Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Pear Spice Scones

By now you have probably heard that I like tea, and also that I enjoy Tea (see Chocolate Chip Cherry Scones). I created this scone when we received a recent visit from a friend. I had the holidays in mind, and we decided that these were Christmas Scones, with their combination of pear and spice. One batch of scones usually stands us well for a few days of snacking, Tea, breakfast, etc (since it is just the two of us).

·         2½ cups flour
·         ½ rounded tsp salt
·         ½ cup sugar
·         2¼ tsp baking powder
·         ¼ tsp coriander seed powder
·         ¼ tsp allspice
·         1/8 tsp ginger
·         ¼ tsp cinnamon
·         1/8 tsp cardamom
·         1/8 tsp cloves
·         6 Tbsp butter
·         1 pear (peeled, cored, & chopped)
·         2 Large eggs
·         ¾ cup half & half, heavy or whipping cream, or you can use whole milk (optional: add 1-2 Tbsp dried milk to the ingredients)
·         2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 400°F (app. 205°C)~reduce temperate when the scones go into the oven to bake.
Line baking sheets or pie dishes with parchment.
Whisk together flour, salt, sugar, baking powder, & spices.
Cutter butter into this dry mixture.
Add chopped pear to this mixture .
In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, cream & vanilla. Reserving 2 Tbsp of the egg mixture, add the rest to the dry ingredients to form a moist dough. Mix only as much as needed to incorporate all the dry ingredients. ♥ If the dough seems dry, add additional cream by the Tbsp to the mixture, until it comes together.
Transfer dough onto floured work surface, pat into a circle app. The same size as a pie pan. Brush the remaining 2 Tbsp egg mixture and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Either use cutters (I use 2” biscuit cutter) or cut into wedges. ‡ Space evenly on cookie sheet or pie dish. Reduce temperature to 375°F (app. 190°C*) and bake app. 20 minutes or until golden brown.
Best enjoyed warm, but leftovers can be eaten cold or wrapped and rewarmed in the toaster oven. Store in an airtight container.

*I use an online conversion chart and round up or down, as seems appropriate. Please adjust according to your judgement, and send me a message if you find an error. Thank you.

‡ if using a smaller size cutter, shorten time; if cutting into wedges, increase time.

Showing on this day 2010: Sweet Potato Cinnamon Rolls

Monday, December 19, 2011

Chai Spice Sugar Cookies

The Christmas season isn’t complete without cookies. Something about the smell of sugar and butter, maybe with a touch of spice, brings out the Elf in us. (It doesn’t hurt that around here it has been chilly, so I don’t mind the extra heat from the oven.) Naturally, I couldn’t let Christmas go by without a Chai Spice Sugar Cookie.

By reducing the sugar, and adding a bit of honey I ended up with a nice, chewy cookie. I chose to use an organic, unfiltered, raw honey because it has a far better taste than the filtered store varieties that have been making the news lately. I have seen numerous reports about the bottled variety that never failed to disappoint me in recent years, only to find out that a lot of what we find on store shelves has been ultra-filtered to the point that almost all pollen has been removed (in part to help hide the source, as pollen is like a fingerprint that helps to identify the region where it is produced). In the case of honey, all that glitters isn't gold, and in my opinion the the processing and filtering takes out the flavor that makes honey really enjoyable.

·         ½ cup butter *this was originally listed incorrectly as ¼ cup 
·         1 cup sugar
·         ¼ cup honey
·         1 egg
·         2¼ cups of flour
·         ½ tsp salt
·         ½ tsp baking powder
·         ¼ tsp cinnamon
·         ¼ tsp coriander seed powder
·         ¼ tsp allspice
·         1/8 tsp ginger
·         1/8 tsp cloves
·         1/8 tsp nutmeg
·         1/8 tsp cardamom
·         1/8 tsp white pepper
·         1/8 tsp mace
·         Additional sugar for dipping cookies in before baking

Cream butter, sugar & honey.
Add egg and beat well.
Whisk dry ingredients together and add them to the butter mixture, stirring only as much as is needed to fully incorporate all ingredients
Pack the dough into an airtight container and chill at least 1 hour.
When ready to bake, Preheat oven to 350°F (app. 175°C*)
Prepare cookie sheets by lining with parchment.
Scoop dough in app 1 Tbsp dough balls (I used a #60 cookie dough scoop). Flatten the dough into ¼” thick discs and roll them in sugar.
Bake for app. 13 minutes.
Remove from oven and allow to cool on the cookie sheet.

*I use an online conversion chart and round up or down, as seems appropriate. Please adjust according to your judgement, and send me a message if you find an error. Thank you.

