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The Last Letter from Your Lover: A Novel by JoJo Moyes. Story: Jennifer Stirling wakes up in hospital, having had a traumatic car accident. She’s introduced to her husband, of whom she has no recollection, and is sent home with him eventually, to a life she neither remembers or embraces readily. But this is the life she was raised to have, so surely it must be worth living, underneath the strange, muted tones of her daily existence. Jennifer goes through the motions, accepts what she is told is her life and all seems to bob along well enough, except when she finds a letter that isn’t her husband’s handwriting, and is clearly a link to someone she has been involved with, but whom? London, France, Africa and America all come into play in this story of a woman piecing back together her life in effort to understand what she has lost, and what she threw away. There is a bit of a time-hop from 1964 to 2003. . . from a reviewer on amazon.  I loved this book from page one to the end. There’s some bit of mystery and you so get into the head of Jennifer Stirling. I could hardly put it down. I read this while I was in England just a week or two ago (as I write this) so could so identify with the characters, the homes, the life. Great read.

Francine Rivers, an author relatively new to me, but much admired, is most known for this: Mark of the Lion : A Voice in the Wind, An Echo in the Darkness, As Sure As the Dawn (Vol 1-3) It’s a trilogy. The first 2 books are about Hadassah, a young woman in the time of the Roman Empire. When Jerusalem was overrun and destroyed, the Christians still alive were sent off and away, separated and derided and abused. Hadassah was one of them. She’s a slave to a wealthy family and it takes 2 of the books to read before the son of the family finally realizes that he’s in love with Hadassah. If  you’re a Christian, you’ll learn a whole lot more about the time following Christ’s crucifixion, about the lot of the struggling Christian community. The 3rd book in the trilogy is about a gladiator who is part of book 1 and 2, but not a main character. You’ll learn about his life too, after he regains his freedom from the fighting ring and the battle of his soul. These books are a fabulous read. Can’t say enough good things about them all. I’ve never been a huge fan of old-world Roman Empire reading, but this one was altogether different. Very worth reading.

Amy Belding Brown wrote this book: Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America, a true accounting in 1676, of Mary Rowlandson, a woman who was captured by Native Americans.  Even before she was captured on a winter day of violence and terror, she sometimes found herself in conflict with her rigid Puritan community. Now, her home destroyed, her children lost to her, she has been sold into the service of a powerful woman tribal leader, made a pawn in the ongoing bloody struggle between English settlers and native people. Battling cold, hunger, and exhaustion, Mary witnesses harrowing brutality but also unexpected kindness. To her confused surprise, she is drawn to her captors’ open and straightforward way of life, a feeling further complicated by her attraction to a generous, protective English-speaking native known as James Printer. The story is riveting, and perplexing once she is traded back to her home. You’ll see a different side to the Indian problem back then and find yourself conflicted. An excellent read.

Taylor Caldwell was a prolific writer, and one I read when I was younger. She died in 1980, and this book, her last, Answer As a Man certainly delivers as her others did. All his life, Jason Garrity has had to battle intolerance and injustice in his quest for power, money, and love. His new hotel will give him financial security, the means to support a loving family and become an upstanding citizen. When family secrets and financial greed combine to destroy his dreams, his rigid moral convictions are suddenly brought into question. . . from Goodreads. Caldwell believed the banking industry was way too powerful, and often took aim at it, as she did in this book. It chronicles the life of a very poor, impoverished Irish immigrant to the U.S. He was an upstanding citizen, God-fearing, but maybe naive in some respects. Good book if you enjoy very deep character study.

Another book by Diney Costeloe, Miss Mary’s Daughter. When a young women is suddenly left with no family and no job or income, she’s astounded to learn that she’s actually a granddaughter of a “grand” family in Ye Olde England. She’s very independent (at least I thought so, for the time period), but is willing to investigate this new family of hers. There are many twists and turns – is she going to inherit the family home – or is the man who has been caring for the home and his daughter the logical inheritors. There’s a villain who nearly sweeps her off her feet, much intrigue from many characters. Well developed plot with a happy ending. A good read.

