the stove. I did end up with over 8 pints of jelly instead of 6-7 pints, but next time I plan to go back to the amount in the recipe!

This makes a wonderful jelly that isn't available in most stores. It has a bright ruby color and an almost floral fragrance and taste. If you have access to quinces, do try it. It makes a nice, and unusual, gift, too. Never too early to think about Christmas gifts. This is obviously a seasonal recipe since quince are only ripe in the fall, but if you find some ripe quince, go for it now. You'll be glad you did.

Quince Jelly
3 1/2 lbs of quince, washed, stems removed, cored, quartered (leave skin on)
7 cups water
Enough sugar to add almost a cup of sugar (about 1 cup) for every cup of juice (about 4 -5 cups)

1 Put quince pieces in a large stockpot with a thick bottom and add water (if you are eyeballing it, put in enough water to cover the pieces of quince by about an inch.)

2 Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for 45 minutes to an hour, until the quince pieces are soft.

3 With a potato masher, mash the quince to the consistency of slightly runny applesauce. Add more water if necessary. If the mash is too thick, you won't get enough juice out of it.

4 To strain the juice from the pulp, place a metal strainer over a pot. Drape 2 layers of cheesecloth over the strainer. (Can skip the cheesecloth if you are using a fine mesh strainer). Ladle the pulp into the cheesecloth. You may need to have two strainers set up this way. Let the pulp strain for 3 to 4 hours. If you aren't getting enough juice out of the pulp, you may need to mix more water into the mash.

5 Measure the amount of juice you have. It should be about 4-5 cups. Pour into a thick bottomed pot on the stove and bring to a boil. Measure out the sugar – about a cup for every cup of juice. Add sugar to the juice.

6 Bring to a boil, initially stirring constantly, until the sugar is dissolved, so that the sugar does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Insert a candy thermometer to monitor the jelly temperature.

7 As the jelly cooks, skim off the foam that comes to the surface with a spoon

8 As the temperature rises above the boiling point of water (212°F), you will notice the consistency of the jelly/juice begins to change. When the temperature is approximately 8 degrees higher than boiling point at your altitude (anywhere from 220°F to 222°F at sea level) the jelly is ready to pour into jars.

Note that candy thermometers aren't always the most reliable indicators of whether or not a jelly is done. Another way to test is put a half teaspoonful of the jelly on a chilled (in the freezer) plate. Allow the jelly to cool a few seconds, then push it with your fingertip. If it wrinkles up, it's ready.

9 There are several ways to sterilize your jars for canning. You can run them through a short cycle on your dishwasher. You can place them in a large pot (12 quart) of water on top of a steaming rack (so they don't touch the bottom of the pan), and bring the water to a boil for 10 minutes. Or you can rinse out the jars, dry them, and place them, without lids, in a 200°F oven for 10 minutes.

10 Use a large ladle to pour the jelly into the sterilized jars to 5/8 inch from the top rim of the jar. Use canning jars with canning lids to seal the jelly. Sterilize the lids by letting them sit in just boiled hot water for a few minutes. You will hear a popping noise as a vacuum seal is created as the jars of jelly cool.

(To be safe, we put the jars full of jelly, topped with sterilized lids and bands, into a canning pot, added boiling water to cover, plus an inch, and simmered that for 45 minutes, then let cool. Check the lids for a good seal my noticing if the lids are concave. If not, push down on the center. If the lid stays down, it is sealed. If not, refrigerate and use the jelly within a week. )

Makes 4-6 cups of jelly. We got 6½ 8-oz. jars of jelly.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

The Perfect Fall Day

Sunday was just perfect! We started the day by having breakfast with a friend and with our daughter at Redwood Cafe in Cotati. One of the great things about the place is that you can split an order, so breakfast becomes a reasonable portion of food. A full serving can keep you through lunch time. Sweetie and I enjoyed a scramble of bacon and mushrooms, a cup of mixed fruit each, and a half an English muffin.

After breakfast we took Pi for a walk at the Laguna and admired the water and wild grapes.

Then Katherine and I drove out to Armstrong Redwoods for a 4 mile hike, including the East Ridge Trail.

A waterfall and, later a small pond, were unexpected delights. Usually it is too dry in early October for those.

The redwoods always are a source of awe. They have beautiful bark, burnt out openings in some of them called 'goose pens',

and they ascend into the heavens for many yards. Their tannins apparently discourage insects, grass, and birds. We did see a banana slug but that was the only wildlife.

After our hike, we stopped in Guerneville and had a nice lunch, then headed home. The whole time we had blue skies and sunshine, light breezes and low 70s warmth, all of which were, truly, perfect.

