Friday, October 24, 2014

Second Mural

Went through some of my recent posts and saw that I had a whole post about the mural in the baking center and nothing about the mural in the main kitchen. An oversight, I assure you.

The mural in the main kitchen takes me to the beach, one of my favorite places to visit and spend some time. On the far left, near the fridge, we climb the dunes. There is a sliver of ocean visible to make the climb more enticing. To the right is a swath of dune grasses, with another path up through them. At the bottom of the path, just waiting to head up to the top, is a black Lab. We have had a few black Lab dogs over the years, so it could be any one of them. Further to the right we look out to the beach and far to the right you can just see some headlands poking out into the bay. I discovered that painting water, especially as it washes up on shore, is very difficult. It took some experimentation to get it right. I also decided that painting over the switches for the lights and the outlet covers was better than leaving them white, even though that was also not the easiest thing to do.

What I find interesting is that originally the mural was planned with the dune climb on the left and the beach on the right only. In between, on the wall behind the stove and below the stove hood, there was going to be a sheet of stainless steel. It would have looked great, but Sweetie convinced me that the mural needed to go all the way across. What was I supposed to put in that huge space? At first I was just going to add some more dune grass and dune, but that seemed boring. Then I had the idea to add the dog and suddenly it all seemed like a good idea.

The challenge was to paint that middle section so that it looked like it belonged with the other two sections which were already painted. I no longer had the paint color I had mixed for the ocean, so this dune had to be higher, with no ocean showing at the top. Mixing the colors for the dune grasses was a bit of a challenge, but I managed. Painting the dog was harder than I had thought it would be. I ended up painting the legs at least twice. Still, it was worth it and so now I can go to the beach any time I'm facing that wall as I cook. It adds character to the kitchen that is unique and delightful.

Here is the progression:

Background painted in, left and right:

The first layer over that sketches in the design in broad areas of color:

 The area in between will be behind the stove. I painted well past the area that will be seen once the cabinets are in because I think it will strengthen the design in the end.

The next layer builds up the details in sky, water and land. I used the paint samples that I had thought might work for the walls, so it was wall paint. Acrylic paints were added as needed.

The next layer really adds detail. There are shadows, you can really see the surf washing up on the beach and the colors have been deepened so it resembles Sonoma County beaches instead of the white sands of the Caribbean. At this point I'm thinking of keeping the switch plate and outlet covers white.

At this point the cabinet installer came and began their work, so I took a break. Sweetie convinced me to consider painting the middle section behind the stove. I had planned to have the stove back splash be stainless steel, running up the wall to the stove hood. The dilemma was how to fill in the middle. I was afraid that lots more dune grass would be boring. Once Sweetie suggested painting in a dog I was able to see how I might tie the right and left sides together.

First we had to finish up the wall behind the stove area and paint it with drywall paint and then the gold color. Then I started as usual with the base color.We took care not to get paint on our nice, new cabinets. If you look closely, you'll see that I decided to paint over the switch and outlet covers and blend them into the painting. It was a good decision.

Then I followed pretty much the same layers as with the right and left sides. I made sure that the sky was the same, but made sure that there was no ocean for the middle because I had thrown out the old ocean paint from the two side areas and wasn't convinced that I could match them. Lots of dune and grass instead.

Some of the colors from painting the right and left side dunes were still available and some had to be mixed again, but since the dune grass has lots of colors in it, I wasn't worried that it would look OK.

Finally the dog was added and all the details were right. Everything was given a couple coats of clear urethane to protect the painting and allow for scrubbing. After all, a kitchen is for cooking, so that means splatters sometimes!

So here is a photo of the kitchen with the mural all finished. I enjoy it every day and hope that you enjoyed this post about how it all came together.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Winter Squash Season Side Dish

Time just seems to be flying these days! Found something I think that you will want to try yourself. About a month ago Sweetie and I were at Costco and they had tastings of some new products, all Afghan recipes. I sometimes think that a raft of people only go to Costco on the weekends for the samples, not to actually buy anything. Is that possible?

