Monday, March 25, 2019

Sundial Bridge

Last weekend I took a drive to Redding, CA and had an outing to the Sundial Bridge. It was a gray day, sprinkling on and off, but I was dressed for it with a waterproof jacket and nice rain hat, plus waterproof Merrells to keep my feet warm and out of the mud. I met a girlfriend in Redding and we took a hike on the other side of the bridge from the museum. Since they have been getting lots of rain and winds just as we have, the paths were often blocked by either swaths of mud or downed trees or both. Still, it was nice to get out in nature.

The bridge itself was spectacular, sort of a sail effect overhead and green glass below. The glass was slippery so we walked across it slowly. There were fishermen out fishing and the water was rough...and it looked cold.

I should know the name of the river that the bridge crosses, but the only one I can think of is the Sacramento river and that seems unlikely somehow. Still, not a whole lot further south there was a sign by the freeway that identified that river as the Sacramento, so who knows? What I know is that I had a great weekend with M, got to meet her sister, two nieces and a great niece, plus her Mom, participated in a fun pajama party, and went to a Mary Poppins play that was charming and had main characters who sang and spoke in convincing British accents throughout, with Bert the chimney sweep. maintaining a Cockney accent. The sets and dancing were excellent for an elementary school play. It was put on by the Grant School and had lots of support from local families and businesses.

So, nothing to report on the cooking and baking front. Maybe there will be something soon.  XO, Elle

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Austrian Pound Cake #The Cake Slice Bakers

Sometimes the needs of the day mesh nicely with the desires of the spirit. A little over a week ago that happened for me. I wanted to make this luscious sounding pound cake as my choice of this month's challenge recipes for the Cake Slice Bakers. That was the desire. The need was unexpected; a dear friend died unexpectedly and my scholarship group was asked to provide some of the food for the reception after the memorial service. So I baked the Austrian Pound Cake in a dairy-free version and took it to the memorial, where it was enjoyed and commented upon favorably.

Phyllis was an amazing woman, born just before the Great Depression to a local family, raised with love and lots of extended family. She was college educated, wife and mother, business woman and volunteer, expert seamstress and needleworker, childhood athlete and super S.F. Giants baseball fan, amazing mother, wife, aunt, grandmother and great grandmother as well as friend, a club woman, including Red Hat Society, Model T Club, Graton Community Club and our own P.E.O. scholarship group. She always made each person she was with feel special, which is a gift. She demonstrated how life is when everything is done with love. She will be very much missed and would have enjoyed the cake!

Other than swapping out margarine for butter and soy creamer for milk, I made this just as written. It is tender, with a delicate orange flavor, with delicious bits of apricot and golden raisin here and there, and with just a bit much oil I think. I would reduce the amount of butter called for by a few tablespoons, although not using real butter as I did might be the problem. It baked up very nicely in a Bundt pan. I recommend this would be a really nice Easter treat.

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 European Cake Cookbook by Tatyana Nesteruk. 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. The Cake Slice Bakers also have a new Facebook group called The Cake Slice Bakers and Friends. This group is perfect for those who do not have a blog but want to join in the fun and bake through this book.

March Cakes:
1. Triple-Citrus Mousse Cake
2. Toscaka Torte
3. Creme Brulee Cheesecake
4. Austrian Pound Cake

Austrian Pound Cake

1/2 cup (75g) golden raisins
1/2 cup (75 g) diced dried apricots
2 tablespoons (30 ml) orange liqueur (I used Grand Marnier)
1 cup (227g) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup 990g) white chocolate chips, melted
4 large eggs
1 cup (219g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (48g) almond flour
4 teaspoons (16g) baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
zest from 1 orange
Confectioners' sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. (163 degrees C)
Spray a 9-inch (23 cm) Bundt pan with baking spray, or grease very well and flour.

In a small bowl, combine the golden raisins and the apricots with the orange liqueur. Allow the fruit to soak up the liquid while you prepare the batter.

In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy, a few minutes. Add the melted white chocolate and then the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Pour in the milk, but don't mix in.

In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, almond flour, baking powder and salt. Sift these dry ingredient into the butter mixture bowl, then mix, just until combined. Fold in the raisin and apricot mixture and the orange zest.

