Thursday, June 22, 2017

Summer Flowers

Love the pink poppies that have come up among the pink and purple wildflowers. Kinda makes up for the absurd heat.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Berry Blast

Dear friends, it's been hot. I know that we in California have been told that we don't know from hot or have to live in Phoenix or Minnesota for that, but yesterday it was over 100 here and 106 or so in the Sacramento area, so that is bunk.

My ancestors are from the cool and rainy west of Ireland. I'm not bred for heat. I wilt and get cranky.

Since there is nothing to do about it, a way to take advantage of the heat is to make icy drinks. Today's was a Berry Blast, but over the last 4 or 5 days there have been Berry-Banana-Nectarine Cooler, Mango Strawberry Delight (where I used mango juice instead of milk), Blackberry Vanilla Cooler and more. The blender has been getting a workout. Fortunately we started with some very ripe bananas on hand, plus lots of fresh berries since this is the season for them.

It was way too hot for actual measurements, so I'm giving approximations. You can change it up, too. If you have a different fruit handy, throw it in. Like real ice cream and milk instead of soy...go for it! The key is to have ice, fruit, and some liquid, plus a bit of ice cream, soy cream or sorbet for richness. Let the blender run until you have a nice, thick, smooth drink.

Berry Blast
serves 1-2

1 cup crushed ice or ice cubes
2 scoops ice cream or soy ice cream (I like vanilla, but use what you like)
3 cups assorted fruit. (I used about a cup each fresh strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. Frozen would work, too, but fresh gives the best flavor.)
1 cup soy milk or regular milk

Place all ingredients in a heavy duty blender. Blend on low for a few seconds, then increase to medium and finish at high to make sure all the ice is blended in as tiny pieces.

Serve in a tall glass with an iced-tea spoon. Umbrella optional.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

A Garden Update

You may be wondering why there was a ten day gap in posts and now two in a row. The reason is the heat and the garden. We are experiencing a heat wave and it promises to continue through Friday or maybe even longer. Those who know me are aware that I'm not a fan of hot weather, preferring our usual summer fog. Still it's nice for the kids recently out of school to have weather where they can swim in the ocean or a neighborhood pool. Maybe that's what I should try! In general when it's too hot I just hunker down and nap or read. Anything else sounds like too much work, including cooking and baking.

Before the heat descended, I spent a glorious amount of time in the garden, at last. Weeds that had been sitting there reminding me of my tardiness were pulled and went into the green can. Pots of used soil that should have been cleaned up last fall were finally cleared of old soil and given a good scrub before new soil was added. Sweetie helped with the weeding and with checking out the drip system for watering a large section of the garden. There is still some hand-watering needed, but not much.

With the addition of bags and bags of bark mulch, the garden was finally ready for me to place the pots and add the seedlings that had gotten root bound waiting for me to get into the garden, to rig up the netting for the cucumbers and beans to climb up, to plant the bean seeds in the pots. Trellises were placed for the late sweet peas and for the morning glories to climb. It is so uplifting to see things fall into place.

zucchini, delicata squash, morning glories, roses, netting for cucumbers

Along the front walk there are lovely mixtures of wild flowers blooming. I had planted those seeds in late winter. This morning I spotted a hummingbird enjoying the flight from flower to flower. The mystery element were the large poppies, but they bloomed this morning and are a pretty pink that goes well with the other wild flowers in bloom there.

I did plant a pumpkin plant,

 two zucchini plants and a couple of delicata squash plants in early spring in the big planter box. They are thriving, along with a couple of sunflowers, some nasturtium, and the morning glories that self-seeded last fall. Around the planter are the love-in-a mist (nigella) that also self-seeded.

There are a couple of pots with tomatoes that went in at the same time, so we might at least get cherry tomatoes by July. The strawberry plants that have been on a drip system for a while are producing sweet red berries.

Of course about 20-30 minutes per day is spent watering the things with no drip, including a lily that should bloom in July, some pretty Sweet Williams and nice Iceland poppies.

At the same time that I was enjoying being in the garden, I made a lovely set of whole-wheat walnut breads. I'll post about that the next time.

XO, Elle

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Cold Noodle Dinner In A Bowl

I used to subscribe to Bon Appetit magazine, but stopped recently because most of the recipes seemed to be ones I couldn't see myself making. That is why I was so surprised when I purchased their June issue in late May at the airport so I would have something to read on my flight home. Despite the fact that it was the Grilling Issue and Sweetie is the one who grills, I found quite a few recipes and ideas for things to make. I think that, with all the recipes so easily available on the internet, that cookbooks and cooking magazines provide inspiration more than anything.

