Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Taste & Create XVII: A Simple Cake

Every month, as I wait patiently for the Taste & Create partner list to come out, I get more and more excited. I simply love this event, hosted by my friend Nicole of For the Love of Food, in which participants are randomly paired off and tasked with preparing a recipe from their partner's blog. The event not only encourages me to discover and try new recipes, sometimes it also challenges me with new techniques or exotic ingredients.

This month, I was paired with Veronica of La Recette du Jour, who is a Brit living in France. I love her tagline: "All recipes in this blog tested using the most stringent quality controls (French guests)." The challenge for me, in addition to choosing a single recipe from Veronica's many delicious dishes, was converting the measurements from metric to cups. (You may recall my first dismal conversion failure a few months ago).

Among the La Recette du Jour that tempted me were: the Courgette, Cheese & Herb Tart, which I quickly discovered using a French-English translator is a Zucchini, Cheese & Herb Tart. Lamb Tagine, which features a North African spice mix that I did not have the energy to look up. And the classic French Ratatouille , which remains firmly on my "To Make" list, especially since Veronica's recipe is the exact one I have been wanting to try from Mastering The Art of French Cooking. It is simply too labor-intensive for this month; I ran out of time as Veronica did!

Veronica's Simple Cake looked just that, despite the mathematics involved, and with a mix of fresh apples, dried fruit and almonds on top, it looked warm and comforting and perfect for these recent Winter storms that have disrupted my Spring with snow and freezing temperatures. I am grateful for Veronica's link to these conversion tables, which helped me immensely. My measurements are below, follow the link to Veronica's recipe for European/Metric measurements.

This cake lives up to its name in that it is quite simple to make. There are a couple little tricks that I would not have done, but did, and it turned out perfectly. I used a mixture of near-equal parts dried apricots, cranberries and golden raisins, and sprinkled extra sliced almonds on top. I didn't have self-rising flour, so to each 1 cup of regular flour I added 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon baking powder (in addition to the baking powder called for in the recipe). I used a buttered 9x13" pan lined with parchment paper, then buttered the parchment as well.

The cake is light despite all the fruit, and delicious with coffee. I would classify it more as a coffee cake than a dessert, actually. Yum!

A Simple Cake
Adapted from La Recette du Jour

Makes 1 9x13" pan

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs, beaten
2 cups self-raising flour, or 2 cups plain flour plus 1 teaspoon salt plus 2 teaspoons baking powder
4 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup mixed dried fruit (golden raisins, cranberries, apricots) chopped if large, or alternative
1 large apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
3 teaspoons cinnamon
heaping 1/3 cup sliced almonds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9x13" pan, line with parchment paper and butter paper.

Cream together the sugar and butter till pale and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract, then start adding the beaten eggs a bit at a time, beating well. Add about a tablespoon of the measured flour with each batch — this makes the mixture less likely to curdle. Stir in 4 tbs milk. Then mix together the remaining flour and baking powder and fold in. The mixture should drop easily from the spoon — if it doesn’t, add a little more milk.

Toss the fruit, including the chopped apple, with the cinnamon (or use the alternatives). Fold into the mixture. Spoon into the pan, smooth the surface, sprinkle with almonds, and bake for 35-40 minutes; test with a skewer to see if it’s done. The top should be golden brown; cover with foil if it looks as if it’s burning. Cool for 5 minutes in the tin, then turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

Friday, March 27, 2009


Although we already have a great hummus recipe from Shell, it is a bit...lemony for me. Number One likes it a lot (and he usually doesn't like hummus), but this is the recipe for me. It's from the Moosewood Cookbook, and it is the hummus I love...

I haven't made this is a while, but Emily just mentioned that she likes hummus, so I thought she'd like this recipe. I think you will too. I will post a picture when we make this again soon! I love hummus on pita bread, pita chips, as a spread for sandwiches, with vegetables, or with sundried tomatoes and eggplant. Yum!



10 minutes to prepare

Yield: about 3 1/2 cups (6 to 8 servings)

A tangy and delicious chick pea (also called garbanzo bean) puree from the Middle East, Hummus is a perfect dip or sandwich spread, and an ideal component for a Mezza. Preparation is super-quick if you use a food processor.
NOTE: This recipe calls for 3 cups cooked chick peas. You can soak and cook dry ones, but canned work just as well.

2 to 3 medium cloves garlic, sliced
a large handful of parsley
2 healthy scallions, in 1-inch pieces
3 cups cooked chick peas (2 15 1/2-oz. cans, rinsed and well-drained)
6 tablespoons tahini
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 to 1 teaspoon salt
optional: cayenne and a little cumin, to taste

1. Place garlic, parsley and scallions in a food processor or blender, and mince.
2. Add chick peas, tahini, lemon juice, and salt, and puree to a thick paste. (you can also do the mincing and mashing by hand. The hummus will have a coarser texture, but that can be nice too).
3. Season to taste, if desired, with cayenne and cumin (and correct the salt, if necessary). Transfer to a tightly lidded container and chill.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sourdough Flax Seed Bread

I was looking for yet another sourdough recipe in which to use my starter, Virgil. I felt like he had been neglected ever since Number One took over Horatio and started making sourdough biscuits almost every day, and also since I acquired a third sourdough starter (yet to be named) from our lovely aunt Becky.

