Friday, March 27, 2020

Porch Time Pizza

During the current virus crisis I've seen videos on social media of Italians standing on their balconies playing instruments, of neighbors having an impromptu social time by bringing their waste cans to the curb for pickup and bringing something to sip (wine, beer, water, soda) while standing far enough apart for social distancing but close enough to converse. There have been other examples of creative get togethers that keep the distance but allow for connection, like a mariachi band playing in a neighborhood in Petaluma while separated individuals danced in the streets.

We have done something similar with our neighbors by having porch time once a week. We meet at a pre-arranged time on our back deck. The chairs are far enough apart to be distanced, but we can converse. They bring their food and drink and we bring ours...sort of. Today I made up mini-pizza dough on parchment papers for each of us and each tray had that shaped dough blank plus things to put on it as toppings. Our neighbor brought some vegan cheese he enjoys and our other neighbor brought some curry already warmed for themselves to go with the pizza. Each of us used our individual tray to create our choices of toppings, then each person put the loaded pizza on parchment, one by one, onto the grill, baked them on a pizza stone, and returned them to the tray they came from. After that person sat down, the next one could cook. It was pretty hot around that grill and we've been told that this virus doesn't like heat. The neighbors also brought some lovely bourbon and some rye for tasting and each family provided their own cups and utensils. One person poured so no bottle was passed around! The important part was to catch up and converse and laugh together. At the end we made hugging motions but stayed apart. Better than nothing and certainly fun.

The recipe for the Pizza dough can be found HERE. Start it in the morning. Once it's ready for shaping, divide into four equal pieces (a scale works well here), shape each piece into a ball, place the four balls onto a large piece of parchment paper (they will spread a bit), spray with olive oil and cover lightly with plastic wrap. Put in the fridge until shortly before you'll need them. Shape each ball into a rectangle to fit a piece of parchment paper (I used half sheet of King Arthur Flour's ready cut half sheet pan size parchment sheets), being sure to make the inside fairly thin and the outside edge a bit thicker. Spray lightly with olive oil and you are ready to add the toppings.

We used both pre-made pesto and marinara sauces, various cheeses including Parmesan, mozzarella, Kite Hill non-dairy ricotta and a sliced white vegan cheese that was probably Dailya. Other toppings were thinly sliced fresh asparagus, sliced black olives, thinly sliced salami strips, bulk Italian turkey sausage that was pre-cooked in small pieces until lightly browned, and thinly sliced cherry tomatoes.

Sweetie preheated the grill to 400 degrees F with a baking stone in it. That stone ensured that the bottom crust was nice and crispy.

Have you found a way to stay at least 6 feet apart but still socialize?

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Spring Flowers

Along with the rest of the world, we are weathering the virus pandemic by, mostly, staying at home. We do go into town to walk the dog many days because the roads around our home are dangerous due to ditches and people driving fast. It might look bucolic, but people drive up that hill at 60 MPH. Beyond that Sweetie went to the local mom and pop grocery today to stock up for the next week or so and everyone kept social distance according to him.

A joy during this scary time has been my garden. I've been planting seeds and seedlings. Some of those in pots and planters were moved inside last night due to frost this morning...which showed up as announced. The planters will stay inside today and go out tomorrow since tonight's low  is still in the lower 30s. The lily bulbs are starting to send up their new growth, too, like in the photo above. Weeding is being done, slowly, so I don't injure myself. Best of all, I've been enjoying the spring bulbs as they bloom and the fruit trees as they bloom.

We have had plums and quince and are now having pear blossoms. Soon will come blackberry blooms and apple blossoms.

The flowers have included grape hyacinth, now finished, plus daffodils and tulips and pot marigolds and deep pink azaleas.

The first California poppies just opened yesterday and it happens to be one that has overwintered twice and has a beautiful flower with stripes of orange and terra cotta on the petals. I's a double, too, so very spectacular.

