Saturday, October 26, 2019

Autumn Smoke

I remember autumns in my childhood when the whole neighborhood was smoky because we and our neighbors would rake up the leaves that had fallen from the trees and (after some fun jumping in the piles of leaves) would get rid of them by burning them. That ended after a while because there was concern for air quality, so the leaves were raked to the road and the county came around with trucks which had a hose for sucking them up and taking them to the landfill. Here in the North Bay we never had that and leaves could be bagged up and taken to the compost area of the dump, but we never burned them. Times have changed...we have autumn smoke now. For the third year in a row we have autumn smoke but this time it's not from gathered leaves, but due to wildfires and structure fires.

A couple of days ago a major fire started near Geyserville, about 30 miles north of here. Due to winds coming from the east, it quickly grew and doubled in size in less than 24 hours. Although the fire itself moved toward the north, we are getting the smoke. My heart goes out not only to the Geyserville folks who are at risk and have lost homes and vineyards, but to the residents of Santa Rosa. Many of them were evacuated, lost homes, lost lives and everything really in the Tubbs fire that also roared out of nowhere during an event with strong winds from the east. It's been two years since that terrible time and many are just now getting into their rebuilt homes. How scary to know that it can happen again.

Today our local power company will be shutting off power to most of our area because a similar wind event, coming from the eastern land mass, so hot and dry, will be gusting to 80 miles per hour. We've learned to be flexible since plans made often get canceled due to smoky air and/or no power. Our power will be out this time, but we are relatively safe from harm being in the western part of the county (and being next to a fire station I guess). Sweetie says it will be camping out at home. We have a generator for the well and a small one for keeping things in the fridge cold. I have a strong LED lantern and some good books.

Please send good thoughts to our Sonoma County friends and neighbors who are dealing with loss of power, extra smoke in the air, loss of business and wages (and school during the work week), fear of the next thing. This is the new normal for us. Power again sometime Monday if we are lucky.

Yes, we have a go bag ready, just in case...

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Warm Spices in a Crinkle Cookie

Now that the weather has finally taken a turn towards cooler temperatures, I find myself thinking about using the warm spices of fall and winter - cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, pepper, allspice - and so I was thrilled to find a recipe in a magazine I took out of the library recently that uses a lot of those. The magazine is the Martha Stewart Living magazine from December 2018 and the cookies are Gingerbread-Espresso Crinkle Cookies. I think that it was the addition of the espresso that caught my attention. I'd never thought of adding it, but it seems right and did, indeed, add a rich deep note to these gingery cookies. The second reason I decided to make them was that Sweetie loves anything with molasses and these cookies have both brown sugar and liquid molasses in them.

These are crinkle cookies, meaning that you roll the dough in balls and roll the balls in sugar, as shown above. When baked the cookies have grown a bit, so the sugar gets sort of cracked and there are lovely fissures of cookies and areas covered with sugar between. For this recipe you roll the dough in both granulated sugar and confectioners' sugar. Just remember that confectioners' sugar is the glitter of the culinary seems to go everywhere while you are working with it! The cookies aren't too sweet, even with all that sugar coating and the texture is crisp on the outside and slightly chewy in the center. I gave some to my neighbor and she enjoyed them in the morning with coffee.

You do need to start theses cookies at least four hours before you plan to bake them, but the dough can also sit in the fridge for three days, or you can freeze it for up to a month, making them a nice thing to have on hand for when a yen for cookies hits. They're not refrigerator cookies exactly, but the time in the fridge lets the flavors meld. You can shape and sugar a tray of cookie in about the time it takes to preheat your oven and then shape the next cookie sheet worth while the first one cooks, or you can bake two sheets at once, but be sure to turn the sheets around and switch the rack they are on about half way through baking.

These are pretty enough for a tea party, but simple enough for everyday eating...ready to bake?

Gingerbread-Espresso Crinkle Cookies
Martha Stewart Living Magazine, Dec 2018
Makes about 30 cookies

1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger (from a 1-inch piece)
2/3 cup packed dark-brown sugar
1/4 cup unsulfured molasses (not blackstrap)
1 large egg
granulated sugar (about 1/2 cup) and confectioner's sugar (about 1 cup) for rolling

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, espresso powder, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, baking powder and salt.

In a mixer bowl beat the butter with the grated ginger and brown sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the molasses; beat until combined. Add egg and beat until combined. Scrape bowl and beaters and beat to combine. Reduce speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, beating only until combined with no dry flour remaining.