One of the articles was on how to put together a variety of cold noodle salads. There was coconut-lime shrimp with rice noodles, garlicky chicken with udon noodles, Veg lover's soba with a miso-mustard dressing and spicy steak salad with ramen noodles, but they also explained how to mix and match.

Inspired by the article, I decided to make a salad similar to a Vietnamese bun salad, using grilled teriyaki chicken for the protein, rice stick noodles, carrot matchsticks and cucumber, peanuts, cilantro and a fish sauce-lime dressing. It made a wonderful dinner and is a great warm weather dish. I took the same salad on a picnic a few days ago and it was just as refreshing and surprisingly filling.

Rice Noodles With Salad and Chicken
serves 4-6
Inspired by Bon Appetit June 2017 issue

4 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
hot pepper flakes or hot sauce, to taste

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/4 cup teriyaki sauce

4-6 cups thinly sliced iceberg lettuce
2 teaspoons minced cilantro
2 teaspoons minced fresh mint
1/2 cup shredded or matchstick carrots
1/2 cup thinly sliced cucumber, slices cut in half
2-3 tablespoons chopped peanuts

1 package fine rice stick noodles or vermicelli noodles
vegetable oil

In a jar with a tightly fitting lid, place all the sauce ingredients, then shake to combine. Let sit at least 30 minutes, then strain through a fine-mesh strainer. Discard the solids.

Place the chicken thighs in a glass pie dish or similar non-corrosive dish, or in a plastic ziplock bag. Pour the teriyaki sauce over the chicken and let marinate at least 30 minutes. Grill until just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Cut into bite sized pieces.

While chicken is marinating, combine the lettuce, cilantro, fresh mint, carrots and cucumbers in a large bowl. Set aside.

Cook the noodles in a large pot of boiling water until al dente', then drain in a collander and rinse with cold water. Put the noodles back in the pot and drizzle with a small amount of vegetable oil, then toss the noodles with your fingers to coat them with the oil. If too hot, use salad tongs for tossing.

To assemble the salad, place a portion of the rice noodles in the bottom of a large soup bowl. Add a generous helping of the salad mixture, top with the warm chicken and drizzle with the sauce. Sprinkle chopped peanuts on top. If desired, garnish with additional cilantro and mint.

If you like, you can skip mixing the lettuce, cilantro, mint, carrots and cucumbers and just put the carrots and cucumbers in little piles on top of the lettuce in the bowl, then scatter the cilantro and mint on top, along with the peanuts. Once it all gets stirred together in the bowl as you eat there is no difference in the eating experience.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

First Berry Pie of the Season

The olallieberries along the road are fat after our rainy spring and some of them have ripened...enough for a pie for Sweetie. He really does love pie.

It's been awhile since I've made a double crusted pie but that seemed to be the way to go with this one. I picked two pints of ripe berries and rinsed them, removing a couple that were hosting tiny green worms! I checked the rest after a while, but they were all clean and shiny.

With a single fruit pie you want the flavor of the main ingredient to shine through, so I went easy on the spices, using just a half teaspoon of Penzy's Pie Spice, plus another half teaspoon of their Hi-Fat Cocoa powder. The idea was to make the berries taste richer, which these did, while not adding more than a hint of spice. You couldn't taste the cocoa at all, just the rich berry flavor.

The other thing that I did was to create a custom thickener. These were juicy berries and I didn't want a pool of juice when I cut the pie slices, so I used both flour and cornstarch. For some sweetness, since these are early berries and a bit more tart than later ones will be, I used some raw cane sugar.

The spice mix, cocoa, flour, cornstarch and sugar, plus a bit of salt, were mixed together in a small bowl. The clean and drained berries went into a large bowl. I poured the flour mixture over them and gently stirred to coat each berry.

Some days I like to make pie crust, some days I use Pillsbury Ready Crust from the market. This pie was a Ready Crust pie...faster, easier, not so many dishes to wash up, plus it is a nice, flaky crust.

A hot oven and baking stone help ensure that the bottom crust gets baked through and the top crust golden brown. I did turn the oven down to 350 degrees F for the last 15 minutes to make sure that the berries cooked through.

This was a wonderful pie! The filling held together and the taste was rich and strongly berry. If you use the Ready Crust, it really doesn't take long to have a freshly baked pie. I'll bet you know someone who would enjoy a nice pie. This would work with  raspberries, blueberries, or blackberries, too.

