Sunday, July 23, 2017

On The Train

For years there has been talk about a passenger train to connect northern Sonoma County with San Rafael in Marin County. Over a hundred years ago such a train was available but then the automobile took over. The right of way was still there, but the tracks and infrastructure were shot. After lots of talk, hard work, political maneuvering to get state and federal funding, and some local votes to allow for extra sales tax to help fund it, the SMART train is now a reality.

Soon they will begin giving rides to paying customers, but this month they offered some free trips. What an excellent way to lure future paying riders. Yesterday Sweetie and I, Straight Shooter, and the neighbors we have Sunday breakfast with, all took the train from the first station by the Schultz Airport down to San Rafael and then back again.

Each way took about an hour and 15 minutes and it gave tantalizing views of parts of each county that we had never seen before. There is an amazing amount of undeveloped land in our two counties near the train, but we mostly travel by car where it is developed.

That's one of the appeals of train see areas that are otherwise hidden.

These are lovely new diesel trains with very comfy seats, tray tables like on an airplane, outlets so that one could plug in a laptop (although we left ours at home), overhead shelves to hold bags, hooks to hold bikes, and a sturdy handhold at the end of each pair of seats so that those standing have a place to hold on. By the second stop those handholds were needed. Even though they had added trains, this was a popular free ride!

Because of the added trains, we weren't able to go to the car that had refreshments while the train was moving. Those in the last two cars could. Refreshments sales benefit a local non-profit that helps disabled folks become independent.

The ride is very quiet and smooth and the windows by each set of seats are huge, so you really see the sights as you move along. Some facing sets of seats have tables between them like in the dining cars of Amtrak trains I've been on. Otherwise, you are seated facing in one direction. On the way back, we were facing San Rafael, so we looked at where we had just been.

A group that does tableaus at the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery came all together, dressed in the costumes they wear for their performances, so they had cowboys, Victorian ladies, some with clothes from the teens and twenties of the twentieth century...such fun!

My favorite section was between Petaluma and Novato. It is often a swampy area, with tidal sloughs, but we also saw man made ponds and hundreds of waterfowl...ducks, geese, and heron mostly.

It's an area that is only accessible by water or the train and is hidden from view of the highway by tall hills with live oaks sprinkled on them.

Very unspoiled and scenic and very close to two major urban areas, too.

Not all the scenes are bucolic. There are plenty of places where being by the railroad lends itself to junkyards, bus yards, gravel yards, lumberyards, boatyards and industrial buildings. We saw backyards, a golf course right next to the train tracks,

and roads where cars were stopped.

We even went through a tunnel on our way into San Rafael. The tunnel walls were inches from the sides of the train. No photos of the tunnel...too dark!

There is also a recycled bridge that raises and lowers near the Petaluma marina. No photo of the bridge, but here is the marina.

In about a year from this November there will be a spur that goes to the Larkspur Ferry terminal, but until then there is a bus from San Rafael transit mall to the ferry.

If you have about two hours each way you can take the train to the bus to the ferry to San Francisco! No driving needed, other than to get to the train station. Hope to do that soon and have lunch with my sister-in-law or my niece at the Ferry building in San Francisco, right by the bay.

I was afraid that the riders would be mostly men and mostly gray haired and there were plenty. Hard to believe that young people would want to ride the train, but I was wrong. There were all ages of folks, with teens, lots of young families and lots of women who love trains along with the guys. Straight Shooter sat next to a woman who takes train rides all over the U.S. for her vacations.

It was nice to get a break from the farmhouse bath project, although, after lunch at Charlie's in Windsor, we did go to the hardware store and buy the shower and vanity fixtures. Back to the grindstone today. We need to get that shower operational for Grandma!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Cake Slice Bakers Do Summer

Summer is such a great time for fruit with pits like plums, peaches, nectarines, apricots and cherries. Sweetie and I have been really enjoying fresh cherries unadorned and the season is drawing to a close, so eat those cherries!

This month one of the selections for the Cake Slice Bakers, as we continue to bake from Roger Pizey's book World Class Cakes, was Plum Madeira Cake.

