Monday, August 14, 2017

Fresh Fig and Almond Crostata

I put an SOS call out to some clients (who, over the years, have also become friends!) to see if they still had figs available. The next day I received 2 boxes of just-picked black figs.  Thank you, Susan & John! My Mom loves figs so I always try to make fig jam each summer. 

Just-picked! Aren't they beautiful?

I made a batch of jam one night after work and was left with a box of figs to use up.  Though I love to munch on fresh figs, a girl can only eat so many of them!  I started searching online for fig recipes and found this crostata from Martha Stewart. A crostata is basically a free-form pie, no pie pan is involved, just roll out the dough on a piece of parchment paper, add the filling, fold over the edges and bake.  Super easy! We loved this crostata! The almond filling was a nice complement to the fresh figs.  The crust is very buttery and flaky.  My husband, step-daughter, and I each had a slice then I drove across town and delivered the rest of the crostata to my parents. They, too, loved it! (I also left fig jam for Mom!) My Dad, of course, had to have a scoop of ice cream with his portion! This is a wonderful late-summer fruit dessert.

Now in the interest of fair reporting I must admit I messed up on the dough.  I misread the recipe and used 1 1/2 sticks butter.  I discovered this as I was rolling it out, my dough was very soft. Oops!  I added extra flour as I rolled it out so was able to use the dough.  It spread more than it probably should have but it still tasted great. I'm sure a crostata made with the correct amount of butter in the dough would be much prettier than mine turned out to be!  In this case, taste won over form!

Fresh Fig and Almond Crostata

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 to 4 tablespoons ice water

1/2 cup blanched almonds
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 pound ripe fresh figs, stemmed and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

To make dough: In a food processor, pulse flour, sugar, and salt to combine. Add butter; pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal, with a few pea-size pieces of butter remaining. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons ice water; pulse until dough is crumbly but holds together when squeezed (if, necessary, gradually add up to 2 tablespoons more water). Do not overmix. Flatten dough into a disk; wrap tightly in plastic. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour (and up to 3 days).

To make filling: In food processor, combine almonds and sugar; process until finely ground. Add egg, butter, flour, vanilla, and salt; pulse until smooth, and set aside. In a medium bowl, combine figs and lemon juice; set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  On a large lightly floured piece of parchment paper, roll dough to a 14-inch round. Spread almond filling in center, leaving a 2 inch border; top with fig mixture.  Fold border over edge of filling, pleating all around; press down gently to seal. If desired, brush dough with an egg wash.

Lifting edges of parchment, transfer crostata to a rimmed baking sheet.  Bake until crust is golden brown, about 1 hour.  Let cool on baking sheet at least 30 minutes. To serve, cut crostata into wedges.

Monday, August 7, 2017


According to family lore, tacos were the dinner menu for my first birthday.  I have no recollection of that birthday party but at every birthday I can remember tacos were served. Even as an adult I would head over to my parents' house for my annual taco celebration. My parents both have health issues now and my Mom can't cook like she used to, especially for a large gathering. I try to help out with their meals so thought a taco dinner would be a fun way to feed them and gather the family together. Tacos for 12 it was! We had a nice time but the negative about making tacos is the kitchen mess.  It took me until 8:30 to get my kitchen back to normal again!

No taco dinner would be complete without guacamole and chips. Guacamole is a true "add a little bit of this, little bit of that, until it tastes right" recipe.  We like a variety of items in our guacamole; I use jalapenos, cilantro, tomatoes, and red onion.  After smashing the avocados I season with salt and pepper and add fresh lime juice.  Then I add the other ingredients, tasting as I go, until I get the flavor the way I want it. Depending on who I'm serving, I'll use less jalapenos and onions. Guacamole is easy to make and never lasts long!

I chop up all the ingredients and add until I get just the right taste!

My favorite guacamole-making tool is my pastry blender! We like our guacamole a little chunky so this tool works well!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

English Muffin Bread

July has been a whirlwind! As a result, my little blog got neglected.  I've been cooking and baking, doing some of my crafting; just not taking photos or chronicling my adventures. July started with a bang when my Hubbers had a series of small strokes.  A trip to the ER and a week in the hospital with many follow-up visits to physicians made the first few weeks of the month fly by.  Thankfully, he is recovering nicely and should have no lasting effects from the stroke. The last two weeks of the month found us at the drag strip, pursuing my family's passion.  We lived out of our motorhome at the track.  I managed to make three meals a day, for 5-6 people, out of the teeny-tiny kitchen.  I must admit to being relieved that we are home again where I have much more room to play!

