Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Garden At The Moment

I confess, I have not been spending much time being creative in the kitchen. I have made the May bread for the Bread Baking Babes, but that won't be posted until May 16th. There has been the usual cooking for dinners for the two of us, but that is almost always something easy, tried, and true...and already posted on this blog.

The reason for less time in the kitchen has been that I've been spending more time in the garden. When the usual time (in this area) for weeding and garden prep came around in February and March I wasn't feeling well and had no energy.

Fortunately for me Mother Nature decided to ignore the calendar and give us rain in April quite a few times. That loosened up the soil enough for me to do April weeding and some planting, too. Sweetie dug some holes for putting gopher baskets and plants into the ground..a rose bush, a Meyer lemon bush and a daphne bush.

Those pesky gophers are not to be trusted, so almost anything that goes into the ground has to be encased in a wire basket to discourage the gophers from munching on the roots or even the whole plant. I lost 10 rose bushes the first year we lived here since I didn't know better and planted the roses right in the ground. I think those creatures are still showing up every year hoping I'll be that foolish again!

With May underway the containers that keep the plants happy and out of the ground are being filled with potting soil and I've gotten a few seedlings planted and a number of seeds, too. Rain is expected sometime during the next three days, so everything will get a welcome soaking.

Last, but not least, I've hauled quite a few bags worth of mulch to spread and keep weeds at bay. Since my strength is still not full force, I usually scoop about a third of the bag into a smaller container, spread that, scoop the next third, spread that, then haul the bag itself to be tipped and spread. It takes longer, but works just as well as trying to tip the whole bag out all at once.

Most years I plant a lot of tomato and squash seeds into little cells in February and start them in our sunspace indoors. Now that I have to restrict my consumption of tomatoes, that seemed like a lot of work for no reason, so I only did some squash plants that way

and purchased two tomato seedlings so that Sweetie would have tomatoes for his salads. These are all planted and doing well. Next I'm going to address the plants (and weeds) closer to the house. Don't expect too many posts, OK? The garden siren song is calling again.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Custard Without Milk...In A Quiche

I enjoy making quiche and have made a few which have been posted on this blog, but now I decided that rather than forgo quiche due to the use of milk in the custard that I would try making it using soy creamer. Soy milk, or any rice or nut milk would probably work, but I like the thickness of Silk brand original (unflavored) soy creamer, so I went with that. I also used to put cheese in my quiches but still haven't found a non-dairy cheese worth bothering with, so this is a custard pie with ham, mushrooms and asparagus. It's different, but worth making.

It was well over 80 today when I was making this pie, so I decided to use my toaster oven, which is out in my studio. Since I wasn't going to be in there except to put the quiche in and out of the oven it didn't matter if it got heated up, but I didn't want to do that to my regular kitchen. The unfortunate thing is that since I wasn't there to check on it, the blind bake went on too long and so the final crust was pretty dark brown in a lot of spots...almost burnt.

Other than that, it was a lovely quiche. I lowered the heat for baking it after my experience with the crust and also baked it for a shorter time than the recipe called for. Since I had browned the mushrooms before I put them in the crust, they went on the bottom. Over that I put the blanched asparagus, then I scattered the diced ham on top. This is truly asparagus season around here, so it made a very seasonal and delicious dish. The custard was not quite as tender as one made with milk but we didn't miss the cheese with all that yummy ham, asparagus and mushroom flavors going on.

Quiche with Swiss Chard and Swiss Cheese and Bacon1 9-inch pie shell, blind baked at 425 degrees F for 10-12 minutes (recipe follows)
1½ cup sliced fresh mushrooms, sauteed for 5 minutes in an oil slicked frying pan, then set aside
1 cup blanched asparagus pieces
1 cup diced cooked ham
3 eggs (or equivalent egg substitute)
1 ½ cups soy creamer or evaporated milk or light cream
¼ teaspoon salt
dash pepper
Dash nutmeg
dash dried thyme

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Sprinkle the bottom of the pie shell with the mushrooms, asparagus, and ham, distributing evenly. Set aside

In a bowl, beat the eggs lightly, then add the soy creamer and beat with a fork to combine, add the salt, pepper, nutmeg and thyme and beat with a fork to combine.

Pour the egg/milk mixture over the ingredients in the blind baked pie shell. Place in the preheated oven and bake 30-45 minutes, or until set and lightly browned. Cool for 10 minutes before cutting to serve.
Serves 6-8

Pastry Pie Shell

1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup chilled butter
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons ice water
1 teaspoon lemon juice (optional)

Mix the flour and salt in a bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender, or two knives, until particles the size of dried peas are formed.

In a small bowl mix together the egg, ice water and lemon juice (if using). Sprinkle over the flour mixture and toss with a fork lightly. Do not over mix. Gather the particles together in a ball. Wrap airtight and chill in the freezer for 10 minutes. Roll out with a rolling pin on a floured surface until large enough to fill a 9 inch pie pan with some overlap.

