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Am still reading The Rent Collector by Camron Wright. Oh my. This book has so many layers: (1) the young, impoverished couple and their infant son who live, literally, in a dump in Cambodia and about the precarious structure, if you can even call it that, that comprises their “house” in the midst and perched on top of trash; (2) the woman who collects the rent (hence the title and yes, people have to PAY to live there); (3) the young son’s chronic illness; (4) how they make a living out of collecting and selling trash; and (4) the life saving grace and wisdom imparted by characters in the book as the young mother begins to learn to read. If you decide to read this book, please don’t stop at about page 15-20, thinking you just don’t know if you want to read about this. Please continue. It’s so worth it. Have a highlighter pen in your hand because you’ll find so many quotes you will want to remember. Believe it or not, there is also quite a bit in this about literature.

Recently finished C.J. Box’s book The Disappeared (A Joe Pickett Novel). I just love Box’s novels. They take place in present day semi-wild west, and chronicle the fish and game warden, Joe Pickett, as he unravels another crime in his territory. A woman has disappeared, and the governor has asked him to figure it out. He does, but the tale meanders through multiple layers of intriguing story. His books are riveting. Men and women enjoy his books – so if you have a fellow in your life or family that would enjoy an intriguing book (this is not espionage) then gift him one of Box’s books.

Also finished Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. About a dysfunctional family, through and through. I picked this up from amazon from someone who read the book, named “McReader,” and she says: “Set in the 70s, the story follows a Chinese American blended family in Ohio. When Lydia [the daughter] is found floating in the lake, her family is forced to analyze what put her there. Was it pressure from her family to succeed? Was it pressure to fit in? Was it a crime of passion or convenience? I was spellbound reading the last half of this book. I loved each flawed family member, especially Hannah,. While the story went where I hoped it would go, I was not disappointed at all with the progression. It was also quite insightful on the prejudices that society had about Chinese Americans still during that timeframe and how careful parents have to be to put their dreams onto their children.” Such a good book and definitely worth reading. Would be a good book club read. You’ll be hearing more from this author. Am currently reading her next novel, Little Fires Everywhere.

The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant. A very, very intriguing book. The book is written from the voice of a Jewish grandmother as she tells her granddaughter the saga of her life starting about 1910, who struggles with her own individuality, with her domineering mother who never says a kind word to her. It’s certainly a coming-of-age story as she grows up, finds a job, makes friends, joins a literary girls club, moves out, but still suffers under her mother’s thumb and tongue. She becomes a reporter on a local newspaper, which opens her eyes to more of the world than she ever knew. She finally meets the right man (of course!) and she shares the stories about her life, and her friends and family members as she grows up, giving some sage advice along the way. Part of the time she’s talking to herself – to her young self  (really wanting to tell young Addie to keep on, forgive herself for her perceived transgressions, to live life, and experience the world).

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time – Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Rivers is a prodigious writer of Christian fiction, and I’d never read anything by her until now. As I write this, I’ve already read this, another one (below) and just purchased the Kindle trilogy called Mark of the Lion (Vol 1-3) that I haven’t yet started. (Two of my friends have said the trilogy is her best.) Redeeming Love details the fictional story of a godly man, Michael Hosea, forging his way in the era of the Gold Rush. He’s “driven” to rescue a beautiful prostitute who lives and works her trade in a nearby town. The entire book is about the story, the rescue, and it parallels a bit of scripture about Hosea who rescues a prostitute names Gomer. You get into the heads of both Hosea and the prostitute, named Angel. We read this for one of my book groups. A great read.

As soon as I finished the above book I promptly visited my church library and found a whole shelf of Rivers’ books, and grabbed one called The Atonement Child. This book takes place in the 1980s or 90s, about a young college student who is raped. She was engaged to be married, was a stellar student. The book chronicles what happens to her when she discovers she is pregnant from the rape. Every possible thing goes wrong in her life. I don’t want to spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it, but I couldn’t put it down. I ended up spending a good part of a day plowing through it. You hear her inner voice (I’m guessing this is a common thread in Rivers’ books) from a Christian perspective. Lots of meaty issues to discuss in a book club if your group would be interested and willing to talk about rape, abortion, adoption and the thorny issues surrounding all of those things, but with a Christian bent, for sure.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen. It’s kind of amazing how many and varied plot lines can be created from events of WWII. This is another one, about a current day woman who finds papers in the attic, after her father’s death, with references to “the child.” She never knew her father could have had another child – could she have a step-sibling somewhere? Her father she knew, had been shot down over Italy, but he never talked much about it. But of course, she must go to Italy to find out about this “child.” The book flips back and forth from this daughter on the search, to her father during the war, all of it taking place in a very small town in Tuscany. It’s about the varied people she meets who want her to go away and not dredge up anything about the war years (are they hiding something, you question), about how much she loves the landscape, and some of the people. And about the intense love affair between the injured pilot and a caring woman of the village. Very charming story. I could almost smell the flowers, taste the olives, hear the bees flitting, and loved the prose about the simple meals that were described. I really enjoyed the book. Perhaps not enough meat for a book club read, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy reading it nonetheless.

Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Almost a page turner. When one uses the phrase “coming of age,” it usually means (I think) love and loss/boyfriend/girlfriend, and in this case it’s somewhat that way. When Ethan, a 17-year old boy and his mother come home unexpectedly to find dad and his young secretary in a compromising position, all hell breaks loose. Separation happens instantly and just as his father moves out, his mother has to go take care of her aging mother. Ethan’s too young to be left in the NYC apartment alone, so Mom sends son to the father who is escaping from the world in Wyoming, living in a primitive A-frame house, and continuing his daily 20+ mile running journeys. Ethan and his father are barely speaking. They live in the middle of nowhere. Ethan feels betrayed by his father in every possible way, and somewhat by his mother for forcing him to live with his father for a temporary period. Then his father doesn’t return one day from his run. The authorities do a cursory search, but they are under the impression the dad wants to “get lost” on purpose. Ethan, although he thinks he doesn’t care, really does. What happens next is best left to you reading this book. Very interesting people (kind of loners) enter the picture and off they go to search. So worth reading.