One morning in the RV, I was making breakfast for my troops.  Part of the meal was English muffins.  As I was toasting them I remembered that I used to make an English muffin bread. The recipe comes from a Fleischmann's Yeast cookbook that I've probably had for 40 years. It's an easy yeast bread to make, with no kneading required and only one rise.  It makes a wonderful bread, every bit as good as an English muffin, including all the nooks and crannies for the butter to melt into. I don't know why it's been years since I've baked some! It makes two loaves and freezes nicely. A few slices popped in the toaster makes for a great morning snack!


English Muffin Bread

2 packages active dry yeast
6 cups unsifted flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups milk
1/2 cup water
Corn meal

Combine 3 cups flour, yeast, sugar, salt, and soda in a large bowl.  Heat liquids until very warm (120-130 degrees).  Add to dry mixture; beat well.  Stir in rest of flour to make a stiff batter.  Spoon into two 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pans that have been greased and sprinkled with corn meal.  Sprinkle tops with corn meal. Cover; let rise in warm place for 45 minutes.  Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.  Remove from pans immediately and cool.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Grandma's Pantry

Grandma had a utility room in the back of her house, the back door of that room led to the backyard and her prolific vegetable garden. In the utility room she had a wall of shelves where she stored her home-canned goods. As the summer progressed, the shelves would start to fill up with items like canned apricots and peaches, pickles, and jams and jellies of all flavors. Over the winter the shelves would lighten up as she either used her goods or gave them away. I remember her being so proud of her canned goods and they would be arranged in a certain order.  Though I loved being the recipient of her fruits and vegetables I didn't quite understand what was so amazing about some shelves with food in jars!

Well, I have become my Grandma. Though I don't have a utility room to store my canned goods, I do have some dedicated shelves in one of my kitchen cabinets. During the summer the shelves fill up with jams and jellies. I get a strange sense of pride seeing this happen, especially knowing that the hours spent prepping and stirring will provide culinary joy for loved ones and friends. My family knows if they are out of jam to grab some out of the cabinet!

So far this year I've made strawberry, apricot, apricot-pineapple and boysenberry jams. Coming soon will be fig, peach, peach-raspberry, and pear vanilla jam.  Later this fall I will make batches of apple butter and the canning year will conclude with over 70 jars of pomegranate jelly. In between, I often make some pickles or preserve some peaches.

My 6-year old granddaughter helped me make jam last Saturday.  While we were working she asked me how I knew how to make jam.  I explained how my Grandma taught me. Doing so brought back memories of her canning shelves. Perhaps, years from now, my granddaughter will recall her Nana's jam shelves while she's making jam for her family!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Strawberry Cornmeal Cake with Buttermilk Glaze

A mutant cold/flu bug attacked my household recently, knocking both my husband and I out.  I missed a week of work and, 2 weeks later, am still congested and coughing, not 100%.  I finally am feeling good enough to get back in the kitchen and have been making jam, pies and other goodies. I missed being in my happy place!

While passing my time in the sick bed I perused a blog a friend recently told me about, Half Baked Harvest.  Goodness, is there a lot of inspiration to be found there!  This cake caught my eye so I made this for a quick dessert.  The leftovers were good for breakfast the next morning.

Strawberry Cornmeal Cake with Buttermilk Glaze

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cornmeal         
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups fresh strawberries, halved

Buttermilk Glaze

1/2 cup powdered sugar
2-4 tablespoons buttermilk          
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease one 10-12 inch cast iron skillet or cake pan. 
In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, brown sugar, honey, buttermilk, lemon zest and vanilla until combined, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at time, beating after each until incorporated. Add the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt and beat until combined. Fold in the strawberries. 
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Be careful not to over bake.
To make the glaze, whisk the powdered sugar and buttermilk together until combined. 
Drizzle the glaze over the cake. Slice and serve slightly warm.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Boysenberry Pie

In early summer, the boysenberries ripen in central California.  There aren't too many berry patches around here as they are a labor-intensive crop and not as lucrative as almonds and peaches. My favorite fruit stand has a few rows of them.  Each year I eagerly await their Facebook posting that they are now picking and taking orders. This year I bought 2 flats, most of which are in the freezer waiting to be made into jam or baked goods.  Some didn't make it past the ride home from the fruit stand, they were so sweet, I couldn't just eat one!  Some made it into an old-fashioned boysenberry pie.  This is a pie like Grandma would make; fresh berries, sugar, some thickener, in between two layers of crust. Nothing fancy but it's oh, so good! 

