vanilla-peach panna cotta; a tuesdays with dorie post

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The intense heat of summer subsided a bit this week and I spent some time baking at home again.  One of the things I am enjoying about preparing the recipes from Baking Chez Moi as well as Baking with Julia is the diversity; sometimes we bake and sometimes we cook and this week, the panna cotta was prepared on the stove top.  The recipe calls for a mango puree to be poured into the bottom of the cup but I had a basket of ripe, local peaches sitting on the counter and I could not help myself.
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Panna cotta is an Italian dessert made from sweetened cream and milk that have been set with gelatin.  Usually, the cream mixture is poured into a mold, chilled to set and then turned out onto a plate so that it is a free-standing dessert.  This recipe calls for pouring the mixture over a puree and serving it in the cup.  The only problem; my husband cannot eat dairy products.  Because he is such a sweet freak, I decided to make it with coconut cream and almond milk rather than the heavy cream and milk called for in the recipe.  On my last trip to the grocery store, I saw local peaches being sold by the basket and I am a sucker for fresh peaches!

Trader Joe’s sells an extra thick and creamy coconut cream which stood in for the heavy cream beautifully and while it added a lovely flavor, it was not at all over powering.  While I also substituted almond milk for the whole milk, it did not add a tremendous amount of flavor that I could detect.  Overall, it was okay.  Perhaps it is just that I am not much of a Jell-o fan and this recipe reminded me of a milky jello but the peach part was tasty.   
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While the weather was pleasant (in as far as it can be in the south mid-July) this week, it was awful last week, truly awful and I did not make any effort to bake the Swedish Oatmeal Hardtack from Baking with Julia.  When the weather cooled off this week, I mixed up a batch and I am happy to say that this recipe is a keeper!

The ingredient list calls for quick cooking oats which are something that I never have in my pantry.  Oatmeal is a favorite ingredient of mine and I use it in cookies, breads and of course, hot cereal on cold winter days.  At least I did until I discovered the multi grain blend that Trader Joe’s sells.  The blend is made from rolled, whole rye, barley, oats and wheat and it looks just like oatmeal but it has a lot more flavor from the different grains.  Hardtack is essentially a cracker and typical for cracker recipes, this one called for mostly shortening with a little butter added for flavor.  Because I was making just half of the recipe, I opted for just the shortening, substituting the single tablespoon of butter with additional shortening however, I do not keep white hydrogenated shortening in my pantry either.  To make these crackers, I used virgin coconut oil which was solid in my kitchen and I loved the flavor it added.  If I make these again, I think a sprinkle of coarse salt over the top would be perfect.
IMG_4109Think you would like to bake along with us?  Visit the Tuesdays with Dorie website, pick up a copy of either book and get baking!  To see how the other bakers did with these recipes, visit the LYL pages for the panna cotta and the hard tack.

two for tuesday; a tuesdays with dorie post

IMG_3948 Late again.  Things just seem to escape me and suddenly, I am chasing the bus down the street.  My husband was in Germany for a month and when he got back, we spent days trying to get caught up on all the things I could not do myself while he was gone.  Then of course, my job; after working a 10 hour shift in a kitchen that is 100+ degrees, baking at home has been the furthest thought from my mind.  Somehow, in the last few days, I managed to bake a cake and tarts so that I could get back in step with the Tuesdays with Dorie bakers.

The restaurant I work in was once owned by Marcel Desaulnier and when I saw that the White Chocolate Patty Cake was another of his recipes-he contributed several to Baking with Julia, I decided to give it a whirl.  It was easy enough to make but I think I whipped my egg whites a little too much because I ended up with a crust that fell away in shards.  Despite the over-whipped whites, the cake still had a nice, dense and creamy texture.  Since I was making this for just the two of us, I cut the recipe in half and baked the layers in 6 inch pans.  Rather than make the raspberry filling, I used some tart cherries in syrup and rhubarb that I had and made a thick puree.  The tart flavors of the cherries, rhubarb and the fresh raspberries worked nicely with the cake.  To see the round-up of all the participants, visit the Tuesdays with Dorie website.

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It was nice to get back to the old routine of baking, styling and taking photos; if only I had more time…Found that  nifty cake plate on one of my trips to the thrift store-I think it is a candle holder but I like it as a cake plate much better.  My collection of stuff has gotten a little large and my husband wants me to start selling some of it off or give it away.  He isn’t keen on clutter, calls me a hoarder sometimes.  Maybe I should open a shop; opinions, anyone???