The Girl With No Name by Diney Costelhoe. What a good book. Perhaps you’ve read before about the huge numbers of German refugee children who were sent to England before Hitler closed down any exits. This is a novel about one particular young girl, who is devastated when her mother puts her on one of the boats. She ends up in London, in an orphanage kind of place, and is eventually placed with a childless couple. She speaks no English. They speak no German, but they manage soon enough. Lisa (who eventually becomes Charlotte) is so homesick. She’s bullied at school, because most people and children don’t want any Germans there. A boy steps up to protect her, and as she grows up, she’s attracted to him. She shouldn’t be – he’s also German and from her own home town. He’s not a good match for her. You live with her through the blitz during all those war years and during one attack, she’s badly injured and loses her memory (and no ID on her). Through a series of mishaps she ends up in a village far from London, with a spinster woman who does eventually come to love her very much – they name her Charlotte and Charlotte she becomes. She goes to school there, still longing, though, for her mother and brother and her London foster family too. Then when she’s 16 she returns to London to help at the orphanage where she was originally placed and tries to find her foster parents. The story goes on from there, with the boy/man who “wants” her, the bad boy, and a good boy/man she befriends in the village in the country. Eventually she regains her memory. SUCH a good read.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee. If you, like me, know little about North Korea and how it came to be what it is today, you’ve got to read this book. It’s a memoir written by a young woman who escaped from North Korea about 9 years ago. Her journey – and I mean JOURNEY – is harrowing, frightening, amazing, heart-rendering all at the same time. She chronicles the lives of the Kims (Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il to current Kim Jong Un), shares the strict propaganda that surrounds every North Korean citizen, the poverty and hunger, as well as the underground black market for food and goods. It took her awhile to get from North Korea, to China and eventually to South Korea, where she currently lives. She’s well educated and speaks English quite well. She was invited to be a speaker at a TED talk – you know about those, right? TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” I listen to them as  podcasts now and then. Always very educational, if sometimes over my head when it gets very technical. She works diligently for human rights now, doing her best to help other North Koreans escape. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Also just finished reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Another WOW book. I’ve always liked the author – many years ago I read his book, Midwives and really liked it. Don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read, The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas that I reviewed recently. I think we read it in one of my book groups. He’s a brilliant writer, and this one has a lot of characters and twists. It’s a novel, but based on a lot of truth regarding the Armenian genocide. Most of the book takes place in Aleppo, Syria with some good Samaritan folk trying to help rescue people (mostly children) following the forced long marches the Turks made prodding the Turkish Armenians to exit their country. But it also jumps to near present day as a family member is trying to piece together obscure parts of her grandparents’ former lives there. She uncovers some hidden truths (many survivors of the genocide never-ever-ever wanted to talk about it) and a bit more about her Armenian heritage. A riveting book – I could hardly put it down. Lots to discuss for a book club read. I simply must read more of Bohjalian’s books (he’s written many).

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Breads, Brunch, on April 13th, 2018.

budapest_coffeecake_slice

Lovely, tasty coffeecake with a cinnamon and nut filling, made in a Bundt pan.

It’s been years now, I’ve been on a quest. A friend and I went on a Los Angeles gourmet crawl of some kind. It was daytime, and we visited a variety of restaurants and food emporiums. When we paused at a catering place in Santa Monica (I think it was) they served us each a little slice of a Hungarian coffee cake. I was smitten. I asked if they’d share the recipe. Uh, NO. That coffeecake didn’t look like this coffeecake, I’m sorry to say – it was much darker colored batter/cake. It was made in either a Bundt or a tube pan and it had cinnamon in it, some nuts too. It was just so divine. Ever since (and this has been 25 or more years ago) I’ve looked in cookbooks at the library, on the internet, etc. to try to find a recipe for a dark battered coffee cake. But when I looked at THIS recipe I thought well, definitely not a dark batter, but it sounded good nonetheless.

budapest_coffeecake_wholeThe recipe came from Food52, and is credited to Maida Heatter, that diva of all things sweet, and comes from a 1999 cookbook she published. I followed the recipe to a T; however, I’ve made one little change in the directions. When served, as I cut my fork into the cake, it toppled over right where the filling was – because the filling was dry and unto itself. So I’ve added one step – running a knife through the batter and filling layer to help adhere the cake and filling together. Obviously I didn’t do that with the one I made, but it’s such a minor change, you might not even be aware of it. Hopefully, the cake will hold together better.

The filling consists of cinnamon, cocoa, nuts, dark brown sugar and some chopped up raisins. As you layer the sour cream rich batter in the greased Bundt pan, you sprinkle on the filling. Just run your knife through as you add each layer of filling. I didn’t use quite all of the dry filling. It’s baked for 50-60 minutes (I’d lean toward 60 if you make this yourself). I used the toothpick test, but found when I served it that the cake toward the center was still quite wet – I took my cake out of the oven at 50 minutes. Anyway, the cake is cooled, then plated and drizzled with an easy icing.

What’s GOOD: my favorite part was the filling, and the raisins in it. They add a special bit of sweetness. It’s a nice batter – not overly moist, actually, considering there’s 2 cups of sour cream in the batter. The cake part is relatively nondescript, as it’s the filling that makes it.

What’s NOT: nothing really.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Maida Heatter’s Budapest Coffee Cake

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts, 1999
Serving Size: 12

NUT FILLING:
3/4 cup dark brown sugar — firmly packed
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
3 tablespoons raisins — coarsely chopped (dark or golden)
1 cup toasted walnuts — finely chopped
CAKE BATTER:
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 ounces butter — (1 1/2 sticks) at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs — at room temperature
2 cups sour cream — at room temperature
ICING:
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons hot milk — (2 to 3)
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. NUT FILLING: In a small bowl, mix together all of the ingredients. Set aside.
2. CAKE: Preheat the oven to 350° F and butter a 10-inch Bundt pan.
3. Into a large bowl, sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Using a paddle attachment of a stand mixer, cream the butter. Add 2 teaspoons of the vanilla and the sugar and beat on medium speed for a minute or two.
4. Add eggs, one at a time, beating each until just incorporated. Scrape down sides of bowl, as necessary, to keep mixture smooth. Beat at high speed until mixture is light and creamy, about 1 minute.
5. Turn mixer to low speed. Add dry ingredients in three additions and sour cream in two additions, beating only until smooth after each addition.
6. Spread a thin layer of batter in bottom of prepared pan. Sometimes it’s easier to use a small spoon to drop some batter into pan, and then to smooth it together. Top with 1/3 of nut mixture. Run a knife, zigzagging slightly through the batter. Repeat until you have 4 layers of batter into pan and smooth it together. Use a knife to zigzag once with each layer of filling. Top layer will be batter and it’s not necessary to run the knife through that layer.
7. Bake 50 to 60 minutes, or until cake tester inserted in center of cake comes clean. Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes, then turn out and re-invert on a rack.
8. Combine confectioners’ sugar, hot milk, and remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla extract in a small bowl. Mix well. Mixture should have the consistency of a thick cream sauce. Place a sheet of wax paper underneath a cooling rack. Pour glaze over cake, letting it run down the sides, while still hot. When glaze is set, transfer cake to a serving plate. Serve cake warm or at room temp.
Per Serving: 611 Calories; 27g Fat (39.1% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 86g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 101mg Cholesterol; 470mg Sodium.

