December 2009 Archives

Nice Pear

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For quite a while I've been wanting to make this pear tart I saw over on David Lebovitz' site.  The tart dough was posted last summer and it is amazing.  It made the most delicious strawberry tarts ever.  The tart breaks all those pastry rules about ice cold ingredients and cutting in and all that fussy stuff.  Most of the ingredients are put into a bowl and put into a hot oven for 15 minutes.  Then the flour is dumped into the bowl and you give it a stir.  That's it.  Perfect tart dough every time.  Amazing!  When he posted the pear tart I wanted to make it so badly.  However, there were a slew of other treats that were first in line.

For Christmas my sister and brother-in-law gave us a box of pears.  Naturally, that meant only one thing.  The tarts time had come!

I made up that perfect tart dough.  It baked up so nicely and didn't even crack at all!  The almond filling beat up nicely and then I started to peel and slice the pears.  

The recipe called for three pears. Being the blind recipe follower I am, I dutifully peeled three pears.  However, I think pears are smaller in France.  Also, all pears are smaller then the Harry and David pears we had received.  Those pears are huge; pears on steroids; amazonian pears even.

One pear filled the tart shell perfectly.

Now I had two naked pears slowing turning brown on my cutting board.  What to do?

Sure I could have eaten one of those huge pears by myself.  That would have still left me with one pear left.  I didn't think it would survive overnight in the fridge.

Nothing to do but to make this other pear treat that had caught my eye.
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Deb over on Smitten Kitchen had posted this pear bread recipe that looked really delicious.  Actually, she posts a lot of delicious pear desserts.  If you are in a pear mood there is this awesome pear and chocolate cake and recently we made the sublime vanilla roasted pears which were so delicious over vanilla ice cream.

The pear cake seemed just the thing for my rapidly browning pears.  I grated them up and was also able to use the chopped pecans and almonds that never made it to top the failed toffee.  Out of the oven came the tart and in went the cake.

The tart was our tasty dessert last night.  The cake was a wonderful breakfast coffee cake for us this morning.  The hardest part will be deciding which will be dessert tonight.

-- marcella

Merry Christmas

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Wishing you a wonderful holiday!

-- marcella

Cranberry Bars

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Clearly, when it comes to treats I bake better then I make candy.  

This is a cookie that I've been making for quite a few years now. When I was a kid, my older sister did the baking at home. Our mother rarely bakes. So, if we wanted treats it was either the store bought variety from the pantry or my sister.  She had two specialties:  white cake with fudge frosting and date bars.  

Then one day the date bars disappeared. Apparently not everyone loved them as much as we did and the company stopped making the mix.

Along came the internet and someone at work introduced me to newsgroups. He showed me a cooking one where people shared recipes and requested advice and there I saw that someone had made a request for a date bar recipe just like that mix they used to buy. There were no date bar recipes shared, perhaps date bar lovers all used a mix, but someone had shared this recipe for cranberry bars and suggested that they could use it and make their own date bar filling.

We tried them at home and honestly, we've never attempted a date filling.  They are so good with cranberry that we just make them that way.  Canned sauce (either the jelly kind or the whole berry variety) or homemade sauce work equally well.

This year I did play a bit.  I used half whole wheat flour for half of the white flour.  I also added in 2 tablespoons of ground flax seed.  They came out quite well and with the additional healthy additions I can feel justified in stating that they are not only a delicious cookie but also a good breakfast food.  Dessert is always good for breakfast, particularly in December.

Cranberry Bars


3/4 C butter

1 1/2 C flour

1 1/2 C oatmeal

3/4 C brown sugar

1/4 t baking soda

1 - 16 oz can cranberry sauce

1/4 C nuts, chopped


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.


Melt butter in a 9x13 inch pan. Add flour, oatmeal, sugar, baking soda and nuts and

mix well. Set aside one cup of the mixture.


Pat down remaining flour mixture in pan for the crust. Top with cranberry sauce,

spreading it evenly over the crust. Sprinkle with reserved flour mixture.


Bake for 35-40 minutes. Let cool slightly and cut into squares.


printable version:  cranberry_bars.pdf


-- marcella


Oh, Fudge

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The fudge beat me too.

I guess this isn't a candy year for us.

The fudge smelled really good.  It looked like the picture.  Brown, fudgy goodness with a puddle of melted butter on top.

Then I turned on the mixer.

The fudge just spun around the bowl in a solid mass greased by the melted butter which splashed out on my nice sweater.  When I lifted the beaters it stretched and stretched and stretched like taffy.  I took a picture so you could see the crazy stuff.  Sadly, it was blurry.  Even my pictures of candy don't work.

I kept at it for a while, but nothing changed.  It didn't darken; it didn't lose its sheen; the beaters didn't leave trails in the fudge showing it was done.  Nope, it just spun around the bowl like it was on the teacup ride at Disneyland.

Then I thought, maybe my hand mixer just isn't strong enough.  Martha Stewart used her kitchen aid.  This recipe said not to move it from the pan because it could crystalize but at this point I figured I had nothing to lose.  Into the mixer bowl it went and sadly it just spun around the beater.  The added power only served to fling fudge bits onto my sweater to go with the butter splotches.

