Sunday, November 30, 2008

Pantry Project, Week 3

(Scroll down for a recipe for Amish Chicken Casserole.)

The Pantry Project was tabled this week for Thanksgiving. I brought some food to share to my BIL's house, and thought he and the family wouldn't really appreciate the thrown together nature of something from the pantry, so I shopped.

Monday we did eat chicken stir fry on steamed rice. But then Tuesday my hubby was helping to butcher two deer the family killed last weekend, and when they butcher they always fry up pieces of the venison in a skillet as they cut, so that covered him. (I ate ramen noodles from the pantry.) Wednesday we went out to eat as usual. Then Thursday the holiday. Friday I went to the Grand Opening of Black Sheep Vineyards, and Saturday I cooked a turkey here so we'd have leftovers at our own house. Today we'll have those leftovers, of course. And that completes Week 3.

The dish I took to share (in addition to my traditional Dutch Apple pie) was Amish chicken casserole-- a new recipe I tried just for the holiday, but will make again soon!

Amish Chicken Casserole

1/2 cup butter
8 ounces sliced fresh mushrooms
1/3 cup flour
2 cups chicken broth (I used Organic free range)
1 cup whole milk
8 ounces noodles, cooked (I used Kluski)
2 cups chopped or shredded cooked chicken
salt, pepper, sage and poultry seasoning to taste (not too much-- the flavor sahould be subtle)
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the butter in a large skillet or saucepan. Saute the sliced mushrooms in the butter until they begin to brown. Add the flour and stir to combine until the flour and butter form a smooth paste. Add the chicken broth and milk and cook until thick and bubbly (about the consistency of gravy)

Add the chicken and the noodles, and the seasonings. Pour into a large casserole dish and sprinkle with the cheese. Bake uncovered 30 minutes.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Daring Bakers Caramel Cake

This month's Daring Bakers' Challenge is a caramel cake from Shuna Fish Lydon of Eggbeater ( ). You can find the recipe here . Hosting this month are Dolores of Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity ( Alex (Brownie of Blondie and Brownie) (, and Jenny of Foray into Food (

As you can see from the recipe, before you can begin to make the cake or the frosting, you need to make the caramel syrup. Making caramel syrup is so simple (though a little nerve-wracking with a lot of splattering going on) that I wonder that I've never tried it before. I will definitely make that part of the recipe again.

I made the caramel syrup and let it cool. Then I used a little bit of the caramel syrup (1/3 cup) to make the cake. If you check out the accompanying picture from Shuna's recipe you'll see that she used the cake as one layer and the frosting just on the top. I sliced the cake in half and used the frosting in the middle and all around-- I had just enough to finish it.

The cake was a little dry at first and stuck a little to the baking pan, but once it was frosted and sat overnight covered, it absorbed a little moisture from the frosting and was great!

The frosting was tasty, very sweet but not really smooth-- a little sugary for me. But definitely delicious.

The remaining caramel syrup (1/3 cup was used for the cake and 4 Tbsp for the frosting, leaving 1 cup of syrup for another use) could be used if we wanted to make caramels or caramel topping. Instead, I used it to flavor a batch of homemade caramel pecan ice cream.

Caramel Pecan Ice Cream

2 cups half and half
2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup caramel syrup
a pinch of kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup coarsely chopped toasted pecans

Combine the half and half, cream, sugar, caramel syrup and salt. Add the vanilla extract. Chill the mixture 3 hours or overnight. Freeze according to your ice cream freezer directions, adding the toasted pecans about 2 minutes before the machine is done. Makes about 5 cups.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pantry Project, Week 2

A quick summary of how the "project" is going:
Monday: Dr Joe's homemade kielbasi, fried cabbage and noodles.
Tuesday: Chicken curry on brown rice.
Wednesday: Out to dinner as usual.
Thursday: Smoked sausage, sauerkraut and mashed potatoes.
Friday: Steak, baked potatoes and salad.
Saturday: Chicken chili and bread, with homemade caramel cake for dessert.
Sunday: Out to dinner.
Grocery purchases for the week? A gallon of milk, a box of cereal, a pound of butter, a bunch of romain and a cucumber for salad, and a loaf of bread to go with the soup. (I would have made bread, but making soup and a cake and bread on Saturday would have been a bit too much.)

