Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Busy Oven... it is...the first day back to work after vacation...though between you and me, I'd prefer to spend my time in the kitchen baking...but as it stands right now, that won't pay the rent and back to work I go.

I did a fair amount of baking, but it doesn't seem that way.  Maybe because it was spread out over the week, and it wasn't as much as I hoped.  You know the list you make in your head is always so much longer that what actually happens (in my case, at least!).

I tried my hand at oreos and was happy with the results for the most part.  I'm going to do a little tweaking with both the cookies and the filling.  Let me tell you how dangerous it is to have the recipe for oreo filling since I'm a Eat-The-Filling-Before-The-Cookie kind of girl.  I won't even admit to eating it by a spoonful or two before piping it onto the cookies.  I'm going to make them smaller on the next go-round, use clear vanilla extract (the Mexican vanilla extract tinted the filling a tiny bit), and drop the baking time down a minute or two to see if I can get a slightly softer cookie.  I used the recipe from Smitten Kitchen and think it's pretty darn fabulous.

Fall makes me crave Jewish Apple Cake and for the second year, I made one of the recipes mom gave me.  I even went and looked to find out why its called 'Jewish Apple Cake' and found a good explanation from Philadelphia's City Paper from a few years ago.  I'm happy I was able to share some of this cake with a couple of friends, otherwise I'd be in trouble.  I'm still in a bit of trouble as I have half a loaf left and this cake with coffee makes a morning for me.

While I was visiting my friend, Jill, this week and sharing Jewish Apple Cake, we talked about baking bread.  I made a comment about wanting to make soft pretzels and that put the idea back to the forefront of my brain.  I'm still a little intimidated when it comes to baking with yeast.  I need a lot of practice in this area and Jill let me borrow her copy of 'The Bread Bible' by Beth Hensperger.  The book doesn't have a pretzel recipe, but there are loads that I want to try.  Fingers crossed, I'll get better at this!  I found a great recipe for pretzel bites from The Curvy Carrot and will be using this all the time.  I love soft pretzels and how cool to not have to buy them anymore???  Seriously, when you pop one of these little guys into your mouth as they've just come out of the's heavenly.

Jewish Apple Cake
(Adapted from a recipe by Our Mother of Sorrows Ladies Guild in Bridgeport, PA via Mom)

Note:  This cake is supposed to be made in either a tube pan or a Bundt pan.  I have neither, so I make them into loaves.  This recipe will give you two.  I'll note what the original recipe calls for in parenthesis.

3-4 apples, peeled and cut into cubes [I used Jonagold and Granny Smith]
      (original recipe calls for 5-6 apples)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
5 tablespoons sugar
3 cups flour
1 cup sugar (original calls for 2 cups)

1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1/4 cup orange juice 
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon salt

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour cake pans.  In a separate bowl, mix the apples, cinnamon, and sugar.  Toss to coat and set aside.  Combine the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl and beat until batter is smooth.  Pour some of the batter into pans and spoon some of the apple mixture on top.  Pour remaining batter into pans and top with rest of the apple mixture.  

Bake for one hour or until golden brown.  (Original recipe says to bake for an hour and a half.  I began checking on the status of the cakes at the 50 minute mark and they were finished by the hour mark.  If you use loaf pans, they definitely won't need the full hour and a half baking time).  Once out of the oven, let cool in pans on rack for 10 minutes before removing from pans.  

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Me...Time Off...

...and a camera at the ready.  There's Jewish apple cake in the oven as I write...I went through my closet today and sorted a little more...and only purged a wee bit...I took a few photos today because it was overcast, rainy and grey and I loved the diluted light...I hung a new print in my kitchen that makes me smile every single time I look at it and reminds me of the kind of people I want to surround myself with...and for the first time in quite a while, I dug out my sketchbook and doodled...I don't draw all that well...but it worked for what I was doing...

It's Day 4 of the vacation...with 4 more left...I don't know what the next four days will hold (only what my to-do list says)...but it's full of possibilities and precious time.

Those amber eyes of Suki make her look like Demon Cat...and she's so not.

Love the mix of colours

The Smile Producer

Autumn Still Life

In context

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Fall With a Twist

You know it's Fall in Los Angeles when the temperature hits about...70...and stays there for a day or two until it leaps back up to the 90's (like today, almost 2 p.m. and 93 degrees).  I took advantage of the cooler weather the other day and made Asian pear sauce.  Like applesauce, but not.