Transfer the cake batter into the prepared Bundt pan, smoothing the top. Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the thickest part comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minute, then turn out and cool until barely warm. Serve warm with a dusting of confectioners' sugar.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Sweetie's Instant Pot Cheesecake

Sweetie has loved cheesecake ever since I have known him and likely before that. He never asks me to make one for him but I often do for his birthday. One year in Berkeley we had a surprise birthday desserts party for him that included a green cheesecake with Irish whiskey in it. Having your birthday on St. Patrick's Day gets you that kind of strange thing.

This year we were in LA visiting our daughter. Kate has an Instapot so I thought that it would be fun to try making a cheesecake in the pot. I'd been told that everyone who tried that method was quite taken with the results. Ours was amazing! Although I couldn't eat any, I was told that it was the best cheesecake ever...creamy, just sweet enough, the perfect texture with a great crust.

There are only four things, plus one technique that make this different from any other cheesecake. First, you need an Instapot or Instant Pot or similar appliances that have a pressure cooking feature. Second, you need a 7" in diameter spring form pan. They are easily available on Amazon. Third, you need a trivet or rack that fits in the bottom of the pot. Some pots come with that, but we needed to buy one. We found a silicone trivet at Target that will work well for other things, too. Four - You need an electric hand mixer for making the batter. This works much better than a stand mixer to avoid adding extra air. Extra air gives you a souffle instead of a cheesecake.

The technique that is different is that you need to be sure to beat in as little air as possible during creation of the batter...well, and steaming in the Instapot is different than baking.

The recipe itself is the usual one of a graham cracker crust with a cream cheese based filling, enriched with eggs. I also added some Meyer lemon zest for zing and we decorated it with blueberries and some sliced strawberries that I had marinated with a little bit of sugar and lemon juice due to the fact that it's not yet strawberry season.

This is a quick and easy recipe, but it requires a bit of planning ahead. DO let the ingredients sit out to come to room temperature...essential if you want that smooth, creamy filling that we love. DO freeze the graham cracker crust for at least 20 minutes. That way you have a stable crust to hold the filling. DO chill at least four hours before serving after cooking, or overnight. We did overnight, just to be sure.

Spring is coming with all the delicious berries...and this is the perfect dessert to serve with them!

Instant Pot Cheesecake
by Amy & Jacky - Pressure Cook

10 (120g) graham crackers, finely ground (I used a food processor)
3-4 tablespoons (42g - 56g) butter or margarine, melted
a pinch sea salt

Batter (7 inches x 3 inches)

16 oz. (454 g) cream cheese, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup (120g) sour cream, room temperature
2 tablespoons (16g) cornstarch
2 pinches sea salt
2/3 cup (133g) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons (10ml) vanilla extract

Crust: Melt the butter. Add the fine graham cracker crumbs and sea salt and mix to thoroughly combine. Before you do this, make sure that you have put out the cream cheese, eggs and sour cream to come to room temperature.

If desired, line the 7-inch x 3-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Add the crust mixture and firmly pack all over the bottom and part way up the sides. (See sides in the photos.) The back of a teaspoon works well for packing the mixture firmly. No butter is needed on the parchment or you can skip the parchment as I did. Put the pan in the freezer for at least 20 minutes while you make the cheesecake batter.

Batter: Use a hand mixer, not a stand keep the batter from having too much air.

In a small bowl mix together the cornstarch, salt and granulated sugar. Set aside.

Check to make sure that the cream cheese, eggs and sour cream are at room temperature. If they are not, wait until they are.

In a large mixing bowl place the cream cheese. Using low speed, briefly use the hand mixer to break up the cheese by beating it for 10 seconds.

Add in half the sugar mixture and beat just until incorporated using low speed, for about 20-30 seconds.

Scrape the bowl and beaters.

Add in the rest  of the sugar mixture and beat just until incorporated using low speed, for about 20-30 seconds.

Add the sour cream and vanilla to the mixture and and beat just until incorporated using low speed, for about 20-30 seconds.

Scrape the bowl and beaters.

Blend in the eggs, one at a time, beating just until incorporated using low speed, about 20 seconds for each eggs. Scrape down bowl and beaters after each egg.

Use a silicone spatula to fold the mixture a few times to make sure everything is fully incorporated.

Remove prepared pan from the freezer and pour in the cheese batter. Spread top to even, using the silicone spatula.

