Saturday, April 30, 2011

Rules of Engagement

My daughter met her special someone when she was 15. They married when she was 22, and the whole time they were together it was a long distance relationship. They didn't go to the same school so they only saw each other at church or when one of them could make the 45 minute drive to the other's house. Then when they graduated from high school, he went across the state to college. What had been seeing each other once or twice a week became once or twice a quarter. Thank heavens for email, texting, and cell phones!

My daughter will be the first to admit that it was really tough, but also that it was invaluable for their relationship. Because they didn't have a lot of time to be together physically, they spend a lot of time talking and working through issues together.

One of the most important things they hammered out were the ground rules for fighting.

#1 - No violence. Ever.

#2 - Leave the past in the past. Don't drag it into present conflicts.

#3 - Leave out absolutes like "you always" or "you never"

#4 - Remember that words are as hurtful as knives. Choose the words you speak carefully as they can't be unspoken.

#5 - Don't let the sun set on your anger. Or if it sets and you're still angry, stay up all night working it out. Don't go to bed mad.

#6- Don't walk away in anger. Stay and work it out.

#7 - No withholding. The marriage bed is not a bargaining tool.

I must confess that recently I broke one of those rules. Sort of. You see, my Cuisinart broke. It just stopped working one day. I wasn't shocked as I'd bought that food processor at a yard sale 20 years ago for $10 (yes, I know, I have amazing yard sale blessings).

A food processor isn't an absolute necessity. Lots of people get by without them. It's just that for certain tasks it's really, really nice to have one. So when my husband asked about some apple scones I'd talked about making, I ....(hangs head in shame)....withheld. No, not the marriage bed, the scones.

"I can't make them without a food processor," I said, trying to convince myself it was only a teensy, weensy lie, knowing full well that I was certainly capable of making scones without a food processor. I just didn't want to. And if the scones were dangled out there as bait, maybe hubbie would be motivated to buy me a new one.

Hubbie is no fool. He, too, knows that scones can be made without an appliance (well, an oven is a necessity), but he's a big sweetie and likes to spoil me. So he went ahead and ordered me a new one. It was just like Christmas when that big box arrived on the doorstep! And the very first thing I made to break in my new baby was the apple scones. So, I'm not totally evil, am I?

These are so easy to make in the food processor, and they're "rustic," which means zero fuss. Let the food processor do the work, knead in the apple bits, lump it onto a baking sheet, score, and bake. You're half an hour away from delicious, warm scones!

If you've had a fight and need to do penance, try making the scones. All will be forgiven, I'm sure. And if you don't have a food processor, they are terrific incentive for getting one.

Apple Buttermilk Scones
- adapted from Muffins and Other Morning Bakes by Linda Collister
Makes 8 scones

1 large crisp tart apple (about 1/2 lb)
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour*
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup raw sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
6-1/2 Tbs unsalted butter, chilled and diced
about 2/3 cup buttermilk, plus extra for brushing

1- Preheat the oven to 425 deg. F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2- Peel, core, and coarsely chip the apple into 1/2-inch chunks.

3- In the food processor combine the flours, baking soda, and sugar. Pulse briefly to mix. Add the butter and process until the mixture looks like fine crumbs. With the machine running, add the buttermilk through the feed tube to make a soft but not sticky dough.

4- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead in the apple chunks to form a coarse, bumpy dough. Don't worry is they're not totally incorporated.

5- Shape the dough into a ball and put in onto the prepared baking sheet. Pat the dough into a 9-inch round. Brush lightly with buttermilk, then sprinkle with a little raw sugar to give a crunchy surface. Using a sharp knife, score the round into 8 wedges, but don't separate them.

6- Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden and firm to the touch.

7- Cool on a wire rack. You can eat them immediately, warm, or they are also good split and toasted. If you really want to go crazy, slather them with good butter and your favorite jam or honey. But I find them irresistible plain.

*I use a blend of 1/2 all-purpose flour, 1/2 white whole wheat

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Spring Takes The Cake

It's been a long, dreary winter. Here in the Pacific Northwest sightings of the sun have been few and far between. Many people are affected by SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and become depressed and morose. I just get SOTSER (Sick Of The Stinking Endless Rain), which has essentially the same effect. What a lift it is to the spirits when finally the signs of spring start popping up! Birds have returned from their condos in Phoenix to serenade me in the morning. Tulips and daffodils wave their cheerful colors in counterpoint to the grey skies. And strawberries are back in the stores. Hooray!