Posted in Breads, on March 8th, 2018.

goat_ch_pepper_biscuits

These tasty morsels go so well with soup, or a stew, or heck, with just about anything.

Making biscuits is really so very easy, and they’re a special treat when you have guests. I don’t suppose I’d make them just for myself – I’d eat more than one, and that would not be a good thing (for me, anyway)! This recipe came from a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter, and she served them alongside a salmon entrée (recipe up soon). I thought I would want butter on them, but none was served, and really, I didn’t miss the butter. It might have been the “frosting” on the cake to have had butter, but healthier without.

These biscuits are rich – for 16 biscuits, the mixture contains a cube of butter and 5 ounces of soft goat cheese. I can’t say that I could actually taste the goat cheese in them, although there likely was a kind of savory-ness to them, that little bit of bitter (goat cheese  bitter). The parsley gave them good color (see the flecks throughout), and using buttermilk, well, you’ll be assured of a tender biscuit whenever you use buttermilk. Altogether a good recipe, and I’ll be making them next time I need biscuits to serve with dinner. Just remember when you cut the biscuits, don’t twist the cutter (can prevent the biscuits from rising properly as twisting kind of “seals” the low profile of the dough), but press straight down. Or cut square ones with a knife. Either way works!

What’s GOOD: the tender, flaky texture, and the overall taste. A really good, tasty biscuit. And yes, I’ll definitely be making them.

What’s NOT: might need to plan ahead – I don’t always have buttermilk on hand (I’m not crazy about the powdered type) and I don’t always have soft goat cheese on hand either. Everything else – yes.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Goat Cheese and Black Pepper Biscuits

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, cooking instructor, 2018
Serving Size: 16

2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated black pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter — cut into 1/2″ cubes
5 ounces goat cheese — soft, log type, crumbled
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons Italian parsley — coarsely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Place dry ingredients in food processor and pulse. Add butter, parsley and goat cheese. Pulse again. Add buttermilk and pulse just to combine.
3. Pat dough out on a lighty floured surface to a 3/4″ thickness into a rounded shape. Using a floured 2″ diameter cutter, cut biscuits. Gather scraps and pat out again, cutting additional biscuits. Arrange on prepared sheets and bake 6 minutes. Turn sheets around and bake until golden brown, about another 8 minutes. Cool biscuits on a rack.
Per Serving: 129 Calories; 6g Fat (44.2% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 17mg Cholesterol; 203mg Sodium.

Posted in Breads, Brunch, on February 24th, 2018.

ban_choc_walnut_coffeecake

Oh, dear, do I overuse the word “yummy?” I hope not. This is a time to use the word. I try to use different descriptors for my blog food, so you get a sense of how it tastes. This recipe is a keeper.

One of my book groups was meeting here at my house, and I reviewed the book, The Last Midwife, a wonderful historical novel about the 1880s in a small mining town in the Colorado Rockies. About Gracy, an older woman who has been a midwife since she was 10 years old. A crime rocks the town and Gracy is blamed (she isn’t guilty, but only the reader knows that). Currently, the book is written up on my sidebar if you want more info, but it will disappear from there in a month or two as I add newer books to my “currently reading” section. It’s a great book and with lots to talk about – the hardships of mountain, pioneer life. Many  interesting characters to discuss too.

Anyway, I made this coffeecake for the group, and oh gosh, was it ever good. It has 2 banana batter layers and 2 walnut/chocolate layers – as you can kind-a see in the photo. Sorry my photo was a little blurry on the bottom . . .I was in a hurry! It was very easy to make. According to my notes, it was from an old Gourmet magazine back in 2008. The riper the bananas, the better the flavor. Mine weren’t as ripe as I would have liked, but at least they weren’t green!

The cake took longer than expected to bake – the recipe said 35-40 minutes, but it took 50 minutes for me. I used my instant read thermometer to make sure – once it reaches 190°F it’s done sufficiently. I let it cool in the pan for about 20 minutes, but then I HAD to cut it into squares to serve it. It was still quite warm, but once out on a pretty platter it cooled enough for everyone to eat. I heard lots of uhmmmms and ahhhs. Including my own murmuring.

What’s GOOD: the banana flavor is certainly there. Which is good – it has that kind of speckled look (as in banana bread, you know what I mean). Loved the scent of cinnamon, and the crunchy walnuts and of course, the chocolate, which isn’t predominant, but you definitely know it’s got chocolate in it. Altogether delicious. I’d definitely make it again.

What’s NOT: only that you do dirty a few bowls in the making of it. None of the steps is hard or time consuming.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Banana Chocolate Walnut Coffeecake

Recipe By: Gourmet Mag, Feb. 2008
Serving Size: 12

BANANA BATTER:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter — softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups bananas — mashed very ripe (about 3 medium)
2/3 cup yogurt — full fat
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
TOPPING:
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter — melted and cooled
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate — 70%-cacao, coarsely chopped [I used bittersweet chocolate chips]
1 cup walnuts — toasted, cooled, and coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle. Butter a 9-inch square cake pan. Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
2. Beat together softened butter (1 stick) and 3/4 cup sugar in a medium bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in eggs 1 at a time until blended. Beat in bananas, yogurt, and vanilla (mixture will look curdled).
3. With mixer at low speed, add flour mixture and mix until just incorporated.
4. Toss together chocolate, nuts, cinnamon, melted butter, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a small bowl. Spread half of banana batter in cake pan and sprinkle with half of chocolate mixture. Spread remaining batter evenly over filling and sprinkle remaining chocolate mixture on top pressing slightly to adhere the topping to the batter.
5. Bake until cake is golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 40 – 50 minutes or until the cake reaches an internal temp fo 195°F. Cool cake in pan on a rack 30 minutes, then turn out onto rack and cool completely, right side up. When you upend the coffeecake some of the topping may fall off. Cut into small squares.
Per Serving: 391 Calories; 22g Fat (48.7% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 45g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 63mg Cholesterol; 215mg Sodium.