IMG_3962As much as I like cake, I think I like tart better.  What’s not to love about a tart topped with fresh fruit?  This is my version of the Apricot-Raspberry Tart from Baking Chez Moi.  A week ago, I picked up a box of peaches when I went to Trader Joe’s.  Ripe peaches sounded like a nice substitution for the apricots and I added a few dark cherries just for fun.  In the recipe, Dorie suggests an almond cream filling as an alternative to the lady fingers or cake crumbs and since I was in an almond mood, I added some almond extract to really give it an extra almond punch.   The dough recipe actually made six 4″ tart shells but I froze four of them for another day and just made two tarts and filled them with half of the recipe for the cream filling.  Even though the tarts were smaller than the recipe called for, the baking time was almost the same due to the cream filling which took a while to set in the oven.  We both enjoyed this one but then, you cannot go wrong with peaches and frangipan which is what this filling made me think of!

To see how the others made out, be sure to visit the Tuesdays with Dorie website!

keeping up with the joneses; maintaining the garden in summer

It’s summer, finally.  The spring that wouldn’t come has finally gone and we are now enduring 100 degree days.  For the gardener, summer weather presents many challenges.  Whether it is the high heat and humidity, long, dry spells or of the many insects and blights of all kinds, there is always something that needs doing.  This week, Melissa of Corbin in the Dell and I are exploring the many needs of a garden in summer.

Each winter, as seed catalogs arrive, I patiently await the warmer weather to plant my vegetables.  When the dreary weather passes, garden centers begin selling starter plants and gardeners snatch them up quickly, myself included.  The funny thing is that not all of these plants are best suited for spring weather here in the south but it never stops me from trying and this year was no exception.  Brassicas, commonly referred to as cole crops, which include broccoli, brussels sprouts,  cauliflower, cabbage and the like do not do well in warm weather.  By the time the garden centers set them out in March and April, it is almost too late to grow them here and honestly, they are better suited to the fall season.   While listening to a Q & A with organic farmer Jeff Poppen, he declared to all that brassicas need to come out of the ground by May or they will attract all sorts of undesirable insects to the garden and he is right-some day I need to listen to this advice!  Our spring weather was a few weeks behind and I just pulled out the last of our broccoli and kohlrabi.

Remember, gardening is a continuous cycle and the seasons flow somewhat seamlessly.  As temperatures creep up then down, plants thrive, mature and ultimately begin the process of dying.  For many vegetables, succession planting will keep you harvesting produce for longer periods and I try to use that method in my garden.  Thankfully, Virginia has a long growing season and since our first frost date isn’t until November, I am still starting seeds and planting summer crops and dreaming of fresh picked corn and tomatoes.

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Pulling out last seasons plants to make way for the next wave is just one task on the gardening “to do” list.  Keeping the bad bugs at bay will also keep you busy.  Even if you just garden with flowers, there will be battles with bugs!  In my new shade beds, I discovered some wooly aphids in one of my hanging planters.  The fluffy white stuff on the stem in the photo above is actually a few wooly aphids.  As you walk through your garden looking for signs of pests, be sure to lift the leaves and look carefully at the whole plant including the undersides of the leaves.


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One of the worst offenders in a summer vegetable garden is a flea beetle.  They can quickly devour leaves and the damage can kill a plant.


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This is a leaf on one of my eggplants that flea beetles damaged.  The damage reduces the plant’s ability to produce chlorophyl and it can die as a result.  While I do practice organic gardening, I will occasionally use pesticides but only those considered acceptable for organic gardening.  To combat these horrible creatures, I sprayed the plants with pyrethrin and the plant is now recovering from the damage.


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And just as insects can damage a plant, so can sunshine; this celery plant shows signs of sun scald on the leaves.  Over the winter, I grew a celery plant from the bottom part that was cut off the bunch.  By slicing off a thin piece of the root end and placing it in a dish of water, and in time, some roots appeared.  Eventually, I planted it in a pot of soil and then put it out in the garden still in the pot.  As it grew and grew, I decided to take it out of the pot and plant it in one of the bales.  Unfortunately, I put it in a bale that gets a little too much sun and I will most likely move it to a bale that offers more shade.  