What better way to celebrate the return of spring than to make a cake? Spring is perfect for baking as there are beautiful, fresh ingredients available and it's not so hot that you dread turning on the oven.

This cake is unique in that the cake layer and the meringue layer topping it are baked together. Then the layers are piled with cream cheese filling and strawberries. Plus, as a bonus, you end up with 5 egg yolks - ice cream time! Whether you're looking for a special dessert for Mother's Day or just want an excuse pick up a flat of strawberries, you won't regret trying this cake. Not too filling, not too sweet, not too fussy - just right.

Blitz Torte With Strawberries and Cream
- adapted from Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too by Susan Purdy


1-1/4 cups sifted cake flour
1-1/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp milk
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
2 large egg whites

Meringue layer;

4 large egg whites at room temperature
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 cup plus 1 Tbsp superfine sugar, divided
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup sliced almonds (I used toasted, slivered almonds, coarsely chopped)

Vanilla Cream Filling:

8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup vanilla yogurt, drained in a strainer for 15 minutes (I used plain whole milk yogurt, and added an extra bit of vanilla and sugar)
1 Tbsp granulated sugar, or to taste
1 tsp vanilla extract


2 Tbsp almond or hazelnut liqueur
3 cups fresh strawberries, rinsed, hulled, dried, and sliced
1 Tbsp granulated sugar

1- Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 deg. F. Coat two 8-inch round cake pans with baking spray, line the pans with parchment paper, and spray the paper. Dust the pans with flour and tap out the excess flour.

2- Prepare the cake batter: Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt onto a sheet of wax paper or into a bowl. Set aside.

3- In a small saucepan, heat the milk to just below a simmer. Remove from the heat and let cool until tepid.

4- In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg yolk and vanilla and almond extracts until blended. Add 1/2 cup of the sugar and beat until light in color. Scrape down the bowl and beaters. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the warm milk. Increase the speed to medium and whip until the sugar is completely dissolved. Scrape down the bowl and beaters.

5- In a clean bowl, with clean beaters, whip the egg whites until foamy. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and whip until the whites are stiff but not dry. Fold about one third of the whipped whites into the egg yolk mixture. Then alternately fold in the flour mixture and the remaining whites. Divide the batter equally between the prepared baking pans and smooth the tops. Set aside.

6- Prepare the meringue layer: In a clean bowl, using the electric mixer, whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar until foamy. Gradually add the 1 cup sugar and whip until the whites are stiff but not dry.

7- Divide the meringue between the cake pans, spreading it evenly over the cake batter. Combine the cinnamon and the remaining 1 Tablespoon sugar and sprinkle it over the meringue layers. Then sprinkle the sliced almonds over each layer. Baker for about 30 minutes, until the meringue top is ivory-colored and crisp to the touch.

8- Cool the layers in the pans on wire racks for about 10 minutes. Run a knife blade between the cakes and the sides of the pans, top each layer with a plate covered with foil or plastic wrap, and invert. Remove the pans and papers, invert the layers again onto racks, and cool completely.

9- Prepare the filling: Combine all the ingredients in a mixer or a food processor and process until completely smooth. Refrigerate until needed.

10- To assemble the cake, place 1 cake layer, meringue side down on a flat plate. Brush the almond or hazelnut liqueur over the cake. Spread the cream filling on top, then cover it with a generous layer of sliced strawberries. Add the second layer, meringue side up. Refrigerate until serving time. Place the remaining berries in a bowl, sprinkle them with the sugar and toss lightly.

11- To serve, place a spoonful of berries alongside each slice of cake.

I added a dollop of whipped cream to the top to pretty it up.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Cookbook Fail

It's been said that the best way to succeed is to fail. That seems kind of counter-intuitive. If you want to succeed, shouldn't you succeed? The thing is, nothing teaches as firmly and thoroughly as failure.

