Thursday, April 30, 2020

Raspberry Scones

I've barely been baking, partly because I didn't have yeast for a while and flour was difficult to find, so I didn't want to use up what I have too quickly and partly because I don't bake when I'm down and the sense of upheaval caused by the shelter-in-place had me down for a while. It was disconcerting for everyone to have all the usual, expected routines upended and so quickly. At first I just thought that was all that was bothering me, but eventually I realized that part of the problem was that it brought back the time when I lost my son suddenly in an auto accident. My whole world changed in an instant then, too. There was no going back to what was before and I suspect that will be the case here, too. Many things will return to almost normal, but this sudden, worldwide pause (that's what my  brother calls it - The Pause) in life as it is usually lived won't be forgotten. We now all know how profoundly things can change is a very brief amount of time. I already knew it, but this brought that knowledge...and the memories from when it happened almost 21 years the fore. Now that I know why I was unsettled and depressed by it, it seems to have little force. I'm back to baking and living each moment to the fullest, not hiding from it as I was.

So what have I baked? One of the most recent bake was of fresh raspberry scones. The raspberries are tart and the scones themselves aren't very sweet, so I washed the top of the scones with soy creamer and sprinkled on sanding sugar so that these are sweet-tart in the best way. I cut each raspberry in half, but the thing to remember is that once cut, raspberries have a tendency to come apart even more, so be gentle but quick in mixing them into the batter.

One of the keys in making scones is to use very cold ingredients and to handle the dough as little as possible. One way to do that is to portion the dough in half while still in the mixing bowl, then turn one of those halves out onto parchment paper which is lining a baking sheet. Use clean hands to gently gather the dough together and form it into a slightly flattened circle, then use a bench scraper or long knife to cut each circle into six or eight triangles. I baked them still attached to each other and divided them once baked and it worked out well. You can also flour the parchment lightly so that the cut triangles and be separated before baking, just do so gently.

I served these, plus some breakfast sausages, for our Anniversary breakfast, along with coffee for Sweetie and tea for me. A great way to start a day, but these scones would also be perfect for an afternoon break. They go together fairly quickly, so do try them yourself. If you can't find raspberries, you can substitute diced strawberries or washed and dried fresh blueberries. When using raspberries, you'll likely find that here and there throughout the scone, after baking, there is a slight purplish tinge...that is fine. The berries are just giving off a little juice. The scones are more delicious that way.

Fresh Raspberry Scones

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup almond meal
½ cup 12 grain flour (or substitute whole wheat flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
4 oz (1/2 stick) very cold butter, grated on the large holes of a box grater
1 egg
½ cup light cream
¼ cup buttermilk ( I used 3/4 cup soy creamer soured with 1 tablespoon plain yogurt for the cream and buttermilk)
¼ teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon lemon or orange zest - colored part only
1 cup fresh raspberries, cut in half if large
1 tablespoon cream or soy creamer
2-3 tablespoons sanding sugar (optional)

With a fork stir together the flour, almond meal, 12 grain(or whole wheat) flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the grated butter, then, using clean fingers, rub the butter and flour together until the texture of bread crumbs. Work quickly to keep the butter cold.

In a large measuring cup, use the fork to stir the eggs to beat them lightly, then add the light cream, buttermilk,  almond extract, and citrus zest and stir to mix well.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and gradually add the liquid ingredient mixture, mixing lightly with the fork, just until ingredients are barely combined. Do not overmix. If mixture seems to dry, add a few drops of milk; if too wet, add a tablespoon of flour. Finished mixture should be the consistency of moist biscuit dough.

Again using the fork, gently and quickly stir the raspberries into the dough, just enough to disperse them.

Turn half the dough out onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Pat dough into a circle with about a 1 inch thickness. Cut with floured bench scraper or knife, into six or eight scones. Repeat with the second half of the dough on another parchment lined baking sheet.