Hope that you are staying safe and healthy and able to enjoy the change of seasons, too. Will have recipes soon.

XO, Elle

Monday, March 23, 2020

Spring Quiche

Keeping busy during the shelter in place time. Did some house painting yesterday on the farmhouse and did yard work today - weedeating, seed planting, regular weeding and watering. I even took a photo of the first California poppy on our property. It bloomed today and it's one of the ones with multi-colored petals in shades of dark orange and terra cotta.

There should be more blooming soon, including the regular gold ones. The nasturtium just started blooming and we've had a slow progression of daffodils and tulips. I'm just glad that spring is here, even though our night time temperatures are staying low in the 30s and 40s, so no putting out seedlings like tomato and squash until the nights warm up a bit.

Have been having fun in the kitchen, too. Baked porridge bread twice and shared with our across the road neighbor. Today I baked my favorite quiche for dinner, using a recipe that was easily found using the new and better index! For the carrot part I used carrots from the garden of the same neighbor who was given the bread. She brought them over, freshly pulled, and the flavor is wonderful! I used the last of the asparagus. It made a very spring themed quiche I think. Sweetie loved it. The last time I made this I was getting farm boxes delivered, but the produce section of the market has improved since then and we have the added benefit of neighbors who grow veggies!

You can find the recipe here. A few variations: I used Kite Hill non-dairy ricotta on the bottom of the quiche and no cheese, chopped the mushrooms small and sauteed them with the carrot, but not the onion since I had cooked onions the day before and used them on top, plus diced ham between the asparagus spears for the meat instead of smoked salmon. Used oat milk with eggs for the custard. As you can see, as long as you keep the proportions the same, you can use a wide variety of variations for ingredients and still get a delicious quiche.

Stay safe and healthy!

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Happy St. Patrick's Day and Happy Pi Day (A Little Late)

Combining two events 'cause I can. It's a wonder that anything is happening when it should with all the upheaval caused by the coronavirus around the world. It's been fascinating to watch the changes to everyday life that have happened, like a slow moving storm, over the last few weeks. Where I live we have been told to shelter in place (tonight) and events are being cancelled every day, stores, restaurants, bars, and public spaces are closed and mostly deserted, there are fewer cars on the roads and fewer people, reportedly, riding buses and trains and planes. Plans get cancelled all the time, even for things weeks and months from now. I've cancelled a trip to the East coast and one to Mendocino, plus our daughter canceled a trip up here to visit us, plus a trip to Europe. My youngest sister had to cancel her trip to Europe and her granddaughter had to cancel her college trip to Poland. Those are just the ones I know about.

We won't even talk about the stock market panic. Already looking into how to help hourly workers who have no pay. Just in sports and entertainment there are thousands and thousands of them. Work is drying up for hairdressers and barbers and others at small businesses. People aren't going to the gym, aren't eating out. The list goes on. Fewer than 10 people should gather. Six feet between people is 'social distancing' and recommended for those less than 10 people. Many, many folks are working from home and many, many schools have closed...some for the rest of the school year.

Sweetie and I have been self-quarantined since last Friday, along with our adorable dog Pi. Starting at midnight tonight everyone in our county is asked to shelter in place until April 7th. But we need to celebrate! Sweetie has also reached a milestone birthday. Since he loves pie, I made him his requested Banana Cream Pie. It's also for Pi day (3 days ago), which we celebrate because we love Pi (and pie). As you might imagine, this was an unusual celebration with no neighbors or friends from our area. We brought our daughter and her sweetie and a friend visiting them into the celebration via FaceTime when it was time to blow out the candle and cut the pie. Haven't figured out how to get a piece of pie to them over the internet, but I'm hoping that eventually we'll have a variation of 'Beam me up, Scottie' like Star Trek to handle stuff like that. Amazon will surely figure something out. I think that Skype and FaceTime will become very popular as the virus continues to change every day life.

