Friday, November 27, 2020

A Simple Thanksgiving

Although I dearly love a gathering at Thanksgiving, there is an advantage to having Thanksgiving dinner with just Sweetie. The menu that we started the day with kept getting simplified and simplified so that by dinner time we had just what we wanted. I won't say there was no work involved, but it was still a much easier meal than usual.

Last year I had to eat only soft foods for Thanksgiving due to oral surgery, so this year I was determined to have a roast turkey...which we did. I roasted a ten pound fresh turkey in a Brown-in Bag, which makes it really simple to do and the results are always moist and delicious. I sprinkled salt and pepper and poultry seasonings over the bird and put a little white wine in the bottom of the bag. That, plus some stuffing in the cavity, is all I did. The oven did the rest while we took Pi on a walk at the Laguna.

For the stuffing I used my Mom's classic recipe, with a little corn bread thrown in and a half of a Granny Smith apple, chopped, mixed in at the end. Sweetie and I prepared everything but the apple and broth the day before so on Thanksgiving it took hardly any time at all to mix those two ingredients in and to stuff handfuls into the turkey cavity, while putting the rest of the stuffing mixture into a baking dish to bake on the side.

Originally the sides were going to include roasted butternut and delicate squash from my garden, a new green bean recipe with lemon and pecans, and a green salad with my own salad dressing. Instead we kept it simple by having just the salad. Even that was pared down to a handful of fresh raspberries and a half an avocado scattered over a mesclun mix. We did get the toasted the salad.

I made the cranberry sauce a day before to let the flavors meld. It was the kind of recipe where you cook part of it, taste, add something else, taste, add something else, taste, and so on until it is the way you like it. I prefer mine pretty tart, but you may want to add additional maple syrup or some brown sugar if you like it sweeter.

Without mashed potatoes, I decided to skip making gravy and just spooned some of the turkey juices over the stuffing and slices of turkey. It was all delicious and lighter than our usual Thanksgiving meal, but still seemed like a feast to me.

Last, but not least, was the pecan pie. I baked two in the for us and one for our neighbors who lend us their sheep. Since Sweetie had two helpings of stuffing and I had a lot of salad, we decided to have our pie for breakfast this morning...and it was great that way. A tip to make the pie look professional, after you pour the pecan mixture into the pie shell, turn all the pecans so that the curved part is up. It takes a few extra minutes, but looks great. I also added about two tablespoons bourbon to my filling this year.

Hope that you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, too, even with all the troubles that beset the world at this moment in time. Thankful for you and praying for peace, good health, and prosperity for each of you. 

Fresh Cranberry Sauce for Two

1 cup fresh cranberries
1/3 cup apple cider 
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
zest from 1/2 an orange
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons maple syrup

Put the first three ingredients into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, turn to low and cover. Simmer for 10 minutes, uncover, stir and add the remaining ingredients. Stir to combine. Turn off heat, cover and let sit for 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings and sweetness to taste.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Comfort Food for Chilly Weather - Bread Pudding

So many moons ago that I don't even remember the date, I was given a delicious recipe for bread pudding by a friend in Fredericksburg, MD. She sold me on it by telling me that when she brought it to church suppers that it was the first dessert where the casserole dish was emptied and that happened every time. Who could resist a recipe like that?

Bread pudding is basically french toast in a custard pudding...lots of bread, milk and eggs, a little sugar and flavorings, and the added delight of crusty pieces on top that contrast with the soft, custardy interior.

Gale's version used a can of drained dark sweet cherries mixed in gently just before the mixture goes into the casserole dish. I like to make it even simpler and just use some lemon zest and raisins, which is how my mom made it. I guess most comfort foods have links back to our childhood. I suppose you could make this version and fold in the drained sweet cherries, too. I also know that it is yummy with chopped peeled apple. For that version, add a little cinnamon or pumpkin spice.

The best bread pudding uses stale bread because it soaks up the custard mixture. It also is best to allow plenty of soaking time for the same reason. As for the casserole dish, a lot depends on if you prefer the soft, custardy part or the crusty, browned part...if the former, use a deep dish with a narrower opening, if the latter, use a wide, shallow casserole so that more of the bread crusts up. The water bath is really important, so make sure that you can bake your chosen casserole in a larger water bath casserole or pan.