Anyhoo, we fell in love with a butternut squash side dish that was savory, with a hint of sweetness and a touch of heat. Sweetie decided that we should try making it ourselves, so I researched online and found about six different ways to make it. One of the constants was onion puree. I usually chop or mince my onions for most dishes, but for this one I put the peeled and quartered yellow onion into the food processor and let it run until it was a puree. I found that the cooked puree not only flavored the squash, but it seemed to thicken the sauce a bit, or at least provide body to the sauce.

I ended up combining a few of the recipes. Most had a goodly amount of peppers for heat, but since I was going for the very mild heat that I prefer, I used a small amount of cayenne pepper. If you like your food hotter, you can add jalapenos or increase the cayenne. They often had more turmeric, too. I know that turmeric is good for you , but it is not my favorite flavor, so I used only a teaspoon, while some recipes used as much as a tablespoon. Try it with a smaller amount unless you know that you love turmeric. You can always add more.

One of the most time consuming parts of this kind of recipe is preparing the butternut squash. Sweetie got past that by buying already peeled and cubes fresh squash. Beyond that the part that requires some time is that during the cooking you need to turn the squash over in the sauce every 10 minutes and to keep an eye on it so that the sauce cooks down, but doesn't burn.

This makes a lovely side dish. Traditionally it is served with naan flatbread and yogurt, usually garlic yogurt, but I served it with grilled chicken and the yogurt topping was plain yogurt. The chunks of butternut squash were tender, but not falling apart. They had an aroma of turmeric and onion and tomato. Now that it is winter squash season, give this a try, either as part of a traditional meal, with some eggplant, too, or as a side dish. It would go well with pork or heaped over a serving of couscous with pine nuts. You can substitute another kind of squash, like kabocha, or pumpkin, too.

Afghan Squash

1 large yellow onion
1/4 olive oil
1 clove minced garlic
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 salt
1 1/2 - 2 cups chicken broth
4 cups peeled, de-seeded, and cubed butternut squash or pumpkin

Peel the onion and remove the stem end and the tip. Cut onion into four pieces. Place in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Process until pureed, scraping down the sides as needed so that all the onion is a puree. In a large skillet cook the onion puree in the olive oil for 10 minutes, stirring often. All of the squash will need to go into the skillet, preferably in a single layer, so make sure the skillet is large enough.

To the cooked onion add the garlic, tomato paste, turmeric (you can add more if you like...I've seen as much as a tablespoon used), minced fresh ginger, sugar and salt. Stir to combine, then add the chicken broth and stir to completely combine all the ingredients in the mixture. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat so mixture simmers. Add the prepared squash and stir to coat the squash with the mixture. As mush as possible, keep the squash in a single layer. Simmer for 10 minutes. Turn squash over so that top surface goes toward the bottom and is immersed in the sauce. Simmer another 10 minutes. Check squash for tenderness. You want the squash completely tender, but still holding together. Simmer another 5 or 10 minutes (or longer) if needed until squash is tender. Sauce will have thickens a bit. If squash is very tender, but sauce is too thin, remove squash with a slotted spoon, cover to keep warm, then simmer sauce some more until it is desired thickness. Put squash back into sauce and stir to coat with sauce. Serve at once, garnished with yogurt, or cover and refrigerate, then reheat the next day.

Speaking of time passing, we are just about a month away from Thanksgiving. Our neighbors have invited us for dinner and I think this year we will be enjoying a heritage turkey. It might be one of these blue faced toms. I snapped these shots as they tried to intimidate the dog. She is a sheep dog, but was having fun herding the chickens and turkeys, too.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Bread Baking Babes Get Stuffed for October

It's the 16th again...time for the Bread Baking Babes to reveal the October bread. This month we were treated by Katie of Thyme for Cooking, our Kitchen of the Month, to a savory stuffed bread.This was a sticky dough at first, but fine by the time I was rolling it out.Of course that may have been because I stored it overnight after the dough had it's first rise. I let it come to room temperature and rise a little more, then turned it out on a floured board and shaped it. It smells heavenly with the herbs, but the herbs were barely tasted in the final bread. 