Posted in Breads, Brunch, on January 4th, 2018.

black_pepper_biscuits_closeup

Who would think that just regular rich buttery biscuits could be so much better with the addition of pepper?

A few weeks ago a group of us got together for a breakfast at my friend Cherrie’s house. Some in the group have been meeting for about 35 years, others a shorter time. Usually, in December, one of us hosts the group for breakfast and we share Christmas gifts with one another. Cherrie made a lovely breakfast for us (a potato casserole, sausage and gravy – along with the biscuits I made – fresh fruit, OJ or Prosecco and OJ, and a cranberry coffeecake and coffee, of course). It was all sumptuous.

breakfast_group_Xmas_2017

There we are in Cherrie’s living room about to open our presents. She’s doing an Olde English Christmas this year (see one of the Queen’s adapted mottos at the left – it says “Keep Calm and Feast On” – and the London 2-decker bus back behind the table – it’s mounted on the mirrored wall, but looks like it’s in the frame). She has Scottish charger plates and runners and she’s been collecting Nutcrackers for years, though you can’t see any of them in the picture. Cherrie does a theme every Christmas – last year it was Hawaiian. And just as an aside. Kathy’s grandson, Zach, has just been accepted at the University of Hawaii with a FULL football scholarship. Their family is floating on Cloud 9. Zach was offered scholarships at 9 colleges or universities. Obviously he’s a star player!

Back to the biscuits: since we meet early, I cheated and made the biscuits the night before and stuck them (raw) in the freezer, then popped them in Cherrie’s oven once I got there. The tops of the biscuits had been slathered with buttermilk, then black pepper sprinkled on top. Black pepper biscuits are definitely a southern tradition, but I’d never had them (nor made them) before. The recipe is a fairly traditional rich (butter) biscuit but it has a bunch of fresh ground black pepper in the mixture, and then on top too. Photo below is before I baked them.

black_pepper_biscuits_ready2bakeIF I were to make these again, I wouldn’t freeze them – only because they didn’t brown evenly (see photo), but that was really not a problem with the taste, just the appearance. Or, the option would be to freeze them, but not slather the buttermilk and pepper on top until just before you bake them. The buttermilk had been absorbed by the biscuit dough, although the pepper certainly did stick well enough.

There were raves around the table, mine included. You know, we here in the U.S. and Canada, and likely England as well, use black pepper as our tableside condiment. In many other countries, they use other things like spicy paprika in Hungary and other countries in that region. And in some South American countries they use a spicy dried pepper (not peppercorns). But for us, black pepper became the standard. And I certainly use a lot of it – did you also know that as we age, our taste buds lose their ability to taste as well, so it’s not uncommon for people to use more salt or pepper?

I thought these biscuits were superlative! With the sausage gravy on top – oh my goodness was that ever good. Loved it. And yes, I’ll be making them again.

What’s GOOD: the addition of black pepper does make the biscuit spicy/hot – use less if you’re sensitive to heat. It made a very different tasting biscuit, and it was well liked by everyone at the breakfast. Cherrie kept most of the leftover ones and is going to make sausage gravy again and serve it over those biscuits.

What’s NOT: only if you don’t like black pepper . . . I thought these were scrumptious.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Black Pepper Biscuits

Recipe By: Bobby Flay
Serving Size: 8-12

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder — plus 1 teaspoon
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper — plus more for sprinkling
1 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons unsalted butter — cubed and chilled
2 cups cold buttermilk — plus more for brushing

1. Preheat the oven to 450°F and line a baking sheet with parchment. In a large bowl, whisk the flour with the baking powder, salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons of pepper and baking soda. Scatter the cubed butter over the dry ingredients and, using your fingers, pinch the butter into the flour to form small sheets of butter, with some of the butter about the size of peas. Stir in the 2 cups of buttermilk just until a dry, shaggy dough forms.
2. Turn the dough out onto a work surface sprinkled lightly with flour and knead gently, folding the dough over itself 2 or 3 times to form a layered dough. Pat the dough out to a 1-inch-thick rectangle. Using a large, sharp knife, cut out as many 3-inch-square biscuits as you can. Gently press the scraps together and cut out more biscuits. [I used a 2 1/2″ square cutter, so this recipe made about 13 biscuits.] Biscuits may be frozen at this point, then sealed into a plastic bag. Use within 2 weeks.
3. Arrange the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the tops with buttermilk and sprinkle with coarsely ground black pepper. Bake for about 15-16 minutes, until golden brown. If baking them from a frozen state, still do the buttermilk brushing and added pepper just before baking, but the biscuits may take 2-3 more minutes to reach that golden brown.
Per Serving: 432 Calories; 21g Fat (44.4% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 51g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 56mg Cholesterol; 879mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Breads, on November 25th, 2017.

seeded_cheddar_triangles_crackers

Really easy home made crackers, brimming with cheese flavor (cheddar) and topped with a variety of seeds.

It was a couple of years ago I was at my friends, Joan and Tom’s for dinner, and Joan served these cute-as-buttons cheese triangle crackers. I was smitten with them, and intended to make them pronto. But time moved on and I just hadn’t gotten around to it. I had an event at my house recently – the group of 10 of us watched A Man Called Ove, on Amazon Prime, based on the book by Backman. Then, we all sat down in my dining room and had lunch (soup – a recipe that’s already here on my blog, but I updated it and will post soon – plus seeded bread from Whole Foods and a scrumptious apple dessert made by my co-hostess Linda). During the movie, I served these crackers, fresh out of the oven, and they were gobbled up in no time.

