Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Fig and Pear Pie for Fall

It has been pretty smoky here this week since the wildfires began in Napa over the weekend and quickly spread east towards Santa Rosa, with the smoke and ash being blown by strong winds all the way to the coast. Our local volunteer fire department sent two crews and engines the day before the fires started because CalFire was prestaging since there was a high likelihood of fire over the weekend due to very dry conditions and high winds blowing from the interior toward the coast. Yesterday they sent another crew and fire engine since the fire grew and is not at all contained. Fortunately for Santa Rosa and everything to the west, the winds changed late yesterday afternoon and are now blowing from the coast towards the east. There was also some fog which should help firefighters. Since we have had one or more wildfires in Sonoma Co. every year since the major Tubbs fire in 2017, all of this has become old hat. We all have go bags at the ready and alternate power sources (at least flashlights) because our power company often cuts power to avoid causing fires when the conditions are ripe for new fires. Last year we had to evacuate to San Francisco, but so far this year we have stayed at home; a blessing.

So what do you do when it's hot outside and the air is filled with smoke? If you are lucky, you can turn on an air conditioner to filter the air. That means that it's cool enough in the house to bake a pie. Baking takes my mind off of the rest of it. Pretty selfish I guess, but Sweetie was quite happy to get a pie out of it.

We have very generous neighbors and friends. Of course we give them tomatoes and quince and iris starts and strawberries, so it's a two-way exchange. Recently we received delicious ripe home-grown figs and also some pears. The pears took a while to ripen (pears ripen off the tree) but there were a few ripe at the same time we received the figs, so I put both into a pie and we enjoyed it Sunday after dinner and again for breakfast on Monday.

This recipe is a variation of one from Southern Living. Theirs had only figs and the crust was in a pie pan. Ours had figs and pears and I made it in a crostata form without a pan. I shaped it on a large piece of parchment and used a bread paddle to slide the parchment onto a baking stone. Because it was flatter than a regular pie and because the baking stone was pre-heated, it cooked fairly quickly. The only this to watch out for is the filling because it is basically a custard and looks for places to run out onto the parchment. Sealing where the pie dough meets when you pleat the dough helps. Pouring the filling a little at a time into the center hold allows it to spread out to the edges and that helps, too.

Fresh Fig and Pear Pie
a variation of Fig Pie from Southern Living

dough for 1 crust pie - I used one roll from Pillsbury Ready Crust
2 tablespoons dry plain bread crumbs
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour plus 2 tablespoons
2 tablespoons lemon juice or 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
8 ripe fresh figs, rinsed and dried, stem cut off, sliced into four and then across into eight
1-2 ripe pears, peeled and cored, chopped into 1 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 cup but more is OK)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place one rack about 1/3 of the way up in the oven. If you have one, put a baking stone one the rack to preheat with the oven. If you don't have a baking stone, place a heavy cookie sheet or baking sheet in the oven to preheat.

Roll out the dough into a circle about 12 to 14-inches in diameter. Place on a large sheet of baking parchment. Sprinkle the dry bread crumbs in the center and out about to cover the center eight inches. Set aside.

To make the Filling: In a large bowl combine the eggs, sugar, flour, juice or vinegar, and ginger with a whisk. Whisk until smooth. Set aside.

Put the parchment paper with the crust dough on it on a baking peel or a cookie sheet without a rim. Place the figs in the middle of the dough circle on top of the dry bread crumbs. Place the pears on top of the figs. Gently spread the fruit out to fill the center eight inches of the dough.

Fold the extra dough up over the fruit, sealing as you go with water, so that the dough is pleated all around the fruit. Gently and slowly, pour the filling mixture into the open center, letting the filling spread out. If needed, gently unseal one of the pleats and pour some of the mixture to the side. Seal up and repeat around the pie, sealing the dough together where it meets.

Slide the parchment paper onto the preheated stone or baking sheet, keeping the pie on the parchment.

Bake, turning once about half way through, until the pastry is browned and the filling is bubbly, about 25 minutes. Check at the half way point. If the pastry is browning too quickly, tent with foil.

Remove baked pie using the baking peel or cooking sheet without a rim and slide onto a cooling rack. Cool until room temperature. Serve as is, or dust lightly with confectioners sugar.

