Posted by: Rachel | October 16, 2016

try, try again…

I’m not convinced about this batch of apple peel sourdough starter. Nope, not at all.

I followed the (albeit vague) instructions and it is bubbling quietly, but after 4 days it smells more cheese-y then yeast-y. Hmmmm…

It started out innocuously enough. I found the information I needed based on the tv show I saw, bought the apples and gave it a shot.

At first it smelled mostly like paper maché paste, just flour and water. And it didn’t look like much of anything.

starting the starter

starting the starter

I did as instructed; mixed it up, covered it loosely with clean cheesecloth and walked away.



A few days later it started to “take”. I looked online to see if I should be worried and came away more confused than anything. It looks slightly brownish to me. Not pink or any of the other colors that would indicate bacteria rather than wild yeast. And, as I said, it smells a bit like cheese (I swear that cheesecloth was clean!), and not bad exactly, but I’m just not sure.

starter, started??

starter, started??

I think I’ll give it another day or so before I decide whether to go forward or to start over. I know the adage is “when in doubt, throw it out” but that hurts! Still, better safe than sorry…

Any thoughts from you bakers out there? Help!

Posted by: Rachel | October 9, 2016

and cauldron bubble…

Last weekend was the third annual AustinFermentation Festival. I was lucky enough to win a pair of tickets (thanks, Field and Feast!!), I’ve never seen so many delicious things dripping, bubbling, oozing, churning, breathing, growing, and, well, fermenting!

There were lots of interesting vendors, local breweries and bakers, all the kombucha and kimchi you could drink and eat, sauerkraut (both things in which to ferment it and the kraut itself), cheesemakers, yogurt and kefir and lhassi, oh my! Lots of interesting samples, mmmmmm!

I had a great time. The weather was nearly perfect, and it was inspiring as well as yummy. Then, a day or so later, I was watching New Scandinavian Cooking. The host was making a sourdough starter using apple peels. I guess you can tell where this is going, right?

I haven’t actually started it yet. I got the apples, though, and I’m ready. You know I’ll let you know how it works out. I’m sure there’s some wild yeast hanging about in my kitchen from baking of years past and the theory is pretty simple, it just takes time.

Basically, you peel the apples and mix the peel with flour, water, and a little sugar. You cover loosely and let it “cook” for a week. If all goes well you then have a sourdough starter. If it fails, you at least have enjoyed a few lovely organic (if not local) apples. I think I’ve figured out what to put it in to try to get it started. You want (I think) glass or enamel, not metal or plastic, with room for the starter to expand, and I’ve just the thing. I’ll take pictures and let you know how it works.

Meantime, let us know if you’re fermenting anything (intentionally, I mean) at your place, OK? Ever curious…

Posted by: Rachel | September 30, 2016

slowly, now…

Last night, Slow Food Austin had one of their “slow sessions“. This one was hosted by Lick. If you’re from around here you (hopefully) already know about their ice cream. If not, read on!


First, though, a few words about Slow Food. I’ve been a member of this group for a few years now and I’m very impressed with what they do for the local food community. They say “Slow Food Austin reconnects people with the food they eat. Our educational initiatives, social activities, fundraising events, and community volunteer projects inspire respect for where food comes from and awaken true pleasure in eating.” If you live here I highly recommend joining the local Austin group. They sponsor happy hours that benefit local farm initiatives and they offer the slow sessions, which are more educational (but just as much fun).

Now, about Lick! Mmmm… I won’t bore you with the info you can read on their site, but I will tell you that Anthony, one of the co-owners, gave us lots of info about how they source their ingredients. If I had any concerns about their product (which I did not) they would have disappeared.

good and (I'm sure) good for you!

good and (I’m sure) good for you!

After his presentation we got down to the challenge of tasting product. He let us sample a few flavors that are not yet available to the public – what fun! Of the “currently availables” I particularly enjoyed the “fromage and fig”. Oh la la!

It was a delightful, delicious, and informative evening. My thanks to Lick and Slow Food Austin. Now I think I need to go chase down some ice cream! Mmmm…

Posted by: Rachel | February 24, 2016

had enough?

If the question is “had enough chocolate?” then my answer is a resounding “No!”. Even in this month of dentist, florist, and card-maker’s holidays, I still can’t get enough. Here’s one guest blogger’s answer to the “gotta get me some mores”. Mmmm…
While shopping at my local grocery store, I picked up their monthly publication, which contains suggested items and recipes in which to use those items. Well I came across a recipe that reminded me of my childhood and my Grandmother’s wonderful pumpkin empanadas (hand pies in English).