I started the crackers the day before – it’s mixed up in the food processor (EASY!). You  have the option of chilling the dough if you want to, or making them immediately. I wanted to do it ahead, but bake them just before we watched the movie. So, I pressed the dough into two flat rounds, slipped them into a plastic bag and chilled them. I took them out of the refrigerator about an hour ahead of when I wanted to bake them. They’re rolled out into sort of circles, then you brush on some egg white and the seeds are pressed into the top. Then cut them into triangles and into a 350°F oven they went and baked for about 16 minutes. I cooled them about 3-4 minutes before serving them still warm. The recipe came from Southern Living in 2010.

What’s GOOD: how easy they are to make, how wonderful they taste!! The recipe says it serves 16. Well, my group of 10 devoured them in about 30 minutes. I baked each round separately, so I served them about 20 minutes apart. SO, you might want to double the recipe!

What’s NOT: really nothing – these are so easy to do, especially if you’ve made the dough ahead of time.

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Four-Seed Cheddar Triangles (Crackers)

Recipe By: From Southern Living, 12/2010
Serving Size: 16

10 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese — shredded
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsalted butter — cut into 4 pieces and softened
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons half and half
SEASONINGS:
1 whole egg white
1 teaspoon water
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, roasted — salted
1/4 cup sunflower seeds, toasted
2 tablespoons sesame seeds — toasted
2 tablespoons black sesame seeds

1. Pulse first 5 ingredients in a food processor at 5-second intervals until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add half-and-half, and process 10 seconds or until dough forms a ball. If it’s too dry, add about a teaspoon of the half and half and pulse again until the dough forms a ball. Divide in half.
2. Dough may be wrapped in plastic wrap, sealed in a zip-top plastic freezer bag, and chilled up to 3 days.
3. Preheat oven to 350°F.
4. If you chilled the dough, leave it out for about an hour before trying to roll it out. Roll each half into a 9- to 10-inch round. Transfer rounds to parchment paper-lined baking sheets.
5. Whisk together 1 egg white and 1 tsp. water just until foamy. Stir together pumpkin seeds, sunflower kernels, sesame seeds, and black sesame seeds. Brush rounds with egg white mixture, and sprinkle with seed mixture and press lightly so the seeds stick to the dough. Cut each round into wedges of random sizes, using a fluted pastry wheel. Separate wedges about 1 inch apart onto the baking sheets.
6. Bake 16 to 18 minutes; cool on baking sheets on wire racks for 10-30 minutes.
Per Serving: 199 Calories; 14g Fat (64.8% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 35mg Cholesterol; 233mg Sodium.

Posted in Breads, Brunch, Desserts, on August 21st, 2017.

almond_puff_slice

Almond Puff Loaf. Oh gosh. Love this.

It had been decades since I’d last made this. I used to make it back in the 1960s – I’d found a recipe in one of my homespun cookbooks. Then one time I made it and it failed completely, and I had no idea why. The 2nd layer kind of spread out all over everywhere (now I know what happened) but after that failure, I thought oh well, I won’t try that again. Then it was featured recently on King Arthur Flour’s blog, and I was reminded about my previous love of it, then distress of it. As I read, I discovered that you must use large eggs, not extra large. I used to buy extra large all the time, but then about 10-15 years ago I read that bakers use ONLY large eggs because they’re more consistent with the normal size used in almost all baked things. And it was mentioned that if you use extra large eggs, this baked goodie might fail. Ah-ha! That must have been it. If you go the blog write-up then go to the recipe itself at King Arthur Flour, you’ll read all the details, if you’re interested. They actually mention how much one large egg weighs. One website says an average large egg weighs (just the egg part) 50 grams.

I served it at one of my book club meetings recently, held here at my house. The recipe is Danish in origin, and I wanted to make Danish goodies because the group was reviewing The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living. We had such an interesting discussion of the book because I invited my friend Janet to come and talk about her experiences in Denmark. Her son lives there with his wife and children, and Janet and Dick visit them regularly. She shared some stories about celebrating Christmas in Denmark (many different traditions), and she also brought a beautiful candle (candles are really, really important in Denmark, and NOT scented) with an unusual glass surround with pine boughs. My meeting was held in my family room – I lit about a dozen candles, had lights on (low) wherever I could (and had it not been mid-summer and hot, I would have lit the fireplace [fireplaces are big deal for hygge]).

almond_puff_fullAnyway, this Danish – well, it’s NOT like a “real” Danish (as we in American might call it), the kind you’d buy at a bakery. This is a pretty easy one to make at home. It has a bottom layer (look at the photo up at the top to see the layers), a top layer that’s like cream puff batter which rises quite a bit in the baking because of the eggs in it, then once baked (it takes an hour) you spread warm jam (I’m quite enamored with Trader Joe’s Peach Bellini jam) on top, then sprinkle on some toasted almonds, then drizzle with a simple powdered sugar icing.  There are a bunch of steps, but none is difficult in the least. A bit of stirring, mixing, melting, spreading, etc. After doing all the layering, I cut it into slices about 1 1/2” wide, 3” long (across). The photo above is of one of the finished loaves – it’s about 10” long and 3-4” wide. The puff was still warm when I put it onto a serving plate and invited my friends to grab a piece, along with coffee (another integral part of Danish life) and makes for a lot of hygge (HOO-GAH). We laughed a lot about how much difficulty we have pronouncing it.

What’s GOOD: this is altogether delicious – it has crunch, almost like croissant flakiness in the middle (but it isn’t, it’s cream-puff flakiness), the jam and almonds adding a nice mouth-feel. There were some pieces left over and I invited my friends to take them home – there was none left after that. Now that I’ve figured out about only using LARGE eggs, I’ll be making this again someday. And then, I love almond anything, so that was an added bonus for me.

What’s NOT: If you don’t like managing all the different layers, maybe this isn’t for you, but it’s not difficult in the least. You do need to start about 1 1/2 hours ahead since it must bake nearly an hour. And it really should cool for 10-15 minutes before serving (I didn’t because I’d run out of time!).