Meals are still pretty balanced and interesting-- not too much problem yet.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Pantry Project, Day 5

Yesterday we enjoyed some homemade vegetable soup from my crock pot and some crunchy oatmeal bread from my bread machine.

We went out to the home of a friend to play cards and I brought some cheese spread to snack on, and had to buy some snack crackers to go with it. And with that, the first week of the project comes to an end. (We're going out to dinner tonight.)

The sum total of my grocery purchases this week? A jar of green olives, some fresh Brussels sprouts, a head of cabbage, a box of breakfast cereal, a box of crackers and a gallon of milk. The goal of this project was never about saving money, but rather to see how long we could eat just from the pantry and freezer, and to use things up that I've been hoarding there. The money saving is a nice side benefit, though!

Oatmeal Bread
3/4 Cup water
2 Cups white bread flour
1 Tbsp dry milk
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp butter, softened
1 Tbsp honey
1/4 Cup oatmeal (old fashioned or quick, not instant)
1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
In the bread machine, put the ingredients in the order your machine recommends. (The only important part is that the yeast and the water don't come in contact right away if you are using the "delay" cycle.) Turn the machine to regular (or delay) cycle and medium crust setting. Remove from machine promptly when done. For extra crunch, hold the oatmeal until the add fruit/nuts beep signal is heard.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Pantry Project, Day 4

Today we enjoyed a meal of baked pork chops, squash seasoned with butter, brown sugar and maple syrup, and a saute of fresh brussels sprouts, onions, and toasted almonds, drizzled with fesh lemon juice. With it, a Beyond 2007 Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa. (I had to buy the fresh brussels sprouts.)

So far the meals are not too bad-- good flavor combinations and a pretty good presentation. Let's hope it continues that way for a while. Tomorrow I'm going to stay home and clean, so I'll put soup in the crock pot and make a loaf of homemade bread to go with it. (I had to buy cabbage for the soup.)

Sauteed Brussels Sprouts

3/4 pound fresh Brussels sprouts
1/2 onion, coarsely chopped
4 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted almonds
1 tsp fresh lemon juice

Trim the brussels sprouts and cut a shallow X in the stem ends. Boil for about 5 minutes, until crisp tender. The sprout will just give with a little pressure when tested with a fork. Don't overcook-- you'll be cooking them a little more in a minute. (If the sprouts are various sizes, remove the smaller ones as they become done, letting the others cook.) Cool them in a bath of ice water to stop the cooking, then slice each one in half.

Melt the butter in a skillet, and cook the onions until soft, but not browned. Add the sprouts and saute 2-3 minutes. Add half the almonds and the lemon juice and saute another minute to combine the flavors. Remove from heat and add the remaining almonds. Serve.

Serves 4 (or 2 generously.)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Pantry Project, Day 3

Today is Day 3 of my "Pantry Project." (Yesterday we went out to eat at Carabbas in Canton.) We were both out and about most of the afternoon, so we finished off the Black Forest bacon we bought at Whole Foods in Pittsburgh, with toast and some eggs from my friend, Melanie's chickens. I know that fresh eggs can't really be as much better than grocery eggs as they seem-- I think the idea of them being fresher has a lot to do with our perception of the flavor. But they certainly were good!

I'm not much of a heavy bacon-and-eggs breakfast eater. A bowl of cereal and some fruit is more my speed. But breakfast for dinner? That I like a lot!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pantry Project, Day 2

Continuing with the pantry project, today we had tilapia Veracruz (I had to buy green olives), orzo, and broccoli with lemon and butter, with a nice 2007 Mirassou Pinot Grigio.