Raise your hand if you have ever
* Put in baking powder instead of baking soda
* Put in tablespoons instead of teaspoons
* Burned something
* Underbaked something
* Left out an ingredient
* Omitted a step in recipe
* Failed to read a recipe all the way through before starting and only midway into the baking realized you were missing either a key ingredient or tool.

I've done all of those. Some of them more than once.

Each time you fail you learn more. And I have failed a lot. If you've read my blog for any length of time you know that. I ought to be a genius by now! I'm not, but what I am is able to spot some obvious bloopers and pause to evaluate.

Recently I got suckered into buying a new cookbook. I knew nothing about the author, but it had beautiful pictures, so I gave in. Hey, it was at the thrift store, so I only paid $2 for it. Perhaps that should have been a clue. If there was nothing wrong with it, why get rid of it?

After getting it home and thumbing through it, stroking the pretty pictures (yes, I do that. Don't you?), I decided the panini sandwiches needed to go on the menu. Because I'm into making my own bread, I liked that the recipe included directions for making flat bread.

I started by putting the warm water into a bowl with the sugar and then I paused to read out much yeast to add. 30 g or 1-1/4 oz. Hmmm. I'm much better with teaspoons and tablespoons for yeast. My kitchen scale isn't good with teeny measurements, but I dragged it out to see if it would cooperate. Let's see.....scooping, scooping, scooping.....30 grams - holy cow, that's a lot of yeast! Maybe the 30 grams was a misprint and I'd do better to follow the ounces. Start over.....scoop, scoop, scoop..... again - a huge amount of yeast.

Wait a minute, the jar I store my yeast in says it holds 4 oz of yeast. That means that this recipe which makes 10 small flatbreads (ie, not very puffy and risen) calls for over 1/4 of the jar of yeast???? That's insane!

So, I guessed at an amount that seemed appropriate, and it turned out beautifully. Thank you years of experience!

The flat bread has ground fennel, which lends it an interesting flavor, and the sandwich has arugula, which adds a fabulous peppery note. Fresh, oozy, melty mozarella and salty tangy proscuitto round out the flavor parade. If you like sandwiches, you've got to give it a try. You could buy flatbread at the store, but really it is simple. And I've fixed the recipe, so there's no fear of failure here. Trust me, I've made the mistakes for you.

Mozzarella and Proscuitto Panini
- adapted from Coffee & Bites

1-1/3 cups lukewarm water
1/2 tsp sugar
1-1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 lb (4 cups) bread flour
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

For the filling:
extra virgin olive oil to drizzle
8 oz fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
4 oz (2-1/2 cups) arugula
8-12 wafter-thin slices proscuitto
salt and freshly ground
black pepper

1- In a small bowl combine 2/3 cup of the lukewarm water with the sugar and yeast. Stir, cover, and leave in a warm place for 5- 10 minutes, until it's bubbly and about doubled in size.

2- While the yeast is growing, roast the fennel seeds in a dry, hot pan (a cast iron skillet is ideal) until you can just smell the aroma and the seeds begin to pop. Grind the seeds with a mortar and pestle until quite fine. Mix the fennel seeds with the flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the yeast and oil. Start to mix into the flour, adding the remaining 2/3 cup of water.

3- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes until the dough is elastic. Place the dough in the bowl, cover with a towel and leave in a warm place for 45 minutes until almost doubled in volume.

4- Turn the risen dough out onto your work surface and divide it into 8 pieces. Using a rolling pin, roll each out to about 6 inches in diameter, about 1/2-inch thick. Prick all over with a fork.

5- Heat a cast iron skillet until really hot. Place the dough into the pan (I could fit two at a time in my pan). When the bottom of the bread is dotted with dark spots (check after 2-3 minutes), turn the bread over and cook for a further 4 minutes. Stack the rounds of bread and cover with a clean kitchen towel while cooking the remaining rounds of dough.

6- For the sandwiches, split 4 rounds of bread horizontally with a bread knife. Place the halves cut-side up on your work surface and drizzle them with olive oil. Top 4 halves with mozzarella, arugula, and ruffles of prosuitto. Season with freshly ground black pepper and sandwich with the other halves of flat bread.

7- Toast the panini in a panini maker or a cast iron skillet, with the top weighted down, just till the mozzarella melts. Halve each panini to serve.

