Thursday, September 22, 2016

Pecan Tart

Natasha's favorite dessert is probably pecan pie. Pecan pie is often requested when I ask if I can bring a dessert when we are invited to her beautiful home for dinner. This time I decided to mash together two recipes to see if I could get the beauty and flavor of a pecan pie, but a crust which is easier to serve and not as prone to leaking. Fortunately it worked and now I can share with you how to make a wonderful, delicious to eat and easy to serve pecan tart. Natasha liked it a lot!

I started with the recipe from a loooooong time ago from a post from 2007. That February I posted each day from the first until Valentines day, with the theme of 'How Do I Love You?". If you have time check it out...there are some good recipes there. For that day, I think it was the fifth, but not sure now, I was making a mosaic nut tart and it was similar enough that it seemed it would work for the pecan tart. At the time I was still able to eat butter. It really does taste better with butter, so if you can, use a good quality butter and make sure that whichever fat you use is well chilled. It really helps to have cold butter or margarine. It makes a stable and tasty crust somewhat like a cookie. The filling rarely seeps through, but I bake it on a cookie sheet just in case. Baked on sugar and syrup filling is no fun to clean off the oven floor.

This tart crust uses a food processor, but if you don't have on, just put the dry ingredients in a bowl, cut the fat in with a pastry blender or two knives held close together, then, when the fat is cut into the flour mixture so that most pieces are tiny, stir in the yolk with a fork.

The pecan filling is straight from the dark Karo syrup bottle. Eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt, and Karo (plus some melted butter if your remember to add it, which I didn't) are stirred together. The nuts are added and the mixture turned into the cold, but unbaked, tart shell. I turned all my pecans with the curved side up and arranged them a bit in a nice pattern. As you might have guessed, I love playing with my food! It will taste just fine if you pour in the filling and put it right into the oven. A nice helping of whipped cream on top and no one will be the wiser.

If you've never had pecan pie or tart I should warn you that this is a very sweet dessert. You could reduce the sugar by a bit, but if you take out too much it will change the consistency and you might get a filling that is too loose or too grainy. Unsweetened whipped cream cuts the sweetness in a very rich but lovely way, if you do dairy.

By the way, very early tomorrow morning Sweetie and I will be headed off for a vacation. If I can I'll post while I'm gone, although it will most likely be about the trip rather than food. Otherwise I'll do posts and food once I come back. If you get bored, there are over 1,000 recipes on this blog...try a few. Some of the ones from the early years (ten years ago in a handful of days!) are really good. Just sayin'.

Pecan Tart
Makes one 9-inch tart

Combine 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, 3 tablespoons sugar, and ½ cup very cold butter (or margarine), cut into pieces. Whirl in a food processor or cut butter in with a pastry blender or two knives until coarse crumbs form. Add 1 egg yolk; process or sir until dough sticks together.

Using a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, put chunks of the dough over the bottom and use your clean fingers to smoosh the dough over the bottom and up the sides into a fairly smooth layer. Freeze for 30 minutes or more.

3 eggs
1 cup dark Karo corn syrup
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted and cooled
1 1/2 cups (6 oz.) pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl beat the eggs to break them up, then add the corn syrup, sugar, vanilla and butter.

Add the pecans and stir to coat. Pour the filling into the prepared, chilled tart pan. Arrange the nuts if you like. Put the tart on a cookie sheet and put into the preheated oven. Bake approximately 50 minutes. Finished tart will have browned nuts and the filling will be only slightly jiggly in the center.

Cool on a rack for 2 hours. Remove the tart sides and chill in the refrigerator for an hour or more. Bring to room temperature to serve.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Dessert For A Queen

The Cake Slice Bakers are almost finished with the wonderful Maida Heatter's Cakes book, with this month being the last for sets of recipes to choose from. Be sure to come back October 20th to see which recipe I choose for the final bake from this book!

This month I chose the lovely Queen Mother Cake, a rich flourless chocolate cake with a chocolate ganache. I wasn't really sure that I could make a nice ganache with soy creamer, but it worked beautifully and no one knew that I didn't use whipping cream.

The original recipe calls for toasting almonds and grinding them in a food processor with sugar to create a fine flour. I've done this, but the particles of almond are variable. The flavor may have been different by just using the pre-made almond flour which isn't toasted, but the texture is then uniform, especially if you sift the almond flour as I do.

I found that the soy creamer worked just fine instead of whipping cream for the icing. I used two-thirds of a package of Scharffen Berger's chocolate for the cake and the remaining third, plus 4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips for the icing. This worked well, too. You really taste the chocolate in this cake, so use the chocolate you most enjoy eating out of hand.

The original recipe had some instructions for cooling the cake on a damp towel. I skipped that and let it cool for a while on a wire rack in the pan. This seemed to work just fine. I also baked it on Friday night for a Saturday dinner, so I wrapped the cooled cake up in a plastic bag, with the pan bottom still attached, and put it in the fridge until the next afternoon. That made it very easy to handle because the chilled cake wasn't at all delicate. I always make a mess and create a mass of crumb when I trim the top of a cake as called for in the recipe, so I skipped that step and iced it right side up.