Brush lightly with cream or soy creamer then sprinkle with sanding sugar (optional). Bake in a preheated 425 degree oven for about 10 – 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool slightly in pan, then serve warm.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Garden Update and Potato Ham Casserole

Nights are finally staying above 50 degrees and the days are warmer, too. That means that I can finally put the seedlings in the ground and expect that they will begin growing soon. The rest of the seedlings, which I grew from seed in my sunspace, are being claimed by neighbors for their gardens, just as I had hoped would happen.

It's not too late to plant seeds yourself. With farmers plowing under their crops because of closed restaurants across the land, come the fall, if not sooner, home grown food will be important to have. You can even put planters on your balcony if you live in an apartment that has one. One year when I lived in a one-bedroom apartment I put a milk crate on the outside stairs to the roof which hardly anyone used. I put a plastic garbage bag inside, used twist ties to secure the top edge and poked a few drainage holes in the bottom, then put in potting soil and grew carrots and a cherry tomato plant. Cherry tomatoes and lettuce are both easy to grow. A friend of mine grew her cherry tomato just outside her window on a wide ledge. Herbs can be grown on an inside window sill...get the idea?

This year I was planning on traveling during the summer and early fall so I was only going to plant one tomato plant and one zucchini and some beans, all where the drip irrigation system would keep them watered while I was gone. Now that I'm going to be staying home I decided to plant a lot more plants, with multiple tomatoes, four kinds of squash, two summer and two winter, cucumbers, three kinds of beans and sunflowers, too. Who knows, I may poke some pumpkin seeds in the ground, too, and see what happens. We don't really get enough heat for peppers or I would grow them, too.

What kinds of veggies do you plan on growing this year? Any?

Life isn't all veggies, sometimes it's flowers and tea. Sweetie and I are celebrating our 40th anniversary today. Time has certainly flown and life has, by and large, been good to us. Here is a photo of the iris blooming right now, surrounding my teacup garden art which is sort of an homage to my Mom and her love of gardens and tea. The photo below is of a similar tea cup stake which I made for a friend for her birthday. She loves to garden, and she says the birds are eating bird seed out of the cup.

Easter this year included a ham. A lot of the leftovers went into the freezer and I made some sandwiches, but I did have an idea one day last week (or was it the week all runs together these days) for using some leftovers for dinner. I have a recipe I enjoy which uses potatoes and onions and chicken broth to make a casserole. I decided to try it with some diced ham added. It was a hit. A nice green salad on the side was all we needed to make this a delicious meal. One of the nice things about this casserole is that it doesn't use milk or cream, so it has a nice clean profile. If you can use a knife to make even, thin potato slices, that makes for easy cleanup, but if not, break out the slicer on the mandolin or food processor since you'll need a lot of slices.

The casserole tastes wonderful the day it's made, but like many things made with onions, it's even better reheated the next day. I used a cast iron skillet, but you can bake it in a shallow casserole dish, too.

Potato Ham Casserole with Broth

3 all-purpose potatoes (about 1 pound), peeled ( I used Idahos)
3 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
2 tablespoons finely minced onion (I used red onion since I was out of yellow and about twice this amount...I love onions)
2 garlic cloves, minced
salt and pepper to taste
nutmeg, freshly grated if possible
1/2 cup diced cooked ham - you can use a larger quantity if desired, up to 1 cup
1 cup beef broth or chicken broth (I used a bit more -see note below -and used chicken broth)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Peel potatoes and slice them 1/8-inch thick. (Rinse in cold water, then drain and pat dry with paper towels - this part I skipped and it came out fine, but you can do it if you like).

Combine the butter, onion and garlic. Use on third of the mixture to grease a shallow 1 quart baking dish or cast iron skillet. (A shallow dish is important so that you get plenty of browned topping!)

Make a single layer of potatoes over the initial butter mixture, seasoned it with salt, pepper and nutmeg and sprinkled on about 1/4 of the diced ham, then put in a second single layer and treated it as I did the first layer, repeated that process until there were no more potatoes to layer...about 4 layers. I also mixed 1/4 cup non-dairy ricotta with 1 egg and put dollops between layers. You can also shred a cheese that melts and do the same.

