Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Easy Buttermilk Chocolate Cake with Sprinkles by Colleen

Easy Buttermilk Chocolate Cake with Sprinkles
Hi Barb--
Okay so I tried something new yesterday. Recipe below. I had known that if you didn't have buttermilk you could "make" your own but had been afraid to try. However, I was EMBOLDENED by my successful substitution of Nutella for jam in the oatmeal bars, so I went ahead.

The cheat is embedded in therecipe. But basically you add vinegar to milk and let sit for 10 minutes or so.

I read a number of reviews on Emeril Lagasse's site and everyone seemed to think it worked fine. The one person who WASN'T happy with the cheat was someone who was actually hoping to drink the concoction as BUTTERMILK. Apparently, one of the 7 people who stills drinks buttermilk in North America. So if you really want your buttermilk as a beverage, this is NOT a good idea. Go to the store, or churn your own as some helpful person on the site explained. Right. And then go find some sheep to shear and spin your own wool.

I have my limits with this whole DIY thing. Anyway, the cake turned out great. Recipe originally from Good Housekeeping Favorite Recipes *All recipes triple tested* which means so easy a chimp could do it. Chimps and me.


Easy Buttermilk Chocolate Cake

2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup unsweetened (not dutched/no alkali added)
1 3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk*
1 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Frosting of your choice

Preheat oven to 350. Grease 2 9-inch cake pans or 10-inch Bundt.

1. In large bowl combine flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda salt.

2. In separate bowl, whisk buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla.

3. Add buttermilk mixture to flour mixture and whisk until smooth.

4. Pour into pans and bake about 30 minutes for 9 inch pans or 40  minutes for Bundt.

5. Cool on wire racks for 10 minutes. Run knife around edge of pan to loosen. Then invert on wire rack and remove pan and let cool completely.

6. Make frosting of your choice. I did vanilla butter cream (3 cups powdered sugar, 1 cup soft butter, 2 teaspoons vanilla and 3-4 Tablespoons of whipping cream, beaten together until smooth and spreadable. Add more cream if needed)

I had tastefully scattered sprinkles on the top of the cake. It looked a little underdressed. So then I decided to tart it up like a Vegas Show Girl.

There is a better system for this than cupping handfuls of sprinklings and slapping onto the side of the cake. There are titled cake stands for frosting and applying sprinkles/nuts/etc to the sides with some sort of catch bin below for the many many sprinkles that yearn to run free all over your kitchen.I have none of that gear (where to store?) So I made a giant mess. I finally realized that I could at least capture some of the fall off with a piece of parchment or waxed paper under the cake. And used a pastry brush to clear the strays. Still, messy, but worth it.

I use DeRuijter.

*If you don't have buttermilk, you can make it by pouring about 7 teaspoons of vinegar into bottom of 2 cup measuring cup. Fill to 1 1/2 cup level with regular milk or mixture of milk and cream. I used about 1 cup skim milk and 1/2 cup heavy cream. Let sit 10-15 minutes.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Will Green Tomatoes Ripen?

On left, after 3 weeks. On right, just picked.

Yes, green tomatoes will ripen. It takes 3-4 weeks.

This year I had only a few pitiful tomato plants. Two here and one at the lake. They barely produced, so each tomato was precious.

The red tomato on the left was picked three weeks ago when we closed the cottage. The green tomato was picked a few days ago when we finally had a hard frost here.

Low humidity, northern light, and time did the trick.

Other ways to ripen tomatoes:

Place in a bag or box with a green-ish banana--or an apple---to release ethylene gas to help to ripen them. Check daily.

Or wrap individually in newspaper, no more than 2 layers deep, and place in a dark, dry area for 3-4 weeks, checking periodically for any sign of rot, so you don't lose the crop.

There may be other methods, but that's what I have learned.



