Friday, November 20, 2015

Cake Slice Bakers Bake From A New Book

I've really enjoyed being part of the Cake Slice Bakers baking group. Each month we choose from four recipes from our current book. This month we are beginning a new book...Maida Heatter's Cakes. It has plain cakes, fancy cakes, chocolate cakes, layer cakes, cheesecakes, fruitcakes and nut cakes, cakes with fruits or vegetables, yeast cakes and more.

Although the other three recipes sounded wonderful, I chose to bake The Irish Whiskey Cake, leaving out the caraway seeds. I baked the recipe in a small Bundt pan instead of a loaf pan. It makes small slices, so you can have more than one and still feel virtuous. It's the perfect size to share, so it's going on my weekend journey with me. I would have included the oh-so-Irish caraway seeds, but I was out of them. I also forgot to smear extra butter on the hot cake once it came from the oven and I didn't add extra whiskey via wrapping or cheesecloth in the center. Still, it is a lovely cake which Maida describes as having less fruit than the usual fruitcake. I froze mine for a few days, so it was very easy to slice.

This cake was a dream to bake. Although the list of ingredients is long, the making really is comprised of four steps: creaming the butter and sugar, then alternately adding the sifted together dry ingredients and the whiskey, followed by stirring in citrus, raisins, seeds and nuts, then folding in beaten egg whites. I beat the egg whites before starting the creaming since I only have on stand mixer bowl. I set them aside in a different bowl, rinsed out the stand mixer bowl and dried it, then got on with the recipe. The whites were still just fine for folding in by the time I got to them and this way the baking powder had less time to react before the pan of batter was in the oven, too.

Do give this cake a try. Sweetie says that it has a medium density, is not too sweet, and was nicely balance between fruity and nutty. I think that it would go well with a glass of wine or some coffee or tea because, although it isn't dry, it isn't terribly moist either...I guess it's just right.

Not sure I'll have time to type up the recipe, but check out the other bakers at the bottom of the post. The photos link to their posts and one of them may have typed it all up. I'm trying to get this post up at the same time that I'm loading the car to drive to the Sacramento area to visit Natasha and her hubby and do some painting at last. When I get back I'll try to type up the recipe for future reference and so that you, too, can make this delicious cake. I might have some more photos, too. You can also buy the's a great one.

In the meantime, do check out the post of the other Cake Slice Bakers and see which recipe they chose to make.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Babes Bake Flowering Bread

I've never been to Russia, but if the bread there is as delicious as this month's Russian Chrysanthemum Bread, perhaps I should try to get there. Our dear Babe Lien invited us to gather around her kitchen table and make this bread which ends up looking a bit like a flower. It's a filled bread and takes some time, but once you figure out how to fill each dough circle and fold it, it is pretty easy. Just remember, the pointed end goes towards the middle. Do that and don't over-fill the dough circle and you, too, will make a gorgeous, impressive and wonderful treat. The Bread Baking Babes enjoy this sort of bread you?

The recipe we were given calls for a savory filling, but I recently received a jar of cranberry-orange marmalade. It's almost Thanksgiving, one of the few times I have cranberry conserve on the table, so think of this as a seasonal and sweet variation. I included some cream cheese mixed with this year's crop of walnuts from the back yard, chopped fine. They made a great flavor combination. The finished bread is lovely to look at but the star is the dough. According to my Sweetie, the dough is buttery. moist and rich tasting, even though there isn't any butter in it...just milk, egg and olive oil.

The links at the bottom of the post will lead you to at least a couple of pizza savory flavored versions and some closer to the traditional meat-herbs-cheese version. Take your pick, but do try making this. Imagine think slices as a starter for a dinner party, especially a savory version. I think my version would be wonderful for Thanksgiving morning because the house will have some of the fragrance of the Thanksgiving meal but early in the day...sort of a teaser.

The tip to roll out the dough (1/3 at a time) and then let it sit 10 minutes is important. It means that the dough circle will stay at 7.5 cm (about 3 inches) which will allow you to put in enough filling that there will be a nice filling-bread balance. This is what my flower looked like right after I had filled all the petals and put them into place. Because it is a smaller pie plate than standard, I had enough dough left over to make a small tea ring with the rest of the fillings, but if you make a nine-inch one you will probably have about 1/4 of the dough left over or less. You could still make something like a turnover or two with it and the left over fillings, or a sausage roll if you have savory filling left.

