Sunday, October 17, 2010

Spelt Flour Muffins

Spelt Flour, "A Grain From Antiquity," is the statement on this bag of flour I received as a gift. I had never used or heard of spelt flour before.  What an intriguing statement!  Reading further on the bag, I find spelt is an ancient relative of present day wheat and dates back more than 9,000 years!  Checking online I found that spelt flour is considered  very nutritious--its nutrients being absorbed more quickly than present-day wheat.  For my first use of this flour I adapted the muffin recipe on the bag.  The result was very very good!
Oh, and the little French Chef--he'll be there whenever I bake bread to make sure I don't become careless in my baking.  I just found him in a little French shop.

Spelt Raisin Muffins

2-1/4 cups Spelt flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon Baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/4 cups milk
3 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 teaspoon fiori di sicilia (citrus/vanilla flavoring), optional
1/4 cup dark raisins
1/4 cup golden raisins

Preheat oven to 425 deg.  Grease and flour 12 muffin cups. (I used paper cupcake liners instead and they really stuck to the muffins after they were baked.)  Combine the dry ingredients.  Beat the liquid ingredients and mix into the dry just until moistened.  Fold in the raisins.  Fill muffin cups and bake 17 minutes or until light brown.

I loved the raisins in these muffins and would add a couple extra tablespoons of them next time.  These were good warm with a little butter and a hot sweet cup of tea.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

More Wild Mushrooms, Agaricus campestris

I found more today.  This time I'm adding some onion and thyme.
I start these by peeling off the caps and slicing them.  I add a little butter and olive oil to a pan and saute some chopped onion.  When it's translucent, I add the mushrooms along with some fresh thyme leaves.

When the liquid evaporates and the mushrooms are cooked, I finish them off with just about a tablespoon of cream to give a silky texture.  These mushrooms are not as firm as those from the store--they have thinner caps--but they have such a delicious woodsy mushroom flavor!  The first few times I had cultivated mushrooms I thought they were rubbery compared to these.

My absolute favorite way to eat these is just over boiled, fork-mashed, salted potatoes. And, today, I treated myself to some marinated herring in sour cream on the side.  (My husband said I just lost him there--he wants no part of the herring.)  My drink of choice for this meal is cold fresh buttermilk.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Field Mushrooms, Pieczarki

We've had several days of heavy rain and cool temperatures.  Today was a beautiful day with the definite feel of very early fall.  I walked behind the house to feel the fresh air and spotted a couple field mushrooms.  We usually find a couple in early fall but this time I kept finding more and more.  I didn't even have my apron on to gather them up in so I balanced as many as I could on one hand but had to give up and go for the basket--and a knife.
We always gathered these mushrooms when I was young and always heard the stories of the beautiful mushrooms that Mama and her sisters gathered in the woods in Poland.  They were of all colors and would look so pretty in a pan together she would tell me.  She didn't know the wild mushrooms here so these were the only ones we gathered.  The Polish name for these is pieczarki.  We had a black iron wood stove in our kitchen at that time and we liked to lay a couple mushrooms right on the stove itself and let them sizzle with a little salt sprinkled on top and ate them right off the stove.  Mostly, Mama fried them gently in butter and added a little flour, cooked a little more, and then poured in some light cream to make the best mushroom sauce.  The only seasonings she used were salt and pepper. 

Since they have soil and grass over their caps, we just peeled the thin skin off each one. 

I sliced them and prepared them just like my mother did.  These mushrooms are more delicate than the cultivated ones in the grocery store and have a little deeper flavor.  If they were from the store I might add onion or thyme, but I want these plain with just a little thickened cream and salt and pepper and I'm having them over plain bread, toasted.
  The only thing I wanted with this fall lunch was an icy cold glass of fresh, sweet apple cider from the farmer's market.  