This is a wonderful pie and pretty easy if you can make pudding. The vanilla pastry cream is also flavored with a bit of rum...goes so well with bananas...and the pie crust is ready-made Pillsbury from a box in the refrigerated section of your favorite market. Make sure that the bananas are ripe (you'll need three large ones) and that you allow enough time for the pie to set (3 hours is perfect). Add some whipped cream for decorations to be really decadent, but it really isn't necessary. The great thing about this is that you can make it any time of year as long as your store has bananas in stock. Since I haven't been in a market since Thursday it's possible that all the bananas left at the same time as the toilet paper I've been hearing so much about. If that's the case, substitute a cup or so of shredded coconut and you'll have a great coconut pie!

No green in this recipe, but St. Patrick would probably still enjoy a slice, if he were here. Now if only he would return and rid the world of the coronavirus as he did the snakes in Ireland, we could celebrate together with hugs. Also, because it is spring around here, let's celebrate the coming of light and flowers with photos of sheep in our yard giving Sweetie less to mow, and flowers from my garden, brightening up the house these cloudy days.

Banana Cream Pie
serves 8

1 envelope unflavored gelatin (7 grams)
1/4 cup cold water (60 ml)
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar (130 grams)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (70 grams)
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 egg yolks
2 1/4 cups full fat milk or 1/2 & 1/2 (I used soy creamer)(562 ml)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon rum
slices from three large or 4 medium bananas
1 9-inch blind baked tart or pie crust, cooled to room temperature (I used 9-inch pie pan and Pillsbury ReadyCrust pre-made pastry dough rounds)
whipped cream for garnish, if desired

Soak the gelatin in the 1/4 cup cold water

Put the sugar, flour and salt into a saucepan and stir together with a whisk. Add the yolks and enough milk to make a paste. Whisk in the remainder of the milk.

Place the pan over low heat and, stirring constantly, cook until thick. Remove from the heat and stir in the  gelatin and stir until thoroughly combined and gelatin is dissolved. Pour into a mixing bowl.

Stir in the vanilla and rum. Set the mixing bowl in cold water and stir until the cream mixture is cool.

Place a layer of sliced bananas over the bottom of the tart or pie crust. Pour in enough of the filling to just cover the bananas.

Smooth the filling with an offset spatula, then put another layer of bananas over the filling and then pour in the rest of the filling and smooth the top and spread evenly.

Garnish with more banana slices if desired. Chill until set, about 3 hours. Garnish with whipped cream rosettes, if desired. Serve at or close to room temperature for the best flavor.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Spuds for St. Patrick's with the Bread Baking Babes

Sweetie celebrates a birthday each St. Patrick's Day but this year we celebrated early, on the weekend, so that we could enjoy this delicious bread, brought to us by Bread Baking Babes Kitchen of the Month Kelly of blog A Messy Kitchen. I guess I connect potatoes with Ireland with St. Patrick.

It's made with mashed potatoes...not the side dish which has milk and butter added, just plain boiled, peeled potatoes, mashed with a fork in my case. You add them to the dough while they are still warm.  The potatoes keep the bread moist, adds flavor and makes the texture velvety. The dough also has bread flour for strength, egg and milk (or soy creamer in my case) and salt. Once the first rise is finished, you also knead in some herbs...I used fresh rosemary, minced, but the recipe calls for thyme. I omitted the hard goat cheese called for, too. If you use the goat cheese, real butter, real milk and egg, it gets to be a really rich dough, which is why you need the bread flour...also called strong flour...if you want a good rise. Mine rose just fine in the proofing and had great oven spring, too. My checkerboard scoring on the top was better on one side than the other. If I made dozens I could probably improve on that.

Sweetie really, really enjoyed this bread. It has a soft, melting texture and just a hint of potato flavor. Do try making this and then email Krlly, our Kitchen of the Month, with your results and a photo and she will send you a Buddy badge and include you in the round-up. You have until March 29th. You can find her email on her blog HERE.

Do check out the results that the other Babes have had, too.

