Friday, February 26, 2021

Early Spring Lemon Bars

 Last summer and fall the Meyer lemon shrub kept producing blossoms and those set fruit most of the time, so this winter there were dozens of lemons ripening. Now that it is early spring her in N. CA, the lemons are ripe and ready to enjoy. I made lemon curd, using fresh eggs from a neighbor's chickens, but I really love lemon bars, so I baked those, too. In both the rich orange yolk of farm eggs made the yellow pop!

Aside from zesting and juicing lots of lemons, both recipes are pretty easy. The curd does require a long bout of stirring and you need to sterilize the glass jars and lids that you'll use to hold the finished curd, but it is well worth it. I gave a jar to the same neighbor... only fair since their chickens had provided the eggs... and here is what they said: That lemon curd is the best I've ever tasted. It's heavenly. An incredible balance of lemony richness and light whipped wonderfulness." You can make it with regular lemons and with limes, too.

The Lemon Bars have a shortbread type crust on the bottom and a lemon pie filling type filling over that. Do allow it to cool fully before cutting. Some people sprinkle on a bit of confectioners' sugar, but I like them just as they are. Perfect with a cup of tea or coffee. Yay for spring!

Elle's Lemon Bars
Make 16 cookies

1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
1/4 teaspoons salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) non-dairy margarine or unsalted butter, cold

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 - 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest (I used about 1 1/2 tablespoons)
1/4 cup flour
3 eggs
1/2 cup lemon juice, seeds removed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a greased 8-inch square baking pan with foil, leaving some foil hanging over the edges. Grease the foil. (I used original Pam spray oil.) Set aside.

For the crust, place the lemon zest and the brown sugar in a medium bowl. With clean hands, use your fingers to rub the zest and sugar together until zest if fully combined with the sugar. Add the flour and confectioners' sugar  and salt and whisk the mixture until combined. Use a pastry blender or two table knives to cut the cold butter into the flour mixture until butter is in very small pieces. Turn the mixture into the prepared pan and, with very clean hands, pat the mixture down firmly to form an even crust, with a small amount (about 1/2 inch) of crust up the sides of the pan.

Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Crust should be barely light brown.

While crust is baking, prepare the filling:
Place the granulated sugar into the same bowl you used for the crust. Add the lemon zest and, using clean fingers, rub the zest into the sugar. Sugar may look like damp sand since you are using a lot of zest. Whisk in the flour and then the eggs. Once well combined, whisk in the lemon juice. Taste a bit of the mixture and add more zest if you like it zestier.

When the crust is barely light brown, remove the pan from the oven and pour the filling over the hot crust. Return the pan to the oven and reduce the heat to 325 degrees. Bake for about 14-20 minutes more. When done there will be a bit of browning around the edges of the cookies and the center will only jiggle slightly, if at all.

Remove the pan from the oven and cool on a rack until pan is barely warm to the touch. Transfer to the refrigerator and cool for two hours.

Remove the pan from the fridge, loosen the foil and use the foil to lift the cookie from the pan to a cutting board. Carefully cut the bars into sixteen cookies. If desired, sift some confectioner's sugar (about 1 teaspoon) over the cooled and cut cookies before serving.

Friday, February 19, 2021

What A Week!

I'll bet you have experienced the packed week yourself now and again. Last Friday Kate and I baked King Cake. You can find all about it in the previous post on this blog.

On Saturday there was a multi-birthday celebration on Zoom with the family. Bourbon was enjoyed by yours truly.

Sweetie's back went out the previous Tuesday, so I was also doing a lot of the things he usually does and that only stopped Thursday. 

On Sunday it was Valentine's Day, plus I baked some mini-Bundt cakes that stuck to the pans...see I make mistakes I had to bake cupcakes... 

Sunday evening and Monday morning, plus decorate them Monday afternoon in order to deliver twenty-one...21!...iced and decorated from scratch chocolate cupcakes for our scholarship group 109th birthday celebration...which was Wednesday on Zoom. Birthday bags (see top photo) were filled (including a birthday candle and smiley face balloon!) and delivered by others all over the Santa Rosa/Sebastopol/Bodega Bay area for the party.  Monday included taking the garbage cans down the hill.

Tuesday included hauling emptied garbage cans up the hill, plus doing the Bingo set-up for the birthday celebration. 