Note:  There are white wild mushrooms that are quite poisonous--don't even taste a mushroom that you don't know for absolutely certain is edible. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

BBA Challenge - Pain de Campagne

This BBA Challenge bread is good for making into different shapes and the book shows a variety of possibilities.  I have one banneton (another one has been ordered!) which is a round coiled basket used to proof a loaf into a nice round shape.  I wanted to try it out so I used it for one loaf.  I used a mixing bowl lined with a floured towel for a second round loaf and I decided to turn the third loaf into an "epi" shape.  The epi is first made into a long loaf.  Then you make cuts into it and twist portions of dough out toward one side and then the other to form a long bread with rolls coming out all along it.  I didn't get a picture of it because it was eaten up too fast.  It was too busy a weekend for good pictures, but I did manage to snap a quick picture of the two round loaves.  The one with the rings was proofed in a banneton:
I floured the banneton and the toweled bowl rather heavily as you can see here for fear of sticking.  I had no problem with that.  What did give me trouble was trying to score the dough before baking to make those nice marks on the top.  I have a special little scoring blade but as soon as I started trying to make the cuts the dough began collapsing.  You can see the loaves are a little misshapen.  I also didn't get a brown color--especially on the loaf in the back, but it was definitely done and delicious. The loaves were rather small and look just perfect for soups "in a bread bowl."  As soon as I get my second banneton, I'd like to make this bread again and get the hang of that scoring.  Then I'll make my soup or chili to serve in it.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Plum Pierogi

Italian prune plums always remind me of my mother's plum pierogi.  I loved them and am craving that taste again.
I made the pierogi dough the same as in the earlier post.  I only made a half recipe since I didn't plan to make too many pierogi.  I cut the circles out with a cutter that was a little over 3" across.  I washed 16 plums, cut them open on one side only, removed the pit and replaced it with a sugar cube.  I then wrapped a round of dough around each plum and sealed it according to the directions in my pierogi post.  If you find the dough is a little dry and wants to tear, wet your fingers with water and smooth the whole surface of the round with the water while stretching it gently before putting the plum into it.  Also, wet the inside edge before you seal it to make a tighter seal.   Follow directions to cook the pierogi, about half of them at a time.  At home, we just ate them as they came out of the water, but I thought my husband might prefer some sort of topping.  The usual topping would be bread crumbs browned in butter with some cinnamon and sugar added.  I decided to try these with plum sauce instead since I had so many plums.

Plum Sauce

1-1/2 lbs. prune plums, pitted and chopped
1/4 cup sugar
A little water--2 or 3 tablespoons
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon butter

Simmer the first 4 ingredients until the plums become soft and the water cooks out a little.  Add the butter and simmer a couple more minutes to make a thickened sauce.

Serve the pierogi with the plum sauce.  Sprinkle with a little more cinnamon.

I like these warmed up a day later with some sauce--the flavors are better blended by then.   This is one of my nostalgia--from home--treats that I really make just for myself. 

Monday, September 13, 2010

BBA Challenge - Pain a l'Ancienne

We took a summer break from bread baking but fall's coming and we're starting back into our BBA Challenge.  Our next bread to make was Pain a l'Ancienne.  This bread is shown as baguettes, but we decided to shape it into focaccia.  Except for a small mistake I made of reaching for the spray water instead of spray oil to spray the parchment paper with before easing the soft, sticky dough onto it (which meant I had the mess of spraying a new sheet with oil and removing wet sticky dough from the first paper and transferring it!)--other than that--I had absolutely no trouble with this bread.
Focaccia can be topped with oil and any combination of herbs, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, etc., before baking.  I chose to simply drizzle it lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. I didn't add any herbs since I wanted the option to add whatever flavor I want when I eat it.  I love it simply dipped in olive oil with salt or in rosemary oil.  Another time I might want to add basil or other herbs to the oil.  I also loved it with my homemade butter spread on it. (See previous post.)  This would make a great panini or a simple sandwich.  My problem is I want to eat the whole loaf right now--I'm well on my way.  I had to hide half of it in the freezer to keep it away from me. 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Making Cultured Butter

It had been many years since I made butter.  When I was little we had a cow and making butter was just a chore.  We had a glass churn with a dasher that we used.  When the glass broke, we just put cream in a quart jar and took turns shaking it until it became butter.  When I came across this challenge at the site of forging fromage I started looking for cream that was not ultra pasteurized.  I found some at my farmer's market. (Although girlichef informed me she was able to make it from ultrapasteurized cream.)
The instructions say to add some plain whole-milk yogurt to heavy cream and allow it to sit a day.  

The second day you just use a mixer, whip and "presto" butter forms! The butter has now separated from the "buttermilk."  The buttermilk is poured off.  The butter is rinsed several times in ice water.  With each rinse you work the butter with your hands or a paddle under the ice water to try to get out all the buttermilk.  

Then you can add salt and any herbs or flavorings you want.