I admit that part of the situation may be because I used a different onion filling. Thinly sliced onions are mixed with honey, white wine, and bacon drippings, then caramelized. When you make the bread, you put ricotta cheese in the center third, then the onions, then crumbled bacon. It is a wonderful filling, but it may have overpowered the other flavors in the bread. I still want to thank Katie for choosing this savory stuffed bread. It sure did get eaten fast and it made a very pretty braid. It was also filling, so cut small pieces. The original recipe can be found on Katie's site. The filling recipe I used is here.

If you'd like to bake this bread and be a Buddy, bake it by the 29th and let Katie know by e-mail about your experience with this bread and be sure to send a photo for the roundup. Further instructions should be on her blog.

Be sure to visit the other Babes because you can be sure that many of them will make a wonderful savory braid and there may be a few surprises along the way.

Bake My Day - Karen, Blog From OUR Kitchen - Elizabeth, Bread Experience - Cathy, Girlichef - Heather, Life's a Feast - Jaime, Living in the Kitchen with Puppies - Natashya, Lucullian Delights - Ilva, My Diverse Kitchen - Aparna, My Kitchen in Half Cups - Tanna, Notitie van Lien - Lien

Friday, October 10, 2014

Apples and Raisins Liven Bread Pudding

I love a good bread pudding. There is something comforting about the combination of sweet custard and old bread, cooked so the custard infuses and surrounds the bread with creamy delight while the top browns to a nice crisp crunchy crustiness. My traditional recipe marries the custard with lemon and adds a bit of fruit to the mix with raisins. The recipe was given to me in ancient days (1971) by a friend who used dark cherries as the fruit of choice. She said her bread pudding was always the first thing to go at church suppers.

Since it is wonderful autumn and since apples are seasonal right now, I decided to use up some stale French bread by making Apple Raisin Cinnamon Bread Pudding, based on that old recipe. I kept the lemon zest in the custard mixture and I think that made it even better. A good dose of Penzey's cinnamon and a grating of fresh nutmeg kept the fall theme going. I used Golden Delicious apples, which keep their shape and are mellow in flavor. I didn't peel them, but you could if you prefer. For milk I used whole milk because I had enough, but I often use nonfat evaporated milk and it is delicious and a bit healthier.

Sweetie served us extra large portions for dessert and then I had a much smaller portion for lunch today.  I think it may have been even better than last night. Of course that may have been because I had just finished painting the new laundry room wall with the drywall primer, so I was eating over an hour later than usual.

If you try this without the lemon could you let me know how you like it that way? Do try this. It is easy, delicious, and a great way to pretend that you are a thrifty French housewife, using up the stale bread. Bon apetit!

Bread Pudding with Apples and Raisins and Cinnamon      
A recipe from 1971, from a Fredricksburg, Maryland friend, Gale 

4 cups dry bread cubes          1/4 teaspoon salt           
3 cups milk, scalded               1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon butter                1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
4 slightly beaten eggs            1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup sugar                         1 cup fresh apple, cut into small chunks (peel or not - I didn't)
½ teaspoon lemon zest          1/4 cup raisins                        
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2) Melt the butter in the milk. Add a little of the milk to the beaten eggs, then add eggs to rest of milk. Stir in the sugar, lemon zest, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla.

3) Put the bread cubes in a large bowl. Pour the egg/milk mixture over, stir gently, and let sit 15 minutes.

4) Butter a large baking pan. A deep one will give a softer center, a shallower one will give more crispy crust. Gently stir apples and raisins into bread mixture and pour into baking pan.

5) Bake in a pan of hot water until firm, about 1 hour. Serve warm.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Plenty of Peppers - Stuffed

It must be October in Northern California. We have had a string of days where the temperature was well above 90 degrees. So much for fall baking! A week or so ago when it was cooler I made stuffed peppers for dinner and just realized that I never posted the recipe or photos.