Olallieberry Pie
Elle original recipe

2 - 3 pints fresh olallieberries (or use 5 - 6 cups raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, boysenberries)
1/3 cup flour
1 tablespoons corn starch
1/2 teaspoon Penzy's Pie Spice, or a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice
1/2 teaspoon Penzy's High Fat Cocoa or your favorite unsweetened cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons raw sugar or brown sugar
1 box Pillsbury Ready Crust pie crust, or your favorite two-crust pie dough recipe
1 shallow 9-inch pie pan
1-2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/2 and 1/2, or light cream, or soy creamer
sparkling sugar or raw sugar or granulated sugar

Rinse the berries and drain. Set aside.

In a small bowl thoroughly mix together the flour, corn starch, Pie Spice, cocoa, salt and raw or brown sugar. I used a small whisk.

Roll out the bottom crust slightly larger than the pie pan. Carefully place crust in pie pan and smooth into pan. Dough should extend past the edges of the pie pan.

Roll out top crust, if needed,to slightly larger than the pie pan. Cut a small decorative vent in the middle of the circle of dough. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. If possible, place a baking stone on the center rack.

Place drained berries in a large mixing bowl. Pour the flour mixture over the berries, using a spatula, gently scoop to the bottom of the bowl and turn the berries over. Continue until all berries are coated with the flour mixture.

Pour berries into prepared pie pan. Dot with butter or margarine.

Use your clean finger to moisten, lightly, the pie dough where it sits over the edge of the pan (there is usually a thin flat space), then place the second circle of dough (with the vent) on top and gently press to seal around the edge.

Trim excess dough, if needed, then turn edges of the dough under and crimp, or flatten with the tines of a fork.

Use a pastry brush to brush 1/2 and 1/2 or light cream or soy creamer over the top and edges of the pie. This is usually a tablespoon or less of creamer. Sprinkle lightly with sparkling sugar, raw sugar, or granulated sugar.

Place pie carefully in the hot oven, of possible directly on a preheated baking stone.

Bake for 15 minutes.

If crust edges become browner than the center, place strips of aluminum foil to mask them from the heat.

Remove pie from oven and place on a cookie sheet (to catch drips) and return to oven. Reduce heat to 350 degrees F and bake another 15-25 minutes, or until center of pie crust is golden brown and juices are bubbly at vent.

Cool on a rack for 10 minutes or longer. Best served the same day.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

It Might As Well Be Early Spring

Flying up from my recent visit to the Los Angeles area, I flew in a plane that hugged the coast and flew pretty low so that you could really see the scenery. The arid landscape of southern California gave way to lush green hills and rows of vines in multiple vineyards, plus fog hanging out near the ocean. To look at the scene one would think that it was early spring instead of the beginning of June. We have had such a long, wet winter and cool spring that everything seems to be dragging its way towards summer. Since I love the spring I'm a very happy camper, but it has slowed growth in the garden. The first tomatoes might come in September or even October at this rate!

Sweetie did a great job of keeping everything watered. A couple of the zucchini are looking like they will soon start real growth and the love in a mist (nigella) is spectacular right now. The flowers are a pale blue when they bloom and slowly turn to a dark velvety blue, all surrounded by a misty green leaf spray.

Managed to catch a cold while down south, so nothing much happening in the kitchen...or elsewhere except that I'm sleeping a lot. Hope to have a recipe to post soon, but, in the spirit of spring, here is a visual recipe for spring rolls.

These are the great shrimp and lettuce spring rolls with cucumber, basil, and carrot that my talented daughter made because she fell in love with something similar from a local Thai place.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

As Time Zips By

So what have I been doing for the last 10+ years instead of turning this blog into a money maker? It seems that lots of people who started blogging when I did went on to either turn their blog into a business or else to turn the skills they learned into a, blog writing, etc. I cheer each of them on because when you love something and can also make money doing it, it deserves a cheer!

So why did I take the path less traveled in the blogosphere? Part of it is a desire to keep it simple, part is a lack of time to turn it into a business.

A little over a month ago the half year anniversary of this blog rolled around without any fanfare. Still, that means that I've now been blogging over ten and a half years. During that time Sweetie and I have remodeled the farmhouse, the main bathroom, the laundry room, and...the biggie...the kitchen. We've also created a new front entry, redone the front deck and maybe the back one, too...all of these projects run together sometimes. There were a couple of window installations when we discovered that the folks who built the house didn't believe in window flashing. Sweetie built a 20 x 15 one-story shed from scratch and remodeled the old storage shed into a kitchen for the remodel and then into an art studio for me. He has been upgrading his work area in the barn over time, too. Perhaps the most interesting was the time when we removed some tall windows in the living room area of the house and ended up repairing the second story, the first story and even the subfloor due to water damage.  So I guess that these project are one reason I didn't devote all my energy to making my blog into a source of income.