Be sure to let Lien know if you bake as a Buddy by November 29th. You e-mail her a photo and a short bit about your experience baking this beautiful bread and she will send you a Buddy badge (very like the badge above) and include you in the round-up.

Russian Chrysanthemum Bread
(1 large round loaf)

Filling: (this is an example. You can make up your own savory or sweet filling. If you want to go vegetarian, think mushroom, bean mash, etc.

500-600 g minced meat (beef, lamb, turkey, etc.)
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 garlic clove, chopped
140 g cheese, coarsely grated
30 g butter
100 ml cold water
salt and pepper to taste
spices, to taste
(Note: if you mix everything up and then fry up about a tablespoonful in a small pan, you can see if you life the seasonings or if they need to be changed. )

500 g strong flour/bread flour (with some extra for dusting the board when you roll out the dough)
7 g dry instant yeast
125 ml milk, lukewarm (1/2 cup)
125 ml kefir or yogurt (1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
90 ml olive oil (3 oz.)

1 tablespoon milk
1 egg yolk

Also Needed:
1 round cookie cutter or glass (7.5 cm - about 3-inches in diameter)
large shallow pie dish 28 cm in diameter

Making the Dough:
Mix the yeast and sugar in the lukewarm milk. Mix the yogurt or kefir with the salt, egg, and oil, then add the flour and the yeast mixture. Knead into a supple dough. Shape into a ball and let rest in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a shower cap. Let dough rise for about an hour or until doubled. Keep going...see what you will end up with!

Make the Filling:
Cook the chopped onions and garlic in a frying pan until translucent. Leave to cool. Mix all the ingredients for the filling well (really knead it through). Set aside. (For the filling I used, see the end of the cooking needed.)

Shaping the Flower:
Work with about 1/3 of the dough at a time. Roll it out to a thickness of  about 3 mm. Cover with a clean tea towel and let rest for 10 minutes. This will prevent the dough from shrinking once the circles are cut. Cut out rounds with the cookie cutter. Place 1 tablespoon of filling on each round, spread it out, leaving about  1/2 cm free around the border and sprinkle with some cheese. Fold the circle in half, and fold the two points together. It now looks like a petal. Place in the pie dish, starting around the border with the point of the petal facing to the center. Repeat until there is just a little space left in the middle. Cut three smaller circles and fill them and use that for the center of the flower. Cover with lightly greased plastic wrap or a shower cap and leave the flower to rest and rise for about 45 minutes. Patience...soon you will be eating a tasty flower.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C (just a little over 350 degrees F).

Whisk egg yolk and milk for the glaze and brush the bread with it. Place the pan in the oven directly on a rack and bake for 25 minutes. Lower the temperature to 170 degrees C (about 325 degrees F) and bake for another 10-15 minutes until golden brown.

When the loaf is done, take it out of the oven and the pan, place on a wire rack and let cool. If desired, brush with melted butter while still warm. Let cool or eat lukewarm.

For filling I used 2 oz. soft cream cheese mixed with 2 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts, plus about 4 oz cranberry orange marmalade.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Family Recipe Banana Nut Bread

The family cookbook began when my Dad died, over 20 years ago. As part of my grieving for him I began to gather old family recipes and to ask my Mom and siblings to contribute ones they had and to tell me if there were ones they wanted. A little less than a year later we had a family reunion at the beach and I brought a copy for each sibling and one for my Mom. Unfortunately I had neglected to give the printer the page for the index, but Mom solved that by making her own index on the inside of the back cover.

The next version came about because I noticed that Mom's copy was getting tattered and a few other family members told me that theirs were, too. This was not surprising since the books were about 17 years old! Since I was working in graphic arts at the time I decided to create a fancy version with color photos and organized around types of food. The original had been organized around seasons. I like this book a lot except for the paper. It is a pretty glazed paper which makes the photos look great but is hard to write on for changes I might make to the recipes. My solution has been to use sticky notes for changes, which works well.

Some of the recipes in the book, which I called Classic Comfort Food for the newer version (2012) and Family Food in the original version (1995), have been written about in this blog, but some have never been posted in their original form.

This Banana Nut Bread is an example of a great recipe that I have posted variations of but not the original. Even this one is a tiny bit different because the original used all vegetable oil and I used some butter and some oil. Otherwise it is the same and it makes a very fragrant, slightly sweet, very moist bread. I used pecans but walnuts are wonderful in this bread. When I took the loaves from the oven and smelled the lovely warm banana fragrance I was transported back to my Mom's kitchen.

