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.



ROBERT MAY'S FRENCH BREAD
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.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Cookies From A Pot


Do you have a favorite snack for times of stress? Lots of folks turn to ice cream and that does have the advantage of being ready to eat from the carton, it come in lots of flavors, and all you need is a spoon.

I tend to go for cookies. When I knew I would be without a stove for a while I baked some blondies, and that really helped. Once they were gone I wished that I had made butterscotch cookies, so I looked here on the blog for the recipe. No way I was going to find the recipe in my recipe card file because the file had disappeared into the whirl of items that used to live in the kitchen cupboard but now were temporarily housed elsewhere for the kitchen remodel. Turns out that I never put up a post on butterscotch cookies, so I had to wait until I found the recipe box. About a week ago I spotted it on a window sill behind a curtain. Sure enough, there was the recipe I wanted, so I brought it inside and put it by the flour in the new baking center. I decided that once I was able to bake again that it would be the first thing I made.

Today was the day! The stove is working, I have sinks in working order and a dishwasher. The new drawers and shelves are starting to be put to use as I sort out my kitchen things and find new homes for them. One of the nice things about this recipe is that you can make the batter in a good sized pot. No mixer needed!

You start with a lot of butter. It gets melted in the pot, then you add a lot of brown sugar. That gets stirred together. I usually let it cool a bit and today I was blessed by a phone call from a friend so we caught up while the mixture cooled.

Once the butter/sugar mixture cools a bit, you beat in the eggs, then, all at once, add the dry ingredients, nuts, chocolate chips and vanilla. As long as your pot is big enough, all this can be done in the same pot you melted the butter in. The batter gets turned out into a greased baking pan and spread out, then it's into the preheated oven. It doesn't take long before the house smells absolutely delicious! This is a very aromatic cookie. After cooling you can cut them into bars of whatever size you like.

These bars of delight ship well and keep well if you can keep them hidden. I usually freeze some so that I don't eat the whole pan in a day...I like them that well. Fortunately we are down to the punch list so my stress level should be pretty low for a while. I bet I make these again before Christmas!

In case you have been following the madness of the kitchen remodel, I'm going to include a photo and am happy to say that the last of the paint touch ups was done today. All appliances, cabinets, floor, sinks, faucets, drawer and door handles on the cabinets, hooks, garbage containers and all but one of the towel racks have been installed. Most of the shelves and drawers are lined, and some are even filled. We found a good buy on bamboo drawer dividers at Costco, so lots of items that can go in them are in drawers and in order. Now I just have to remember which drawer they went to!


I hope to post a lot more often now that I should have more cooking and baking time. I made some amazing lamb meatballs last night which I need to share with you before I forget the ingredients I threw together, plus there are a few things I've made in the last week or so that were too good not to share. Hope you have checked out some of the older posts. If you have a way to go to classic web version there is a photo of a table setting which is a link to the recipe index. The index is a little out of date, but there are some hidden treasures there if you look for them.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Height of Summer Chicken and Corn



The garden is so beautiful right now! The cherry tomato plants have taken over most of a 4 foot by 6 foot planter box, but there is a sky blue morning glory with flowers as big as saucers that has climbed up and through those tomatoes and up some more.


There is a smaller Early Girl plant that is starting to produce red, ripe tennis ball size tomatoes, too. I used both the cherry and Early Girl tomatoes in today's dish. The squash plants yield about one a week, which is fine since there has been no baking to speak of until today for about 5 weeks, and not much real cooking either. Sweetie grills the squash, just like using a campfire. Come to think of it, having no working kitchen is a bit like camping out, without the bugs. Fun for a while, but it was so nice to finally bake today!

A good friend has corn that has all ripened at once, so she gave us some a few days ago. The first eating was lightly steamed and right off the cob. Today I cut the kernels off the cobs and added them at the last minute to a chicken casserole which also has fresh tomatoes, white wine, onions and fresh basil. It's based on a recipe I've loved for years, Chicken Cacciatore. This is a fresher combination and really delicious.