Tilapia Veracruz

1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with green chilies
2 T sliced green olives
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
4 tilapia fillets, patted dry
2 tsp olive oil

Mix the tomatoes, olives, lemon juice and garlic in a small bowl and set aside.

Season the tilapia with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Heat a skillet and add the olive oil. Saute the tilapia in the olive oil for 3 minutes on the first side. Flip the fish over and add the tomato mixture. Cook 4-5 minutes or until the fish flakes easily with a fork. Serve over orzo (or brown rice) to absorb all the wonderful flavors of the sauce.

Serves 4 (or two generously.)

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Pantry Project

I was following links from some of my favorite food blogs when I came across an entry that described a shopping trip the author had taken in which she had spent well over $140 dollars and had very little to show for it. The experience caused her to think that she could live for quite a while from the contents of her pantry, supplemented with fresh fruits and veggies and perishables like milk and eggs.

Her blog entry got me to thinking, and to cleaning, reorganizing and logging the contents of my pantry, as well as my freezer. My own "pantry project" began today. I made a list of all the food I had on hand, and I got my husband on board with the idea. (There is a lot of rice-- brown rice, white rice, basmati rice, arborio rice-- pasta and other grains, and my hubby is really basically a "meat and potatoes" kind of guy.) The combinations may get a little strange as we go, but that's the challenge part of the project, yes?

My pantry held all kinds of surprises, from two cans of artichoke hearts (one marinated, one not) to two cans of water chestnuts. (I also found a third can of artichoke hearts that had seepd out of the bottom of the can and turned black on the pantry shelf. Why can't they just put an understandable date code on the can so we can tell how old something is?)

That said, tonight we feasted on garlic/rosemary chicken legs, parmesan flavored couscous, and steamed peas with mushrooms. Not a bad start...

Meal Time Magic or Just Dumb Luck?

Eating dinner the other night, my husband said, "Oh, these flavors go really well together." Well, of course they do, I thought. Do you think this is all just luck?

When I am planning a meal, I play a litle sensory tape in my head of the foods hitting my tongue in combination, and decide whether the flavors go together. I've become pretty good at it, over time. Assuming there isn't an untried food or recipe in the mix I can usually know what vegetable to serve with what main dish and so on. I'm trying to get experienced enough with wines that I can pick out a wine the same way. Sometimes I'm right on, other times not so much. But, oh! The fun learning!

In college I majored in Nutrition (it was called "Dietetics" where I went) for two years before making the brilliant choice to change to Sociology. Eek! (Note to all college students who really don't have a clue what they want to be when they grow up: start out with an undergraduate degree in Business, then do graduate study in whatever real major you want.) I did learn a thing or two about food. Most importantly I learned that I didn't want to spend the rest of my working life in a hospital dietary department. I didn't have a clue that there were a few more useful options for a degree in Nutrition even then, and much more so now that the food awareness explosion has taken place.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


OK, now, boys and girls...

Are we ready for the latest Daring Bakers Challenge?


Hand tossed pizza! Or, if you are like me, hand flung/twisted pizza. (I was a little tentative on the tossing part.)

The resulting pizzas, while quite tasty, were a little free-form, kind of like an amoeba. Not pretty. Definitely yummy, though. Not pretty. Yummy.