Then there is the P.E.O. Scholarship group. Making scholarships for women a reality takes time, energy, patience, persistence, and good will. There are also fundraisers that take all of that and skills, too. I have benefitted far more from all of our efforts as a sisterhood than I've ever given, but the time spent is also time not available to the blog.

Somewhere in there I took watercolor classes and graphic arts update classes on programs like InDesign and Photoshop. I do a 10-12 page full color Newsletter for the regional arm of P.E.O., plus various cards, programs, flyers and that sort of thing. For a couple of years I helped with the photo albums, too. Sometimes I have to revisit art skills that have gone stale.

Lately I've been trying out acrylics painting a sand and seascape with clouds. It's a work in progress in many ways.

Let's not forget the garden, a source of joy for me. During those ten + years I started hundreds of tomato starts from seed,

way too many zucchini and other squash plants, plus beans, cucumbers and flowers galore. Anyone who has gardened knows that producing the plants is just the beginning of a lot of work over a lot of months.

Then there is social time with family and friends, fun time with the dogs, the usual life stuff like grocery shopping and laundry and cleaning the house. It's a wonder I have time to do the couple-a-week posts I do put up.

So, there you have it; lots of reasons why this is still an ordinary, non-commercial food blog. Still, I've posted over 1,180 times and so there are over 1,000 recipes in all those posts, too. Hope that you wander around and find some new ones that tickle your fancy. A lot of them are for baked good, especially bread, but there are plenty of others. A great one for this time of year is the Creamy Coleslaw Dressing recipe. Coleslaw goes so well with barbecued meats and poultry, pulled pork, and grilled sea food. You may also enjoy the fictional Land of St. Honore', where baking is a birthright.

Thanks for stopping by, dear Reader.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Spring Warmth with Strawberries and Rhubarb

It is truly spring. Usually this is a non-event as spring arrives in Northern California most years in February or March, but this year our spring has been more like the ones I remember from my childhood in Virginia. The nights stayed very cool and we had significant rain right up into May. So this year April showers really did bring May flowers. Many of my flowers are just now starting to bloom and the cool weather has keep the roses going with the flowers staying on the shrubs longer while new buds begin to form.

Our little lambs are getting bigger. Earlier in the week one of the younger set got his head stuck in the fence and tonight one of the older set became stuck. Since he has actual horns it was tougher to get him back through, but Sweetie did it and then the little fellow ran away to his mom. The photo of lambs on this post is actually from the flock of a friend...her lambs are white while 'mine' are black. They aren't really mine since they belong to our neighbors, but since they are in our pasture and we see them every day and give them water and sometimes some hay, I feel a little like they are ours, too.

One of the treats of spring is the coming of strawberry season. It started really late this year, too. Finally we are getting some warm days, so the strawberries at our local farm stand are plentiful, juicy, fragrant and all together wonderful. Often we just eat them right from the container, but sometimes I feel like baking using them.

A great pairing with strawberries is rhubarb. It sort of looks like red celery and it is pretty tart, but that tartness is magic combined with strawberry sweetness. I put them together in a tart for a family dinner on Friday. If you have puff pastry in the freezer, plus the usual baking staples and some sliced and ground almonds and some citrus, you can put this together in no time and bake an impressive's delicious, too.

I actually combined two recipes for this. A few pages further into Annie Rigg's Summer Berries Autumn Fruits cookbook, there is a recipe for a strawberry-rhubarb compote over brown sugar meringues, so I took the cooking method for the compote and used it for the tart fruit. It worked really well and I was left with enough syrup to boil down for a drizzle over the served slices of tart. The almond and orange flavors go so well with the sweet-tart strawberry rhubarb combo. The crust adds crispness and flakiness. There were actually a couple of pieces left over, so Sweetie and I had them for breakfast the next morning...heaven!

Strawberry Rhubarb Almond Tart
From Summer Berries Autumn Fruits by Annie Rigg
Serves 6-8

1-2 slim-stemmed rhubarb stalk(s)
1 cup granulated sugar
three strips orange peel (each about 1/2 " X 2 ")
1/2 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise or
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 x 14 oz package store-bought puff pastry
(I used 1 of 2 sheets in a Pepperidge Farm frozen puff pastry box, thawed)
2 tablespoons milk or soy milk
1 medium egg yolk, lightly beaten
2 rounded tablespoons sliced almonds

For the frangipane
2/3 cup ground almonds
3 tablespoons softened non-dairy butter or real butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 medium egg
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Rinse the rhubarb under cold running water and trim the ends. Cut each stem into lengths of about 1 1/2 inches. Put the sugar, orange peel and vanilla in a saute pan and add 3/4 cup cold water. Bring slowly to a boil to dissolve the sugar. Add the rhubarb and cook over low heat 2-3 minutes or until rhubarb is softened. Remove from heat. Add the strawberries, stir and let sit while you prepare the tart shell.