It is also one to bookmark because you can make it up the night before, or even a few days before you eat it and then reheat it when you have had a busy, busy day. Sitting overnight or longer melds the flavors and it is even better than freshly made. Just be sure to add the corn 5 minutes before you serve the dish. It really only needs to warm up!

I served this with fresh from the garden steamed green beans, but it would be lovely with a salad and some nice bread, too. Bread baking coming soon, I promise.


Chicken with Corn, Onion, Tomato and Basil

1 chicken, cut up (I used 4 chicken breasts, each cut in half)
1 large onion, sliced thin
1 pound fresh tomatoes, washed, stem end removed, and cut up (I used about 14 oz. Early Girl and the rest cherry tomato...with the cherry tomatoes cut in quarters)
3 tablespoons fresh basil, sliced in thin slices or chopped
2 ears fresh corn, cut from the cob
salt & pepper to taste & olive oil for the bottom of the pan

Sprinkle chicken with salt. In a large, heavy ovenproof skillet, over medium heat, brown chicken in hot oil. (I use just enough oil to coat the pan bottom to keep the chicken from sticking. If you have a large, heavy ovenproof non-stick skillet, you don’t even need the oil.)
Add the onion; cook about 3 minutes, stirring, until the onion is crispy-tender. (If using chicken breasts, remove them to a bowl...which retains the juices...while you stir the onions, then place them over the mixture once the tomatoes have been added. Otherwise they may cook too long and become tough)
Remove pan from the heat. Stir in the tomatoes and pepper. Sprinkle with the basil.
Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree F. oven for about 30-40 minutes, or until tender. 5 minutes before dish is cooked, add the corn, cover, and return to oven for 5 minutes. Serve at once.
 If you will be reheating the dish, don't add the corn until you have reheated the dish. Keep the corn refrigerated until ready to use.
If you are reheating the dish, place it in a preheated oven, without the corn, and heat it until internal temperature registers 165 degrees F. Uncover, add the corn, cover and keep heating for 5 minutes. Serve at once.
It is OK to let the casserole stand in turned off oven up to 1 hour, but the corn will not be as sweet.
Serves 4-6.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Honey From the Hive


Last spring we pulled into the driveway and stopped for the mail from the box by the road. An intense humming sound drew my attention toward the olive tree downhill and I was happy to see that there was a bee swarm. Why would that make me happy? Well, I knew that our near neighbors, just across the road, were hoping to start a bee hive in their garden and here was a local swarm, ready to find a new home.


Later that day, dressed in a bee costume and armed with clippers and a cardboard box, AM, G and Sweetie captured the swarm from the olive tree where they were unsuccessfully trying to create a home. They took to their new home in the hive quite well, although initially they started a comb in a part of the box not meant for a comb. Soon they were buzzing about the local area, pollinating the fruit trees and berry shrubs, the veggies and the flowers in the cultivated gardens, gathering pollen and making honey. With the current problems with bee hive disease and die off, every healthy hive is a welcome addition.

Yesterday we were in San Francisco celebrating the birthday of one of our favorite people. The traffic home was slower than usual, so we were very happy to get home. We were even happier when we rolled up the hill and met AM, who had just dropped off something for us.

There, by the door, was a package wrapped in lined paper with "taste me" written on it. Given that AM makes amazingly delicious cheese, soup, bread, and other goodies there was no telling what delights were in store for us.


We removed the paper and found a golden, almost glowing, piece of honey comb, full of fragrant honey!
All thoughts of dinner fled as I quickly made tea and toast.


The toast was the perfect vehicle for that honey.See the little chunks of honey comb? We could almost taste the flowers. A delight indeed. Thank you AM and your bees!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Eat From the Garden


Farm to table is really big right now in the restaurant world. That is probably a good thing because getting people to really taste fresh veggies and fruit soon after they are harvested might help generate demand for that taste hit in regular and fast food restaurants, to say nothing of in grocery stores.