Irritated at yet another failure I went to the computer to see if there were any hints online as to what went wrong.  Looking at the recipe on the magazine site I saw that I was one of many who were unable to get this recipe to work.  I also saw that one successful person beat it at 100 degrees instead of the recipes called for 110.  

So I went upstairs and tried beating it again.  The center of the bowl got closer to fudge but too dry and crumbly and the outer edges remained slick and caramel like and fused to to bowl.  

Into the trash went the last candy attempt for this year. I think I'll stick to bread and cookies where I am more successful and just keep buying my candy from See's.  

For consolation, I made up a batch of Chex Mix.  You can always count on that.

-- marcella

Tragedy in Candyland

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I thought it would be fun this year to try making candy instead of cookies for the holidays.

I have no idea what I was thinking.

Yesterday the schedule called for making caramels.  Yes, I have a schedule.  The plan is to drop off treats to some friends and for my husband to take a tray in to the office.  He had determined that Thursday was the best day for taking in treats.

So the plan was caramels on Tuesday, fudge and english toffee on Wednesday.  Pack it up Wednesday night.  Deliveries on Thursday.

Sounds so logical.

Then I tried making caramels.  I had found several recipes for salted caramels and had been saving them up to try.  Already there was a tin of fleur de sel in the cupboard just begging to be used.

I measured carefully and started cooking.  The recipe said "cook to the color of a new penny".  And yes, I am crazy enough to pull out the change jar and rummage around for the newest looking and shiniest of all the pennies and have it handy for comparisons sake.  When the syrup was the requisite color I stirred in the cream mixture and clipped on the thermometer and set out to cook it to perfect caramel goodness.

My, that caramel gets an awful lot darker on its journey to 248 degrees F.

Into the pan.  Wait and wait and wait until it's time to score the candy with a sharp knife and sprinkle a few flakes of salt atop each square. 

Really, this is dark looking caramel.

More of a bitter, burnt sugar sort of confection. Which is exactly how it tasted.  Yuck.  Into the trash.

Next batch.  Pulled the syrup off when it wasn't as dark as a shiny new penny.  Hey, it's looking much more like a regular caramel!  

Too bad that batch never set up and was a rather thick sludgy sort of mass.  I'm thinking we'll be doing without caramels, but we'll see.

Day two of fun begins with the toffee.  

Into the pan went the butter and sugar and seriously, as I looked at it all I could think was I felt better eating this before I knew how wickedly bad it was for me.  Over the heat I stirred and stirred and stirred and it bubbled up just like I remember the peanut brittle that my mom used to make doing.  I'm feeling pretty good.  I'm wondering what crazy person thought to even do this first and had enough money for all this butter and sugar to experiment with.

Uh oh.

Cheese curds.  Yep.  It looks just like cheese curds.  The mixture is curdling and the butter is separating out like a sad, broken sauce.  

Seriously, how could I mess up boiling for heaven's sake?

And yet I did.  Now my thoughts turned to the great lollipop disaster of '94 and exactly how I am going to get rid of this grainy, sticky, oily mass in my pan.

No toffee for us either.  Though I need to figure out what to do with all those chopped nuts.

Candy 2 - Marcella 0

It's not looking good but it would be nice to have some treats to share.  I mean, edible and tasty treats.  Since I have all the ingredients I might as well go for broke.

Now, I have made fudge before but not like this.  This is the old fashioned kind of fudge as opposed to the marshmallow cream kind.  I've made the marshmallow cream kind.  But, you see, my Fine Cooking magazine came and it had an article on fudge making with step by step pictures.  It went into the science behind it and how to avoid grainy fudge and I wanted to try it.

So, after cleaning up the toffee disaster I started measuring ingredients again.  Then came the chocolate chopping.  Normally, I go to the Scharffen Berger factory and buy obscene amounts of chocolate in nice 1 ounce pieces.  However, I only have bittersweet and the recipe calls for unsweetened.  So, I purchased a bar of it at the store.  Do you know how much it weights?  9.7 ounces.  Seriously.  Not 16 or 8 or anything even and well, normal.  9.7  What kind of genius decided on that one?

Four ounces of chopped chocolate later it's time to start cooking.  I'm getting a bit paranoid.  Could we really end up candy-less after all this?  I melt, I stir, I put the lid on and in my mania set the timer for exactly 2 minutes just as the recipe directs.  Diligently I follow the directions and accompanying pictures.

Now the fudge has to sit for what the recipe says could be as long as an hour and a half for the mixture to cool before I can beat it and pour it into the pan.

I'll let you know if we get any edible candy or not.

Oh, and my husband decided to work at home on Thursday so no treats needed for the office either.  Sigh.

This Christmas thing isn't for wimps.

--marcella

Potatoes Pave

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And they tasted even better then they look!

We did skip the final melted butter on top and the sprinkling of chopped chives.  There was just so much butter already and our home grown chives were too sad looking to bother chopping up. Even so, they were delicious.  If you are coming to our house for Christmas dinner, you will be eating these.