The recipe in the publication is actually for Butternut Squash and Gruyere Cheese Hand Pies. I made them and was pleasantly surprised that they came out well and everyone seemed to enjoy them. That success story was the inspiration for my next adventure with making empanadas.

As the holiday season was coming to a close, rather than having a holiday gathering of our French Conversation group, one of our charming members invited us all to his home in mid-January. He and his wife are delightful hosts and we all had a lovely time, sharing stories of our holiday activities and new years resolutions.

Of course one cannot attend a gathering here in central Texas without taking something to contribute to the affair. Being southerners and all, whether native or transplanted, that’s how we do things around here.

So back to my empanada adventure, as I pondered what to prepare for the gathering, I thought of making the butternut squash empanadas again but that just didn’t seem to satisfy my yearn to try something different. You see, crazy as it may be, I like trying new recipes on my friends and family and if they work, I keep the recipe for another occasion and if not well, into the recycle bin it goes.

Nonetheless, the original recipe was the catalyst for what turned to be a keeper recipe. Ok, the suspense is about to be over. In my ponderings and reminiscing about the pain au chocolat I had for breakfast almost every morning on a recent trip to France, (late October to early November) it occurred to me to make the empanadas with a dark chocolate filling. And so the search began for just the right filling recipe but it had to be simple. Finding a simple recipe became a challenge and just as I was about to give up on the idea, it dawned on me that I could make the filling out of a delicious dark chocolate with sea salt bar. This chocolate bar has become a favorite during our French Conversation meetings with different members taking turns providing this lovely treat.

It just so happened that I had a couple of bars at home so the baking began and here, finally you might be thinking, is how I made them…

Almonds & Sea Salt in Dark Chocolate Empanadas

prep time: about 30-40 minutes
cook time: 15 minutes per batch if cooking one batch at a time
servings: about 20

3-4 Almond Sea Salt in Dark Chocolate bars (or your favorite chocolate bar)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 boxes frozen puff pastry, thawed and brought to room temperature
3 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup cinnamon sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Dust a clean surface with flour.
Unroll puff pastry on the floured surface and lightly roll dough to about 1/4 inch thickness.

Using a biscuit or cookie cutter, cut 4-inch circles.
(I didn’t have anything that size so I used the rim of a plastic glass that measured about 4 inches.)
Cut two squares from the chocolate bar and place into center of each pastry disk.
Fold into half-moons and press edges together with a fork. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet or use parchment paper.
Mix eggs and water together then lightly brush mixture on finished pastries.
Lightly dust with cinnamon sugar if you like.

Bake at 400 degrees F until golden brown, about 10-15 minutes.

Serve warm or at room temperature. Served warm the filling is still soft while at room temperature it may begin to harden.


Many thanks to my friend for sharing both this recipe and some of the pies with me. I am here to tell you they are delicious, flaky, yummy 2-bite delights! Until next time… bon appetit!

Posted by: Rachel | January 31, 2016

good things come…

They (whoever they are) say that good things come to those who wait. Much as I am a fan of immediate gratification, especially concerning food, sometimes “they” are right.

I know perfectly well that pizza really should cool for a few minutes before I put hot cheese in my mouth, that I need to blow on my cup of tea or hot chocolate if I want to be able to taste it and not scald myself, and that some cookies really do need to cool on the baking sheet or they will crumble.

Still, this time I may have overdone the waiting thing.

I got curious about making vanilla extract. I got a bottle of home-made extract a few years ago in that blogger swap, and it is almost gone. It was so good, rich and strong, that I decided to see if I could replicate it. While the actual ingredients are quite simple, the one thing it requires in spades is, well, time!

Honestly though, if I’d known it was this simple I’d have done it long ago. Its even easier than making limoncello, although vanilla extract does take longer. Thing is, though, you can just put it away and (apparently) be (pleasantly) surprised down the road.

All It takes is vodka, vanilla beans, and patience!

I bought a smallish bottle of middle-of-the-road vodka, I had the vanilla beans, and I’m not in any hurry about this. I still have some of Ken’s wonderful extract left, and so far it has been too warm to do much baking this “winter”.

I split the vanilla beans, put them in the vodka, recapped the vodka and tucked it away in a cupboard. Now we wait… for months apparently!

While we’re waiting, I had a thought. I’ve mentioned friends and family to you occasionally, in context of (cough) stealing their recipes or cooking with them or enjoying something they’ve treated me to, and I thought maybe you’d like to meet some of them.

I’ve invited some of my friends to guest blog. They all agreed, and even seemed pleased to be asked. Why didn’t I think of this sooner? I’ve given them free rein, so I honestly have no idea what they will write about (except for next month’s – wait until you see/smell/taste it! mmmm…. shhhhh) I think this will be great fun and hope you’ll come along for the ride. While we’re enjoying their ideas I’ll keep an eye on that vodka/vanilla extract for us as well.