Makes one 8-inch pie.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Garlic and Butter and Lemon and Shrimp

Shrimp Scampi is a dish I first had when I was just out of college. It used to be the kind of menu item that white tablecloth restaurants of the time almost always had on the menu. I really loved eating it but thought that it would be difficult to make well and then I moved and had little income, so shrimp, which tends to be expensive where I live, was not on my menu. Eventually I just forgot about it.

A few days ago I was in an Oliver's market in Santa Rosa. They are a local chain of markets with the best of Whole Foods but at a slightly lower price point and far less pretentious. At their meat and seafood counter I discovered that they had large shrimp that had been frozen in bags of about 1 pound. I bought one and for some reason the idea of shrimp scampi popped into my head. Still thinking that it was a difficult recipe, I looked it up on Google and found that it's actually easy. There is prep work that needs to be done before you start cooking the shrimp because it goes together very quickly (except for cooking the pasta), but the recipe itself is simple. As with any recipe that seems simple, using quality ingredients is crucial. I started with some very nice shrimp. When thawed they smelled of the sea (but not 'fishy')which is a good indicator that they were handled well before being frozen. I made sure I had good linguine, a juicy and firm lemon or two, some excellent dry white wine, good olive oil, fresh parsley and a good, firm head of garlic. The last ingredient wasn't butter, which is the best thing to use, but an excellent non-dairy butter that I usually use only as a finishing ingredient. Since this dish depends on good butter, I really needed all four tablespoons to be as close to the best butter that I could find. Having a dairy allergy is no fun sometimes.

So, timing is important for shrimp scampi. Get the water boiling for the pasta. Gather all the ingredient together and prep the shrimp (I had to peel and devein them but it was OK to leave the tail on), zest and juice the lemon, mince the garlic, mince the parsley.

First you heat up a mixture of that good butter and quality olive oil. Then you saute' the garlic in that combination of oils. Once the garlic has cooked a few minutes, you add the wine and a pinch of red pepper flakes and cook that for a few minutes, then you salt and pepper the shrimp and add them to the wine mixture, making sure they are in a single layer. After a couple of minutes, you flip them over to cook the other side. After another couple of minutes you add the lemon zest, lemon juice and parsley and stir it all together. By that time your pasta is cooked and you drain it, then add it to the shrimp mixture and toss it all with some tongs until all the pasta is coated with the butter/olive oil/garlic/ lemon/wine/parsley mixture. Quickly you put the pasta on a plate or in a shallow bowl, top with the shrimp and it's ready to serve! I think it's between 8 and 10 minutes start to finish. No wonder it used to be a popular restaurant item. Done in no time and you can charge a lot for it.

So did it live up to my memories? Yes! In fact it was better. I didn't overcook the pasta. Most restaurants in my youth did. Ditto the shrimp. I used more garlic and it was fresher. I think I should have added a touch more salt, but otherwise it was perfect and perfectly delicious. Sweetie loves shrimp and I suspect he would like me to make this every night for a week. Do try it yourself if you can get good shrimp. The recipe is a combination of about four I found online, plus the lemon zest I added on my own. Lemon zest always ups the lemon flavor, so why not?

Shrimp Scampi
Serves 2-4

1/2 lb. linguine
1 lb. large raw shrimp, rinsed, peeled and deveined (OK to leave the tail on)
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons soft salted butter or non-dairy butter substitute
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/4 cup dry white wine
pinch red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
juice and zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped

Have all the ingredient gathered and prepared. The cooking takes about 10 minutes, start to finish.

Bring a very large pot of water to a boil for the pasta. While it's coming to a boil, prepare the shrimp and the garlic, lemon and parsley. 

Once the water is boiling, add 1 teaspoon salt and the linguine and stir to separate the pasta. Leave uncovered and boil until al dente, about 8 - 10 minutes. Have a colander ready to drain the pasta.

Wait until the pasta water returns to a boil, then begin the shrimp part of the dish.

In a large skillet, melt the butter and oil together over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and saute' about 3 minutes, stirring a few times. Don't let garlic burn.

Add the white wine and the red pepper flakes. cook another two minutes, stirring often. 

Salt and pepper the shrimp to taste. Add the shrimp and make sure it is in one layer in the pan. After two minutes when the cooked side is pink insteado f gray, use tongs to turn each shrimp over. Cook on the second side for another two minutes, just until it is pink. Do not overcook the shrimp.