This is an easy quick bread. Make sure to really cream the butter, oil and sugar before adding the eggs and bananas. Mix the batter just until combined once you add the flour mixture. Fold in the nuts with a spatula and you are ready to use the same spatula to scoop the batter into the prepared pans!

Classic Comfort Food Banana Nut Bread

½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 ripe medium bananas, mashed
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon wheat germ
3 tablespoons milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup chopped nuts

Beat the oil (I used half soft butter and half oil) and sugar together. Add the eggs and banana pulp, and beat well. Sift the dry ingredients together. Add the sifted dry ingredients, milk and vanilla. Mix well and stir in the nuts.

Pour the batter into a greased and floured loaf pan (9” x 5” x 3”). Bake in a preheated 3500 F oven about 1 hour. Toothpick inserted in center will come out clean or with a few crumbs on it when bread is done. Cool well. Makes one loaf.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Feeling My Oats

Today's bake is for Sweetie. He has been such a staunch supporter as I have worked on the puzzle of what to eat and drink and what to avoid putting in my gut. Things are improving in that area and I'm feeling my oats, walking more, gardening again, and even putting a coat of paint on an outdoor structure. Oats are also the star ingredient in the cookies I made for Sweetie today.

He has always loved oatmeal cookies, especially chewy ones, so that's what I made. I used a recipe from the old standby cookbook Joy of Cooking, with (of course) a few tweaks. I added some chocolate chips and some dried cranberries and some chopped walnuts. Beyond that, it was just the recipe in the book. Classics become classics because they are good enough to stand the test of time.

So for this fairly flat, chewy cookie the dominant flavors are butter, brown sugar, oats, chocolate, vanilla, cranberry and walnuts. The edges are crisp, but otherwise it is a fairly soft cookie. Sweetie really doesn't enjoy crisp, crunchy cookies.

I made the cookies pretty large, so I ended up with 26 of them and he ate five as soon as he got home!They are that good (and almost gluten free, with only 1/2 cup regular all-purpose flour...since I've decided that I can have a little gluten now and then with no harm...and it does help with the cookie structure.)

Quick Oatmeal Cookies
Makes 36 2-inch cookies
A variation of a recipe in Joy of Cooking cookbook

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
   1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
   1/2 cup granulated sugar
Cream with:
   1/2 cup butter at room temperature
Combine and beat in until smooth:
   1 egg
   1 teaspoon vanilla
   1 tablespoon milk
Sift together and add to the above ingredients:
   1 cup all-purpose flour (I used 1/2 cup gluten free flour mix and 1/2 cup all-purpose flour)
   1/2 teaspoon baking soda
   1/2 teaspoon baking powder
   1/2 teaspoon salt
When beaten smooth, add:
   1 cup uncooked quick rolled oats
   1/2 cup chocolate chips
   1/2 cup dried cranberries
   1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Beat the mixture well. Drop cookies 2 inches apart on well-greased cookie sheet and bake until light brown. Remove to a cooling rack soon after taking cookies from oven.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Fresh Cranberries Are Here

There is nothing quite like the taste of a fresh, crisp, very tart cranberry. I hear they grow in bogs in New England, but I find them every fall, like clockwork, in the produce section in one pound bags. There are lots of fine things to do with them from sweet to savory but today I wanted to make cookies, so I found a recipe for fresh cranberry cookies that also have the essence of an orange via freshly grated orange zest and also the mellow counterpoint of white chocolate. Since these are made with butter and regular flour I let Sweetie be the taste tester and he pronounced them to be very good.

The cookie dough itself is similar to what you would find with a chocolate chip cookie, with butter, brown and white sugars, egg and vanilla. When you add the orange zest it changes everything because you get both the fragrance and the taste from that fresh orange oil contained in the zest.

I cut the fresh cranberries with a sharp knife, but I suspect you could also put them into a food processor and pulse a few times and get the same results. But then you have to clean the food processor pieces...a knife and cutting board clean up super fast. I was getting ready to make dinner when I was making these, so quick clean up was more important than ease of cutting.

The white chocolate could be chunks, but I had the chips I buy from the market, so in they went. I used a disher to scoop up the a small ice cream scoop with a curved blade that pushes the dough off the tool so it falls on the cookie sheet. I used parchment paper on one sheet and a silicone mat on the other. It didn't seem to make much difference, so use what you have. Greasing the sheet works fine, too.