Fit into a 9 inch pie pan, smooth to fit, trip excess, tuck edges under and crimp as for any pie crust. Prick lightly all over the surface with a fork. Freeze 10 minutes. Remove from freezer and cover with a circle of parchment paper. Fill the paper with beans or pie weights (blind baking the crust).
Bake at 425 degrees F for 10 – 12 minutes. Cool slightly. Remove and save the beans or pie weights. 

Fill the blind baked crust with filling as called for in recipes needing a pie shell. If the crust has browned too much, use a piece or two pieces of foil to create a shield for the part of the crust that is over browned after filling the crust.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Years Go By

Back when I was in the spring of my life I met a fine and wonderful man, a gem, a treasure beyond imagining. At the time I had no real idea of how he would change my life and be the one who would come to know me best, warts and all. The amazing thing, then and still, is that he loves me and wants me to be myself and not someone else, not even when it might be easier for him if I was. I love that about him, along with all the other fine and wonderful qualities.

The years go by. We make a life, marry, have children, change jobs, move to another home, weather adversity together and celebrate together, have our ups and downs as all true relationships tend to do.

Over 35 years pass since we marry. These past few days we celebrate another year together with a trip to one of our favorite places, Monterey, CA.

We take Pi with us and he enjoys our favorite inn, The Victorian Inn. They love dogs there and he enjoyed the window seat

and the bed

plus having his water dish on a marble fireplace hearth...fancy!

We took a number or walks around the area near Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, visited a bookstore of course, had lunch at the Sea Harvest Fish Market (where there might be a whale bone at the end of the parking lot),

enjoyed the morning as we ate breakfast outdoors under a lovely arbor on Wave St. at the Wave Street Cafe with a great view of Monterey Bay, and had our anniversary dinner at Bistro Moulin, also on Wave St., a quiet place with sophisticated French food, not far from the Aquarium.

The walkers and bicyclists were out in force on the bike and pedestrian path where the railroad used to be and we were amazed at how many rusting old tanks still exist from the days when sardines were canned here in the time of Steinbeck. When we first started coming here a few years before we married, there were a lot more ruins but now there are many newer buildings and lots of places for tourists to spend their money. Back then one of the old buildings held a carousel but that's long gone and now the space is either a parking structure or a movie theatre. The biggest draw for me is always the water.

On the way home we encountered some rain but by the time we pulled off the freeway for a break at a oak shaded vista overlook near Filoli, it was sunny with just a bit of mist in the distance over Crystal Reservoir and lots of fluffy clouds.

At home all was well and one of my yellow roses had opened and was a sunny welcome home.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Cake Slice Bakers Orange Cake with Cranberries

I love it when we get to the third week of the month and it's time for the Cake Slice Bakers.We usually have four recipes to choose from and it's fun to imagine baking one, then another, and often all four of them. Still, Sweetie continues to drop the pounds from his frame and has asked me to keep the baking down to just a few, so I do have to choose.

This month I chose the Blueberry-Nut Loaf Cake, but the blueberries at the market were going for $5 a basket, so I decided to substitute dried cranberries and to soak them for a while in the fresh orange juice to soften them up. I love the flavor combo of orange and cranberry, so why not?

This is a fairly light cake with a delicate crumb and I enjoyed it a lot. The pecans added both crunch and flavor and the cranberries and assertive orange flavor played well together.

I baked the batter in a combo Bundt pan so I got two smaller Bundt cakes in two different designs. We each had a piece after dinner while the cake was still a little warm. Delicious! There is a lot of orange zest in the batter, so large parts of the finished cake are a pretty orange color, which looks nice with the cranberries.

Because I didn't use fresh blueberries, my directions are different than the original recipe, but this is really an easy cake, so just follow along and you, too, can have a nice little cake to enjoy in the afternoon with tea or coffee or as a dessert later in the day.

Cranberry - Nut Bundt Cake

1 1/4 cup pecans
2 large, deep colored oranges
1 cup dried cranberries (Craisins)
grease and fine dry bread crumbs for pan
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (I used a butter substitute with no dairy)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg at room temperature

Coarsely chop the pecans. Set aside.

Grate the rind, zest only, from the oranges. Reserve the zest and cut the oranges in half, then juice them. Measure 3/4 cup orange juice. Place the dried cranberries in a narrow container ( a Pyrex measuring cup that holds two cups works well) and pour the orange juice over the dried cranberries. Let sit for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 10 1/2 x 4 x 3-inch loaf pan or a Bundt pan that has two smaller cake pans in it, or a small Bundt pan. Dust with fine dry breadcrumbs and knock out excess crumbs. Set pan aside.

Melt the butter and let cool.

Sift together the sugar, flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Set aside.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg just to mix. Add the butter and mix. Drain the cranberries and add just the orange juice to the egg mixture and beat to mix. Set the cranberries aside.
On low speed add the sifted dry ingredients to the egg mixture and beat only to mix. Remove from the mixer and stir in the drained cranberries, the grated rinds and the nuts. If you use a spatula, you can make sure that all is well combined with just a few strokes.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan((s), smoothing the top and knocking the pan against the counter a couple of times to dislodge air bubbles. Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until a cake tester gently inserted into the middle comes out clean and dry. If the cake cracks on the top, it's OK.