This recipe is easily adaptable to any kind of berry.  If you like a touch of spice, you can add 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and/or 1 tablespoon lemon juice.  If you want more sugar, brush the top crust of the pie with milk or cream and sprinkle on 1 teaspoon of sugar before baking.

Boysenberry Pie

Pastry dough for 2-crust pie
4 cups ripe berries, washed, stems and hulls removed
1 1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine sugar and flour.  Add the berries and toss gently to mix.  Pour mixture into a pastry-lined 9" pie pan.  Dot with 2 tablespoons butter.  Top with top layer of pie dough, seal and flute edges, and cut vents (or other decorative openings).

Bake until crust is golden and filling is bubbly, 45-55 minutes.  If crust edges are browning too quickly, cover with aluminum foil.

Serve faintly warm, preferably with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

2-crust pies can often be plain looking, they don't have to be!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Raspberry Rhubarb Crostata

I'm always amazed at how many people have never eaten rhubarb.  My family had rhubarb desserts and sauces quite frequently. I look forward to the red stalks appearing at my local fruit stand each spring.  I keep saying I'm going to attempt to grow a rhubarb plant! As I was walking through the produce section of the grocery store I spied rhubarb on sale and bought a few stalks.  My initial intention was to make a crisp.  At the same time I bought raspberries as I was going to make my Hubbers raspberry popovers for breakfast.  Well, lo and behold, he had plans I didn't know about so I was faced with the dilemma of what to do with a basket of raspberries! I started searching recipes and found this crostata recipe from my favorite cookbook author, Ina Garten.  Problem solved as it uses both rhubarb and raspberries!

A crostata is basically a rustic pie baked on a sheet pan rather than in a pie pan. They are so easy to make, just roll out the dough, top it with filling, and fold the edges to form a border over the filling.  This pastry recipe makes enough for two crostatas.  Wrap the extra disc well and freeze for another time.

I will make this crostata again.  We had it for dessert one night (and I shared with my next-door neighbors) and breakfast the next (not any more calories than toast with jam is my excuse!)  Rhubarb can be a little tart but the sweet raspberries softens the tartness.  It's a delightful little dessert, especially with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

Raspberry Rhubarb Crostata

For the Pastry (makes 2):

2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ pound (2 sticks) very cold unsalted butter, ½-inch-diced
¼ cup ice water

For the Filling (makes 1):
¼ cup cornstarch
4 cups (½-inch-thick) sliced fresh rhubarb (1¼ pounds)
6 ounces fresh raspberries
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 extra-large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
Turbinado or demerara sugar, such as Sugar in the Raw
For the pastry, place the flour, granulated sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and toss carefully with your fingers to coat each cube of butter with the flour. Pulse 12 to 15 times, or until the butter is the size of peas. With the motor running, add the ice water all at once through the feed tube. Keep hitting the pulse button just until the dough comes together. Turn onto a well-floured board, cut in half, and form into two disks. Wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour. (If the dough is refrigerated for more than an hour, let it rest at room temperature for 15 minutes before rolling it out).

For the filling, place 3 tablespoons of water in small bowl, whisk in the cornstarch, and set aside. In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the rhubarb, raspberries, granulated sugar, orange zest, and orange juice. Cook over medium heat for 5 to 6 minutes, until some of the juices are released. Stir in the cornstarch, bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 2 minutes. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, until cool.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Roll the pastry into an 11- to 12-inch circle on a lightly floured surface and transfer to the prepared pan. Pile the raspberry rhubarb mixture onto the pastry, leaving a 1½-inch border all around. Fold the border up over the filling, pleating if necessary and pressing lightly. Brush the pastry with egg wash, sprinkle just the pastry with turbinado sugar, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the pastry is browned and the filling is thickened. Cool for 30 minutes and serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Sweet Cherry and Cornmeal Upside-Down Cake

I love when cherries are ripe but the season is so short! One week they are at the farm stands, the next week they are gone!  I try to cram as many cherry desserts in as possible before the juicy sweet fruit is gone for another year. I also happen to love upside-down cakes.  They are easy to make, impressive to present to guests, and adaptable to most any fruit. This recipe is a little different from most as the batter contains cornmeal.  It's not so much that it seems like you're eating a sweet cornbread but it definitely adds a little texture to the cake. The batter would work well with other stone fruits ripening later this summer, such as peaches, nectarines and plums.