Pour the broth over all and dot with the remaining butter mixture. Note: I made sure that the broth comes up almost to the top of the layered potatoes so that they will cook evenly may need to use more broth than the recipe calls for but it is worth it and the broth cooks into the potatoes and cooks off so the potatoes keep their shape and are not soggy, so it's OK, the potatoes become really tender.Bake for 1 1/4 hours, or until the potatoes are tender throughout and golden brown on top. Serves 4 - 6.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Baking Bagels in Quarantine with a Buddy

I have a good friend and neighbor who used to live in New York City and he loves the bagels you can get there. It's going to be a while before he gets back there again, so we talked about baking bagels together...apart. He found some great videos on YouTube and made up some baking planks with burlap (which I'd never heard of but makes them more authentic and really helps the toppings stay on, too). Here is a photo of them after I'd flipped the bagels off them and onto the baking stone. He really did a nice job!

The hard part was finding yeast and bread flour. That finally happened this week so yesterday he dropped off a couple of the planks for me (literally left them on the porch and left, then texted me), and we agreed to make the dough yesterday and have it sit in the fridge overnight, then bake in the morning.

So today was bake day. I took the dough out of the fridge as soon as I got up to allow it to warm up and start rising again. At 8 am G texted a photo of his already shaped bagels.... and we began. I was obviously behind since my dough was still in the rising container, but then I read that he planned on letting his rise for an hour, so I was able to catch up since mine only were supposed to rise for 15-20 minutes. We were using different recipes.

There are two ways to shape bagels, by creating dough balls and then poking a hole in the middle and stretching the dough out from there to create the center hole, or by making a dough snake and then wrapping it around you hand to create a circle, then sealing the two ends together. G did the first method and I did one that way...which turned into a blimp once baked, so obviously I didn't create a big enough hole! The one on the right in the photo below is the one where I poked a hole in the middle and shaped it. Clearly I didn't make a big enough hole!

I used the snake method and Sweetie took a video of me doing it to send to G. Don't you just love smart phones? I was hoping to include it here, but it's too large a file for my email. I should look into other ways to get it off my phone and to my computer. It shows me rolling the dough into a snake and wrapping it around my hand, slipping it off and sealing the ends together. You can see the results below, except for the one in the foreground, which is the blimp one.

I probably used too much yeast because the shaped bagels were ready in less than 15 minutes. I'd been preheating the oven for about 45 minutes (an hour is recommended), had the baking stone in place, the baking planks had soaked overnight in a clean sink and were drained, and a large pot of water was boiling on the stove. While the bagels were rising I had put out thee shallow bowls. One held coarse sea salt, one white sesame seeds, and one a mixture 'everything' that had onion, poppy and sesame seeds and salt. I added a little molasses to the boiling water since I didn't have any barley malt syrup, and we were ready to go!

The boiling only takes a minute...30 seconds per side or less...and then I put one side of the bagel right into the salt, then, salt side down, onto the board. I repeated the process with the 'everything', then slid the plank into the oven on top of the pizza stone. Set the timer for three minutes and boiled the other three bagels, dipping one in sesame, one in 'everything' and left the hand-made hole one plain. These went, topping side down, on the second plank and into the oven. The first plank bagels were ready to turn out onto the pizza stone...which puts them topping side up...and the plank was put on the counter. After another three minutes the bagels on the second plank were turned out onto the stone. Now it was seven more minutes of baking for the first set and ten minutes for the second set. The advantage to only making part of the recipe is that 5 bagels only takes a few minutes for all to be baking. Here's how they looked with the first two coming out of the oven.

G and I kept checking back with each other. His actually looked better than mine...not so puffy...but he had some problem with burnt bottoms. It never hurts to check on the bagels close to the finish of baking time to make sure they aren't burning. If you are doing batches that means you can turn your oven down 25 degrees F or so. If they aren't burning, just keep going.

The hard part was waiting until the bagels had cooled a bit before slicing, toasting, and eating them. They smelled great and tasted even better once toasted, buttered and enjoyed.

This is a great project to do during quarantine.  There a lot of steps, but just take your time. Start making the dough on Friday and by 9 or 10 Saturday morning you will have fresh, delicious bagels.