I was intrigued by some recipes I ran across which called for flax seeds. I have an abundance of flax seeds for making homemade granola, but it only calls for 1/4 cup per batch and they just don't get used up fast enough. As luck would have it, for some odd reason (a town full of bread bakers perhaps?), the grocery store actually carries flax meal as well. I didn't have to special order it or go to a big city or anything! So it was settled.

I got Virgil out of the fridge, apologized for neglecting him, and fed him. I let him sit extra long on the counter because I felt bad. And then I chose this recipe. It is from a website called Sourdough Home, modified from a recipe out of Classic Sourdoughs: A Home Baker's Handbook. (another cookbook I don't have...yet).

I halved the recipe because, what if it's not our family's favorite bread? and I didn't have 4 cups of sourdough starter ready.

I also did something else. This may sound snobby, but I simply cannot abide by a poorly organized recipe. Sorry. There is just something in me that recoils if the ingredients are not in the proper order in which they are to be used. So I rewrote the recipe. I included the original amounts, which will make 4 two-pound loaves of bread. To make 2 two-pound loaves instead, simply halve the ingredients like I did.

To be honest, the reason I am telling you the original amounts is this: I do not have the patience to figure out what one half of 1/3 cup would be. I just took out my 1/3 cup, filled it approximately halfway with olive oil, did the same with honey, and called it good. I understand that some folks would look at my scribbled "one half of 1/3 cup" and balk. So that's my reason.

Also, the author did not mention the method for baking the bread, in a loaf pan, on a baking sheet, ???, so I baked my loaves in greased loaf pans.

This bread is slightly sweet, and the variety of seeds are a nice addition. I can't wait to have some toasted for breakfast!

Sourdough Flax Seed Bread

Yield: 4 two pound loaves

4 tablespoons sunflower seeds
1/2 cup flax seeds
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
4 cups active sourdough starter
1 1/4 cups cold water
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup honey
1 cup flax meal
1 tablespoon salt
9 to 10 cups unbleached flour

Put the sunflower seeds, flax seeds, and poppy seeds in a clean, dry skillet over medium heat. Roast, stirring frequently, until they become fragrant. Be careful to make sure they don't scorch! You may also roast the seeds in a 375F oven for 5 to 10 minutes.

Mix the active starter, water, oil and honey together. Add the seeds. Stir in the flax meal and salt. Stir in the flour one cup at a time until dough is too thick to stir.

Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead until the dough is resilient. The dough is rather sticky, so be careful not to add too much flour (I probably added about 1 more cup). Once the dough is well kneaded, place it in a well-oiled bowl, turn to coat with oil, and cover with a damp dish towel. Let it rise until doubled, approximately two hours. *My kitchen was chilly and drafty this morning, so it never really doubled.

Punch dough down, knead again briefly, divide and shape into loaves. Place in greased loaf pans and let rise, covered, until doubled. *Again, even though my kitchen was warm enough by now, my loaves didn't double. They did rise some, just not double.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Bake 30 to 45 minutes.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Pecan Sandies

Just when I really wanted to bake something but couldn't decide what, I opened my new Everyday Food magazine and there it was: a recipe for homemade Pecan Sandies!! I love those delightful, subtle little cookies, but find it hard to justify the almost $5.00 price tag on the packages at our little grocery store.

The picture shows coarsely chopped pecans, but I finely chopped mine to more closely approximate those shortbread morsels by Keebler.

Also, after what happened to all my blueberry muffins the other day, I decided to double this batch from the start. Perhaps I'll get to eat more than one cookie??

These cookies may not be exactly like the ones I love from the store, there is just something missing that I can't quite pinpoint, but they are delicious all the same. And I have stored them out of reach of little boys so I can guarantee they will be more fairly and equally distributed!

Pecan Sandies
Makes 18
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes + cooling

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1 cup pecans, finely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees with racks in upper and lower thirds. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy; beat in vanilla and salt. With mixer on low, gradually add flour, beating just until combined. Fold in pecans.

2. Roll dough into 1 1/2-inch balls; and place on two baking sheets, 2 inches apart. With the dampened bottom of a glass, lightly flatten each ball.

3. Bake until cookies are golden brown, 15 to 17 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer to wire racks, and let cool. (To store, keep in an airtight container, up to 5 days).

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Blueberry Buttermilk Muffins

I love muffins, I love buttermilk in baked goods, and I love blueberries. What a great combination. This is another tried and true recipe from the back of a bag of Western Family Flour. If you had a mind to do it, every ingredient could be Western Family Brand. Or not. You decide.

I made these muffins this morning, topping them with chopped pecans and raw sugar. Then I went up to CG's to fix a computer problem, and returned to find only 5 muffins left! The boys ate most of the 10 mini muffins and two additional regular sized muffins, and Number One and CG ate the other 5 regular muffins between them. (to be accurate, I'm pretty sure Number One ate 4 of them). They are tasty little treats, I'm glad I thought to sprinkle the pecans on top.

