Saturday, August 29, 2009

The 6:18 am Coffe Cake Wake Up

Sleepovers for younger girls can be frantic. They try to squeeze every minute. So, even though during the week I drag growling grumpy grinches out of bed at 7 in an effort to be to school on time, this morning I heard their voices drift up the stairs, whispering and planning before 6 am.

Despite my desire to hide, being the only adult in the house meant that a less than decent time later up tromped two of the three actually dressed with hair styled. Their inquiry: when would the requested-the-night-before coffee cake be done? As the child sleeping over was not one of the two that came up, I grunted something less than kind to my two, told them coffee cake takes time and I would get up in a little bit. At least, I think that is what I said.

Two hours later, the promised coffee cake is done and ready to be consumed. We only need to push all the color staining window craft and slumber party scrapbook sheet making stuff off the table. Oh, and the kids have gone back to bed. More for me.

The Classic Cinnamon-Nut Coffee Ring recipe, from King Arthur Flour (KAF) Baking with some modifications:
KAF products are incredible and worth the pricey investment. I had lusted after this cookbook for ages and finally found it used. I should use it more (but, how many baked goods can we eat?).

For the cake:
4 Tbsp butter, softened
1/3 c. vegetable oil
1 c. white sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
2 1/4 c unbleached all-purpose flour (yes, I used KAF)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/3 c. ground golden flax seed meal
1 c. low-fat plain yogurt (use a good quality--I like Stonyfield)

For the filling/topping:
1/2 c. chopped walnuts or pecans
1/2 c. mini semi-sweet chocolate chips (this is for kids!)
1/3 c. white sugar
1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon
3 Tbsp melted butter

Preheat oven to 350. Grease or spray with cooking spray a bundt or tube-pan. I use an ancient two-piece pan that I bought at a garage sale 20 years ago. It is a thin metal, maybe aluminum?

For the cake:
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat together the butter, oil and sugar until fluffy. I use my Kitchen Aid so I have free hands. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the salt and flavorings and beat until evenly incorporated.

In a seperate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking power, baking soda and flax seed meal. Add the flour mixture to the butter-egg mixture alternately with the yogurt, mixing on low speed just until blended.

For the filling:
In a small mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and pour the melted butter on top, mixing with a fork until well-incorporated.

Spoon half the cake batter into the prepared pan. Smooth the batter to level it and sprinkle with two thirds of the filling. Top with remaining batter and sprinkle with remaining filling.

Bake the cake for 45 to 55 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean (without dough as it will have chocolate on it). Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool in the pan for 15 minutes (if you can wait). Turn out onto a wire rack carefully. The recipe says to cool completely and then sprinkle with confectioner's sugar before serving. Nothing ever cools around here.

This is a good coffee cake, with rich swirl of chocolate and cinnamon through it and fabulous on its own without any extra butter or adornment.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

We dream of gourmet and then reach for the can

It was evening, 30 minutes until bedtime for the girls. I'd been browsing lovely food blogs and King Arthur's Flour website, but had no ambitions tonight. The result: Rita's vegetarian re-fried beans (seems an oxymoron almost) with (gasp!) Velveeta that had been purchased just this week for a cheese broccoli soup for the kids.

And still the littlest one made faces. Sigh. I think we should all fast for a day or two. Two more days--give me strength. Oh, and the brownies are calling out to me all the way from another room. Dang.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

So simple, so good

As is often said, the best ingredients make dishes fabulous. Tonight, we found ourselves at 7:10 pm, with bedtime looming at 8ish for the girls and all of us hungry. The girls were also a bit questionable on cleanliness, but we decided to opt for washing the most important parts and doing real baths tomorrow.

On hand: some decent (but not great) thin asparagus, a new bottle of olive oil from Spain, one heirloom tomato and some eggs and bread.

The result: over-easy eggs in butter; asparagus with the buttery mild Spanish olive oil, California balsamic (quite good, really) and salt and pepper; buttered sourdough toast just like Mercy Watson would demand and a sliced heirloom tomato adorned only with salt (which only I ate).

The girls added strawberry milk (I know, but they liked the combination) and I had a glass of a quite drinkable inexpensive red from S. Africa. Satisfying.

Muffin' Mornin'

It has been raining here--a much needed rain--and all the stores and catalogs are boasting fall clothes. (Why they think any of us want to put on long sleeves when the average temperature is over 90, I do not know.) So, my mind turns to muffins. I love muffins because I can pack them full of nutrition for the family while still making a moist, flavorful bite.

As it is a Sunday, I can bake muffins today, freeze half of them for the school day breakfasts and still enjoy them this morning. I decided to modify (shocked, aren't you?) the Bran Flax Muffin recipe on the back of the Bob's Red Mill package of ground flax seed I bought yesterday. I don't have oat bran right now, so swapped in almond meal and some soy flour. The girls would spot shredded carrot a mile away and neither has the fondness I do for baked goods with plump raisins. Like 90% of the children in the world, they eagerly eat almost anything with chocolate. I figured I could sneak in the dried apricots chopped up finely.