If you don't have burlap for planks, and clean boards, too, you can bake them right on the baking stone. If you don't have a baking stone, just use a greased baking sheet. You can go on YouTube as G did to look at different techniques and recipes. It's fun. G is going to try a different recipe and slightly lower oven temp. and see how that changes things. This is art as well as food, so perfect isn't really the point, enjoyment is. Happy Baking!

Real Jewish Purist's Bagels
A variation of Real Honest Jewish Purist's Bagels
Recipe Quantity: Fifteen (15) large, plain, Kosher bagels

Ingredients:6-8 cups bread (high-gluten) flour
3 teaspoons Active dry baking yeast
6 tablespoons granulated white sugar or light honey or 3 tablespoons molasses
2 teaspoons salt
3 cups hot water
a bit of vegetable oil
1 gallon water
3-5 tablespoons malt syrup or sugar
a few handfuls of cornmeal if not using baking planks


large mixing bowl
wire whisk
measuring cups and spoons
wooden mixing spoon
butter knife or baker's dough blade
clean, dry surface for kneading
warm, but not hot, place to set dough to rise
large stockpot
slotted spoon

baking planks: clean 2x4s, 14-inches long, with a strip of burlap on top of each, stapled at the sides
 or 2 baking sheets

or cornmeal and a bakers peel
3 clean, dry kitchen towels or a wire cooling rack

How You Do It:Step 1- Proof Yeast: Pour three cups of hot water into the mixing bowl. The water should be hot, but not so hot that you can't bear to put your fingers in it for several seconds at a time. Add the sugar or honey and stir it with your fingers (a good way to make sure the water is not too hot) or with a wire whisk to dissolve. Sprinkle the yeast over the surface of the water, and stir to dissolve.

Wait about ten minutes for the yeast to begin to revive and grow. Skipping this step could result in your trying to make bagels with dead yeast, which results in bagels so hard and potentially dangerous that they are banned under the terms of the Geneva Convention. You will know that the yeast is okay if it begins to foam and exude a sweetish, slightly beery smell.

Step 2- Make Dough: At this point, add about three cups of flour as well as the 2 tsp of salt to the water and yeast and begin mixing it in. Some people subscribe to the theory that it is easier to tell what's going on with the dough if you use your hands rather than a spoon to mix things into the dough, but others prefer the less physically direct spoon. As an advocate of the bare-knuckles school of baking, I proffer the following advice: clip your fingernails, take off your rings and wristwatch, and wash your hands thoroughly to the elbows, like a surgeon. Then you may dive into the dough with impunity. I generally use my right hand to mix, so that my left is free to add flour and other ingredients and to hold the bowl steady. Left-handed people might find that the reverse works better for them. Having one hand clean and free to perform various tasks works best.

When you have incorporated the first three cups of lour, the dough should begin to become thick-ish. Add more flour, a half-cup or so at a time, and mix each addition thoroughly before adding more flour. As the dough gets thicker, add less and less flour at a time.

Step 3- Knead Dough: Soon you will begin to knead it by hand (if you're using your hands to mix the dough in the first place, this segue is hardly noticeable). If you have a big enough and shallow enough bowl, use it as the kneading bowl, otherwise use that clean, dry, flat counter top or tabletop mentioned in the "Equipment" list above. Sprinkle your work surface or bowl with a handful of flour, put your dough on top, and start kneading. Add bits of flour if necessary to keep the dough from sticking (to your hands, to the bowl or counter top, etc....). Soon you should have a nice stiff dough. It will be quite elastic, but heavy and stiffer than a normal bread dough. Do not make it too dry, however... it should still give easily and stretch easily without tearing.

Step 4- Let Dough Rise: Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, and cover with plastic wrap, a shower cap, or a
 clean kitchen towel, dampened somewhat by getting it wet and then wringing it out thoroughly. If you swish the dough around in the bowl, you can get the whole ball of dough covered with a very thin film of oil, which will keep it from drying out.