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Almond Puff Loaf

Recipe By: King Arthur Flour (but this is an old-old recipe I’ve had for decades)
Serving Size: 16

FIRST LAYER:
1/2 cup butter — cut into pats or 1/2-inch cubes, (8 tablespoons)*
1 cup All-Purpose Flour
1/4 cup water
*If you’re using unsalted butter add 1/4 tsp salt
SECOND LAYER:
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter — (8 tablespoons)*
1 cup All-Purpose Flour
3 large eggs — at room temperature; warm them, in the shell, in hot tap water for 10 minutes if they’re cold from the fridge
1 teaspoon almond extract
*If you’re using unsalted butter add 1/4 tsp salt
TOPPING:
2/3 cup jam — or preserves (preferably apricot or peach)
2/3 cup sliced almonds — toasted in a 350F oven for about 7 to 10 minutes, or until they’re a light, golden brown
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar — or glazing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 teaspoons milk — or water (approximately)

NOTE: Be sure to use only LARGE eggs.
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) a large cookie sheet.
2. First layer: In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the butter, flour, and salt (if you’re using it), working the butter into the flour with a pastry blender or fork, your fingers, or a mixer. Mix until everything is crumbly, then stir in the water. The dough will become cohesive, though not smooth.
3. Divide the dough in half; if you’re using a scale, each half will weigh about 4 5/8 – 5 ounces. Wet your hands, and shape each piece of this wet dough into a rough log. Pat the logs into 10″ x 3″ rectangles on the sheet, leaving at least 4″ (but preferably 6″) between them, and 2″ on each side. These puff up in the oven (hence the name), and you need to leave them room for expansion.
4. Second layer: In a medium-sized saucepan, bring the water and butter to a boil. Stir until the butter melts, then add the flour (and salt, if you’re using it) all at once. Stir the mixture with a spoon till it thickens, begins to steam, and leaves the sides of the pan; this will happen very quickly. Transfer the stiff batter to a mixing bowl, or the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat it at medium speed for 30 seconds to 1 minute, just to cool it down a bit.
5. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition; beat until the batter loses its slippery look, and each egg is totally absorbed. Mix in the almond extract.
6. Divide the batter in half. Spread half the batter over one of the dough strips on the pan, covering it completely to the outer edges. Repeat with the remaining batter on the 2nd and dough. With a spatula (or your wet fingers) spread the batter until it completely covers the entire bottom layer of dough. Smooth it out as best you can.
7. Bake the pastry for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until it’s a deep golden brown. Remove it from the oven, and transfer each pastry to a wire rack.
8. Topping: Spread each warm pastry with about 1/3 cup of jam or preserves.
9. Sprinkle the toasted almonds atop the jam. By this time, your beautifully puffed pastries are probably starting to sink; don’t worry, this is all part of the plan.
10. Icing: Stir together the sugar, vanilla, and enough milk or water to form a thick but “drizzlable” icing.
Drizzle the icing atop the pastries. Cut into squares or strips to serve.
Per Serving: 257 Calories; 16g Fat (54.4% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 26g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 71mg Cholesterol; 138mg Sodium.
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Posted in Breads, on July 8th, 2017.

hot_biscuits_flaky

As I’m writing this, looking at the photo, my mouth is watering. Wishing I could just have one of those, right this minute.

I can’t take much of any credit for these – I was at my daughter Sara’s house, and she decided on the spur of the moment, to make some biscuits. I think it was for breakfast. Sara loves to bake, and her two teenagers love it, whatever their mom makes. Sabrina is home for the summer now, from her first year at Clemson University. She loved school, the campus, the college environment (she’s pre-vet), but OH, did she miss her mom’s cooking and baking. Sara sent her a “care” package now and then, chock full of baked goodies.

Anyway, Sara remembered that she’d made these before and had used a Southern Living recipe she’d found online. Sure enough, we found it and the biscuits got mixed, flattened, rolled, and flattened, cut and baked in no time.

frozen_grated_butterWhat’s unusual about these was that you grated the unsalted butter on a box grater – but from a FROZEN state. Here’s the photo I took of the mound of grated butter. THAT’s the secret to this recipe, I’m certain! Buttermilk also adds a lovely lightness to biscuits.

The biscuits actually get more mixing – actually rolling, followed by folding, then rolling and folding again. That’s done a few times, which helps create all those multiple layers you see in the top photo. Sara just cut them into squares and into the oven they went and were done. As that frozen butter melted, it created the lovely pockets of air that give these biscuits the lightest of textures.

These biscuits were just sublime. Especially with a pat of butter and some preserves on top.

Yum!

biscuits_and_sausage_breakfast

What’s GOOD: everything about these biscuits is good – tender, rich, of course flaky, tasty. I want one right now! They’re easy to mix up and prep for cutting. Do try this recipe – it’s a winner.

What’s NOT: nothing whatsoever. A perfect Southern biscuit, for sure.

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Buttermilk Biscuits (Southern Living)

Recipe By: Southern Living Magazine
Serving Size: 12+

1/2 cup butter — (1 stick), frozen
2 1/2 cups self-rising flour — *See Note
1 cup chilled buttermilk Parchment paper
2 tablespoons butter — melted

NOTE: If you don’t have self-rising flour use this formula: For each 1 cup all purpose flour add 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 tsp. salt. I always use just a tad less salt.
1. Preheat oven to 475°. Grate frozen butter using large holes of a box grater. Toss together grated butter and flour in a medium bowl. Chill 10 minutes.
2. Make a well in center of mixture. Add buttermilk, and stir 15 times. Dough will be sticky. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Lightly sprinkle flour over top of dough. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll dough into a 3/4-inch-thick rectangle (about 9 x 5 inches). Fold dough in half so short ends meet. Repeat rolling and folding process 4 more times.
3. Roll dough to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut with a 2 1/2-inch floured round cutter (OR: cut the rectangle into squares 2″, using all the dough, so it doesn’t require reshaping the scraps), reshaping scraps and flouring as needed.
4. Place dough rounds on a parchment paper-lined jelly-roll pan. Bake at 475° for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Brush with melted butter. Serve immediately.
5. For Pillowy Dinner Rolls: Cut in 1/2 cup cold shortening instead of cold butter. You’ll get a soft biscuit that stays tender, even when cool. Plus, shortening has a neutral flavor that will complement anything on your dinner plate.
6. For Sweet Shortcakes: Add 2 Tbsp. sugar to the flour, and replace buttermilk with heavy cream. The sugar lends the biscuits a subtle sweetness, and the extra fat in heavy cream gives them a crumbly texture like shortbread. They’re the perfect base for shortcake desserts.
7. For Crunchy-Bottomed Biscuits: Warm a cast-iron skillet in the oven, and spread a bit of butter in the skillet before adding the biscuits. The bottoms will end up crunchy and golden brown and provide a sturdy base that holds up to a smothering of sausage gravy.
8. For Pickle Biscuits: Stir 4 Tbsp. drained dill pickle relish into buttermilk before adding to flour mixture. Split baked biscuits, and top with ham and mustard for the World’s Best Ham Sandwich!
Per Serving: 185 Calories; 10g Fat (48.8% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 27mg Cholesterol; 450mg Sodium.