So, yours in patience until next time, and bon appetit!!

Posted by: Rachel | December 16, 2015

’tis the season(ings)!

This year most of the parties I’m attending seem to be cookie-centric. This is making me very happy! I like to bake cookies, swap cookies, and especially *eat* cookies!!

I almost hate to share this recipe because it is so very easy and it gets raves (she said modestly) every time. It is flexible as far as seasonings, the cookies are slightly chewy, moist, and (shhhhh!) gluten-free!

If I could tell you where I got the original recipe I certainly would. I honestly have no idea. I’ve made these for a few years now, happily tweaking the recipe as I went along. If it looks like I got it from you, many thanks!

Here’s the thing. I originally used almond extract. Then I got to thinking about chocolate and what would go nicely with it. Orange, lemon, mint… lots of choices. You can add cocoa powder to the cookie base, or you can add tiny chocolate chips (or, of course, you can add both – nothing exceeds like excess!).

These cookies have a bit of structural integrity once cooled; they travel well (if you can keep from snacking on them) and they can be made a day ahead, which isn’t always the best idea for GF baked goods. I’m guessing they would freeze well too, but they’re so easy and quick to make that I haven’t ever seriously thought about trying it!

Here’s the base recipe, variations below.

easy-peasy gf almond cookies

2 T butter, melted
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 cup almond flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp (optional additional) extract

Melt the butter and set aside to cool a bit.

Preheat over to 350F and cover two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat the egg (just a little) and add all other ingredients ending with the butter. Mix very well; it will make a proper dough.

ready for the oven

Drop by half (very small) teaspoons-full onto the parchment leaving room for spreading. Bake for 12 minutes or so (don’t let them brown!). Cool on the parchment and store in something airtight once totally cooled.

Makes about 3 dozen 2-inch cookies.

ready to eat!

what did I say about spreading? oops…


Now, I usually add 1/2 tsp of lemon or orange extract as well, and I’ve been known to add a heaping tablespoon of cocoa powder. I also like to add a teaspoon or two of cinnamon or ground mulling spices or Armenian seven spice or Chinese five spice or *something* to wake up the chocolate. Oh and about 1/4 cup of those tiny chocolate chips…

You see? They look the same every time but they taste just a bit different depending on my mood. No complaints yet! Oh, and I’ve been told that they go as nicely with coffee in the morning as they do after lunch or dinner. Oh and they work for Passover as well!

Mmmm… share, enjoy, and let us know how you rework this to suit yourself and your friends! Safe and happy holidays, and a wonderful start to the new year, y’all!


Posted by: Rachel | November 29, 2015

walk with me (again)

I was lucky enough to spend a week in Paris in late October. The weather was a bit grey, but warm and dry and the city smelled of the tannin of fall leaves, roasting chestnuts, and hot chocolate. We set out most mornings around 10, and walked our feet off. Lunch options abounded, the problem was usually choosing just one!

Walk a bit with me, if you like:

The farinata at Foug turned out to be the Italian version of socca (a chickpea flour “pizza”), topped with slabs of mozzarella. Oh, mmmm…

slice of chickpea pizza

An ideal lunch even if you are not pursuing a gluten free lifestyle! Mmmm…

Sometimes (often!) in Paris the pastry shops and chocolate shops look like jewelry stores. So pretty… sparkly and yummy!


But sometimes they are more approachable.


I saw things I will never quite understand,


and other things that need no translation!


It was a wonderful week, lots of amazing sights, sounds, tastes… I’d go back in a heartbeat.

We watched the bouquinistes opening their stands. These Seine-side “shops” require an understanding of origami that I do not possess. They magically turn from what look like locked dumpsters into enticing storefronts! Amazing…


et voila!

et voila!

I could go on for days (and, well, I did go on for days, actually) but I’ll leave you with this obligatory image:

oh la la!

oh la la!

Oh wait, I meant:


As they say in France, a la prochaine (until next time)!

Posted by: Rachel | October 11, 2015

walk with me

I went to visit my cousins in New York last weekend. We were all kinds of ready for Joachim, but New York got lucky this time. My heart goes out to those folks who got hit, though – having been in New York for Sandy, well…

We did get some good rain and winds, but that didn’t stop us from going out and splashing around. I think this gives you an idea of how New Yorkers prepare for a hurricane:

sandwich board listing hurricane essentials: pastries etc

works for me!

I love all the little sandwich boards outside the restaurants and cafés. Some are funny:


Some more passionate:


One thing is certain: New York is never boring! The sights may be familiar:



or totally unfamiliar:


Either way, it is a great city and I had a blast! You just never know what to expect:

Really? Hmmmm...