This is a rich cake. Small pieces are just fine. A bowl of berries (strawberries in my case) passed with the cake and some whipped cream are nice. The strawberries cut the richness a bit, for a thoroughly enjoyable serving of a very pretty cake. I already have requests to make it again.

It might seem like a lot of directions, but read it through a few times and then just take it slowly and have fun with it :)

Be sure to check out the choices that my fellow Cake Slice Bakers have made. Look at the bottom of the post!

Queen Mother's Cake
Adapted from Maida Heatter's Cakes
12 portions

6 eggs, separated
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
6 oz. almond flour (I used King Arthur Flour's)
6 oz. semisweet chocolate, cut into small pieces (I used Scharffen Berger's)
3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
6 oz. (1 1/2 sticks) non-dairy margarine or butter, at room temperature

Note: I don't have two stand mixer bowls, so I changed the directions so that I whipped the egg whites first. If you have two bowls, you can make the chocolate mixture, then whip the whites.

Adjust a rack one-third up in the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Grease the bottom and sides of a 9 x 3-inch springform pan and line the bottom with a round of baking-pan liner (parchment works well) cut to fit. Grease the paper. Dust the pan all over the inside with fine, dry bread crumbs. Invert the pan over paper, and tap lightly to shake out excess crumbs. Set the prepared pan aside.

Place the chocolate in the top of a small double boiler over warm water on moderate heat. Cover until partially melted, then uncover and stir until just melted and smooth. Remove top pan from double boiler and set it aside until tepid or room temperature.

Sift the almond flour into a small bowl and stir in 1/4 cup granulated sugar. Set aside.

In the large bowl of a stand mixer, with clean beaters (I used the whisk attachment) beat the whites with the salt and lemon juice, starting on low speed and increasing it gradually. When the whites barely hold a soft shape, reduce the speed a bit and gradually add 1/4 cup granulated sugar. On high speed continue to beat until the whites hold a straight point when the beaters are slowly raised. Do not overbeat. Transfer the beaten whites to another bowl and set aside.

Rinse and dry the stand mixer bowl. Put in the butter. Beat the butter until soft. Add the remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar and beat to mix. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating and scarping the sides of the bowl as necessary until smooth. On low speed add the chocolate and beat until mixed. Then add the almond flour/sugar mixture and beat, scraping the bowl, until incorporated.

Stir a large spoonful of the beaten whites into the chocolate mixture to soften it a bit. Then, in three additions, fold in the remaining whites. Do not fold thoroughly until the last addition and do not handle any more than necessary.

Turn the batter into the prepared pan. Rotate the pan a bit briskly from left to right in order to level the batter.

Bake for 20 minutes at 375 degrees F. and then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F. and continue to bake for an additional 50 minutes (total baking time is 1 hour and 10 minutes). Do not over bake; the cake should remain soft and moist in the center. (The top might crack a bit, but that is OK.)

Let cake stand on cooling rack until tepid, 50 - 60 minutes.

Release and remove the sides of the pan. Do not cut around the sides with a knife - it will make the rim of the cake messy. Let the cake stand until it is completely cool, or longer if you wish.

The cake will sink a little in the middle as it cools. Use a long, thin, sharp knife and cut the top level, removing the higher sides. Brush away loose crumbs. (I skipped this part, iced the cake right side up, and was very happy with the results. When the icing goes on its a little thicker in the center, which we found to be fine.)

Place a rack or a small board over the cake and carefully invert. Remove the bottom of the pan and the paper lining. The cake is now upside down; that is the way it will be iced (unless you do as I did and ice the top). Place four strips of baking-pan liner paper (each about 3 x 12 inches) around the edges of a cake plate. With a large, wide spatula, carefully  transfer the cake to the plate; check to be sure that the cake is touching the papers all around. The paper help to keep the icing off the plate when you ice the cake. (I chilled the cake, still on the springform pan bottom, overnight, then turned it out onto my hand, finger spread, removed the pan bottom & the paper and set the cake on a cake plate. Because it was cold it wasn't difficult to work with.)

1/2 cup soy creamer (or whipping cream)
1 teaspoon powdered espresso powder
8 oz. semisweet chocolate, cut into small pieces (I used half Scharffen Berger semisweet and half chocolate chips)

Scald the soy creamer  or whipping cream in a 5-6 cup saucepan over moderate heat until it begins to form small bubbles around the edges. Add the dry espresso powder and whisk to dissolve. Add the chocolate and stir occasionally over heat for 1 minutes. Then remove the pan from the heat and whisk or stir until the chocolate is all melted and the mixture is smooth.

Let the icing stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes or until the icing barely begins to thicken.

