Sunday, December 25, 2022

Happy Holidays!

Hope that you and yours have a most happy holiday season!   XO, Elle 

Friday, December 23, 2022

Gathering Again

The last few years have been unusual due to the pandemic. Last year we still had our daughter and her fiancé and his son here for Christmas but there was far less gathering than usual and no big Open House the day after Christmas as we had done prior to 2019.

This year isn't that different, but we won't have R with us this year, which is sad but understandable since we need to share, plus our gathering is smaller, with just some of the family and no neighbors or friends. This year not only is there COVID, but there is also the flu and a respiratory virus, so even our group is a bit large. Fortunately, the weather will be fairly mild (in the mid-60s), so we can be outside some of the time and/or have windows open.

The tree is up, plenty of food in the pantry and fridge, the cider with spices was in the slow cooker to stay warm. K arrived Wednesday  and yesterday we gathered!

It is hard for me to believe, but I have hardly baked anything for this Christmas. I did make fruitcake a while ago, and I have made a couple kinds of cookies, but that's about it. My youngest sister and her family brought a delicious chocolate cake, which everyone loved, so my baking wasn't even missed. 

The spread included chips and chutneys, meats and cheeses, hummus and crackers, veggies and dips and, the hit of the party, steamed shrimp and cocktail sauce. The photo above was taken when most had finished the savory part and the dessert part was still to come.

The best part was having family together and all of the varied conversations. Since we often socialize with Sweetie's side of the family separately from my side of the family, but didn't this time, it was an opportunity for local family from both sides to get to know each other better.

Sweetie is encouraging me to stay calm and enjoy life and what it brings instead of planning things to distraction and setting myself up for being in a tizzy by having too many things that I'm going to make. So far, so good. 

I'm sure there will be another post before Christmas, but right now I wish you a no-tizzy time yourself and hopefully lots of fun with family and/or friends to celebrate the solstice just past, Hanukkah still in progress, and the holidays still to come!

XO, Elle

Some tips for large gatherings:

Place the drinks in a separate place, away from the food. This avoids bottlenecks and allows for more mixing of guests. We put our drinks, and ice, into the bake center sink. The hit of the party was our spiced warm apple juice, a combination of apple juice (but you could use cider), big strips of orange peel, a few whole cloves, and a couple cinnamon sticks. We warm ours in a large crock pot, but you can also simmer it on the stove. Provide a ladle and hot cups. If you like there can also be a bottle of spirits (we like bourbon) next to the warm cider so that folks can add a dollop to their cider if they like.

Be sure to have openers for the bottles...cap openers for beer, wine openers for wine, etc..

Group chairs in different parts of your entertaining space if you can, so that there can be small group discussions.

If it's a pot luck, have some serving bowls and plates, cutting board and knives, serving spoons, etc. handy, plus some trivets to put under hot items.

Have a plan for where to put coats, purses, etc. We have hooks in our front hall so we cleared off all of our own coats and hats and put them upstairs, leaving the hooks free for our guests. If you have a bedroom on the same floor, hosts often suggest that the bed in that bedroom be the repository for coats.

Have plenty of ice, both to chill drinks and to put into drinks. 16 pounds was the right amount just to chill the beverages in our utility sink. If you have a full size sink or tub, you'll need more, plus more for putting into drinks. The ice for that can be put into a medium bowl or an ice bucket.

Although more disposables for the landfill is hard to take, for the once a year party we use paper plates and napkins, and disposable plastic forks, knives and spoons, plus plastic cold cups and paper hot cups. There is still plenty of clean-up needed after the party of serving trays and plates, etc., along with putting away what wasn't eaten.

Towards the end of the party check with those driving to see if they want coffee or tea and if they take decafe or regular. This is particularly important if you have been serving alcohol.

Have fun! Take photos if you like! Enjoy the gathering.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Babes Bake a Corny Yeasted Bread

 No, not corny because it's malarkey, but actually a loaf or braid with both corn flour and corn kernels. It's a fine bread to go with soup or stew or chowder, but also makes great toast.