1 1/2 c. unbleached white flour (when I have it, I use King Arthur)
3/4 c. flaxseed meal
1/2 c. almond meal (also Bob's Red Mill)
1/4 c. soy flour (ditto--they provide so many flours)
1 c. brown sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 apples, peeled and shredded
3/4 c. semi chocolate chips (I used Ghiradhelli today)
1/2 c. dried apricots, chopped fine
3/4 c. milk (I used Silk Soy Vanilla as dear hubby has problems with cow dairy)
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tbsp. melted butter
1 tbsp. Demerra or other similar coarse brown sugar, like Turbinado

Mix together all dry ingredients (from flour to cinnamon) in a large bowl. Stir in the apples, chocolate chips and apricots. Combine the milk, eggs and vanilla in a small bowl. Pour this liquid mixture and the butter into the large bowl and stir until just combined.

(Dear Bob did not include any butter, but I can't imagine muffins without any butter at all, so I added it in.)
Fill greased or sprayed muffin tins just to the top of each well. Don't mound. Sprinkle them with the coarse sugar. Bake at 350 F for around 20 minutes. You want a springy top, but not too dark. Bob's recipe says it yields 15 muffins--which is absurd. Who has a 15 muffin tin? I found that it filled my 12 muffin clay form quite nicely (I believe it is from Pampered Chef? It does not stick though and is lovely. I don't like paper forms--they never seem to work.)

The result: a nutty-flavored, brownish muffin with melty chocolate. The girls loved them, although the little one picked out most of the apricot and the older ate the innards, leaving most of the "crust," but I'm counting it as a success.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

One-Up Guac

Today, I had our oldest making guacamole with me. We had an avocado that was ready and some lovely local heritage tomatoes. Also, secretly, I thought that if she made the concoction, she might try it and even like it.

Smashed avocado, lime juice, diced tomato and cilantro with salt and pepper. So far so good. She dipped in the corner of a chip to "coat" it (she doesn't like the chunks), she declared "yummm" but then passed on a larger try. I had been cleaning out the fridge to make room for new purchases and had just pulled out some blue cheese crumbles. Perhaps a good add-in? To understand my jump in recipe logic, you would need to know that our seven-year old is insane about all things cheese and particularly blue cheeses.

We added it in to a small amount of guac and stirred it up quite a bit. She thought it was better, but still declared the chunks too much. I ate it and declared this to be the new party guac. And, next time, I'm going to puree the whole thing for the little one. I just know I'll get her eating it soon.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Collision of Forces: Peach Tart

Three forces collided today. First, I saw the movie Julia & Julie last night. Of course, it made me want to cook (and I realized, shock, that I do not own one single Julia cookbook). Second, I happened to have the last of some lovely freestone peaches from the Chesapeake Bay area of Virginia. Third, my sister keeps sending me postings from, an amazing food blog with amazing photography.

The result: a freestone peach tart.

As I am sans Julia's spirit or her recipes, I thought I would stay French and in roughly the same time period. I grabbed my seldom used, but fun to read Real French Cooking by Savarin, published in 1956 by Doubleday. This Savarin is not the Brillat-Savarin of the 18th century, but rather a Robert J. Courtine, nicknamed "Brilliant Savarin," according to the dust jacket. Julia's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, published in 1970, must have indeed been a breakthrough in its level of detail and illustration.

Savarin's book is more a collection of directions, aphroisms and instructions. Reading his "recipes" recalls times when I watched my grandmother cook, no true measuring cups or spoons in sight and a casual demeanor that came from decades of experience and much confidence.

In his foreward, he admits his approach is "unusual" and then says that first efforts at recipes "should be strictly succesful".

In the chapter on Cakes and Confections, he provides five basic pastry mixtures, including a "Short Pastry for Pies, Tarts, Etc." To appreciate the task, I will give you his directions in entirety:
Put your flour on the pastry board--half a pound for a decent-sized tart or flan--and work into it half as much butter, with a pinch of salt. (It is better to mix with a silver fork than with the fingertips, which soften the fat too much.) When the blend is satisfactory, pour on a little cold water, stirring with a spatula. As soon as you have a homogeneous mass, roll it out with a rolling pin. Leave it to 'settle' for a short while before lining the greased tart- or pie-dish with it. Prick here and there with a fork, to prevent puffing-up.
Later he directs the cook to bake it for 25 minutes in a moderate oven.

I'm more of a baker than a pastry chef. Bread requires emotion and feel, passion and warmth. Bread baking, despite the dire warning of many break cookbooks, does not require exact measurements or thermometers. Pastry I have had less success. As much as I want to be, I'm just not the exact, measuring, perfectionist type. Savarin's recipe, therefore, appealed to my personality.