Here is the recipe and the directions:
Basic Pizza Dough-- Original recipe taken from "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" by Peter Reinhart.
Makes 6 pizza crusts (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter.
4 1/2 cups (20 1/4 ounces/607.5 g) unbleached high gluten bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled.
1 3/4 tsp salt
1 Tsp instant yeast
1/4 cup (2 ounces/60 g) olive oil or vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups (14 ounces/420g or 420ml) water, ice cold
1 Tbsp sugar
Semolina durum flour or corn meal for dusting pan or stone
Day 1
1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).
2. Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough.
On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.
If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time.The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour, so that it clears the sides. If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water.
The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50°-55° F/10°-13° C.
3. Flour a work surface or counter. Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper.
4. With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas).
To avoid the dough from sticking to the scraper, dip the scraper into water between cuts.
5. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Gently round each piece into a ball.
If the dough sticks to your hands, then dip your hands into the flour again.
6. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly roll pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.
7. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to thee days.
You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil(a few tablespooons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.
8. On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.
9. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F/260° C).
If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly roll pan. Do not preheat the pan.
10. Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly roll pan or a pizza peel with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.
Make only one pizza at a time.During the tossing process, if the dough tends to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue the tossing and shaping. In case you would be having trouble tossing the dough or if the dough never wants to expand and always springs back, let it rest for approximately 5-20 minutes in order for the gluten to relax fully,then try again.You can also resort to using a rolling pin, although it isn’t as effective as the toss method.
11. When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter - for a 6 ounces/180g piece of dough), place it on the back of the jelly roll pan or on the pizza peel making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.
12. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.
Remember that the best pizzas are topped not too generously. No more than 3 or 4 toppings (including sauce and cheese) are sufficient.
13. Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly roll pan. Close the door and bake for abour 5-8 minutes.
After 2 minutes baking, take a peek. For an even baking, rotate 180°.If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone or jelly roll pan to a lower shelf before the next round. On the contrary, if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone or jelly roll pan.
14. Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board or your plate. In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving.

The choices of fillings were up to us. I baked two out of the 6 pizzas the recipe made (I froze the rest.) I topped one with pepperoni, Italian sausage, sauteed red peppers and mushrooms, and mozzarella cheese. The other one, which hubby wasn't too sure about until he had a bite, I covered with homemade pesto, sliced artichoke hearts, sliced cooked chicken breasts, and feta cheese. Both were really good!

The dough was very easy to make. The forming/tossing/flinging though, not so much. Since I made two of the six pizzas and froze the other 4 balls of dough, I'll have another try or two at it. I hope I can get the spin of it. Maybe a glass or two of wine before tossing...?

I am actually a day late in posting this. (I could have sworn it said the 30th!)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Fried Green Tomatoes

The nights are getting really cold now. Our last tomato plant, a patio tomato in a large nursery pot growing on-- wait for it-- the patio, had some tomatoes left on it that hubby picked. The beams across the pergola top of the patio cover kept it from getting zapped by the frosts we've had lately, but we decided that the tomatoes that hadn't ripened yet were going to become fried green tomatoes.

I sliced them about 1/4 inch thick, sprinkled them with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, lightly dredged them in flour, dipped them in a beaten egg, then in cornmeal and sauteed them in a little canola oil. They were crispy on the outside, tender in the middle. And for some reason I'm not aware of, they had a slight lemony taste, which contrasted nicely with the crispy/salty cornmeal crust. I served them with chicken legs that had been rubbed with a garlic, olive oil, and rosemary mixture and baked. A great combination! Next time I think I'll add a little bit of paprika to the cornmeal and use ranch dressing as a dip.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Home Grown Garlic Is the Best

Bob planted the rest of the garlic last week. We have mostly our old standby New York White (AKA: Polish White) which makes up our main crop. But this year we expanded the varieties to include German Extra Hardy, which is a hardneck variety from Johnny's, as well as Killarney Red and Lorz that I bought locally from Susan West at the St Clairsville Farmers Market.

The cloves of the German Extra Hardy were very large, which is good from a cooking point of view, but large cloves mean less cloves per head, which produce less plants for next year. So it will be another year before I have really expanded my crop.

I think the German and Killarney Red are rocambole types which produce a garlic scape that can be picked green and sauteed like asparagus spears or made into yummy garlic scape pesto. I'm looking forward to that treat next year.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge- Chocolate Eclairs

Whew! Just made this Daring Bakers Challenge! I made the chocolate eclairs yesterday afternoon as a dessert for a cookout we had for some family members. I was going to make them today but there is no way I wanted 24 chocolate eclairs sitting in my refrigerator staring at me all weekend. They must have been good, since we ate 20 of them!