Posted in Breads, Desserts, on May 1st, 2017.

moist_banana_pineapple_bread

Ever get a craving? I seem to mention them more frequently, of late. Banana bread was my craving.

If I didn’t buy bananas – for them to get extra ripe – with black spots all over them – then there would never be a need for a banana bread. Right? I don’t eat many bananas – this goes back to when my DH Dave was alive and as a diabetic, he knew bananas were not very good for him – all carbs and lots of sugar. Not good for a Type 1 diabetic. SO I didn’t buy them very often – really only if I planned to bake with them. I’d read a story somewhere on the ‘net at one of the blogs I follow, about a banana bread, and in the post they mentioned the Kona Inn. Memories drifted back. Hmmm. Yes, I think I remember having had banana bread at the Kona Inn. Oh no, it was at the Willows in Honolulu. But never mind . . . it was banana bread that sparked the interest. And there was a mention of baking such banana bread with or WITHOUT pineapple. Well, I decided then and there that it needed to have pineapple.

Scanning through my many recipes – and remembering my own favorite banana bread and also one that is a prize winning banana bread. also a favorite of mine too, I wanted one with pineapple. I could have adapted one of the two mentioned, but hey, I write a food blog – I need new ideas. Always! I hunted on the ‘net and found this one. It makes 2 loaves – albeit kind of shallow loaves, but still 2 loaves. It’s got lots of bananas, and it has an 8-ounce can of canned drained pineapple. And cinnamon. I added a jot of nutmeg and allspice. Just because. Otherwise it’s identical to the recipe I found at Taste of Home. It was very easy to mix up – one bowl for the dry ingredients, and another for the wet ingredients. They’re combined and poured into 2 loaf pans. Baked for an hour and it’s done. No frosting needed.

What’s GOOD: definitely good banana and pineapple flavor. And cloaked in a really moist batter. Use a napkin or a paper towel to eat it because your fingers will be a bit oily. Guess that’s what makes it so good!

What’s NOT: nary a thing – unless it’s waiting for the bananas to get extra ripe.

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Moist Pineapple Banana Bread

Recipe By: Adapted from Taste of Home
Serving Size: 32

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cups canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 ounces crushed pineapple — drained well
2 cups bananas — ripe, mashed, about 4-5

1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, oil and vanilla; add pineapple and bananas. Stir into the dry ingredients just until moistened. Pour into two greased 8-in. x 4-in. loaf pans.
2. Bake at 350° for 60-65 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks. Yield: 2 loaves (16 slices each). Cut into relatively narrow slices and devour warm or at room temp. For longer storage, freeze. Bread is very moist (from the ample amount of oil). Serve with a napkin or paper towel as the bread is quite oily/damp. Guess that’s what makes it taste so good!
Per Serving: 192 Calories; 9g Fat (42.4% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 26g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 20mg Cholesterol; 113mg Sodium.

Posted in Breads, on January 2nd, 2017.

lemon_crumb_muffins

Light and tasty with lemon juice and lemon zest. And, topped with a really nice crumb, then lastly, drizzled with a lemon glaze. Yum.

My daughter Sara raved about these muffins, so as soon as I had an excuse, I baked these for my Tuesday night bible study gathering. As far as muffins go, these were cinchy easy to make, as long as you have sour cream and a lemon on hand. It’s an easy batter to mix up (standard ingredients), mixed with the wet ingredients and scooped into muffin cups. Then you sprinkle the crumb mixture on top.

lemon_crumb_muffins_unbakedThe original recipe (from Taste of Home) said it made 40, so I cut it down, and cut it down, and I got 10 from the batch, but I think I should have tried to make 9 of them so they’d have been a little taller.

While the muffins are baking, you mix up the glaze and have it ready.

There’s only one caution – make sure all the muffins are baked through – two of mine weren’t quite done, and after they were out of the oven and cooling, then sunk deeply in the middle. Had to toss those out. So, use a cake tester or toothpick to make sure there isn’t any batter sticking to it before you remove them. I baked them 21 minutes, but perhaps they needed 24-25. Just an FYI.

I let the muffins rest for about 5 minutes before I used a small teaspoon to drizzle the lemon juice and sugar syrup on top. That little drizzle made them especially delicious, I thought.

What’s GOOD: the overall lemon flavor, tender crumb to the muffins themselves, and lastly, the good lemony crunch from the drizzle. The crumbly mixture on top also gave these good texture.

What’s NOT: nary a thing.

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Lemon Crumb Muffins

Recipe By: Taste of Home
Serving Size: 9

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup butter — melted
3/4 tablespoon grated lemon peel
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
TOPPING:
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cold butter — cubed
GLAZE:
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/3 tablespoons lemon juice

1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, combine the eggs, sour cream, butter, lemon peel and juice. Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups three-fourths full. (These don’t make really tall muffins – if you want taller, just fill them more than 3/4 full.)
2. TOPPING: In a small bowl, combine flour and sugar; cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle over batter.
3. Bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. DO use a tester because if they’re under-done, they will sink in the middle. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks.
4. GLAZE: In a small bowl, whisk glaze ingredients; drizzle over warm muffins. Serve warm.
Per Serving: 345 Calories; 16g Fat (40.0% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 48g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 84mg Cholesterol; 211mg Sodium.

Posted in Breads, on July 19th, 2016.

chai_masala_banana_bread_orange_whipped_cream

Are all banana breads the same, with not much difference? Not so! This one’s very different – not only does it have chai spices in it, but it also uses coconut palm sugar (a dark brown sugar from the coconut tree).

A few weeks ago I followed a link and ended up at a blog called Indian Simmer (that I now subscribe to through my RSS reader). I suspect the blog is aimed mostly at people from India, wherever they might be living. Sometimes I don’t even recognize the names of things they talk about, but the blog is written in English and comes from the voices of five different women. Right away I got interested in this recipe for chai_masala_banana_breadbanana bread, just because it contained chai spices. I had some aging bananas on my countertop, and I only had to go to the grocery store to buy coconut palm sugar. An item I’d never heard of – you could substitute dark brown sugar if you don’t have it, and I might do that next time. The sugar is quite dark brown in color, but also a very golden color (more like the color of gingerbread), definitely not light brown – it’s more of a caramel color, as you can see from the color of this banana bread.

