Thursday, December 1, 2016

Billie's Gingerbread

My neighborhood book club recently met for the last time in 2016.  This month we read Delicious!: A Novel by Ruth Reichl.  The author is the editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine.  The fictional book revolves around Billie Breslin, a young woman who moves from Santa Barbara to New York to take a job at Delicious!, an iconic food magazine. There is love, intrigue, and it is easy to like the characters. The vivid descriptions of food had me wanting to get into the kitchen and to visit all the food shops she described. It was a fun and easy read.

While in Santa Barbara, Billie owned a bakery.  Her claim to fame was a gingerbread cake that she developed when she was a young girl.  The book included the recipe for this cake so I made it for our book club meeting.

Gingerbread, to me, means cake or cookies with molasses in it.  This cake has none.  If I had named it, I would have called it a Spice Cake. It doesn't taste like any gingerbread I've ever had!  That being said, it is a very nice cake.  The spices and orange zest blend so well together. It calls for a lot of fresh ginger but the ginger flavor isn't overpowering. The cake wasn't hard to put together, just a little "fussy" as there were lots of bowls and steps. Grating the ginger seemed to take forever!

The author recommended grinding whole spices and then measuring for the cake.  I had whole peppercorns, cloves and cinnamon, but no cardamom.  A trip to two stores was a bust so I used pre-ground spices instead of grinding.  She states the taste of the cake isn't as good but I can't imagine the small quantities called for would make that much difference. But, grind away, if you want!

My book club girls all enjoyed the cake and took home slices to their hubbies.  I took the remainder of the cake to work and it was a nice treat with a morning cup of coffee.

Billie's Gingerbread

1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large pieces fresh ginger root (1/4 cup, tightly packed, when finely grated)
Zest from 2 to 3 oranges (1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated)

1/2 cup bourbon
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
5 teaspoons orange juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter and flour (or use baking spray) a 6-cup Bundt pan.

Whisk the flour with the baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt in a small bowl.

In another small bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolk into the sour cream.  Set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar in a stand mixer until the mixture is light, fluffy, and almost white. This should take about 3 minutes.

Grate the ginger root (this is a lot of ginger) and the orange zest.  Add them to the butter/sugar mixture.

Beat the flour mixture and the egg mixture, alternating between the two, into the butter until each addition is incorporated.  The batter should be as luxurious as mousse.

Spoon batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 40 minutes, until cake is golden and a wooden skewer comes out clean.

Remove to a rack and cool in the pan for 10 minutes.

While the cake cools in its pan, simmer the bourbon and the sugar in a small pot for about 4 minutes.  It should reduce to about 1/3 cup.

While the cake is still in the pan, brush half the bourbon mixture onto its exposed surface (the bottom of the cake) with a pastry brush.  Let the syrup soak in for a few minutes, then turn the cake out onto a rack.

Gently brush the remaining mixture all over the cake.

Once the cake is cooled, mix the glaze ingredients.  Drizzle randomly over the cake.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016


Another year has flown by and my favorite holiday is here, Thanksgiving.  As I've said before, this holiday incorporates some of my favorite things; food, family, friends, and we must not forget football (3 games!) This year has been a rough one for my family.  The year started out with a cancer diagnosis and three surgeries for me.  Thankfully, it was caught early and all will be ok.  Since August my husband has lost two brothers to lung cancer. He also has been having complications as a result of his Rheumatoid Arthritis. Our parents are aging and we're having to deal with some serious health issues with them. So it's easy to say "woe-is-me".  Yet I look around and see people who have far worse problems to deal with and it's very humbling. I am very blessed.  My Thanksgiving table will be graced by my parents, my children and grandchildren, and some close family friends.  We will have more than enough to eat and a roof over our heads to shelter us. There is plenty to be thankful for.

My tables are set, with my Transferware and Woodland Spode dinnerware. I kept with a very neutral color scheme using ivory linens and table runner. Color comes from the gourds and pumpkins as well as the flowers I splurged on.  My guests will get to take flowers home, as a gift from me!

My antique bin table is the perfect spot for a dessert station.  My son's favorite pie, apple, is in its place.  Two pumpkin, a chocolate cream, and a pecan pie are in the fridge. Fresh whipped cream (or whooped cream, as my granddaughters call it!) and vanilla ice cream will be available as toppings. There will be no shortage of calories here!

The dinner menu doesn't vary much from year to year.  This is a holiday where tradition plays a huge role and each person has their "must have" dishes. I try to make everyone happy. My husband doesn't like homemade cranberry sauce so he will get his canned, jelled variety, while the rest of us have homemade sauce. He's not a fan of my Mom's cornbread dressing so I always have to make him a box of Stove Top (that is so hard for a food snob like me!)  To go with our roast turkey will be mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potato souffle, dressing, homemade yeast rolls and various vegetables. We will eat until we're stuffed and eat some more.  Later that night we'll be making turkey sandwiches.