Bread Pudding with Raisins and Lemon      

A recipe from  a Fredricksburg, Maryland friend, Gale 

5 cups dry bread cubes          1/4 teaspoon salt           
3 cups milk, scalded               1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon butter                1/4 cup raisins 
4 slightly beaten eggs            
3/4 cup sugar                         
½ teaspoon lemon zest                                 
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2) Melt the butter in the milk. Add a little of the milk to the beaten eggs, then add eggs to rest of milk. Stir in the sugar, lemon zest, salt, and vanilla.

3) Put the bread cubes in a large bowl. Pour the egg/milk mixture over, stir gently, and let sit 15 minutes.

4) Butter a large baking pan. A deep one will give a softer center, a shallower one will give more crispy crust. Gently stir raisins into bread mixture and pour into baking pan.

5) Bake in a pan of hot water until firm, about 1 hour. Serve warm.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Babes Bake Potato Focaccine

With the cooler weather coming in October and early November, I find myself drawn to baking again. Between now and late November there are usually plenty of occasions to have adult beverages and this Potato Focaccine from Italy is perfect to accompany them. As Kitchen of the Month I was able to choose the recipe challenge for November, so I hope you enjoy these!

These are like tiny focaccia. I found them on the blog My Pinch of Italy and they sounded just right for the November challenge. You can eat them the same day or save for a day in a paper bag, but beyond that they probably become stale. They are made with potatoes, which give them some keeping ability, and are flavored with olive oil and sea salt and sage, but you can use another herb like rosemary or thyme as I did. The flour is O Italian flour or a mixture of that and durum wheat flour but again, a small substitution of another flour will probably be OK, just keep a large quantity of the O flour (I used OO pizza flour and unbleached white bread flour).

Here is what Fiorenza of My Pinch of Italy says about the Focaccine: "Potato focaccine, as they are the little version of focaccia, they suit perfectly as an aperitif with friends, as a starter or for a picnic, or even simply because you like them and have a craving for them. They are usually flavored with rosemary or thyme which are perfect, but we decided to use sage, just as good and we are so happy with it.

Their peculiarity is not only in the size, is especially in the dough, as potatoes add softness to it. Adding potatoes in the dough is not unusual in the Italian baking product at all, especially in the South of Italy.
Here is another example with potato in the dough with this Apulian Focaccia – apulian-focaccia"

I decided to go with a more traditional rosemary version since I have a bush the size of a Volkswagen van of rosemary, so an endless supply.

 The recipe calls for 1 centimeter rounds, but that is less than 1/2 an inch, which seems pretty small. I used a piping tip to cut mine out and they were just about an inch (2.54 centimeters) in diameter. That allowed me to make far more than a dozen of them at that size. It also turns out that I was reading it wrong. The thickness of the patted out dough should be about 1 centimeter, but the focaccine themselves should be wider, about the size of a biscuit or small roll. Not knowing that, I made the little ones and  I loved them...a delicious little morsel...and it makes it easier to eat many at a sitting. Went great with a cup of apple cider, spiced, with a bit of bourbon added.  These are a bit crisp on the outside and soft on the inside and quite addictive.

Photo below by the recipe shows what mine looked like using that size (1 inch). I recommend going heavy with the final drizzle of olive oil.  The rest of my dough was baked in a 9-inch cake tin as a regular focaccia, which was wonderful, too. 

Do head around to the other Bread Baking Babes sites to see what they did...I suspect that their focaccine are biscuit shaped and sized and equally delicious.

Karen of Karen's Kitchen Stories HERE
Kelly of A Messy Kitchen HERE
Cathy of Bread Experience HERE
Judy of Judy's Gross Eats HERE
Tanna of My Kitchen in Half Cups HERE
Elizabeth of blog from OUR kitchen HERE

If you would like to be a Bread Baking Buddy, just bake by November 29th and send me an email with a photo and the URL where you posted. I'll post the round-up as close to Dec. 1 as I can. My email is plachman at sonic dot net.