Cool the cake on a rack for 10 minutes, then cover the cake with a rack and turn out onto the rack. If using a bread pan, turn cake right side up. If using a Bundt pan, keep it upside down. Move to a cake plate and let cool completely.

To serve, if desired, sift some powdered sugar lightly over the cake.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

So Not Cinnamon Rolls

The Bread Baking Babes were given an unusual challenge for April by Baking Soda (Karen) of our Kitchen of the Month, Bake My Day. We were to make rolls that look like cinnamon rolls, but have no cinnamon. The dough is also unusual because it contains yeast like many cinnamon rolls, but also has both baking powder and baking soda, ingredients usually used to help the dough rise when no yeast is used. I was intrigued to see how this would work out.

These are light rolls but have a texture closer to coffee cake than to rolls with only yeast. They are soft and the dough seemed easy to work with, probably because there was a fair amount of oil. I added some freshly grated nutmeg to the dough (not cinnamon!) and then decided to use a flavored honey as the filling. The honey flavors are lemon and lavender but I decided that since the honey was so sweet that it needed the additional tang of freshly grated lemon zest, so I sprinkled the zest of one Meyer lemon over the honey that was spread over the rolled out dough. The filling was still pretty sweet but the zest cut it to an enjoyable amount.

This was a tasty combination, if a bit sticky one. The rolls didn't want to unstick from the bottom of the baking pan, so I ended up scooping them out with a spatula, which damaged the middle one a bit. Still, Sweetie and I enjoyed them and found willing friends and family to help eat the rest.

I don't think I'll make this dough again since I prefer the texture of yeasted sweet rolls with no additional baking powder or baking soda, but I might use the honey and zest again, perhaps with some toasted pecans or almonds.

It was fun to make these rolls with no cinnamon and, really, there are lots of other fillings that are delicious. Check out my fellow Bread Baking Babes to see what they have filled theirs with.

You can also be a Buddy by baking your own Not Cinnamon Rolls, taking a photo or two and sending an e-mail to Baking Soda with a brief description of your rolls and include the photo for the round up. She will send you a Buddy Badge for your blog and include you in the round up. Just get it to her by April 28th.

Not Cinnamon Rolls
The ingredients:
480 ml  [2 cups] milk (I used soy milk)
120 ml [1/2 cup] vegetable oil 
95 gr [1/2 cup] sugar 
2 to 2.1/2 tsp yeast
520 gr [4 cups] all-purpose flour
65 gr [1 1/2 cup] 
all-purpose flour (extra, reserve to add later)
1/2 tsp heaping baking powder
1/2 tsp scant baking soda
1/2 tablespoon [9 gr] salt
1/4 cup honeyzest of one lemon

Oven: 375F / 190 C

Basically this recipe follows the rules for making rolls, as in: make the dough, bulk rise. Roll out in a rectangle, add filling of your choice, roll up from the long side and cut into slices. Proof and bake in a moderate oven.

Now the difference lies in the leavening combo and that comes to show in the rising method.
Room temperature milk, vegetable oil, sugar and yeast in a bowl.
Add 4 cups of all-purpose flour. Stir until combined, cover and let rise for 1 hour. 

Next, remove the cover and add baking powder, baking soda, salt and the remaining 1 1/2 cups of flour. Stir thoroughly to combine. Plan to leave it in for 1 hour or so.

You may now proceed to roll out the dough in a rectangle or refrigerate for at least an hour or up to 3 days. (Probably need to keep an eye out for overflowing dough, so punch down if it rises to the top). Relatively slack dough so it probably is easier to work with when chilled!

Proceed as you will with any other rolls you make; roll dough into a large rectangle on a floured surface. Original states to roll thin, I rolled my usual thickness. Use whatever you feel comfortable with. 

To make the filling, use your imagination... go sweet, go savoury, go wacky. Make it yours and make it good! I used the honey drizzled over the rectangle, then sprinkled on the lemon zest.

Now you are probably ready to start rolling, I always start with the long side closest to me and roll away from my body. You could do it the other way round, I am easy like that! Just keep a tight roll.

Once you have your roll, pinch the seam and roll it once over so the seam is on the bottom. Slice into 1.1/2 inch thick slices, or use a piece of dental floss, crossed, to cut the rolls. Place in greased baking pans (I used 9" round ones). You could also line the bottom of the pan with parchment and grease the parchment. It would make it easier to get the rolls out of the pan once baked. Cover and set aside to rise for at least 20-45 minutes before baking.

Bake for 15-18 minutes in a preheated oven (375F/190C)until tops are golden brown. Turn out of the baking pan quickly because the honey will thicken and it will be hard to remove the rolls. Place right size up on a serving plate. Serve warm if at all possible.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Three Time Tested Recipes for Dinner - Or Lunch

I've been blogging so long that there are a huge number of recipes posted...over a thousand. Even so, there are three or four that keep being requested, shared, recommended and so on. The recipes are below the four descriptions, so keep scrolling!