Place the bowl with the dough in it in a dry, warm (but not hot) place, free from drafts. Allow it to rise until doubled in volume. Some people try to accelerate rising by putting the dough in the oven, where the pilot lights keep the temperature slightly elevated. If it's cold in your kitchen, you can try this, but remember to leave the oven door open or it may become too hot and begin to kill the yeast and cook the dough. An ambient temperature of about 80 degrees Fahrenheit (25 Centigrades) is ideal for rising dough. You can also let the dough sit in the fridge overnight as I did, covered with a clean shower cap (or use plastic wrap). Remove it an hour or so before shaping time to allow it to warm and rise a bit more. Soak the planks overnight in water in a clean sink. Drain while the water boils (Step 6)

Step 5- Pre-heat Oven: Begin to preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Allow about an hour.

Step 6- Prepare Water and Toppings for Bagels: While the dough is rising, fill your stockpot with about a gallon of water and set it on the fire to boil. When it reaches a boil, add the malt syrup (or molasses) or sugar and reduce the heat so that the water just barely simmers; the surface of the water should hardly move. Put toppings in shallow bowls. Set drained planks near the bowls, or, if using a baking sheet, place greased baking sheet near bowls. If baking directly on baking stone, place a peel near bowls and lightly sprinkle cornmeal on peel.

Step 7- Form Bagels: Once the dough has risen, turn it onto your work surface, punch it down, and divide immediately into as many hunks as you want to make bagels. For this recipe, you will probably end up with about 15 bagels, so you will divide the dough into 15 roughly even-sized hunks.
Begin forming the bagels. There are two schools of thought on this. One method of bagel formation involves shaping the dough into a rough sphere, then poking a hole through the middle with a finger and then pulling at the dough around the hole to make the bagel. This is the hole-centric method. The dough-centric method involves making a long cylindrical "snake" of dough and wrapping it around your hand into a loop and mashing the ends together. Whatever you like to do is fine. DO NOT, however, give in to the temptation of using a doughnut or cookie cutter to shape your bagels. This will push them out of the realm of Jewish Bagel Authenticity and give them a distinctly Protestant air. The bagels will not be perfectly shaped. They will not be symmetrical. This is normal. This is okay. Enjoy the diversity. Just like snowflakes, no two genuine bagels are exactly alike.

Step 8- Half Proof and Boil Bagels: Once the bagels are formed, let them sit for about 10 minutes. They will begin to rise slightly. Ideally, they will rise by about one-fourth volume... a technique called "half-proofing" the dough. At the end of the half-proofing, drop the bagels into the simmering water one by one. You don't want to crowd them, and so there should only be two or three bagels simmering at any given time. The bagels should sink first, then gracefully float to the top of the simmering water.  Let the bagel simmer for about 
 thirty seconds, then turn them over with a skimmer or a slotted spoon. Simmer another thirty seconds, and then lift the bagels out of the water and dip them right away into the toppings, if using. The bagels should be pretty and shiny, thanks to the malt syrup, molasses or sugar in the boiling water.

Step 9- Bake Bagels: As the bagels finish boiling, dip them in the topping and put them, topping side down on the planks with burlap side up.  Put them in the oven, right on top of the baking stone. If you don't have the plank, put the topped bagels topping side up on peel and then onto the baking stone, or on a greased baking sheet...which goes into the oven. Let them bake for 3 minutes on the plank, then flip over onto the baking stone...toppings will be right side up...then set timer for 10 minutes. If not using planks, set timer when bagels first go into the oven for 13 minutes. You can leave them in longer if they are not browned. Check bottoms, too, and turn over if getting too brown. You want them to be a dark golden brown so that they are fully baked.

Remove from the oven and cool on wire racks, or on a dry clean towels if you have no racks. Do not attempt to cut them until they are cool... hot bagels slice abominably and you'll end up with a wadded mass of bagel pulp. We didn't really wait long enough, so they didn't slice cleanly, but didn't wad to much. Sweetie has a really hard time smelling baked bread and waiting until it is cool.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

No Bread Today But Plenty Of Veggies

Normally on the 16th of the month this post would be about which ever bread recipe the Bread Baking Babes are baking this month. I'm sure that I will bake this bread eventually because the delightful Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen asked us to bake Kürtőskalács or Chimney Cakes and they sound delicious. The difficulty is that you need a cone shaped support for the dough strips that can go into the oven and support the bread as it bakes. I haven't been able to figure out anything to use and can't go looking due to everything being shut down for the pandemic. I've also been fighting off a non-Corona-19 infection and have very little energy. Do visit Aparna's blog and those of the other Bread Baking Babes to see how they did with this challenge. Here are some links: Judy of Judy's Gross Eats, Kelly of A Messy Kitchen, Cathy of Bread Experience, Karen of Karen's Kitchen Stories.