This challenge is brought to us by Karen of Karen's Kitchen Stories. It is a nice one because it goes together fairly quickly. You can either use sourdough starter if you have it, or do as I did and mix together equal amounts of flour and water to make the 1/2 cup starter. You won't get the lovely depth of flavor that you get with starter, but the recipe calls for so much instant yeast that your loaf...or braid...will rise just fine without the sourdough starter.

The challenge was to make a very large loaf, but I went with a braid instead because it's been a long time since I made one and because I felt like it. I'm sure that the loaf is a fine way to go, too. Do check out our other Bread Baking Babes to see their take on the challenge.

Want to make this bread? Consider posting about your bake and sending the URL and a photo with short description to Karen to be a Bread Baking Buddy and be included in the Buddy round-up. Just get it to her by Nov. 29th. More information is on her blog.

Yeasted Corn Bread


425 grams (1 3/4 cups plus 1 teaspoon) lukewarm (80-90 degrees F) water

100 grams ( a little less than 1/2 cup) flour mixture ( 1/2 cup flour mixed with just slightly less water OR 1/2 cup sourdough starter)

400 grams (2 3/4 cups plus 2 teaspoons) bread flour

175 grams (1 1/2 cups plus 1 teaspoon) corn flour - I used Bob's Red Mill millet flour

175 grams (1 cup) corn kernels - I used frozen corn kernels, thawed

14 grams (2 3/4 teaspoons) fine sea salt

2 grams (1/2 teaspoon) instant yeast - I used 2 packets


In a large container, such as 6-quart tub, add the water. Add the flour mixture or sourdough starter to the water and mix with your hand or a whisk. 

Add the bread flour, corn flour, corn kernels if using. Mix by hand until incorporated. (I mixed the flours together in a large bowl, then used a whisk for the first 1/2 cup or so, then my clean hand. The dough came together in a shaggy mass.

Sprinkle the salt (to one side) and the yeast (to the other side) over the top, cover, and let rest for 20 minutes. 

Mix with a wet hand, using your fingers to pinch the dough to incorporate the salt and yeast, and then stretch and fold a few times to fully incorporate salt and yeast. Finish with a stretch and fold. Let rest a couple of minutes and then stretch and fold a few more times. 

Cover and let rest for 30 minutes. Stretch and fold again, cover and let rest for 30 more minutes. Do a final stretch and fold, cover, and let rise until it's 2 1/2 to 3 times it's original size but still domed and not flattened. If you're using a tub with level marks, it should reach the 2-quart mark. 

In the meantime, spray a loaf pan with spray oil or spray a baking sheet if you are doing a braid as I did. 

When it's ready, gently turn the dough out onto your work floured surface. 

If you are making a braid as I did, use a bench scraper to divide the dough into three pieces. Keep the surface floured as you work. Roll each of the pieces into a snake about 15-inches long. Move to the prepared pan, pinch the ends together and loosely braid, tucking ends under when braided. Cover with oiled plastic wrap, oiled side to loaf, and let rise about an hour until  puffy and almost doubled in size.

If you are making a loaf, gently flatten the dough into a rectangle to 2 to 3 times its original width and about as wide.  Fold the ends back over each other creating a rectangle double the width of the pan. Roll up the dough to form a tube about the same length as your pan. Place it in your pan seam side up." 

Brush the loaf with water. 

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise for about an hour, until slightly crested over the top of the pan (if using a 10 inch x 5 inch loaf pan). 

For either shape:

Heat the oven to 450 degrees F. Bake. For the braid it will be for about 30-45 minutes, until it is browned and sounds hollow when tapped on the back. For the loaf, bake for about 50 minutes, turning halfway through for even baking. 

Move or turn it out onto a wire rack and let cool at least an hour. It actually gets better if you wait a bit longer. 

Thursday, December 01, 2022

Walnut Cranberry Tart for the Festive Season

Welcome December! We had lots of rain last night and this morning!! With the prolonged drought we have been in here in California, this is cause for celebration. Of course the coming holidays are also cause for joy...and lots of baking and making. Here is the first recipe I recommend to you, dear reader, for you holiday baking. It's a keeper. Do read through the full post before making it...there are tips for you.