Add the lemon juice, lemon zest and the parsley. Stir to combine all the ingredients. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust seasonings if needed.

Drain the pasta (check first to make sure it is cooked al dente), then add it to the pan with the shrimp mixture. Use the tongs to gently turn the pasta over until all strands are coated with the garlic sauce.

Serve at once on large plates or in shallow bowls, placing the shrimp on top of the pasta. If desired, garnish with a drizzle of olive oil. Pass good bread to sop up the extra sauce.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Babes Bake Delicious Flatbread

Most cultures around the world have some sort of flatbread. Flatbreads are often faster than loaves and the flexible ones can be used instead of utensils to grab morsels and convey them to your mouth, usually along with some sauce or juices.

This month our wonderful Kitchen of the Month Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen has given us the challenge of making Kulchas, an Indian yeasted fluffy flatbread that is fairly easy and really delicious. She also gave us recipes for a bean dish and a chutney to go with, but I'm afraid that just making the bread was sufficient for me this month (but the recipes can be found on Aparna's post). We have been having record heat followed by over a week of smothering smoke. Much of the west coast of America is on fire and the smoke has to go somewhere.

 In August we were close to being evacuated from the fire burning near Guerneville on the Russian River but it stayed far enough away that we never had to leave home, even though our bags were packed. Some of my friends and relations were not that lucky. This is the 4th year in a row when wild fires have terrorized our area with people dying, homes and businesses burned to the ground, and millions of acres of forest lands burned, too, and we still have over two months to go before we can expect relief from regular rain. I think global warming plays a part.

Enough of my weather report. Back to bread. 

This is a delicious bread and fun to make since you cook it on a grill. I used a cast iron pan and cooked them one at a time. We had them with dinner and that included some juicy tomatoes from our garden, so I used pieces of the kulchas to sop up the tomato juices. Wonderful!

The only thing to remember about this recipe is to start it the night before you want to make the bread. I actually started it two nights before, sirred in another 1/4 cup of flour mixed with water the morning I made the bread and let that sit for a few hours before continuing with the recipe. My dough was a little too sticky, so I added another 1/2 cup flour to the final dough before letting it have the final rise.

I used a Penzey's spice I had on hand called  Charnushka from India. Then I looked at the back and it said it was nigella! It has a slight celery fragrance and was a nice addition to the bread. The leftovers reheated nicely the next evening.

Here is what Aparna wrote about the Kulchas:

"The Kulcha is a flatbread somewhat like the Naan but a bit different. A Kulcha is typically leavened with baking powder and baking soda while Naan is made with yeast. This particular Kulcha recipe, adapted from an Indian chef Ranveer Brar’s recipe, deviates from this rule as it is made with a khameer or pre-ferment which gives the Kulcha a slight tang. Khameer is an Urdu word meaning yeast. So Naans tend to be chewier while Kulchas are soft and spongier. Naans tend to be oblong in shape while Kulchas are usually round but this is more of a preference than a rule. Naanas tend to be cooked in a Tandoor while Kulchas are usually cooked on the stove top, but this isn’t a hard and fast rule either.

 The Kulcha became popular in India because of the Nizams of Hyderabad. The Nizams were 18th-through-20th-century rulers of the princely state of Hyderabad in South India. Rich and powerful, they were also famous for their cuisine.

The story goes that one Mir Qamruddin, an old courtier in Mughal court, was appointed the Deccan governor. He first went to meet his spiritual guide, the Sufi mystic Hazrat Nizamuddin Aurangabadi. Mir Qamruddin was very hungry and his spiritual guide invited him to a meal and offered him some Kulchas. Mir Qamruddin, with apologies, apparently ate seven Kulchas! Hazrat Nizamuddin prophesised that Mir Qamruddin would eventually become king and that his descendants would rule for seven generations. (Not sure why the number seven is so important. :D)

It turned out that soon after Mir Qamruddin became the Deccan governor, Delhi was attacked and the Mugal rulers were defeated. The Nizams who were governors took over in the Deccan region becoming the richest kings of the biggest kingdom in India. The Kulcha also earned its place in Nizam royal cuisine. It supposedly became a part of the royal coat of arms of Mir Qamaruddin’s Asaf Jahi dynasty and the; mso-margin-bottom-alt: auto; mso-margin-top-alt: auto;">There are different types of Kulchas, though all are flat breads. One is this type that is soft and spongy. Then there is the Bread Kulcha which has the texture of bread. 