Most recent: Mediterranean Couscous Chicken Salad - Served this at lunch yesterday. It was perfect for a warm day since it can sit for a little while and be served at room temperature, plus it has the zing of lemon, the great marriage of tomatoes and basil and the bonus of tangy feta cheese, all held together with couscous which cooks in 5 minutes. If you have cut up chicken or turkey in your fridge or freezer, it all comes together in less than 20 minutes, including clean up. Hard to beat that on a busy evening. It can also be made the day ahead and is just as good.

For a Crowd: Lemon Garlic Chicken for a Crowd serves 15 - 30 depending on the serving size (one or two pieces of chicken) and it can be cut by 1/3 to serve 4-6 people, too. Another dish that is great during citrus season (NOW!), it is another one that can be made or partially made the day ahead. As a matter of fact, it is better to let it marinate all day or all night. Lemon joins mustard and olive oil, garlic and rosemary to make a sublime dish. If you are feeling fancy there is also a bread crumb topping to make it party-worthy. This one isn't a last-minute deal like the Couscous Chicken, but it is worth the planning.

From the Moosewood Cookbook: Spinach Rice Casserole - This is a great vegetarian main dish or sturdy, tasty side dish. You can use brown rice or white rice, although it is healthier with brown rice and has better flavor. There are eggs and milk and cheddar cheese and sunflower seeds, plus you can use either fresh spinach or thawed, squeezed, frozen spinach. It all bakes up in a flavorful casserole that appeals to children and adults alike (although you may want to pass the hot sauce for the adults and adventerous kids).

My Most Used - Creamy Coleslaw Dressing - If you love coleslaw as much as Sweetie does and as much as I do with barbeque, then you will find this a go-to recipe, too. I use low fat mayo and some yogurt along with the mustard, sugar, and apple cider vinegar, plus I thin it if necessary with soy milk. Try it with broccoli slaw, dried cranberries and toasted walnuts for a different take.

1 Mediterranean Couscous Salad
Serves 6-8

1 1/4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 (5.6 oz.) package roasted garlic couscous mix
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 (4 oz.) package crumbled feta cheese
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Garnish: fresh basil leaves

Note: You'll need to buy a 2/3 oz. package of fresh basil to get the right amount of basil for this recipe. Substitute 3-4 teaspoons (I used 3) dried basil if you can't get fresh.

Microwave broth and seasoning packet from couscous package at HIGH for 3-5 minutes or until broth begins to boil. Place couscous in a large bowl, and stir in broth mixture. Cover and let stand 5 minutes.
Uncover couscous and fluff couscous with a fork. Stir in basil and next 5 ingredients. Serve warm or cold. Garnish with fresh basil leaves or a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts, if desired.

G's Lemon Chicken for a Crowd
Serves about 25-30

30 boneless skinless chicken pieces
3 tablespoons olive oil for coating pans
1-2 heads garlic
6 lemons
1 16 oz. jar Dijon mustard
10-12 branches fresh rosemary, each about 5 inches long, divided
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (use the real thing for best flavor)
1 1/2 cups Italian seasoned bread crumbs
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Arrange the boneless skinless chicken thighs (or substitute some boneless skinless chicken breasts if you wish) in three 11 x 13 baking pans where the bottom of the pan have been lightly oiled with the olive oil, evenly divided. Keep the chicken pieces touching each other. Place whole, unpeeled garlic cloves between some of the pieces, about 5-6 cloves of garlic per pan.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the Dijon mustard, the juice of 6 lemons, and 3-4 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary. Whisk in 1/3 cup olive oil. Pour 1/3 of the mixture over each pan of chicken. Tuck a few sprigs of remaining fresh rosemary between some of the chicken pieces in each pan. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill 3-4 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Uncover the chicken and place the pans in the oven, spacing evenly about the interior if possible. Bake for 40 minutes or until the juice runs clear when a piece of chicken is pierced.

If desired, about 10 minutes before the chicken is done, mix together the Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs and parsley; sprinkle this mixture evenly over the chicken, using about 1/3 for each pan. Return to oven to bake last 10 minutes.

Serve over rice, mashed potatoes, or boiled potatoes, with bread to sop up the sauce. The sauce is mighty good. The chicken is amazing.

You can divide this recipe by 1/3 to make chicken for a family :) Leftovers are delicious, too. You can also freeze this, well wrapped, for a month. Thaw in the refrigerator, then bake in a 350 degree oven until heated through, or in the microwave, reheating at no more than 50% power.

for a smaller group:
Sunny Citrus Chicken
Serves about 4-6

10 boneless skinless chicken pieces
1 tablespoons olive oil for coating pans
6-8 cloves fresh garlic
2 lemons
¼ cup Dijon mustard
4 branches fresh rosemary, each about 5 inches long, divided
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh orange peel or lemon zest.