I bought a bag of fresh cranberries sometime in early November. I do this almost every year because I know that before they get too old I'll come across a recipe or recipe idea where you need fresh cranberries...and there they will be in the bottom crisper drawer in the fridge.

That happened last week. There was no time to make the tart for Thanksgiving, but that weekend I had the time, so I made this delicious tart which combines walnuts, fresh cranberries, orange, and some brandy.

Instead of making a tart dough, I just used a refrigerated, rolled out pie dough circle. Once I fit it into my 9" tart base and pushed the dough up the sides, there was just enough to fold the rest of the dough down along the sides and push it into the I had double thick sides but a single thickness on the bottom. Of course a home made pie dough is delicious, so if you prefer to do that, the recipe is below the recipe for the tart.

Because I didn't have the size tart pan called for in the recipe (10-inch is called for but I had a 9-inch one), I knew that there would be extra filling. My solution was to let the fruit and nuts settle a bit after I mixed them into the filling, and then I poured out about a third of the filling into a spare bowl. I poured the rest into the tart shell and then topped it up with the filling in the spare bowl. It worked just fine, but I had leftover filling...without many bits of cranberry or nuts. My solution was to spray a pie dish with baking spray and then I added about a half cup of walnuts to the spare bowl and the filling still left in it. That mixture went into the prepared pie dish and it was baked at the same temperature...but for only about 15-20 minutes until the mixture was set. Sweetie had some after it cooled and he liked the mostly nuts version...without any crust!...better than the tart. I liked the tart better. I think that the cranberry added a freshness that the 'mainly nuts' filling didn't have. Still, if you would like to put in more walnuts and fewer cranberries (or none), feel free. I think you'll find that the orange-brandy-brown sugar filling works well with both.

Bakers tip: Zest the orange before you juice it.

Cranberry Walnut Tart

by Michele Anna Jordan, as published in the Nov. 23,2022 Press Democrat newspaper
Makes 6-8 servings

Pastry dough (recipe follows) (or do as I did and use ready made pie dough circles)

3 eggs
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup agave nectar or maple syrup (I used 1/2 cup pure maple syrup and 1/2 cup dark brown Karo syrup)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon brandy
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup fresh cranberries, minced
1 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

First, make the pastry dough and chill it according to the instructions in the recipe.  Then, on a well-floured surface, roll out the dough into a 12-inch circle. Carefully lift the dough and put it into a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, pressing it gentle at the inner edge and crimping it all around. Cover and refrigerate until ready to fill. (Alternately, use a refrigerated pre-rolled pie dough round, folding the extra dough down the inside circumference and pressing gently into the indentations to make a double sided crust. Chill as described above.) 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Put the eggs into a medium bowl and whisk until they are thick and frothy, about 3 minutes. Add the brown sugar and agave nectar or maple syrup and stir well. Add the melted butter, vanilla, brandy, orange juice, orange zest, and salt. Fold in the cranberries and walnuts, pour the mixture into the tart shell and set on a baking sheet. Set the baking sheet on the middle rack of the preheated oven and bake until the edges of the crust are golden brown and the filling is set, about 40 minutes. (Check at about 20 minutes and thereafter; if the top is getting too brown, tent loosely with foil.)

Remove from the oven and let rest at room temperature for at least 1 hour before cutting into wedges and serving.

Pastry Dough for Pies

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 4 pieces , or 4 ounces of lard, chilled
3-4 tablespoons ice water

Combine the flour and salt in a medium mixing bowl. With your fingers or a pastry cutter, cut in the butter or lard until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal; work very quickly so that the mixture doesn't get too warm.

Make a well in the center and pour in 3 tablespoons of water. Use your fingers to mix the dough together quickly; add more water if needed for the dough to come together.

Press the dough into a ball, wrap it in wax paper and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes and as long as 2 hours.