What could be more summery than a cake with fresh plums? The Santa Rosa plums are almost finished on our tree, so I used some of the last ones, plus a peach from the market for this little cake. I say little because it's baked in a 6-inch diameter cake pan. I recently purchased a 6-inch diameter, 3-inch tall springform pan, so that's what I used. You can see that the red of the plums and yellow-orange of the peaches makes a nice pattern on the top of the cake, although most of the fruit has sunk into the body of the cake. Since I'm out of Madeira and since peaches go so well with bourbon, I substituted bourbon for the Madeira. Otherwise I followed the ingredients list, except for using margarine instead of butter due to my dairy allergy.

This cake was a real hit at the dinner party. Our host guessed that it had cornmeal or semolina flour, but that was the oatmeal texture he was noticing. In general it is very moist with an open crumb and a bit of extra texture from the oatmeal, but not the crunchy bite you get with cornmeal or millet. The flavors of plum, peach, oats and oranges went really well together. I think that the bourbon really didn't make much difference in the flavor. Next time I might just use more orange juice for the liquid.

I did make a slight change in the process of making the cake. I added the orange zest and juice and the bourbon directly to the margarine/sugar/egg mixture and incorporated them well before adding the flour/baking powder/oatmeal dry ingredients. The dry ingredients were folded in with a rubber spatula, then the batter went right into the prepared pan and into the preheated oven.

Although this made a wonderful dinner dessert, I think it would be equally as good as a morning coffee cake. I'm going to try it with fresh apricots and some pecans next time.

Be sure to check out the posts of the other Cake Slice Bakers. Remember, we have four cakes to choose from, so it's fun to see which ones they made and to see what their baking experiences were.

Plum Peach Madeira
Serves 8

7 oz. fresh ripe plums (I used less plums and added in a ripe peach, which I peeled)
7 tablespoons butter, softened (I used margarine)
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup self-rising flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup oatmeal, uncooked
1/2 tablespoons Madeira (I used bourbon)
finely grated zest of 1 orange and 4 tablespoons of juice

Preheat the oven to 310 degrees F. Grease a 6 1/4-inch x 2 1/2-inch deep cake pan and line with parchment paper. (I used a 6-inch x 3-inch springform pan and only put parchment on the bottom.)

Cut the plums into quarters, removing the pits, and set aside. (I cut the peeled, pitted peach into 8 slices, too)

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add half the beaten eggs, then the other half once the first half is incorporated. Mixture may look curdled. That's OK.

Mix in the orange zest, orange juice and bourbon.

In another bowl, whisk together the self-rising flour, baking powder, and oatmeal.

Fold the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and stud with plum quarters on top. If using peaches, too, make a nice pattern.

Bake in a preheated oven for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and cool on a rack in the pan for 15 minutes, then run a dull knife around the edges of the pan and turn the cake out onto a wire rack and strip off the parchment, turning the cake right side up for serving.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Customs Of The Land

I have to admit, it's a real joy to be able to use the internet to keep in touch, quickly, with people around the world. Easier to appreciate that we are all interconnected in ways large and small.

Even so, when I think of the people who have become a large part of the fabric of my life, it is usually those who live nearby, especially neighbors. I am very fortunate. I live in an area where the houses are in all sorts of styles and sizes. Some are from the time when this was a poor rural area and the 1900's houses often had recycled timbers as part of the structure. Our old farmhouse had some roof trusses that had been made from timbers from some structure that has been partially burned. When you don't have the money for new timbers, you use what you can cobble together. Other houses are newer and really nice, although we don't have any McMansions nearby. Lots of mid-century and later ramblers and split-levels, too.

The neighbors are all sorts, too, from farmers, to winery owners, to county sheriffs, landscapers, firemen, auto repairmen  and pastors, to name a few. Some make cheese, counsel executives of large companies,  are graphic artists, caregivers, grocery checkers, office managers, teachers, school classroom aides and more.

The advantage of a broad spectrum of homes and occupations, is that there are exchanges of tools, books and recipes among neighbors who may have vastly different opinions on world events and politics, so those with differing ideas don't so easily become 'the Other'. So what if some are liberal, some conservative? Some are homeowners, some renters. It doesn't matter...we take care of each other, look after each other's pets and gardens and take in the mail when the neighbor is on vacation, bring chicken soup when someone is ill, and similar small kindnesses. We help with home repairs and picking things up at Costco for each other. It seems a rare and wonderful corner of the world, but the customs of our small area of land seem quaint somehow.