Wednesday morning I weeded while the soil was still damp from the rains, 

then had the birthday party on Zoom...a BLAST!...then cooked a large turkey breast in the evening to eat Thursday, plus made dinner. Look at the goodies in the birthday bag!

 Thursday was the gym, followed by walking the dog, followed by a Zoom Board of Directors meeting for the regional group I belong to. I'm the Zoom guru on most of these Zoom gatherings, which I enjoy since learning new things is fun for me. 

So, does that sound like a busy enough week? Left out gym on Tuesday, multiple dog walks without Sweetie, which is a challenge since Sweetie is the Alpha for Pi. Today we walked Pi together and I wrote some thank you notes for birthday gifts, plus worked on cleaning up my email folder.

After all my exhausting recitation, how does the recipe for the chocolate cupcakes with chocolate ganache icing sound? They were sooo good and still moist on Wednesday even though I baked most of them on Sunday evening. Must be the yogurt. Do try these for yourself. You can divide the recipe  if you want to make one dozen instead of two. The recipe is from Southern Living’s The Southern Cake Book.

Chocolate Velvet Cupcakes

Makes 24 cupcakes

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. & prepare enough cupcake pans to hold 24 cupcake papers.

Melt 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate morsels in the microwave at HIGH in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for about a minute at a time, stirring well after each, until chocolate is melted and smooth. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat 1/2 cup soft butter (I used non-dairy margarine) and 16 oz. of brown sugar until well blended (about 5 minutes). Take three room temperature eggs and add them, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the melted chocolate. Beat until well blended, scraping beater(s) and bowl as needed.

Sift together 2 cups of all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add this mixture to the batter alternately with 8 oz. sour cream (I used plain full fat yogurt), adding a third of  the flour first, then half the sour cream, a third of the flour, the rest of the sour cream and the final third of the flour mixture. Scrape beater(s) and bowl as needed. Blend thoroughly , then gradually add 1 cup hot water in a slow, steady stream at low speed, mixing just until blended. Stir in vanilla.

Fill prepared baking cups 3/4 full. Bake in preheated oven for 18 - 20 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove cupcakes from pans to wire racks and cool completely (about 45 minutes) before frosting.


1/2 cup soy creamer (or whipping cream)
1 teaspoon powdered espresso powder
8 oz. semisweet chocolate, cut into small pieces (I used half ScharffenBerger bittersweet and half chocolate chips)

Scald the soy creamer  or whipping cream in a 5-6 cup saucepan over moderate heat until it begins to form small bubbles around the edges. Add the dry espresso powder and whisk to dissolve. Add the chocolate and stir occasionally over heat for 1 minutes. Then remove the pan from the heat and whisk or stir until the chocolate is all melted and the mixture is smooth.

Let the icing stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes or until the icing barely begins to thicken.

Use offset spatula to ice each cupcake, then sprinkle with decorations. Let dry completely before serving.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Let the Good Times Roll

The colorful, sweet yeasted cake called a King Cake is a traditional treat for Mardi Gras season. Yes, from January 6th, Epiphany, to next Tuesday is the season for Mardi Gras, the celebratory time before the beginning of Lent. As the world has become more secular, the religious basis for some celebrations has been lost or muted, but the church calendar still sets when Lent begins. It's on the early side this year, since Easter is in early April. Lent, of course, is the time of penance between Ash Wednesday, which is the day after Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras in French), and Easter.

Since only some folks care about all that religious stuff, let's focus on the reason for this post, which is King Cake. Imagine a period of about six weeks, give or take a week, when life is one big party...and lots of parades if you live in New Orleans, the U.S. center of Mardi Gras. That gives you multiple weekends to party even if you are a working stiff. The King Cake keeps the party going. Inside each is hidden a charm or a baby, or even a nut half. The person whose portion of the King Cake contains that hidden nugget is responsible for the next party or, at a minimum, the next King Cake. OK Madeline, you are bringing the cake, so where is the party cher? Let the good times (Bon Temps) keep rolling on!

My daughter Kate has many skills and talents and has lately become a great cook. She has always enjoyed baking things like cookies. Still, baking bread is a new skill for her. King Cake is actually a rich yeasted sweet bread. You may be one of those who are apprehensive about baking with yeast as Kate was, so you can understand why we decided to bake this 'together', using a combination of Zoom and FaceTime. She was making her first stand mixer assisted bread and that worked very well.

