Thursday, April 21, 2022

The Flowers That Bloom In The Spring Ta-La!

 An apricot iris is joined by quite a few deep purple iris. Just today a pale yellow iris with medium purple, pointed fuzzy part (I should know the iris parts, but can't remember what it's called. It's bright orange and fuzzy in the photo above). No photo of the pale yellow one because it was too rainy.

These wisteria are growing outside my dentist's office and they drip down almost tot he sidewalk.

This is an unusual cultivar...a lemon leafed St. John's Wort with white flowers. Usually St. John's Wort have green leaves and bright yellow flowers.

This rose bush, which I think is called Altissimo, is prolific and loves its location by the barn.

This pink geranium has been on our front steps through the winter, so some of the leaves are tinged with orange at the edges from the cold. It gives a cheerful greeting as you come up the walk.

I didn't grow this came in a bunch I picked up at Costco...but I just love the color.

Last flower for today is this orchid. I usually kill houseplants, so I'm very happy that this plant not only lived but bloomed again. The last time it bloomed was last spring. Sweetie gave it to me for my birthday, but the blooms last for months. Then it has to be sparingly watered while it's dormant. I love the combination of cream and magenta!

That's it for now. All of these photos have been taken in the last couple of weeks. Soon there will be a Mr. Lincoln rose blooming, plus more iris...maybe some that are blooming or the first time this year!

Monday, April 18, 2022

Hot Cross Buns With Lots Of Orange

It's the time of year for hot cross buns. I haven't made them for a few years, but decided to make them this year with the idea of putting some in the freezer and sharing a few more with a friend.

Usually I soak the currants and/or raisins in rum or bourbon, but this time I soaked them in orange liqueur. Then I upped the orange factor by adding the zest from a whole, large orange. Finally I used fresh orange juice in the dough and in the icing for making the cross on top...lots of orange in this version. I also used both golden raisins and currants, but no candied fruit this time. Still used the warm spices of nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves, and I used bread flour.

It might seem like a big deal to make these if you don't often make your own rolls or buns, but the great thing is that you make 16 of them! They freeze well. I haven't had any of the frozen ones yet, but I bet there will the fine fragrance of orange in your kitchen if your rewarm them slightly in your oven or the microwave.  

We had ours yesterday morning with scrambled eggs and a mixed fruit salad. It made a wonderful Easter feast for the start of a great day.

Hot Cross Buns
Makes 16 buns

1/4 cup golden raisins, soaked in a few tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange liquor
3/4 cup warm (100° to 110°) whole milk (I used soy)
4 1/2 teaspoons (2 packages) active dry yeast
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup brown sugar
finely grated zest from 1 large orange
1 large egg
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
About 31/2 cups flour (mostly wheat with some other grains is fine) - I used 3 cups bread flour, but you might need a bit more
1/4 cup dried currants, plumped with a little boiling water if dry, then drained well

2 teaspoons (about) fresh orange juice
1 cup powdered sugar, put through a fine strainer if lumpy

1. Drain the soaked raisins through a strainer, reserving the liquid. Set aside the raisins.
In a bowl of a stand mixer, combine milk and yeast; let stand until yeast softens, 5 to 10 minutes, then add the reserved liquid and fresh orange juice. In another bowl, blend with your fingers the brown sugar and orange zest until consistency of wet sand.  Whisk in the whole egg, cooled melted butter, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves. Add to the milk/yeast mixture and beat on medium speed with dough hook until blended.

2. Blend most of the  flour into the batter, a half cup at a time. Beat on medium speed until dough is smooth and stretchy, 10 to 12 minutes, using dough hook. Add just enough additional flour, a tablespoon at a time, (about 1/4 cup) so dough is only slightly tacky.

3. Turn dough out onto lightly floured clean surface and shape into a ball. Coat bowl with spray oil (I used butter flavored spray oil). Return dough to bowl, turn to coat with oil, cover, and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 1/4 hours.

4. Punch down dough. Add currants and raisins to the dough, pick up dough, and mix with your hands to distribute fruit.(I turned the dough out onto a lightly floured board and kneaded the dough in...that way I was sure that I had the fruit well distributed.) Using a bench scraper, divide the dough into 16 pieces, about the same size. (You can use a scale if you have one...set to grams works best.) With floured hands, shape into 16 smooth rounds. (With all the fruit added it might be difficult to have a smooth top...just do the best you can.) Evenly space rounds in two buttered 8- or 9-in. square or round pans.

5. Cover loosely and let rise in a warm place until doubled and puffy, about 40 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400°. Brush buns with beaten egg (egg wash is optional). Bake until deep golden, 13 to 15 minutes, up to 25 minutes. Let cool in pans at least 30 minutes.