How many of you know most of the neighbors in the area around where you live? Do you interact with them in similar ways or do you barely nod as you pass...can you even identify their car if it passes you on the road near your house or apartment?

It takes time, effort and some persistence to establish and maintain neighborhood friendships. If a lot of spare time goes towards keeping up with Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and emails, when is there enough time to get to know the actual people who live next door?

I was recently reading a book about the time after World War I. Often people of that era had been living on the same street for many years and when hard times came the neighbors looked out for each other, even if no one had a lot to spare. It was expected, normal, the custom of the land.

Later, after World War II, the suburbs were filled with families who had parents in the same age range and kids who played with each other, up and down the block, so everyone still knew each other and I suspect that my kind of neighborliness is similar to what was true in those times.

Now people often live in neighborhoods where everyone is of the same status, race, educational background, and occupation type. Still, with two working parents being the norm, and with children having endless classes, camps, and sports activities after school and on the weekends, it seems that even neighbors who should be compatible don't have time to get to know each other. If you also are struggling to make ends meet, that can mean two or even three jobs and even less time to spend with your own family, much less with neighbors.

So I'm going to treasure my fine and friendly neighbors and count my blessings. Heavy use of the internet has reduced the time spent interacting with neighbors. I hope that the advent of VR doesn't completely do away with the friendships that can be found with those living close by.

Tomorrow I'll be taking a nice cake to dinner at a neighbor's home. I'll post the recipe on Thursday. I know already that there will be good food, laughter, lively discussions, and fond feelings. What could be better?

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Velvety Bean Bread For The Babes

Somehow it's the middle of July. Time sure whips on by. Last month at this time it was really the 100s hot, and this month it's the same...should be 100 today. Any reader who reads this blog regularly knows that about the middle of the month I post along with the other Bread Baking Babes, having baked the challenge bread for the month. Last month I didn't post because the heat caught me by surprise and I left the baking to the last minute. This month I baked a week early, before it got hot. Glad I did.

I do enjoy the process of bread baking with yeast. There is something so magical about taking fairly basic ingredients and creating something that smells so good, tastes so delicious, and is such a building block for good eating. When kneading the dough this unpromising mass moves under your hands and suddenly it becomes silky and smooth and somehow more alive. Leave a yeasted dough at room temperature and it rises and fills the container it's in. Put the risen dough in a hot oven and it often rises some more. Pure magic!

This month Kelly of A Messy Kitchen blog gathered us around the kitchen table to bake Velvety Bean Bread. I've never made a bread with beans before, so wasn't sure what to expect, but this lovely bread doesn't really taste of bean. It has a close crumb, but is still fluffy in texture, which is a nice trick. Sweetie really liked this bread, especially the texture. I included spelt flour which gave it a subtle nutty flavor. Unlike many times when I make lots of changes, this time I pretty much stuck to the recipe ingredients. I used canned cannellini beans, rinsed and drained, for my bean paste. No sourdough this time, just a packet of dry yeast.

One thing I did differently was to make a poolish (yeast, flour, water) the night before which sat in the fridge overnight. I'm sure the bread would be fine without doing that, but it usually adds a bit of additional flavor. I left out the chives because I wanted to see what it tasted like without. I even ate the first piece without any embellishments, even butter.

Be aware that the water amounts in the recipe might need modifications. I needed to add water and I should have added even more since the volume of dough was 1/2 pound less than the recipe said it would be. Because of that, I used smaller bread pans. Probably should have just used it all in a large bread pan, but it was kind of fun to have a mini loaf. One thing I really should not have done was score the top. Not needed and it is too fragile to the top crust.

Do make this bread if for no other reason than seeing how you like bread with beans. It's a fairly easy to work with bread and delicious! Makes good toast, too. If you bake the bread, let Kelly know via email so that she can include you in the Buddy round up. Include a photo and a short description of your bread/baking experience.

Be sure to check out the efforts of the other Bread Baking Babes!