Celeste Ng is a hot new author. I read another of her books (see below) but this time I read Little Fires Everywhere. There are so many various characters and plots in this book, as in her others. This book focuses on a Chinese baby abandoned at a fire station and the subsequent court battle when the single mother surfaces six months later to try to reclaim her daughter from the family in the process of adopting her. Emotions well up, waxing and waning on both sides of the issue. You may even find yourself changing your own mind about the right or wrong of a child raised with a natural-born mother (albeit late to the raising) or the mother the child has known since near birth. Ng likes to write books with lots of grit and thorny issues. Although a good read, I liked Everything I Never Told You better than this one.

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, 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 Brunch, IP, pressure cooker, on February 12th, 2018.

IP_crustless_quiche_lorraine_spinach

Goodness, me. This was so easy to make. I could even make this for myself for dinner, and then have leftovers.

Christmas morning I usually make something special for breakfast. My cousin Gary was visiting, and although he wasn’t feeling very good, still he knew he should eat, so I whipped this up in the IP. It was my first IP recipe I tried, and it turned out really well. My cousin has to eat GF, so going crustless was the way to go anyway. I was perfectly happy with the results.

I did research using the IP for quiche, but found several recipes, so I knew it was a successful thing to try. I had some baby spinach in the refrigerator that needed eating anyway, so I kind of combined two recipes and made it a quiche Lorraine style but with added spinach. Daughter Sara gave me an IP cookbook called Instant Pot® Obsession: The Ultimate Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook for Cooking Everything Fast. This recipe, with my modifications, came from that book.

The quiche ingredients were standard, starting with some thick sliced bacon that I sautéed for awhile to get it rendered out and crispy. There was hardly any fat in the pan anyway since the bacon I used was so meaty. The onion was cooked through, then I cooled and cleaned the IP pot. Meanwhile I mixed up the quiche ingredients (eggs, milk, cream, S & P, Emmental cheese, spinach) and the bacon and onion, of course. The rack is inserted into the IP, then the quiche, loosely covered with foil (you don’t want steam to get in there – it would ruin the chemistry of the quiche). It was pressure cooked for 10 minutes, rested for 10, then quick released.

IP_crustless_quiche_lorraine_spinach_wedgeI’d shredded a bit of extra Emmental and sprinkled more of it on top and stuck it under the oven broiler, just so it would have a bit of color. One thing about pressure cooking . . . you can’t get good color unless  you brown things before, or broil them after. It took no time at all to broil it for a few minutes. I let it rest for a couple of minutes because it was so hot, then cut into 4 portions and served it along with some yogurt and fruit.

What’s GOOD: it was basically a 2-dish prep (IP pot plus the ceramic baking dish) so there was easy cleanup. Loved the quiche. It may not have had the same consistency as a traditional oven-baked quiche – almost like eggs done in the microwave – but it was good and hit the spot. I liked the addition of spinach, even though it’s not traditional for a Lorraine type quiche.

What’s NOT: nothing really, unless you really miss the crust.

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

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IP Crustless Quiche Lorraine with Spinach

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Instant Pot Obsession
Serving Size: 4

1 teaspoon butter — (for coating baking dish)
3 slices bacon — chopped
1 small onion — sliced thin and chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup fresh spinach — coarsely chopped
3 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon white pepper — or black
1 1/4 cups Emmental cheese — or Gruyere, or other Swiss type
1 cup water — for steaming
TOPPING:
1/3 cup Emmental cheese — or Gruyere, or other Swiss type

1. Prepare a 1-quart round baking dish (that fits in the IP) and coat the bottom and sides with the room temp butter.
2. Using the IP saute function render the bacon until it’s crispy. Remove and set aside. Add onion and 1/4 tsp salt and cook, stirring often, until the onion is fully translucent and soft. Remove and set aside. Pour out any extra grease from the pot, cool, then clean the pot and replace into the IP.
3. In a large bowl combine the eggs, milk and cream, then add pepper and remaining salt. Add half the cheese to the mixture along with the spinach, bacon and onion, and pour it all into the prepared, buttered baking dish. Add remaining cheese on top. Cover with foil – not tight – but enough so steam won’t get into the dish. Install rack in the pot and gently place quiche dish on top of the rack. Add water to the bottom. Use manual pressure for 10 minutes, then let sit for 10 minutes as a natural release, then quick release.
4. Open IP, remove quiche, using the rack handles and set on countertop. Meanwhile, preheat broiler.
5. Add extra cheese to the top of the quiche and place under broiler just long enough to get some nice golden brown color to the top (watch carefully), remove, allow to cool for about 3-5 minutes. Cut in wedges and serve.
Per Serving: 386 Calories; 31g Fat (71.9% calories from fat); 20g Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 250mg Cholesterol; 519mg 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.