A springform pan (also known as cheesecake pan) is used to make this cake.  This pan made it so easy to release the cake and invert onto a serving platter.  I had never thought to use a springform pan for an upside-down cake.  You learn something new every day!

I took this cake to my parents and it was devoured by all in attendance.  I served it with freshly whipped cream but a scoop of vanilla ice cream would be good, too!

Cherries, brown sugar, butter.  How can that not be good?

The cornmeal in the batter gives it a light yellow color and a soft crunchiness.

Sweet Cherry and Cornmeal Upside-Down Cake

1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, divided
3/4 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 1/4 pounds sweet cherries, pitted
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups cake flour
6 tablespoons cornmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup whole buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper, and butter pan and parchment.

In a medium saucepan, heat brown sugar, 3 tablespoons of the butter, and 1/8 teaspoon of the salt over medium heat.  Cook, whisking occasionally, until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved.  Pour mixture into prepared pan.  Arrange cherries in a single layer on top of butter mixture.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat granulated sugar, zest, and remaining 1/2 cup butter at medium speed until fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape sides of bowl.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt.  In a small bowl, stir together the buttermilk and vanilla.

Reduce mixer speed to low.  Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture alternately with buttermilk mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture, beating just until combined after each addition.  Spread batter onto cherries.  Firmly tap pan on counter to settle batter between cherries and release air bubbles.  Place pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Bake until golden, puffed, and a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes, rotating pan and covering with foil halfway through baking to prevent excess browning. Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes.  Carefully remove ring; invert cake onto a serving board or platter.  Carefully remove parchment.  Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.

Recipe source: Bake From Scratch May/June 2017

Monday, May 22, 2017

Cherry Clafoutis

A clafoutis (pronounced "kla-foo-tee") is a rustic dessert from the south of France.  It's basically cherries in a thick crepe batter.  It's very easy to make.  Traditionally, the cherries aren't pitted as the pit releases an almond-like flavor when baked. Mine are pitted and I added a little dash of almond extract to compensate. 

The cherry season comes and goes real quick in central California. This is an easy and delicious treat to make when the cherries are available, though frozen cherries can also be used. It is best served warm and is especially good with a scoop of ice cream.

Cherry Clafoutis

4 eggs, separated
2/3 cup sugar, divided
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 pounds fresh cherries, pitted
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter an 11-inch ovenproof fry pan or large baking dish.

In a bowl, stir together the cherries, 1/3 cup sugar and the lemon zest; set aside. 

In a large bowl, combine the egg yolks and the remaining 1/3 cup of the sugar. Using a handheld mixer, beat on medium-high speed until ribbons form, about 8 minutes (the mixture will turn to a cream color). Add the flour, vanilla and almond extracts, and cream.  Reduce the speed to low and beat until completely blended, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

In a small bowl, using a hand-held whisk, beat the egg whites and salt for about 30 seconds. Add the whites to the batter and beat with the mixer on low speed until incorporated, 1 to 2 minutes.

Preheat the prepared fry pan in the oven for 4 to 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven, pour in the cherries and top with the batter.  Bake until the clafoutis is set in the middle, 30 to 35 minutes.  Serve warm with ice cream, if desired.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Rainbow Sprinkle Bread with Birthday Cake Crumb Topping

Our 6-year old granddaughter spends almost every Friday night with us and has since she was born.  I do most of the work of taking care of her, playing with her, bathing her, etc. (with no complaints!) However, she and her Papa have a valued Friday night tradition, that of a scoop of ice cream after dinner, with caramel sauce and sprinkles, along with a few giggles.  For some reason, no one does this as good as Papa!  I'm tasked with making sure we always have the necessary supplies, especially the sprinkles.

The latest Bake From Scratch magazine has an article on baked goods with sprinkles. As I had all the ingredients (including the sprinkles!) I made this recipe one afternoon. It's very reminiscent of a pound cake, just not as heavy.  It's quite good! I think it would make an excellent cake for strawberry shortcake. My husband was gone for the weekend so I ate a slice then sent the rest of the cake home with my son and his family.  It's too tempting to have such a nice treat laying around my kitchen! I've added rainbow sprinkles to my grocery list as the recipe used almost an entire large jar.  I'll be in real trouble if there are no sprinkles for Friday night!