These charming cookies are tart from the cranberries, sweet from the chocolate and sugars, crunchy on the edges and soft in the middle. They are an altogether fine autumn cookie for you to enjoy, so make a batch, OK?

Fresh Cranberry White Chocolate Cookies - about 36 cookies
from Betty Crocker's website
1/4    cup butter, softened
1/2    cup sugar
1/2    cup packed brown sugar
Grated zest of 1 orange 
1        egg
2       teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2  cups Gold Medal™ all-purpose flour
1/2    teaspoon baking powder
1/2    teaspoon baking soda
1/4    teaspoon salt
1        cup fresh or frozen (unthawed) cranberries, coarsely chopped or left whole
1/2    cup white chocolate chunks or chips

·         1 Heat oven to 350°F. Spray cookie sheets with nonstick cooking spray or line with parchment paper. In a large bowl, beat butter, sugar, brown sugar and orange zest on medium speed of the electric mixer until well blended. (The mixture will have the consistency of wet sand.) Add the egg and vanilla and beat until smooth.
·         2 In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add to the sugar mixture and stir by hand until almost combined; add the cranberries and white chocolate and stir just until blended.

·         3 Drop spoonfuls of dough about 1 inch apart on a cookie sheets. Bake 12 to 14 minutes, until light golden and set around the edges but still soft in the middle. Let set on cookie sheet 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Fall Walnut Honey Cake

We are finally getting some autumn rain, which is a true blessing considering that we have been short on rain for at least four years now. I love autumn and the cooler weather it brings. It has been late coming this year, with lots of days in the mid-80s recently.

While the sun was still shining a week or so ago I gathered walnuts on our back deck. Although I do want the limb of the walnut tree that hangs over the deck to be pruned back, it really is handy that so many walnuts collect on the deck and get properly dried out by the sun, then are easy to collect. After gathering the nuts I just sweep the leaves and husks and broken shells (from the ones that our silly dog cracks with his teeth and somehow gets the nutmeats from) off the deck, ready for the next batch of nuts to drop.

Yesterday I watched some back episodes of Fixer Upper (HGTV) while shelling the nuts. I ended up with about three cups of fresh walnuts!

Since I also had a nice bottle of honey, I decided to make a honey walnut cake and serve it with apple slices that had been cooked in a little more honey. I'm glad that the apples released some juice as they simmered because then I had a little honey-apple juice mixture to drizzle over the top of each serving. The cake is delicious, with just a hint of orange, but it is dry. I just made up a honey syrup with a little orange liqueur in and brushed it on the cake to add some moisture. Will try it this evening and see if it improves the cake.

This is an easy cake to make if you have a food processor. The nuts get toasted, then rubbed in a clean towel to loosen some of the skin. I didn't find that much skin was loosened, so may skip the rubbing part next time, but the toasting add a depth of flavor, so don't skip that part.

I used non-dairy butter instead of the real thing and added a bit of the flour mixture (yes, gluten free flour) to the creaming butter, sugar, and honey so that it would whip better. I also put a tablespoon of the granulated sugar into the food processor, with the rest going into the butter mixture. That extra grit with the nuts helps in getting the nuts to be finely ground but not walnut butter.

This makes a single layer but you could probably double the recipe to make a stunning layer cake, maybe frosted with some maple or caramel frosting. You could also make the syrup (I think it would still be a good idea to brush some on, even for a layer cake) honey-orange and then use an orange buttercream. If you stick with one layer like I did, a side of cooked fruit is nice, but so is a dollop of whipped cream or scoop of ice cream. The recipe called for honey coated walnuts to decorate the top, but I skipped that. It would be a nice garnish if you like.

Honey Walnut Cake
from The Vineyard Kitchen by Maria Helm Sinskey
Serves 8-10

1 1/2 cups walnut pieces
1 cup all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur Flour's gluten-free mixture)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Optional: 10 nice walnut halves and 2 tablespoons honey for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan.

Spread the walnuts on a sheet pan and toast in the preheated oven for 6 minutes. Cool and rub the nuts in a towel to remove the loose skins.

Grind the nuts in a food process with 1/2 cup of the flour (and 1 tablespoon of the sugar if doing it my way) until very fine. In a medium bowl, combine the ground nuts, remaining flour, baking powder, and salt. Reserve.

