Sunday, May 8, 2016

Just Because...

There are days when you want to bake a cake.  Not because there's a birthday to celebrate, a dinner party to bring dessert to, a cocktail party that needs a sweet ending...but just because.  Just because you feel like cake, but not a fussy cake.  No buttercream, 7-minute, or Swiss meringue frosting needed.  No need to use any appliance more modern than a wooden spoon to mix the batter.  The kind of cake that is perfectly acceptable as breakfast, is close to perfect with a cup of tea in the afternoon, satifies that craving for something sweet before bed.

Also...apologies for the radio silence.  I'm looking to get back to regular postings even though I have taken it upon myself to foster more kittens this Spring.  My hands overfloweth with little balls of adorable fur.

In the meantime, make this cake.  Please.


Raspberry Yogurt Cake
Adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe
Makes one 8-inch round cake

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup raspberry preserves or jam
1/2 cup plain yogurt (I used low-fat)
1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
10x sugar for dusting
Butter and flour for greasing cake pan

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour an 8-inch cake pan (I also like to line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper), and in a small bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  In a large bowl, mix the wet ingredients well with a whisk.  Gradually add the flour mixture until combined, but don't over-mix.  Electric/stand mixer not necessary, a wooden spoon will work just fine.

Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake until a toothpick or cake tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes.  Let cool for a few minutes in the cake pan before turning out onto a cooling rack.  Dust with confectioner's sugar before serving.




Saturday, February 13, 2016

Fancy Dunkaroos

What happens when you hand your friend a jar of Meyer lemon curd and a bag of candied orange biscotti?  You're asked if you've just given her fancy Dunkaroos.  Admittedly, Wikipedia educated me on what Dunkaroos are.  I don't remember the cookies you dip in a little tub of icing, but if you want to dunk biscotti into lemon curd and call them Dunkaroos, who am I to stop you?

First, treat yourself to candied orange slices.  Super easy to make and a sweet treat for your Valentine's Day love (hint hint).  You could make them this afternoon and they'll be ready for gift-giving tomorrow.  You could even go all out and dip them halfway in melted chocolate.

I don't know how many posts I've written on biscotti, but in my eyes, biscotti never gets old.  How could I refrain from mixing the two together?  Know what else you can dunk your biscotti in?  Ice cream.  I wouldn't stop you.

Candied Orange Slices
Makes about 12

2 oranges or tangerines (sliced a thin as you can)
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
Caster/superfine sugar for dusting

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, add the water and sugar, stirring until the sugar melts.  When sugar has melted, lower heat and add 3 or 4 slices of orange to the syrup.  Let slices simmer for 2-3 minutes then flip and do the same for the other side.  

Remove from syrup and lay on parchment lined cookie sheet to cool and dry.  Let dry for about 6-8 hours and dip in caster sugar.  

[Don't forget to save the syrup.  It will come in handy for cocktails.]


Candied Orange Biscotti
Makes about 30 cookies

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon bergamot extract
3 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup candied orange slices, chopped small
1 tbsp cornstarch

Pre-heat oven to 350° and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.  In a small bowl, mix the candied orange with the cornstarch to coat.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, add the eggs and sugar and beat for about 3 minutes.  Add extract and mix well.  Gradually add flour and baking powder incorporating wet and dry ingredients.  Mix in candied orange.

This is a soft, sticky dough, and I highly suggest wetting your hands before handling the dough to prevent sticking.  Form dough into two logs on baking sheet, at least 2-3 inches apart.  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until bottoms turn golden.  Remove from oven and allow to cool for 15-20 minutes.  Lower heat to 325°, slice logs into 1/2 inch cookies, laying cookies back on cookie sheet and bake for 12 minutes.  Turn cookies over and bake for an additional 12 minutes.  

Remove and let cool.  

[You can easily swap out orange or vanilla extract for the bergamot.]









Thursday, December 24, 2015

Vintage Holidays

I decided that since I have four kittens in the house this year that I would be crazy to put a Christmas tree up.  Even if it is an artifical tree, I wasn't sure I wanted to wake up every morning/come home from work every evening/run a few errands and come home to 1) ornaments rolling across the floor; 2) kittens balanced on branches; 3) the tree laying on its side, a few times over the season or every day.