Stir to  mix the icing and pour it slowly over the top of the cake, pouring onto the middle. Use a long, narrow metal spatula to smooth the top and spread the icing until a little runs down the sides, then use a small, narrow metal spatula to smooth that icing over the sides. The icing on the sides should be thinner than that on the top.

Remove the strips of paper by pulling each on out toward a narrow end.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Sweet Little Breads With Coconut Delight the Babes

First off, a huge 'Thank you!!' to the lovely Lien  of Notitie van Lien for stepping up and being the Kitchen of the Month even though she was hostess not that long ago. Secondly, another huge 'Thank you!!' to her for choosing this recipe. I had trouble letting these sweet little rolls cool enough to not burn my tongue before I bit in and enjoyed the great coconut filling. I subtracted about 1/4 cup of flour and replaced it with cocoa powder because I know that chocolate and coconut go well together. Even Straight Shooter, who is not a big fan of coconut, ate two of them.

This is an easy to work with dough. It rolled out smoothly and I added raspberry jam...a think smear...

to half the rolls and finely chopped pecans to the other half. I think I prefer the nutty ones. Probably should have done a fancy glaze, too, but they smelled so good that we couldn't wait to try them. Big goof...didn't take photos the evening I made them & gave away the last three today...without taking any photos of the filling!   The rolls are sure plain looking, but then you bite into them and experience that wonderful filling.....

I made a double recipe of the filling just to make sure that I had enough and there was a lot left. Thinking of using it as a filling in brownies. The chocolate-coconut flavor combo is rather like German Chocolate Cake and really delicious. You are going to want to try these. I'll be you can come up with even better variations. If you do make these, send Lien an email with a photo and a few words about your experience and she will send you a Buddy Badge.

Be sure to check out their blogs to see what the other Bread Baking Babes have done this month, too.

A Messy Kitchen – Kelly
Bake My Day – Karen
Blog from OUR kitchen – Elizabeth
Bread Experience – Cathy
Judy’s Gross Eats – Judy
Karen’s Kitchen Stories – Karen
My Kitchen In Half Cups – Tanna
Notitie Van Lien – Lien
And our awesome round-up queen…. Thyme for Cooking – Katie 

Coconut rolls
(makes 12)

2 TBsp sugar
160 ml lukewarm water (1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons)
2 tsp dry instant yeast
300 g bread flour (1 1/4 cup - for chocolate use 1 cup flour & 1/4 cup cocoa powder & increase sugar by 1 tablespoon)
50 ml vegetable oil (a little less than 3.5 tablespoons)
3/4 tsp salt

80 g + 2 TBsp dried, unsweetened, grated coconut (1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons)
(or sweetened coconut, reducing the light brown sugar with 4 TBsp)
120 ml boiling water (1/2 cup)
150 g light brown sugar (generous 1/2 cup)
4 TBsp corn starch
2 TBsp butter (or non-dairy margarine)

Combine all the dough ingredients and stir them together. Knead the dough until smooth and supple. At first it’s very sticky, but after kneading it shouldn’t be very sticky anymore. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover and leave to rise for about 1½ hours or doubled in volume.

Now make the filling. When using dried coconut (80 g), it needs to soak in a bowl with boiling water. Leave soaking for 10-15 minutes.

Mix the cornstarch and sugar in a separate little bowl before adding it to the coconut.

Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the coconut-sugar mixture and keep it on a low heat until it thickens, a few minutes. Keep stirring to avoid it burning.

Take it off the heat and leave to cool. When cooled, place in the fridge.

About 30 minutes before assembling the roll, take the filling out of the fridge.

Stir in the remaining 2 Tablespoon of coconut in. At first the filling might be a bit stiff, but a little stir will soften it enough. Set aside. (Next time I'm going to stir in some finely chopped pecans.)

Divide the dough in two parts. Start with one piece, and roll it out into a rectangle of 30 x 16 cm (12 inches x 6 inches). Now cut it length wise in two equal parts, so you have two long thin strips.

Place a quarter of the filling evenly over the middle of the strip. The filling should be fairly dry, don’t place wet filling on the dough.

Flip over one long side of the dough over the filling, then flip over the other side. The two sides should slightly overlap. Close the seam by pinching the dough together.

Turn the roll seam side down. Cut the roll in three equal parts. Push the filling back a little, so you can close the cut sides, so the filling is no longer to be seen and can’t leak out.

Repeat with the other three strips (the one that you have rolled out and the two strips you make of the remaining dough).

Place the rolls, 4 cm (and inch and a half) apart, on parchment paper placed on two baking sheets. Cover them with lightly greased plastic and leave to rise for 35-45 minutes. They are ready when a light indentation, you make with a finger, stays visible.

While the dough proofs you should preheat the oven to 190ºC. (375 degrees F)

Bake the rolls for about 15-18 minutes until they are golden brown.(If you bake on two sheets, exchange them after 8 minutes, so they bake evenly).

Let the rolls cool on a wire rack. Eat them lukewarm or at room temperature.