Arrange the boneless skinless chicken thighs (or substitute some boneless skinless chicken breasts if you wish) in a 11 x 13 baking pans where the bottom of the pan have been lightly oiled with the olive oil, evenly divided. Keep the chicken pieces touching each other. Place whole, unpeeled garlic cloves between some of the pieces, about 6-8.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together Dijon mustard, the juice of 2 lemons, & 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary. Whisk in the olive oil. Pour the mixture over the pan of chicken. Tuck a few sprigs of remaining fresh rosemary between some of the chicken pieces in the pan. Sprinkle the orange peel or lemon zest evenly over the pan of chicken. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill 3-4 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Uncover the chicken and place the pan in the oven. Bake for 40 minutes or until the juice runs clear when a piece of chicken is pierced. Be sure to serve the sauce as well as the chicken.

Spinach-Rice Casserole
from Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen, 1977

4 cups cooked brown rice (or cooked white rice if you prefer) 
2 lbs. raw, chopped spinach (or one 10-oz pk frozen chopped spinach, thawed and extra liquid squeezed out)
2 cloves minced garlic
3 tablespoons butter (I used 2 tablespoons olive oil)
4 beaten eggs (I used the equivalent amount of egg substitute)
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 tablespoons tamari (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt (More, to taste)
a few dashes each - nutmeg, cayenne
1/4 cup sunflower seeds

Saute' onions and garlic with the salt in butter (or oil). When onions are soft, add spinach. Cook 2 minutes. (Alternately, thaw and drain a 10 oz box frozen chopped spinach. Add to onion mixture, but don't cook any further.)

Combine the onion mixture with the brown rice, eggs, milk, 1 cup cheese, parsley, tamari, nutmeg, cayenne, sunflower seeds, paprika. Spread into buttered casserole and sprinkle 1/2 cup cheese on top.

Bake, covered, 25 minutes at 350 degrees F. Uncover and bake 10 more minutes.

Serves 4 - 6

Creamy Coleslaw Dressing
from The Good Home Cookbook, edited by Richard J. Perry

3/4 cup mayonnaise (or 1/2 cup mayonnaise and 1/4 cup sour cream or yogurt)
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon dry mustard (I used 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Pinch celery salt

Combine the ingredients in a small bowl and mix well. (If the dressing is too stiff, thin with a little milk if desired.)

Pour over a small head of shredded cabbage mixed with some grated carrots and, if desired, minced celery and sweet onion. Stir to coat the vegetables with the dressing. Serve salad chilled.
Serves 6-8

Monday, April 04, 2016

Birthday Book Mini-Cakes

I received a late birthday gift in March from a favorite sister. She gave me Jocelyn Delk Adams's Grandbaby Cakes books, described as "modern recipes, vintage charm, soulful memories". I had gotten the book out of the library and decided that it was likely to provide lots of good recipes for future cake baking.

One of the recipes that caught my eye were the Neopolitan Mini-Cakelettes. Combining the wonderful flavors and colors of neapolitan ice cream, there is a chocolate batter, a vanilla batter, and the author's favorite, the strawberry batter. I have a Bundt cake pan that has larger cakes, so I think of mine as mini-cakes instead of cakelettes. I changed the recipe a little so that there was only yogurt for dairy and I only had a tiny part of one of them just to see how the flavors and textures worked. Sweetie is not a big fan of cake, but he liked this one because it is nicely moist and not too sweet.

The majority of the mini-cakes are being mailed to the dear sister who gave me the book, as a thank you and treat all in one. I can just see her and her wonderful husband enjoying a cake each with coffee in the late afternoon or into the evening, their favorite time.

Don't be put off the having to divide the batter into three parts and flavoring two of those with additional ingredients. If you have a small whisk or small spatula, it will be easy and fun. Imagine serving these cute cakes to family and they will be impressed and will enjoy these delicious little cakes.

Neopolitan Mini-Cakes
from Grandbaby Cakes by Jocelyn Delk Adams

3/4 cup ( 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature (I used non-dairy butter substitute)
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sifted cake flour (NOT all-purpose)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup sour cream, room temperature (I used plain yogurt)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons strawberry jam, melted 20-30 seconds in the microwave
2-3 drops red food coloring
Confectioners' sugar to decorate (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Prepare mini-Bundt pans with 5-cup to 6-cup capacity or one 6-cup small Bundt cake pan. (I used a six mini-Bundt cake pan and three of six small (fairy) cake cups, but part of a 6- cup muffin pan would do.) Use your choice of non-stick preparation. (I used a baking spray with flour.)

Use an electric mixer to cream the butter on high speed for 1 minute. Scrape bowl and beaters. Slowly add the granulated sugar and continue to cream them together for an additional 5 minutes, stopping every couple of minutes to scrape the bowl and beaters. The idea is to add air to the butter sugar mixture. It will be pale yellow and fluffy. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, scraping bowl and beaters after each has been incorporated.

Turn mixer to lowest speed and slowly add the flour in two batches. Add the salt and baking soda. Mix on low speed only until just combined. Scrape bowl and beaters. Add the sour cream, oil and vanilla extract, mix on low speed until just combined. Scrape bowl and beaters and mix just a few seconds to make sure batter is homogeneous.

Evenly separate the batter into 3 medium bowls (or two bowls and leave the third in the mixing bowl as I did).

Whisk the cocoa powder into one of the bowls and set aside.

Add the strawberry jam, strawberry extract, food color to another bowl and mix. The strawberry batter will be thinner than the other two. That is fine.