The recipe is from Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Tradition around the World

Velvety Bean Bread
Makes 2 small pan loaves

2 tsp (7 g) active dry yeast
1 cup (236.5 g) lukewarm water (I used 1 1/4 cups, but think 1 1/2 would be better)
2 cups drained cooked or canned navy beans, room temp (I used canned, rinsed and drained cannellini beans)
1 cup (113 g) whole wheat flour (I used spelt flour)
1 tbsp (13.7 g) olive oil
1 tbsp (17 g) salt
2 tbsp (~6 g) chopped chives (optional)
~ 2 cups (240 g) all-purpose flour

Dissolve yeast in water.  Process beans until smooth, transfer to a large bowl or stand mixer.  Stir yeast mixture into beans.  Add the whole wheat flour and stir for one minute, in one direction, to develop the dough.  Add the oil, salt, and chives, if using and stir them in.  Add 1 cup of the AP flour and stir in.  Add the remaining AP flour and knead in with a dough hook, or work in and knead by hand for about 5 minutes, until smooth.

Place dough in a bowl, cover, and let rise for 3 hours, until almost doubled in volume.  (There should be about 2.5 pounds of dough, but there may be less depending on how much water you used.)

Turn out dough and divide in half.  Butter two 8x4" pans.  Form each portion of dough into a loaf and place seam side down in the pans.  The directions say to let rise for 2½ hours.  That was WAY too long for my kitchen.  You'll have to watch the dough for proper rise.  Check at 1 hour and continue to proof if needed.

Preheat oven to 400ºF, have a spray bottle or small cup of water ready for steam.  Slash each loaf lengthwise (or skip this step, which I recommend), place in oven and bake for 5 minutes, adding steam every couple minutes with the sprayer or cup.  Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 375ºF and bake for 25 minutes until rich brown with a matte finish.  Turn the loaves out and check for doneness. Finish cooling on a wire rack before slicing.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Summer Is Pie Time

Yesterday was a full one since we cut a good sized hole in the farm house bathroom floor, removed two layers of subfloor (and lots of nails and screws), made cleats to attach to floor joists to hold up the replacement flooring (so Grandma can go to the bathroom without falling in a hole in the floor) and then fashioned the replacement flooring so that it was even with the old flooring. Sweetie did most of the actual work and I was his assistant...sort of like an operating room nurse - handing tools to him and taking them back, replacing, then finding the next one in the holding area, repeat, repeat.

The day before we removed the huge cast iron tub. Last time we worked on this bathroom I had dropped that same tub on Sweetie's toe...ouch! this time we took extra care to not harm anyone in the removal of the tub. I'm hoping to recycle it to a bathroom in my own home in the future. It's a lovely old tub.

After we finished for the day with the floor work, Sweetie took a nap and I found a lump of pie pastry in the fridge that hadn't been used up for the hand pies. It was just large enough to make a pie containing one perfect peach.This would make a nice surprise for Sweetie since he really loves pie.

 I tossed the peach slices with a bit of sugar (maybe 1/2 teaspoon since the peach was ripe and juicy), a shake of nutmeg, and a couple drops almond extract. I sprinkled some of the cornstarch-flour-bread crumb mixture that I used for the hand pies onto the bottom of the rolled out dough, placed the peach slices in the center over that mixture, then folded up the edges of the dough over the peaches, pinching the dough together where it needed it.

Into a pie plate and then into a 375 degree F oven it went for about 10 minutes (I forgot to time it) until the crust was golden brown with a bit of darker brown here and there. The pie cooled and we had it about 9 pm and it was wonderful...sweet and tart and juicy with a nice, flaky crust. Yum!

So don't throw out the leftover pastry dough if you have any after making hand pies. You can fill your little pie with peaches, apricots, berries of all sorts, or apple slices. For apples I would change the nutmeg to cinnamon and skip the almond extract, but otherwise, it's the same for all of them. Summer is pie time...even little pies.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Revisiting An Irish Bread Recipe

Enough years ago that I can't actually remember making the bread, I baked an apricot walnut bread using a book I found in Ireland when we visited in 2009. Recently I decided that it looked like a recipe I should make again, although this time I used some dates along with the dried apricots, plus I switched pecans for the walnuts. I also used almond milk for the mixed milk and water part.  I did use the olive oil this time and liked it! There is still sourdough and it is still braided, and it is still, perhaps, the best bread ever. Our daughter seemed to think so. It has a nice, tight crumb, makes lovely toast and is also fine eaten plain, just sliced off the braided loaf.