What I did do was stop at Lowe's one Saturday morning and ask the fellows trimming trees if I could raid their cut branches bin and take an armful.  I made a swag for the front door and dug out a vintage Mason jar where I have half a dozen or so boughs draped in vintage red velvet ribbon and a handful of ornaments.  All out of kitten range, of course, on top of a small bookcase.

The 'no Christmas tree' was a wise decision as I discovered that within seconds of taking the photo below, I heard the first ornamnent hit the floor and a walnut go 'swoosh' out of the bowl and onto the tile.  Kitten paws have impressive batting power.  The attention a makeshift tree garners from out of kitten sight to within kitten range is huge.

There was not a huge amount of baking done this year.  Enough to get treats out to family and friends and a very small handful left for myself, though I'm thinking a half recipe of bourbon balls might be coming to fruition in the next few hours.  Every year, I try to make something new, something different among the many batches of biscotti and other sweets made.  I picked up a slim cookbook a couple of months ago, 'Treasured Honey Recipes' from the California Honey Advisory Board. The Honey Walnut Date Bars was this year's new recipe.  I've made them four times this month.  And each time they've been devoured.  I'm always so happy when a vintage recipe still works after 40+ years.

Merry Christmas!







Sunday, October 18, 2015

Did You Feel It?

There was a shift in the seasons recently.  That time of year when all things Summer--beach days, shorts, and backyard barbecues--is quietly packed up and set aside for the next 365 days.  You may have spied it in store aisles--heralded by the dominant color scheme of oranges, yellows, and deep umbers.  Yes...you know what I'm talking about...Pumpkin Spice Season.

Oh...you thought I was going to talk about Autumn?  Or even Back to School?  Nah...they seem to have fallen to the wayside over the past couple of years.  The shift of seasons is measured by the launch of the Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks.  And much like the push for Christmas seems to be earlier every year, Pumpkin Spice season seemed to arrive earlier too.  Didn't it happen before Labor Day?  In the still sweltering days of August?

Pumpkin Spice lattes, pumpkin spice cream oreos, pumpkin spice flavored coffee, pumpkin spice cream filled Twinkies, even pumpkin spice sparkling juice.  If you have a Trader Joe's in the neighborhood and receive their Fearless Flyer ad, you may have noticed in the latest edition that the first page featured pumpkin tortilla chips, and deeper within the issue there were SIX additional pages of pumpkin-this or pumpkin spice-that flavored foods.

It's pumpkin overload.  Now...don't get me wrong.  I'm not anti-pumpkin.  I will occasionally enjoy a slice of pumpkin pie.  I think pumpkin biscotti are pretty darn fabulous, and pumpkin gnocchi with butter and sage has a place in my recipe collection.  But the pumpkin spice everything--when is too much, too much?

Before we attempt to answer that question, let me sneak in a recipe for pumpkin scones.  Yes, there is spice in it.  To take it up another notch...there's even chocolate.  Enjoy the pumpkin for a few more weeks, because before you know it, Gingerbread and Peppermint seasons will soon be here.


Dark Chocolate Chunk Pumpkin Scones
Makes 14-16 3 inch scones

2 1/2 cups flour
3 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
6 tbsp butter, chilled, in small cubes
1/3 cup milk or cream
2 eggs
1/2 cup 100% pure pumpkin
1/3 cup chopped dark chocolate, preferably 64% cocoa

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.  In a large bowl, whisk all dry ingredients together and set aside.  In a small bowl, beat the milk and eggs.  Add the cubed butter to the dry ingredients, mix in with either two forks or a pastry cutter until you have a pebbly texture.  Mix in the eggs and milk.   Add pumpkin and chocolate pieces, mixing until well combined.  Scoop heaping teaspoons full onto cookie sheet, spacing about 2 inches apart.  Bake for 14-16 minutes, or until bottoms are golden.  Transfer to a cooling rack.  