Makes 4 paninis. You can double the sandwich ingredients to make 8.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Brosetta Stone

Recently my family and I were watching a video of a young man of our acquaintance introducing his "friend who is a girl but not a girlfriend" to his guy friends. From the banter and mild ribbing that took place, it was obvious that this lady friend had been previously discussed between them and they were here to check her out. As the guy friends were were leaving, one reached over and clapped the young man three times on the shoulder. The young man flushed and grinned.

My husband, ever the astute observer, paused the video and said, "He just got a 'Way to go!'"

My daughter and I both said, "What? What are you talking about?"

My husband said, "Didn't you see that shoulder clap? That was totally a 'way to go, man' shoulder clap. Didn't you see that?"

We played it again about 5 times in slo-mo. Yep, there it was - clap, clap, clap, flush, grin.

My daughter and I were stunned. All that slapping and grunting that guys do means something? We challenged my husband. "What if it had only been two claps?"

"Oh, that would have meant 'bummer, dude.'"

"And one clap?"

"That's either hi or goodbye."

I was amazed. I felt like I'd been handed the Rosetta Stone of guy speak! What could I do with this powerful information? Should I, armed with a discreet video camera, go to football games and locker rooms to study these wild yet gentle creatures in their natural habitat? Perhaps I could open peace talks between the sexes, acting as translator. Or maybe I could figure out how to communicate effectively with my husband, resulting in the toilet seat being left down at night.

With great power comes great responsibility. I must ponder this and figure out the best way to wield my knowledge. And while I'm pondering, I'll eat cake.

This cake doesn't take any figuring out. It's simple to make and even simpler to eat. And with apples and a streusel topping, it says delicious in all known languages, including guy speak.

Country Apple Cake
- adapted from Muffins and Other Morning Bakes by Linda Collister

7 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
2-3 Tbsp milk
1-1/2 cups thickly sliced tart eating apples (I used organic Fuji)

1/2 cup raw sugar
6-1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter, chilled and diced
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted

1- Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Grease a 8-1/2 x 4-1/2 - 2-1/2-inch loaf pan, then line the bottom with parchment paper.

2- In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy.

3- Add the eggs slowly, then add the vanilla.

4- Sift or sieve the flour, salt, and baking powder over the mixture. Add 2 Tbsp of milk and stir just till combined. The batter should be a soft mixture that just drops from the spoon. If it's too dry, add an additional Tbsp of milk.

5- Spread the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula. Arrange the apple slices in an even layer over the top.

6- Place all the topping ingredients in a medium bowl and rub together with your fingertips until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. (This can also be done in a food processor.) Sprinkle the topping evenly over the apples, then press down gently.

7- Bake for about 1 hour until golden and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

8- Let cool in the pan until lukewarm, then serve warm from the pan or cool completely on a wire rack. Eat within 3 days. When thoroughly cooled, the cake can be wrapped and frozen for up to 1 month.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Rose In Bloom

One of the first people to start reading my blog, outside of my family, was a friend of my daughter's who I called the Kitchen Princess, as she was still living at home, learning about cooking. When the Kitchen Princess got married, I changed her name to Kitchen Queen, as she had her own kitchen to rule over. Recently the Kitchen Queen had a princess of her own, a darling baby girl named Rose who is adorable with lots of black hair and kissable, plump, pink cheeks.

In honor of Rose, I'm posting this lovely rose-tinted sorbet. The recipe is from the Kitchen Queen, so it's fitting. It's the perfect adult sorbet, with the tang of grapefruit and the zing of tequila. Grab a bag of grapefruit the next time you're at the store so you can try it, too!

Grapefruit Tequila Sorbet

2 cups sugar
1 cup water
2 cups ruby red grapefruit juice, freshly squeezed
Juice from 2 limes
5 Tbsp tequila*

1- Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Stir over low heat until the sugar has all dissolved. Pour into a medium mixing bowl and put in the refrigerator to chill while you squeeze the citrus.

2- Juice the grapefruit and limes. Pour the juice through a sieve to remove seeds and pulp, then add it to the sugar-water bowl. Cover the bowl and chill completely.

3- When the juice is thoroughly chilled, remove it from the refrigerator, and stir in the tequila. Pour the mixture into your ice cream maker and freeze, following manufacturer's directions.