This particular Kulcha is made from a slightly looser dough than usual for flatbreads, and it tends to be a bit sticky. You can lightly dust your working surface and palms with flour to make handling the dough easier. The Kulchas are usually topped with Nigella seeds (Kalonji; you can use black sesame seeds also) and dried fenugreek leaves (Kasuri methi) or chopped fresh coriander/ cilantro leaves before cooking."

Do give making this bread a try. To be a Buddy, contact Aparna by email by Sept. 29th with the URL of your post and a photo so she can send your Buddy Badge and include you in the round-up.

Be sure to check out the other Bread Baking Babes posts, too, to see how they experienced making this yummy flatbread. Thanks Aparna for this lovely Kulcha recipe. Sweetie wants me to make it again soon.

 KULCHA (Flat Bread)


For the Khameer or Pre-Ferment :

1/2 tsp instant or active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup water

 For Kulcha Dough :

All of the Khameer/ Pre-ferment
1/2 tsp instant or active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp plain yogurt
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tbsp ghee (or soft unsalted butter)
More water, if needed for a soft dough

 For the Topping :

Nigella seeds or black sesame seeds
Dried Fenugreek leaves (Kasuri methi) or chopped fresh coriander leaves/ cilantro

Ghee or unsalted butter for cooking the Kulchas



For the Khameer/ Pre-ferment (previous night) :

Mix together the yeast, water, sugar and all-purpose flour till smooth in a big bowl. Cover and leave on the kitchen counter overnight to ferment.

If you want to make Kulchas for dinner, then do this early in the morning and allow it to ferment for about 8 to 10 hours depending on your ambient room temperature. A word of caution though - Kulchas can be a little heavy for dinner.

 For the Kulcha Dough (some time next morning) :

The Khameer/ pre-ferment should have risen well and will appear quite stringy. Mix in the other 1/2 tsp of yeast, all-purpose flour, yogurt, salt and a little water. Knead till you have a soft, sticky and loose dough. You don’t need a mixer for this. Your hand or a dough whisk is enough.

Add the ghee or soft butter and knead once again till well incorporated. Shape into a round and leave in the bowl. Cover loosely and let it rise till almost double in volume.  This should take between an hour and two.

Knead the dough lightly to de-gas it. Then divide into 6 equal portions. Lightly flour your working surface, if required, and roll out each portion into a circle or oblong of less than 1/4 “ thickness. Sprinkle some Nigella seeds and dried fenugreek leaves or coriander leaves/ cilantro and lightly press into the rolled out dough.

Heat a griddle or flat pan and place the rolled dough on it. Sprinkle a little water on the sides of the griddle/ pan (not on the dough) and cover. Cook the flat bread for a minute or so. Now remove the cover and cook on the other side as well. If not serving immediately, cook till here and keep aside. When ready to serve proceed further with cooking in ghee or butter as follows. 

Brush some ghee or unsalted butter on both sides and cook until golden brown and crispy on both sides. Repeat with remaining portions. Serve hot.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

A Salad For A Smokey Day

Sweetie loves to cook things on the BBQ gas grill, but today the fires in Northern California, in Oregon and in Washington state sent smoke our way, so being outside for very long was unhealthy. It was even worse yesterday, so we had already cooked chicken, sliced tomatoes from the garden with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and basil, plus salt and pepper, plus some frozen veggies. I decided that for tonight we would have something healthier. Sweetie decided that cooking ahi tuna in a cast iron skillet was even better than on the grill.

There is a lovely French style restaurant in Larkspur called  Left Bank Brasserie and they make a wonderful Ahi Tuna Salad Nicoise. I decided to do my own version. I'm not fond of olives nor anchovies, so perhaps this salad can't be called Nicoise, but otherwise it has many of the elements - steamed green beans, potato chunks, hard boiled egg, avocado slices, sliced cucumber, tomato chunks (from our garden) and a lovely Dijon mustard based dressing for the crisp mixed greens. 

Sweetie sliced the tuna in thin slices and placed them around the edge of the plates. It was really delicious and fairly healthy, too. I don't think you need a recipe since except for snapping and steaming the beans and then running cold water over them the rest of the ingredients weren't really 'cooked'. I'll give you my version of the dressing and you should be good to go. If you like olives and anchovies, do include them because they make it much more authentic and delicious.