(Adapted from: “De kunst van het bakken” – J. Alfort & N. Duguid)

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Hard to believe that September is almost half over already. Life has sure been busy. Did a minor eye surgery with a week of recovery, then jumped in to travel prep. Looking forward to visiting cousins in Ireland and Naomi in France this fall, plus a few days in Avignon and in Paris just with Sweetie. Since the last time we flew to Ireland (which was our sole excursion to any part of Europe) seven years have passed. We have to remember all over again what is needed for trans-Atlantic fun and games, plus see if we can pack in a small enough suitcase to go in the overhead bin. I have been having a blast looking in lots of guidebooks to see what we might do and see. Hard to concentrate on current life when the future is so alluring.

Still, the current life is lovely. The garden continues to look beautiful and to reward our efforts with squash and beans and tiny grape tomatoes, plus the pumpkins are starting to be ready to harvest.

Sweetie has been (with a little help from me) remodeling the studio so that the storage area is separate from the studio area. We have a new window, new wall, new door into the storage, new steps up to that door and new coat of paint over the whole front wall. Eventually there will be insulation for the studio area and a connecting door, so that the space can be heated and cooled with a space heater and/or fan. I'll be able to keep my art work and supplies out and ready to use!

We had used the space as a kitchen during our main kitchen remodel, so I still have a few kitchen items to relocate, too. It was also the place where I unpacked the things shipped from my Mom's home after she died, so there are a few items of hers to relocate. I will be glad that it will be more difficult for storage items to be left in the studio. I'm often the culprit, but will be more aware after all of this work.

Best of all, the fall is coming! The air is getting a nip to it in the morning and the light is changing too...sort of softening. Today at the paperback bookstore, Paperbacks Unlimited in Santa used books bookstore ever!...they were giving away ripe figs. I took one home and used it in my lunch sandwich. Figs are a wonderful fall fruit! I love the way the insides look with the rosy seeds. I love the way they taste with savory meat or poultry and a fruity and/or nutty bread. So delicious!

Grilled Pork and Fig Sandwich
makes one sandwich

2 slices cranberry walnut bread or similar rustic whole grain bread
3-4 thin slices cooked pork shoulder
1-2 fresh figs, thinly sliced
mayonnaise to taste
salt and pepper to taste
soft butter or margarine

Heat a sandwich press or skillet. While it is heating, thinly butter each slice of bread on one side. Place buttered sides together. On upward facing plain slice, spread some mayo, add the pork (warm it in a microwave if cold), the slices of fig, and salt and pepper to taste.

When the sandwich press of skillet is hot, pick up the filled slice, place it on the hot surface, then top with the next slice, butter side up. Close the press, or press down with a spatula if using a skillet. Cook until bread is toasted a dark golden brown. If using the skillet, turn sandwich over carefully (let's keep those figs inside the sandwich!) and finish browning the bread. Repeat with more bread and fillings and spreads as needed.

Serve each toasted sandwich whole or cut in half. Eat while still hot.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Easing In To Fall With Tea Brack

Fall is my favorite season, so I usually hurry it a bit. Can't help it. I've already put the autumn wreaths up by the doors and since my garden has produced at least 21 pumpkins, I've perched three on each side of the front steps. They are super cute and add a zing of orange, too.

Driving around the area I notice that the trees have gotten into the early fall spirit and the leaves are already changing from green to various shades of gold, red, orange and brown, too. These are wild grape leaves I spotted while walking the dog a few days ago.

Tea Brack is a dense, moist sweet loaf bread, jam-packed with currants, raisins, candied orange and lemon peel, all of them pre-soaked in strong tea. There are warm spices, too. Tea Brack makes a lovely snack in the afternoon with a cup of tea. Cream cheese to spread on that slice is optional.

Tea Brack
one medium loaf
from Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads

1 cup white raisins (I used a mixture of dark, golden, and red raisins)
3/4 cup dried currants
1/4 cup chopped candied peel (I used half lemon and half orange peels)
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 1/2 cups cold tea (orange pekoe is fine, I used English Breakfast)
1/4 cup rum, Scotch, Irish whiskey, or brandy (I used Scotch)(optional but nice)
2 cups bread or all-purpose flour (I used half all-purpose, unbleached and half King Arthur Flour Irish whole-meal flour)
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon EACH ground cinnamon, grated nutmeg and salt
1 egg, room temperature, well beaten

Grease and line sides and bottom with buttered waxed paper - 1 medium (8" x 4") loaf pan. Leave the paper ends sticking out about 1/2 inch so the loaf can be pulled from the pan. Set aside. (You can prepare the pan the next day after the fruit is marinated.)

In a bowl combine the raisins, currants, candied peel, brown sugar and cold tea. Add a dollop of brandy or rum to give it a secret goodness, although this is optional. Cover tightly with plastic wrap so that no moisture escapes and let marinate overnight.

The next day...Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. while making the batter.