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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 Brunch, Vegetarian, on October 30th, 2017.

microwave_poached_egg

So cinchy easy I can’t believe nobody had figured this out before.

Subscribing to the posts from Food52 is sometimes daunting. They post about 10+ posts a day. Well, maybe I’m exaggerating, but seems like every time I go to look at what they’ve posted, it can take me an hour to get through them all. Yet I don’t want to not look at them because there are some real gems there.

raw_eggs_for_poachingAnyway, since I’ve been having a poached egg or two on toast for dinner now and then (my DH would NOT have thought that was a proper dinner, which is why as a widow, well, I can!). So I had to try this pronto. Since I did two eggs, I  used a bowl instead of a mug (recommended). You add about 1/2 cup of tap water, a tiny splash of distilled vinegar, stir it a bit, add the eggs, cover the mug or dish, pop it into the microwave and cook on high. In MY microwave, it takes 90 seconds, but a single egg in a mug will take maybe 45-60 seconds. You’ll have to judge it yourself. The toast needs to be in the toaster before I put the eggs in the microwave and in a jiffy it’s all ready. So VERY easy. If the eggs aren’t quite done, put it back in the microwave and continue for maybe 5-10 seconds until it’s done to your liking. I like a runny egg, so your timing might be different.

In my microwave, the very tip-top of the egg isn’t submerged. If you want to not see that, remove the bowl/mug after about 45 seconds (once the water is warm) microwave_poached_eggs_bowland use a spoon to drizzle some hot water over the top. I’m fine with the little coin of bright yolk on top. What’s nice is that my lunch or dinner is finished in a matter of 2 minutes, tops.

What’s GOOD: the speedy meal – the fact that I can have a meal done in a matter of 2-3 minutes. These are every bit as good as ones you’ve done in simmering water, I think.

What’s NOT: gee, can’t think of anything. Maybe if you needed to do 6-8 eggs for a family, this wouldn’t work – easier to do a big skillet of them, but for me, this works like a charm!

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Microwave Poached Egg

Recipe By: Food52
Serving Size: 1

a bowl or wide cup water, fill about half way, approximately 1/2 cup
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
1 large egg — or two

1. Add water to a mug (or bowl if doing two), stir in half a tablespoon of vinegar, crack an egg into the mug, cover with a top (a plate works) and microwave for 45 seconds.
2. Look to see if it’s done. If not, add another 10-20 seconds and check again. Depending on the voltage of the microwave it could take longer, or shorter time. Drain using a slotted spoon and serve.
Per Serving: 74 Calories; 5g Fat (62.1% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; 0g Dietary Fiber; 212mg Cholesterol; 70mg 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!).

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

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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 Brunch, Vegetarian, on August 28th, 2016.

apple_dutch_baby

A Dutch Baby. Oh my. So delicious. This one with a layer of sliced apples that have been cooked with a bit of butter, cinnamon and brown sugar. Then the puff pancake mixture is poured in. Yes!

It’s been years since I’d had one of these treasures. Years ago I used to go to a pancake house in Denver that had it on the menu. It was served plain, sprinkled with powdered sugar and a wedge of lemon to drizzle on top. I recall that I ordered it fairly often. Many years ago I tried to make one and my recollection is that it failed – it didn’t rise. It didn’t have that characteristic popover-type custardy tender texture.

These things are also called a German pancake, a Bismarck, or a Dutch puff. Normally it’s made in a cast iron frying pan. According to Wikipedia, which cites Sunset magazine as its source, Dutch babies (by that name) were introduced in the early 1900s at a restaurant in Seattle, called Manca’s Café. It was family run, and one of the daughters is said to have coined the name, Dutch Baby.