If you find yourself without the sourdough part, a quick version would be to substitute a packet (7 gm/2 oz) dry active yeast mixed with 1/4 cup barely warm water, then let to sit until the yeast 'blooms', about 10 minutes. Add another 3/4 cup lukewarm water and an extra cup of flour to the recipe and it should work just fine. For a bit more flavor, take that 'bloomed' water and yeast mixture, add the 3/4 cup lukewarm water and whisk in the cup of flour and let it sit, uncovered, on the counter overnight or in the fridge, covered, for 3-5 days, then use in the sourdough starter version of the recipe as if it were the sourdough starter, reducing the water to 3/4 cup.

 Or just follow the first part of the recipe for using dry yeast. Just make it and enjoy one of the best fruited breads around. By the way, the addition of fruit helps the bread stay fresher longer, so more breakfasts have toast.

By the way, in a week I should be posting a new bread for the Bread Baking Babes July challenge (so do come back then), but between now and then the posts might be sparse. Sweetie and I are doing an upgrade on the farmhouse bathroom, including a shower enclosure with glass door instead of a clawfoot tub. The plumber will have all the fun of trying to do new plumbing in a pre-1906 super narrow bathroom, but I think that the new shower, vanity and toilet, plus new flooring, paint, towel bars, lighting and mirror will make a much nicer bathroom for Grandma. It will, however, keep me busy being the carpenter's helper, etc. so, until I post again, stay safe, stay positive if you can, and if you want to toast me, do it with Champagne or bourbon.  XO, Elle

Irish Apricot and Walnut Bread
a variation of a recipe in Soups and Breads - The Irish Kitchen by Nuala Cullen
Makes one loaf

75 g/3 oz/2/3 cup finely chopped dried apricots
2 oz finely chopped dates (sorry no idea of g or cups)
75 g/3 oz/3/4 cup roughly chopped pecans
450 g/1 lb/4 cups strong white flour
75 g/3 oz/3/4 cup coarse brown flour (I used whole wheat)
1 tablespoon or one sachet instant dried yeast (I used 1 cup sourdough starter and adjusted the milk/water)
325 ml/12 fl oz/1 ½ cups mixed milk and water
1 tablespoon olive oil 
1 teaspoon salt

If using dry yeast: In a large mixing bowl mix together the flours, apricots, dates, nuts, salt and dried yeast.

Make a well in the center and pour in the milk and water, kneading and drawing in the flour from the sides until it is all incorporated. Knead for 2 minutes with a dough hook or 5-6 minutes by hand on a floured surface. Oil the mixing bowl, put in the dough, cover with plastic wrap/clingfilm and allow to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

If using sourdough starter: In large mixing bowl (I used stand mixer bowl) put the sourdough starter and 1 ¼ cups mixed milk and water, slightly warmed. Stir or whisk to combine.

In another large bowl combine the flours, apricots, dates, and pecans. With dough hook in place and mixer on low speed, gradually add the dry mixture until the dough is soft and cleans the sides of the bowl. Knead with the machine for 3-4 minutes. If you prefer you can combine the wet and dry ingredients as described in the first paragraph and hand knead. With sourdough starter you might need to have a longer rising time...I did.

Knock the air out of the dough and knead briefly before turning out onto a floured surface. Shape as desired. I did a three strand braid. Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk. Again, this usually takes longer when you are only using sourdough starter, but the additional flavor that develops is well worth the wait. I also refrigerated my dough overnight before the first rise...even more flavor that way!

Bake in a preheated 375 degree F oven for about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and tap underneath. If a hollow sound results, the bread is cooked. If not, bake a little longer and test again. You could also shape the dough in two loaves and bake this in two 8 x 4 loaf pans.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Classic Toll House

There are numerous chocolate chip cookie recipes around, but the one that started it all, if legend is to be believed, is the classic Toll House Cookie. The cookies are a mixture of white sugar and brown sugar, with butter and vanilla, eggs, flour, baking soda and chocolate chips. Usually there are also walnuts, but this time I skipped them. The cookies are a bit fluffy, a bit chewy, soft and delicious. Sweetie loves chocolate chip cookies this way. I prefer mine a bit crisper, but can eat a handful of these anyway.