Showing on this day 2010: Sweet Potato Cinnamon Rolls

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Pecan Cookie Fressen

I don’t know much German, even though I spent a few years in Germany when I was a child. Yet a few words stuck, partly because they were a part of the family dialog. For example, in our house, if you ate all the ice cream, you were an ‘ice cream fresser’.

Fresser: n eater, glutton, muncher, devourer
Fressen: n food, grub, chow
                v eat, feed, eat up, guzzle, gobble up

With Christmas fast approaching, I have been baking (and fressen) cookies. Something about this season demands baked snacks, and since food additive issues don’t take a holiday, I’ve been working on some new recipes. I was always a big fan of pecan shortbread cookies, but the elfish variety contain:

·         TBHQ a/k/a tertiary butylhydroquinone which is an antioxidant that comes from petroleum and is related to butane. It should be noted that the amounts of TBHQ allowed in food are very small (0.02% of the oil of fat content in food) and there is a wide margin between acceptable legal limits and those considered to be dangerous. That said, I just prefer to limit exposure to preservatives, additives, and chemicals in general.  

·         Soy ingredients, which more than likely means GMO ingredients (to avoid genetically modified soy you need to look for organic).  The original concern regarding the genetic alteration of plants has recently been compounded by superweeds (herbicide resistant weeds) that now require a cocktail of weed killers, thereby increasing the chemical load used to bring these crops to market.

·         Whey protein concentrate which contains processed free glutamic acid (MSG- see the Truth in Labeling link below for a complete list of ingredients that can contain processed free glutamic acid).

Obviously the whey protein concentrate eliminates any choice for me, but the other two are also on my radar. In the end, the idea of having something that tastes as good, or better, without the additional ingredients wins without question.

Mildly sweet & buttery Pecan Cookies

 I found some recipes online, and with a little tweaking and simplifying I came up with this version. I haven’t had the store brand in several years, but these tastes just like I remember them, and they can be made almost entirely organic (everything that I used, besides the baking soda and cream of tartar was organic).

·         ½ cup butter
·         ¾ cup sugar
·         1 egg
·         1 tsp vanilla
·         ¼ tsp salt
·         ½ tsp baking soda
·         ½ tsp cream of tartar
·         1¾ cup flour
·         ½ cup finely chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350°F (app. 175°C*) and line cookie sheets with parchment.

Cream butter and sugar, add egg & vanilla and continue to beat until fluffy.

Whisk salt, baking soda & cream of tartar into the flour and alternate folding flour mixture and pecans into the butter until fully incorporated.

Cover and chill the dough, then scoop the cookie dough in app. 1 Tbsp dough balls (I used a #60 cookie dough scoop). Flatten the dough balls into flat circles app. ¼” thick.

Bake for 12-15 minutes. These cookies don’t brown very much, so I just made sure they weren’t still doughy. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the cookie sheet.

Pecan cookies with tea.
In the background: one plate with more pecan cookies
and another plate of Chai Spice Sugar Cookies

*I use an online conversion chart and round up or down, as seems appropriate. Please adjust according to your judgement, and send me a message if you find an error. Thank you.

Showing on this day 2010: Sweet Potato Cinnamon Rolls

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The difference between raspberries & beaver backsides.

Would raspberry by any other name taste as sweet? Anyone that has dealt with the sleight of hand performed by the food manufacturers on product labels knows that the industry is well aware of the importance of a name. When MSG became unpopular, labelers sought ways to clean up their lists and thus the parade of disguises for that popular additive began. I’m sure you have heard of the campaign to rebaptize high fructose corn syrup as corn sugar. In the minds of the producers of these ingredients, perception is all that matters. As a person that has had to read labels for years, I have become pretty familiar with the jargon. Similar to real estate ads, it helps to read between the lines, and you learn to steer clear of certain phrases  like autolyzed protein, ‘modified’ anything, ‘needs a little TLC’, or natural. Wait, natural? Yep, you read that right.

I have found that just because a label says “All Natural” on the front, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t flip it over to read the ingredients. And while I quickly learned to keep moving at the sight of many names, I was a little slower to learn about “natural flavors”. "Natural flavor" was the doe-eyed Bambi of my ingredient lists. I admit I sometimes wondered why they tacked flavor on the end. I had to learn the hard way (after a violent allergic reaction) that in this case of 'natural', Bambi might bite back, but it wasn't until recently that I began to learn the science, and the fiction, of flavors.