A few months ago I was reading someone’s facebook page and it contained one of those rip-roaring fast videos of how to make an apple Dutch baby. I watched it twice and determined then and there that I’d try making it again. So, a week or so later I went to my friend’s facebook page to watch it again, and it was gone. Huh? I emailed my friend and asked about it – she had no idea about any Dutch Baby video on her page. So I did some sleuthing – I couldn’t remember where it had come from, but I finally found it. I think – although I’m not certain about this, so don’t quote me – that if you ever DO allow one of these video sources to post a video on your facebook page, you have right then and there, agreed to let that source company post more videos to your facebook page without your knowledge. I finally found the video at tiphero. I’m not going to give you the link because if in fact that’s what they do, I don’t want to be spreading the problem. The recipe for this dish can be found at other places on the web.

dutch_baby_apple_sideMaking this recipe, the proportions and directions came from their website. According to Wikipedia, there is a formula, for every 1/4 cup flour, you need to have 1/4 cup milk – very similar to a popover batter. And for every 1/4 cup of those you need an egg. So, 3/4 cup flour, 3/4 cup milk and 3 eggs. The apple slices are cooked in a bit of butter, then removed. The pan is wiped clean (so the butter doesn’t burn) and you heat up the iron skillet in a 425°F oven for 8-10 minutes, so it’s literally smoking hot. Handle with care! Remove the pan, melt a bit more butter, pour in the apples, then pour in the batter. And back into that hot oven it goes for 18-20 minutes. Mine was done at 18. Again, I was very careful with it because that pan is really hot. I slipped the pancake out onto my serving plate, and I’m embarrassed to tell you that with the exception of about 3 bites, I ate the whole thing. It was my dinner. I relished and I mean relished every single bite! You don’t have to make it with apples – I just liked the idea of it.

What’s GOOD: Oh gosh. I thought it was fabulous. But then I also love popovers, though I never make them. This was quite easy to do – just have everything ready when you start, and be prepared when it comes out of the oven to eat it immediately. No fiddling around with setting the table or pouring a glass of milk. No. Serve. Sit. Eat.

What’s NOT: nothing at all – it was quite easy and was a special treat for me.

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

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Dutch Baby with Apples

Recipe By: From Tip Hero (online videos)
Serving Size: 2

2 tablespoons butter — divided
1 large granny Smith apple — peeled, sliced ¼-inch thick
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
BATTER:
3 large eggs — room temperature
3/4 cup whole milk — room temperature
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Confectioners’ sugar and lemon wedges, if desired.

NOTE: You must have an iron skillet – a 10″ one to make this dish.
1. Preheat the oven to 425° F (218 degrees Celsius).
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, flour and sugar until smooth.
3. In a 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the apple slices and sprinkle with the brown sugar and cinnamon. Cook for about 5 minutes, frequently tossing, until the apples are coated and have softened. Transfer to a dish.
4. Wipe the skillet with a paper towel and place in the preheated oven for about 8 to 10 minutes, until very hot.
5. Add the remaining butter to the skillet, swirling to coat the bottom and sides. Add the cooked apples to the center of the pan and pour the batter on top.
6. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until the pancake has puffed and the edges are golden brown. The center should be set but custardy.
7. Sprinkle with the confectioners’ sugar and serve immediately with a lemon wedge, if desired. Note: The pancake will lose its puff as it sits out, so be sure to prepare this one right before you want to eat it and enjoy as soon as it’d done! Have your table set, beverages poured, fork poised, and dig in while it’s piping hot.
Per Serving: 664 Calories; 34g Fat (45.9% calories from fat); 18g Protein; 72g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 393mg Cholesterol; 273mg Sodium.

Posted in Brunch, on September 8th, 2015.

asparagus_bread_pudding

Tender, moist, cheesy, leek-filled and altogether lovely for a leisurely brunch.

The other night I had house guests – Joe, Dave’s good friend, who still comes to stay periodically when he has business in my neck of the woods, and his wife, Yvette. We all attended a social shindig and they decided not to drive back home to San Diego. I was happy to accommodate them, even if my house was (still is) a bit of a mess from the remodeling.