Rap the pan sharply against the counter a few times. Air bubbles will rise to the surface. Pop the air bubbles with the tines of a fork or with a toothpick. Repeat until you are satisfied. Ensure the surface is clear of air bubbles or fork marks. It is almost impossible to remove all the air bubbles.

Make a foil sling for the springform pan by folding aluminum foil in a long strip about 3-4 inches wide.

Pour 1 cup (250ml) cold water in the Instant Pot Pressure Cooker.

Place a steamer rack in the bottom of the pot. put in the foil sling with the ends to the top of the pot. Gently lower the springform pan down to the rack. Tuck the ends of the sling down so they are below the top edge of the pan.

Close the lid.

Pressure cook on High Pressure for 26 minutes, then Full Natural Release (takes roughly 7 minutes). Open the Pressure Cooker lid gradually. As much as possible try to avoid dripping the condensation from the lid onto the cheesecake.

Absorb any condensation on the surface by lightly tapping it with a soft paper towel (I found that the paper towel edge would wick up the moisture.)

Allow the cheesecake to cool to room temperature on a cooling rack after using the sling to carefully lift the pan out of the Instant Pot.

After cooling 10-15 minutes, you can release the cake by carefully running a thin paring knife between the sidewall and the cheesecake (or parchment paper) and then opening the spring to release the sidewall. You can also chill the cake in the pan and do this same step once you are ready to serve the cake.

Chill cake for 4 hours or overnight.  Releasing the chilled cake from the springform bottom can be done by sitting the cake and pan bottom on a hot wet towel (damp towel microwaved for 30 seconds) for a few seconds until the butter melts slightly...cake will slide off the pan bottom.  Parchment, if used, can be carefully removed after cake is chilled. I didn't use parchment. I removed sides and bottom after chilling the cake overnight.

Place cake on serving plate and decorate or garnish as desired. I used sliced fresh strawberries and rinsed and dried fresh blueberries.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Babes Take the Road To Morocco

This month our challenge bread is a Moroccan flatbread Ksra brought to us by our wonderful Kitchen of the Month Kelly of A Messy Kitchen blog.

I enjoyed this bread because I eliminated the anise seeds (which is a flavor I don't care for at all) but that probably ruined it's Moroccan influence, too. Mine also rose enough that it didn't seem all that flat, but I liked that it was the perfect size to have a chunk of with soup or stew or, in my case, pasta with a tomato sauce and zucchini and basil.

I followed the recipe pretty closely except for eliminating the anise seeds and using some white whole wheat flour for part of the flour. I used barley flour, not rolled barley because I love bread made with barley flour. I did paint the top with olive oil and sprinkle with sesame seeds, but they mostly fell off when I served it, so I would recommend either skipping the seeds, or painting the loaf with egg white and sprinkling on the seeds. Egg white does a much better job of holding the seeds onto the crust.

I was expecting a loaf with more air holes, but even without that artisan appeal, the crumb was lovely and the flavor good for a bread made the same day. I put half the dough into the fridge and will bake it later in the week. I imagine it will have improved flavor.

This is a super easy loaf to actual kneading, very little shaping, no pan to clean, and you end up with nice fresh bread...what's not to like about that!

To be a Bread Baking Buddy, just make the bread, take a photo, and email Kelly by March 29th. She will send you a Buddy Badge (similar to the one above) created by our talented Elizabeth, and include you in the round-up.

Ksra (Moroccan Anise and Barley Flatbread)
from the New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day
Makes two 7-8" rounds

340g (1 1/2 cups) lukewarm water (100 degrees F or less)
5 g (1 1/2 teaspoons) dry yeast
8.5 - 12.5 g (1 1/2 - 1 3/4 teaspoons) kosher salt
3.5g (1 1/2 teaspoons) whole anise seeds (I omitted these seeds)
46g (6 tablespoons) barley flour OR 35g (6 tablespoons) rolled barley
407.5 g (2 3/4 + 2 tablespoons) all purpose flour (I used 207g bread flour and 200g white whole wheat flour)

To make the dough:

Mix together the yeast, salt, anise (if using) and water in a large bowl or container. Stir in the remaining ingredients with a large wooden spoon, dough whisk, or in a mixer with the paddle. Mix until the flour is incorporated fully.