Even better than farm to table is garden to table. To have planted the little seeds, nurtured them, set them out in the garden when the time was ripe, kept them going with regular water (and plant food as needed), tying up the tomatoes and re-routing the wayward pole bean vines, watching the first fruits form and grow and ripen...then to pick and eat that ripe food shortly after picking. Bliss.


I usually try to do as little as possible with the harvest if I only harvest enough to enjoy that day. Today I harvested enough lovely green bush beans for Sweetie and I to enjoy with our dinner. All they needed was a quick rinse and a rapid steam to turn them brilliant green and heat them enough to enjoy. Nothing else was needed! We had them last night, too. The thing to remember if you decide to grow bush beans is that they come in almost all at once...within a week or so. Great if you are canning them, but otherwise you need to pick them almost every day and figure out what to do with them. My pole beans seem to take a bit longer, so I harvest them less frequently.


The small tomatoes (Early Girls, I think) also got a quick rinse and then were sliced. The slices were laid on a platter and I sprinkled on a tiny bit of garlic salt and freshly ground pepper.


These tomatoes never saw the inside of a refrigerator, so they were room temperature. They taste like summer...juicy, tart, the essence of tomato. Last night's cherry tomatoes were even simpler. Wash, put on plate. Remove green top, eat, repeat.



If you don't have a garden or a neighbor who wants to share, try a good farmer's market. It will be almost as fresh and very, very delicious.

For those who are keeping track, we now have a counter and sink and faucet in the baking center, so washing up is easier. The photo of the tomatoes and cutting board shows a sliver of the new quartz counter top. Still no regular stove or oven, but Sweetie is patching some dry wall tomorrow and I'll be working on the mural this weekend, so it won't be too much longer before I can bake again.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Apple Pie-ish


The Gravensteins are here! A big banner, sponsored by the Slow Food movement, announces that fact right near Whole Foods in downtown Sebastopol. Gravensteins are one of the early apples. They are delicious and make great applesauce and cider, even pie, but don't keep and don't ship well. Fortunately, we have a couple of Gravenstein trees on the property and this morning I had my first taste of the season.


My breakfast was apple pie-ish because I diced half of an unpeeled Gravenstein, sprinkled it with cinnamon, microwaved it for a minute and a half, then used that delicious, hot apple goodness as the base for my cereal and plain yogurt. If you think about the bran cereal as having pie crust flavors, and the yogurt as having the dairy flavor that some ice cream or whipped cream would have, it isn't difficult to pretend that you are eating apple pie...well, if you have an imagination like mine anyway.

The main kitchen cabinets are here this morning, too! Soon we will be having breakfast in regular bowls, not paper ones, because we will have a dishwasher again. Once the stove is hooked up, there will be real cooking and baking again, too. Exciting!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Still Eating


From the looks of this blog...no posts for a while...you'd think we'd stopped eating of something. The truth is that I've almost stopped cooking. Having everything pulled out of your kitchen will lead to that. It's been almost two weeks and last night was the first time I really used the alternate kitchen that Sweetie created in my art studio.

We had both used the sink a few times for washing up, but lately we have been eating prepared foods. I cooked some things and put them in the freezer before the demolition, but we have also enjoyed Pasta King lasagna, bagged salads with tomatoes from the farm stand and similar foods. Steamed freshly picked green beans are possible using the microwave in the living room.

Yesterday I decided that the time had come to do some real cooking, but I still wanted to keep it simple. I used the toaster oven mid-day to bake some boneless, skinless chicken thighs. After cooling slightly, they went into the studio fridge. Closer to dinner time. I used the studio microwave to boil broth in a large glass measuring cup. I added a flavor packet from a package of couscous. That mixture was poured over a bowl of couscous from the package, covered and it sat for 5 minutes to allow the couscous to absorb the broth.