One of the secrets to a very flavorful rendition of this cookie is to make up the batter, but then let it sit in the coldest part of the fridge for a few days. Somehow the waiting time improves the overall deliciousness...and it's useful when, like me, you think you will have time to bake but find you don't until days later! Also useful to have on hand to bake when that odd relatively cool day shows up in summer.

I also want to share some photos of my lovely summer poppies. I just love their colors!

Toll House Cookies
Makes 4-5 dozen cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) non-dairy butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups (12 oz.) semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped nuts (if omitting the nuts, add 1-2 tablespoons extra flour)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl (flour, baking soda, salt) or on a sheet of waxed paper. Set aside.

Beat non-dairy butter (or real butter if you prefer) and both sugars, plus the vanilla, until creamy.

Add eggs, one at a time, scraping bowl and beaters after each egg has been incorporated.

Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in the morsels and (if using) nuts. Chill batter in bowl, covered, for 1 hour or for up to 5 days.

Drop batter by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets or silicon baking mats or parchment. Bake for 9-11 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes, then remove to wire racks to cook completely.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Hand Pies

The summer after I met Sweetie, while we were still living in the East Bay, we decided to go down to the Berkeley pier for the 4th of July fireworks. It was a long time ago, so I don't really remember all the details, but I believe that we were planning on watching the distant fireworks at Crissy Field in San Francisco. At any rate, we didn't actually see any fireworks because the fog rolled in, a pretty heavy fog at that, which meant that you could only see the occasional glow in the fog.

Still, we had a good time. We were newly in love and that puts a shine on almost everything. As part of our picnic I made peach hand pies. They are perfect for picnics because you don't need anything other than your hand and your mouth to eat them...and maybe a napkin to catch any dripping juices.

Yesterday I made hand pies in a slightly smaller size for a dinner party in Healdsburg. There are so many ripe fruits available right now that it was difficult to only make two flavors, but that seemed like the right thing to do so that everyone could have one of each flavor. I made peach-blackberry little pies, which were the favorite, and raspberry pies which were a bit too tart. Next time I will add just a little sugar to the cornstarch mixture and I think I'll make larger hand pies, too. These leaned too heavily in the direction of crust with not enough room for enough fruit. That works if crust is your main delight in pies, but I love the fillings.

These take some time to make, as do most things that have a lot of hand work. Use your favorite pie crust recipe or just buy some already made pie crust sheets.

Use the season's ripe fruit. If the fruit is tart, add some sugar to the cornstarch-flour-bread crumb mixture...about 2 tablespoons unless the fruit is very tart. Make sure the fruit is in fairly small pieces so that you can fit a little more in. Large pieces of fruit leave a lot of empty holes in the filling.

Most fruit will release juices when they cook, which is why we use the cornstarch mixture. It helps turn the juices into a thick sauce. If you prefer pies which spurt juice when bitten into, you can skip the cornstarch mixture. In the photo above, the raspberries have been shaken with the cornstarch mixture. They still released a little juice, but no too much.

There are at least two shaping methods. I used the 'fill half, then fold and seal' method, but you can also use the 'fill the middle and top with another piece of dough' method. In both methods, the dough edge is moistened with a thin sheen of water before the sealing. Both also use the tines of a fork to seal the edges further, and to give a nice finish to the hand pie. As you can see in the photo above, I used the fold and seal method.

For the best looking hand pies, glaze with beaten egg, then sprinkle with sparkling sugar right before baking. Don't forget to cut a short slash in the middle to allow steam and excess juices to escape during baking.

Maybe you'll decide to make these for your own 4th of July party or picnic or dinner and to keep the tradition going that way. Happy Baking!

Fruit Hand Pies
Elle's recipe
makes 12 small hand pies

Two-crust pie crust recipe or box of pre-rolled pie crusts like Pillsbury Ready Crust
3-4 cups fresh fruit, peeled, seeded, cut into small pieces as needed
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup dry plain breadcrumbs (not seasoned)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
sugar to taste - depends on the tartness of your fruit
1 egg for egg wash
Sparkling sugar if desired, for top

Roll out the pie crust dough to 1/8 inch thick and then cut out 3 /12 to 4-inch circles. Put the scraps together and knead once or twice, then roll out again as needed so that you have six circles of dough from each half of the pie crust dough.