Potato Focaccine

10-12 focaccine, Preparation 25 minutes + 2 hours and half of leavening, Cooking time 25-30 minutes

  • 150g of yellow or white mealy potatoes
  • 400g of Italian flour ‘0’ (Manitoba flour) – or 200g Italian flour ‘0’ (Manitoba flour) mixed with 200g durum wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • Fresh yeast, 15 g or dry instant yeast, 8 g
  • 3 tablespoons of Evoo – Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Lukewarm water, 200 ml
  • 7-8 fresh sage leaves, chopped
  • sea salt, to taste


Boil the potatoes in plenty of unsalted water. You can peel them or boil them with their peel and then pass them in the potato masher.

When the potatoes are cooked, remove from the heat, drain and let them cool, but not cool them completely or it will be difficult to mix them to the flour. Once lukewarm and crushed, reduce them to mashed and add the puree in the bowl with the flour. Dissolve the dry yeast in lukewarm water, about 100 ml, or the fresh yeast.

Tips: the water must not be hot or it will kill the yeast. Instead it must be lukewarm, this will help it.

Chop the sage leaves with a knife or with scissors. In Italy we also use a kitchen tool called ‘mezzaluna’.

In a large bowl put the flours and add the freshly chopped sage. Add the water with the melted yeast inside and mix with a wooden spoon. Pour the Evoo and start kneading the ingredients with your hands.

Tips: You can dissolve the salt in the remaining water so that it does not cancel out the work of the yeast. Yeast and salt should never be joined together at the same time.

Add the rest of the water with the salt dissolved in it, and knead well for 10 minutes until you get a soft and moist dough that will be a bit sticky as well.
Cover it now with a plastic wrap or a cloth and let it rise for at least 2 hours in a warm and dry place.

When the dough is doubled, roll it out with your hands, no rolling-pin (these are focaccine and not pizza). The tip of the fingers will help create the characteristic dimples where the oil collects in little puddles.  Add a bit of flour on the chopping board or the kitchen table so you can work it better. Form discs of about 1 centimeter with a pastry cutter or with an upside-down glass, place them on a baking tray covered with parchment paper and leave them for another 30 minutes. Once also this last leavening is finished, press focaccine in the centre to form the edge and brush with Evoo.

Bake at 180 ° C (160 C fan) (350 F) for about 20-25 minutes, depending on your oven. When cooked, flavor your focaccine with a drizzle of olive oil and rock salt. 

How to keep them?
Potato focaccine are good to eat freshly baked, however you can store them in a paper bag for a day.

Elle's tip: Use some of the water you boiled the potatoes in as your water to dissolve the yeast...after it has cooled down to lukewarm...and your dough will be even nicer.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Seasonal Pumpkin Bread

It seems like a long time since I last posted, but I have been a busy bee. While the weather held, I was prepping and painting a room in the farmhouse. Glad I kept at it because today the rain came...YAY!...and so painting is out for a while. There has been enough steady rain since about 11 am today that our fire danger is probably done until late summer 2021. I was also blessed with two unexpected visits on Thursday. One was a good friend whom I haven't seen since June. We text and talk, but it was good to see her smiling face...six feet away while we had warm spiced cider and pumpkin bread on the front porch. It was a chilly afternoon Thursday, so the visit was shorter than I would have liked, but still a delight.

The second unexpected visit was my good friend Shelly. She has been sort of mid-way between her home and my house as she cares for her Mom as her Mom has her final days on earth. The reason she was here was that she has a medical condition that requires periodic doctor's visit. I'm an hour or two closer to where she is with her Mom than her home, so she came to Santa Rosa for the medical situation, then came and stayed in the farmhouse (our impromptu B&B!).

So today I'm sharing the pumpkin bread. Dede enjoyed her slice, so did Sweetie (well, he had more than one) and I sent the rest with Shelly back to her Mom, who loves sweets. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did, if you choose to make it. There are lots of reasons to bake this treat: it's moist and seasonal with warm spices and even some chocolate chips, it keeps well, it makes your house smell delicious while it's baking, and it's easy!

