pear-almond baby loaves; a tuesdays with dorie post


Now that I am home full-time, not only do I plan to work on my book, I also plan to participate with the Tuesdays with Dorie group more.  This week, we are working from the book Baking with Julia and the chosen recipe is for Hazelnut baby loaves.  The recipe is actually for a small loaf cake and requires an unusual pan size.  Most mini loaf pans are 5″ x 3″ x 2″ or a close approximation to that but the recipe calls for eight 4″ x 2″ x 2″ pans and I only have three-hard to believe.  After looking in a couple of shops, I could only find the 5″ pans and had no desire to buy a big baking plaque for loaves in that size (think rectangular cupcake pan) so I did the next best thing; I used a muffin pan.

My tale of woe does not end here.  When one isn’t working, one watches spending and I could not bring myself to spend $6 on hazelnuts when I only needed 1/3 cup so I used 1/4 cup of almond flour, something I am apparently hoarding in my freezer.  

When my husband and I went to the not so local International market on Sunday, I stocked up on tiny pears.  They had both Fourelle and Seckel pears and I chose a half-dozen of each.  What can I say, I happen to love pears and was thinking of something I saw on Pinterest recently and thought I would give it a try.  First I poached the pears.  To do this, I placed the peeled pears-stems and cores left in place, into a saucepan with 1/2 cup ruby port, 1/2 cup apple cider, 2 cups water, 1/2 cup light brown sugar, 1 cardamom pod, 1 star anise pod, a 1″ piece of vanilla bean, 3 whole allspice and 5 whole black pepper corns.  With the heat at medium-low, I allowed the pears to simmer gently, turning them occasionally so they would color evenly until they were tender when a knife tip was inserted.  The pears were allowed to sit in the liquid until mostly cooled and then were carefully lifted out and placed in a dish lined with a paper towel and placed in the fridge over night.

The recipe also called for creme fraiche and since I had some heavy cream and cultured buttermilk, I made my own by pouring 1 cup of cream into a glass measuring cup, then I stirred in a tablespoon of buttermilk and let it sit out overnight.  It was pretty thick-I may have added a bit more than a tablespoon of buttermilk.

Having toasted the almond flour, I proceeded with the recipe but doubled the almond extract to give it a bit of a frangipan flavor.  The batter was divided between the pans and the pears were pressed into the batter.  A little of sprinkle of Demerara sugar over the top and into the oven they went.

They baked up beautifully; the pears only added about 5 extra minutes of baking time.  They needed to cool in the pans so that the cake could set and support the pears.  However, the greasing/flouring of the pans allowed them to slip out undamaged.

To get an idea of what the pears were like, the front left is a Seckel pear, the front right is a Fourelle pear and in the rear is a fully ripened Comice pear.  Can you see the difference in size?  The Comice pear was easily twice the size of the others but all were ripe and juicy and when poached, they held their shape without falling to pieces.
IMG_4761The syrup on the plate is actually the poaching liquid.  After I removed the pears, I had about 2 cups of liquid and using the same sauce pan over medium-low heat, it was reduced down to slightly less than a cup.  It is flavorful and a beautiful ruby color and I am thinking it will make some wonderful cocktails…My only thought on this, the cake was not very sweet.  While my first impulse is to add more sugar next time, I think in this case, more syrup and possibly a scoop of ice cream would do the trick nicely.

Until next week, bake on friends.  To see how the other participants made out with this recipe, check the website and consider joining in on the fun!

a visit to Well Sweep Herb Farm, another one crossed off the bucket list


When I began gardening seriously, I found myself focusing on herbs.  Medicinal herbs, culinary herbs, ornamental herbs; it didn’t matter, I had dreams of using as many as possible to fill the beds at the Demonstration Garden.  In my search for plant sources, I came across the Well Sweep Herb Farm in Mount Bethel, New Jersey.  When the catalog would arrive in my mailbox, I would study it, make lists, and dream of the garden that would be some day.  Along with that dream was the idea that one day, when I was in the area, I would get to visit the farm and that day came recently when I discovered that it was less than an hours drive from my mother’s home.  We set off on a cool, fall morning and followed many winding, hilly country roads while enjoying the foliage display of the season and thanks to some very clearly marked roads and good directions, we arrived at the farm.

The owners of the farm live in a house at the front of the property and at first glance, you might think it is a bed and breakfast or an inn.  The farm is open to the public year round so if you decide to visit, I suggest going back in a different season, the grounds are beautiful and there is plenty to see.

The formal herb garden is full of plants of all kinds and even though most plants are done for the year, there was still many that were putting on a display.


The foliage in the hills is spectacular this year and it made for a beautiful background at the farm.


There are fruit trees all over the farm and this one is amazing; look at that hole in the trunk.  How it has survived and still seems to flourish.


All over the property you will find beds and focal points that mix a wide variety of plants.


Red Barns, split rail fences and bird houses dot the landscape.


There is more to see besides herbs on this farm and we walked past a few sheep grazing in this small pasture.


When you arrive at the farm, you are immediately aware of the presence of chickens because the roosters crow continually.  We were intrigued by the long tail feathers and asked about them.  Apparently, they raise Onagadori, Japanese long tail chickens.