Rainbow Sprinkle Bread with Birthday Cake Crumb Topping

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon clear vanilla extract ***
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup rainbow sprinkles
Birthday Cake Crumb Topping (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray a 9x5-inch loaf pan with baking spray with flour; line with parchment paper, letting excess extend over sides of pan.  Spray pan again.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar at medium speed until fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, stopping to scrape sides of bowl. Add eggs and egg yolk, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in vanilla.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and salt.  Reduce mixer speed to low, and gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture, beating just until combined. Stir in sprinkles. Pour batter into prepared pan.  Sprinkle with Birthday Cake Crumb Topping.

Bake until golden brown and a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, about 1 hour and 10 minutes.  Let cool in pan for 10 minutes. Using excess parchment as handles, remove cake from pan, and let cool completely on a wire rack.

*** Clear vanilla extract makes a difference in the color of the bread.  I used my homemade extract and the bread was still a nice white color.

Birthday Cake Crumb Topping

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed
1/3 cup rainbow sprinkles
1/2 teaspoon clear vanilla extract

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt.  Using your fingers, work in cold butter until mixture has a sandy texture. Add sprinkles and vanilla, and mix with your fingers until small pebble-size crumbs remain. Refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Pane Bianco

I love sun-dried tomatoes and use them a lot in recipes.  This bread recipe is filled with sun-dried tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic and shredded cheese.  It is a very flavorful addition to an Italian-style meal.  I especially enjoyed it the next day, toasted, for my BLT sandwich. Don't let the shaping instructions intimidate you, the dough is very easy to work with and, when done, you have a uniquely-shaped loaf of bread. For full disclosure, I did cut the dough wrong, I cut the loaf crosswise instead of lengthwise.  It still made for a nice presentation. 

Pane Bianco

3 cups bread flour
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup lukewarm milk
1/3 cup lukewarm water
3 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup shredded Italian-blend cheese or the cheese of your choice
1/2 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
3 to 6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil

Combine the flour, yeast, salt, egg, milk, water, and olive oil in a large bowl (or in the bucket of your bread machine), and mix and knead, either by hand, using a mixer, or in your bread machine set on the dough cycle, to make a smooth, very soft dough.  The dough should stick a bit to the bottom of your bowl if you're using a stand mixer. (I mixed mine in my bread machine).

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let it rise until it's doubled in size, about 45 to 60 minutes.

Meanwhile, thoroughly drain the tomatoes, patting them dry. Use kitchen shears to cut them into smaller bits.

Gently deflate the dough.  Flatten and pat it into a 22 x 8 1/2-inch rectangle.  Evenly spread the cheese, tomatoes, garlic, and basil over the dough.

Starting with one long edge, roll the dough into a log the long way. Pinch the edges to seal.

Place the log seam-side down on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet.

Using kitchen shears, start 1/2 inch from one end and cut the log lengthwise down the center about 1-inch deep, to within 1/2 inch of the other end.

Keeping the cut side up, form an "S" shape. Tuck both ends under the center of the "S" to form a "figure 8", pinch the ends together to seal.

Cover and let rise in a warm place until double, 45 to 60 minutes.

While the loaf is rising, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Uncover the bread and bake it for 35 to 40 minutes, tenting it with foil after 20 to 25 minutes to prevent overbrowning.

Remove the bread from the oven, and transfer it to a rack to cool.  Enjoy warm or at room temperature. Store, well-wrapped, at room temperature for a couple of days.

Recipe source:  Red Star Yeast

Perhaps I should hone my reading comprehension skills.  The recipe clearly says to make a lengthwise cut, I cut crosswise! Oh, well, it still tasted great!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Tissue Paper Hydrangea

Many parts of my life I keep very simple.  One of those areas is gift wrapping.  I don't like storing a bunch of different paper and bags or running to the store at the last minute when I have a gift to wrap and nothing to wrap it with. Consequently, I have developed a system that works for me.  I stock up on brown kraft bags of various sizes and brown kraft wrapping paper.  With the exception of Christmas (where I use the same paper throughout the season), virtually all of my gifts are wrapped in craft paper. It is so versatile and can be used for any occasion, especially when embellished with a little ribbon and decorated. That's the fun part for me, decorating the package. (I know, you're thinking that her gift wrap system is simple but she complicates it with decorating!)

While browsing Pinterest (gosh, I love that site!) I found a tutorial to make hydrangea flowers from tissue paper. As I have a wedding to attend and it's spring, I thought this would make an ideal decoration for the wedding gift. It was so easy to make, very reminiscent of making tissue paper pom poms. I'm quite happy with the results! Sometimes a girl just has to create and these flowers were quick and easy to do!