Potato, Thyme and Goat Cheese Pavé
world breads from pain de campagne to paratha
makes 1 loaf

500g (4½ cups) strong white flour (I added about 1/4 cup extra since there was no cheese)
50g (¼ cup) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into small cubes (I used non-dairy margarine)
250 ml (1 cup + 2 tbsp) warm milk or water (I used soy creamer)
20g fresh yeast or 7g instant (¼oz active dry) yeast
1 tsp sugar
100g (1 cup) plain mashed potato, warm (no added cream or butter)
1 tsp fine salt
1 egg, beaten
150g (2/3 cup) mature goat's cheese, grated (I used NONE)
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves (I used minced fresh rosemary)

1 Place the flour in a large bowl, rub in the butter to resemble coarse breadcrumbs.  In a small bowl, mix half the milk or water, the yeast and sugar and leave to stand for 10 minutes until frothy.

2. Make a well in the center of the flour, pour in the yeast liquid and the remaining milk or water.  Add the warm mashed potato, salt, egg and grated cheese and bring together with one hand to form a dough.

3. Turn out dough on a lightly floured surface and knead it for 8-10 minutes until smooth and elastic.  Place dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl, covered with cling film, and leave in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

4. Turn out the dough again and knock back to expel the air.  Add the fresh thyme and mix well.  Shape into a rectangular loaf and place on a greased baking tray.  Cover with a damp cloth and return to a warm place to rise for a further 40-45 minutes or until doubled in size.

5. Preheat the oven to 200ºC (400ºF).  Using a sharp knife, score deep slits in a criss-cross fashion on the top of the bread.  Brush the loaf lightly all over with extra beaten egg (or spray with water and dust with flour for a crustier loaf), then bake on a center shelf for 25-30 minutes until golden.  Che k to see if bread is cooked before transferring to a cooling rack.  Cut into squares to serve.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Cherry Tart From the Fridge Freezer and Pantry

A well stocked kitchen is a joy. I often (really often) find that I don't have the ingredients I need to make a recipe that catches my eye, so it's nice when a plan comes together easily like this yummy tart. I had frozen puff pastry in the freezer, a jar of dark pitted cherries in juice in the pantry, and in the fridge I had non-dairy Kite Hill ricotta, Silk soy creamer, an egg and a lemon for zesting. With a little sugar, sliced almonds and vanilla from the bake center, we were good to go.

First you use the puff pastry to make a free-standing tart base. I used a sharp knife to cut off 1/2-inch wide pieces from both the long and short sides, then used an egg whisked with a teaspoon of water to 'glue' those strips along the edges of the puff pastry sheet to make the tart sides. Be sure to prick the inside of the tart all over with a fork before baking, as I should have done, since it helps the interior to not rise as much as the sides. I had to flatten the interior with a pancake turner to achieve the same results. I did it about halfway through the bake when I realized my error, then at the end of the bake when the part shell had become golden brown in the middle.

You let the tart shell cool, then drain the cherries. I didn't use the whole jar, so don't throw the juice may need it for storing the rest of the cherries or for pouring over vanilla ice cream.

A 4 oz. portion of ricotta, mixed using a stick blender, with some soy creamer, the rest of the egg mixture, and vanilla made a nice, creamy filling for the bottom of the tart. I stirred in some grated lemon zest, too and a bit of sugar. A small offset spatula helped make the filling nice and even across the rectangular tart.

It's kinda fun to place the cherries in rows like soldiers all across the tart. I pushed them down into the filling a little bit. Once all the cherries are in place, I baked the tart for another 10 minutes to cook the filling, toast the almonds and warm up the cherries. My oven runs may need up to an additional 5 minutes. After the tart cooled to room temperature, it was ready to be served and enjoyed.

Although I really haven't been baking much (although I needed this tart to serve at an afternoon meeting, so it had to be made) since the garden is calling, I will be baking bread again soon for the Bread Baking Babes monthly challenge. I'll be posting that on the 16th.