Blueberry Buttermilk Muffins

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 3/4 cup frozen blueberries
Min's additions: raw sugar and chopped pecans for sprinkling generously on top

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Grease a standard 12 cup muffin tin or line with paper cups. *I've found with my non-stick muffin tin, I have to always use paper cups or the muffins will burn. I also reduced the temperature to 350 halfway through because my mini muffins (leftover batter) were burning on the edges yet gooey in the middle). I ended up baking the mini muffins for 10 minutes total; the regular muffins were in for 15 minutes total.

In a large bowl combine flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. In a small bowl combine eggs, buttermilk, sugar, oil and vanilla. Add egg mixture to the flour mixture and mix until moistened. Do not over mix. Fold in the blueberries. Divide batter between the muffin cups. Sprinkle liberally with sugar and pecans.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean.

Serve warm.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Irish Cheese Pudding

We decided that in addition to making Irish Corned Beef and Cabbage for our St. Patrick's Day-ish Bunkhouse Brunch (tomorrow, as close as we can possibly get to March 17th on a weekend this year), and Jeanie's Horseradish Sauce to accompany the Corned Beef, we would try something new.

The choice was between Oatmeal Soup (savory, with onions and steel-cut oats) and Irish Cheese Pudding (also savory, with cheese and bread and dark beer). Guess which one we chose? We will still make the Oatmeal Soup at some point, but for now, it's Irish Cheese Pudding. It sounded a bit more dense than the soup (we don't have 18 bowls for our guests) and it only takes 3 hours in the slow cooker. I can do that.

Today, I cut up the bread and grated the cheddar. I doubled the recipe, and ended up using both an 8-ounce and a 16-ounce loaf of sourdough. Tomorrow morning, I will mix it all up in the slow cooker and it will be ready just in time for brunch.

The recipe is another from The Gourmet Slow Cooker: Simple and Sophisticated Meals from Around the World, which so far has been a winner. We honestly haven't tried many recipes (yet!) but the Dublin Coddle was delicious too. There are other areas of the world represented in the cookbook, including Mexico, France, Italy, India, Greece and the U.S., and we're anxious to try those recipes as well! We're hopeful for this Pudding, and indeed will be debuting it for all of our guests tomorrow.

I will report back, with pictures too!

Irish Cheese Pudding

Serves 4 to 6

6 to 7 cups 1-inch cubes sourdough bread, with crust
3 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
4 eggs
3 cups dark beer or chicken stock, or equal amounts of the two
1 cup half-and-half
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon hot sweet mustard
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Place the bread and 2 1/2 cups of the cheese in the slow cooker and toss well.

In a bowl, combine the eggs, beer, half-and-half, cayenne and mustard and whisk until frothy.

Pour the egg mixture over the bread, pressing down with the back of a spoon so that the bread absorbs some of the liquid. Cover and cook on low for about 3 hours, until the pudding is set. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup cheese over the top 20 minutes before the end of cooking, leaving the lid slightly ajar so the top browns.

Spoon the pudding into bowls and garnish each serving with a sprinkle of parsley. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mimi's Carrot Raisin Bread

I've done it again. I bought a 10-pound bag of carrots at Costco. We are having our March Bunkhouse Brunch this weekend, and we'll be making Corned Beef and Cabbage, so I needed some carrots for that. H-Bomb has really been into eating carrots too, like Bugs Bunny. Honestly, I was trying to justify the purchase. I simply couldn't pass it up, it was about the same price as half that size in the grocery store. And yet, I still needed to find something to do with the rest of them!

I've had this recipe on my list for quite a while now, and tonight I finally got it going. I decided to make four mini loaves.

This is a recipe from Mimi's Cafe', one of our favorite places for breakfast. Sadly, the nearest Mimi's is four hours away, so we rarely get there. But when we do, sometimes we get some of this bread. Our "local" Mimi's serves this as muffins. (Our absolute favorite breakfast, Pain Perdu, does not include Carrot Raisin Bread or Muffins, but you should rush down to the nearest Mimi's and order up some Pain Perdu anyway). Mimi's gave away these little recipe cards several Thanksgivings ago, and I have held onto it. Now I am sharing it with you!

You can make a 9" square pan of this, or about four mini-loaves (perfect for hostess gifts or Christmas!) I'm not sure how many muffins it would yield. I bet it freezes well too...I will try it and let you know!

This bread is delicious, perfect with coffee or anytime you need a snack!

Carrot Raisin Bread
Yield: one 9" square, or four 3"x6" mini-loaves

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
3 eggs
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup canned crushed pineapple, with juice, drained
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup finely shredded carrots

1. Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt into a mixing bowl. (or just dump them in and mix, I don't care)

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, sugar and eggs.

3. Stir the liquid mixture into the flour; mix well.

4. Add the walnuts, pineapple, raisins and carrots; stir again.

5. Grease and flour a 9" square pan or four mini-loaf pans. Fill the pans 2/3 full with batter.

6. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 40 minutes. (Mini-loaves take about 30 minutes).
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