The glaze on the scones below is a quick melt of roughly a tablespoon of butter and 4-6 small squares of chocolate (an inch by half inch or so).  Melt butter over low heat, add chocolate, turn off heat, and stir until chocolate pieces melt.  Drizzle over scones.  The chocolate glaze will harden slightly.  These are also pretty awesome without the glaze.



Saturday, July 4, 2015

Lemons, Berries, and Summer Sun

Hey there!  It's been awhile.  A couple of months awhile.  As it usually goes, the time away wasn't planned or intentional.  But it happened, and it does happen every once in a blue moon.  Let me show you why I took a break and found my hands full.


Yep...I became a kitten mamma.  I brought in two feral litters that were born around the building I live in.  Originally, there were seven.  Unfortunately, I lost two...so I still have five kittens who are growing, eating huge amounts of food, and learning how to get into everything (and driving the older cats crazy!).  It's been a learning experience for sure and as soon as they are up to date on vaccinations, and have been spayed/neutered, four of them will be finding new homes.  Yes, I have a favourite who is staying with me.  He's a scrappy little piece of fluff who I always found curled up by my neck every morning the first couple of weeks I had them inside.  Meet Sonic.  (As in the Hedgehog)


Since I managed to skip most of Spring on here...let's jump right into Summer, shall we?  Being Independence Day, it's the perfect excuse (not like I need one) to bring out the lemonade.  From my last produce co-op exchange, I brought home a huge amount of lemons since it seemed that everyone with trees had a bounty to cull from.  And what's better to make from lemons than lemonade, except maybe lemon curd?  An even nicer touch to lemonade is how it can easily go from a refreshing Summer drink to adult beverage with a little alcohol.

I took it a step further by adding blueberries, because I am a sucker for any lemonade with berries added.  So when life hands you lemons and blueberries...make lemonade.

Have a happy and safe Independence Day!  And keep your pets safe when the fireworks go off tonight!

Blueberry Lemonade
Adapted from a recipe on Allrecipes.com
Makes about half a gallon

1 1/2 cups sugar
8 cups water
1 1/2 cups lemon juice
1 5 oz clamshell blueberries

In a medium saucepan, add one cup water with the sugar.  Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.  In a small saucepan, add the washed blueberries and a scant 1/4 cup water.  Bring to a low boil, breaking berries with the back of a spoon until you have a thick fruit syrup.  

In a container large enough, add the blueberry syrup, lemon juice, simple syrup, and the remaining water.  Chill and serve over ice.  

To make an adult beverage--add a shot of vodka to a 12 oz glass of lemonade.  And maybe a spritz of tonic or club soda.  

Cheers!





Thursday, April 23, 2015

It's in the Stars

Do you fancy chilies, ginger, horseradish, or mustard?  Or maybe you have a fondness for lavender, aniseed, or caraway?  So...what's your sign?  I'm not trying to pick you up with a cheesy line, but I might guess that if you love spicy foods you could be an Aries; and if you sometimes start your mornings with a taste of anise in your espresso, you might be a Virgo (and also Italian!). 

I'm kind of a sucker for astrology.  Every morning I read my horoscope.  The cookbook, A Taste of Astrology, by Lucy Ash is my pick for #tbt.  From 1988, this book breaks down each astrological sign in typical ways (ruling planet, elements, characteristics, et al), but also includes the flora, herbs, spices, and cell salts for each sign.  Ash also writes about the sign from the perspective of the kind of cook and the kind of dinner guest you could be.  Of course, it wouldn't be a cookbook without recipes, so you'll find recipes for sides, appetizers, main courses, and desserts.  

With the upcoming birthday weighing on my thoughts, I dug right into the Taurus chapter looking for something to try.  I wasn't feeling the urge to do anything complicated or time consuming, so I decided to try the Baked Spinach Creams.  I even made it twice, since I wasn't entirely pleased with the first try and figured I shouldn't cut too many corners and stick more to the original.  

Not that the first attempt was bad, because it wasn't, but I thought it could be a great little dish if I didn't tweak too much.  What I learned from the first dish to the second--the right amount of cream is really, really important--and don't skip the pureeing part.  You can skip the croutons if you decide that garlic toasted sourdough rounds spread with nduja before being topped with baked spinach cream makes half of an awesome dinner, though.    