Oh, and leftovers are really good for breakfast.

The recipe is here if you want to give them a try, and you should.

-- marcella

Banana Cupcakes

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I know, it's cookie season.  There has been cookie baking going on around here, but first I must catch up with these cupcakes.  I had bought some bananas fully intending on eating them with breakfast.  It did happen, but not quickly enough.  Soon I had some bananas that were better suited to smoothies or baking then sliced over cereal.

I pondered making banana bread, but I was already making scones for breakfast that weekend and it seemed like too much.  Then I remembered the wonderful cupcakes I had tried earlier this year.  Baked goods for breakfast in the morning and dessert that evening.  What could be better?

Cream cheese frosting is the ideal combination with these cupcakes I think.  The first time I tried banana cake it was frosted that way and I loved it.  However, I know that some of those fancy cupcake stores make their banana cupcakes with chocolate frosting.  That is good too.  Make what you prefer or leave them unfrosted and be virtuous. 

Banana Cupcakes

makes 18 cupcakes


1/2 cup butter, softened

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup mashed ripe bananas

1/4 cup buttermilk

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt


In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add the eggs, vanilla, bananas and buttermilk. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; add to banana mixture. Fill 18 paper-lined muffin cups two-thirds full.


Bake at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove to wire racks to cool completely. 


Cream Cheese Frosting


1/4 C butter

4 ounces cream cheese

3 C powdered sugar

1 t vanilla


Cream together butter and cream cheese.  Blend in vanilla.  Slowly beat in powdered sugar until frosting is creamy.  A little more or less sugar may be needed.  Frost cooled cupcakes


printable version - banana_cupcake.pdf


-- marcella


Out in the Cold

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The things we do sometimes.

I love cookbooks.  I love to read them like novels.  The best ones to read are those with stories to go with the recipes or lots of extra tips and tidbits of information tucked in.  After I'm finished reading I will often cook my way through a book trying many if not all of the recipes.

Lately I've been wanting the Ad Hoc at Home cookbook.  It all started when food gal posted several sample recipes like pineapple upside down cake and leek bread pudding. Then recently I was in Williams Sonoma and saw a sign advertising a book signing for the author.  Let's just say it didn't take much thought before I bought the book and scheduled a trip back.

Naturally, the book signing fell during a cold snap around here.  Ok, so not cold like South Dakota in the winter cold, but cold for the SF bay area.  Cold enough that I really was regretting wearing my cute brown flats sans socks or stockings cold.  

I had dragged my husband along and we stood in line and chatted with the people near us.  It was great that they were such a friendly bunch because we had a couple of hours together.  I was also grateful I had purchased my copy in advance because the store ran out of books.

The line was quite long.  It was long enough that it generated quite a bit of interest.  Many shoppers stopped and asked what we were waiting out in the cold for.  One little girl in a stroller said it best when she asked her mom, "are they all waiting for Santa?"

After about two hours we had finally made it to the front of the line.  

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It was a great surprise that in addition to Thomas Keller, the chef de cuisine, Dave Cruz was also there signing books.  Even after a very long day of greeting people and signing enough books to induce severe arm cramps, they were both very pleasant.

Now to finish reading the book and decide what to cook first.  Well, cook second.  My husband has already requested we try making the potatoes pave first.

-- marcella

Spiced Oatmeal

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I am a slow holiday decorator.  While I love to watch people drive down the highway with a Christmas tree strapped to the roof of their car on the day after Thanksgiving, I just cannot imagine any sort of Christmas decoration making an appearance here until December.

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Generally, I will decorate in stages.  The first things to appear on December 1 are the holiday dishes.  I clear the cupboards of our everyday dishes and replace them with Christmas themed plates and bowls.  This year I even had a few new bowls that I had found at Filoli.

Next to appear will generally be the outside lights and then perhaps the Christmas quilts will be hung and the other decorations will appear around the house and finally around mid-month the tree arrives and is decorated.  I love how the house gets more decorated as the holiday draws closer.

This morning the house was cold.  I know, it's California, how cold can it get?  Well, not that cold, but for me it felt cold.  There was nothing to do but make some oatmeal to warm up and make use of my new adorable holiday bowls.

Brown Sugar Spiced Oatmeal


This is one of those great recipes where you can swap out most of the ingredients and still end up with something tasty.  Often I will use pear instead of apple, but I bet that peaches would taste wonderful in season.  If you don't have or like dried cranberries use another dried fruit.  Even the brown sugar could be traded for honey or white sugar or agave nectar.

Serves 2 - 3


1 1/4 C water

2 T brown sugar

3/4 t cinnamon

1/4 t allspice

pinch of salt

1 C oats

1 medium apple peeled and chopped

1/2 C dried cranberries

2 T chopped pecans

1/2 C milk


Heat the water, sugar and seasonings to a boil.  Stir in the oats, apple and cranberries.  Cook over medium heat while stirring for about 5 minutes.


Remove pan from heat and stir in pecans and milk.  Pour into bowls and serve.


Here's a printable version:  oatmeal.pdf


-- marcella