Really? Hmmmm…


Again, really? Wish they'd been open...

Again, really? Wish they’d been open…

It was a wonderful weekend. Walked my feet off and loved every minute of it! I could go on and on but if a picture is really worth a thousand words, this post is far too long already. So, until next time,


Posted by: Rachel | September 13, 2015

stupid easy chia “pudding”

Honestly, this is so easy that I’m embarrassed to tell you about it. The upside, of course, is that is it also “customizable”, so you can do pretty much anything you like with it.

All you need is a bit of time. Oh, and chia seeds.

Yup, those seeds that were once relegated to being spread on unglazed ceramics and sprouted as “pets” have now been rediscovered as a new “superfood”. Good and good for you, they are sprouting up (forgive me) in salads, as a yogurt topping, in smoothies, in breads and muffins, and most anywhere else you can imagine.

I like them as a “pudding”.

It couldn’t be simpler. There are lots of “fancy” chia seed pudding recipes out there, but all you need is this:

stupid easy chia pudding
1/3 cup chia seeds
1-1/4 cup milk*
(sweetener if desired)

Combine in a tightly sealed container, shake to mix. Refrigerate for an hour or so, shake again. Chill for at least 4 hours, stir well and enjoy.

I mean, honestly, could it be any easier?

Oh, that asterisk above? Well, I like to make mine with chocolate milk (hence no need for additional sweetener). You can use soy or coconut milk, almond milk, rice milk, or good old-fashioned cow’s milk; whatever floats your boat really.

You can add spices, chopped dried fruit (apricots are good with chocolate I think, or raisins or currents with white milk). Or maybe add shredded coconut, or even tiny chocolate chips. Have fun with your food!

You could certainly add almost any flavored extract you like; a teaspoon of good vanilla makes chocolate taste more like chocolate! Mmmm…

I will warn you that it is a bit mucilaginous. I don’t mind this, but some of you might. I like that the seeds retain a crunch at their hearts, and the overall texture is just fine my me. It isn’t like tapioca (which I also like) but if you are not a pudding fan, well go ahead and put ’em in your salad!

This is almost too easy to qualify as a “fun to do with kids” recipe, but deciding about additions or just shaking the container could certainly be a “shared activity”.

That’s about it. If you try it let us know what you made and added… I think I’ll go have some right now! Mmmmm…

Posted by: Rachel | August 16, 2015

cobbled together

I had this at a friend’s house and begged the recipe. It is about the easiest thing you can imagine, versatile, and really yummy. You can even pretend it is good for you – it is mostly fruit after all!

I have so far only made a blueberry and a blueberry/banana version. I don’t see any reason not to make peach, or mixed berry version, or to add a few chopped nuts, or… I’m not sure about an apple or pear version, but I’m willing (just for the sake of research, you understand) to try.

This is a good “make-ahead”, makes fine left-overs (fat chance of *that*), is dandy warm or cold, can be served with ice cream or whipped cream (or clotted cream if you are in Devon…), travels well, and (in my opinion anyway) is a fine breakfast too. Mmmm….

The trick, if there even is one, is that you put the butter in the baking dish then put the dish in the oven while you preheat it. This melts the butter and preheats the pan sort of like the popover theory. Are you still with me?

Oh, and I made a very passable gluten-free version using a prepackaged gluten-free biscuit mix. I cut back on the sugar and the baking powder for that version as it was already in the mix, and I think it worked quite nicely!

Anyway, here’s the original as it was given to me with my (you know I can rarely let anything alone, right?) tweaks following. Let us know what *you* do with it, ok? Mmmmm… endless possibilities!

A Very Berry Cobbler

can't wait...

can’t wait…

1/2 cup (one stick) butter

1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

1 cup milk

4 cups berries

1/2 cup brown sugar

Heat oven to 350F.

Put 1/2 C (1 stick) butter in a large 9×13 glass pan and put in the oven to melt.

Mix the flour, white sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the milk and stir until smooth. Pour this into the melted butter but do *not* stir in.

Lay the fruit on top. Sprinkle with the brown sugar.

Bake for 45 minutes. It is done when the top is brown and the fruit is bubbly.

worth the wait!

worth the wait!

I cut the sugar to 3/4 cup for my version (1/2 cup for the GF version as the mix was slightly sweet already). I also added about 1 Tbsp of finely ground “mulling” spices (cinnamon, cloves, dried orange rind, allspice…) to wake everything up a bit. Other than that I left well enough alone. If I get peaches next spring like I did this year I know what I’m doing with the ones I don’t just eat over the sink! Mmmmm…

Again, let us know if you try it and what fruit combos you enjoy! Ciao!

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