6. In a small bowl, stir together juice and powdered sugar until smooth. Spoon into a small, heavy-gauge plastic bag, snip a hole in a corner, and squeeze icing onto buns to form large Xs on cooled buns. Let icing harden, then serve.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Mlyntsi (Blini) for Ukraine

The horrifying death and destruction of Ukraine by Russia continues, with high likelihood that war crimes against humanity are being committed by the Russians, including deliberate targeting of civilians.

To stand with Ukraine, if even in a very small way, the Bread Baking Babes are making Mlyntsi, Ukranian Blini, small buckwheat pancakes. A key element is melted butter on the cooked mlyntsi. This recipe is brought to you by Elizabeth of Blog from OUR Kitchen.

I used the commercial yeast recipe, mostly, although I had some nice sourdough starter on hand, so I added 1/4 cup of that for extra flavor. I adjusted the flour so that the mixture was the right thickness. Not only did these delicious morsels taste divine, but they smelled wonderful, too. The toasted buckwheat fragrance was lovely. Sweetie enjoyed his so much that he made some more after I sat down.

There is a bit of a story to go with these. Sweetie fell over and hit his head early in the morning March 30. It was unclear if he had passed out or had had a heart attack or some other medical emergency, so I called 911 and the paramedics took his vitals, found that he didn't remember falling, that he had been unconscious at least 10 minutes, but that he showed no sign of having a stroke or being in a dire situation medically when they arrived. At the hospital in the ER they did the usual labs, plus a sonogram, then admitted him and over the next few days did more lab work, more tests and finally decided that he had fainted, probably due to dehydration combined with low blood pressure from medication he no longer needed.

The reason that any of that goes with this recipe is that he had an appointment at 5 pm the day I made the batter, April 8th, with his GP for follow up and I forgot completely. I was ready to make these as appetizers with smoked salmon and sour cream at 5:30...but we had to leave before that and didn't get home until a bit after 6 pm. The batter was very much frothy and risen, although it sank a bit when I added the whipped egg whites. No way was this going to hold until tomorrow morning! So, I cooked some up, slathered it with melted plant-based 'butter' and served them for dinner with our cold shrimp and green salad. Totally delicious! Thank you Elizabeth for a great challenge. The next morning I added a bit of yeast, let the batter sit to revive, then made some more, which were even better. Sweetie made the final one...very big!...with the rest of the batter. Photo below.

Do consider becoming a Buddy dear reader. this is an easy recipe, no kneading required, and you'll get some really wonderful pancakes by making it. If you do, send the URL of your post, plus a photo and short description of your 'bake' to Elizabeth by April 29th for the round up and to get your Buddy Badge.

Be sure to also visit the sites of the other Bread Baking Babes to see what delights they have made. Below are both a recipe using commercial yeast and one using wild yeast (sourdough starter).

Mlyntsi (Blini)

commercial yeast | wild yeast
adapted from Darra Goldstein's recipe for Blini and Emilie Raffa's (The Clever Carrot) recipe for Fluffy Sourdough Pancakes

3 grams active dry yeast
2 Tbsp (30 grams) water at body temperature
1+1/4 cups (304 grams) milk [OR 70 grams instant milk powder + 300 grams water]
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) sugar
6 Tbsp (23 grams) buckwheat flour
1.5 Tbsp (21 grams) butter
1 egg, separated
2 Tbsp (30 grams) plain 3% yoghurt
1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) salt
3/4 cups (94 grams) all-purpose flour
pinch baking soda

1.             In a small bowl, whisk yeast into body temperature water until it is the consistency of cream. Set aside briefly.

2.             In a medium size bowl, whisk together sugar, all but 1/4 cup of milk (or milk powder and water), buckwheat flour. Make sure the mixture is smooth; ie: no lumps. Whisk in the yeast mixture. Cover with a plate and allow to rise in a warm place for 1 hour. (In our cool kitchen, we use the oven with only the light turned on.)

3.             Melt butter and allow to cool a little before whisking it with the egg yolk and yoghurt. Stir this mixture into the buckwheat mixture, along with the remaining milk, the salt, and all-purpose flour. Again, make sure there are no lumps; you want this mixture to be smooth smooth smooth. Cover the bowl with a plate and allow to rise in a warm place for 2 hours.

4.             Whisk the egg white until stiff but not dry, then fold the fluffy egg white into the batter. Allow the batter to rest for 30 minutes more. If the batter seems thick, carefully add warm milk a very little at a time. Emilie Raffa says that "The texture should be thick, bubbly, and pourable".

5.             Heat a cast-iron pan. Run your fingers under cold water and flick the pan. If the water beads, the pan is at the right temperature. (If it lies there, the pan is too cool; if it disappears immediately in a puff of steam, the pan is too hot.)Brush the pan with butter. Use about 2 tablespoons of the batter for each blin. Darra Goldstein adds: "taking it from the top of the batter each time so that the rest doesn't fall". Swirl the pan to make a pancake that is about 5 inches in diameter.