That doesn't change the fact that we still need to eat and I've had this recipe ready to make for almost a week. Each day I wasn't up for cooking, but finally yesterday afternoon I had enough energy to cook up this delicious concoction which has lot of veggies and some white beans. As usual I only used the recipe as a jumping off place so there were lots of changes...I added mushrooms and onions and ham and substituted spinach for kale and changed short it's a new recipe.

This is a hearty veggie stew with ham added because it goes with beans and we had some left over from Easter, but it would be just fine without the ham and would then be vegan and still delicious (I know because I tasted it before I added the ham). Although the original recipe was written so that you quickly cooked it and served it at once, I decided that it would improve if cooked earlier in the day. I reheated it at dinner time. This gave the ingredients time to meld. I suspect that it improved the flavor. I served it with some cornbread, which went well with it. Sorry about lack of photos, but it smelled so good, and tasted better, that I forgot to take photos!

Veggie Concoction - White Bean Stew
Based on Tuscan Cannellini Bean Skillet on the baking fairy blog
Serves 3-4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup yellow or white onion, peeled and chopped
6-8 crimini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 zucchini, cut in half and sliced
1/2 teaspoon sage
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon mural of flavor or other dried herb mixture
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 cup frozen chopped spinach
1- 15 oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup diced ham (optional)

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil, then saute' the onion over medium-high heat until almost translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the mushrooms, stir, cover and cook over low heat 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. The mushrooms will release moisture. That is fine. Add the garlic and return the heat to medium-high and saute', uncovered, 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the zucchini, the sage, thyme, dried herb mixture, and pepper. Stir well to coat the contents of the pan with the herbs and spice. Cover and cook over low heat 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the spinach, stir well, and continue cooking 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the beans and ham (if using) and stir to combine, then simmer, covered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and let sit until serving time, then reheat, covered, for about 10 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally. Serve hot.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Checking In

We got started early, so I think it's been about a month now that Sweetie and I have 'sheltered-in-place' here on the farm. The reason that I put it in quotes is that we have gone into town to walk the dog quite a few times during that month, although we have kept far more than six feet away from anyone who happens to be doing the same with their dog, the occasional runner, or the bird watching fellow we see at a distance. I've been wearing a face covering, too, created from my favorite rainbow scarf. Colorful is always good, plus in Britain they are apparently drawing rainbows to thank first responders and front line worker, so this rainbow thanks all those doing that dangerous and essential work.

I've had to enter the pharmacy twice for meds for an ornery bladder infection that refuses to die (wearing a robust mask from when we had our fires last fall), but otherwise haven't been in a store all that time. Fortunately I've never really been all that taken with shopping, especially without friends - they make it fun  - but even so I miss grocery shopping and picking out paint at the hardware store.

Our neighbors have been stellar. They let us know when they are grocery shopping and which store they will be going to and find what they can on our list and drop it off on our front porch. This will be hard to do without once we go back to shopping for ourselves again. Such a luxury!

Pi enjoys his walks but I think he is otherwise bored...but then we tend to be pretty boring. Reading, watching a movie on the TV or tablet, cooking and cleaning up from meals (when Pi gets the occasional leftover scrap of chicken skin or bit of pork fat). Pi also likes to hang out on the front porch while I garden or Sweetie works in the barn on his woodworking...but he's had no trips to the beach or different parks since they are all closed.

My bedroom closet is cleaner and more organized than it has been in at least 10 years. The challenge will be to keep it that way once life gets busier and more disorganized. It's still not most other people's idea of an organized closet, but it works for me.