The red peppers were beautiful...large, meaty and very fresh. I bought them at the farm stand that was also selling the last of the strawberries, plus lots of melon, tomatoes, beans and squash. The yellow pepper came from a friend's CSA box. It was thinner skinned but delicious, too. The lamb is so local that its from sheep who kept our grass down early this spring, another gift from our great-hearted neighbors.

The filling started with sauteed onion, carrot and celery. To that I added both cooked brown rice and fresh corn, cut from the cob, plus some salty feta cheese. A robust flavor was added by using browned ground lamb, fresh rosemary, minced garlic, and dried thyme. I moistened the mixture with a little chicken broth I had in the fridge. It made a wonderful filling for the peppers, bringing out the peppers sweetness and warm flavors. I put the filling that wouldn't fit in the peppers into a greased baking dish and cooked it along with the peppers. It made an outstanding lunch for Sweetie the next day.

He could really use a satisfying lunch because this was just about the time that we had discovered the results of a small, long-term leak in one of our pipes. It has taken almost two weeks to do the repair, but on Friday I should be able to paint the new drywall. After that we can install the last of the new flooring and take a break from construction for a while.

Maybe we'll get cool weather to turn the leaves autumn colors. That's a wonderful time to take a ride in the country and check out all the gold and red and burgundy leaves. Of course what we really want is rain. Wishing for a very rainy winter, but I do hope you get to enjoy fall color if you live where there is some.

Lamb Stuffed Peppers
Serves 4

4 medium to large bell peppers (I like red and yellow and orange, but green is OK, too)
1 tablespoon olive or grapeseed oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1-2 stalks celery, chopped
1 small carrot, sliced into thin coins
1 pound ground lamb, browned and drained
1 1/2 cups cooked and cooled brown rice
1 ear corn, steamed 5 minutes, then cooled; corn cut from cob
1/4 cup feta cheese, in small crumble
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped
2 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
S & P
1/4 - 1/2 cup chicken broth
about 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

Wash the peppers and remove the stem end and the core, plus all the seeds. Cut in half. (I like to cut from the stem to the bottom, but some people like to cut through the middle and set the stem end as a bottom. Make sure that the halves are not tippy. Cut off a bit of the outside of the pepper if needed. Set peppers aside.

In a skillet, saute the onion, celery and carrot in the grapeseed oil. Cook, over medium-high heat, stirring often, until onion is transluscent, about 5 minutes. Turn mixture into a large bowl and add the cooked lamb, cooked rice, corn, feta, chopped rosemary, chopped garlic, and dried thyme. If desired, add salt and pepper to taste. Add enough chicken broth to moisten the mixture.

Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment, or a silicon baking mat. Arrange the pepper halves on the pan. Stuff each half with the lamb mixture, mounding in the center. Sprinkle with a touch of cayenne pepper. If there is left over stuffing mixture, place in a greased small baking dish to bake along with the peppers.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven for about 20 minutes. Peppers will be softened and stuffing mixture will be hot and a little browned.

Serve at once. Refrigerate any leftovers, or baked leftover stuffing mixture.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Squash and Carrots

Although I love dessert, one can't live, or at least not very well, with a diet of sweets. Because I try to get a few servings of veggies every day, it is worth the time and effort to have a garden and/or buy from farmers markets. You get fresh, seasonal produce that way, and it's almost always local produce.

It's still summer squash season, although the harvest is winding down. We usually grill slices along with whatever Sweetie is putting on the grill, but sometimes I want a different treatment. Last week I made a wonderful saute with zucchini squash, carrots and patty pan squash, plus some chopped Italian parsley, a little garlic and just enough water to keep the veggies from sticking during cooking. Because they were so fresh they didn't need anything else and were delicious.