Preparing a brunch dish was fairly easy and straight forward. I’ve been going through stacks of recipe clippings (mostly from magazines over the last couple of years) and adding them to MasterCook (nearly all of them I’ve found online so it’s easy to click a couple of buttons and it’s added into my to-try file). This recipe popped up the other day and I thought it would be a nice dish to prepare for our leisurely Sunday morning breakfast/brunch when they were here.

The recipe (that someone gave me, don’t know who!) started from one Georgeanne Brennan created. She made it when she was in France, and shared her version with the chefs at Chez Panisse in Berkeley but she even says in the recipe that you can substitute a variety of veggies and cheeses. I found several versions online, but this one had a bit more flavorful ingredients in it, so I worked with this one, adding or subtracting from the ingredient list as it suited what I had on hand. I had asparagus and leeks. Check. Eggs. Check. Ciabatta bread. Check. Fontina. Check. And Pecorino-Romano. Check. Everything else was a household staple.

I made half of the below recipe, in an 8×8 glass dish. If you had really hungry guests, probably it would feed about 6. It didn’t take long to put together – this isn’t the type of brunch dish you have to soak overnight – 15-20 minutes with the milk on the bread was sufficient. You could – I’m certain – make this the night before, but don’t add the cheese on top until you put it into the oven, and I’d allow it to sit out at room temp for about 30 minutes before baking. It might take another 5 asparagus_bread_pudding_bakedminutes of baking time too. You can vary the cheese – I used, as I mentioned above, Fontina and Pecorino-Romano, but Swiss cheese is mentioned in some recipes, and Emmental in others, so Gruyere would also work. Even Parmigiana-Reggiano would be fine too but not too much. And if you like a topping, I think this would be nice with some fresh tomato salsa. Or perhaps a mushroom sauce? However, the calorie count is fairly significant with this containing half and half and some cream, so think twice about using a calorie or fat-laden topping. That’s why I thought salsa would be a nice addition. I didn’t have any or I’d have served it with this. You can use your choice of herbs – I used what is currently in my garden (basil and rosemary) but use whatever suits you – chives, parsley, tarragon, thyme.

The leeks are cooked some, then the asparagus too. I cooked the asparagus stems first because they were rather robust in size, then added the more tender tops during the last minute. I used ciabatta bread – I cut it into small cubes and left them to sit out overnight in my kitchen, so they were certainly “stale” by that time.

The casserole is baked for about 45-55 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned. Don’t over bake it or it will dry out. Let it sit for about 5 minutes before cutting and serving. I served it with fresh fruit, some pork sausage and Greek yogurt.

What’s GOOD: I liked that it could be made just before baking and it was really nice. I might use more asparagus next time just because I like it. It was easy to make and looked very pretty on the plate. I might use a tiny bit more cheese next time – and I might try different kinds just because you can. If you make the 9×13 casserole, it would serve a big bunch of people. At least 12, maybe 14.

What’s NOT: nothing at all.

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

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Asparagus Bread Pudding with Fontina and Herbs

Recipe By: Inspired by a recipe from Georgeanne Brennan
Serving Size: 12

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 whole leeks — ends cut off, sliced lengthwise, chopped, rinsed well
1 pound asparagus
CUSTARD:
5 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 dash cayenne
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 1/2 cups half and half Zest of one large lemon
PUDDING:
5 cups bread — (I used ciabatta) cut into 3/4″ cubes, dried overnight
3/4 cup Pecorino-Romano cheese — freshly grated (or use Gruyere)
3/4 cup Fontina cheese — grated
1/2 cup fresh herbs — chopped – such as chives, parsley, and tarragon; or sage, thyme, and marjoram (I used fresh basil and rosemary)