Friday we will begin our Christmas decorating.  Until then it's all about the turkey and counting our blessings! From my home to yours, Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Pomegranate Cosmo

Each year I make batches and batches of pomegranate jelly.  It's my Hubbers' favorite jelly so I have to make sure he has a good supply in the pantry.  A jar of jelly is our Christmas gift to neighbors, friends and family. I used to buy pomegranate juice from a local farmer.  The past four or five years I've relied on the crop my tree produces and pomegranates that friends give me (thanks, Tony!) Unknown to us until this year, my mother-in-law has a very productive tree so we spent an hour or so picking some of its fruit, too.  I have a pomegranate press and I spend hours on the back patio squeezing the juice out of the red orbs.  I strain the juice through cheesecloth then freeze.  As time allows I defrost the juice and make batches of jelly.  The last three weeks I've spent the bulk of my weekends making jelly.  I am finally done for the year! I had a little juice left over, not enough to make another batch of jelly, but enough for a little treat for all my hard work.  A pomegranate cosmo is just what I needed to drink while I put my feet up!

These cosmos would be great for Thanksgiving entertaining.  A pitcher makes about 6 drinks and can be made ahead of time.  Of course, the recipe can be doubled (or tripled!) for a large crowd. Pomegranate juice is available in most grocery stores these days. These cosmos are so good!

Pomegranate Cosmos (recipe from Barefoot Contessa)

2 cups (16 ounces) good vodka
1 cup (8 ounces) orange liqueur
1 cup (8 ounces) pomegranate juice
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (3 limes)
Lime peel strips, to garnish, if desired

Combine the vodka, orange liqueur, pomegranate juice, and lime juice in a pitcher and refrigerate until ready to use.  Pour the mixture into frozen martini glasses with a twist of lime peel and serve immediately.

If you're like me, there is no room in my freezer to keep glasses frozen.  I pour some into a shaker full of ice and shake until very cold.

We have 52 jars from this year's production.

My pressing station.  It's such a messy job!

My cooktop looked like this most of the weekend!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Skillet-Roasted Lemon Chicken

I keep perusing Ina Garten's (Barefoot Contessa) new cookbook Cooking for Jeffrey and finding things I want to try.  Jeffrey is Ina's husband and he is on her food television show quite often.  His favorite meal is roast chicken and that seems to be a Friday night tradition with them. Well, Jeffrey and I have a lot in common as I love roast chicken, too. It's so easy to make and, with veggies and potatoes added to the dish, you have a one-pot nutritious meal. I wasn't surprised that she had a roast chicken recipe in this new book.

This skillet chicken dish calls for the backbone to be removed from the chicken so that it lays flat (known as "butterflying"). Doing so allows the chicken to cook quicker and more evenly. Now working with raw poultry isn't one of my favorite things to do so I had my butcher do the bone removal.  (I've done it before and it's not difficult, just cut out the back bone with a sharp knife or poultry shears.)

This chicken was very easy to put together, with very little mess, which is great for a busy work night. While it baked I made a veggie and some rice. I also drank a little wine as the recipe only calls for 1/2 cup of white wine.  No need in wasting the rest of the bottle!  The beauty of this dish is the luscious lemon-wine sauce that develops.  It's great not only drizzled over the chicken, but I also drizzled it on my sides.  My Hubby kept dipping his bread in the skillet!

If you like roast chicken this is a good dish to have in your repertoire.

Skillet-Roasted Lemon Chicken

2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup good olive oil
1 lemon, halved and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 yellow onion, halved and sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 (4-pound) chicken, backbone removed and butterflied
1/2 cup dry white wine, such as Pinot Grigio
Juice of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Place the thyme, fennel seeds, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper in a mini food processor and process until ground.  Pour the olive oil into a small glass measuring cup, stir in the herb mixture, and set aside.

Distribute the lemon slices in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet and distribute the onion and garlic on top.  Place the chicken, skin side down, on top of the onion and brush with about half the oil and herb mixture.  Turn the chicken skin side up, pat it dry with paper towels (very important!) and brush it all over with the rest of the oil and herb mixture.

Roast the chicken for 30 minutes.  Pour the wine into the pan (not on the chicken!) and roast for another 10 to 15 minutes, until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the  breast registers 155-160 degrees.

Remove the chicken from the oven, sprinkle it with the lemon juice, cover the skillet tightly with aluminum foil, and allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes.  Cut the chicken into quarters or eighths, sprinkle with salt, and serve hot with the pan juices, cooked lemon, and onion.

The recipe calls for the spices to be ground in a mini food processor.  I have a coffee grinder that I use for spice grinding.  Using it means I don't have to wash the mini food processor.  I get tired of washing dishes!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Pumpkin Apple Bread with Streusel Topping

I stop at Starbucks far too often.  I'm trying to break the habit as their recent price increase has tipped me over into the "I shouldn't be doing this" category.  I have a latte machine at home, it's easy to make one to go.  On the days I'm traveling or running errands, though, I still seem to pull through a drive-thru at some time during the day.  While there I usually grab a slice of their pumpkin bread. Now their pumpkin bread is nothing special, it's just ok and convenient. Pumpkin bread is so easy to make and I do make it quite often, especially during the fall months.