I cut the patty pan squash into quarters and cut the carrots and zucchini into sticks, trying to keep their shapes about the same so that they would all cook in about the same time. One thing I made sure of was to only cook them until I could insert the tip of a sharp knife. I like my squash with some bite to it. Sweetie likes his carrots that way, so we were good to go. If you look carefully you'll see the lone green bean that was on the bean bush. More are coming in now, but then it was the lone bean!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Chocolate Works With Irish

Well, chocolate works with almost anything, really. Still, this recipe is for a dense, moist, decadent chocolate cake made with liquor. Usually I make it with bourbon, but for our party last weekend I made it with Irish Whiskey and Scharfferberg semi-sweet chocolate and baked it in a beautiful star studded Bundt pan. It was so pretty that I left off the usual chocolate ganache topping and just sifted on some confectioners sugar...and it was still a hit.

Bookmark this cake if you want a cake that is easy, impressive, rich, goes together quickly, of all...very, very chocolate. If you make it ahead you can douse it with whiskey and wrap it up in cheesecloth and plastic wrap and it will get even better. Because it is so rich I usually serve thin slices, so it serves quite a few people, too. Once the party was over we didn't want so much temptation sitting in the kitchen, so Sweetie took a nice big chunk of it over to Spoiled Rotten Farm, where it was much appreciated, too.

86-Proof Chocolate Cake
from Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts

Soft butter for the pan
dry bread crumbs (about 1/3 cup)
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
5 oz. unsweetened chocolate (I used semi-sweet and it was fine)
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup cold strong coffee
Cold water
½ cup Irish whiskey
½ lb. (2 sticks) sweet butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups sugar
3 eggs (large or extra large)
Optional: confectioner’s sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F after putting oven rack 1/3 up from bottom. Butter a 10 cup capacity Bundt or other fancy tube pan. Dust the whole inside with fine, dry bread crumbs that have been mixed with a teaspoon of cocoa powder. Invert pan over a piece of paper and tap lightly to shake out excess crumbs. Set the pan aside.

Melt the chocolate in the top of a small double boiler over hot water on low heat (or microwave one minute at a time at half power, stir, continue until melted and smooth). When melted, set aside to cool slightly.

Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt and set aside.

In a 2-cup glass measuring cup place the cold strong coffee. Add cold water to the 1 ½ cup line. Add the Irish whiskey. Set aside.

Cream the butter in a large mixer bowl. Add the vanilla and sugar and beat to mix well. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the chocolate and beat until smooth. Scrape bowl and beaters often.

Then, on low speed, alternately add the sifted dry ingredients in 3 additions with the liquids in 2 additions, add the liquids very gradually to avoid splashing. Continue to scrape bowl and beaters often. Inhale the wonderful fragrance of chocolate mixed with Irish whiskey!

Pour into the prepared pan. Level the top. Bake for 1 hour 10 minutes or 15 minutes until a tester in the middle of the cake comes out clean and dry.

Cool in the pan for about 15 minutes. Then cover with a rack and invert. Remove the pan, sprinkle the cake with a bit of optional Irish whiskey if desired, and let cool.

Move to a serving plate. If desired, sprinkle the top with confectioners sugar through a fine strainer.

Cake is wonderful as is or can be served with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Monday, September 22, 2014


A few nights ago I wanted a tasty side dish for some grilled pork chops. Fortunately I had small red potatoes in the pantry and it was cool enough to fire up the oven to a nice high temperature. Smashed potatoes with nice crispy brown bits on the edges and bottom were the hit of the evening.

These are easy to make and just a bit different from French fries. For one thing they aren't fried, although a generous hand with the olive oil makes 'em extra delicious. For another thing, you can jazz them up with herbs and/or spices, or keep them simple with salt and/or pepper.

Since the potatoes I used were small - about golf ball sized - I boiled them in unsalted water until tender, then cut them in half. If you have to use larger sized potatoes, you might want to cut them into chunks before boiling them. They will cook faster that way. You can make this using small Yukon gold or similar waxy potatoes, too.