"Cook the blin for just a few minutes, until bubbles appear on the surface, then turn and cook the other side until faintly browned. The blini are best served hot from the pan, but if they must be held, pile them in a deep dish, brushing each one with butter, and cover the top of the dish with a linen towel."
 - Darra Goldstein

When baking soda merges with the natural acids in the sourdough starter it tenderizes the texture (like buttermilk pancakes). So now you have light, fluffy and tender. 
[...] [T]he batter should be thick, bubbly and pourable. [...] You can actually "hear" it when you drag a spoon through the batter. It should drip down in slow, stretchy ribbons and not just plop into the pan.
- Emilie Raffa

Wild Mlyntsi

[makes 10 6-inch pancakes]

ingredients based on Emilie Raffa's recipe:
120 grams whole wheat flour
120 grams water
2 dessert spoons (about 30 grams) Jane Mason starter

125 grams unbleached all purpose flour
60 grams buckwheat flour
12 grams sugar
3 grams sea salt
5 grams baking soda
all of the leavener from above (100% hydration and bubbly)
2 large eggs, separated
240 ml milk, plus more as needed
42 grams (3 Tbsp) melted unsalted butter, plus more to coat the skillet

1.             About 12 hours before mixing the batter, mix whole wheat flour, water, and starter from the fridge. Cover with a plate and leave at room temperature.

2.             Combine all the wet - except for the egg whites - and all the dry ingredients. Whisk well, cover with a plate and allow to rest a few moments.

3.             Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold them gently into the batter. Cover with a plate and allow to rest for about 30 minutes before cooking the pancakes. Emilie Raffa writes, "The texture should be thick, bubbly, and pourable. Add extra milk, 1 tbsp at a time, to thin out the texture if needed. Let the batter sit for at least 5 minutes to aerate; it should be nice and bubbly before using.

4.             Heat a cast-iron pan. Run your fingers under cold water and flick the pan. If the water beads, the pan is at the right temperature. (If it lies there, the pan is too cool; if it disappears immediately in a puff of steam, the pan is too hot.)Brush the pan with butter. Use about 2 tablespoons of the batter for each blin. Darra Goldstein adds: "taking it from the top of the batter each time so that the rest doesn't fall". Swirl the pan to make a pancake that is about 5 inches in diameter.

"Cook the blin for just a few minutes, until bubbles appear on the surface, then turn and cook the other side until faintly browned. The blini are best served hot from the pan, but if they must be held, pile them in a deep dish, brushing each one with butter, and cover the top of the dish with a linen towel." 
- Darra Goldstein

Darra Goldstein, Russian Pancakes (Blini), A Taste of Russia, p.102

Emilie Raffa, The Clever Carrot, How to Make Fluffy Sourdough Pancakes

Some variations in blini include:
• Adding ingredients to the blini batter, including apple, raisins, or even grated potato. Such types of blini are more common in Eastern Europe than in Russia,
• Blini served with butter, sour cream, fruit preserve (varenie), jam, honey, or caviar,
• Blini folded or rolled into a tube, then filled with different fillings like jam, fruit, minced meat, chicken, salmon, boiled eggs, or mushrooms,
• Blini made by frying chopped vegetables and pouring the batter over them.

- Chefin Dictionary | Blini,

·                     Information and Tools
» Darra Goldstein: Russian Pancakes (Blini)
» The Clever Carrot: How to Make Fluffy Sourdough Pancakes
» Food to Glow: Brilliant Blinis with Sweet and Savoury Toppings
» SAVEUR: Darra Goldstein's Blini, adapted from her recipe in "Beyond the North Wind: Russia in Recipes and Lore", and made with an equal mix of buckwheat and all-purpose flours
»Tasting Table: Flour Guide - Everything you need to know about types of flour
» Gourmet Sleuth: Cooking Conversions Calculator
» Red Cross (International): Humanitarian crisis in Ukraine
» UNHCR: Ukraine Emergency


Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Asparagus Time

Not sure if it's true where you live, but here asparagus are in season. The spears coming into the markets are just the right size...not too thin and not to fat, with nice tight buds and beautiful green color.

One of my favorite ways to enjoy asparagus is to just steam them and eat them plain, but occasionally I like to do a fancier rendition. This pasta and asparagus dish is my go-to for those times. The only down side is I use three pots before I'm finished, but the final dish is so good, with tender pasta, garlic infused bite sized pieces of asparagus, and a delicious cheese sauce with the added zing of lemon zest. A large portion would make a fine vegetarian (or vegan the way I do it) meal by itself, or you can pair it with simple grilled fish or chicken as we did. Sweetie makes the best grilled salmon and steelhead.