In a standing mixer bowl, with a paddle attachment (or with an electric hand mixer) beat the room temperature butter with the honey and the sugar (remaining sugar if doing it my way) until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

In a small bowl, beat the eggs lightly with the orange zest and vanilla. Add it in thirds to the butter mixture, beating well to incorporate egg mixture after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the dry ingredients and mix until fully incorporated.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared cake pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 35 - 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

For the optional walnut topping: while the cake is baking, toast ten walnut halves on a sheet pan for 8 minutes . While they are still warm, rub the nuts in a towel to remove the excess skin and place them in a small bowl. Add the 2 tablespoons of honey and stir until the walnuts are coated. Reserve the walnut halves at room temperature to garnish the cake when it is finished.

Cool the cake in the pan for 5 minutes, and then run a knife around the edges and turn the cake out on to a cooling rack, then carefully turn over so that the top side is up. Cool completely. Garnish the edges of the cake with the walnut halves. This cake is nice served with a dollop of whipped cream.

Honey Orange Syrup: If desired, place 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat until mixture boils and sugar dissolves completely. Add 1/4 cup honey. Heat another 2 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat and add 2 tablespoons orange liqueur (I used Cointreau) and stir to combine. Pour slowly over the cake or brush on with a pastry brush until all the syrup is absorbed. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at least an hour to allow syrup to moisten the cake.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Root Veg Duo Harvest Meal

When I went to a local farm market this week they had the most beautiful delicata squash, so I bought a couple. I grew them year before last and have been in love with them ever since. For a winter squash they have a very thin skin so they are easy to prepare and they have a nice smooth texture when cooked and are just a little sweet and with a delicate squash flavor. They are pretty in an arrangement on your table, too, with a torpedo shape and nice green, yellow and rust stripes.

For dinner the other night I cut them in half, scooped out the seeds, then peeled them with a vegetable peeler. I cut them in slices which looks sort of crescent shaped.

Because I was going to roast them in a hot oven, I decided to peel and chunk up some garnet yam for the other half of the sheet pan. I tossed the peeled chunks into a plastic produce bag, added about a couple of teaspoons of olive oil, then a grinding of Moroccan spices. After I shook the yams to coat them with the oil and spices, they went on to a sheet pan which was lined with s silicone mat.

I took the delicata squash crescents and put them into the produce bag, added some more olive oil and freshly ground black pepper and about a tablespoon of maple syrup. I shook them up until all the squash pieces were coated, then put them on the other half of the sheet pan. All of the pieces of veggies were in a single layer.

After roasting for 10 minutes, I turned all the pieces over, using a spatula, so that the other side would brown. It took about another 10 minutes and they were all cooked through and had some lovely brown spots. I served them mixed together and Sweetie had grilled some turkey sausages, so we had a nice, easy meal, full of flavor and warm colors. Sweetie wants me to make the yam and squash duo for Thanksgiving. Hope your hostess wants me to bring a side dish!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Thwarting Hunger

Since this is a blog mostly about food, hunger is a likely topic. Have you ever been hungry and not had the resources to feed yourself or loved ones?

Quite a long time ago I had a short period of depleted funds for food and had to accept a few bags of groceries from a church food pantry. I remember how grateful I was that it was an option and that no one made me feel poor, even though I was at the time. Later, when I was a newly separated mom, with a toddler, waiting for the divorce to go through, I took part in a wonderful program called WIC, which stands for women, infants and children. It is a government sponsored program for low income families that provides vouchers for specific nutritious food items like milk, orange juice, cheese and cereal. It also included education classes in nutrition and healthy cooking and was a real help at a difficult time in my life. Although one of the popular current myths is that most people on public assistance deserve what they get, in reality most people are only a catastrophe, job loss, or relationship loss away from at least temporary poverty. There are many, many people who can only find part time jobs with low pay that barely covers rent much less fresh, healthy food. The cheapest food is usually the least nutritious, too.

Today I took a tour of a non-profit group that is doing a lot to thwart hunger in the Redwood Empire, which in this case are all the counties from Sonoma Co. north to the Oregon border, plus Lake County and maybe one more I am forgetting...should have taken notes. Their name is the Redwood Empire Food Bank and they are headquartered in an industrial park in Santa Rosa, CA, near the Charles Shultz (of Peanuts fame) airport. They also are a primary source of food for 178 community based charitable organizations that operate over 276 human service programs helping the needy, disabled and homeless in Sonoma County.

It took six years to raise the fund for their building and it is an impressive place, not because it is glamorous, but because it is perfectly suited for an array of services to help people from all walks of life and all ages to keep hunger at bay. It is so clean and well organized, with a distribution and storage area that has neat ranks of shelving full of non-perishable foods, food drive bins, sacks of onions and potatoes and more.