This pumpkin bread is a little different, with the addition of apples to the batter and a streusel topping. The apples make for a very moist bread. Any kind of baking apple can be used.  If you want a little bit of tartness use a Granny Smith apple. I'm a sucker for any baked good with a streusel topping so I especially loved this bread. And, yes, I made my latte and grabbed my slice of bread before leaving home.  Good girl, Julie!

Pumpkin Apple Bread with Streusel Topping

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 cups granulated sugar
1 can (15 oz.) pure pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
4 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup apple juice
2 large apples, peeled, cored and diced
Streusel Topping:
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, softened

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and flour (or spray with baking spray) two 9x5-inch loaf pans (see note below).

Combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.

Combine sugar, pumpkin, eggs, vegetable oil and apple juice in large mixer bowl.  Beat until just blended.

Add pumpkin mixture to flour mixture; stir just until moistened.

Fold in apples.

Spoon batter equally into prepared loaf pans.

Mix streusel topping in a separate bowl with a fork and sprinkle evenly over each loaf.

Bake for 60-65 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. 

Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes; remove from pans to cool completely on wire racks.

(Can also be baked in six 3x5-inch mini loaf pans.  Reduce baking time to 45-to minutes.)

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Pomegrantes and Pumpkins!

I recently (and unexpectedly) bought some plates from Pier One. I used them in a pear-themed tablesetting a few weeks ago. I love these plates and have been using them almost daily this fall. We  hosted another couple for dinner and I wanted to use the plates but not do the same pear emphasis (I get bored easily!) The plates also have figs and pomegranates on them.  It just so happens that I have a big box of pomegranates in my garage as I am starting my annual pomegranate juicing/jelly making production. I started thinking about how I could incorporate those pomegranates in my tablesetting. 

During the fall I usually have this antique dough bowl filled with small pumpkins and gourds.  It's so simple and pretty. I added a few pomegranates to the mix.  Wow, that spark of red added a lot of color and tied the plates into the centerpiece perfectly! Combining pumpkins and pomegranates had never occurred to me before but I really like the combination of colors it makes.

I added some gold napkins, my Woodland Spode silverware, and some amber water glasses. Votive candles in gold holders added a little sparkle. I was able to put together a pretty table with little effort. I love it when things go together like this! 

I made the burlap table runner last year, see these instructions.  It's simple but has a little touch of elegance with the white ribbon. 

Please join me at Tablescape Thursday for more tabletop inspiration!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Vanilla Rum Panna Cotta with Salted Caramel

I've previously shared my love of panna cotta.  It's a fairly new dessert to me and I just love it! I recently purchased Ina Garten's (Barefoot Contessa) new cookbook, Cooking for Jeffrey. Imagine my delight when it had this recipe for a panna cotta flavored with dark rum. We were hosting another couple for dinner and I'd been ruminating about what dessert to make.  Problem solved! Cold, silky panna cotta paired with warm, salty caramel.  Sounds like a great fall dessert to me!

Panna cotta looks impressive but it is so easy to make. What I especially like is that it needs to be made ahead of time.  That is one less last-minute detail to attend to when hosting a dinner!

Oh, this panna cotta is soooooo good! The combination of the sweet and salty, cold and hot is just fantastic!

Vanilla Rum Panna Cotta with Salted Caramel

2 teaspoons (1 packet) unflavored gelatin (such as Knox)
3 cups heavy cream, divided
2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean
3/4 cup sugar
Dark rum
1/2 cup good caramel sauce
Fleur de sel (sea salt)

In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin on 3 tablespoons of cold water.  Stir and set aside for 10 minutes to allow the gelatin to dissolve.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups of the cream, the yogurt, vanilla extract, and vanilla seeds. Heat the remaining 1 1/2 cups of cream and the sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Off the heat, stir the softened gelatin mixture into the hot cream until dissolved.  Pour the hot cream-gelatin mixture into the cream-yogurt mixture and stir in 3 tablespoons of rum. Pour into 8 serving glasses and refrigerate uncovered until cold. When the panna cottas are thoroughly chilled, cover with plastic wrap and allow to chill overnight.

Before serving, heat the caramel sauce with 2 teaspoons of rum in a small bowl in the microwave or a small saucepan set over low heat, just until warm. Spoon a thin layer of warm caramel on each cold panna cotta, sprinkle with fleur de sel, and serve.

Don't throw away your used vanilla bean!  I keep a canister of sugar on my counter, adding used vanilla beans and additional sugar as time goes by.  The result is a lovely vanilla-flavored sugar that enhances all my baking!