The halved potatoes were put on a baking sheet that I had lined with heavy foil and then glazed with olive oil. I've done this recipe using a silicon baking mat to line the pan, but the clean up was really messy. With the foil all of the excess oil gets tossed along with the foil after you serve up the smashed potatoes, which is much easier.

Once the potatoes are on the foil, spread them out. You want about two inches between potatoes. Then use a potato masher or strong metal spatula (pancake turner) to smash the potatoes. You want to partially flatten them, but not smash them into tiny chunks. Take a look at the photo to get an idea of how much to bear down.

At this point you can do as I did and just sprinkle on salt and pepper, and/or you can sprinkle on chopped fresh herb or dried herbs or spices like cumin, paprika or cayenne pepper. I used some dried rosemary. Then drizzle with some more olive oil. Be generous if you want crispy results. You can use flavored oil, too, like garlic olive oil or truffled olive oil if you are feeling decadent.

Place the smashed and seasoned and drizzled pan(s) of potatoes into a preheated 500 degree F oven. Bake for 6 minutes, then check them to see if they are done enough for you. Some folks like the skin to still be a little soft and lightly golden, but others, like Sweetie, like a lot of crispy skin and for it to be nice and brown. If it's not done enough, bake for another minute or two and check again. Keep doing that until done to perfection!

I found that about 5 of the smashed half potatoes was a nice portion, but hearty appetites will require more. These are so good that you may want to start with a minimum of 6 small potatoes and go from there.

I usually start these about a half hour before we eat. That gives you enough time to boil and halve the potatoes, preheat the oven, arrange and smash and season the spuds, and then time to cook them to the best crispy, crunchy, delectable potatoes you can imagine.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Tie Dye In A Cake

If someone were to ask you to name a few of the iconic fashions of the hippie era, you might say bell bottoms, fringe, items with peace symbols on them, ponchos, and...tie dye. Some of the other icons have disappeared, but tie dye is still around, at least in N. California. We have a shop down the road not ten minutes away that sells all manner of clothing items...including long underwear with a button seat flap!...and they are all tie dye.

I'm old enough to have seen it the first time around and I even know how to tie cloth and dip it in dye to get wild multicolored circles and swirls. I guess that's why my daughter's desire to bake a tie dye cake took my fancy. Usually I shy away from too much dye in foods, but she was planning to attend a 70s party and wanted to bring the cake. The cake mix, ordered from Amazon, came in a two pack, so we decided to give it a test run for Straight Shooter's birthday. It's Duff Gordon's Tie Dye Premium Cake Mix, in case you want to order it yourself. It also comes as a single box and in a pastel version, but this vibrant cake is such fun you may want two boxes.

If you looked at the cake sitting on it's cake stand on the hutch, it looked pretty, with lots of multi-colored sprinkles, but sort of plain. Straight Shooter's eyes popped when a slice was cut from the cake and he got the full impact of all those wild, mixed colors. This cake takes a little extra work, but it was worth it.

So how do you create the tie dye effect? The batter is divided into six small bowls and then you use a specific number of drops of the included gel food coloring to create a rainbow of colored batters.

After greasing one of the cake pans, you drop a measured amount of red in the middle of the pan. Then you drop the same amount of orange batter right in the middle of the red batter, which spreads the red toward the edge of the pan by displacement. That is followed by yellow batter, green batter, blue batter, and purple batter. Each color is dropped in the middle of the puddle of the last batter. It ends up looking like a very colorful bulls eye.

You do the same thing for the second pan, then bake them.

Because I can never leave good enough alone, we did two pools of color in the second pan and started one of the pools with blue instead of red, so there were two sets of colors. That made it trippy when you cut the cake. You didn't know which colors you would see on the top layer in which order.

I think that you could probably use your favorite white cake recipe for this and some gel food colors, but if you do, be sure to put the gel colors in the bowl before mixing up the batter, and have the cake pans prepared. That way there will be less time between when you finish mixing the batter and when the cake goes into the oven.