1. Grease the bottom of the dish you’re using (9×13 works, or similar 4-quart dish as long as it has 2″ high sides). Place bread in a large bowl.
2. Mix half and half, cream, eggs, cayenne, lemon zest, salt and pepper until there are no streaks of egg yolk. Pour HALF of milk mixture over the bread and let sit for 15-20 minutes. Reserve remaining milk mixture.
3. While bread is soaking, trim leeks, and chop well. Saute leeks in butter for 1-2 minutes, then add water and steam (covered) until leeks are cooked through, 5-7 minutes. Remove leeks to the bowl leaving any fluid in the pan. Prep the asparagus: trim off woody ends and chop into 1/2 inch pieces. Add the asparagus to the pan and cook briefly, about 1-2 minutes, then add the asparagus to the bowl. Discard any remaining fluid in the pan.
4, Preheat oven to 350°F.
5. Sprinkle herbs over the bread mixture, then add about half the cheese and stir this mixture around so it’s evenly distributed. Pour it all into the prepared baking dish and then pour remaining milk mixture over the top. Add the last of the grated cheese evenly on top.
6. Bake until top is crusty brown and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Allow to sit for about 5 minutes before cutting into squares to serve.
Per Serving: 454 Calories; 19g Fat (38.2% calories from fat); 15g Protein; 55g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 135mg Cholesterol; 824mg Sodium.

Posted in Breads, Brunch, on August 27th, 2015.

cream_filled_coffeecake

Recently I was asked to bring a coffeecake to a meeting. My mind said, “why not make something different.” This was the result. It’s a yeast-raised cake which is really more like a bread, a sweet bread, but still it has the consistency of bread, not the fine crumb of a more traditional cake-type coffeecake.

It’s a sweet bread, using yeast, that has a topping on it that’s mostly brown sugar, and once baked and cooled, the whole thing is split horizontally and filled with a rather different kind of buttercream filling.

I’d read about this cake back in 2013 on the King Arthur baking blog. It had such an unusual story – I’m a sucker for a good, heartwarming story anytime – especially old-fashioned kinds of recipes, and this is one.

It seems there was this nice lady named Doris Knutson, from Wisconsin, who was quite famous in her local circles for this very special coffeecake. And no, she absolutely did not, would not give the recipe to anyone. So the story goes, upon her death, her children made a photocopy of what they had and it was distributed at her funeral. Everything was there, but when some folks tried it, it wasn’t working real well. One of Doris’ friends sent the recipe and an plea to the test kitchen at King Arthur, along with a detailed explanation and in came King Arthur to the rescue.

King Arthur went to work on the recipe, trying to figure out exactly how she used the different ingredients (there’s a batter, a topping and a filling) to make this really unusual coffeecake. The folks at King Arthur believe they cracked the code and this coffeecake is the result.

flour_milk_gravy

There at left is the filling – I call it a “gravy,” (see down 2 paragraphs for a full explanation).

If you decide to make this, I recommend you read the recipe all the way through once. Then take a breath and read it again all the way through before you actually begin making it. There are lots of steps (not difficult) but there is a procedure. King Arthur updated it so you can do some of the work in your bread machine (I did). It also rises a couple of times, and mine took longer than the recipe indicated. you’ll read all the failures they had before they finally got it to work. Some people use two  8-inch round cake pans – that might be a good thought – especially if you don’t have a 10-inch springform. Mine is about 9 3/4 inches so I assumed it would work (it did).

The filling is very unusual – if you go to the entire article at King Arthur, you can read down through all the comments (which are interesting in themselves, including one from Doris’ daughter). Anyway, the filling is a roux – but not a browned roux with fat. This roux contains flour and milk and it’s cooked to a consistency more like a gravy (to me anyway). Then you add a fluffed up mixture of butter and powdered sugar. Very different, though when you’re done it has the consistency of frosting.

The dough is made first, and as I explained, because King Arthur suggested it, I made it in my bread machine. First I set it on the dough cycle, let it sit 30 minutes, then I re-started the dough cycle, adding in the additional flour, so then it went for 1 1/2 hours until it had about doubled in bulk. I rolled it out of the bread machine and kneaded it a little bit (it was quite sticky), so I actually just held it in my hands and pushed and mushed to get all the air bubbles out.cream_filled_coffeecake_ready_to_bake

At that point the dough is placed in a 10-inch springform pan (greased). Some people add the topping part way through this next   rising – I added it at the end and had to kind of stick the pieces onto the dough. It might be a good idea to put on a egg wash and then the topping would stick pretty well, I think.