There are many tutorials for making these tissue flowers.  This is the one I used.

Monday, May 8, 2017

No-Knead Crusty Bread

A few years back a cookbook came out called Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. I bought it and tried the bread, with great results.  It involved making a quick yeast dough by stirring the ingredients together, leaving it out on the counter for a few days, then refrigerating.  Whenever you wanted to make a loaf of bread, rolls, or pizza, you cut off a chunk of dough and baked (usually on a hot pizza stone). There was no kneading involved. It was great bread.  However, it made a lot of dough, and took up a lot of room in the fridge. If I was super busy and didn't make bread on a frequent basis, it would spoil.

As the bread was very good, I was intrigued when I saw recipes to make one loaf at a time in a Dutch Oven. This past weekend I decided to try it.  We were in our RV at the racetrack so I made sure to pack a 3.5 qt. Dutch Oven. I mixed the dough on Friday night, Saturday night I shaped it into a ball and baked it. It was one of the best breads I've ever eaten! It has a crusty and chewy texture to it, very similar to a loaf of sourdough bread. We devoured half the loaf with our tri tip dinner then I sliced the rest for toast in the morning.  It could not have been easier to make. I will make this bread again and again.

No-Knead Crusty Bread

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups water, room temperature

In a big bowl, mix the flour, salt and yeast together. Pour the water into the bowl and, using a spatula or wooden spoon, mix it until well incorporated.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit on your counter for 12 to 18 hours.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Add your Dutch Oven pot to the oven as it's heating and heat it as well until it's at 450 degrees.

Remove the pot from the oven and remove the lid from it. If you want to make sure your bread doesn't stick to the pot you can sprinkle some flour or cornmeal on the bottom of the pot.

Flour your hands really well and also sprinkle a bit of flour over the dough. With your floured hands gently remove the dough from the bowl and roughly shape it into a ball.  Take the ball of dough and drop it into the pot.  Cover the pot with the lid and place it back in the oven.

Bake for 30 minutes with the lid on, after which remove the lid and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown.

Remove the bread from the pot, it should fall out easily.  Let cool before slicing it.


A small (3.5 qt.) Dutch Oven is better so that the bread rises upwards.  Larger Dutch Ovens will cause the bread to spread out over the surface of the pot.

If the dough mixture is too dry, add a bit more water.  The dough should be sticky.

To add other ingredients to the bread such as dried fruit, seeds, herbs or cheeses, add them when mixing in all the ingredients.
After sitting for 12 to 18 hours, the dough is very spongy and sticky, very similar to a sourdough starter.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Creamy Lemon Risotto with Asparagus

This recipe comes from the Williams Sonoma Taste Blog.  My Hubbers loves risotto, we both love asparagus and lemon, so it quickly went to the top of the "things I want to make" list.

It's a great risotto, one I will make again. I'm hoping the next time I make it things will go smoother.  If it could go wrong, making this dish, it did! We are leaving for the race track in the morning.  Our motorhome and my race car are parked in front of our house. I am taking items from home and transferring them to the RV, in our above-normal 90-plus degree weather! I had to pick my granddaughter up from school, feed her a snack, and take her to gymnastics. In the meantime, a floor installer stopped by to measure the RV as we are going to replace some of the carpet with laminate wood flooring. This was probably not the night to try a new recipe!  I didn't have shallots, though I could swear I bought some (did they stay in the grocery cart?)  I ended up adding a little garlic and onion salt to compensate. When it came time to put the wine in, I accidentally put the lemon juice in instead, even though I hadn't gotten the seeds out of the juice yet. So, the wine got added in later! I didn't have as much cream as the recipe called for. You would think I was a beginner in the kitchen!  But, it's obviously a very forgiving recipe; it has a nice lemon flavor and the cream gives the risotto an extra creaminess. It's a light and fresh-tasting spring risotto.

Creamy Lemon Risotto with Asparagus

1 lb. asparagus, ends trimmed
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
3 fresh thyme sprigs
2 cups Arborio rice
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine
6 cups chicken broth, heated to a simmer
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

In a microwave-safe bowl, combine the asparagus and 2 tablespoons water. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and microwave on high until the spears are crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Alternatively, place the asparagus in a steamer basket and set over a saucepan of simmering water. Cover and steam until the spears are tender-crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. Cut into 1-inch pieces and set aside.