Transfer the dough to plastic wrap, pat into a disk, wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 4 hours and up to 3 days (or freeze up to 1 month; thaw in the refrigerator before using).

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, with racks in upper and lower thirds if baking two sheets at a time.

Place granulated sugar in one shallow bowl and confectioners' sugar in another.

Using a 1-oz scoop or a tablespoon measure, scoop rounded spoons of dough, roll into balls and put into the bowl of granulated sugar. Roll around to coat, then transfer to the bowl of confectioners' sugar. Turn dough balls to fully coat. Balls should be heavily coated; don't shake off excess. If dough becomes sticky as it warms, dust your hands with confectioners' sugar and continue to make balls of dough. Once each dough ball is heavily coated with confectioners' sugar, place it on the prepared sheet, leaving 2 inches between balls.

Bake, rotating sheets and rack positions once halfway through, until cookies spread and surfaces appear cracked, 15 - 17 minutes (I found that closer to 12 minutes was sufficient). Let cool on sheets 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature, between sheets of parchment, up to 5 days.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Babes Bake Apple Bread

I missed making the Bread Baking Babes bread last month, but this month I finished the loaf yesterday, just in time to post today. Not only that, but it's also World Bread Day so there is likely to be lots of great bread around the blogosphere today.

Our Kitchen of the Month Kelly of A Messy Kitchen gave us a wonderful recipe for October; Apple Bread. You start with a poolish and the next day make the dough, let it rise, work the sauteed apples into the dough and shape it and then bake it at a pretty high temperature to begin with, then at a lower temperature to finish. The result is an absolutely delicious bread, flavored with apple, faintly sweet and perfect for eating plain, toasted, or as a sandwich bread.

In making this, I followed the poolish part exactly, altered the dough part by using Irish whole meal wheat flour instead of the rye flour. I also worked the sauteed and cooled diced apples into the dough before the first rise because I needed to go to bed, then let it all rise slowly in the cool night air in the sunspace overnight, then shaped it, let it rise and baked it today. Sweetie was quite taken with this bread so I know I'll make it again. I used Gravenstein apples from our trees for the apple part and brandy instead of Calvados. See the little apple pieces in the bread?

Do give this one a'll be glad you did. To be a Buddy, bake the bread, take a photo and email Kelly with a brief description of your bake and be sure to include the photo and she will send you a Buddy badge and include you in the roundup.

Check out the apple breads that the other Babes have made, too. Sure to be inventive!

I used this recipe which makes 1 good sized loaf.

Apple Bread with Cider and Calvados
makes 1 loaf
This is from  Artisan Breads: Practical Recipes and Detailed Instructions for Baking the World's Finest Loaves, by Jan Hedh.

150 g strong white flour (bread flour), preferably stoneground (I used all purpose)
0.7 g (¼ tsp) instant yeast
150 g dry cider (I used apple juice)

Add the flour and yeast to a bowl and mix thoroughly.  Whisk the cider into the flour/yeast mixture.  Cover with plastic wrap and leave at cool room temperature overnight, 12-16 hours.  Poolish will be bubbly and should have risen and fallen slightly in the center when ready.
Final dough:
300 g strong white flour (bread flour), preferably stoneground
50 g whole meal (dark) rye flour, preferably stoneground (I used 50g Irish wholemeal wheat flour)
0.9 g (¼+ tsp) instant yeast
150 g water (I added an additional 10g water because it seemed dry)
9 g (1½ tsp) sea salt

Mix the yeast and flours thoroughly in the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with a dough hook.  Heat the water to lukewarm (approximately 35°C/95°F).  Add the water and poolish to the flour/yeast mixture and knead on low for 13 minutes.  Add the sea salt and knead for 7 more minutes at med/low speed.

Cover with plastic wrap or a shower cap and leave in a warm place (ideally at 24ºC, 75ºF) for about 90 minutes, until doubled in size. Meanwhile, prepare the apple mixture to give the apples time to cool before you need to use them.

Filling and baking:

Apple Mixture:
5 g (1 tsp) unsalted butter
150 g cored, peeled and diced eating apple
5 g (1 tsp) soft dark brown sugar
25 g calvados (I used brandy)
Heat up the butter in a pan, add the diced apple and then sprinkle over the sugar.  Saute until golden brown, stirring occasionally.  Pour over the calvados and continue cooking until the pan is dry.  Set aside to cool.

Tip the dough on to a lightly floured surface, and knead lightly. Add the cooled diced apple and fold it into the dough.  Do this in stages to ensure that the apple is mixed in as evenly as possible.  Shape the dough into an oblong loaf round and place it in a lightly floured lined proving basket or floured cloth.  Cover with a cloth and leave in a warm place for 75-90 minutes until doubled in size.