One area had collections of items ready to go on trucks to be delivered to food banks throughout their service area. Another area had a sort of store where more than 100 local faith based food banks could come and 'shop' for the food they would be giving to needy families in their areas. Nearby were a cold storage area to keep perishable donations from spoiling and a similar freezer area for longer storage of things like donated organic chickens.

With an 8 million a year budget the Redwood Empire Food Bank feeds about 82,000 people a year. One of the ways they do this is by having over a thousand volunteers. There is another room where volunteers sort food for distribution.

In another area there is a commercial kitchen with a paid chef. There food is prepared for distribution as meals that can be frozen, refrigerated or eaten right away for people who don't have access to a place to cook meals. Some of the food prepared there has been donated by a local group that gleans excess food directly from the fields...usually fruit or vegetables that are too small or too large, misshapen or blemished beyond what can be sold.

Another room has both an emergency food closet for walk-in folks who are in urgent need of food right away, just as I was so many years ago. This same room has office people who can assist people in filling in the forms necessary to qualify for food stamps if their need will be ongoing.

Right next door to this is a kind of a grocery store, the Value Market, with healthy foods at reduced cost and great customer service. Often the people who shop here have WIC or food stamp (CalFresh) type vouchers and this way their food dollars go further, keeping hunger away for a longer time for seniors, the disabled, families, and anyone struggling to keep something to eat available until the next paycheck or disability check or Social Security check.

Housing costs in particular have risen rapidly during the last 12 - 15 months in our area, which has impacted the amount of money available for food. Healthy, nutritious food tends to be more expensive, so all of these programs of the Redwood Empire Food Bank, which concentrates especially on providing all kinds of nutritious foods, really, really help. They even have healthy recipes. There is also a Diabetes Wellness Program.

They depend on the goodwill and help of people who are lucky enough to know where their next meal is coming from, who have extra, and who are willing to share. They love donations, both of money and of food, but also have need of volunteers to keep these vital programs going. I realize that most of the folks who read this blog live too far away to volunteer and probably have local food banks they can donate to, but if you live in Sonoma, Lake, Mendocino Counties, up to Crescent City area, or near to them, consider making a donation of time, money and/or food. The cold days are coming and the need is great. Thanks!

Redwood Empire Food Bank donation link.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Fun With Pumpkins

It's always fun to have kids around for pumpkin carving. I grew some small sugar pie pumpkins which I plan to bake with, and I bought some larger ones and the rest of the crew brought more pumpkins! This year our lovely daughter invited some friends to join us and one couple brought their adorable little girl.

She wasn't that interested in the pumpkins until they had been carve a bit, but she did enjoy walking barefoot in the tiny bit of green grass we have.

She also made friends with Pi doggie and he was really good with her, even just lying peacefully while she sat on him. He also ran around with a small pumpkin in his mouth which delighted her...and me.

The carved pumpkins were beautiful. I'm always amazed at the transformation of a plain orange pumpkin into a small work of art using fairly simple tools and a lot of patience and careful cutting.

Sweetie even lent them an Xacto knife with a tiny serrated edge that was great for the smaller sections that they removed.

No recipe this time, just some photos of our fall pumpkin fun. I did serve up my standard guacamole and chips and AM brought some farm fresh jalapeno salsa. Wine and cheese and bread were provided by the darling daughter and friend while the little ones parents served up some warm cider spiked with bourbon. And, no, I'm not back to bourbon or wine or even bread and cheese. Still had a good time and so did Sweetie.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Don't Cook? Try This Salad

Sometimes you need a salad recipe that will be easy to assemble somewhere other than your kitchen, one that is a main dish salad, one that is fairly healthy with vibrant flavors, too. Then to have a salad that is also pretty good for non-cooks as long as they are comfortable with grilling chicken and you have a winner. Did I mention that it's delicious? It is. I served it with rolls just like THESE.

This recipe is based on a couple of recipes I saw online, but, as usual, I changed it so much that I'm not going to attribute it to anyone in particular.

For starters you can use a number of things for the salad greens. You can use pre-washed bagged salad mix. You can wash and dry and chop or tear your own greens. You can use almost any mixture of greens, so this is great for greens from your garden. I went with heads of romaine lettuce from Costco, which I washed, spun dry and chopped.