The recipe came from MeetaK at Whats for Lunch, Honey? (You can find the recipe there), and Tony Tahhan at Olive Juice. It's from Meeta's favorite sugar daddy Pierre Herme from the cookbook Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme by Dorie Greenspan.

The process involved making a chocolate sauce, and just using 7 Tbs of it in a chocolate glaze. The remaining sauce will be used for an ice cream topping-- Yum! Then I made a chocolate pastry cream (which is like a rich chocolate pudding) and pate a choux which forms the actual eclair base. Cool the eclairs, cut them open, apply the glaze to the tops, fill the bottoms with the pastry cream, squish them together to keep them from toppling over on the plate-- a very messy job--I kept having to lick and then wash my fingers. It's a tough job, but somebody had to do it! :)

They weren't all as pretty as the one I photographed, but they sure tasted good!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge: Danish Braid

Time for the unveiling! This month's Daring Bakers Challenge was to make Danish pastry dough and form it into a braid with an apple filling. The recipe makes enough Danish dough for two recipes, and we were allowed to make any filling or any shape for the remainder of the dough.

This challenge was fun! I had never made puff pastry or Danish pastry, so the layering with butter and folding techniques were new to me. It took a little time, since the dough had to chill for 30 minutes between folds, and had to chill overnight before it could be formed into the braids. But it wasn't active time, so I could get other tasks done while it chilled.

The filling was yummy! The braid didn't take all the filling, and the extra made a good topping for ice cream sundaes.

The braids went together easily. I think I was supposed to make the parallel cuts along the side diagonal, but straight cuts worked well and the resulting braid looked, as one of my tasters said, "like a professional made it." (High praise for this definitely non-professional baker, indeed!)

Both braids were gobbled up quickly by my tasting team (my co-workers and my husband) but the cream cheese/blueberry filling was definitely the favorite.

Many thanks to the hosts of this month's challenge:

Kelly, of Sass and Veracity, and Ben, of What's Cooking.

For the cheese Danish filling I blended:

1 8 oz package of cream cheese, softened
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp lemon juice

I spread this on the middle section of the dough and covered it with a layer of fresh blueberries (about 1 cup.) Then I baked it along with the apple Danish braid as the recipe below directs.

Daring Bakers Danish Braid
Makes 2-1/2 pounds dough

For the dough (Detrempe)

1 ounce fresh yeast or 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 large eggs, chilled
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

For the butter block (Beurrage)
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour


Combine yeast and milk in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed. Slowly add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice. Mix well. Change to the dough hook and add the salt with the flour, 1 cup at a time, increasing speed to medium as the flour is incorporated. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, or until smooth. You may need to add a little more flour if it is sticky. Transfer dough to a lightly floured baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Without a standing mixer: Combine yeast and milk in a bowl with a hand mixer on low speed or a whisk. Add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice and mix well. Sift flour and salt on your working surface and make a fountain. Make sure that the “walls” of your fountain are thick and even. Pour the liquid in the middle of the fountain. With your fingertips, mix the liquid and the flour starting from the middle of the fountain, slowly working towards the edges. When the ingredients have been incorporated start kneading the dough with the heel of your hands until it becomes smooth and easy to work with, around 5 to 7 minutes. You might need to add more flour if the dough is sticky.


1. Combine butter and flour in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle and then beat for 1 minute more, or until smooth and lump free. Set aside at room temperature.

2. After the detrempe has chilled 30 minutes, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle approximately 18 x 13 inches and ¼ inch thick. The dough may be sticky, so keep dusting it lightly with flour. Spread the butter evenly over the center and right thirds of the dough. Fold the left edge of the detrempe to the right, covering half of the butter. Fold the right third of the rectangle over the center third. The first turn has now been completed. Mark the dough by poking it with your finger to keep track of your turns, or use a sticky and keep a tally. Place the dough on a baking sheet, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

3. Place the dough lengthwise on a floured work surface. The open ends should be to your right and left. Roll the dough into another approximately 13 x 18 inch, ¼-inch-thick rectangle. Again, fold the left third of the rectangle over the center third and the right third over the center third. No additional butter will be added as it is already in the dough. The second turn has now been completed. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.