Since I was expecting my granddaughter Taylor (the one who just finished her freshman year at Sonoma State) and 2 of her friends to arrive from Northern California that day, I thought this would be something I could have on hand that they could snack on if they wanted to. They have reported that they like this bread very much – they took several slices wrapped in a plastic bag when they headed for the day at Disneyland. If you’re expecting regular banana bread, this isn’t it. It’s sweet. It’s spicy. It warms your mouth for sure. I thought it was better the 2nd day, actually – I was able to taste the bananas in it better on day two.

chai_masala_spicesFirst, though, you have to make the CHAI MASALA (pictured) – not a lot of difficulty to do, providing you have all the ingredients (black peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, ginger, whole nutmeg, whole cloves, whole green cardamom pods). All those things get whizzed up in a spice grinder until they’re a fine, fine powder, then you mix them together. I didn’t make a whole lot because I didn’t know what else I might use it for, although it should last 6-8 months. I made two loaves of this bread and I used about 2/3 of the mixture you see on the plate. Whatever you do, just make sure you grind the stuff to a fine powder – that’s a real requirement as you don’t want to bite into a cracked peppercorn. The only problematical ingredient here is the pepper – it’s surprising that the recipe calls for as much as it does – you might think the bread would be hot-hot, but it’s not. You do feel a warmth; that’s all and since it couldn’t come from anything else (well, maybe the ginger, but I doubt it) it must be the pepper.

I suspect that amongst Indian cooks, everyone has her own combination of chai spices that she likes – maybe you like more ginger and less cloves, or more nutmeg and less pepper. That kind of thing. This combo tasted fine to me, so I’ll go with it!

chai_masala_banana_bread_ready2bakeThe bread mixes up much like any other – except that this bread contains yogurt, and olive oil plus milk and honey. All different tastes of things in this one. Into a greased loaf pan (unless you’re using one of the really nice, new pans that don’t require greasing) it goes. I have the ones from King Arthur Flour – they don’t require greasing or powdering, or lining. See photo at right with the batter just poured in. The recipe indicated the bread would be ready in 40 minutes. Uh . . . no. Definitely not cooked through. I used my instant read thermometer, and it took a full 60 minutes at 350° and it reached 198°F in the middle of the loaf.

It was all I could do when I upended them to cool, not to slice into it right then and there, but I knew it needed some more resting time. I waited an hour or so, the girls had arrived and they’d not had lunch, so I sliced a few pieces and we all snacked on it before I took them out to dinner.

As I’m writing this I’ve got things ready to make a chicken dish for dinner tonight, kind of like chicken fingers. A new recipe. If it’s worth its salt, then I’ll be writing it up in the next few days. Watermelons have been in a bin outside the entrance to Trader Joe’s for the last couple of months. I’ve not bought any until the other day, so I’m making one of my favorites, the Minted Watermelon Feta Salad to go along with the chicken. I made 2 of these banana bread loaves and the one in the freezer will be served to my Bible study group when they come to my house next (soon). I’ll take a photo of it then – served with the orange zested whipped cream to go along with it.

What’s GOOD: this might be an acquired taste if you’re looking for regular old-fashioned banana bread. This bears little resemblance to the traditional – but, the flavor is wonderful, warmed with the spices. The texture is super-tender, but it has plenty of structure so you needn’t fear slicing into it. The yogurt likely gives it the tenderness. I loved it – almost better on the 2nd day.

What’s NOT: maybe a little extra effort since you have to grind up a variety of spices to make the chai masala. Otherwise, it’s much like other banana breads as far as work is concerned. I liked it, so no complaint here.

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Chai Masala Spiced Banana Bread with Orange Cream

Recipe By: From Indian Simmer blog
Serving Size: 12

2 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour — or use regular all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoons chai masala powder — see recipe below
1 large egg
1 cup coconut palm sugar — or substitute dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
2/3 cups milk
1/2 cups Greek yogurt, full-fat
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium bananas — ripe
ORANGE WHIPPED CREAM:
zest of 1 orange
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
CHAI MASALA POWDER:
2 tablespoons black peppercorns, ground to a fine powder
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, ground from one stick
1 teaspoon ground cardamom pods, ground finely
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cloves
1/2 teaspoons freshly ground nutmeg

NOTES: If you don’t have coconut palm sugar, just use dark brown regular sugar. The flavor won’t be quite the same, but you might not want to buy the other. It’s a bit pricey. Next time I make it I will cut down slightly on the sugar – it was plenty sweet with a cup of the coconut palm sugar in it plus the honey.
1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
2. In a bowl combine the flour, soda, baking powder, salt, and the chai spices. Use a whisk to combine and mix them. Set aside.
3. With mixer on medium, beat egg for about 1 minute, then add sugar, honey, milk, yogurt, vanilla. Keep beating until sugar dissolves well and the mixture gets light.
3. Add dry ingredients into the liquid ones and mix well with mixer on medium.
4. Add yogurt to the mixture while still mixing it. Turn off mixer and fold in mashed bananas until no streaks of banana are visible.
4. Pour the batter into a buttered and lined loaf pan. Place the pan into the oven and bake it for 45 minutes, then test with a knife. Continue baking for 5-minute intervals until the bread is cooked through and reaches an internal temperature of about 198°F.
5. Remove from oven and allow it to cool before pulling out of the loaf pan. After 15 minutes, slide a spatula down all four sides and gently turn the loaf over into your outstretched palm and arm, then allow it to cool completely. Eat it immediately, or serve as a dessert with orange whipped cream.
6. ORANGE WHIPPED CREAM: In an electric mixer with whisk attachment, whip the ingredients together, on medium high until stiff peaks form.
7. CHAI POWDER: Grind each ingredient separately in a spice grinder (or a coffee grinder that you reserve for spices), then combine them into a small jar. Keep tightly sealed and it will be usable for 6-8 months.
Per Serving: 360 Calories; 12g Fat (29.8% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 58g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 51mg Cholesterol; 390mg Sodium.

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