The next piece is balsamic dressing. You can use bottled dressing and most stores have a number of choices for you. You can also have a little fun in the kitchen and mix up a simple dressing with garlic, mustard, honey, olive oil, salt and pepper and balsamic vinegar. The dressing is used to marinate chicken breasts and also to dress the salad when it is serving time.

The chicken breasts should be boneless, but they can also be skinless. You could also use boneless chicken thighs as long as you spread them out to cook so they cook evenly. You use 1/3 cup of the balsamic dressing as a marinade and put the chicken and marinade in a seal-able plastic bag in the fridge for about 3 hours, turning the bag over every hour. Not too difficult, right?

While the chicken is marinating you get to do some chopping. You need 2 cups prepared tomatoes. The recipes usually recommend getting rid of the seeds, but it is actually OK to just chop the tomatoes or dice them. If you are using cherry tomatoes, cut each of them in four pieces.

You will also need to slice or chop some fresh basil (1/4 cup) and stir that and some dried oregano into the chopped tomatoes.

A can of sliced olives, drained and some feta cheese finishes what is needed.

Once the chicken has finished it's time in the fridge, drain off the marinade and grill it until just cooked. Let it cool slightly, then cut into bite sized chunks. If you are lucky, someone who loves to grill things will do this for you as Sweetie did for me. I'm a lucky girl! I haven't tried it, but I suspect that if you bought a pre-cooked whole chicken and removed the meat and cut it in chunks and marinated it for a short time in the dressing that you could even skip the grilling part, although you will lose the great flavor one gets from grilling.

Now for the fun part, assembling the salads. If you are serving this somewhere other than you own kitchen, you will have a container of salad greens, a container of cooked chicken, a container of sliced olives, a container of the prepared tomatoes, some feta cheese and some balsamic dressing.

Put the greens in a large bowl. Drizzle with some of the dressing and toss to coat. This is a great time to use short tongs if you have them. Divide the greens among the plates. Top with a serving of chicken chunks (about 1/2 cup), then top that with 1/4 cup of the tomato mixture, add some of the sliced olives, sprinkle with some feta cheese chunks/crumbles and drizzle a tiny bit more dressing over it all. If you have extra basil, it makes a pretty garnish. That's it. Serve with pride and enjoy the flavors of the Mediterranean. I served some mini-carrots on the side, but a nice bunch of grapes would go well, too.

The recipe serves 8, but you can cut it in half or double it depending on how many you are serving.

Chicken and Tomato Over Greens Salad - 8 luncheon sized servings

  • 6 boneless chicken breast halves (can be skinless, too, if desired)
  • 12-14 cups salad greens of choice (about one and a half large heads, chopped, or two large bags)
  • 1/3 cup balsamic salad dressing per pound of chicken, plus more for tossing with greens (recipe follows; may substitute your favorite store-bought option)
  • 2 cups seeded and chopped tomatoes
  • 4 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 can sliced black olives
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

For the balsamic salad  dressing:
  • 1 small garlic clove, smashed and minced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

  1. For the balsamic salad dressing: In a bowl whisk together the garlic, salt and pepper, Dijon, honey and balsamic vinegar. Drizzle the olive oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking as you go, until the dressing is emulsified.  You may also add everything to a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake well.

  2. Cover and refrigerate for a couple of hours to allow flavors to blend. The vinaigrette will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator. Shake well prior to using.  If the olive oil has solidified due to the cold, simply allow the jar to sit at room temperature for a few minutes before using.

  3. For the grilled chicken: Place the chicken in a large, resealable plastic bag. Pour the vinaigrette over top (1/3 cup per pound of chicken), seal, and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours or overnight if possible. I like to flip the bag a few times (every hour or so during the day) to distribute the marinade.

  4. Prepare the grill or heat a large cast iron skillet or grill pan. Remove the chicken from the marinade, discarding the remaining marinade, and cook the chicken over medium heat for 7-8 minutes per side, depending on thickness, or until the chicken is just cooked through. Cut into center...if still pink, keep cooking, if not you are done...don't overcook.  If cooking in a skillet or on a grill pan, you may need to do this in two batches.  Remove from the heat and allow the chicken to rest for 5 minutes. Cube into bite sized cubes. Set aside for 5 minutes and then package into ziploc type plastic bag. Refrigerate if not made right before serving.

  5. For the tomato mixture: Gently mix the tomato, basil, dried oregano and a few grinds of fresh pepper in a ziploc type plastic bag. Close and shake bag to mix the ingredients. Refrigerate if not made right before serving.