4- Scoop the sorbet into a container with a lid and put it in the freezer for several hours to firm up.

* The tequila gives the sorbet a smoother consistency. It also imparts flavor, so be sure to use a tequila that you like.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Happiness On A Plate

In high school I had a boyfriend that drove me nuts. As we parted company at school on Friday he'd say something vague like, "I'll call you." Then I'd spend the whole weekend waiting by the phone for the call that never came. On Monday I'd find out that he'd been out with his buddies doing something wonderful like shooting bunnies in the desert. It made me feel tremendously special that I came in second to that.

After several weeks of this I got fed up and started making sure I had plans to be elsewhere. I'd call up girlfriends and invite them to go to a movie, ask if they needed to go to the library, or just invite myself over to watch TV. I wanted to be sure that if he did actually call, he'd get the message that my life didn't revolve around him and that I wasn't just sitting around pathetically waiting for the phone to ring.

I learned several things from that relationship, one of which was that I couldn't sit and wait for other people to make me happy. I need to be in charge of my own happiness.

Recently I was flipping through a back issue of Bon Appetite and saw a chocolate stout cake recipe. This was just before St. Patrick's Day and I thought it would be fun to put the beer in the cake and blog about it for the great boozefest, I mean Irish celebration. But life interfered and it didn't get made in time. But I had the can of stout sitting on the counter and I still wanted to make it. I had not birthdays coming up, no celebration to justify a cake, but I wanted it. So I made it. Because some things always make me happy, and chocolate cake is one of them.

The stout in the cake was really interesting. The flavor was elusive, but present. The very best part, though, was the frosting. Oh my ganache, it was good. Like a truffle turned into frosting. I'm not sure that I'll make the stout cake again, but give me a bowl of that frosting and I'll be a happy camper for sure!

Chocolate Stout Cake
- adapted fromBon Appetite

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
14 tablespoons (1-3/4 sticks) salted butter, room temperature
1-1/4 cups plus 3 tablespoons sugar
3 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup chocolate stout, regular stout, or porter
2/3 cup freshly brewed strong coffee

1 pound bittersweet chocolate (54% to 60% cacao), chopped
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder

For cake:
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 -1/2-inch-high sides. Line bottom of each cake pan with parchment paper round; butter and flour parchment. Place chopped chocolate in medium metal bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of barely simmering water and stir until chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove bowl from over water and set aside.

Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat butter and 1-1/4 cups sugar in large bowl until fluffy and pale yellow, about 2 minutes. Add egg yolks 1 at a time, beating until well blended after each addition. Beat in lukewarm melted chocolate, then stout and coffee. Beat flour mixture into chocolate mixture in 2 additions just until incorporated.

Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites and remaining 3 tablespoons sugar in another medium bowl until stiff but not dry. Fold 1/3 of egg whites into cake batter to lighten, then fold in remaining egg whites in 2 additions. Divide batter between prepared cake pans (about 3 cups for each); smooth tops.

Bake cakes until tester inserted into centers comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Transfer cakes to racks and cool in pans 20 minutes. Invert cakes onto racks; remove parchment paper and cool completely. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and store at room temperature.

For frosting:
Place chopped chocolate in medium heatproof bowl. Combine whipping cream and espresso powder in medium saucepan. Bring cream mixture to simmer over medium-high heat, whisking occasionally. Pour cream mixture over chopped chocolate; let stand 1 minute, then whisk until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Chill chocolate frosting until slightly thickened and spreadable, stirring occasionally, about 2 hours (or for quick chilling, place frosting in freezer until thickened and spreadable, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes).

Using serrated knife, trim rounded tops from both cake layers so that tops are flat. Place 1 cake layer, trimmed side up, on 9-inch-diameter tart pan bottom or cardboard round, then place on rack set over baking sheet. Drop 1 1/4 cups frosting by large spoonfuls over top of cake layer; spread frosting evenly to edges with offset spatula or butter knife. Top with second cake layer, trimmed side down. Spread remaining frosting evenly over top and sides of cake. DO AHEAD: Can be made up to 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome and refrigerate. Let cake stand at room temperature at least 1 hour and up to 3 hours before serving.