You start by putting some water on to boil. Then you prepare the asparagus by snapping the ends off , then cutting them into bite sized pieces. They go into a small pot with minced garlic and some olive oil and then cook over low heat which allows the asparagus to become infused with the garlic while still retaining firmness and their green color. Don't forget to stir them occasionally so that all the pieces become soaked in the garlic oil.

While the asparagus are stewing you add  pasta to the boiling water. The pasta cooks while the veg and garlic do their magic. (If you use fresh pasta, you'll need to do this when the asparagus are almost finished cooking and after you've made the cheese sauce so that the pasta doesn't overcook. The asparagus take about 15 minutes.)

The cheese sauce is made in the third pot, using ricotta cheese, hot pasta water, salt, pepper, a dash of nutmeg, and the zest of one lemon. Over low heat the water is stirred into the cheese to make a creamy sauce. With most ricotta it will still be a little bit grainy, but that's fine. If you are going for vegetarian, you can add a few tablespoons of grated Parmesan, too. For my vegan version I skipped the parmesan and used an almond milk based 'ricotta'. My favorite brand is Kite Hill.

Now you have all of the parts. Once the asparagus are tender and the pasta is al dente tender, you drain the pasta, immediately mix it with the cheese sauce, and plate the sauced pasta, then top it with the garlicy asparagus pieces. For those using Parmesan, you can sprinkle another tablespoon of parmesan on top and serve it up!

Pasta with Ricotta  and Asparagus

a variation of a recipe in the Mediterranean Diet Cookbook
serves 4 - 6

3/4 lb tender young asparagus ( or 1/2 lb asparagus and 1/4 lb broccoli crown)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh mint, minced - optional
1 lb pasta of your choice - I used fusilli  (For vegan version use pasta made without animal products)
6 quarts water
1/2 lb fresh creamy ricotta (For a vegan version, I used Kite Hill almond milk ricotta)
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste 
dash nutmeg
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (Omit for vegan version)

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and add 2 teaspoons salt.

Trim tough ends off asparagus after rinsing them. Cut tender parts into 2-inch lengths. Cut broccoli crown into small florets, if using.

In a sauté pan, over low heat and covered, gently stew the garlic, asparagus (and broccoli) in the oil until the vegetables are tender but not brown, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in mint if using. Set aside.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in boiling water until tender. While pasta cooks, extract 1/2 - 3/4 cup of the cooking liquid and mix it in a small saucepan with the ricotta. Set saucepan over low heat and gently cream the ricotta and cooking water. When the ricotta is warm, taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Add the nutmeg, lemon zest, and 1 tablespoon of the Parmesan cheese, if using, and stir to combine.

Drain the cooked pasta and combine immediately with the cheese sauce, tossing to mix well. Arrange over a warm platter and pour asparagus mixture over the top, being sure to scrape all of the cooked garlic onto the pasta and veggies. Sprinkle with the rest of the grated cheese (optional) and serve at once.

Monday, April 04, 2022

Taking A Header

I had hoped to be posting something food related by now, but life throws you curve balls sometimes, so instead of being in the bake center, I've been in the ER waiting room and beyond.

Sweetie woke up one morning last week, sat or stood up, grabbed his water bottle to take a drink, and promptly passed out...and landed on his poor forehead...a header indeed. He landed so hard that you could see the rug marks, plus he split the skin. See below for how it looked. 

Once 911 had been called they came and asked all sorts of questions and weren't sure if he had had a heart attack or had a brain problem, or had fainted for some other reason, so off to the ER in the ambulance. The Gold Ridge Fire personnel who responded gave him excellent service...thank you, thank you!...including carrying him down our stairs which wind to the left at the bottom, just to make it more difficult.

He spent most of the day in the ER waiting for a room to open up in the cardiac unit but while he was waiting the hospital (Memorial in Santa Rosa, which also did a great job),  did a whole bunch of blood work and tests, including a CT scan of his brain and later a sonogram of his heart. He also had an MRI of his brain and the following morning a stress test. Looks like it was possibly a mild heart attack but mostly dehydration and low blood pressure. He has been losing weight slowly over 2.5 years or so and it looks like he no longer needs blood pressure meds. Hard way to find out!

A few days after he got home I visited our neighbors across the street and got to play with their baby goat. She is a cutie! Her photo is at the top. Her name is Illy, after the coffee because her color is like a dark brown coffee bean.

These neighbors and some others down our road were amazing and so supportive...taking care of Pi and getting me to the hospital and more. We are very fortunate in our friends!

So, hope to have something food related the next time I post but right now we are keeping it simple...grilled chicken and green salad and plain rice...that kind of thing.