The garden is coming along nicely. I planted an apple tree yesterday and have also been planting some perennials that were a birthday gift. Some of the seedlings are planted out, too, and some are just sprouting. It will be weeks before the soil warms enough for tomatoes and squash and cucumbers. I'm enjoying the tulips and daffodils and early wildflowers, too. Hope that you have been able to at least plant seeds indoors if you love gardening. I know that our unusual warm weather has not been the norm most places and winter is still having its way with you.Still, spring is coming (Northern Hemisphere)!

Easy Cherry Tart

1 sheet puff pastry (usually 1/2 a box)
1 egg
1 teaspoon water
1 jar dark sweet cherries packed in their own juice - about 20 oz.
4 oz. ricotta cheese - I used Kite Hill non-dairy ricotta
2 tablespoons 1/2 and 1/2 or soy creamer
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
zest from 1/2 a lemon
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon sliced almonds
sanding sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Thaw the puff pastry. On a lightly flour surface, roll the puff pastry into a rectangle 10" x 12". Using a sharp knife, cut a 1/2" strip from each side of the rectangle. You will need to cut a 1/2" piece off the end of each strip for fitting. In a small bowl whisk together the egg and water. Using a pastry brush, brush each strip  and lay the egg side down on the puff pastry rectangle at the edge, short pieces on the short sides, long pieces on the long sides. Use the tines of a fork to prick the inside of the tart all over. Using the same pastry brush, carefully egg wash the top of the pastry strips, being careful that the egg wash doesn't run down. If desired, sprinkle the egg wash with sanding sugar.

Place the pastry rectangle with sides attached on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, until tart is lightly golden brown. If necessary, use a pancake turner to flatten the inside of the tart shell.

Cool tart shell to room temperature. Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees F.

While shell is cooling, drain the cherries. Don't rinse. Reserve the juice for another use.

In a medium bowl, place the ricotta, creamer, vanilla and the rest of the egg wash. Using a hand blender or lots of 'elbow grease' and a whisk, combine the ingredients into a creamy mixture. Stir in the lemon zest and sugar. Spread this mixture in the cooled tart. Smooth and even across the tart shell with a small offset spatula.

Use your clean fingers to place the cherries in rows across the tart shell, pushing cherries slightly down into the filling. Sprinkle with the sliced almonds.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 10 -15 minutes to lightly toast the almonds and cook the filling. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. Best the day it is made.

Saturday, March 07, 2020

March - I'm In The Garden

Here it is March 7th and this is my first post of the month! It's not that we haven't been eating, it's just that it's been really simple food, no recipes needed, plus I've been spending a lot of time in the garden.

We didn't get a drop of rain all of February, which is some kind of record. So the garden needed daily watering...we haven't checked out the drip irrigation system since fall. Hope to do it soon.

The soil stayed moist for quite a while, which meant weeding. I also have planted s few things, including some wild flower seeds that are beginning to sprout where the weeds were in one section of the front garden. I can imaging all the cheerful mixed colors when they bloom.

I've also started the veggie seeds to sprouting and some have been planted in potting soil flats. The beans and cukes are looking good and the sunflower seedlings will need to get planted out soon since they are too tall for the flat now. We had fairly warm weather the second half of February, so the almond and plum trees have already flowered and are leafing out. The quince still look lovely and I have an azalea in a pot which I received for my birthday last year and it's larger now and blooming like a champ. So pretty with ruffled pink and white flowers.

I've also been working in my studio to create more tea cup and saucer topped balusters for putting in the garden. They are quite decorative and you can fill the cup with bird seed or water. I paint the baluster to go with the cup and saucer design and colors and then Sweetie glues the cup and saucer onto the baluster. A photo I took last year is at the top of the post showing one of them I painted last winter. The one just above is of a gift for a friend for her birthday. She fills her cup with bird seed and she says the birds just love it.

Hope to have some recipes soon.