Thursday, October 24, 2013

Nutella Oatmeal Bars by Colleen

Colleen's photo of her Nutella Oatmeal Bars

Hey Barb,

These are pretty good! I'm kinda glad I didn't have jam on hand. And so so easy. Great bar cookie to make for kids. Especially if those kids live on Nutella. And if you are brave, they can help. I mixed the crust/topping mixture together with my hands. 

I bought a children's book for our neighbors who took in our papers when we went to Minnesota.  The book, Charlie Goes to School is by the Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond,  and is about their Basset Hound dog helping around the ranch and her homeschool.  

In the back of the book is a recipe for Strawberry Oatmeal Bars. See below. But I changed it to raspberry because I like raspberry better.   But then I didn't have raspberry jam on hand, and substituted Nutella. 


Strawberry/Raspberry/Nutella Oatmeal Bars
( from

1-3/4 stick cold butter, cut into pieces
1-1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cup oats (quick Or regular)
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 teaspoons salt
1 jar (10 To 12 Ounce)  Strawberry or Raspberry Preserves or Nutella

Preparation Instructions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 x 13 or 8 x 10 baking dish.
Mix together the flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt.

Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter until it resembles coarse crumbs.
Sprinkle half the mixture into the pan and pat lightly to pack it a little tight.
Spoon strawberry preserves evenly over the surface, then use a dinner knife to carefully spread it around. Sprinkle the other half of the oat mixture over the top and pat lightly again.

It was tricky to spread the Nutella.  I will let you know later if it was genius or dumb.

Baked.  Smells good!

Bake until light golden brown on top, about 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool in pan.
When cool, cut into squares and serve.

It worked!  Genius!  Yum!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Italian Market Memories

Basket of Tomatoes at Rapallo Market
September was a great time to go to Italy because there was an abundance of produce.  Look at these beautiful plum tomatoes!

We'd cross through the markets whenever we could, on our way to see the sights, just to take in all of the color and freshness-- and energy.   

Mushrooms were just coming in.  We had some great pasta with mushrooms as a primi , but I also tried what turned out to be one of my favorite dishes -- a salad of fresh sliced porcini, celery and parmesan --- at a restaurant called La Bussola in Florence. 

Figs were also in season --and amazing.  Tom loved the salumi with fig antipasti at Osteria del Gatto in Siena.  And he doesn't even like figs.  

Jams made from local fruits were part of the daily breakfasts, served with either brioche, croissants, or hearty bread. 

We saw lots of colorful legumes like these.

And of course -- lots of grapes --- it was harvest time for making wine.

But what is also impressive is how everyone finds a place to grow their own tomatoes, even in the tiniest backyard lots, or on trellises like these, along the path we hiked in the Cinque Terre. 

Now, when I think of Italy, I think of tomatoes. 


Friday, October 18, 2013

Zucchini and Tomato Gratin by Jacques Pepin from Colleen

A good use for zucchini
Hi Barb--

I made a very simple but good recipe from the Essential Pepin (Jacques Pepin) cookbook. 

The link shows a photo (which wasn't in the cookbook so I had to guess what to do about cutting the zucchini and I guessed wrong and only had cherry tomatoes, but it doesn't matter. The point is to cut the zucchini in thinnish strips so they will cook through in the oven.)

I did two layers of zucchini and tomatoes and put a little dried basil (fresh would be nice if on hand) and cheese and pepper in between the layers, and then put the crumbs on top. I baked it along with some chicken I was roasting for about 45 minutes. 

The top was browning too fast, so I loosely covered it with foil at the end (not too tight - you don't want to steam the crumbs) until the zucchini was cooked through. It was tasty. 

I didn't use nearly the 1/4 cup olive oil on the veggies and it was fine. You can easily cut back there to make this a fairly healthy recipe.  I used double fiber whole wheat bread. 

So often for dinner I saute veggies and I find that the last minute cooking is a hassle with trying to get the food on the table and timing everything to be done at roughly the same time. 