4. Roll out, turn, and refrigerate the dough two more times, for a total of four single turns. Make sure you are keeping track of your turns. Refrigerate the dough after the final turn for at least 5 hours or overnight. The Danish dough is now ready to be used. If you will not be using the dough within 24 hours, freeze it. To do this, roll the dough out to about 1 inch in thickness, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and freeze. Defrost the dough slowly in the refrigerator for easiest handling. Danish dough will keep in the freezer for up to 1 month.

Makes enough for two braids


4 Fuji or other apples, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch pieces
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Toss all ingredients except butter in a large bowl. Melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat until slightly nutty in color, about 6 - 8 minutes. Then add the apple mixture and sauté until apples are softened and caramelized, 10 to 15 minutes. If you’ve chosen Fujis, the apples will be caramelized, but have still retained their shape. Pour the cooked apples onto a baking sheet to cool completely before forming the braid. (If making ahead, cool to room temperature, seal, and refrigerate.) They will cool faster when spread in a thin layer over the surface of the sheet. After they have cooled, the filling can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Left over filling can be used as an ice cream topping, for muffins, cheesecake, or other pastries.

Makes enough for 2 large braids


1 recipe Danish Dough (see below)
2 cups apple filling, jam, or preserves (see below)

For the egg wash:
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk

1. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll the Danish Dough into a 15 x 20-inch rectangle, ¼ inch thick. If the dough seems elastic and shrinks back when rolled, let it rest for a few minutes, then roll again. Place the dough on the baking sheet.

2. Along one long side of the pastry make parallel, 5-inch-long cuts with a knife or rolling pastry wheel, each about 1 inch apart. Repeat on the opposite side, making sure to line up the cuts with those you’ve already made.

3. Spoon the filling you’ve chosen to fill your braid down the center of the rectangle. Starting with the top and bottom “flaps”, fold the top flap down over the filling to cover. Next, fold the bottom “flap” up to cover filling. This helps keep the braid neat and helps to hold in the filling. Now begin folding the cut side strips of dough over the filling, alternating first left, then right, left, right, until finished. Trim any excess dough and tuck in the ends.

Egg Wash

Whisk together the whole egg and yolk in a bowl and with a pastry brush, lightly coat the braid.

Proofing and Baking

1. Spray cooking oil (Pam…) onto a piece of plastic wrap, and place over the braid. Proof at room temperature or, if possible, in a controlled 90 degree F environment for about 2 hours, or until doubled in volume and light to the touch.

2. Near the end of proofing, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Position a rack in the center of the oven.

3. Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan so that the side of the braid previously in the back of the oven is now in the front. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F, and bake about 15-20 minutes more, or until golden brown. Cool and serve the braid either still warm from the oven or at room temperature. The cooled braid can be wrapped airtight and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or freeze for 1 month.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Daring Bakers' Challenge Opera Cake

This month's Daring Bakers' Challenge was truly a challenge. A thin layer cake (or jaconde) made from ground almonds and a little flour, brushed with a flavored syrup (I used raspberry liqueur as my flavoring), then frosted with lemon flavored buttercream, covered with a white chocolate mousse and a white chocolate glaze. Wow! Talk about over the top flavor and richness!

I used the buttercream from Dorie Greenspan's celebration cake that we made in March rather than the cooked sugar version that was included with this recipe (because I just loved it!). Everything worked out well, with very little frustration. The entire recipe took me about three hours to complete and everyone who tasted it really liked it.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day May 2008

A pretty pink tree peony is in full flower. (left)

The false Solomon's seal is full of hanging bells (below, center) and the spirea is in full flower. (below, left.)

A group of tiny white flowers comes up every year below the pin oak (left). Does anyone know what this is?

The red-leaf hardy geranium is blooming a little early this year (left)

Poeticus daffodils are always the last ones to bloom in my garden.

The nepeta is loaded with great blue flowers (left).