In a large, heavy saute´pan over medium heat, melt the butter with the olive oil. When the butter has melted, add the shallot and cook, stirring often, until starting to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the thyme sprigs and cook until the shallot is softened and translucent, about 3 minutes longer.

Add the rice and 1 teaspoon salt to the pan, stirring to coat the grains of rice with the butter and oil.  Raise the heat to medium-high, pour in the wine and stir until absorbed. Reduce the heat to medium and add a ladleful of hot broth.  Cook, stirring often, until the broth is absorbed. Reduce the heat to medium-low if necessary to maintain a gentle simmer. Continue to cook the risotto, adding the broth a ladleful at a time and stirring until it is absorbed, until the rice is tender but still pleasantly chewy, about 20 minutes.

Stir in the reserved asparagus, lemon zest, cream, and cheese. Then stir in the lemon juice and a final ladleful of broth to achieve a creamy texture. The risotto should not be too stiff or too runny; it should mound softly on a spoon.  Sprinkle with the parsley, season with pepper and serve immediately.

Making risotto isn't difficult but it does require some patience as you continually add broth, stir until it's absorbed, and add some more until you get a creamy mixture.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Embroidered Lavender Napkins

Whenever I see plain white napkins on sale I usually buy a few.  They make a great medium for an upgraded linen.  A little ric rac, lace, buttons, or embroidery and you have a beautiful, and inexpensive, table linen. They make great hostess, wedding shower, or wedding gifts. I think cloth napkins add so much to a table setting, it makes the dinner feel a little more special. I've been gathering items to do a lavender table setting (still looking for the perfect plates!) so wanted to do some embroidered napkins.  I found a picture I liked, copied it and traced on the napkin.  I started embroidering them on Super Bowl Sunday.  Tax season got in the way and they sat in my craft room for a few months.  Now that tax season is over, I whipped six of them out in a matter of hours! Super easy and very pretty!

I have an Amazon credit card and use it for everything; groceries, clothing, travel, etc. I log online every few weeks and pay the charges so I don't incur interest (heaven forbid an accountant pay finance charges!)  The bonus for doing this is the Amazon points I accumulate.  I use these points to buy items that I wouldn't ordinarily spend money on, they are kind of my "splurge" points. With some of my points I bought this light box.  The rendering you want to trace is placed on the box, the light backlights it making it easy to trace the design onto fabric or paper.  It made tracing my design on these napkins so easy!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Black & White Angel Food Cake

I grew up with a frugal family, both money-wise and food-wise.  The apple doesn't fall too far from the tree, so the saying goes, and it seems I've inherited many of those same traits.  My Grandma used to always caution me about not wasting food.  When she was teaching me to can fruit, she was always instructing me on how to peel the fruit so that only the peel was removed, not any of the valuable fruit.  If she had too-ripe fruit she would find a use for them, they wouldn't get thrown away.

Over the years I've developed my own set of food-saving habits, one of which is for egg whites.  Whenever I have a recipe where I need more egg yolks than whites, I don't throw the whites away.  They go into a container in my freezer.  Usually, they eventually go into angel food cakes.  The pink peppercorn ice cream I made recently calls for all egg yolks. This time the egg whites went into the fridge as I knew I would make an angel food cake in the next few days. I've been wanting to make this recipe, from Ina Garten, for a while now. It has shaved chocolate in the batter instead of the traditional plain batter. I had just the occasion for making the cake, our monthly book club meeting was coming up.  I contacted our hostess and asked if I could bring dessert.  This group has become my culinary "guinea pigs" and they are fun to experiment on.

We all enjoyed the cake.  Kim, our hostess, sliced some strawberries to serve alongside the cake.  Angel food cake, strawberries, chocolate ganache frosting...yum, yum! I never got a picture of the cake after cutting, but it's flecked with small bits of chocolate.

This angel food cake wasn't difficult but it does involve a lot of mixing bowls.  I love to bake and would probably bake more, if I had help with the clean-up!

Black & White Angel Food Cake

2 cups sifted superfine sugar **
1 1/3 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/2 cups egg whites at room temperature (10 to 12 eggs)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup coarsely grated semisweet chocolate (2 ounces)

For the glaze:
1/2 pound semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine 1/2 cup of the sugar with the flour and sift them together 4 times. Set aside.