While the couscous was cooking, I cut up the chicken and basil, juiced the lemon and rounded up the pepper grinder. I had forgotten to get the feta from the fridge in the living room, so I added it once I went back in the house. All of the ingredients except the lemon zest (which I skipped...who knew where the zester had gotten to?) and feta were stirred into the fluffed couscous.


 All that was left was to add the feta, heat some bread and serve it up.

Sweetie has always loved this recipe and was thrilled to have a home cooked meal that was this delicious. Tomorrow we may be back to bagged salad to use up the rest of the chicken, but I'll bet I'll be cooking in the alternate kitchen the next day. I'll try to post what I cook, but the next few days are full of flooring work and wall painting, so who knows if I'll have the energy. I do love to paint walls, but it does tire me out.

Hope you make this dish. It is a lovely meal for a summer day with bright, fresh flavors and it's easy, too.


Mediterranean Chicken Couscous
Serves 8 (more if part of a buffet or potluck)

1 1/4 cups low-sodium fat-free chicken broth
1 (5.6 oz.) package toasted pine nut couscous mix
3 cups chopped cooked chicken
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 (4 oz.) package crumbled feta cheese (I used about half that amount)
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind (optional)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Garnish: fresh basil leaves

(Note:  Substitute 3-4 teaspoons (I used 3) dried basil if you can't get fresh. 3 cups of leftover cooked chicken or turkey in large dice works fine, too.)

Microwave chicken broth and seasoning packet from couscous package at HIGH for 3-5 minutes or until broth begins to boil. Place couscous in a large bowl, and stir in broth mixture. Cover and let stand 5 minutes. Fluff couscous with a fork, stir in chicken and next 6 ingredients. Serve warm or cold. Garnish with fresh basil leaves or a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts, if desired.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Rosemary - That's For Remembrance

Flowers and herbs used to have secret, hidden meanings, sort of like a secret handshake or something. Rosemary is for remembrance, but I almost forgot to post today...things have been hopping around our house as the first part of the kitchen remodel is underway and almost complete...and we are starting work on the second part. Fortunately, I baked this bread the first time in June and the second time a few weeks ago when all my baking supplies were still in their usual place.

The Bread Baking Babes Kitchen of the Month, Cathy of Bread Experience, chose Panmarino, an Italian bread created in Ferrara near Venice for our baking and eating pleasure. Perhaps the ultimate gift of this bread is that the scent of rosemary permeates the kitchen while it bakes and also rises up when you take a bite. 

Of course that requires fresh rosemary, not dried, with all its delicious and scented essential oils. I'm fortunate that the people who owned our property before we did planted a small rosemary shrub in the perfect spot. I know it's the perfect spot because it has grown and grown over the years and now covers an area about the size of a VW bus. Plenty of fresh rosemary to go into my favorite lamb marinade, plenty of long skinny branches of rosemary to use as skewers for food for the BBQ, plenty more for baking with olive oil coated potatoes, and lots to go into bread, too. If you don't own a rosemary plant, you might consider planting one. If you put it in a good sized pot, but one not too heavy to move, you can find a sunny spot for it and be able to move it indoors if it gets too cold outside. Keep the soil on the dry side and don't give it too much fertilizer and you, too, can have lots of fresh rosemary.

The first time around I was in a hurry and didn't allow enough time for rising, nor for baking. The result had great flavor, but was dense and under-cooked.That'll teach me to try to rush bread making. Tsk, tsk.

The second time I made some changes, partly because I seem to be compelled to change recipes and partly because I wanted a bread that was less dense.

The second time I increased the water and the milk a little, added more yeast, reduced the salt in the dough a bit and kneaded the rosemary into the dough after its first rise. That way I could have nine dinner rolls with rosemary, a round loaf with rosemary, and a sandwich loaf without rosemary. I skipped the slashing and salt crystals this time, so it wasn't authentic, but it was lighter in crumb (Sweetie said the crumb was perfect!) but still sturdy, had a nice crust (yes, I did put ice cubes in a preheated pan for extra steam), and delicious. It makes great toast!