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Basil is one of my favorite plants in summer for so many reasons.  It tastes good, smells wonderful and is actually a pretty plant but if you let the flowers grow, it will stop producing leaves so be sure to snip them off as they appear.  Since I am also a beekeeper, I tend to let a few of the flowers remain on the plants because honeybees love basil too and they will visit the blooms to gather nectar.

IMG_3859 While I have not seen honeybees visit a dill plant, I have seen many caterpillars on them.  But just like basil, if you leave the flowers in place, the plant will switch over to reproduction mode and it will concentrate on producing seeds so be sure to snip these off too!  Then be sure to harvest the leaves and mix up a batch of homemade buttermilk ranch dressing!

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Potatoes are such an easy vegetable to grow and if you plan your beds, you can grow a companion plant above the soil while the potatoes grow below, a great way to maximize limited space.  In late spring, flowers will appear and soon after, the vines will begin to die.  Once the vines die, it is time to harvest the potatoes.  Our Yukon gold potatoes are coming along nicely and as these vines die off, I will pull apart the bales to find them.

As the season progresses, a gardener must pay close attention to details.  Weeds can be a problem at any time so it is important that you remove them quickly.  To keep the soil from drying out, use mulch in the beds.  Another plus to using mulch is that it can also help keep the weeds at bay.  Applying fertilizers or compost tea as well as treating for pests is an ongoing process so be sure to use these products properly for the best results.  Some pests are best treated by hand picking.  When asparagus beetles, harlequin bug and stink bugs descend on my garden, I fill a 1-2 gallon bucket with water and mix in a few tablespoons of dish soap.  After stirring it to mix, I simply drop the offending critters in and watch them drown.  This works for caterpillars too so if you see one munching on plants, give it the same watery grave.


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Not all insects in the garden are a problem.  Dragonflies feed on mosquitoes and judging by the number of them flying around here, I must have a lot of mosquitoes in the garden!  At any given time, half a dozen or more dragonflies are hunting in my garden and when they are as colorful as this one, it is hard not to take a minute or two to chase after one with a camera…


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This one is not as colorful but it sat still and watched me as I took several photos.

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This planter box was the first one I added to the front of the house and the plants here are much more established than the others.  As a matter of fact, I have had to trim some of the plants just to keep them in check.  Recently, my mother noticed a house wren going in and out of the planter.  He would return each time with grass or small twigs, and yes, he not she because male wrens are the nest builders.  The whole wren courtship ritual is interesting to watch.  The males build a nest or two and then sing out in the hope of attracting a female.  Whether or not our little guy was successful remains to be seen, in the mean time, we have a spare nest available if anybody needs one…


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At first glance, the nest is not noticeable and that is good for the wrens but in truth, it makes watering the box a little bit of a challenge.


IMG_3876Look at the work that went into this little nest.  Strand by strand, that lady wren is one lucky bird!  And much to our surprise, she said yes!  We discovered that the little lady wren laid some eggs in the nest when I approached the planter to water it and she flew out.  A quick peek inside revealed two speckled eggs!

When we moved into our home last fall, we knew that a garden would be part of our new yard.  Slowly, we sculpted the beds and layered them with the falling leaves, coffee grinds and compost which will be turned into the soil with hopes of lightning the dense, compacted clay.  While we waited patiently for spring to arrive, we added 45 straw bales to the beds and now that summer is here, the first of the bales are beginning to collapse.  A few are leaning like drunkards, threatening to spill over and dump out the plants in them and I couldn’t be happier!  Having followed the instructions found all over the interwebs for straw bale gardening, I suddenly have a large supply of compost to turn into the soil.  But, do not call this method a success, yet.  And if truth be told, I wouldn’t follow those directions again because the extreme amount of fertilizer called for has the ability to cause just as many problems as the instructions claim they solve.  Look for more on this method later in the year, I will keep updating and I plan on a complete review in the fall.

Be sure to visit Melissa’s blog to see how she takes care of her mid-season garden.

rewind; a tuesdays with dorie post

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Can anyone please tell me where the month of June went?  Last thing I remember was packing my husbands suitcase for his month-long trip to Germany, and boom, June is gone.  Between work and the garden, I didn’t have much time to bake this month and honestly, we had so many days above 95 degrees that baking really wasn’t much of an option.