I found a good foundational recipe online at Tori This site also included a wonderful history of the King Cake and lots of options and information.  Because Kate wanted to make a filled King Cake and I wanted to make a braid, I re-wrote the recipe to make those shapes easy to understand. The recipe below uses Tori Avey's ingredients and basic directions and my added techniques and clarifications. The basic dough is the same for the most part for both King Cakes. I kneaded in golden raisins and candied fruitcake mix and used some orange zest for flavoring when I made my dough. Kate kneaded in chopped dried cherries in her dough. The cherries are a great combo with the chocolate-hazelnut-caramel-sea salt spread she received as a gift from a friend in France and which she used for the filling. Check out the technique for adding the fruit to the works every time and the fruit is well-distributed.

Kate shaped her risen dough first, rolling it into a rectangle (above, with rolling pin), spreading on the chocolate-nut spread (directly above...doesn't it look yummy?) and rolling it up like a jelly roll (below - look at the lovely pinched seam), 

transferring it to a baking sheet lined with foil and spritzed with oil. She then shaped it into a circle and pinched the ends together and covered it for the second rise (directly above). After rising, she gave it the egg wash (below).

Kate baked her King Cake to a golden brown. After cooling, she added icing and the traditional purple, gold and green sugar decorations. Her guys really loved it and one of the had a second helping!

We made my braid next after Kate had shaped hers and while it was rising. I divided it into three pieces with my bench scraper (above). 

Those three pieces were rolled into long snakes. Three long snakes of dough were pinched together at the top, then braided, not too tightly, and the ends tucked under. 

Then the braid was shaped into a circle and the ends pinched together. That too was covered for the second rise.

After an egg wash over the tops of the loaves, each went into the oven at hand. The hardest part was knowing when they were done. 

Mine browned on top very quickly, so I had to cover it with foil for the last 10 minutes of so. Kate's took longer to bake through because the filling made it denser than a braid.

After cooling we each made icing and decorated our King Cakes with gold, green, and purple sugars.

 Being an hour behind, I was able to share some with Sweetie for a late tea time snack. Delicious! Sweetie liked that it was slightly chewy and not too sweet.

 Kate had hers with her guys as dinner dessert. Delicious again!! Her finished loaf was very professional looking, had wonderful oven spring, a lovely shape, golden crust, nice loose crumb and to die for flavor. The fruit was perfectly distributed throughout the loaf. The icing and sugars were lovely and colorful. All in all a stunning first bread!

King Cake
Based on the King Cake at


1 package Rapid Rise dry yeast (1/4 oz.)
1/4 cup warm water (tepid - about 105 degrees F)
1/2 cup warm milk (tepid)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter (1/2 stick)  (room temperature)
1 large egg (room temperature)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (optional) and/or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2  1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for shaping
1/4 - 1/2 cup golden raisins and/or fruitcake mix, or chopped dried cherries
egg wash - 1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water


Nutella or similar spread - about 1/2 cup
Large bean or a pecan half or walnut half or hazelnut (whole)


1 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (1/4 stick)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla or lemon extract
1 tablespoon milk, fresh lemon juice or water (they are all good)
Green, yellow and purple decorating sugars OR
food coloring to color icing those colors 


In a small bowl or measuring cup, sprinkle the yeast over the warm (tepid) water. Stir in 1 teaspoon sugar. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. 

In a stand mixer bowl, combine the yeast mixture and a tablespoon of flour. Stir with a spoon or spatula to combine. Add the milk, sugar, butter, egg, salt and lemon zest/vanilla. Stir to combine. There will be lumps of butter...that's OK. Stir in 1 cup flour with a spoon or spatula.

 Place the bowl in the stand mixer with dough hook attached. Add the remaining flour, a 1/2 cup at a time with the mixer on low speed. Stop adding flour when a soft, workable dough is formed. If necessary, use more flour, but try to only use an additional small amount. Let the mixer knead the dough for 8 minutes on low. Dough will become smooth and springy.