I'm currently loving The Kitchn site and get regular email updates.  While reading my email the other morning, there was a  post about making applesauce.  I still hadn't had breakfast, couldn't put my finger on what I wanted to eat, but after reading the daily post, thought about the 2 close-to-overripe Asian pears in my fruit bowl.  Sure, I could make applesauce too since I bought a few at the market, but I have those earmarked for Jewish Apple Cake this weekend.

It really was quick to come together.  Warm, delicous, reeking of Autumn and a nip in the air...only with a twist of bright sunshine and palm trees outside the window.

Asian Pear Sauce
(Adapted from a recipe on The Kitchn)

Makes about 1/2 cup

2 medium-sized Asian pears, peeled and cubed
3/4 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon orange zest
1 slice fresh ginger, about 1-inch diameter

Combine all ingredients in small sauce pan.  On medium heat bring to high simmer, then lower heat and simmer for about 20 minutes.  Don't let the liquid evaporate completely, add a little more water if needed.  After cooking, remove cinnamon stick and ginger.  Puree in blender, processor, or with immersion blender.  Or do it the old fashioned way and mash it with a fork. 

Sprinkle with more cinnamon (I can never get enough) and/or nutmeg.  Spoon it over oatmeal or just spoon it into your mouth.  Especially yummy with butter-slathered toast.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Take Two...

Today at 4:45 p.m. my vacation began.  I say 'Take Two' because it's so close to the time off I took in August...not too long ago, but long enough that I'm thrilled with the time off now.  This will be a welcome respite from the Hell that will be 'Another Holiday Working in Retail,' a.k.a 'The Day Job.'

I have a couple of posts that will find their way to print in the next day or two, but in the meantime, here's a photo of a great little item my sister sent me.  I love matryoshkas, and this is just too cool for words.  Measuring cups!!  Nesting measuring cups that look like Matryoshkas!  Practical and kitchen counter is a hipper space because of them.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

You Never Get Tired...

...of some foods.  Take a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of piping hot tomato soup.  Remember that when you were a kid?  I do.  White bread slathered with margarine, three slices of white American cheese, grilled just a little past the well-done side, cheese oozing, and for me, a bowl of Campbell's ABC Vegetable soup.  I could taste it before I even took a bite.  It was always 'right.'  Perfect comfort food; perfect for lunch or dinner, in summer or fall, on a bright day or with a storm raging outside.

The palate changes as you age.  You find new favourites and try new cuisines with tastes subtle or bold.  Then you think about the old stand-bys and what would happen if you tweaked the ingredients.  You think it's time to venture past that can of Campbell's and the loaf of Stroehmann bread.

It might look something like this:

Barbari bread replaces your white bread, Mozzarella and Fontina stand in for the American cheese, and (what would surely make most children cringe in disgust) a few leaves of spinach between the cheese.  You think it's high time you made your own tomato soup and find another use for the tomatoes you cannot stop roasting.

Still right, even on a sunny 85 degree day in Los Angeles.

Cream of Tomato Soup
(Adapted from a recipe on the kitchn)

2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
pinch of ground cloves
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups roughly chopped oven-roasted tomatoes 
pinch of baking soda
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock 
1 cup milk
tomato paste, as needed
salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in a large pot on medium heat and cook celery and onions until soft.  Add basil and cloves.  Left flavours mingle for a minute or two.  Add flour and cook for an additional couple of minutes.  Add tomatoes, baking soda, and stock.

Lower heat to simmer and let cook for another 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove pot from heat and puree soup, either in batches in a blender or with an immersion blender.  When soup has been pureed, return pot to heat and add milk.  Stir to blend.  More milk or stock can be added to thin soup if it's too thick.  Add tomato paste, if necessary, to impart stronger tomato flavour.  Add salt and/or pepper to taste.  Can be topped with chopped fresh basil, a dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream, or homemade croutons.  

**Notes:  I used Roma tomatoes and low sodium chicken stock from Trader Joe's.  I ended up using 3 tablespoons of tomato paste, because I really wanted a strong tomato flavour.  I also topped the soup with a  healthy dose of creme fraiche.  For leftovers on Day Three, I added cooked spaghetti squash to the soup and topped it with homemade garlic croutons.