The fringe tree is limping along. The deer or some other critter munched on it this winter.

The deciduous azalea is a gorgeous peachy yellow!

The clematis has its first open flower today, just in time for GBBD.

The giant alliums are just beginning to bloom.

Buttercups are pretty, but very invasive. Think twice before you add these to a perennial bed or border! (below)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Banana Strawberry Cupcakes/Muffins?

OK. I had some left-over overripe bananas and some fresh-from-the-market -strawberries, and thought I'd make the strawberry banana cupcakes from Vanilla Garlic. Followedthe recipe exactly, except I substituted 6TBSP olive oil for 6 TBSP of the vegetable oil. They came out more like muffins than cupcakes. (Cupcakes=light and spongy, muffins=thick and dense. ) But I frosted them anyway as the recipe suggested. Good, but not great.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Daring Bakers and Tuesdays with Dorie

Well, I baked the Tuesdays with Dorie fluted polenta and ricotta cake (yum!) and didn't bake the Daring Bakers cheesecake pops. I did learn that I should have measured my pan to make sure it was the right size-- it went over the top and down the side. What a mess! But it had a wonderful texture-- moist from the ricotta cheese and figs, crunchy from the polenta and the tiny fig seeds. The honey made it just sweet enough. (I used regular clover honey, which is what I had on hand.) My husband (and official dessert taster) said he didn't like the "dates" but he liked the cake. I think it would have been useless to tell him they were figs, not dates.

The cheesecake pops, though, just didn't get done. My other life got a little spastic there for a while, and the time just slipped away. But next month's challenge looks great, and I'll make it earlier in the month. (It's a surprise-- you'll have to wait to find out what it is.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day April 2008

Oh, my gosh! I just looked at the calendar and discovered that, along with income tax day, it's also Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. So I grabbed my trusty Sony DSC-W50 and went in search of what is blooming in my yard and garden today. Some grape hyacinths are naturalized in the grass by the bird garden.

The forsythias are in full bloom!

Blue and white hyacinths are blooming in the gravel under the mailbox. They have been run over so many times by the mailman's SUV that it is amazing that they even survive.
One of the many varieties of daffodils that are blooming now.

A tiny windflower with a definite will to live!

Monday, March 31, 2008

Perfect Party Cake

The Daring Bakers’ Challenge this month was to make a 4 layer party cake from Baking from My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan. The cake and frosting had a hint of lemon in them. Thanks, Morven, for suggesting this challenge! I loved it!

The cake was light and lightly sweet on its own. But when I added the raspberry filling and buttercream frosting between the layers, it became heavenly!

The buttercream was a Swiss meringue buttercream, made by beating the sugar and egg whites over simmering water, and then adding the butter and flavors. The process was new to me, but it turned out great! I’ll definitely make this frosting again!

To finish it, I covered it with coconut. It was pretty and tasty at the same time. You don’t get much better than that!

Friday, February 29, 2008

Julia Child's French Bread

First of all, my apologies to Julia.

The Daring Bakers Challenge this month was to make French bread using Julia Child’s original recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume II. The ingredients were pretty much the same as any other French bread recipe, but the method was the challenge. No sponge, no poolish, no baguette pan. Rising on a cloth, baking on a flat baking sheet. The results? Good, but wow, it certainly was a “challenge” for me!

The risen dough stuck to the couche (the flour encrusted rising cloth) and deflated as it was placed onto the pan to bake. My sharpest knife would not cut neatly through the loaf to make the decorative slashes. It stuck to the dough, further deflating it. And between the mixing, the resting, the kneading, and the rising, it took forever!

The flavor? A little salty, I thought, but my husband disagreed. He asked, “Was it all worth it?” Truthfully, I would have to answer, “No, not really.” I am glad I did it, of course, as I am ever up for a baking challenge, but I’ll probably never do it again. There is definitely an easier way to make good French bread.

Thanks to Breadchick Mary for the recipe and the challenge. You certainly made me push my limits! Visit Breadchick Mary's site for the complete recipe for Julia Child's French bread.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Oops, I Forgot to Give You the Recipe!