The garden is also in better shape with fewer weeds. We have had a long, cool spring. That's ween lovely for the bulb flowers like tulips and daffodils because they have lasted a long time and are lovely, but it means that my sunspace is still full of veggie starts and sunflower seedlings that are getting bigger and bigger!

I usually wait for night time temperatures to stay in the 50s before I plant the hot weather plants, but I may have to just put them in and hope for the best soon.

Sweetie has been cleaning closets, too and found this jean jacket that Max used to wear. He says it is comforting.  As you can see he is keeping his weight down and lookin' good. Multiple trips back and forth to the farmhouse while working on the closet and while we have been painting the outside of part of the farmhouse have meant lots of steps. All three sides have been painted now and next I'll be painting trim around the windows.

Not much interesting cooking or baking going on. We're keeping it simple. The usual Easter egg dying will take place today, but there are only three hard boiled eggs since we are using most eggs for breakfast.

Hope that you, dear reader, are well and sheltering in place and finding new and, hopefully, fun ways to occupy yourself. Share in comments if you like.

Off to dye Easter eggs...all three of them.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

New Way With An Onion Tart

I've made my favorite onion tart a number of times and blogged about it, so it shouldn't be too surprising that I'm doing that again. Each time I change something. One time I used pie dough instead of puff pastry, one time I used tart dough, another time I changed some of the topping get the idea. With the changes in patterns due to shelter-in-place, I've had more time to prepare some ingredients ahead and that made this tart an easy addition to a recent dinner.

This time I started with the puff pastry tart bottom but I didn't dock it or roll it out or anything, just unfolded it after it thawed and went from there. The toppings were what changed the most. I started by spreading about 3/4 cup non-dairy ricotta cheese over the unbaked puff pastry base, leaving about an inch free of topping at each edge. Then I pulled the jar of already caramelized onions from the fridge. A few days before I had used my small slow cooker to caramelize them which is a really easy way to do it. You start with one or two peel, halved, thinly sliced onions and top with a tablespoon of olive oil, then just cook on slow for 6-8 hours, stirring now and then. To save them in the fridge I put them into a tall narrow jar and added some olive oil on the top as a sort of seal.

So there was this lovely mess of caramelized onion with a little olive oil mixed in...about 1 cup. I added 2 tablespoons honey and 1 tablespoon sherry and mixed it well. This concoction was spread lightly over the ricotta on the tart. Then I sprinkled on a bit of nutmeg...about 1/8 teaspoon and about 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme. Last, but not least, I scattered a slice and a half already cooked bacon, crumbled, over it all.

The tart was baked in a 400 degree preheated oven, on a baking stone, with the tart on a piece of parchment. This nice direct connection with the stone's heat gave the bottom of the tart a nice brown flakiness, but if you don't have a baking stone, just put it on a baking sheet and it will still be wonderful. I baked it until the top of the tart edges were dark golden brown and puffy. After letting it cool about 5 minutes, I sliced it in nine pieces and Sweetie and I enjoyed it...a lot. We had it as part of our meal, along with salad and a grilled chicken thigh, but it makes a great appetizer, too. If you use it for that, cut it into smaller squares or rectangles.

This is a pretty quick recipe if you have the onions already caramelized, the bacon already cooked and the puff pastry thawed (all of which I did), but even without that, you can use uncooked onions mixed with the wine and honey instead of the caramelized onions, and it only takes a few minutes to pre-cook the bacon...perhaps while you thaw the pastry?

Hope you try this and enjoy it!

XO, Elle

Monday, April 06, 2020

Rainbows in the Time of Pandemic

The quiet march of the virus throughout much of the world has been pretty dispiriting but yesterday there was a bit of a break in the clouds, at least for me. Although it is a rare thing, the Queen of England gave a speech, and in it she was what I think of as a true leader. She shared the sadness we all feel as the pandemic changes so much of what we used to do and know, but she also marshalled the hopes of the British people, acknowledging that we will meet again...not sure when, but we will. She also encouraged her people to keep doing what they are doing and to appreciate the folks on the front line and first responders. There were pictures during the speech and I was moved by the ones drawn by children of thank those who are risking their lives to save others.