Dijon Dressing for Salads

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
4 teaspoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon minced shallot

Place all ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake vigorously to combine. If possible, let sit for at least 1/2 hour, then shake again before dressing the salad. Use lightly...greens should be very lightly filmed with the dressing, not saturated.

Monday, September 07, 2020

Two Kinds of Gluten Free Scones

Sometimes it's just too difficult to choose which flavor of a treat to make. I wanted to make gluten free scones for my dear friend Susan who came to visit, but I couldn't decide on lemon-raspberry scones or apple-spice scones...so I made both. The raspberry-lemon one is seen above and the apple-spice-walnut one below.

Making two flavors from one recipe is a bit tricky because you make the recipe to a certain point, then divide the mixture into two bowls and continue on. Mostly it requires some prep work and mis en place so that you have all the ingredients ready to go when it's their turn.

The base is a delicious cream scone recipe. I used King Arthur Flour Gluten Free flour blend instead of all-purpose flour (and no, I don't have stock in King Arthur Flour, now called King Arthur Baking Company, nor do I receive anything free from them). I added freshly grated lemon zest to the recipe for freshness and zing, and I used dairy-free soy creamer soured with fresh lemon juice, too. For the fat part I used dairy-free stick margarine, so these are also vegan scones.

The raspberry half of the recipe was mixed together before the berries were gently folded in and the scones were shaped. The apples and spice were mixed into the flour mixture after the margarine had been cut in but before the creamer was added.

These are pretty easy...just remember to handle the mixture and then the dough very gently and as little as possible. I shaped them on parchment rounds (9-inch - another King Arthur produce) and then put the dough covered rounds right onto pizza pans to bake, but you could put them on a sheet pan, too and bake them all at once. I cut the berry scones into wedges before baking, but I cut the apple ones after baking because that dough seemed wetter.

Do you know someone who would enjoy gluten free scones? Maybe yourself? Do give these a try. They have Susan's seal of approval...and Sweetie's too.

Raspberry-Lemon Scones and Apple-Spice Walnut Scones - all Gluten Free
Adapted from a Ladies Home Journal recipe March ‘97
Heat oven to 425 degrees F. Grease a  sheet pan or two pizza pans.

3 cups Gluten Free flour blend (I used King Arthur Baking Company blend)
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup sugar
 zest from 1 medium lemon 
½ cup (1 stick) non-dairy butter or margarine, cold 
¾ cup fresh raspberries, rinsed and dried
¾ cup fresh tart apple, cut into 1/2-inch dice (peeled or unpeeled) 
½ teaspoon cinnamon,
½ teaspoon pie spice or more cinnamon
dash cloves
½ cup chopped walnuts
1 cup Silk soy creamer, soured with the juice from 1 lemon

Glaze: 2 tablespoons soy creamer
2 tablespoons sanding sugar

Combine gluten free flour blend, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl. Set aside.

In a large bowl add the lemon zest to the sugar and rub with your fingertips until the sugar resembles damp sand. Add the flour blend mix and stir until thoroughly combined.  

With pastry blender or two knives, cut in butter or margarine until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Divide mixture into two bowls. Set aside both bowls.

Combine soy creamer and lemon juice, stir and let sit a minute or two to sour the creamer. 

In one of the bowls with the flour and sugar and cut in fat, add half the soured creamer and stir gently with a fork until most is moistened. Add the raspberries and very gently combine.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface or a large piece of parchment. Shape into a disc about 6-inches in diameter and 1/2-inch high. Using a floured knife, cut into eight wedges. Brush with 1 tablespoon creamer and scatter about 1 tablespoon sanding sugar over the disc. Put onto prepared baking sheet and bake in preheated oven until dark golden brown, about 20 minutes. Cool on a rack and serve warm or at room temperature.

In the second bowl of flour and sugar and fat, mixed, add the diced apple and the spices and mix to combine.  

Pour the rest of the soured creamer over crumb/apple mixture. Stir together with fork just until mixture comes together. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface or a large piece of parchment. 

Gather dough gently into a disc about 6-inches in diameter and 1/2-inch high. 

Using floured knife, cut  circle into 8 wedges.Brush with 1 tablespoon creamer and scatter about 1 tablespoon sanding sugar over the disc. 

Bake 20 – 25 minutes until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and crust is dark golden brown. Cool on a rack and serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 16 scones.