Cover and rest until the dough has fully risen and collapsed back down a bit, about 2 hours. At this point you can refrigerate or you can bake.

You may use the dough after the initial rise, but it's easier to work with cold. Dough will keep up to 10 days in the fridge.

To bake:

Divide the dough in half, dust with flour, and shape each portion into a ball by stretching the sides down to the bottom of the ball and olding under. You may also work with only on portion of dough if you like; the other will keep in the fridge for another day.

Flatten each ball into a 3/4" thick round and let rest on a parchment lined or cornmeal dusted pizza peel for 20-30 minutes. Optional to brush the surface with oil (or egg white?) and sprinkle with sesame seeds or more anise seed. Also optional to poke the dough with a skewer in a few places prior to baking. (I didn't poke, but did cut shallow cuts around the outer edge of the flt ball once it had risen.)

While the dough is resting, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Place a baking stone near the middle of the oven and a metal pan or broiler tray on an unused oven rack and heat a cup of water to use for steam while baking.

Slide rested loaf directly onto hot stone. Pour 1 cup of hot water into the metal pan or tray for steam and quickly close the oven door. Bake for about 20-25 minutes until richly browned and firm.

Allow to cool before cutting into wedges to serve.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Happy Pi Day!

Our beloved dog is named Pi. He was Pi when we rescued him and still is Pi.

This is the first time on Pi day that I've baked a Pie, even though March 14th has become well known as a day to bake pies for Pi Day.

Here is what I made...a thrown together recipe. It has pie crust (yum!), two kinds of berries and a frangipane topping...sort of like a cross between a berry pie and a Bakewell tart. It's delicious.

Pi Day Pie

Start with an unbaked pie crust lining a pie pan. Paint bottom only with 2-3 tablespoons raspberry jam. Turn edges under and crimp.

In a bowl create a mixture of a pint each fresh blueberries and raspberries (tossed with a mixture of 1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar and  2 tablespoons dry breadcrumbs and 2 tablespoons flour) which is spread on top of the jam.

Oven is preheated to 400 degrees F.

On top put frangipane:

125 g soft butter
125 g confectioners sugar
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
125 g almond flour
30 g all purpose flour
Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Scrape bowl and add eggs, one at a time. Pour in the almond extract and mix 30 seconds. Scrape bowl. Spoon in the ground nuts and flour. Mix well. Pour over the fruit in the pie shell and bake at 400 degrees F for about 35-40 minutes. (If crust seems to be browning too quickly, either shield with pieces of foil or reduce heat to 355 degrees F and bake an extra 5 - 10 minutes. Test with knife blade. It should come out clean. Cool. Serve!

Happy Pi Day!

Note to self: Serving leftovers when you get the pie in the oven late is a great idea. Repeat!

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Remembering Phyllis with Lemon Cookies

Phyllis Welsh was a lady, a kind and thoughtful woman, a diehard Giant's fan, a bit of a mischief maker now and then, and my friend, as well as a P.E.O. sister. She is gone now, after a brief illness.

This coming Wednesday we will gather to remember her, along with her family, and along with friends from the Model T Club that she and her husband started, along with friends from her church and along with neighbors and many others. She loved to entertain and people were drawn to her love of people and of life.

For the gathering I'm bringing cookies. The star shape is one of the shapes of P.E.O. so the cookies are stars. P.E.O. is a 150 year old group that raises funds for scholarships for women. There are chapters all over the U.S. and Canada and Phyllis was probably the member who most embodied our goals and aspirations for ourselves. I will miss her a lot and I know there are many others who will, too.

You may want to try these delicious cookies. They are plain rolled cookies but the lemon adds a bright note to them, perfect for the return of daylight savings time. That's right, time to set our clocks forward when we go to bed tonight if you live in most of the U.S.

Meyer lemons are wonderful for this cookies, but regular lemons you find at the market are fine, too. In a pinch, you can use lemon extract.

This recipe is one that my mother got from an old friend of the family, Irene Johnston. The cookies are simple and not too sweet. With the addition of Meyer lemon zest and juice they have some zing. Irene’s recipe didn’t have the salt and had nutmeg instead of the vanilla extract. Adding the lemon was my idea. Bake just until the outer edges of the cookie begin to brown for the best cookies. For these stars that meant when the tips of the stars were just beginning to brown a little.