Today Sweetie and I decided to take Pi for a walk in town at the park which is mostly deserted. Since the CDC has asked that we wear masks, I made one from a silk rainbow scarf that I bought for my first trip to Ireland and that love to wear. That's my small effort to thank those like my niece the doctor who is in the front lines, for my friend Kathy's niece, a nurse, who is also there, for my niece the grocery manager who worked seven twelve-hour days in a row before a break so that we can get our food. It's a thank you to neighbors who have been shopping for us and for my nephew who works doing police and fire dispatch, and for the thousands and thousands others who are doing their part. I only wish that the U.S. had someone as eloquent as the Queen to bring our people together in spirit.

Hope that each of you reading this are washing your hands frequently, staying at home as much as possible, using a mask, staying safe and healthy and, most of all, being kind. Rainbows and kindness will get us through...until we meet again.

Friday, April 03, 2020

Comfort Food in a Soup

Strange times we are living in. I had my first ever virtual doctor's visit...well, actually it was with his Physician Assistant, but she is great and took care of my issue just fine. It was on Zoom and fortunately I had downloaded the app to my tablet before that, but hadn't had an actual Zoom session, so I didn't know how to turn on the video...she could hear me and I could see and hear her. That afternoon I did a session with my daughter and she uses Zoom all the time for business, so she was able to walk me through. The next evening I had a Zoom gathering with my siblings...this is certainly a great way to connect as long as there is nothing secret we want to protect. Heard that with the astronomical boost in use that Zoom is having a hard time with security.

Another thing that has come with this pandemic is the urge to bake. Turns out that I should have bought up some extra yeast and bread flour prior to the shelter-in-place orders. None to be had for love nor money. I have revived my sourdough starter, so that will help, but I have a yen to bake hot cross buns and that works better with a sweet dough, not a sour one, I think. If you want to mail me a packet of yeast, send me an email and I'll email you my address.

I did find a nice pound of Great Northern dry white beans in the pantry and a ham hock in the freezer, so I made up one of my favorite comfort foods that isn't filled with sugar...Country Bean and Cabbage Soup. You do have to soak the beans overnight and also let them boil after that but before making the soup, so this isn't an instant meal by any means. The good news is that as things simmer for hours, your house smells really great! It also makes a lot of soup. The soup is good for many days, too, and improves in taste over time (for at least 4-5 day, then I would freeze any leftovers). You may have the ingredients in your pantry, too. If you do, give it a try. It's a hearty, savory, filling soup that is like a warm hug.

As usual, I didn't follow the recipe exactly. For one thing I had no parsley, so no 'bouquet', just some bay leaves tossed in and retrieved at the end. I was low on onions, so I just tossed in the cloves, too, and sliced up one onion. No tomato paste, so I squirted in some ketchup. It still smelled and tasted sublime!

Country Bean and Cabbage Soup

2 1/3 cup dry pea beans (Great Northern, white beans)
1 3-lb. cooked picnic ham (smoked pork shoulder), bone in
1 celery stalk, sliced
2 carrots, quartered and sliced
5 sprigs parsley + 2 bay leaves tied together
2 medium onion, sliced, plus 1 onion stuck with
3 whole cloves
4 garlic cloves, mashed
½ teaspoon EACH dried thyme & ground pepper
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 can tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 small head cabbage, sliced in ¼ inch slices

Cover beans with cold water and let stand overnight. Drain, cover with fresh water and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and soak for 1 hour. 

Drain and rinse, and return beans to the pot. Add ham. Add enough water to cover the beans. Bring to a low simmer and simmer 15 minutes. Add the vegetables, herbs, onions and seasonings to pot. Cover and simmer 1½  hours. 

Add the tomatoes and tomato paste, and simmer ½  hour. If tomatoes stay whole, chop them up with a spoon. 

Add the cabbage and simmer ½ hour. 

Make a roux of 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons flour, cooked in a small pan until light brown. Add it to soup. Remove herb bouquet and whole onion. Simmer 15 minutes. 

Taste and season with more salt and pepper as needed. Serves 8 - 10.