Hope that your Sunday was just as nice.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Fall Flavors in a Crust

Recently I came across a recipe online that looked really perfect for fall. It was for a crostata filled with Italian sausage, fresh oregano, ricotta, honey and delicata squash. Although the recipe called for making your own buckwheat pie crust, I went with super easy but still tasty ReadyCrust by Pillsbury. I used almond milk ricotta by Kite Hill instead of regular dairy ricotta, but otherwise pretty much followed the recipe. Delicata squash is a great winter squash with a mild flavor and you don't need to peel it, which eases prep time, plus it bakes up tender and moister than acorn squash, which is also a short-time keeper squash.

Well, other than the fact that I only filled half of the crostata with the sausage/squash mixture. The other half had a filling I made up, inspired by the fresh figs that I received from a friend. The second filling included bacon, red onions cooked in the bacon fat, chicken, the fresh figs, chopped walnuts and reduced balsamic vinegar. Those ingredients went on the ricotta filling from the other recipe. After baking, the sausage half was drizzled with honey and the chicken half with the balsamic vinegar syrup. Do find ripe fresh figs for this filling...they make all the difference and are such a wonderful fall fruit.

I have to say that I liked the chicken version better, mostly because the flavors were intense and more layered, but the sausage side was delicious, too. Sweetie and I each had a small wedge of each kind plus a huge green salad for dinner and saved the rest for the weekend.

You could choose one filling or the other and make a whole free form pie with it, or do as I did and make half and half. If you have a crowd to feed, make a whole pie of one filling and a whole pie with the other. If you make this could you let me know what you think? If you create your own filling, could you tell me about it in the comments? Part of the fun of doing posts is getting the feedback. Even if you don't comment, I hope you make one or both fillings and enjoy these rich and delightful flavors of fall.

Two Fillings Fall Crostata
Inspired by a recipe by Dana Frand and Andrea Slowecker of Food and Wine

1/2 package pie crusts like Pillsbury ReadyCrust (or make your own favorite pie crust recipe)
Sausage Filling -Note: The following makes enough sausage filling for a whole pie. If using for half a pie cut ingredients in half or save second half for another use.
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 oz. mild Italian sausage bulk (or remove from casings)
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
1 delicata squash, halved, seeded and sliced very thinly (you may only need half the squash)
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
honey to drizzle

Chicken Filling - Note:Chicken filling is enough for half a pie. If using for a whole pie, double the amounts.
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3 slices bacon, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 cup chopped, cooked chicken
1-2 fresh figs, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons toasted walnuts, chopped

For both
2 cups ricotta
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
Flaky sea salt like Maldon

Roll out one of the pie crusts on a lightly flour work surface to 15 inches in diameter. Place on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment. Cover with plastic wrap and chill while you make the fillings.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Sausage Filling- In a large frying pan heat oil over medium-high heat. Brown the sausage in the olive oil, stirring in the fennel right away so that it gets browned, too, about 15 minutes. Use a wooden spoon to break up the sausage into small pieces.Remove from heat and add the squash slices, black pepper and salt. Stir to combine, then set aside.

Chicken Filling - In a small, wide pan or skillet heat the balsamic over very low heat, stirring every two to three minutes if needed, until reduced and syrupy. Set aside.
In a large skillet brown the bacon, then remove with a slotted spoon to a paper-towel lined plate. Cook the red onions in the bacon fat until browned, then use slotted spoon to remove them to the same plate as the bacon. Reserve bacon fat for another use or discard.

Ricotta Filling - In a medium bowl combine the ricotta, oregano, honey and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Remove chilled dough from fridge and spread with the ricotta filling, leaving a 2-3-inch border.
Scatter squash filling over half and on the other half evenly place or spread the bacon, onion, chicken and figs, then scatter walnuts even over that half. Drizzle lightly with the balsamic syrup.

Fold the border without filling up and over the filling, pleating as necessary so that it encloses the filling. Brush lightly with beaten egg and sprinkle generously with the sea salt.

Bake in the preheated oven until browned and crisp. Check at 30 minutes but it may take up to 45 minutes. Remove from oven and drizzle the squash half with honey and the chicken half with the balsamic syrup. Scatter fresh oregano leaves over all and serve at once.

Monday, October 01, 2018

Fall Skillet Apple Spiced Caramel Pie

My favorite season has come...Fall!...and I have finally been home long enough to bake with some Gravenstein apples from our trees. I saw this recipe online a while ago and saved it until I had time and reason to make an apple pie...and then I changed it significantly (so what else is new?).