You are going to want to try this bread, then take a photo, write up your experience and e-mail them to  Cathy so that you can be a Buddy. Deadline is July 29. Do visit all the other Babes to see what their bread looks like, too. I think you will find variations on a theme. We are baking fools and love to have you visit and see what fun we have been having.

I also want to make a moment of remembrance of my son Maxwell. He was only a few weeks short of being 17 when we lost him 15 years ago tomorrow in an auto accident. I remember his smile, his generous and loving ways, and his curiosity and empathy. He was blessed with so many talents and many friends. Perhaps the rosemary plant has grown so large because we have so much good to remember. I miss him very much.


Panmarino
Makes: 4 Loaves  Original Panmarino created in Ferrara near Venice

Biga (which I made exactly as described):

Bread flour 143 grams/  5 ounces
Water 122 grams/  4 1/4 ounces
Pinch of instant yeast

Final Dough:

Bread flour 884 grams/  1 pound 15 ounces
Water 487 grams/  2 cups
Milk 2 ounces/ 1/4 cup
Biga 265 grams/  9 1/3 ounces
Salt 1/2 ounce/ 2 teaspoons
1 teaspoon instant yeast
Olive oil 88 grams/  3 ounces
Chopped fresh rosemary 9 grams/  1/3 ounce


Preparing the Biga:
Combine the bread flour, water and yeast in a large mixing bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon until well blended.  Scrape down the edge of the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rest at 75 degrees F. for 14 to 16 hours.

Making the Final Dough:
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the water, milk, and biga. Using the dough hook, mix on low speed until blended.

Add the salt and yeast to the bread flour in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add bread flour mixture a cup at a time and mix on low speed until incorporated, then add more. When about half the flour is added, add the olive oil, mix with the dough hook to combine, then continue to add the flour mixture. You may need to add by tablespoonfuls at the end. Mix with dough hook on low for 5 minutes.  Increase the speed to medium and mix for about 7 more minutes, or until the dough is smooth.

Lightly oil a large bowl. Scrape the dough into the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough ferment for 45 minutes.

Remove the dough to a lightly-floured work surface and knead in the fresh rosemary. Divide the dough into four 450-gram /16-ounce pieces (or divide into three pieces to shape as desired, as I did). Shape the dough pieces into rounds. Cover with plastic wrap and let them bench rest for 15 minutes.

Place two couches on a separate work surface or bread board and dust them with flour.

Uncover the dough and, if necessary, lightly flour the work surface. Gently press on the dough to degas and carefully shape each piece into a tight and neat rounds (or into rolls or loaves, as I did. I also shaped my round loaf in a heavily floured brotform).  Place one loaf on one side of the couche, fold the couche up to make a double layer of cloth to serve as a divider between the loaves, and place a second loaf next to the fold.  Repeat the process with the remaining two loaves and the second couche.  Cover with plastic wrap and proof for 1 hour.

About an hour before you plan to bake the loaves, place a baking stone (or tiles) into the oven along with a steam pan (underneath) or iron skillet (on the top rack) and preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Uncover the dough and score the top of each loaf in a star pattern using a lame or sharp knife. This particular formula doesn't say to do this, but you can sprinkle sea salt into the crevices as the original baker did to make it "sparkle with diamonds."

(I did this with my first try, but didn't with my second. Didn't think it contributed much to the bread.)

Carefully transfer the loaves to the preheated baking stone using a peel or the back of a baking sheet. To make the steam, add 1 cup of ice to the iron skillet or steam pan.

Bake for 40 minutes, or until the crust is light brown and crisp and the loaves make a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom.