The only thing I added to my butter was salt, and I poured the buttermilk into the jar the cream came in.
I'll use the buttermilk for pancakes or some other recipe and we're totally enjoying the butter already.  I just added salt to it.  This was fun to do, although a bit expensive for two pints of the wonderful cream.   
See the site for more details if you want to try this yourself.         

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Plum Cake with cardamom

This cake is good made with plums that have some sweetness to them--no ice cream needed:

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 egg yolks (or 2 large eggs)
6 plums

1 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Line a 9-1/2" springform pan with wax paper.  Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. 
Mix flour with baking powder, salt and cardamom.  Set aside.
Whip softened butter and 1 cup sugar in mixer until light and fluffy.  Mix in the vanilla.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each one.  Add the dry ingredients and mix.
Spread batter into pan.  Slice the plums into eight pieces and layer into the cake batter.  Mix the tablespoon sugar with cinnamon and sprinkle over plums.
Bake about one hour until cake is golden and cake tester or toothpick comes out clean. 

Friday, September 3, 2010

Baking "The Baker's Dozen Cookbook"

A new challenge I've decided to undertake is learning to bake good basic cakes.  After taking the summer off from bread-baking, I'm missing my breads and ready to begin that challenge again--BBA.  In addition I'm going to bake my way through this book:
This book was put together by a group of well-known bakers who have chosen their favorite recipe for a variety of cakes, pies, breads and other desserts.  The book is filled with the basic information that explains the techniques that will give the best results and the reason they work.  There aren't a lot of pictures, but there is a great deal of information.  I'm planning to bake something from the book every other week until I've gone through the whole book.  My first choice was the first cake in the book, "Our Favorite Butter Cake."  I got all my best ingredients set up--everything at room temperature because that makes the batter "blend smoothly."

YES, that's my old sifter!  I haven't used it in ages but I'm told it's important, not only to mix the dry ingredients well, but to aerate them.  So I sifted:

The butter had to be beaten until light in color and then the sugar added in a steady stream following by mixing 4 to 7 minutes more.  The book explains the importance of this step in creating millions of tiny air bubbles to create a light cake.

The eggs are also added a little at a time to prevent curdling of the mixture.  (Although if the batter curdles, the book gives a solution.)  The rest of the recipe explains the reason for adding the dry ingredients alternately with the wet ingredients.  I find it much easier to follow instructions if I understand the reasons for them.  After following every little instruction, I pulled a perfectly-risen level-to-the-top-of-the-cakepan yellow butter cake out of the oven.

Now remember that chocolate you saw in the ingredients picture?  That was for the icing.  I had no particular plan in mind for the icing so I made one of the chocolate icings.  For the first time ever I didn't have any confectioner's sugar in the pantry, so I chose the rich Chocolate Buttercream Frosting.  It took a LOT of rich semisweet chocolate:

The recipe was extremely complicated, involving melting chocolate in a double boiler, simmering sugar and cream of tartar in water to the soft ball stage, beating egg yolks over simmering water and whipping everything together with softened butter.  This icing was too rich and chocolatey for my light tender cake.  I felt it overwhelmed it and was far more chocolate richness than I wanted on a piece of cake.  I can see it on a rich, heavy chocolate cake of which one would eat a small slice, but I would try the lighter chocolate icing recipe next time for a light cake.
I love this cookbook--it reads like a class in baking.  I think, in time, you could create your own recipes after mastering the basics in here.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


 The weather has turned cool after a long stretch of super-hot summer days.  After a much-needed rain yesterday, the sky is still overcast and the air is fresh.  I am alone and psyched about having breakfast out on the deck.  We had boiled young potatoes yesterday with the herb butter I had made using parsley, dill and chives.   There are some left over.  I take those out along with a little handful of mushrooms and an egg.  I'm thinking omelet.  I brown the sliced mushrooms in a little butter and olive oil.  I push them aside and brown the sliced herbed potatoes.  I mix them together, break an egg over them, add salt and freshly-ground black pepper and make an herb scramble with my leftover potatoes.  Meanwhile the rye bread is toasting and I think, "one slice with the scramble and one with some of that peach jam for a little dessert."  I whip a little cream and pour in fresh coffee.  A sprinkle of cinnamon on top makes it special.  A few tomatoes with basil on the side and I'm outside in the fresh morning with a scrumptious leftovers breakfast.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Cooking the Books - Cheese Vali Gobi