Remove the dough from the dough hook to a lightly floured work surface. Knead in the raisins/candied fruit/chopped dried cherries by flattening the dough, spreading on half the fruit, then rolling dough up like a jelly roll. Fold in ends, flatten again, spread remaining fruit, roll up, then knead the fruit in. Form into a ball. Place in a oiled (I use spray oil - Original Pam) bowl and turn to coat the ball with oil, then cover with a clean shower cap or a piece of plastic wrap sprayed with oil, oil side towards the ball of dough. Put bowl in a warm place and let rise until doubled, about 2 hours.

Take dough from bowl onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times to get rid of excess gas. If doing the braid, divide the dough into 3 pieces, as equal in weight as possible, and shape each piece into a snake. Place the first 'snake' onto a parchment or Silpat lined (or foil lined with a spritz of oil) baking sheet (sheet pan is great). Place the other two snakes of dough parallel to the first. Join by pinching together at the top, then braid by crossing alternating strands, but not too tightly. Pinch the ends together after forming the braid into a circle or oval by pulling the ends together. Push the large bean, nut half or whole hazelnut into one of the braids until hidden.

Cover with spray oiled plastic wrap where the oiled side is towards the braid, place in a warm place, and let rise until about doubled, about 1 hour.

If filling the dough, take the de-gassed dough and press or roll into a rectangle, about 16" x 10". Spread the filling over the rectangle, leaving an inch uncovered on all sides. Place the large bean, nut half or whole hazelnut on the filling towards one long edge of the rectangle. Beginning from a long end, roll up jellyroll style. Pinch the edge where it meets the roll. Place roll, carefully, seam side down on a parchment or Silpat lined (or foil lined with a spritz of oil) baking sheet (sheet pan is great). Bring the ends together to form an oval or circle and pinch ends together. Cover with spray oiled plastic wrap where the oiled side is towards the braid, place in a warm place, and let rise until about doubled, about 1 hour.

Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  For either version, use a pastry brush to brush the egg wash on the top of the King Cake. Bake until golden brown, 25 - 30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

When completely cool, place the King Cake, on the rack, on top of the baking sheet (to catch any drips, sugar, etc.). Make the icing. Drizzle over the non-braided version and sprinkle bands of the colored sugar on the wet icing, using all three colors. Let dry. Cut and enjoy.


For the braided version you can do the same, or you can ice each section of the braid in turn, use one color per section of braid and let that dry before starting on the next section so that you can shake off excess sugar. Let dry. Cut and enjoy.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Caesar Salad With A Interesting Dressing Variation

We eat a main dish salad about once every other week or so and I rarely post about it because I just throw things in and don't measure, so it's hard to write out a recipe. This time I'm posting because this salad is a variation of a recipe I found in the newspaper and because the dressing starts with mayo instead of a traditional raw egg. Being used to substitutions, I used garlic aioli instead of mayo and left out the garlic in the recipe. I also increased the lemon juice because it seemed too creamy with not enough bite, plus I left out the Parm since I can't do cheese. The resulting salad was great! Sweetie really liked the croutons, too.

 Crisp romaine lettuce and sourdough croutons, a nice assertive dressing just coating the leaves, croutons and sliced baby cucumber lightly, then, after serving it up on plates, the salads were topped with sliced ripe avocado and chunks of freshly grilled chicken thighs. Creamy, savory, crisp, soft, hot, cold...lovely contrasts and a filling but light salad...and quick to make. Try it!

Easy Chicken Caesar Salad
A variation of Cheater Chicken Caesar Salad from

2 slices sourdough bread, crusts trimmed off
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons prepared roasted garlic aioli (I used Stonewall Kitchens brand)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
juice of 1 lemon
more salt and pepper to taste
1 head romaine lettuce, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces
1 small cucumber (I used Persian), rinsed, ends removed, and sliced into 1/4 inch slices
2 cups chunks cooked chicken, preferably freshly grilled 
1-2 avocados, peeled, seeded, and sliced
2-4 tablespoons sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Tear the 2 slices of bread into bite sized pieces and toss in a large bowl with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Keep the bowl. Spread bread pieces in a single layer on a sheet pan and bake in preheated oven for 8-10 minutes, until toasted. Set aside.

Meanwhile, in reserved bowl, whisk the olive oil, aioli, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, lemon and salt and pepper to taste to make a dressing. Add the lettuce and cucumber to the dressing and toss to coat. Divide among 4 plates or wide, shallow bowls. Top with the chicken chunks, avocado, almonds and croutons. Serve at once.