Twice this month, I got my act together and baked; first the rhubarb upside-down brown sugar cake and then the chocolate cherry brownies, both from Baking Chez Moi.  The results; both were good and I would bake either one again.


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The day I went shopping in search of fresh rhubarb, I came up empty-handed.  Luckily, I was able to find it frozen and honestly, it worked out beautifully in the end.  If you make the cake and have to use frozen rhubarb, I suggest you let it thaw completely, drain it well and use towels to pat it dry before proceeding with the recipe.  Attempting to cook it while still slightly frozen prevented the pieces from juicing.  For the round up of participants, follow this link.


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There there were the brownies.  Rich, chocolatey, moist.  What’s not to love?  Only suggestion, use tart dried cherries instead of sweet ones.  Most of the dried dark cherries had little to offer in flavor and were over powered by the chocolate even though I soaked them in twice the amount of port; I subbed port for the water to add more flavor.
IMG_3838My mom was staying with me for the month and honestly, we ate the whole batch between us.  Granted, it took nearly a week but we did eat them all.  Surprisingly, they stayed pretty moist and I can only guess the moist fruit made that possible.  To see the round up of participants for this recipe, here is the link.

Here’s to a new month and the hope that I will not blink and miss this one too.  To see how the other bakers did this month, visit the Tuesdays with Dorie website.

patience is a virtue; words to garden by

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tomato seedlings for my garden

Last year, in January, I attended my very first blogging conference.  While this isn’t big news or even an interesting tidbit about my life worth sharing, it is an important event to me personally.  You see, at this very event, I was lucky to forge a friendship with Melissa of Corbin in the Dell.  We already knew of each other since we traveled in the same foodie circle in Nashville and would occasionally run into each other at Nashville Food Bloggers events but it wasn’t until that weekend that we realized just how much we had in common and how much fun we could have together (remind me to tell you about our pranks at the 2015 conference.)

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beneficial insects are attracted to the garden by planting flowers and with any luck, these zinnias and marigolds will draw many.

 

During many conversations, we would discuss gardening, something we have in common and it led to the decision to collaborate on a project.  While we both practice organic methods in the garden, our approaches could not be more different.  Melissa is a true farm raised, country girl, and as you may know, I am your typical city girl who grew up in an apartment with no garden to play in.  Then my husband’s job led us to Williamsburg; this put a serious wrinkle in our plans to work on a book together but luckily, with the use of email and telephones, we came up with a plan; we would attempt to grow the same plants and let our personal gardening styles be the focus as well as our inspiration for the project.

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before we left Nashville, I took cuttings from our fig tree and rooted them over the winter.

 

During a recent phone conversation, we were both speaking of the unseasonably cool weather and how it was hindering our ability to get growing.  Temperatures fluctuating wildly, rain that hasn’t fallen and plants that failed to thrive are just a few things we discussed.  Gardeners play a waiting game, always.  We wait for the weather to be right.  We wait for seeds to germinate.  We wait, and hope for rain.  And even when things go perfectly as planned, we still wait for fruit to ripen, vegetables to mature and so on.

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not all of the plants in my straw bale garden are from seeds, these are chard transplants and I can actually harvest some leaves now.

 

We won’t even talk about compost because if you think waiting on vegetables is tough, properly cured compost can take as long as a year.  In the world of gardening, one must be patient, very, very, patient.  Since Melissa and I are collaborating on this, we will post updates on our blogs simultaneously, please be sure to check back and see our progress.  To read Melissa’s post, follow this link

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when Melissa and I saw each other in February, she gave me seeds that her husband saved from their garden and here is an okra plant that just sprouted.

 

cardinal slices; a tuesdays with dorie post

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Hard to believe but we have been baking from the book, Baking with Julia, for more than two years.  While I have enjoyed the process and reading posts from the other bakers, not every recipe has excited me and a few were just not an option.  But when I read the headnote to the recipe for Cardinal Slices, I was a bit excited; this was a chance to make a classic cake and a caramel syrup.  Then I read the entire recipe and saw the suggestion of turning the leftover batter into chocolate dipped ladyfingers called Rothschilds.  Now this was what I call a great way to spend a morning!!!