Add a baking stone to an oven and preheat to 250ºC (475ºF) for at least 30 minutes.  Cut up a thin apple slice for the top of the bread.  Gently turn the loaf onto a parchment lined baking sheet or peel and gently press the apple slice in the middle.  Slide the loaf onto the baking stone.  Heavily spritz your oven with a water spray or cover the loaf with an inverted roasting pan sprayed with water. (I skipped the spritz and the covering, although I did bake on a baking stone.) Bake for 15 minutes, turning down the temperature to 200ºC (400ºF) after 5 minutes.  Remove roasting pan and continue to bake for another 25-30 minutes until the bread is golden and hollow sounding when thumped on the bottom and has reached an internal temperature of about 205ºF.  Remove to a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

It's Finally Pumpkin Time

I know we still have a bit more daylight savings time to go before it really gets dark early in the day and early in the evening, but you can tell the days are getting shorter, the leaves are turning colors, and fall has finally arrived. We are looking at high temperatures in the low to mid-70s for the next week and it's supposed to be in the 30s tonight! Love the chill.

Pumpkin spice this and that has become very popular the last few years, but I still like good old fashioned pumpkin pie. I made one a few days ago and we had slices for dinner dessert and then slices for breakfast in the morning...decadent!

This recipe might be even better, because these treats are cut in bars and are very portable and shareable. They are baked in a 9" x 13" pan, so there are plenty to take to a pot luck and still have a few for the morning in the fridge. Be careful to watch toward the end of baking because they burn easily. I let mine bake a minute or two too long, but they still were delicious with a buttery shortbread crust and true pumpkin and spice filling, plus crunchy pecans on top.

Pumpkin Pie Bars
from Very Best Baking
12 servings

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned or instant oats
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin (I had a little extra pumpkin since I was using up leftovers from a larger can, so if you have more, add it. I added an extra 5 oz.)
1 can (12 fl. oz.) evaporated milk
2 large eggs

2 1/4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice OR 1 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ginger, 1/4 teaspoon cloves and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
PREHEAT oven to 350° F.

COMBINE flour, oats, brown sugar and butter in small mixer bowl. Beat at low speed for 1 to 2 minutes or until crumbly. Press on bottom of ungreased 13 x 9-inch baking pan.

BAKE for 15 minutes.

COMBINE granulated sugar, pumpkin, evaporated milk, eggs and pumpkin pie spice in large mixer bowl. Beat at medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes; pour over crust.

BAKE for 20 minutes. Combine pecans and brown sugar in small bowl. Sprinkle pecan topping over filling. Continue baking for 15 to 25 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars.

Friday, October 11, 2019


We are coming up on the 13th anniversary of the beginning of this blog.Other than enjoying my marriage, being a Mom,and cooking and baking, that's probably the longest I've done one particular thing that gives me great pleasure.  One of the great things about blogging, especially blogging mainly about food, is that things are constantly changing, so it never gets boring.

You may have noticed that I post less than I used to. Part of that is that everything, I mean everything, takes longer as you get older. Writing, putting together the recipe, adding the photo, making it personal...all of these things are essential to good blogging and they all take longer. The other thing is that I've already posted so many of the things that I cook and bake day in and day out. I'm using the blog as a sort of recipe box, so I want the posts to be about new things that I've made.

Recently I was talking with my older sister and younger brother during a call made to celebrate his birthday. We were talking about the possibility of a new Family Cookbook with contemporary recipes. One or the other of them suggested that I should do a cookbook using recipes from this blog. Since there are well over 1,200 recipes by now, figuring out which ones to include is a tall order!

So, dear reader, in honor of the upcoming 13th blog birthday, do you have a recipe that you find you make often or at least more than once, or that you've only made once but really enjoyed? Next Sister Down like the Delicata and Butternut Squash with Olive Oil and Maple From September 2017 (photo at top of post), although I think she made another version with Moroccan spices. I often make the Creamy Coleslaw Dressing during the summer.

We're almost to the time of year for me to make Quince Jelly, another favorite, especially for gift giving. Now you get the idea...find a favorite recipe and tell me in the comments what it is. If you like you can also tell me why you like it; that would be wonderful!

Do reply if you will be very meaningful to me to see what you like. The month and year where you found it in the blog is helpful if you know that, but if you don't just comment anyway.

