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.
IMG_0373
Fold into half-moons and press edges together with a fork. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet or use parchment paper.
IMG_0374
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.

Enjoy!
***

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!

IMG_5390

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:

IMG_4862
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!

IMG_4884

But sometimes they are more approachable.

IMG_4887

I saw things I will never quite understand,

IMG_4908

and other things that need no translation!

IMG_4911

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…

IMG_4957

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:

IMG_5022

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:

IMG_4784

Some more passionate:

IMG_4786

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

Mmmmmozzarella!!

Mmmmmozzarella!!

or totally unfamiliar:

IMG_4798

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

Really? Hmmmm...

Really? Hmmmm…

or

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,

IMG_4764

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!

Posted by: Rachel | July 19, 2015

the tree is still there…

I don’t think it is cheating to publish a piece I wrote for my writer’s group, do you? Especially if it is “food-relevant”. So, here is what I wrote for this month. Our prompt (we take turns coming up with them) was “The tree. The tree is still there.”

I had an idea, but as I researched I discovered some information that upset me. I incorporated it in this story, and have no idea why I didn’t know about this earlier! Oh good heavens…
***
The tree. The tree is still there.

Ladies and gentlemen of the planning commission, thank you for your time. I am here to ask, no, to beg your attention.

My great-great-grandfather Vincenzo, whose name I carry, planted the trees in question. At that time our family owned a few hectares of soil, poor as it was and riddled with limestone. Family history says he chose the spot because the view of the sea. My great-great-grandmother came from north of here. She had blue eyes, blue as the sea, and he loved her and loved the sea, or so the story goes.

Even though he knew he’d not live to see any yield from them, in addition to fig trees, he planted the flatter part of his land, my land, in olive saplings and of course planted grape vines on the slopes. Always had an eye to the future, he did.

If we were nobles, our family motto would certainly be “Oggi Fichi, Olive Domani”. That was my great-great-grandfather. “Figs for today, olives for tomorrow”, and he somehow kept the family’s land safe and added a few more hectares when he could. No one knows just how he got the money for the land, but sometimes it is better not to ask too many questions, si?

He lived there happily and he and my great-great-grandmother raised the 9 children that survived childbirth and infancy. They had a few goats, and they fished just off the point below the small round white stone “trullo” house that my great-great-grandfather built of stacked stones. They gathered whelks and sea urchins at low tide, and by all accounts they were happy.

trullo house

trullo turned masseria

My great-grandfather was their eldest son, and the land went to him.

My great-grandfather lived quietly, married a local girl, and, as family history tells us, started building the farm house that stands on the land today. Of course, he kept the smaller round “trullo” house as well, and salvaged a few of the stones from it for the great fireplace in the kitchen of the new masseria.

It was backbreaking work, pulling stones from the fields to build the house and walls, but he had a lot of determination and all those trees to protect, and he had his 6 boys and 2 girls to help him.

That was well over a hundred years ago. As you can imagine, the remaining trees and vines have seen some changes to the land around here. The trees that are still standing have survived freezes, torrential rains, and two great wars. I know that you may think that the Great War was fought far north of here in the mountains above the Veneto, but my family survived the British blockade and we managed to stay even when there was seemingly nothing to eat because of the sea.

The Second War ravaged parts of our countryside, but the sea provided for us again, and the trees stood.

This land has seen changes in government, the great unification, and most recently our entry into the EU. What was once a quiet farm and olive grove outside a simple village is now being reinvented as a hotel; now it is a masseria for tourists. If my trees could talk…

healthy happy harvest 2013

healthy happy harvest 2013

But my point is this: we are currently faced with the greatest danger to our countryside that we have faced so far. No one wants to talk about it for fear of bringing it here perhaps, but we must arm ourselves as far as possible against this scourge.

It may not look like much, but the trees just south of here are quietly dying from this pestilential plague. It is an outbreak, carried by some tiny insects that chew the leaves and poison the trees. The government seems faintly interested, but we must act locally to stop this at our border. Never mind unification, we must act independently since no one will help us.

This bacteria, for I understand that is what it is, chokes the trees of water and kills them. Irrigation does nothing; this bacteria simply robs the trees of life. The government’s idea at the moment seems to be to try to create a line of demarkation between our trees and those to the south, but I don’t trust the government.

I trust you, Guiseppe, and you, Paulo, and you, Cesare and the rest of you because I know you. Our families have all lived here for generations, we are all members of the same olio cooperativo, and we all rely on our trees for both our livelihood and for the shade and beauty.

Let us work together with the local agriturismo folks and the big brains up at the University to find either a cure or at least a way to stop this plague. For now, the trees stand, but for how much longer? Thank you.