  6. Gather salad components: Washed, dried, and  chopped chilled salad greens or pre-washed chilled greens in the bag, chicken pieces in ziploc type bag, tomato mixture in ziploc type bag, drained olives, feta cheese in chunks and crumbles, extra vinaigrette.

  7. Assembling the salad: Reheat the chicken in the oven if one is available or serve at room temperature. (Chill any unused chicken right away). Place the salad greens in a bowl and toss with enough vinaigrette to lightly coat.  Distribute the dressed greens among eight plates. Top with chicken breast pieces (chunks) followed by one eighth of the tomato-basil mixture (about 1/4 cup). Sprinkle with some of the sliced black olives, drained. Sprinkle on one eighth of the feta cheese.  Drizzle a little extra balsamic vinaigrette over top  and garnish with extra basil if desired. Serve and enjoy!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Leaving Southern Cakes

The Cake Slice Bakers have been baking for the last 12 months from The Southern Cake Book by Southern Living. Think lots of pecans, brown sugar and dairy products and you get the general idea. Since I grew up in the South I've enjoyed baking from this book. For the final recipe we got to choose any recipe in the book. I chose Hawaiian Sheet Cake and frosted it with the same easy 7-Minute type frosting I used last month. To tell the truth, I made the sheet cake last month, too, and served it up for the birthday party where I served the chocolate cupcakes, also frosted with that sticky, gooey, sugary frosting.

This cake is really moist and delicious and filled with good things. One of the reasons I chose it was because it was in the 'feed a crowd' section, but I also love the combination of bananas, pineapple and coconut, plus spices. It was a big hit with the crowd and with the birthday girl. I didn't get any photos beforehand and so I only have this one photo after most of the cake had been served. Trust me, it was good cake. I used a gluten free flour mixture and it has no dairy, so I was able to have a piece. The cake is fairly sweet and the soft icing was pretty sweet, so small pieces were enough. I used crushed pineapple packed in juice, not syrup, to cut down a bit on the sweetness and only used 1/2 cup of granulated sugar instead of 1 cup, but kept the full amount of brown sugar, because enough sugar is important to the chemistry of a recipe and I like the mellow flavor of brown sugar.

Next month we start a new book, so be sure to come back November 20th to see which book, OK?

Hawaiian Sheet Cake
Serves 15

3 cups all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur gluten free flour blend)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 very ripe bananas, mashed (to equal one cup)
3 large eggs, beaten
1 cup flaked coconut
1 (8 oz.) can crushed pineapple, undrained
1/2 recipe 7-Minute frosting
various sprinkles and dragees and candies for decoration

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Use shortening to grease and lightly flour a 9 X 13-inch baking pan.

Mix flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and allspice in a large bowl. Set aside

Mix granulated sugar, brown sugar, oil, bananas, and eggs in a medium bowl. A whisk works well. Stir in the flour mixture, whisking until blended. Stir in the coconut and pineapple (including pineapple juice from the can) just until blended. Pour batter into the prepared pan.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 40-45 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Run a knife around the sides of the pan and carefully invert the cake onto a serving platter. Frost with the 7-Minute frosting and decorate as desired.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Coming Up On The 22nd

Although I have at least one post to put up between now and then, very soon, on Oct. 22nd, I will have completed nine years of blogging. Thousands of recipes later I know that my photography and writing has improved, the range of skills in the kitchen has improved, and the number of new friends made has been wonderful. So many new foods and techniques and implements have been tried as I explored different food cultures, high end baking, gluten free and dairy free food prep and more. I hope the ride has been fun for you, dear reader, since you may be lurking but you are still important to me as I write up each post and choose which photos to use.

Ever since last fall when we finished the new kitchen it feels like my life is at one of those transition or crossroads places. Some things are ending or have ended and others are beginning. Not sure how the blog will fit in but I don't think I'm quite done with it yet. After all, on the 20th I'll post the last cake from the book the Cake Slice Bakers have been baking from this year and the following month we will be into a new book, so it would be hard to stop just now.

Also the holidays are coming and I usually find inspiration for special holiday recipes. Who knows, there might be a holidays cookbook around the corner with recipes for lots of major holidays. Of course I might take up stand up paddle boarding and give up blogging altogether. If there is a particular recipe you would like me to make to celebrate the beginning of the 10th year, let me know. It could be something of mine you love and want me to make again, or a challenge to fire me up. Maybe there will be 9 or 10 more years of Feeding My Enthusiasms.