Lately there has been a lot of talk about beaver backsides, and in case you haven’t heard and think that I just derailed, read on. In some cases natural flavor has a lot less to do with the listed name than you’d ever dream. For example, natural vanilla, (strawberry) or raspberry flavor can be derived from castoreum, which is dried secretions from a beaver’s anal gland. In researching this article, I came across the FDA’s “Everything Added to Food in the United States” (EAFUS) website, which does categorize castoreum liquid and extract as EAF which means: “There is reported use of the substance, but it has not yet been assigned for toxicology research.”. Technically, a beaver’s backside is as natural as it gets, but it is NOT naturally called vanilla or raspberry.

Now, it is obvious why castoreum is taking so much heat. The idea of licking a vanilla ice cream cone flavored with beaver anal extract is sure to make people pause. It might, or might not, not be harmful, but it clearly illustrates that even a natural flavor may have been processed extensively to create the latest taste sensation and, in the case of additive sensitive individuals, that is certainly cause for caution. It also drives home the point that labelers often employ creative license when it comes to the verbiage of ingredient lists.

“FlavorIngredients” By George A. Burdock, Giovanni Fenaroli (Prof. Dr.)
FDA’s “Everything Added to Food in the United States” (EAFUS)
JamieOliver on David Letterman
HuffingtonPost with a link to 60 Minutes Givaudan segment *reference to strawberry or vanilla at 5:21


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Carrot Apple Spice Bread

Hello All. I’ve been researching a variety of dishes for this upcoming Thanksgiving. We probably won’t be buying a turkey, but I think we will be serving more than the Thanksgiving Pizza this year, LOL. Along with working on recipes for the big meal, I thought this quick bread would make a nice breakfast to start off the day.

I experimented with this Carrot Apple Spice bread for a recent homeowner’s association meeting that I hosted. I couldn’t post this at the time because we cut the loaf and served it as soon as it came out of the oven- not really something that I recommend for pretty slices, but there is something about a piece of quick bread that is still warm from the oven.  Since the reviews were positive, I just knew that I had to make it again for you (and this time get pictures to post). I have learned that if you are making this for a group of people, you may want to omit the raisins. In this instance, both Ray and I love organic raisins, so I included them.

This really doesn’t taste like a carrot cake, since the carrots play a more minor role in this concoction (especially compared to my 3 Cup Carrot Cake).  I added the milk by tablespoonfuls, until I had the batter the way that I wanted it, but it is still stiffer than what you may be used to in a quick bread. Remember that the chunks of apple and carrot will add to the moisture of the end product.  As always, tweak away, my friends, and enjoy!

·         ½ cup butter
·         1 cup sugar
·         2 eggs
·         2 cups flour
·         1 tsp salt
·         1 tsp baking powder
·         ½ baking soda
·         ¼ tsp cinnamon
·         1/8 tsp cardamom
·         1/8 tsp coriander seed powder
·         1/8 tsp ginger
·         1/8 tsp cloves
·         1/8 tsp nutmeg
·         1/8 white pepper
·         1/8 tsp mace
·         1 cup of finely shredded carrot (app 3-4 of medium size)
·         1 peeled, cored & diced apple
·         ¼-½ cup raisins
·         6 Tbsp milk

Preheat oven to 350°F (app. 175°C*)- if using stoneware, check the recommendations of your manufacturer regarding oven temperature.
Prepare loaf pan
Cream butter and sugar & add eggs one at a time
Add flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda & spices combine well.
Fold in carrots, apple chunks & raisins, and spoon batter into prepared pan.
Bake for 60-80 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the loaf comes out clean. I needed app 70 minutes, but I monitored the loaf the whole time).
Remove from the oven and allow the loaf to cool a few minutes in the pan before removing to a plate to rest.

*I use an online conversion chart and round up or down, as seems appropriate. Please adjust according to your judgement, and send me a message if you find an error. Thank you.

Showing on this day 2010: Olive Oil Tortillas

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Coconut Matcha Tea

As I have mentioned before, I love tea in many forms. While my favorite teas are generally brewed strong and served piping hot with lots of milk and sugar, there are notable exceptions. One of the best of these is matcha tea, which I have wanted to try for years. A few months ago, we were in a tea shoppe and I finally took the plunge and bought a canister of this finely-milled green tea. The young lady that rang me up enthusiastically told me about its grassy taste, which made me wonder, but I decided to try it anyway. Sometimes you build something up in your mind, yearn for an item for years, only to be disappointed when you finally have it. Thankfully this was not one of those times. I opened the canister to see the most beautiful green powder, carefully read instructions and, since I didn’t have a ceremonial whisk, improvised to make my very first matcha. I have experimented very little, since the basic drink is so good, but what follows is one idea that I just had to try.