Place alternating tablespoons of all 3 batters into each cavity of your prepared pans, until each cavity is 2/3 full. For example, start with the vanilla, adding a tablespoon to each cavity, then add the chocolate, then the strawberry. Start again with the batters until each cavity is 2/3 full. You can always use greased muffin cups for any batter that doesn't fit in the 2/3 full Bundt cavities.

Bake for 24 - 28 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a mini-cake comes out mostly clean but still moist.

Let the mini-cakes cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert onto a serving plate. Let cool to room temperature. Lightly cover the mini-cakes with foil or plastic wrap so they don't dry out.

To serve sprinkle lightly with confectioners' sugar and serve.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Mushrooms and Meatballs and Silver Cars

Seems like a lot and hardly anything has been going on lately. Let me explain. The hardly anything refers to cooking and baking, at least the creative sort. Dinners have been simple things like roast chicken, stir fry deliciousness, and salads for the most part and baking has been non-existent. Sweetie has been successfully losing weight and asked me to curtail baking plus I have been trying to once again get a handle on my gut health so have had little energy to bake, either.

The lot going on mostly refers to buying and selling cars and all the stuff that surrounds those activities. I have enjoyed driving a silver PT Cruiser for many years. PTs are cute cars and we've had ours since 2001. Sweetie has been ready to switch out to another car for a couple of years, so I have had the dubious pleasure of learning about all the other likely replacement choices for the same amount of time. Any time we were out and about together he was likely at least once during the trip to point out a potential auto and to let me know why it should be considered. This often happened in parking lots, particularly when we were at the hardware store or grocery store. We would wander the lot and discuss the pros and cons of different makes and models. I'm sure we looked pretty strange.

Finally I told Sweetie that I would make a choice, since we agreed that I should choose, and that it would be between March and June 2016. In late February I began my research on the Internet and narrowed my list to four cars to test drive. I could always go back to the drawing board if those turned out to be duds. Then one morning about a week and a half ago I just woke up knowing that it was the day to car shop. We test drove two cars and I fell in love with the second one, a silver, low-miles, 2015 Suburu Outback. I love the way it handles, the comfortable ride, the back-up camera and touch screen controls and more. Sold the silver PT Cruiser on Friday, so into the new silver car era we go.

So what about mushrooms and meatballs? Turns out that the box of large size Reynolds Oven Bags had a great sounding recipe included with the instructions. Meatball Stroganoff uses frozen meatballs, fresh mushrooms and onions, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and broth to make an oven baked dish that is finished with sour cream (or yogurt in my case) and dill (or parsley in my case) and served over cooked noodles. Since the part of beef stroganoff that I never enjoyed was cooking the cubed beef, I decided this was a recipe to try.

Because the latter part of the recipe uses a large bowl for the final mixing, I decided to mix together part of the flour, the sauce, mustard and broth in the bowl instead of the bag. It takes a few extra minutes to wash out the bowl once the broth mixture is added to the meatballs, but it allows for whisking the mixture together and eliminates the odd flour glob. I also increased the flour in my write up because the gravy was way too thin.

This is a great, easy dish and there is very little clean-up needed. I suspect you could skip the Oven Bag and bake it in a casserole...but then you would need to scrub out the casserole pan when you were done. If you do go that route, cover the pan with foil for the first half of the baking, then uncover to let the meatballs brown. You could also use chicken broth instead of beef broth if you prefer.

Meatball Stroganoff with Mushrooms
A variation of a Reynolds recipe

 1 Reynolds Oven Bag, large
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour – divided
1 can (14.5 oz.) beef broth
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon Dijon style mustard
1 lb. frozen meatballs, 1-inch in diameter
1 small onion, chopped
2 cups sliced mushrooms, preferably Baby Bella
¾ cup sour cream (I used plain yogurt)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill (I used fresh parsley)
½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 package (8 oz.) egg noodles, cooked according to package directions

 Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place 1 tablespoon flour in the Oven Bag and shake. Place bag in a 9 x 13 x 2-inch baking pan.

 In a large bowl whisk together the remaining three tablespoons flour, the Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard and broth. Set aside.

 Place the meatballs, onion and mushrooms in the bag, close with your hand, and shake to combine. Carefully pour in the broth mixture and shake closed bag to coat contents. Replace bag in the baking pan, put the nylon tie that comes with the Oven Bag around the end of the bag to close, then tuck ends under. Pat contents of bag into an even layer. Cut six ½-inch slits in top of bag.

 Wash out the bowl that held the broth mixture and set aside.

 Bake in preheated oven 25 – 30 minutes. Meatballs will be browned on top. Carefully cut end and pour contents of bag into clean large bowl. Contents will be HOT! Slowly stir sour cream or yogurt into bowl, then salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Add dill or parsley and stir. Serve over hot, cooked, drained noodles.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Happy Spring!