Sweet Pumpkin Bread

makes 1 loaf

 2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup canned solid pack pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 cup brown sugar, packed
¼ cup milk
¼ cup light (mild) molasses
2 eggs
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9x5x3 loaf pan.

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl (both flours, soda and powder, spices).

Put the pumpkin, brown sugar, milk, molasses and eggs in a mixing bowl and mix until well blended.

Add the dry ingredients and begin to combine. Add the chocolate chips and mix just until all are well blended.

Pour into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Bake in preheated oven 45 to 55 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool in pan five minutes, then turn out of pan and cool on a cooling rack, right side up.

(Sweetie likes to cut a slice while the chocolate chips are still warm and gooey...and who is to say he is wrong?)

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Calzone To Enjoy

A comfort food for Sweetie and me is pizza, including the hand-pie version, calzone. Last night I made some for our dinner. We also had a nice big green salad.

For the calzone, I defrosted the last of the pizza dough that I had in the freezer. I used THIS recipe to make the dough in the summer, used some of it then and froze the dough in portions just enough for two personal pizzas.

I cut the dough into two pieces, about 145 grams each, and then rolled them out, one at a time on a lightly floured board.

The day before I used my smaller slow cooker to make caramelized onions (thinly slice a peeled onion, cut in half, and toss with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Put into a slow cooker and cook on high for 4-5 hours until caramelized). All the rest of the ingredients were prepared just before I filled the calzone. 

After they were filled and sealed, I let them sit for about an hour to get a bit more puffy and preheated the oven to 475 degrees F. I forgot to also preheat a pizza stone, but, as it turned out, I didn't need it. The crust was pretty thin and cooked very well on the pizza pan set on the oven rack.

These were delicious! Mine had non-dairy ricotta, mixed with chopped Italian parsley, spices like oregano and basil, pepper, and some garlic. On top of that were thinly sliced fresh tomato, salami, and pepperoni. Sweetie had the ricotta mixture, the caramelized onions (I forgot to put them on mine!), some grated Parmesan, the tomatoes, salami and pepperoni, then some mozzarella cheese.

Once the oven was fully heated, I brushed a bit of soy milk on the top dough, cut a couple of steam holes, and put the loaded pizza pan into the oven.

The fragrance was wonderful after about 12 minutes! Baked crust, salami and pepperoni were the dominant notes. We ate every bite!


makes two

about 300 grams pizza dough
1/2 cup ricotta cheese (I used Kite Hill non-dairy ricotta)
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1/4 teaspoon each oregano and basil, dried
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup caramelized onion
1 medium fresh tomato, ripe, thinly sliced, stem end removed
12-14 slices salami
10-12 sliced pepperoni
optional: Parmesan cheese (about 1 tablespoon) and mozzarella cheese (about 2-4 slices)

On a lightly floured board, divide the dough into two pieces, each about 150 grams.

Roll out one piece of the dough into a circle, approximately 8" in diameter.

In a small bowl mix together the ricotta cheese, Italian parsley, dried oregano and basil, garlic and pepper.

Spread half the ricotta mixture on half of the dough circle, leaving 1.5-2 inches around the edges free of ricotta. Spread half the onions over the ricotta. Top with half of the tomato slices (about 2-2.5), half the salami slices and half the pepperoni slices. If using, top with the mozzarella and sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.

Fold the half of the dough with no ingredients over the half the dough circle with ingredients, edges meeting. Press down edges. Starting at one end, fold over the edge, then fold that over next to it, and continue until whole half-circle has been folded to seal. Place calzone on a greased 12-inch pizza pan.

Prepare the second calzone just as you did the first. Place it on the other side of the pizza pan. Lightly cover with oiled plastic wrap and sit in a draft-free warm place for an hour.

About 15 minutes before the hour is up, preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. When oven is hot, remove the plastic wrap from the calzone, brush lightly with milk or soy milk using a pastry brush, and score the top at a diagonal in two places on each calzone.

Bake in preheated oven for about 12-15 minutes. Calzone will have a browned crust, and the juices from the meat and tomatoes will be seeping through the slash on the top. Serve at once, after using a pizza cutter to cut each calzone into four pieces.

Monday, November 02, 2020