You can frost this anyway you like, or even use rolled out fondant. We didn't rally think about the impact that having a plain vanilla frosting hiding all that color would have when the color was revealed, but that was part of the appeal.

We used the funfetti comes with sprinkles, but we also added some multi-colored heart sprinkles that I found while I was getting ready for the remodel of the kitchen.

Combined they gave a very festive look to the cake.

I have to admit that we cleaned up all of the batter bowls and utensils outside with the hose.

We even did the batter scooping outside because it wasn't clear how messy it would be (pretty messy) and I'm not willing to find out how washable my new countertop really is yet. I know, I'm a wuss, but I want to enjoy its pristine beauty just a while longer.

So let me know if you end up making this cake, OK? It can be a blast from the past, or a fun project to do with the kids...or both.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Baking Bread Again

It's almost like that song ... "Falling in love again..." because I really did miss bread baking while the kitchen was torn up and now it almost seems new. Some of that is because I'm still searching for some of my equipment and supplies, but some is because working in a new space just feels fresh and different. I love it!

This month our talented and straight talking Babe, Ilva of Lucullian Delights blog is Kitchen of the Month and she has chosen Robert Mays French Bread for the Bread Baking Babes to bake. The special ingredient that makes it different from other French breads is egg white. The recipe comes from Elizabeth David's English Bread and Yeast Cookery and it was fun to make. Another somewhat unusual feature is that for the final part of the baking you cover the loaves with pots, for a better crust.

Like Ilva, I didn't cover my loaf but lowered the temperature for the last 15 minutes instead. I think the crust was just fine that way, even if it wasn't very thick. I did use a baking stone, which made for a lovely bottom crust. It was delicious and not difficult at all. The only tip I have is to start out with 8 or 9 oz. liquid (water/milk) for that amount of flour. I used 10 oz. and had to add a little more flour while kneading. If you want a really slack dough, use the larger amount, but I was going for a fairly dense crumb and it was just right. Used King Arthur white whole wheat flour for half for that nutty taste, with a milk or egg yolk wash added just before baking.

I shaped half of the dough into a crown and kept the other half as an oval loaf. I brushed the crown with milk and brushed the oval loaf with the left over egg yolk. Because I was still pretty swamped with punch list tasks when I made it (a few weeks ago, absolutely as soon as I had an oven and enough of my baking stuff organized) I kept it pretty simple.

This is a fine bread for sandwiches, toasting, or just enjoying with butter and jam or to find the last drops of a good stew or soup. Thank you Ilva for choosing just the right recipe for trying out the new kitchen.

Do visit the blogs of our other Babes, too, to see their take on this delightful bread.
Bake My Day - Karen, Blog From OUR Kitchen - Elizabeth, Bread Experience - Cathy, Girlichef - Heather, Life's A Feast - Jaime, Living in the Kitchen With Puppies - Natashya, My Diverse Kitchen - Aparna, My Kitchen in Half Cups - Tanna, Notitie van Lien - Lien.

from Elizabeth David's English Bread and Yeast Cookery

500 g/ 1 lb 2 oz preferably a half-and-half mixture of unbleached white and wheatmeal
15 g/ 0,5 oz of yeast (fresh)
2 egg whites
280-340 g/ 0,5 pint to 12 oz water and milk,preferably 3/4 water and 1/4 milk (perhaps a bit less liquid)
15 g/ 0,5 oz salt

- Warm flour and salt in a very tepid oven. (you can skip this - I did)

- Pour in the yeast creamed in a little of the warmed milk and water mixture. Add the egg whites, beaten in a small bowl until they are just beginning to froth. Pour in the remaining milk (but not all at once like I did, I had to add more flour to get the right consistency). Mix as for ordinary bread dough.

- Leave to rise until spongy and light. This will take 45 minutes to 1 hour depending on the temperature of the ingredients when the dough as mixed.

- Break down the dough, divide it into two round loaves-or long rolls if you prefer. (I made one oval loaf). Cover with plastic or a light cloth and leave to recover volume. About 30 minutes should be enough.