There isn't much I enjoy doing more than reading a really good book--unless it involves food.  To read a good book ABOUT food is almost more than I can stand.  So when I came across this Cook the Books Club I had to join in.  Every other month a new book is selected and the challenge is to prepare a dish that was inspired by that book. 
The book selected for this month is Climbing The Mango Trees by Madhur Jaffrey.  Climbing The Mango Trees is an insight into India's history through the eyes of a young girl. She reminds us that beneath the politics and the violence of a troubled nation, there are children. They want to play and they want to eat and they pay close attention to the details of their days. I was touched by how memorable the family picnics and the foods of her girlhood were to Jaffrey.  She loved her own Indian dishes and she thoroughly loved tasting the foods of her school friends that were different from hers. She describes all of those in wonderful detail.  I remember my own childhood as a newcomer to this country, bringing my lunch to school where it was different from the lunches of my friends. Like Jaffrey, I thought their lunches were much more interesting than mine. I loved reading about the spices and flavors detailed in this book. I wanted to make one of her very own recipes rather than developing one of my own.I was particularly drawn to the cauliflower dish. My Mama made cauliflower by cooking it in salted water until it was almost tender. Then she drained it and added it to a skillet that had butter in it. She sauteed it until it began to brown and added bread crumbs, allowing them to absorb the flavors of the butter and cauliflower as they browned also. I didn't know until I was much older that our simple fried cauliflower was "Cauliflower Polonaise."  It was my favorite sidedish.  When I saw Jaffrey's cauliflower recipes, I had to try one of them. I made the Grandmother's Cauliflower with Cheese exactly as the recipe was written in the book, except that I had no hot green chilies (not allowed to use jalapeno or serrano chilies) so I increased the amount of cayenne a little and I used powdered cumin as I couldn't find whole cumin seeds.
I learned a new technique right at the beginning:  she suggests grating tomatoes to make a puree.  It worked to separate the skin, although the seeds remain.

After cauliflower florets are cooked in a skillet with cumin for a few minutes, the grated tomatoes, ginger, chilies, cayenne, turmeric, coriander and salt are added.  

Fresh cilantro is added and mixture is transferred to a baking dish.

After adding cheese on top, the cauliflower is baked.

While my mother's cauliflower polonaise will always be my favorite, I love trying new flavors and this one was so very different.  I especially loved it reheated the second day when the flavors had mellowed and blended.  When I make it again, I'll prepare it the day before and reheat it for a meal.  I am so excited about making more dishes from this book.  Reading it made me feel that I had actually spent some time in the home of this family and making the foods puts me at their table.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Yogurt Cheese Applied

I recently made some yogurt cheese.  I had to answer the question I knew would come:  "What are you going to do with that??"  I decided one answer would be sweet and one savory.

This is my peach (and plum) month so I came up with a peach/plum salad.  I love spices and honey and this late summer weather makes me think about cinnamon.
I peeled and sliced peaches, sliced plums and alternated them with small slices of my yogurt cheese.  The center mound of cheese has been whipped with a little honey and powdered cardamom.  The others are plain.  I drizzled my very favorite honey over it.  Acacia honey has a suggestion of plum blossoms in its flavor that I love.  Then I sprinkled cinnamon liberally  and grated nutmeg lightly over that.  I sprinkled some chopped salted pistachios around the edge.  The peaches were particularly juicy and fresh in this salad.  You don't really need the sweet drier plums, but I think they look pretty.

Now the savory: 

This time I mixed my yogurt cheese with chopped dill and chopped chives.  I added a few drops apple cider vinegar to moisten the mixture and add a little tang.  I added salt to taste.  I spread that on pita bread.  I peeled and sliced a cucumber.  I sprinkled a little salt over the slices and mixed it in with them and then layered them over the bread.  I added freshly-ground black pepper to the top.  A second layer of cucumbers wouldn't have hurt.  I'm making one of these for my lunch at work tomorrow.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Plums and Plum Crisp

I went to the farmer's market for more peaches and they had these baskets of mixed plums.  I never know which plums are my favorite so I jumped at the chance for an easy taste test.

Queen Rosa:  A little hard to split--the flesh wanted to cling to the seed a little.  The taste was mild and enhanced with a bit of honey.  Upon heating, it developed more flavor with a good tang.

Black Ember:  Easy to split.  Taste was actually too bland and a little dip in honey made it even more bland by contrast.  When I heated it, it became sour, and somewhat flat.

Satsuma:  These were very small.  When I split one the seed came out taking plum flesh with it all around. The taste was more plumlike and a little drier in texture.  Honey was good with it.  Heating it made it a little tangy--pretty good.