This rising took longer than the recipe indicated – they said 1 1/2 hours, but mine took about 2 hours – to get the dough to rise about an inch above the pan. It’s a good thing I started making this at about 2pm, otherwise I’d have been up half the night! As it was it finished baking at about 8pm and I just let it sit in the springform pan overnight. I baked it per the recipe, 45 minutes, and my Thermapen registered 198°.

The next morning I sliced the cake/bread in half horizontally and made the filling. Do read the instructions carefully about this – be sure the gravy or roux cools before you add the butter and powdered sugar as you don’t want any melting butter! The filling is spread on the bottom half, then the top is placed back on the bread and it’s supposed to be chilled for 30 minutes or more. I don’t coffeecake_slicereally know what that does for it, but I did comply.

Do use a serrated knife to cut it. My bread knife doesn’t have a pointed end, so it didn’t work well trying to cut wedges. I finally used a shorter serrated knife to cut a round plug-shaped size in the middle, then the wedges were easier to slice since they weren’t as deep.

MY SUGGESTION: I think this bread needs more filling, so if I were to make it again I would probably triple the filling (there isn’t all that much of it anyway) and cut 2 horizontal slices and slather the filling on both. That way you’d have enough of the filling with each slice.

The bread, by itself, isn’t dry exactly, but it’s like eating a slice of bread, so usually we have butter, or jam or something to go on it. The same is true here, so the top half was a little lacking in enough to wash it down. You’d have to be very careful slicing it if you used 2 layers of filling. But I’d still try it anyway.

What’s GOOD: the cake/bread is very tasty. It’s a traditional sweet bread yeast recipe. What makes this different is the filling (1) and the topping (2). And baking it in a springform pan is different too. Don’t expect this to taste like a cake dessert cuz it isn’t! But it’s very good. Different. I liked that part. I can’t say that I had all that any of my lady friends come to me begging for the recipe, though. This morning I put a bit of butter on one of the left over slices (there were only 2 pieces left) and had that with my breakfast.

What’s NOT: do remember it’s a yeast bread and requires 3 rising times – it takes 5+ hours to make.

printer friendly PDF – and – Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open in MC)

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Cream-Filled Yeast Coffeecake

Recipe By: Bakers Banter 2013 (King Arthur Flour)
Serving Size: 20

DOUGH:
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup unsalted butter — soft
2 tablespoons cold water
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon instant yeast
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour — maybe using another 1/4 cup
TOPPING:
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter — soft
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
FILLING (my advice: triple the filling):
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup unsalted butter — (8 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup confectioners sugar — sifted

TIPS from King Arthur bakers: (1) If you’d like to have two smaller coffeecakes (one to give, or one to freeze), leave the dough recipe as is; multiply the topping and filling ingredients by 1 1/2, and divide the dough between two 8″ round pans. The baking time will be about 5 minutes shorter. (2) Be careful combining the two parts of the filling. Whisk together gently, just until they’re mixed. Whipping vigorously at this point will make the filling appear curdled. It will still taste great, it’ll just be a little raggedy-looking. (3) This coffeecake freezes very well with no fuss. Finish the recipe all the way, including filling the cake, then put it in a cake carrier and freeze for up to 2 weeks.
1. DOUGH: In a large bowl or the pan of your bread machine, combine the sugar and salt. Heat the milk and butter together until the butter is melted, and pour over the sugar and salt. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the water, eggs, and vanilla, stirring to combine. Let the mixture rest until it cools to lukewarm. Stir in the yeast and the 2 1/2 cups flour. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes.
2. Add the additional 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups flour; start with the smaller amount and see how the dough behaves, adding 1/4 cup more if it’s still very sticky. Mix and knead for 6 to 8 minutes at slow to medium speed with your mixer; or use the dough cycle on your bread machine.
3. The dough will be soft, smooth, and silky; perhaps just slightly sticky to the touch. Cover the dough and let it rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 hours, until puffy-looking and almost doubled. Or let your bread machine finish its cycle.
4. TOPPING: Combine the brown sugar, butter, salt, cinnamon, and flour, mixing with a fork or your fingers until crumbs form. Set aside.
5. To shape and bake the cake: Deflate the dough, round it into a ball, and place it into a greased 10″ springform pan. Cover with greased plastic or a large inverted bowl until the dough domes an inch above the rim of the pan, about 45 minutes. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 350°F. When the dough is ready, sprinkle it with the topping (some will slide down). Bake the cake for 45 to 50 minutes, until a paring knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and cool it in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes before tilting it out of the pan and returning it to the rack to cool completely.
6. FILLING: Because this is a bread (not a sweet cake-type coffeecake) it needs more moisture – I recommend tripling the amount of filling, cutting it into 3 layers and using, then, more filling in between the 2 layers.) While the cake cools, put the flour in a small saucepan. Add the milk a little at a time, stirring to make a smooth mixture. Use a wire whisk to make sure you don’t have lumps, and keep using it when you’re cooking it. It takes very little time to get to a thick gravy-consistency.
7. Cook the flour and milk over medium-low heat until the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat and cool. In a small mixing bowl, beat the butter and confectioners’ sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla, then whisk into the flour/milk mixture.
8. To assemble: Split the cooled cake horizontally, and spread the filling on the bottom layer. Replace the top and refrigerate the cake until 30 minutes before serving.
Per Serving: 263 Calories; 11g Fat (36.4% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 37g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 49mg Cholesterol; 79mg Sodium.