You can use any shape cutter you like and you can decorate them any way you like, but this lemon glaze is easy and adds another kick of lemon.

The dough is usually pretty easy to roll out. If the dough seems too crumbly, add a little bit (1-2 tablespoons) of milk. If it's too sticky to roll out, try chilling it first.

Meyer Lemon Sugar Cookies
by Irene Johnston

1 cup butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
Mix the above ingredients together until creamy.
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
zest from ½ a medium Meyer lemon (or use regular lemon…it’s delish, too)

Mix the flour, baking soda, salt and zest together. Combine with the butter mixture. If too dry, add mile, one tablespoon at a time until dough forms.

Roll the dough to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut with cookie cutters. Place unbaked cookies on a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 400 degrees F. until lightly browned, about 6-7 minutes. (If dough sticks while rolling, refrigerate briefly). Remove from oven when done, cool on baking sheet a minute, then cool on cake rack until fully cooled.

After cookies have cooled, can be frosted and decorated as desired.

Meyer Lemon Glaze
Zest from ½ a lemon
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
juice from Meyer lemon, heated for one minute in the microwave

Place zest and confectioners’ sugar in a bowl. Whisk in a little of the lemon juice. Add dribbles of the juice until a glaze is formed. If too thin, add a little more sugar; if too thick whisk in more lemon juice. Reserve left over juice for another use.

Using small offset spatula, ice tops of each cookie. Set on cake rack to dry.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Winter Update

I've long had this idea that when the pyracantha shrubs are covered with berries that it will be a wet winter. During the drought there were berries, but lots of stem showing. Last year we had more berries, and more rain. This year you can't really see the many berries...and so much rain!

We have been fine, only losing power a couple of times and, of course, not flooding since we sit at the top of a hill. Last week many of the surrounding roads were flooded. The major highway that stops in Sebastopol, Hwy. 12, was closed for a couple of days when the Laguna flooded the roadway and a nearby shopping area (the Barlow) and the Community Center and a few other places nearby. For people who have lived here longer than a dozen years or so this wasn't a huge surprise since similar flooding occurs anytime the Russian River crests over it's banks...the streams that feed into it like the Laguna have nowhere to empty, so they back up and flood out into the surrounding farmlands and, eventually, onto the roads and into the low lying structures. The Community Center has been through this many times so they moved everything that was movable upstairs or out of the area and that made the cleanup and refurbishment much easier. For most of the businesses in the Barlow, which has only been around for 5 years, it was a major shock and many lost all their stock. Some businesses are just going to close down after losing machinery, inventory, etc.  In the photo above, the railing is around an outdoor seating area that is actually many feet above the sidewalk. (photo: NBC)

Another community that was badly flooded was Guerneville, but there, again, they are used to this and many houses were built higher after the last major flood in the 90s, so those houses came through fine. Others suffered the flooding and many also lost their vehicles to the flooding. It is a close knit community with great spirit, so many businesses are already open and ready for you to come visit. The river is still pretty muddy, but seeing that power as it sweeps under the old bridge and the new one reminds us that you don't want to mess with Mother Nature...and we have been. (Photo: San Jose Mercury News)

On a more positive note, I spent much of the last rainy period painting the downstairs bathroom. Gone are the egg yolk yellow walls and most of the cider colored trim (lowest photo). The walls are now a warm ivory and the trim a vibrant deep turquoise. There is a new light fixture, too, with LED bulbs that give a warm but bright light but use much less electricity (upper photo).There are still a few areas that need to be finished but overall it's a nice, new, clean feeling space just in time for spring. I have some new towels, but still need to buy a few more, plus soap dish and that sort of thing.

As you might have guessed, during the time I've been painting I haven't been baking and have barely been cooking. The cooking has been things like a Almost-Cobb salad the other night with chicken chunks from a Costco cooked chicken, cooked bacon pieces, hard boiled egg, avocado, cherry tomatoes, and lots of shredded lettuce. Sweetie had a blue cheese dressing and I had cole slaw dressing. There was a tiny bit of cooking involved in cooking the bacon and hard boiling the egg, but mostly it was chopping and peeling and layering the ingredients. I didn't even get a photo!

We have more rain coming for the next four or five days, so keep your fingers crossed that the flooding is over.