I guess it would help if I posted the recipe for the lemon meringue pie from the Daring Bakers Challenge, wouldn't it? I'll get the hang of this, please be patient with me.

(from "Wanda's Pie in the Sky" by Wanda Beaver)
Daring Bakers Challenge #15: January 2008

Lemon Meringue Pie

Makes one 10-inch (25 cm) pie

For the Crust:
3/4 cup (180 mL) cold butter; cut into ½-inch (1.2 cm) pieces
2 cups (475 mL) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (60 mL) granulated sugar
1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
1/3 cup (80 mL) ice water

For the Filling:
2 cups (475 mL) water
1 cup (240 mL) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (120 mL) cornstarch
5 egg yolks, beaten
1/4 cup (60 mL) butter
3/4 cup (180 mL) fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon zest
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract

For the Meringue:
5 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) cream of tartar
1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract
3/4 cup (180 mL) granulated sugar

To Make the Crust:
Make sure all ingredients are as cold as possible. Using a food processor or pastry cutter and a large bowl, combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt.Process or cut in until the mixture resembles coarse meal and begins to clump together. Sprinkle with water, let rest 30 seconds and then either process very briefly or cut in with about 15 strokes of the pastry cutter, just until the dough begins to stick together and come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and press together to form a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 20 minutes.Allow the dough to warm slightly to room temperature if it is too hard to roll. On a lightly floured board (or countertop) roll the disk to a thickness of 1/8 inch (.3 cm). Cut a circle about 2 inches (5 cm) larger than the pie plate and transfer the pastry into the plate by folding it in half or by rolling it onto the rolling pin. Turn the pastry under, leaving an edge that hangs over the plate about 1/2 inch (1.2 cm). Flute decoratively. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line the crust with foil and fill with metal pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden. Cool completely before filling.

To Make the Filling:
Bring the water to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Remove from the heat and let rest 5 minutes. Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together. Add the mixture gradually to the hot water, whisking until completely incorporated. Return to the heat and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. The mixture will be very thick. Add about 1 cup (240 mL) of the hot mixture to the beaten egg yolks, whisking until smooth. Whisking vigorously, add the warmed yolks to the pot and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in butter until incorporated. Add the lemon juice, zest and vanilla, stirring until combined. Pour into the prepared crust. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on the surface, and cool to room temperature.

To Make the Meringue:
Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Using an electric mixer beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar, salt and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually, beating until it forms stiff, glossy peaks. Pile onto the cooled pie, bringing the meringue all the way over to the edge of the crust to seal it completely. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a rack. Serve within 6 hours to avoid a soggy crust.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge

Hoo-rah! My first Daring Bakers Challenge Post:

When I heard that my first Daring Bakers Challenge was a pie, I was thrilled! (Tales of the Yule Log Challenge last month had me shaking in my Crocs!) Pies are my thing—they are what I bring to potlucks and family gatherings where a contribution of food is needed. But I had never made lemon filling from scratch, so that, I thought, would be my challenge.

But as I began following the recipe for the crust, I realized it was a lot different from my usual crust. (I use vegetable shortening and just a little more than a cup of flour for a single crust pie.) The butter and 2 cups of flour made it much richer, heavier, and more difficult to work with. The resulting crust was very thick and doughy, not flaky at all, but had a wonderful flavor.

The meringue, with 5 egg whites as a base, was too much for the pie (2 or 3 would have been more like it) but I followed the recipe and used it all. By the time the meringue was golden on the outside, it seemed still almost raw inside.

The filling turned out to be the best of all! It was lemony and light, not at all rubbery as is sometimes the case with a boxed mix. It had a wonderful fresh lemon tang to it which everyone loved. I added grated lemon peel on the meringue, and the pie was very pretty!

I’ll definitely make a pie using this filling recipe again, but I’ll stick to my own recipe for crust and meringue. All in all, I’d grade this one a B-minus.