This can bake along with other foods as you prep salad or set the table and it can sit happily for a few minutes until dinner is served. But it has a fancy name, so I can be snooty as a cover for my general laziness.


Zucchini and Tomato Gratin
(from Essential Pepin)

You can prepare this colorful gratin up to 1 day ahead. Fresh oregano will add the most flavor, but dried can be used if fresh is not available.

Serves 6

4 zucchini, about 6 inches long (1 1/2–1 3/4 pounds)
3 large ripe tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut into 12 slices each
1/4 cup olive oil

3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 slice firm whole wheat bread, cubed (1/2 cup)
3 fresh oregano sprigs (about 30 leaves) or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Trim the zucchini and cut it in half crosswise. Cut each half lengthwise into 4 slices.

Arrange alternating slices of the zucchini and tomato in a 12-by-9-by-2-inch gratin dish and pour the olive oil on top. (The gratin can be prepared to this point up to a day ahead, covered, and refrigerated.)

FOR THE TOPPING: Combine the cheese, bread, oregano, salt, and pepper in a mini-chop and process to crumbs. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in the oil. Set aside.

At serving time, sprinkle the gratin with the topping. Bake for 35 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and moist and the top is nicely brown.

Copyright © 2011 by Jacques Pépin.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Dutch Apple Pie

Dutch Apple Pie

In Amsterdam one day, we were desperate for a place to sit down and have a late lunch.  We had been on our feet all morning at the Van Gogh museum and walked for miles (it seemed) well into the afternoon and had gone past normal lunch hours.   Few restaurants were open ---- it's when you wonder why you do this to yourself, but vacations always look better in the rearview mirror.

Luckily, we found Zuivere Koffee .  Most coffee shops in Amsterdam are also places to smoke marijuana but this one was not and it had a charming, quiet garden courtyard in the back

The staff were ultra friendly and made delicious open face sandwiches and freshly brewed coffee for us.  Several locals came in for coffee and a piece of pie that looked like what I have made.
This Dutch Apple pie recipe was listed under "cakes with tea or coffee" not in the desserts section.  So I am presuming the Dutch have it during the day or afternoon, not after the evening meal.

The Dutch ride bikes everywhere, so they can eat sweets without worry, I suppose. 

The recipe called for something called "custard powder" so I had to look it up and discovered it is a common European ingredient.  Back in 1837, a guy named Bird invented it for his wife who had egg allergies.  It is basically cornstarch and vanilla flavoring.  And I was pleasantly surprised to find it in the European/International aisle at Wegman's.  It thickens the liquid from the apples and prevents a runny, watery pie. 

The pie crust is sweet  (caster sugar and an egg yolk are added to the butter and flour), then you press the dough into a springform cake pan..

As you can see from the photo, I really struggled with making the lattice for the dough --- I had to roll out that part --- but I chalk my failure up to being out of practice --- I haven't been really cooking or baking for several months now.  It still tasted great! 
I had to hunt for the Jona Gold apples --- but found them at a farm stand north of Watkins Glen --- and they were worth the hunt.  The apples remain firm, and aren't too tart. 
Another thing I like about the recipe is the orange-juice-infused raisins.  It's a simple addition but the citrus really brightens up the filling, and the raisins are tender --- they would be dried up and chewy if you didn't do this step.

Dutch Apple Pie
(from Dutch Cooking Today)

Serves 10

300 g/10 ounces flour plus extra
125 g/4 ounces white caster sugar (superfine)
200 g/7 ounces chilled butter plus extra
1 egg yolk
100 g/3.5 ounces raisins
100 ml/3.5 fluid ounces orange juice
1 kg/2 pounds firm apples (Elstar, Jona Gold), peeled and sliced
2 T. custard powder (or 2 T. cornstarch and 1 t. vanilla)
2 t. cinnamon
2 T. sugar
3 T. apricot jam

In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar and a pinch of salt.  Dice the butter and mix into the flour.  Use a pastry cutter or two knives to cut the butter into small pieces.  (As a shortcut, I grated my butter and tossed it together with the flour and salt.)