Posted in Beverages, Brunch, on August 23rd, 2015.

cantaloupe_soup_yogurt_mint

While I was visiting in Colorado, one day we visited a wonderful restaurant in Evergreen. I’m going to write that up another day. We enjoyed a delicious honeydew chilled soup, which I’m going to try to re-create. But in the interim, I bought a cantaloupe and decided to make it into a chilled soup, or a fruit delight for breakfast, or just to drink it like a smoothie.

Being just one person, these days to buy a whole melon means serving it to myself as a wedge every day for many days, so I decided to try my hand at making a refreshing summer drink, or a soup. Either one. After the first time eating this as a soup, I poured the remainder into a glass and drank it instead of eating it with a spoon.

Using some recipes I’d found online, I combined several and added in my own twist to things. I knew I wanted to add mint (since I have some in my garden) and yogurt. Other than that, I winged it. I chopped up the cantaloupe (do make sure it’s sweet and ripe otherwise it won’t taste all that great), added a bit of sour cream (light) and a cup of Greek yogurt, some honey, about 2-3 T. of fresh mint leaves, and a dash or two of ground cinnamon and ground cloves. Those spices were miniscule enough that you hardly know they’re there, but enough to wonder what that elusive flavor is. Use your own choice of spices if you don’t like cloves or cinnamon.

This soup or drink is not thick – cantaloupe breaks down to almost a pure liquid with almost no texture. The yogurt and sour cream added little or no thickness to it, either. So what I’m saying is that this soup is a thin type, more liquid than texture. But I loved it. Having read varieties of recipes I just made it up as I went along and I liked it. I did notice that the next day it tasted much better than it did right out of the blender. So keep that in mind. If you wanted to add some thickness, add about half of a cucumber, seeded and peeled.

What’s GOOD: oh, it’s very refreshing. Very low in calorie. It almost tastes like a thin milkshake or a smoothie, but most smoothies are quite thick. This one is not – it’s liquid. Wonderful flavors – providing the melon is extra ripe and sweet.

What’s NOT: nothing really. This was gone in a couple of days – I shared it with my Scrabble friends – and we drank it right down.

printer friendly PDF – and – Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open in MC)

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Chilled Cantaloupe Soup with Yogurt

Recipe By: My own concoction
Serving Size: 6

1 medium cantaloupe
1/4 cup light sour cream
1 cup Greek yogurt, full-fat — or low fat
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pinch ground cloves
Mint leaves for garnish

1. Cut cantaloupe into small pieces and place in blender.
2. Add sour cream, yogurt, honey, fresh mint, cinnamon and cloves and blend until completely smooth.
3. If time allows, chill overnight. Can be served as a soup (it has a thin consistency) or as a beverage/smoothie. If serving as a soup, garnish with mint leaves. If you prefer a thicker soup you could add half of a cucumber, peeled and seeded, which would give the soup more texture.
Per Serving: 103 Calories; 4g Fat (29.7% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 30mg Sodium.

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