In a clean bowl mist together, with your clean fingers, or a spoon, the dry ingredients: 2 cups flour, 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon each cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Pour the dry ingredients into the marinated fruit mixture, stir well to combine, and add the egg. The mixture will be on the thin side. Pour or spoon the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake the loaf slowly in the 325 degree oven until a toothpick comes out dry when pierced into the load, about 1 1/2 hours. If using a convection oven, reduce heat; bake at 300 degrees F.

Remove the bread from the oven. Place on a wire rack about 5 minutes to cool, then remove the bread from the pan, discard the paper, and let cool completely before slicing.

Serve with butter or cream cheese...and tea!
I suspect that you could marinate everything and keep it in the refrigerator (for at least a few weeks) until you wanted to make the Tea Brack. That would mean that it would all be done in less than two hours. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

One Fab Buddy

I'm going to blame it on summer heat, because I know that the Babes who made Beignets this month liked them a lot. Only one brave baker made the August recipe, although she used a brioche dough.

Congratulations to our sole Buddy for August, Shirley of Flourish.en Test Kitchen who made beignets with a lemon glaze and dusted with maple walnuts. She used an olive oil based brioche dough. She went a step further and created Brionuts, a cross between brioche dough and a donut.

"I shaped the remaining brioche dough in a donut shape. Let them rest for a short while, then deep frying them in the 375°F safflower oil. Voila, I just made my own version of "brionut," a brioche and donut hybrid."

So much better than a Cronut, plus no lines to stand in.

Thank you for baking with the Bread Baking Babes Shirley!

And a big thank you to Lien who makes our beautiful badges every month!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Sweet Peach and Strawberry Pudding

One day last week I have a couple of ripe peaches and a few fresh strawberries that were ready to play with. At first I thought I would do a galette or maybe a cobbler or crisp, but what I ended up making was more like the French clafouti. I sort of made it up as I went along, which sometimes is disastrous, but this time worked out really well.

Fresh peaches are peeled, pitted and sliced, cut into chunks and placed in a small baking dish. Strawberries are hulled and cut into chunks and those are scattered over the peaches. My peaches were so ripe that I knew they would be extra juicy, so I crumbled a almost-stale scone and sprinkled those crumbs over the greased baking dish before I added the fruit. If your fruit isn't super juicy you can skip that step. Juicy but no scone? Dry bread crumbs would work fine.

Over the fruit I poured a mixture of soy creamer (but you could sub in half and half, milk, or cream), brown sugar, nutmeg and an egg. A dash of vanilla or almond extract would be delicious, too, but I really like nutmeg, so I wanted that to shine in the dish.

This gets baked in a medium oven. The top will brown and the edges will brown, but the center should still be a bit wobbly. An overcooked custard is terrible!

This sort of pudding can be eaten for dessert or even for breakfast. The custard is the background flavor so the peaches and strawberries...and nutmeg...are the star flavors here. The texture is soft in the interior and a bit chewy at the edges. If you love peaches and strawberries, here is a new way to enjoy them that I know you will appreciate.

Small Peach and Strawberry Pudding
My own recipe
Serves 3-4

2-3 peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced, then cut into large chunks
6-8 fresh strawberries, hulled and cut into chunks
If needed...1 scone crumbled, or 1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
butter or grease for the pan
1 cup soy creamer or milk, or 1/2 & 1/2, or cream
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
1/8 teaspoons salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter or grease a small baking dish. An 8 x 8-inch pan should work. If fruit is very juicy, sprinkle with crumbled scone or dry bread crumbs, distributing as evenly over the bottom as possible.

Place the peaches, then the strawberries into the pan, distributing as evenly over the bottom as possible. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the soy creamer, brown sugar, egg, nutmeg and salt. (Add 1/8 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract, optional, if using.)

Pour egg mixture over the fruit, place pan on a larger baking sheet, and bake for 20-30 minutes. Top will be brown and edges will be brown, but center will still be just a bit soft.

Cool on a wire rack for 10-20 minutes, then serve while still warm. Some folks like a scoop of vanilla ice cream with this. Others like some fresh strawberries with it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Garden Update

Harvest time has arrived. We've been getting about 3-4 good sized zucchini every day all summer. That's still going on, but now the grape (teardrop?) tomatoes have really gotten ripe...and there are lots of them...

and the Gravenstein apples are very ripe, too.

Getting nice cucumbers every few days and the second production of green beans is starting to come in, too. One lonely golf ball sized tomato (maybe a black krim...not sure) has ripened, but more are coming.

There is lots of Swiss chard, although not many takers. The basil continues to produce by the front steps.

 At last count we have 22 pumpkins of various sizes turning from green to orange.

The pears and plums were early and sparse this year and are done. Soon there will be walnuts, too. We feel blessed.

Of course I always plant flowers for their loveliness. There is a nice pot of zinnias by the front porch,

along with pots of magenta cosmos, yellow verbena, blue lobelia, orange snapdragons, red poppies (flower at top of post), golden California poppies and more.