This is the vibrant green of the matcha powder.
So pretty, tastes great, and chock full of anti-oxidants

I was soaking dried coconut to reconstitute it one day, and realized that I didn’t want to waste the water that I strained off. In doing some research, I realized that this is essentially a light form of coconut milk, and I have included a link to a website that describes how to make your own coconut milk.

·         8 oz coconut milk heated to 175-185°F (app. 80-85°C)
·         8 oz whole milk
·         1 tsp matcha tea (sifted into the cup that you will mix the drink in)
·         Sweeten to taste with raw sugar, sucanat, etc.
Pour warmed coconut milk over the matcha tea and whisk (or use a stick blender) to blend the powder thoroughly into solution.
It is a good idea to add sweetener now, since it will dissolve easily in warmer liquids- I go light on sugar with this drink. If it is handled carefully it has none of the bitterness of many teas, and really does have a light, grassy note.
Add milk and blend again. Pour and serve (any leftover tea can be covered and refrigerated to drink later that same day).

Coconut matcha with Spiced Apple Oatmeal
cookies and yogurt.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Organic doesn't have to be a bad thing.

100% organic. Without many tools, I keep it simple and
decorate with melted chocolate.
I was recently asked to make a birthday cake for a friend's party. I baked a three layer butter cake with chocolate butter cream icing and decorated with melted chocolate. It wasn't anything fancy, but it was a labor of love. At the party, the cake came up in discussion, along with the facts that it was 100% organic, all-natural, and made from scratch. It was only after the cake had been served that I realized that some people might have been apprehensive about what that meant. One guest said that when she heard ‘organic' she wasn't sure, but that this was GOOD. This set me thinking about other statements I have heard along this line, and about a comment I read on an online forum where someone complained that a recipe wasn't organic (Several people explained that you make a recipe organic or not according to the ingredients that you use.). I am reminded of a the following dialog from the movie "The Princess Bride":

Inigo Montoya: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

How did ‘organic' and ‘all-natural' become dirty words? and how did the concept of organic food become so muddled?

Simply put, organic food is food that is produced without the aid of synthetic chemicals. If the food is cooked or baked, it has to be prepared using predominantly organic ingredients (95% in the US). In my experience organic ingredients often tastes better and are of higher quality than conventional ingredients, and I don't have any trouble using them to create dishes that we enjoy. There is no reason that using organic ingredients has to mean that a plate of food is bland and unappealing.

Yet the idea that organic food is bad had to come from somewhere. After much thought, I do remember when I used to buy prepackaged food. On several occasions I bought some organic cookie, or snack, and I remember thinking that the cardboard box probably tasted better than the contents. Even though the ingredients list didn't include sawdust, I would have sworn that it was in there. I can only conclude that:

1. The manufacturers are preparing packaged food while trying to apply some other ideas of healthy (no fat, no sugar, etc.), or they are having issues packaging food for extended shelf life.

2. The people that were apprehensive about an organic birthday cake had probably eaten some boxed and sealed version of ‘organic' in the past.

The truth is that food really is what you make it. If you bring high-quality ingredients to the pot, cook them with attention, love & know-how (either your own or by following a recipe), you stand a very good chance of creating a meal that surpasses what a restaurant would proudly place in front of you. Over time you learn how to alter recipes to suit your own palate, and you will find that you want to experiment with new combinations. I tend to use less salt than many people prefer, but that is easy to remedy. I also use a lot of onion, which makes some people (like my hubby) cheer, while others may not be doing cartwheels. I encourage you not to feel like a recipe is set in stone. When I blend spices, I use my sense of smell to tell me if I am headed in the right direction, but that doesn't mean that my way is true north. I have invited you along to read about my journey in the kitchen, but you may find that what I post sends you down a different path. If so, don't forget to write and 'have fun storming the castle'.* ;)

* "The Princess Bride" Miracle Max: "Have fun stormin' da castle."

Showing on this day 2010: Acorn Squash Cookies

Monday, October 10, 2011

Don't be chicken, it's just an onion soup.

I have been wanting to make onion soup for a while, but I know that it is traditionally made with beef stock, and I rarely get the chance to make that. Sometimes I forget that rules are made to be broken when it comes to cooking from the heart (with the obvious exception of some basic rules that apply to cooking with yeast & baking- consider these as fundamental as gravity). When I finally realized that no onion soup police would break down my door for not using the RIGHT stock, I planned out my onion soup based on chicken stock. With a bit of modification, I suspect that you could use any hearty broth that you have on hand to make a soup sure to warm the chill of Autumn right out of your toes. I served this with a Swiss & Parmesan cheese variation of a focaccia bread, and the leftover soup kept well in the fridge. The most time consuming part was definitely the onions, which I caramelized in three separate batches (it takes patience to get a really good caramelization that is not burnt- I pulled up a stool and kept them moving in a heavy pan on medium heat). In this case patience has its own reward.