Lightly dust the work surface with flour and roll out the pastry into an oval or rectangle until pastry is about 1/16th-inch thick. Use a large knife to trim and neaten the edges. Carefully slide the pastry onto a large parchment-lined baking sheet, brush the milk or soy milk around the edges of the pastry, and crimp and fold over to create a border. Chill in the fridge for 20 minutes while you make the frangipane.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Put all the frangipane ingredient in a mixing bowl and beat well until smooth.

Remove the pastry from the fridge and spread the frangipane over the pastry, leaving a 1/2 inch border all the way around as it will spread slightly during cooking. Drain the cooled rhubarb and strawberries from the syrup and scatter the rhubarb and strawberries evenly over the tart. Brush the edges of the tart with the beaten yolk and scatter the tart with the sliced almonds.

Bake on the middle rack of the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F and cook for another 20-25 minutes. The frangipane will be golden, the pastry crust crisp, and the fruit tender.

Best served warm on the day it is made. You can take the syrup remaining after the fruit is removed and, over low heat, reduce it to a thick syrup for garnishing the tart slices.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Lime and Poppy Seeds with the Cake Slice Bakers

April was crazy busy, but since I needed a donation for our share table at our regional scholarship meeting in late April, I decided to bake the May Cake Slice Bakers cake then.

I chose the Lime Poppy Seed Syrup Cake and baked it in a Bundt pan that has four different designs. It's fun to see how the cake turns out with the different levels of detail and curves. Sweetie and I ate one of them and the other three went off to be part of the fund raiser.

This is a lovely, fairly moist (due in part to the syrup), tight-crumbed beauty, with great lime flavor and the nice little crunch of poppy seeds. I keep my poppy seeds in the freezer, so I always have some ready for wonderful recipes like this. Usually you see lemon with poppy seed, but the lime was a refreshing change.

Please be sure to visit the other Cake Slice Bakers to see which of the four cakes they baked this month. It's always a treat to see their artistry.

I'm stepping back from the computer a bit over the summer, so I probably won't be baking with this group again until the fall.  Will probably do the last bake from this book, since we change over to a new one in October or November.

Happy Summer fellow Cake Slice Bakers! Bake on.

The following recipe gives the ingredients I used so that the cakes would be dairy free and the plural for cakes and pans refers to how I baked, since I produced four cakes from the recipe.

Lime and Poppy Seed Syrup Cake
From World Class Cakes by Roger Pizey
Serves 16

1/4 cup poppy seeds
1/2 cup soy creamer (or use whole milk as called for in the book)
1 cup softened non-dairy butter (or use softened creamery butter)
1 tablespoon finely grated lime zest
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
2 1/2 cups self-rising flour, sifted
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1 cup drained yogurt (or use sour cream as called for in the book)

For the lime syrup:
1/2 cup lime juice
1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 10 cup Bundt pan well (or equivalent).

Soak the poppy seeds in the soy creamer (milk) for at least 10 minutes.

While poppy seeds soak, cream the butter, lime zest and sugar together until light and fluffy.

Then, add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape beater(s) and bowl during this step.

Add in the sifted flours and the drained yogurt (sour cream). When thoroughly combined, add the poppy seed mixture to the batter and mix until well combined.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan(s) and bake in a preheated oven for 1 hour. (Note; if baking smaller cakes, check to see if they are done at about 25-30 minutes.)

While the cake is in the oven, make the lime syrup. Place all the ingredients in a pan and stir over low heat until all the sugar has dissolved. Let it simmer until the liquid thickens and the batter has reduced by half. Let cool until cake bakes.

When cake is done a toothpick in the center will come out clean. Remove from the oven and pour the slightly cooled syrup over the cake while it is still warm to allow the flavors to infuse the cake.(If desired, you can use a thin skewer to prick the cake to allow the syrup to penetrate further.) You can remove the cake(s) from the pan(s) and put the cake on a rack over a sheet pan, which allows you to catch any syrup that drips off and to reuse it, or you can put the syrup on the cake(s) while still in the pan(s) and then turn the cake out onto a rack once the syrup is absorbed.

When cool, serve small slices.