The sweet peas astound me as they continue to bloom despite heat spells and the occasional neglect when I forget to water them. As you can probably see, I've also not been good at weeding this year and I usually try to avoid using pesticides, so there are signs of that, too.

 The morning glories keep coming

and so do the roses. I only have four rose shrubs now, which is enough really. The white climber, which is between blooms, the red single,

the aromatic Scentimental, and the yellow floribunda, also between blooms.

One daylily plant is still blooming, too. I planted a pot to sit on the tree stump by the upper entry into our driveway. It has shade tolerant red and white flowers and they are a nice greeting.

I used some of the same plants for a planter on the steps up to the front door, plus, one step up, another planter with a blue convulvus, a member of the morning glory tribe. I love the intense blue color!

Each day is a revelation and an opportunity to appreciate beauty. More recipes soon, I promise.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Cake Slice Tie Dye Fun

When I first joined the Cake Slice Bakers a few years ago I was sure that I would be baking lots of layer cakes, but it turned out that I kept choosing to bake other kinds of cake more frequently than layer cakes.

The same seems to have been true this time around, but I decided that this month I would bake that layer cake since one of our choices was American Chocolate Layer cake, which is actually yellow cake and chocolate icing. Because I was baking this cake for a dinner party where there would be little boys, I decided to surprise them with a tie-dye interior instead of plain yellow cake. I had done this using a cake mix and figured that I could use gel food colors that I had in my cupboard and use the same technique. I chose to use turquoise, magenta and orange which made for a lively colored cake. 

When we arrived for dinner there was general excitement about the cake. It looked festive with the multi-colored heart sprinkles. The boys had been told ahead of time that there was a surprise in the cake and seemed thrilled with the multi-colored swirls when we cut into it. I thought that the cake itself was a bit dry. It may be that I over baked the layers.

To make a tie-dye type cake, you divide the dough into three bowls once it is finished and you add gel food color to the batter, making three colors. Into the prepared pans you scoop one color right in the middle of the pan, top it with a second color (which caused the first color to spread out) then top that with the third color and continue until the batter spreads out to the edges. I complicated it by doing two circles of color in one pan, then filling in the space between the two with the last of each color. Turned out great and it was fun to do! You can use any color combination you choose, but three colors or one plain batter and two colors are the minimal amount to go with. I made half the recipe because we only needed to feed 8, not 20! Two layers were just fine.

America Chocolate Layer Cake 
by Maida Heatter found in Maida Heatter's Cakes
20 or more portions

4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter (I used non-dairy margarine)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups granulated sugar
6 eggs
3/4 cup milk (I used soy milk)

Adjust two racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter four 9-inch round layer cake pans, line them with parchment or wax paper cut to fit, butter the paper, dust the pans all over with fine, dry breadcrumbs, tile the pans from side to side to coat them evenly, and then turn them upside down over paper and tap them to shake out looks crumbs. Set the pans aside.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter until soft. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and then the sugar, and beat to mix. Add the eggs one or two at a time, and beat until incorporated after each addition. Add the sifted dry ingredients with the mixer on low speed, adding them in three additions alternating with the milk in two additions.

You will have a generous 8 cups of batter. If making the tie dye cake, divide batter into three bowls, tint as desired with gel food color and layer in the pans. Into the prepared pans you scoop one color right in the middle of the pan, top it with a second color (which caused the first color to spread out) then top that with the third color and continue until the batter spreads out to the edges. You will do this for each of the four pans.

Place two of the pans on each oven rack, staggering them so the pans on the lower rack are not directly below those above. Bake for 25 to 28 minutes, but check a little sooner. Do not overbake (as I did) or cake will be dry. Cake should barely spring back when gently pressed with a fingertip.

Once your remove the pans from the oven, turn each cake out on a rack and remove the paper, then use another rack to turn layer right side up. Repeat with all the layers. Let cool.

Ice with your favorite chocolate icing. Decorate as desired.

(I used a childhood favorite for icing: confectioner's sugar, melted unsweetened chocolate, hot soy milk and a tablespoon of Greek yogurt to keep the icing from hardening so quickly.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Babes Let The Good Times Roll

I'm currently reading some mystery novels set in New Orleans and it seems like at least once in each book that the heroine makes it to Cafe du Monde for some chicory coffee and beignets. Every time she does, I think of the beignets because I know how delicious they can be, freshly made and shaken with powdered sugar or cinnamon and sugar.

I know it's summer and a long time away from Mardi Gras, but the traditional saying  which is the title for this post is appropriate for the August BBB recipe. In July the Bread Baking Babes explored the almost extinct bialy and for August I'm asking you to gather around my kitchen counter as we make something that is also not an easily found bread and, bonus!, doesn't require turning on the oven! Of course you will need to heat up some oil to make traditional Beignets, the powdered sugar coated bread treats of New Orleans and that part of the South.