Remove the loaves from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

California Blondes


I was working at a drugstore in the cosmetics department when a hair coloring company found the model Cheryl Tiegs and had her be the image of the California Blonde for their ad campaign. She was immediately the 'it' girl for young women. The company sold a lot of blonde hair color kits. The song "California Girls" was in that same era, and the Summer of Love wasn't far behind. Everyone wanted that sunny California look, or to live in California. Of course the older generation saw all of the sex, drugs and rock 'n roll as a sign that California was the hotbed of degeneracy and a land of fruits (gays) and nuts. Having lived in California most of my adult life, they may have a point, but there are just as many ordinary folks here as anywhere else...the wild ones and ones that seem different just get more media attention. Being someone who often felt different while I was growing up, I like the feeling of' being accepted for who I am' that is a California hallmark, at least in much of the state.

Today's cookie celebrates the fruits and nuts, as well as the sunny because it's a blondie, the sister of a brownie because it's like a brownie without chocolate. I added fruits and nuts and used plenty of vanilla. It makes a moist, rich, delicious bar cookie, a bit on the sweet side like a young California girl. Hope you enjoy your California Blondes.


California  Blondes
A variation of a recipe by Jill O’Connor in Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey, Desserts for the Serious Sweet Tooth.

1 cup (2 sticks) butter
2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder

MIX-IN INGREDIENTS:
2  cups mixed nuts – I used half and half of pecans and walnut pieces
1 cup mixed dried fruits - I used regular and golden raisins and dried cranberries
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Use cooking spray to lightly coat a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.

Melt the butter and sugars together in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the butter and sugars are blended and completely melted and starting to bubble gently. Remove the pan from heat and let the mixture cool slightly.

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla and salt. Slowly whisk the cooled butter and sugar mixture into the eggs just until combined. Whisk in the flour and baking powder to form a loose batter. (Make sure the batter is cool before stirring in the remaining ingredients, otherwise the chocolate will start to melt before the bars are baked.)

Stir the chopped  nuts, dried fruits, and white and dark chocolate chips into the cooled batter. (I mixed all of the "mix-in" ingredients together in a very large measuring cup before adding to the batter. That way I knew that there wouldn’t be a clump of nuts here and a clump of white chocolate there, but rather a nice mix of all the goodies.) Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula.

Bake until the top is shiny and slightly crackled and feels firm to the touch, 30 – 35 minutes. A wooden skewer inserting into the batter should come out with moist crumbs clinging to it. Let cool on a wire rack to room temperature, then cut into bars and serve.


Makes 16 large or 32 small bars.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Mural


The kitchen remodel is coming along. The old front hall will become my baking center in less than a week! Because I have decided to get rid of grout as much as possible in this house, I was looking for another treatment than tile for the back splash between the counter material and the upper cabinet. A few months ago I began thinking about a mural. This past week I actually painted a mural, sort of a bird's eye view of the bay area water and hills, with some vineyards and golden summer fields, too.

I've never painted a mural, so I was really anxious about starting. I decided to do it in pieces, starting with a sketch, using a white paint pen over the pumpkin butter wall color. After that I used some wall paint samples that didn't work out, one in a very pale gold and one in a khaki color, to paint in the general design...sort of creating a canvas. The photo at the start of the post shows how that worked out.

The following day I used more paint samples and some acrylic paints that were a gift from Straight Shooter. This allowed me to put some color on those hills and in the sky and on the water, making them very much three dimensional.



Now I was feeling more confident, so the next day I added the golden fields, trees and shrubs near and far, other detail, depth, and even some washes of color.


The best part was later in the day when I was able to add the details to the fields and more shades of green to the trees, plus closer trees on the left (below). That really made it work for me. Sweetie suggested that I add a horizon line and he was right. The deeper gold out past the hills, on the left, works very well. The whole painting is about 48 inches wide by 20 inches tall. There is a window just to the left, so it gets light from that side. That's why I had the light in the painting coming mostly from the left. The very upper and very lower sections will be covered by cabinets and counter top material, so not much work needed to happen there.