Baked Spinach Creams
Adapted from 'A Taste of Astrology: The Cookbook'
Serves 2

6 oz frozen chopped spinach
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, one minced, one peeled and whole
5 fl oz heavy cream
2 tbsp Parmesan, grated
6-8 rounds of sourdough from a batard, thinly sliced
salt
cayenne 

Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees,  In a medium saucepan, add frozen spinach and a pinch of salt, with enough water to cook spinach through, about 5-7 minutes.  Drain water from spinach and saute with a tablespoon of the butter and the minced garlic.  In a small skillet or frying pan, heat the olive oil and rub each side of the bread with the whole garlic clove.  Toast both sides of each slice to preference and set aside.

Add heavy cream to sauteed spinach and mix well.  Puree in a food processor until spinach breaks down.  In a small baking dish, or two ramekins, pour spinach puree into dish, topping with grated Parmesan, the remaining butter, and a healthy pinch of cayenne.  Bake for 10-15 minutes, until cheese melts slightly and spinach bubbles.

Spread on rounds and serve hot.  

Note:  If you don't want to serve it on toasted bread rounds, you can make croutons with the bread of your choice, about 1/3 cup worth, add them to the pureed spinach and bake it all together.  





Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Good, the Bad, and Sometimes, the Ugly

I don't know what went screwy with cooking in the 60's and 70's.  I almost came to you empty-handed this week, admitting failure to find a recipe from the 70's.  I spent the past few days going through not one or two, but five cookbooks, looking for something.  It was not easy.  My friend in Ohio graciously put up with my texted photos of dishes from the 'Better Homes and Gardens Salad Book', where there's a chapter called, 'Salads from the Freezer.'  And despite her insistence that I make a frozen salad...I just couldn't.  I couldn't.  But...hey, it's not summer yet, I may be inclined give it a go in a month or two...we'll see.

The decade strikes me as a time of brown food.  I know I've mentioned it before.  Look through any illustrated cookbook from then and tell me if you don't agree.  Everything has a brown or overly warm tint.  A very unappetizing tint, like they were trying to coordinate with every kitchen done in paneling and full of appliances and kitchenware in avocado green, mustard, or chocolate brown.  

After trying to find a feasible recipe in book after book, I pulled the 'Tassajara Cooking' book down from the shelf.  It even has a brown cover!  Released by the Zen Center of San Franciso, it is a vegetarian cookbook that is more guide than traditional step by step recipes.  From the first page, the laid back attitude is in evidence:  'The way to be a cook is to cook.  The results don't have to be just right, measuring up to some imagined or ingrained taste...Just feed, satisfy, nourish.'

The recipe I chose is the Bulgur-Tahini Casserole.  (Casseroles are so 70's.)  As written, the ingredient list and directions barely make a full paragraph, with an additional two longer paragraphs of variations!   So I varied.  I substituted red winter wheat berries for the bulgur.  The dish is not an attractive one once ready.  It was very brown from the wheat berries.  I'm tempted to try again using rice or millet.  It's got a quiche-y kind of consistency from the eggs, but has a chewiness from the wheat berries.  The tahini is a winning ingredient, because sesame is one of my favorite flavors.   Serve with a salad and you're good to go.

If you decide to give this a try, I would LOVE to see photos or hear what you think of it.  

Wheat Berries-Tahini Casserole
Adapted from the Bulgur-Tahini Casserole recipe in the Tasajara Cooking book
Serves 4

1 cup wheat berries (dry)
3 cups water
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup tahini
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk


Bring water to a boil in saucepan, add wheat berries, and cook over a low simmer until done to chewiness.  Drain any remaining water.  Grease a casserole pan (I used an 8 inch round Pyrex baker), and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Saute onion and garlic in pan until translucent, remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.  In a medium bowl, crack eggs and beat lightly.  Add milk, tahini, and salt, whisking until relatively smooth.  Add onions and garlic, mixing well, then add wheat berries, stirring to thoroughly combine all ingredients.  

Pour mix into casserole and bake for 25-30 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cook for a few minutes before serving.