Wikipedia has this to say," Beignet (English pronunciation: /bɛnˈjeɪ/; French: [bɛɲɛ], literally bump),[1]synonymous with the English "fritter", is the French term for a pastry made from deep-fried choux pastry.[2] Beignets can also be made from other types of dough, including yeast dough.
Beignets are commonly known in New Orleans as a breakfast served with powdered sugar on top.[2] They are traditionally prepared right before consumption to be eaten fresh and hot. Variations of fried dough can be found across cuisines internationally; however, the origin of the term beignet is specifically French. In the United States, beignets have been popular within New Orleans Creole cuisine and are customarily served as a dessert or in some sweet variation. They were brought to New Orleans in the 18th century by French colonists,[3] from "the old mother country",[4] and became a large part of home-style Creole cooking, variations often including banana or plantain – popular fruits in the port city.[5][6] Today, Café du Monde is a popular New Orleans food destination specializing in beignets with powdered sugar, coffee with chicory, and café au lait.[7] Beignets were declared the official state doughnut of Louisiana in 1986.[8]"

This recipe is from Martha Stewart's blog, but I tested it ahead of time, having had a woeful experience with a Martha recipe years ago. Not sure that she always does sufficient testing on her recipes.

Anyhoo, this one makes light, airy sweet squares (bumps) that go well with coffee and tea. I suspect that if you wanted to that you could cut the dough into squares and put those squares on a parchment lined baking sheet and freeze them. That way you could deep fry the frozen squares (or thawed ones) whenever you got a hankering for a New Orleans snack.

The challenge here is to get the oil hot enough to fry them up without either having them greasy or over browned. It could also be fun to flavor them in different ways...banana slices would be traditional, but consider bits of dried fruit (cherry beignets anyone?), finely chopped nuts, sunflower seeds, ground ginger and candied ginger...all possibilities. Different flours would change the flavor, too. Just don't let them get heavy. Beignets are so light they almost float away....

Do be sure to visit the other Bread Baking Babes to see what they have done with their beignets.

If you'd like to be a Buddy, I'm the Kitchen of the Month, so you can email (plachman at sonic dot net) me a photo and a short description of your experience making the beignets, plus your blog URL so that I can include you in the round-up. Just get them to me by August 29th.

from Martha Stewart's blog
Makes 16

1 (1/4 oz.) envelope active dry yeast
3/4 cup warm, not hot, water, about 110 degrees F
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons softened unsalted butter
1/2 cup whole milk
1 large egg
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for shaping and for the baking sheet
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
8 cups safflower oil, for bowl and for frying
1 lb confectioner' sugar for coating (might not take this much, but close)

The wet ingredients will go into the stand mixer bowl. The dry ingredients will get mixed together and added to the wet.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the yeast, warm water and sugar. Stir. Let stand 5 minutes until foamy. Add the soft butter and stir. In another bowl, use a fork to stir together the milk and egg. Add to the yeast mixture and stir. Attach the dough hook to the stand mixer.

In another bowl combine the flour, salt and nutmeg.

Gradually, with the mixer running on lowest speed, add 1 1/2 cups of the flour mixture. When incorporated, add another 1 3/4 cups of the flour mixture. When incorporated, turn the mixture out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in another 1/4 cup flour mixture and knead until dough is smooth, about 5 minutes. Form dough into a ball. Place dough into a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat whole dough ball. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a shower cap and place in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about an hour.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and punch down. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out dough to a 12-inch square. Using a pizza wheel or sharp knife, cut dough into 3-inch squares. Transfer squares to a floured baking sheet and cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 30 minutes.

While squares are rising, heat oil in a medium pot or deep-fryer until it registers 350 degrees F on a deep-fry thermometer. Working in batches, add a few squares to the oil and fry, rolling them around constantly with a slotted spoon or spider, until golden brown all over, 1-2 minutes. Transfer beignets to a paper-towel lined baking sheet to drain. Coat immediately with confectioners' sugar while warm. Repeat process with remaining dough and more confectioners' sugar. Serve at once while still warm.

I've heard that these can be microwaved (the next morning) successfully, too.

BTW, I used soy creamer instead of the milk, non-dairy margarine instead of the butter. To make it vegan, substitute egg replacer for the egg and you have it made.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Scones For The Mostly Dairy Free Folks

When I first learned to make scones I loved using cold butter and rich cream to make wonderful, light but rich and flaky delights. When I planned a tea party for this month my sister challenged me to make a scone that was equally delightful, but with none of the usual dairy. After all, when my guests were going 'mmmm good' as they ate their scones, I wanted to be right in there with them. No lemon curd or clotted cream for me, but raspberry jam goes really well with the perfect scone.