Today I deepened some color, added a wash of blue at the top of the hills and over the right side to suggest distance, then used tiny dots of yellow and white paint to suggest flowers in the nearest field. No photo of that yet, but when the cabinets are installed, I'll take a photo that shows how it all turned out and share it with you.

It has been a lot of fun learning how to get the effects I want and letting the paint take over some of the time, too, and just enjoying the unexpected results. My experience doing watercolor really helped, and my love of color and skill with color mixing helped, too. I'm often glad that I have creative talents, but today I really felt like an artist when I saw the finished mural. The cabinets arrive next week and then I'll be able to see how it all fits together. Best of all, I can enjoy looking at it while I bake once everything is finished!

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Summer Simple Pie


There are all kinds of pies but, by their nature, pies are approachable. A butter cream embellished multi-layered cake is fancy and fine, but pies are usually much more simple. A pie like the one I made a few days ago is simplicity itself...one crust, a mixture of fruit dusted with some flour to help thicken the juices, a brush of milk over the finished crust for color and a sprinkle of sparkling sugar for crunch. Even simpler would be to make it with one kind of fruit. If that fruit were, for instance, blueberries, then there is no peeling or cutting; no prep to speak of except of washing the berries and drying them off a bit.

I had fresh, ripe peaches on hand which only required peeling and cutting into curved slices. The pits and skins went into the wet garbage, but could also go into the compost pile. Strawberries needed to be hulled and some were large enough that I cut them in half. Blackberries from the bushes down the driveway were rinsed along with the blueberries and allowed to drain and air dry a bit while I prepared the crust.

Although I can make a delightful pie crust from scratch, if I'm going for simple I use a ready made crust. I use the rolling pin to flatten and enlarge it about another two inches all around. Then it goes onto a piece of parchment paper. This time I should have put that paper on a rimmed baking sheet because all of the fruit was very juicy. Even with the flour added I had too much juice seeping from the pie. That juice ended up spilling off of the parchment paper as I removed the pie from the oven. Hot fruit juice went all over the oven! It cleaned up nicely once the oven cooled, but I felt foolish for not containing the pie to avoid the spill.

The finished pie is rustic to look at but very, very tasty. Such a summery mix! Peaches, blueberries, blackberries and strawberries, barely held together with crisp pastry. Each slice had some of the fruit juices from the parchment paper, too. We could have embellished it with whipped cream or ice cream, but it truly didn't need that. It was a simple summer pie and a true seasonal delight.



Simple Summer Pie

1/2 pint fresh strawberries, rinsed,drained, hulled and sliced in half if large
3-4 ripe peaches, peeled, pit removed, and sliced...about 8 slices per peach
1/2 pint ripe blackberries, rinsed and drained
1/4 pint ripe blueberries, rinsed and drained
3-4 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 prepared pie crust round (I use Pillsbury ReadyCrust)
1-2 tablespoons milk
1-2 tablespoons sparkling sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

In a large bowl gently combine the strawberries, peach slices, blackberries and blueberries. Sprinkle with the flour and nutmeg and gently toss the fruit until it absorbs the flour. Set aside.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pie crust round to about 11 or 12 inches in diameter. Place on a sheet of parchment paper. Place parchment paper on a rimmed baking sheet. Pour the prepared fruit mixture in the middle of the crust and mound it, leaving the outer 2-3 inches without fruit. Fold the outer 2-3 inches of crust up over the mounded fruit, pleating as necessary to bring it over the fruit. If needed, use a finger dipped in clear water to lightly wet the pastry at the folds, so that the pastry sticks together.

Use a pastry brush to brush the milk over the crust and sprinkle, if desired, with sparkling sugar. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, then turn heat down to 375 degrees F. and continue to bake until juices bubble and pastry is golden brown.

Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes on a cooling rack before serving. Serves 4-6.