In a small bowl mix together the flour, breadcrumbs, cornstarch and salt. Add sugar to taste.

Place six circles of dough on a piece of baking parchment or foil. Mix about half of the cornstarch mixture into half the fruit in a medium bowl, then place a tablespoon or two of the fruit on half the dough circle. Leave about 1/2 inch around the edge with no filling.

Using a wet, clean finger, coat the edge of the dough with a thin film of water, all the way around the circle. Fold the unfilled half over the filled half and press down to seal the edge. Use the tines of a fork to seal the half-circle edge (see photo above to see how they look baked and sealed that way).

Repeat with the remaining six dough circles and more fruit. There may be leftover fruit, which can be used in other recipes.

Place the hand pies, still on the parchment or foil, on one or two baking sheets. Glaze with an egg wash consisting of the egg whisked with one tablespoon of water. Use a pastry brush to apply the glaze, then sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon sparkling sugar over the tops of the hand pies.Slash the tops with a small sharp knife (slash is about 1/8-inch and lets steam and juices escape as pies bake).

Bake in a preheated 400 degrees F oven for 10-12 minutes. Crusts should be golden brown and juices may be leaking from the slash in the top. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Can be stored at room temperature for 1 day. Refrigerate any leftovers in a sealed container.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Spanish Chicken and Rice for Dinner

Want an easy casserole of chicken, rice, tomatoes, onions and garlic, herbs and spices and a little marsala wine? Check out this one that was a family favorite for many, many years. I made it tonight but had to change a few things. It was supposed to be sherry instead of marsala, and the dish should have saffron, but those were both missing. It still tasted wonderful! The good news was that it went together so quickly. We've spent quite a bit of time today on our next project and suddenly it was almost dinner time. From start to finish was less than an hour. Don't leave out the whole is an essential flavor in this dish.

Sweetie and I are in the planning stages for replacing the tub in Grandma's farmhouse with a nice alcove shower with glass doors. We still haven't decided on the size but have narrowed it down to a 5 foot one that is basically the same size as a tub in length, or a 4 foot one that will allow us to move the vanity over to the same wall...a blessing in a bathroom as narrow as this one. I'm going with white shower, vanity and toilet, brushed nickel fixtures and door frame, and cream colored walls with bright white trim. The floor is currently cork colored but it will need replacing, so we may go with something darker for contrast with all that white. It should be fresh feeling once we are done. We are hiring a plumber to do all the plumbing and the electrical that's in there should be OK, so it's really mostly constructing some walls to attach the shower walls to, some tile or sheetrock, and paint. Probably doing demo will be the most complicated because it involves, among other things,  moving a very heavy cast iron clawfoot tub out and across to the outbuilding where it will live until we find a place for it or sell it.

I'll try to remember to post photos of the before and after once the project is finished. The one at the top is courtesy of WayFair. Probably not the vanity we will use, but I like the sleek look.

Speaking of photos, I completely forgot to take any of this delicious dish. Think browned chicken pieces peeking out of a sea of tomato-studded rice with a nice sprinkle of peas on top. Colorful and savory. Don't take my word for it...try it yourself.

Arroz con Pollo (Spanish Chicken and Rice)
From Family Food by Patricia Lachman
Serves 6-8

2 1/2 lbs. chicken...I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs, but a cut up frying chicken is traditional
salt (optional)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium pepper, chopped (traditionally green, but I used red)
1 can peeled, chopped tomatoes in their own juice
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 bay leaf
a pinch saffron
2 whole cloves
1 cup water
1/3 cup sherry (or marsala)
1 cup long grain uncooked rice
1 cup cooked green peas
1 pimento, cut up (optional)

Use a large skillet or Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid. Season chicken with salt, if desired (I always skip the's not needed). Brown the chicken in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Remove the chicken and cover with foil. Add remaining olive oil, heat, then add the onion, garlic and pepper. Brown 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, except for rice, peas and pimento. Return the chicken to the pot. Cover and simmer 15 minutes. Add the rice. Bring to a boil, stir, being sure that the rice is submerged in the liquid in the pot, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
Garnish with the hot peas and with the pimento, if using.

This dish makes great leftovers since the rice tastes even better the next day.