3 large onions-finely sliced, chopped & caramelized
2 qts of hearty stock
¼ cup of white wine
salt to taste
1 tsp basil
1 tsp thyme
1 bay leaf

Add the onions to the stock with the wine and herbs and allow to simmer, covered and on low. I cooked it until the soup had a lovely deep brown color and the onions were tender (while most of the work happens when you make the original stock or caramelize the onions, you still need to give the ingredients some time to blend). Add salt to taste towards the end. While this is simmering you can be making a bread; I like a bread of substance with soup, so focaccia is often my go-to. I found that I didn't have the right bowls to make a picture of this soup, so I will keep my eyes open in the clearance sections, and try to get a picture for you next time.

Showing this day 2010: Acorn Squash Cookies

Monday, September 26, 2011

Caramel Apple Cake

 As the air turns crisp with the snap of autumn, I begin to think about the flavors of this time of year. I have seen some recipes for apple cakes, and I decided to put my own spin on that idea and make a Caramel Apple Cake. The cake base is a tweak of my Apple Zucchini (Courgette) Bread, with a spicy candy topping. The incognito zucchini adds moisture, and the chai spice blend comes out really nicely. Moist and sweet, this cake goes great with a cup of coffee.

Sweet & spicy

Tip: The spices & amounts are the same for both the cake and the caramel topping, so when measuring the spices for the caramel topping, measure the same amount of each into a separate cup for the cake.

Candy topping:
·      4 Tbsp of butter
·      ¾ cup of raw sugar
·      ½ cup + 1 Tbsp maple syrup
·      2 Tbsp white wine
·      ¼ tsp allspice
·      1/8 tsp cardamom
·      ¼ tsp cinnamon
·      1/8 tsp cloves
·      ¼ tsp coriander seed powder
·      1/8 tsp ginger
·      1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
·      1/8 white pepper

Add all ingredients to a pot and cook until the sugar melts (but don’t allow sugar to scorch). See below in pan preparation.

·      ½ cup butter
·     1 cup sugar
·     2 eggs
·      ¼ tsp allspice
·      1/8 tsp cardamom
·      ¼ tsp cinnamon
·      1/8 tsp cloves
·      ¼ tsp coriander seed powder
·      1/8 tsp ginger
·      1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
·      1/8 white pepper
·      2 cups flour (optional: replace 4tsp of flour with 4 tsp of organic corn starch)
·      ½ tsp salt
·      ½ tsp baking soda
·      1 tsp baking powder
·      1 zucchini (courgette) finely grated including liquid
·      2 apples (cored, peeled & diced- I poured a small amount of wine over the cut apples)
·      1 Tbsp wine (can substitute apple juice)
·      1 additional apple (cored, peeled & thinly sliced, also dipped in wine)

Preheat oven to 350°F (app. 175°C*)- if using stoneware, check the recommendations of your manufacturer regarding oven temperature.
Prepare a pan (I suggest buttering and completely lining a 9” round/2½- 3” deep pan with parchment). Place apple slices in a simple pattern in the bottom of the pan- keep in mind that the batter is very thick and will probably shift these a little bit when it is added. Place cake pan on a cookie sheet (in case batter spills over during baking) and pour approx. ½ cup of sugar mixture over the apples in the bottom of the pan. Be sure you cover the entire bottom of the pan, and reserve remaining candy for later.
Cream butter, sugar & spices add eggs one at a time.
Whisk remaining dry ingredients together
Alternate adding dry ingredients, grated zucchini & 1 Tbsp of wine, mixing only until all ingredients are incorporated and moist.
Fold in diced apples and carefully spoon the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake for 35-50 minutes (until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean).
Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes in the pan before inverting the cake onto a plate. Reheat sugar mixture and spoon over the cake slowly to allow the cake to soak it up. Can be served warm, but tastes even better cool.

The caramel soaked in and really made this
already moist cake a sweet treat.


This is similar to a substitute for cake flour that calls for 2 Tbsp of cornstarch to replace 2 Tbsp of flour per cup.

*I use an online conversion chart and round up or down, as seems appropriate. Please adjust according to your judgement, and send me a message if you find an error. Thank you.

Showing on this day 2010: Autumn Pumpkin Bread