Have not been cooking or baking much of late, at least nothing noteworthy. Hope to do so soon now that recent colitis flare up has least for now.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Happy Spring & a Blessed Easter to each of you.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Seasonal Buns

Although the fruit trees are blossoming and the bulbs are showing their bright beauty, the nights are still pretty chilly. Springtime here in Northern California can be that way, and I love it. We've had foggy mornings and some sunshine in the afternoons the past few days, so I decided that it was good baking weather today and, after the gym, started some Hot Cross Buns dough rising.

This seems like a very seasonal treat to me, one that highlights the citrus of early spring but retains some of the warm spices of winter. Since I like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, those are what I used, even though the recipe only called for cinnamon. I also grated some lemon zest to add to the sugar and chose candied orange peel to go with the golden raisins instead of using mixed candied fruits. Those mixed fruits always make me thing the bread is for Christmas, which is fine in December but not in mid-March.

There are a few ways to make the cross on top of the buns including making a score, making a paste of flour and water which is piped in a cross on each bun, and my choice...a mixture of soy milk and confectioners sugar is stirred together and used to make a cross on each bun. Sweetie asked for a bun without a cross and he enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed my bun with the cross. Of course I have a bit of a sweet tooth.

This is an easy recipe, with only one rise. Because the dough has both milk and butter, plus an egg, it is rich enough to require a bit more rising time than simpler breads. I used soy milk for the milk part, changed the spices and fruit as described above, but otherwise stayed with the recipe. These buns are perfect for Easter, for breakfast, and/or for afternoon tea. If you reduce the sugar and leave off the icing cross, they would work well with ham and cheese for a sandwich, too.

Happy Easter, a little early!

Hot Cross Buns
Based on a recipe in The Festive Bread Book by Kathy Cutler

2 3/4 - 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1 tablespoon dry yeast
1/2 cup milk (I used soy milk)
3 tablespoons butter (I used margarine)
1 egg
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup chopped candied orange peel
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons milk (I used soy milk)
enough confectioners sugar to make a firm enough icing to
frost crosses on top of the buns - about 1/2 cup

Combine 2 cups flour (reserve the rest), sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and yeast in a mixing bowl. Mix thoroughly.

Heat the butter in a quart glass measuring cup until melted, then add the milk. Stir to combine. Mixture will be lukewarm. Add the egg and whisk to mix.

Place milk mixture in the large bowl of a stand mixer. Using a wooden spoon, stir in 3/4 cup flour mixture, putting 1/4 cup of the mixture into the bowl at a time. Place bowl in stand mixer and, using the dough hook, slowly add the remaining flour mixture. Once that has be incorporated, add additional flour, using small amounts for each addition, until a soft dough forms. Knead in the mixer for 8 minutes, or turn out onto a floured surface and knead by hand. Dough will be silky and satiny when finished.

Place dough in an oiled bowl, then turn dough over to oil the second side. I used olive oil, but vegetable oil is fine. Cover loosely and let rise 1-2 hours in a warm, draft free place. Because of the milk, butter and egg this dough make take longer than 1 hour to rise, but rarely more than 2 hours.

Turn risen dough out onto a floured surface and punch down. Divide dough equally into 9 pieces. Shape each piece into a ball. Place in a greased 9 x 9-inch pan. Let rise until double - about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. If desired, brush buns with light cream or an egg wash (1 egg whisked with 1 tablespoon water). Bake risen bun about 25 minutes. Buns will sound slightly hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.

If desired make the confectioners' sugar icing and make a cross on each bun once buns are almost cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Brownies and Cheesecake Get Married

Sweetie loves cheesecake. When I read through the four choices for the March Cake Slice Bakers challenge I pretty much decided on the cheesecake right away. Homemade brownies are delicious and wonderful by themselves, but imagine how good they are when folded into a decadent classic vanilla cheesecake batter and that combination is baked in a water bath for the most creamy, decadent dessert ever. What a marriage made in baker's heaven!

Since I wasn't able to even taste the batter, I made sure to bake this delight for Sweetie's Birthday Bash, so that at least some of the two dozen or so other guests could enjoy it and even take leftovers home. You would not believe the groans of delight, the compliments I was showered with, nor the realization that we would only have one small slice for leftovers. This was amazing considering that I made it in an oversized heart shaped pan, using an extra 4 oz. of cream cheese on top of the two pounds...I know, that's a lot of cream cheese...two pounds of cream cheese, almost a whole batch of brownies, 4 eggs, and a lot of love.

As you can see, I didn't follow the recipe exactly. I think that Maida Heatter has some of the best recipes for sweets, but sometimes she seems to complicate things. For the brownies she wanted us to mold aluminum foil first outside of the pan, then inside it. I just sprayed my 8" square pan with baking spray and it worked just fine. The brownies came right out, were diced in about 1/2-inch dice, then frozen.

For the cheesecake she wanted us to use a one piece cheesecake pan. Well, I don't have one of those, so I used the heart shaped springform pan, lined the bottom with a piece of parchment paper, did the foil molding on this pan so that the outside of the pan was surrounded by foil...this keeps any water out during the bake in the water bath. I also created some chocolate cookie crumbs plus butter to put in the bottom of the pan on top of the parchment. Maida wanted us to bake the cheesecake, turn it upside down and sprinkle with graham cracker crumbs, and, I think, then turn it right side up. My cheesecake would never have made it through that. There were some pretty good sized cracks and the texture was so creamy that I think the whole thing would have fallen apart. Sorry Maida.