These may not have been the perfect scone, but they were delicious and had the right texture, too. I used very cold margarine instead of the butter, used a light hand with the cutting in of the margarine, used a mixture of soy milk creamer and Greek yogurt (the only dairy I can tolerate) for the liquid and I added a touch of almond extract, too. Sweetie had one shortly after I took them from the oven and he was a convert. I enjoyed mine, too and so did my guests. If you are eating vegan, just skip the Greek yogurt and use a full cup of the soy creamer. I used Silk brand original plain soy creamer. I've found that it works well as a milk/cream replacement and tastes good, too.

Here are half the scones before make two discs like this.

Simple Only Yogurt Scones
Heat oven to 425 degrees F. Grease two cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.

3 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ cup non-dairy margarine, well chilled
¾ cup soy creamer
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Glaze: 2 tablespoons soy creamer
2 tablespoons sugar (I used white sanding sugar)

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl. With pastry blender or two knives, cut in butter until mixture resembles fine to medium crumbs. In a large measuring cup whisk together the soy creamer and the Greek yogurt. (Alternately, just use 1 cup soy creamer instead of that mixture.)

Pour soy milk mixture over crumb mixture. Stir together with fork just until mixture comes together. Use a light hand. Gather dough gently into a ball; knead 4 or 5 times. Cut dough in half and transfer pieces to prepared cookie sheets. Shape each piece into a 6 inch x 1/4 inch thick circle. Using floured knife or bench scraper, cut each circle into 8 wedges. Put wedges on the prepared cookie sheets.

For glaze, brush tops with soy creamer and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake 20 – 25 minutes until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 16 scones.

If you are going to freeze these to re-heat later, bake them just short of golden brown and re-heat, thawed, for 5 minutes at 425 degrees F.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Pickled Beans

I'm not a big fan of dill, with one exception. I really love dill pickles. Recently I bought a book on pickling foods and decided to try the Dilly Beans since I have enough string beans to do some canning. I hope that I enjoy them as much as regular dill pickles.I planted regular green, yellow and purple beans this year and planted two plantings about 10 days apart. They have done well, especially the purple ones, and we have enjoyed them steamed and in salads. The pickles will be my way of taking care of the full flush of production. They are starting to reduce the number of beans produced, so this is the optimal time.

I also planted cucumbers but so far the production is one here and then another one a few days later, etc. so it is unlikely that there will be enough to pickle them. If that changes, I'll let you know.

The pickled beans are fairly easy to make, but canning is one of those activities where keeping everything clean is essential. I washed the jars and lids in hot soapy water, rinsed them, then put them into boiling water, too, before filling the jars with the trimmed beans, dill, garlic cloves, whole peppercorns and whole mustard seeds. The vinegar solution was boiling so I used a metal cup measure to fill the jars with that mixture, then dipped the lids in the boiling water before putting them on top of the jars. Then they went into a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Here I'm using a canning tongs tool to take them out of the hot water so that they can cool. As the jars cool, the lids become concave...that lets you know that they have sealed properly.

 I wasn't really surprised that the vivid green and purple and light yellow of the beans (photo at top of post) turned to a muted green when the jars had finished processing in the water bath. That usually happens when I cook them, too. There is still a difference of light and dark, but not the great colors.

Here's hoping that they will be yummy when I finally crack open a jar to sample these dilly beans!

For those of you who keep up with what Sweetie is doing, here is a photo taken today at the Registrar of Voters office. He is filing for another term (his 5th!) on the fire board. Here his is swearing to uphold the Constitution. Very proud of him and his service to the community.

Dilly Beans
from Tart and Sweet by Kelly Geary and Jessie Knadler

4 cups white vinegar
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 cups water
3 tablespoons kosher salt
4 pounds green beans, trimmed to fit into jars

Per Jar: 
3 dill sprigs or 1 dill head
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seed
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
(recipe also called for 1/4 teaspoon brown mustard seeds, but I left them out)

Bring the vinegars, water and salt to a boil in a medium nonreactive pot. Stir to dissolve the salt.

Place dill, garlic, mustard seeds, and peppercorns in each hot jar. (I dipped each clean jar into the boiling water & then drained it right before filling it.) Pack the beans in tightly. Make sure there is a half inch headroom and trim the beans so that they will be covered with the brining solution.

Pour boiling brine over the beans. Check for air bubbles, wipe the rims, and seal with the screw bands.

Lower carefully into the super large pot of boiling water which covers the jars completely. There should be enough room around the jars to easily lift them in and out of the water. Process for 10 minutes. Water should be at a full boil when you start timing.

After the 10 minutes are up, turn off the heat and let the water stop bubbling before removing the jars. Place the jars on a cooling rack or a heat-absorbent surface, such as a towel or cutting board, allowing space around them. Leave them undisturbed until they;re cool to the touch.

After the jars have cooled completely (up to 8 hours or so), eyeball the lids. If the lid is concave (curved downward) the jar has sealed. TO check, press your finger into the center of the lid. If there's no give ( lid doesn't pop up upon release of your finger) it's airtight and ready to be labeled and stored. Stash in a cool, dark place.

Yield: 4 pints