Place the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and beat on high speed until the eggs form medium-firm peaks, about 1 minute. With the mixer on medium speed, add the remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar by sprinkling it over the beaten egg whites.  Beat on high speed for a few minutes, until thick and shiny. Add the vanilla and continue to whisk until very thick, about 1 more minute.  Scrape the beaten egg whites into a large bowl.  Sift one-fourth of the flour mixture over the egg whites and fold it very carefully into the batter with a rubber spatula. Continue adding the flour by fourths, sifting and folding until it's all incorporated. Fold in the grated chocolate.

Pour the batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan, smooth the top, and bake it for 35 to 45 minutes, until it springs back to the touch. Remove the cake from the oven and invert the pan on a cooling rack (or invert onto a bottle). When cool, run a thin, flexible knife around the cake to remove it from the pan.

For the chocolate glaze, place the chocolate chips and the heavy cream in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water and stir until the chocolate melts. Pour the chocolate over the top of the cooled cake to cover the top completely and allow it to drizzle down the sides.  If you have chocolate glaze left over, you can serve it on the side with the cake.

** If you can't find superfine sugar, put granulated sugar into the food processor fitted with a steel blade and process it for 30 seconds.

The flour/sugar mixture has to be sifted four times.  I just went from bowl to bowl!

If your angel food cake pan doesn't have legs on it, just invert it onto a glass bottle.  It's important that the cake be inverted while cooling so it doesn't deflate.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Strawberry Pie with Pink Peppercorn Ice Cream

When my neighborhood strawberry patch opens up for the season I know that spring has officially arrived. It is literally a 5-minute drive to get fresh-from-the-field, just-picked strawberries. Oh, how I love them!  I made strawberry shortcake for Easter dinner. This past weekend I made 3 batches of strawberry jam and had enough berries leftover to make a pie. I've never made a baked strawberry pie, I've always made some form of refrigerated pie. I wanted to try something new so got out the pastry supplies and baked a pie! After dealing with numbers and clients for 3 1/2 months it felt so good to get back in the kitchen! I was so happy not to be at my desk and computer that I may have gotten a little carried away with decorating the pie; making a braided edge and flower cut-outs.

A few years back my husband and I enjoyed a strawberry-rhubarb crisp at a restaurant somewhere (I don't remember where!)  It was served with a pink peppercorn ice cream. I had never heard of such an ice cream, much less tasted anything like it.  The combination of a little spice with the sweetness of the fruit was a great combination. I remember coming home and replicating it a few nights later. I thought this ice cream would be great with the strawberry pie, in lieu of traditional vanilla ice cream.  Fruit pies can be very sweet, the slight hotness of the pepper tones that down some.

Strawberry Pie

Pastry for 2-crust pie (either homemade or store bought)
6 cups hulled and halved strawberries
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar, depending on the sweetness of the berries
3 tablespoons flour

Heat oven to 375 degrees.  On a lightly floured surface, roll one round of dough to fit inside a 9-inch pie dish.

Combine strawberries, sugar and flour in a large bowl.  Pour in pastry-lined pie dish.

Roll out second round of dough and slice into 10 strips.  Create a lattice pattern on top of pie.  Crimp edges.  If desired, brush top and edges with a beaten egg and then sprinkle with about 1 tablespoon sugar.

Bake for 60 minutes, until filling is bubbly.  If crust is browning too quickly, cover with aluminum foil.

Though the pink peppercorns resemble a peppercorn both in looks and taste, they are actually the dried berry of a flowering bush. This ice cream isn't something that you would eat a bowl of after dinner but its spiciness and slight floral flavor adds a lot as a side to a sweet treat. In addition to being good with fruit pies and crisps, it's also good with a warm brownie and hot fudge sauce or molten chocolate dish. I usually add a little food coloring to the custard, if not the ice cream is more beige than pink!

Pink Peppercorn Ice Cream

2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup pink peppercorns, crushed
7 large egg yolks

Bring milk, cream, sugar, and peppercorns to boil in a heavy large saucepan, stirring until the sugar dissolves.  Remove from heat; let stand at room temperature 1 hour for flavors to blend.

Bring milk mixture to a simmer. Whisk egg yolks in a large bowl to blend. Gradually whisk hot milk mixture into yolks.  Return mixture to pan and stir over medium heat until finger leaves a path on back of spoon when drawn across, about 3 minutes (do not boil). Strain custard into large bowl; cover. Refrigerate until cold, about 4 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated.)

Process custard in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.  Transfer to container; cover and freeze.  

Recipe source:  Bon Appetit September 2004