Although I was able to bake the brownies with no dairy, so I was able to enjoy a taste, there was no way I could taste the cheesecake batter, so I had Sweetie do it. He pronounced it good and when he had the first piece today at the party he pronounced the cake great! The intensely chocolate brownies married to that rich white cheesecake was, by all reports, one of the best cheesecakes ever!

This recipe is really two recipes in one but it is worth the effort for a show stopping cake. If you are rushed for time, just make the brownie part. The brownies are moist, dense, deeply chocolate, a tiny bit chewy on the outside and very tender and soft on the inside, except for the crunch of the walnuts. They make a fine dessert all by themselves. Just cut them in larger pieces than the dice in the photo above. The dice worked great for the cake, but a nice sized square would be better for dessert.

Do check out the cakes baked by the other Cake Slice Bakers...we had some really good choices this month. Click on the photos at the bottom of the post. They will show up once I do the Linky tool.

Brownie Cheesecake
a variation on the recipe in Maida Heatter's Cakes 

1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, Dutch-process is best
1 teaspoon powdered coffee (espresso powder) or instant coffee granules
pinch of salt
4 oz. (1/2 cup) or 1 stick margarine or butter
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, cut or broken into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs at room temperature
1 cup (3.5 oz.) walnuts, broken or chopped into large pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray an 8-inch square cake pan with baking spray. Set aside.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, coffee powder and salt and set aside.

Place the butter and the chocolate in a large microwave-safe mixing bowl. Microwave on half power for a minute at a time, stirring well after each heating, until mixture is smooth. Use a potholder to move the bowl to your work counter and stir in the sugar, vanilla and almond extracts, until well mixed. Let sit 10 minutes.

Stir in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each egg is added. Add the sifted dry ingredients in two batches, stirring well to mix after each addition. Stir in the nuts.

Turn the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and bake for 22-25 minutes. You'll know it is done when a toothpick inserted into the middle of the brownies comes out clean and dry.

Remove from the oven and cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Place a plate or board on top of pan and turn brownie out onto it. Then place a cutting board over that and turn the brownie right side up. Place in freezer for 30 minutes. Remove from freezer and cut brownie into 4 equal pieces. Set one quarter aside for another use (or just to snack on!) and cut the remaining three quarters into 1/2 inch dice. Return diced brownies to the freezer and freeze for at least an hour.

The Cheesecake:
When brownie dice have had enough time in the freezer to become very firm, begin making the cheesecake batter.

2 pounds cream cheese, at room temperature. Maida specified Philadelphia brand, and that is what I usually use, but a good quality cream cheese is what is needed, no matter the brand.
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/2 cup chocolate cookie or graham cracker crumbs
Pinch of cinnamon if using graham cracker crumbs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9 or 10 inch spring form pan with baking spray. Line the bottom with a sheet of parchment, Spray with baking spray again. Using a very large sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil, set the pan in the middle and mold the foil up the sides of the pan. Cut the foil off at the top of the pan and fold any part of the foil that sit above the pan edges down onto the pan edges. Set aside. Find a large pan that can hold the springform pan with a little space on the sides and that is tall enough to hold water halfway up the sides of the springform pan. I used a large roasting pan. Set that aside as well.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until it is soft and smooth, scraping sides, bottom and beaters with a spatula frequently. Add vanilla extract, salt and sugar. Beat well until well mixed. There should be no lumps of cheese visible.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time, using low speed and only beating until the egg is incorporated. Set aside.

In a microwave safe bowl melt the butter or margarine. Add the crumbs (and the cinnamon if using graham cracker crumbs) and stir to combine. Spread this mixture on the bottom of the prepared pan. It will be a very thin layer. On top of that spoon enough of the cheese mixture to make a layer of about 1/2 inch. I used a 1/3 cup measuring cup to place dollops of the batter all around the pan edge and then the middle, then used a spatula to gently even out the batter.

Add the frozen, diced brownies to the rest of the cheesecake batter. Very gently fold them together, being careful not to break up or crumble the brownies any more than necessary. Turn this mixture into the pan and use the bottom of a spoon the smooth the mixture.

Place the cake pan into the larger pan and add hot water until the water is about 1 1/2 inches deep.

Carefully place the pan into the preheated oven. Bake for 1 1/2 hours. The top of the cake will rise, maybe even slightly above the rim of the pan, during baking and then sink when the cake is cooling. When the cake is done, remove the cake pan from the hot water and place it on a rack to cool. There may be some cracks...that is OK.

Once the cake has cooled, remove the foil outer covering and discard.

When ready to serve, run a knife around the edge of the cake, then loosen the pan sides. Either place the cake with the spring form pan bottom included onto a serving plate, or, if you are daring, try to slice the cake and parchment away from the springform bottom and onto the serving plate.

Decorate as desired and serve. Having a hot towel handy to wipe the knife after each cut will make for nicer slices.