In case you were figuring that I've been lying in bed, recovering from surgery and eating bon bons, that time is over...thank heavens. This week I've been working on painting the bedroom walls in the farmhouse as part of getting ready for the holidays. One more wall to paint and then the trim work to do. After that the floors need a good cleaning and then we can add some furniture and bedding. Sweetie is working on replacing a broken window in the little room off the front room (which may eventually be a walk-in closet or perhaps an office) so eventually I'll have trim to paint, inside and out, for that window. Since I love painting I'm a happy camper right now.

I'd appreciate your healing thoughts for my older brother and my brother-in-law who are both caught up in the medical whirlwind right now. Thanks!

Hoping to hear from bold...commenting is fun and you may discover a new recipe to try if enough people comment with their favorite recipe from the blog.

XO, Elle

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Roasted For Fall

Now that cooler weather has finally least for a little while...I'm so happy to be making dishes like chili and roasted vegetables. I finally have some energy for cooking, too. Hope to be posting more in the future.

I don't often shop at Whole Foods because we have local markets that have wonderful foods that aren't so expensive, but I did shop there recently and found that they carried a tortellini pasta stuffed with almond milk ricotta by Kite Hill. I've enjoyed the Kite Hill ricotta so I had to try the tortellini. I decided to serve them with veggies that had been roasted with what I think of as 'Scarboro Fair' herbs of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. I topped the pasta and veggies with toasted pine nuts for a delicious vegetarian meal.

If this pasta isn't available in your area and if you can consume cheese, you can make the same sort of recipe with any cheese stuffed tortellini. The key thing here is to use a lot of water for cooking the tortellini, salt the water, and pay attention so that the pasta is just cooked al dente. Have the vegetable mixture cooked and hot and ready to eat when the pasta is done, and the pine nuts can be toasted while the pasta cooks since both only take a few minutes.

Use your favorite mixture of vegetables. Cut them so that they are all about the same size, and that should be bite sized or a bit smaller. Unfortunately I didn't measure the amounts of herbs that I used, so this is really a recipe for confident cooks who know their flavors. The same is true of the olive oil, salt, pepper, and amount of pine nuts...not measured. Sorry. So this isn't really a recipe but more a suggestion of a combination that worked and will work for you if you have some experience.

My sister suggested that this would also work with vegetables that you don't roast, for example peas and jarred roasted red peppers which you would heat up and season as desired (maybe with caramelized onions?). If I were doing those two, I'd probably make a non-dairy 'cream' sauce, toss the drained pasta in that sauce and then add the peas and peppers and onions on top then sprinkle on toasted pine nuts.

For those who are interested, our daughter is settling in nicely in her new home.

Roasted Vegetables Over Stuffed Tortellini With Pine Nuts
Serves 4

6-7 cups mixed vegetables, peeled and ends cut off as needed and cut into bite sized pieces. I used mushrooms, zucchini, yellow squash, carrots, green beans, butternut squash (seeds removed too), red onion.
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
about 2 tablespoons minced parsley
about 2 teaspoons minced fresh sage
about 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
about 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste
9 oz. fresh ricotta stuffed tortellini pasta
salted water
about 3-4 tablespoons pine nuts
1-2 teaspoons olive oil or butter or margarine

Preheat the oven to 580 degrees F. Prepare a shallow baking pan with a rim by lining it with heavy duty foil. Set aside.

In a large plastic bag, shake the vegetables with the oil, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme and salt and pepper to taste (I didn't use any salt, but was generous with the pepper).

Pour the seasoned vegetable mixture into the prepared pan and roast in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Stir the mixture, then reduce temperature to 325 degrees F. and roast for another 20 minutes.
While the vegetables are cooking at the reduced temperature, bring a large pot of water to boil, then add about 1/2 teaspoon salt. Return to the boil, then add the tortellini and simmer until the pasta is al dente.

while the pasta is cooking, dry toast the pine nuts in a non-stick skillet, stirring often, until light brown in places. Set aside.

When pasta is cooked enough, use a slotted spoon to remove the pasta from the water and place in the center of a large platter or wide, shallow serving bowl. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water, then pour off the rest of the water. Return the pasta to the pot and add 1 teaspoon of the oil or butter or margarine. Add some pepper and stir over low heat. If pasta looks too dry, add some of the pasta water or additional oil. Only cook in dry pot for 1 minute, then return pasta to serving platter or bowl.

Top pasta with the roasted veggies and top those with the toasted pine nuts.

Serve at once. If desired, pass a bowl of grated Parmesan cheese on the side.