- Decorate crust with cuts or not. Bake in a pre-heated oven (230°C/450°F) for the first 15 minutes. Then to prevent the crust to get too hard, cover the loaves with bowls or an oval casserole. In another 15 minutes the laves should be ready. (I did not cover my loaf because I had nothing of that size of shape that I could use so I lowered the temperature to 175°C/350°F and left it in for another 15-20 minutes, but I did use a bread/pizza stone.)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Gluten Free Baked Lamb Meatballs

It's been great being back in the kitchen cooking. I had no idea that finding new homes for all my cooking and baking equipment and supplies would be so challenging. It isn't that there isn't room, nor that I hadn't planned where to put most of it, the problem is that I find that where I thought things should go is not truly where they fit best when actually using the kitchen. That means rethinking a lot of my original plan.

I look pretty crazy sometimes as I open and close drawer after drawer and door after door of the cabinets, looking for a whisk or grater, a citrus juicer or colander. Some things have been moved four or five times since the project started and my memory just isn't what it used to be.

Still, I wouldn't go back to the old kitchen and I love all of the work space. I even used the little table this week while I was preparing pounds of home grown, just picked cherry tomatoes for roasting. Sitting instead of standing to remove all of those little tomato tops before I prepared them for roasting was a treat. After the tomatoes were roasted I decided that as long as the oven was hot, I could make meatballs for dinner.

I had thawed some frozen ground lamb from the freezer and somewhere recently I read a recipe where they used almond meal instead of bread crumbs for making meatballs, so I decided to see what I could come up with using items already in the pantry and fridge. I'm not eating gluten free myself, in general, but it's always nice to have a dish to make that is when I might have guests who need to eat gluten free. This dish is not vegan or vegetarian however, but it is dairy free. Because Sweetie is not a big fan of mint, it is a mint free dish, too. Mostly I would make these again because they were awesomely yummy.

There was just over a pound of ground lamb. The fridge had a wonderful caramelized red onion and fig conserve, some Dijon mustard, an egg yolk left over from another recipe, eggs, fresh basil, and the almond meal. The pantry had salt and pepper. That was all I needed. Because the onion and fig conserve was ready to go and very full flavored, the meatballs went together very quickly.

I scooped them on to a foil lined baking sheet and baked them in a 400 degree F oven for about 18 minutes. I was going for 20 minutes, but they seemed to be done at 18 and I hate overcooked lamb.

A key thing to remember if you decide to make these is to handle the mixture lightly. That keeps 'em tender and juicy. The other thing to know is that they may flatten just a bit, so don't expect tight, round meatballs. Instead look forward to light, juicy, delicious meatballs with some crispy bits where they sat on the pan. The lamb flavor shines and is enhanced by the slightly sweet onions and figs. The mustard and basil are background flavors and I didn't really taste the egg or almond meal at all. You can serve them with some more of the conserve or a bit of tomato sauce, or some yogurt...all three would be good. I served them with a neighbor's gift of fresh from the garden broccoli, which I roasted with garlic, and corn on the cob, and that was wonderful, too.

Elle's Gluten Free Baked No Mint Lamb Meatballs

1 pound ground lamb
1 egg yolk
1 medium or large egg
1/4 cup caramelized red onion and fig conserve (any kind of onion-fig jam or conserve will work)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup almond meal (ground blanched almonds)
2 - 3 tablespoons minced fresh basil
salt and pepper to taste (I used 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper)

In a mixing bowl, using a fork, lightly stir together the above ingredients. Scoop balls about the size of a walnut on to a foil lined baking sheet, leaving about an inch to two inches between balls. (You can make the meatballs any size you like, but the smaller size bakes more quickly than larger ones.)

Bake in a preheated 400 degree F oven for 12-20 minutes. Check after 12 minutes to see how done they are - they should be browned around the edges and spring back a bit when prodded - turn the pan 180 degrees and continue baking until done.

Serve at once and enjoy! Serves 3-4.