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The recipe for the cake layers instructs you to make a meringue first.  The meringue is piped with a 1/2 inch tip the length of the baking pan, actually, three long ropes that are fairly close together; the two outer ropes are just three inches apart.  The leftover meringue is incorporated into an egg and egg yolk mixture with sugar and whipped to a full ribbon with flour folded in last.  This mixture is piped between the meringue stripes and then it is baked.  
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The espresso caramel syrup is made by burning a small amount of sugar and adding more, bit by bit as you go.  This caramel is cooked much darker than you would expect and the final step is to add hot espresso.  It is intensely flavored and it can be a little bitter from both the burned sugar and the espresso but the whipped cream will temper the bitter and even if you are skeptical, make it!  
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The final step is to make a lightly sweetened, whipped cream and flavor it with the espresso caramel syrup.  You are instructed to trim the three strips so that they are evenly sized but let me warn you, if it is a humid day, think twice and perhaps bake the strips longer or wait until a dryer day.  My strips got pretty sticky and were difficult to trim so I didn’t bother.

Do you remember the mention of ladyfingers?  Well let me suggest this, if you do not want to waste leftover batter, cut the recipe in half and do not bother with the lady fingers.  There was enough of the batter left to make lots of ladyfingers, three trays, actually.  According to the directions, I sifted almond flour over the cookies and placed a pan in the oven with my cake strips.  Honestly, I wondered about this because the cake strips were baked at 300 degrees and everything I know about sponge cakes tells me that temp was way too low.  My suspicions were correct and after the instructed baking time of 30 minutes, I had lovely, golden brown, ladyfinger shaped strips of sawdust.  They were awful, truly awful.  Since I noticed that the recipe suggested reading the other ladyfinger recipe in the book for hints, I flipped to it.  This recipe called for baking them at 400 and since I really wanted to make the Rothschilds, I cranked up the heat.  Sadly, the results were not much better, they weren’t as dry or sawdust like but truth be told, they were not any puffier.

Needless to say, my dreams of chocolate dipped Rothschilds were crushed.  In the future, I will probably try making them from the other recipe in the book, the one written by Flo Braker and if I, or should I say when I, make this cake recipe again, I will skip that step and just make half the cake recipe.
IMG_3767Oh, one more thing, totally worth the calories.  Try this one if you can-you will not regret it!  To see how the other bakers did, check the Tuesdays with Dorie website and look for the LYL page.

news from the garden

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Things are taking shape in the garden.  Our lasagna bed is slowly filling with herbs and flowers and above is a photo of a selection of flowers planted to attract beneficial insects.    The straw bales are coming along, a bit slower than I hoped but things are growing.


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The bigger news is the addition of honeybees to our backyard.  We were beekeepers when we lived in Nashville and when we packed up to move to Williamsburg, we brought all of our woodenware and equipment.  One of the first things we did when we unpacked was to join the Colonial Beekeepers Association.


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One of the members of the association arranged to pick up packages with marked queens from Mann Lake.  After picking up our bees, Darry put them into the hive and they began foraging immediately.


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A hive inspection revealed that they are gathering nectar as well.  The white spot in each of the cells is actually the reflection of sunlight on the surface of the nectar curing and once it is ready, the bees will cap each cell.


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As we ventured further into the hive, we noticed lots of activity and randomly placed cells between two frames that is commonly referred to as brace comb.


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As we pulled frames out, we found capped brood and larvae and of course, her majesty, the queen.  Can’t figure out which one she is-that big blue dot should make it obvious.


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The activity level here is typical of a hive and it quickly explains the origins of the phrase, “busy as a bee” because they never stop moving.


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Even though they are actively foraging, they still need a little help from us.  Because they have nothing stored in the hive, we give them sugar syrup so that they can build a reserve of syrup to feed themselves.  The first year is a critical time for a new colony and taking honey from them is not an option this year.  If all goes well, we will be able to harvest honey in year two.


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The bees are big on building brace comb and once again, they built some in the feeder box.


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Bees aren’t the only new addition to our garden.  We also added a flock of chickens.  Golden Laced Wyandottes are beautiful birds and we are excited to have them.


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These girls are growing quickly and they are beginning to get their adult feathers.


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And they are also sprouting tail feathers and the beginning of their combs.  When they are living outdoors in the coop, we plan to use the chickens to help us control small hive beetles in the bee hive.


IMG_3621Check back to see the progress of our girls, meaning the chickens and the bees!