Monday, February 08, 2021

2015 As The Blog Continues

In year nine of Feeding My Enthusiasms it became clearer to me that doing this is something that I really enjoy. This is the point when some of the early adopters of food blogging began to turn to other things, and I thought about that, too, but ultimately decided to keep going here. This was also the point when I made the decision to keep it simple, to not monetize the blog, despite offers of advertising and other inducements...although no book offers. In truth, even that wasn't too disappointing since my family cookbook (above) had not sold at all. The free copies I gave to siblings and close friends were appreciated, and have been even more appreciated over the ensuing years. Probably time to do a reprint for the next generation.

 In general, Feeding My Enthusiasms continues to be my creative outlet and digital recipe box. I'm really thrilled that these year-by-year recollections seem to be of interest and have encouraged readers to find recipes in the older parts. This time we are focusing on baked goods of all kinds. To find the 'cooking' recipes, wander around the months to find your favorites.

January 2015 started off well with two cookie recipes; Anzac classics and Ribbon Cookies with raspberry jam and lemon flavors. I baked Chapatis with the Bread Baking Babes and some pretty small Chocolate Swirl Cakes with the Cake Slice Bakers, among other things.

Other cookies to enjoy are orange scented and flavored Chocolate Chip Cookies in March, Orange-Cranberry Shortbread in May, Irish Blondie bars which are an excellent version of blondies, a gluten-free and dairy-free version of Anzacs in August, and in November  Fresh Cranberry-White Chocolate cookies. 

If you pay attention, you can look at the recipes and figure out when I stopped using dairy in my cooking, and the more limited time that I went gluten free as well. Both of these were part of my hunt for the solution to my gut issues. The medical solution was to take four Pepto Bismol morning and evening...forever. My solution was to identify the inflammatory foods I could cut out eating and the anti-inflammatory things I could ingest so that, over time, my intestines could heal. The identifying took over three month, but as I added things back, some, like dairy products, were really obviously bad for me. My solution worked, although I still need to avoid the strongly inflammatory foods (like all dairy except yogurt) so that it stays healed. In the process I baked without gluten or dairy for three months. I should have also cut out sugar, but can't seem to kick that addiction. I've found replacements that work fairly well for butter, milk, cream, and ricotta cheese, but not for whipped cream (aquafaba works for dollops but breaks down quickly) and not for every other cheese but ricotta. Some cream cheeses are close so can be used in a pinch. The good news is that non-dairy ganache is possible by melting chopped chocolate in unsweetened soy creamer! It makes a great topping for a chocolate cake (above). Truffles here we come. 

                                                tart dough balls for Gluten Free Tart

                                                      GF peach upside-down cake
                                                                    GF peach cobbler

Other good recipe from this time are Gluten Free Party Cookies (Oatmeal Chocolate Chip), a Gluten Free Tart Shell, my first try at a loaf of Gluten Free Sandwich Bread which was delicious, a successful Gluten Free Peach Upside Down Cake, and a wonderful Gluten Free Peach Cobbler. Slightly less successful, but still tasty were the GF Apricot Almond Scones made with almond flour.

Even though they are full of butter, milk and gluten, the Tangzhong Dinner Rolls from October are something you'll want to dinner rolls ever according to Sweetie. Another recipe from late fall that has butter in it (so none for me) that was pronounced delicious and looks like a party is the Russian Chrysanthemum Bread. It takes some time, but is worth it. A bread I highly recommend is Anadama Bread, an old New England loaf with molasses and, in my version, seeds.

A couple of cake-related posts can't be ignored. In May is the perfect Mother's Day offering a pink and rich Strawberry Mousse Cake. That month also has my favorite buttercream recipe, Mocha Buttercream, with the addition this time of some Bourbon, to go with the Bourbon Espresso cake.

My favorite recipe of the year at the end of 2015 was a French Fruit Tart, which is pretty and easy even though it looks like you bought it at a bakery. The frangipane filling surrounds the fresh fruit and absorbs any juices that seep out. So delicious, but now I think the best recipe was gingerbread. I'm going to leave you with this wonderful cake that is perfect for a party or a snack. Because of all it's ginger - fresh, candied, and ground, it is also anti-inflammatory to a degree, but mostly it's delicious with a nice spicy heat. It's Gramercy Tavern Gingerbread!