I've made tart pastries before and I know about chilling for hours, rolling out, being gentle. Today, I didn't have the time or patience to follow such exacting ideas. And, after all, the French have been making tarts much longer than they have had freezers or even refrigeration, right?

(Now, at this point, I should admit that one other reason I am more a baker than a pastry maker is that I seldom follow a recipe exactly, even one as vague as Savarin's.)

I didn't have as much unsalted butter as I would have liked, so I subsituted some light cream cheese. My scale does not work as I've yet to go to a store to buy the right little shiny round battery since it died in California. I used my German measuring cup for 400 ml of flour, which meant I wasn't exactly sure how much butter/cream cheese to use. I went with about 4 oz of cream cheese and 4 Tbsp butter.

My 20-year old blender/processor combo no longer works (and the bowl would be too small anyway). I'm in the market for a new processor. As a result, I followed Savarin's instructions on using the silver fork on my wooden bread board. The dough just didn't come together like I wanted and I added more water than I expected to get it to meld.

The peaches were more succesful. I sliced them uniformly and cooked them down in a large pan with some Riesling (maybe 1/3 cup?) and a little sugar. I purposefully didn't stir much as I wanted the juice to cook down without loosing the form of the peaches.

I "lavishly" buttered my tart pan, per both Savarin's instructions and in honor of Julia's fondess for butter. The buttering definitely worked and beat any spray I've used. I baked the tart pastry at 350F for about 30 minutes. It didn't brown as nicely as I would like and tasting of the trimmings found it a bit tough (need to get that processor soon), but that extra bit of durability helped the tart hold the juicy peaches in the end.

Savarin says,
Appetite is bred by variety as contempt is bred by familiarity, kitchen-lore thus resembling love. And the woman at home, mistress of many arts, must know that table-ties are powerful ones, perhaps, in the long run, the strongest of all. Good tables are indeed the centres of happy homes, the lure and the sustainer of loving hearts.
We also grilled pizza tonight, a yummy learning experiment, but more on that later.

Friday, August 14, 2009

I don't know what is wrong with my hair recently. I get a cut. It seems great for about two weeks and then, it is too long or too fuzzy or too chopped. I like short hair. It is easy. It is quick. It is cool. My daughters want me to have long hair. As I wash, comb and style their hair in addition to mine, I can see why they are interested in a look, while I only think of the trouble.

The 80s were an unfortunate decade for anyone with straight hair. Mom sport a smooth Jaclyn Smith look and sis is young enough to sport "kids' hair," always looking good. Me? The one and only misguided attempt at the spiral perm.

Someday, I will write a book about hair. It may not be good, but I think it could be funny. If you can't laugh at your hair, then you have only tears left.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Learning another language always reminds me how complex our thoughts, and therefore our languages, are.

Teacher today: This is how you say "Is she inviting me?" And when you add this word (yeh), it means that you suspect her.
Me: I suspect her of what? Inviting me?
Teacher: No, let me see. You are talking to a woman about another woman who is having a party. The woman you are talking to tells you that you will be invited, but you don't believe you will be invited. You suspect the woman having the party will not invite you. So, you say "yeh" after the verb.
Me: [thinking...] Ah, it is like the word "really" in English: Is she really inviting me? Suspect her. Got it. An interjection.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Eat what you want as long as you cook it yourself

For those interested in seeing the outside of the girls' bento boxes:First Friday Bento 1: pears in the ziplock, gummies in a heart silicone, a Z-bar. Then noodles, asparagus tips and a cheese omelet.
Same but with dried pineapple instead of the bar.

Pollan is at it again, getting us to think about what we eat, why we don't cook, what the consequences might be -- read his latest essay.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Monday, August 3, 2009

First day of school

Grasshopper's first day of Kindergarten finally arrived. She got teary and clingy, but I escaped out the door and came back 6 1/2 hours later to find a quite happy new student clapping and singing with the teacher.

Long-legged girl went off to 2nd grade with the practiced confidence of big sister, although she kept my hand squeezed pretty tightly as we walked her to the new classroom. Seeing one familiar face from last year helped and she hung up her backpack and said good-bye. At the end of the day, she was tired and a bit disgruntled that, yes, she has to go back to school tomorrow, but overall seemed to have a good day.

And, today was the first day of bento lunchboxes. For what looks like fairly small lunchboxes, I really packed in quite a bit and they even ate most of it and finished up the remainder as a snack after school.

The girls also scored Schueltuete from Oma with lots of goodies, but I'll have to get that picture from Opa.

**For those curious souls, the bento lunches included: onigiri rice balls, soy sauce, rib meat for Grasshoppper and a rabbit-shaped boiled egg for older sister, seaweed chips, mozzarella cheese, frozen peaches, goldfish crackers, gummi baeren, fruit leather and cherries (only for older sister)