***
You can read a New York Times article here,
or
an article from the Daily Mail here.
***

So, friends, there you have it. It hurts my heart and I cannot believe I am so late in coming to hear of this. If I hear more I will update you, and if you know any more than I do about this please, please, share with us, OK? Until next time, then…

Posted by: Rachel | June 24, 2015

a verdant season

I haven’t been blogging recently because:
I needed to work in my yard
I needed to mow the lawn (again)
It was too rainy
It was too hot
I was busy with friends/family/work

Well, I guess I’m out of excuses.

Honestly, I’ve just not been in the mood. When friends ask what I’ve been doing I answer “mostly not blogging”. I really have been busy, though, and my “yard work” excuses are certainly true! I don’t remember ever being this close to July and seeing such a green, lush, world here in central Texas.

We’ve had rain.

That’s a bit of an understatement, actually. We’ve had Texas style all-or-nuthin’ downpours that caused some serious flooding in the area. I came through fine, others were not so lucky.

But I’m not here to talk about weather-related chaos and destruction, I’m here to give us a taste of some of what I’ve been eating and enjoying these past few weeks. Yes, *us* – I’m hoping to get myself geared up and excited about blogging again as well. So.

The big news is that I discovered that Austin has a Burmese grocery. Yup! When I was in California a few months ago my friends took me out for Burmese. Mmm… “Order whatever you like”, they told me, “we are having tea salad”. Really?

Oh yes. Tea salad, a mixture of greens, tomatoes, crunchy bits including fried garlic slices, peanuts, and sesame seeds, and a dollop of what looks like slightly oxidized pesto. That’s the “tea” part. Oh mmmmmmm!

This “dressing” tastes a bit like a mild spinach pesto with a slightly tannic aftertaste of black tea. I can’t really describe it any better than that but it sure is good! I have been reading up on it and several sites claim that you can make your own if you don’t have a Burmese grocery or restaurant to hand. I haven’t tried this yet, but I promise I will and I’ll report my findings. In the mean time, I’m buying mine here:

Burmese grocery

9010 N IH-35 and worth the drive!

It comes in two sizes. I bought the smaller (well, several of them actually) as I wasn’t sure how it would keep once open. And happily each container comes with a small bag of the crunchy bits as well. Here’s all it takes:

Homestyle Tea Salad
(for 3 or 4)

several leaves of Romaine or other sturdy lettuce
a few nice flavorful tomatoes
a small bunch of fresh herbs (cilantro and mint is nice)
a dollop of “tea salad dressing”
a bit of the crunchy bits

Mix all, add a bit more of the crunchy bits on top, and enjoy.

salad with dressing on side

Mmmm…

finished salad

see the little “crunchy bits”?


***

Now here’s that part I bet they didn’t intend. I mean, it is a salad dressing, right? Well, yes it is, but I also have been putting a spoonful in my lunch-time smoothies. The dressing by itself it slight salty, sort of green-tasting, and I think it is a lovely compliment to a fruit and veg smoothie. And, (of course, this might be just my imagination) it seems to give me a bit of a mid-afternoon boost. Caffeine? Maybe…

In any event, eat it, drink it, enjoy it! I will try making my own “dressing” and I’ll let you know if I can get close! Meantime, I hope to see y’all sooner rather than later. I will try to stay in touch better, I promise! Hope you are all having a fine start to summer… until next!

Posted by: Rachel | May 22, 2015

peachy!

Remember these?

small unripe peaches

peachy keen!

This year I got lucky despite the birds and the critters, and they became these!

beautiful ripe peaches

juicy and delicious

Which then became this:

peaches cooking

pot full o’ peaches!

And finally is now in the freezer in small containers to enjoy much, much later. Mmmmm…

Peach “Sauce”

1 tbsp butter
5-8 pounds of fresh, ripe, rain-kissed peaches
juice of one large lemon
brown sugar
Armenian 7-spice

Put the butter in a deep heavy Dutch oven. Set over low heat. Cut the peaches off the stone. No need to peel. Cut away any nasty bits (hey, we don’t spray!). Add to the pot. Add the lemon juice. Add a few tbsp of brown sugar and a few tbsp of Armenian 7-spice (or a mixture of cinnamon, cloves, cumin, coriander, and nutmeg, with a smaller bit of black pepper and cardamon, all finely ground and well-mixed). Keep the heat low and let the peaches sort of melt into a sauce. Mmmmm… Barely simmer for a half hour, add more brown sugar if desired. Chill or freeze if you have enough.
***
You can put this on ice cream, in smoothies, over biscuits, in oatmeal, or pretty much just eat it as is! Mmmm… tastes like summer! And oh, did my house smell wonderful! Enjoy…

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