Add the egg yolk and knead everything together with cool hands.  (It doesn't look like it will come together but stick with kneading it, it will.)

Roll into a firm ball. 
Grease a 24 cm/10 inch cake tin with a removable bottom with butter (I used a 9 inch)
and do a better job than I did, and press 2/3 of the dough over the bottom and sides.  Refrigerate the tin and remaining dough until ready to use.
Preheat the oven to 175 C/ 375 F.  Put the raisins and orange juice in a pan, bring to a boil and simmer until the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes.

This is when I peeled and sliced the apples.  Combine with raisins, custard powder, cinnamon and sugar.

(Toss until all of the apples are evenly coated.)  Spread the filling over the pastry base.

Roll out the rest of the pastry and cut into 1 cm/1/2 strips.  I had a hard time.  My dough wasn't cold enough. 
Do a better job than I did, but arrange in a crisscross pattern on top of the apple mixture, pressing the pastry edges together.

Bake about 45 minutes
until golden brown.  Remove from the oven and
glaze with apricot jam.
Allow to cool in the cake tin for 10 minutes.

Remove from tin and serve.



Monday, October 14, 2013

White Bean and Carrot Stew by Tom

White Bean and Carrot Stew by Tom
We recently returned from a trip to Italy and the Netherlands.  We had great food along the way as you might suspect.  The food in Italy was terrific and was somewhat familiar as we make many Italian dishes ourselves.  But Dutch food was another matter.  From previous visits I was familiar with the Indonesian influenced dishes and had eaten some wonderful seafood dishes as well.  But I was completely unaware of their "stampotten", one-pan meals.  The early versions of crock pot meals, which are popular today.

We bought a Dutch cookbook to try to recreate some of the flavors that we experienced in Amsterdam.  Paging through the book I discovered a one-pan white bean and carrot stew that looked both interesting and appetizing.  It also includes beef, so it is not a vegetarian meal.  The secret to this meal is to cook the meat in a butter, garlic and shallot infused beef stock for several hours.  It not only makes the beef very tender, but adds a wonderful flavor to the meat.  The white beans and carrots add both crunch and bulk to the stew itself.

The name may not sound very appealing, but trust me, the taste very much is.  I will definitely make this one-pan meal again.


White Bean and Carrot Stew
(from Dutch Cooking Today)

Serves four.  Preparation and cooking time is approximately 2 - 2 1/2 hours


2 large carrots, peeled and cubed
2 cans white butter beans, drained
1 1/4 pounds top round steak, fat trimmed and cut into bite-size cubes
2 ounces unsalted butter
2 shallots, peeled and chopped finely
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped finely
Salt and pepper to taste
7 fluid ounces of beef stock initially, a little more later in the cooking
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1 teaspoon paprika
6 ounces tomato puree

In a large, heavy casserole melt the butter over medium-high heat.

When the butter is hot but not brown, add the cubed meat and sauté until browned on all sides.

Add the chopped garlic and shallots and continue sautéing for several more minutes.  Don't let the garlic or shallots burn, so continual stirring is necessary.  Add salt and pepper here as well.  Next add the beef stock and bring to a boil.  Cover the casserole and turn down the heat to simmer. Let it cook for 1-1 1/2 hours.
After the beef is tender, add the white beans, carrots and red bell pepper strips.

Add the tomato puree and paprika as well.  You will have to judge the amount of remaining liquid in your casserole.  I found it necessary to add about another quarter cup of beef stock to insure there was enough liquid.

Stir thoroughly, cover and cook for just 20 minutes.

When it is done, the red bell pepper will be soft, the beans warmed completely, and the carrots cooked but still somewhat crunchy.  This made the dish different from traditional stews that cook the carrots until they are very soft.

After the requisite 20 minutes, remove from the heat and dish it into a bowl.

This is a simple one-pan meal done the Dutch way!