The next time I go I would buy a basket of Queen Rosa--they were my definite favorite for flavor.

I wanted to make a Plum Crisp, but I needed 4 cups of plums and I only had a little over 1/2 that so I added a couple peaches.
I added the topping
And ate

                                                   PLUM CRISP

4 cups pitted plums, sliced (or a mix of plums and peaches)
1 Tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar


1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup regular rolled oats
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
a pinch of salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter (melted)

Preheat oven to 350 deg. Mix the fruit with the 2 tablespoons white sugar, the 1 tablespoon flour, and the cinnamon. Pour into a buttered baking dish, about 6-1/2" x 10".  Mix the 1/2 cup flour, oats, both remaining sugars, cardamom and salt.  Lightly mix the melted butter through the dry mix until well-moistened.  Spread over the fruit. Put in oven and bake around 45 minutes or until topping is lightly browned and filling is bubbly.
Serve with ice cream, lightly sweetened cream or vanilla yogurt.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Yogurt Cheese

Ok, I am an easily distracted person.  Let's just get that out there right now.  (Those who know me already know that.)  Here I am in the midst of my August peaches and other produce theme, and I just discovered a neat website that concentrates on cheese-making. Forging fromage features all kinds of neat dairy challenges.  I have to take a break today from peaches. I have to make some cheese.  I decided to try the easiest one first:  yogurt cheese.  Yogurt cheese is apparently made the same way as instructions I've found for Greek yogurt, which I love!  So here's the process.  I emptied a large container of plain yogurt into a tea towel.  I used low-fat because that's what I had on hand.
I tied a string around the top of the tea towel to prepare to hang it to drain off the whey.

It looks a bit ghostly casting shadows on my basement wall!  The tea towel is a mite too big for the job.

After the recommended amount of time, I took down the hanging thing and, voila!  I had yogurt cheese!

I had to make this picture extra large so you could see how CREAMY it is.  And I didn't even use creamy yogurt!  I will next time.  It was easy, it tastes good and I am excited about making it with whole milk yogurt and adding herbs to it next time!  Actually I will try some of this with a suggested chive and black pepper addition.  The texture is actually closer to cream cheese than Greek Yogurt because of the length of time I let it hang.  Check out the site--they have some really fun projects.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Herb Butters

Corn doesn't need anything except butter and salt in my opinion--if it's good corn.
But I do LOVE herb butters. 

For this corn I mixed one stick of softened butter with 1 Tablespoon chopped parsley, 1/2 Tablespoon chopped chives and 1/2 Tablespoon chopped dill.  This is also my favorite topping for boiled new potatoes.

While I was in the mood, I mixed up another blend of one stick softened butter, 1 Tablespoon chopped rosemary and 1 Tablespoon chopped thyme.  I love this with chicken or beef.

I mixed a third stick of butter with chopped basil to put over pasta or almost anything else.

After blending each mixture, I shaped each one into a separate roll in plastic wrap and put them in the freezer to use when the garden herbs are done for the season.  It's easy to just slice a piece off and rewrap the rest to put back in the freezer for another day.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Peach and Blackberry Cobbler

Our farmer's market also has beautiful blackberries:
Before I froze these, I took out enough to add to peaches to make a scrumptious peach and blackberry cobbler.  I decided to try a new version from Pat and Gina Neely that I found on the abc news site.  It contains cornmeal in the biscuit dough and sounded interesting. 

I mixed the biscuit topping, using flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt.  I cut in the butter and shortening and mixed in milk and egg.

I sliced the peaches,

heated them with brown sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch, cinnamon and salt and simmered.  Then I added vanilla and 2 pints of those juicy blackberries.
After pouring the filling into a dish, I scooped the dough on top:

The recipe said to bake for 25 to 30 minutes.  I found mine needed to bake 50 minutes.

I didn't cool it very long before I scooped some on a dish, added vanilla ice cream and had the best hot cobbler ever.

I can't imagine anything I could do to the filling to make it any better.  I do have my usual complaint about cobblers.  I always think there isn't enough fruit on my plate.  When will I learn to cut the amount of dough in half or double the fruit!  The cornmeal did make this dough heavier than some, but it was very good.  The filling was to die for!

P. S.  I have been known to skip dough altogether and just caramelize some sliced peaches in a little butter and brown sugar, slide them over, toss in some blackberries to heat and slip it into a bowl with ice cream on
top. . . . .