Sweetie has been losing weight on purpose for the last couple of months and I've been cooperating by baking far, far less than usual. It's been good for us both (I'm lighter too...funny how it works that way) but I miss the creativity of baking. This one required a lot of creativity, plus knowledge of the ingredients, but the resulting pie was fabulous! If at all possible, use a cast iron skillet to make this. A pie pan will work, I suppose, but the cast iron gives you a lovely bottom crust.

Last night we celebrated the birthday of a good friend so I had an excellent excuse to bake and to bake this amazing apple pie. I highly recommend that you bake it. Sweetie is not a big fan of apple pie, but he really liked this one.

One of the major changes to the recipe came about because Gravenstein apples, the kind we grow, tend to bake up very soft and they throw off plenty of juice, too. I also added some pie spice because an apple pie without spice just seems wrong. It doesn't fight with the vanilla and bourbon, but enhances each.

If you are using Gravenstein apples, you need to do the microwave part because with heat they shrink and also give off a lot of juice. If you skip it you will likely get a top crust that is high over a void before you get to the apple filling and the bottom crust will likely be soft and swimming in juices as you cut the pieces.

If you are using apples like MacIntosh, Braeburn, Granny Smith, etc., that keep their shape and don't exude lots of juice, just skip the microwave part and only use 1/3 cup of the caramel sauce to mix in with the apples...keep the rest to serve with the pie. The sauce is lovely all by itself and would be great over ice cream or fruit and pound cake.

The resulting pie when made with Gravenstein apples is fairly dense, not high, just sweet enough and there is a lovely, flaky crust that is browned on the bottom because of the cast iron skillet. The aroma of apples and spice is intoxicating and the flavor of apple is enhanced by the caramel sauce. You will likely have trouble eating only one piece...but that leaves some for breakfast!

Skillet Caramel Spice Apple Pie
a variation of a recipe on
Serves 8

1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup non-dairy margarine (or butter)
3 tablespoons non-dairy creamer (I use Original Silk Soy Creamer) or 1/2 & 1/2
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon Penzey's Pie Spice, or cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon (optional)
1 set of prepared pie crusts (I uses Pillsbury ReadyCrusts)
3 pounds apples, peeled and cut into 1/2" thick slices
4 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch, divided (only 2 1/2 needed if not doing microwave part)
1 lg egg yolk, lightly beaten (reserve egg white for sealing crusts)
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon sanding sugar (optional)

In a medium pot melt the margarine or butter. Stir in the brown sugar, , soy creamer or 1/2 & 1/2,  salt and pie spice or cinnamon. Over medium-high, cook the mixture, stirring until it bubbles. Continue cooking, stirring for 2 more minutes until mixture begins to thicken. Remove from the heat. Stir in the vanilla and, if using, the bourbon. Cool almost to room temperature, about 30 minutes, stirring at about 10 minutes to keep a skin from forming.

Fit one pie crust in the bottom and press up the sides of a 9" cast iron skillet. Put in the refrigerator to chill.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, making sure that one rack is in the bottom position in the oven.

Toss apples with 2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch in a large bowl. Pour 1/3 cup cooled caramel sauce over the apples and toss to coat.

Microwave part: Put the apple slices that have been coated with cornstarch and 1/3 cup caramel sauce and microwave on full power for one minute, with bowl covered with a large piece of waxed paper or parchment paper. Stir then microwave again for one minute. Apples will have reduced in volume and there will be a lot of juice. Remove any cover and place bowl in refrigerator. Stir every 15 minutes and keep refrigerated until apples are cool to the touch. Remove from the fridge and use a ladle to remove 1/4 cup of the juices from the bowl. Add an additional 2 tablespoons cornstarch to the juices and stir or whisk until the cornstarch and juices are totally combined. Stir that mixture back into the apples. Stir in the rest of the caramel sauce and stir until apples are coated. Now you are ready to put the filling into the prepared pie-crusted skillet.

Note: If you are using apples that hold their shape and don't release a lot of juice when cooked, skip the microwave part. You will still toss prepared apples with the 2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch and the 1/3 cup caramel sauce until coated, but the remaining sauce will be available to drizzle over the finished, served, pie. The additional cornstarch won't be needed.

Remove prepared crust from the fridge. Pour apple filling into prepared crust. Place remaining pie crust over apple filling. Seal by lightly coating the exposed side dough in the skillet with egg white and pressing the top crust to it. Crimp crust edges together.

Use a sharp knife to cut 6 - 8 one inch slits in top crust to let steam escape. Whisk together egg yolk and water and brush over crust. If desired, scatter sanding sugar over.

Bake on bottom rack of preheated over for 55 minute - 1 hour. After about 30 minutes, shield crust with foil if needed to prevent excessive browning.

Bake until crust is golden, apples tender, and filling bubbly. Transfer to wire rack and cool completely 3 hours. Serve & enjoy.