The green and blue feathers and a tail that can be over 20 feet long make these birds very unusual in comparison to domestic chickens.


As we walked the grounds, we stopped to admire the blooms of this plant and found this sleeping bee.


Orange calendula in bloom near the greenhouse


No idea what this plant is, but the cottony fluff that is actually the seed was intriguing.


Annual Clary Sage putting on a show.  The pink tops were eye-catching and this plant has earned a spot on my garden wish list.


Seed pods from Clematis vines, they look like pinwheels.  An important part of landscaping is planning your plants so that there is visual interest for all the seasons and plants with interesting seed pods is a great way to accomplish that.  The flowers may be gone but the seed pods provide interest and if left in place, they can lead to more plants, a win-win in my book!

After walking the grounds, taking photos, picking two plants (elderberry and a bearfoot hellebore), a pair of herb books and some garlic bulbs, we headed back towards home.  For me, it was a chance to visit a garden I had seen in photos, crossing off one on the bucket list and then putting it back on the list; I hope to come back in another season-there are spring and summer to consider…

apple pielets; a tuesdays with dorie post


The weather has changed; suddenly, it is fall.  The days are getting shorter and the temperatures are cooler.  It is also apple season, one of my favorite things of fall.  Fresh, crispy, crunchy, juicy… apples with skin of every shade from red and green to yellow and pink.  Sliced, or whole; I’ll eat them either way.  Baked into pies and cakes, cooked into sauce or spicy butter, layered on peanut butter sandwiches or dipped in thick, creamy caramel; I love all of them.

If you haven’t visited my blog before, then you may not be familiar with Tuesdays with Dorie.  We are a large group of bakers who are baking our way through two books written by Dorie Greenspan.  We alternate books each week and this week the group chose to make the Apple Pielets from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi which was also the perfect way to add more apples to my diet.  To keep up with our baking adventure, visit the website and consider joining us each week.

The recipe calls for using a muffin tin and lining the cups with a galette dough.  If only I could find my muffin tin.  Perhaps if I finished unpacking…Rather than searching for the pan or buying a new one, I chose to use my mini brioche tins.  They were the perfect size and gave them a cute fluted shape.  To make the filling, I chose Granny Smith and Sweet Tango apples, diced them, sweetened with dark brown sugar and spiced them with some garam masala.  The directions called for rolling the dough between two sheets of parchment or plastic.  Can I just say that is my least favorite method to roll out dough?  If you ask me, I think that rolling slightly chilled dough out with large amounts of flour is always the way to go.  Chilling reduces the stickiness and the flour makes it so much easier to roll out.  If you truly go crazy with the flour, you can always brush it away with a soft brush.

After heavily greasing the pans, I lined them with circles of dough and filled the pielets with the apples.  A smaller round of dough was laid over the top of the filling and the two pieces of dough were sealed together.  To allow the steam to vent, a few small slits were cut into the top crust and the pielets were baked to a lovely, golden brown.  It was hard to wait but it was easier to remove them when they had mostly cooled.  After pulling the pies out of the pans, I set them aside to finish cooling.

Here’s to another apple season!  Join us if you dare, we do this weekly.  Visit the website, pick up a copy of the book and get to baking-you won’t regret it!


hibiscus in the garden


When Darry and I first became active with the Master Gardeners, I had an opportunity to plan a small herb garden.  The beds were arranged in a circle, like spokes on a wheel and each bed featured a different collection of herbs.  To fill out the wheel, I used one bed to grow edible flowers.  It was then that a small obsession of mine became obvious and every year, I have plants in the garden just for the flowers.

Hibiscus Sabdariffa, commonly called Roselle, has earned a spot in my garden each year and not only are the flowers pretty, but they are easy to care for and produce many blooms.  The foliage will look familiar to seasoned vegetable gardeners because hibiscus resembles another popular garden plant; okra.  And like okra, and other hibiscus varieties, the flowers are short-lived and are only open for a day.  While some may be disappointed by this quick life, if you are hoping to make tea from the flowers, you want them to close quickly so you can harvest the best part; the calyx.

The flowers start out yellow with a hint of blush on the tip of each petal and as the day wears on, they darken to a beautiful shade of peachy-pink.

The plants bloom in succession starting at the bottom of the stalk moving towards the tip of the branch.  If you remove each blossom as it closes, you will encourage the plant to bloom more.  It takes a lot of blooms to make jam or syrup but for a cup of tea, you will need just a handful.  The calyx needs to be picked before it forms a seed pod so you will have to check each day for the spent blooms.  When I pick the blooms, I lay them on a tray and place them in the oven to dry using the heat generated by the oven light.  

Finding seeds for these lovely plants is not hard, if you know a gardener who is growing them, ask them for a fully formed seed pod.  Each year I save a few pods for the next year.  Otherwise, my favorite source for seed is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  To learn more about hibiscus, read about them on the wikipedia website,

tiger cakes; a tuesdays with dorie post


It was a tough decision but I had to do it.  Last week, I gave notice to my employer that I would be leaving.  For the last two years, I have wanted to write another book.  A while back, I did co-write a proposal and unfortunately, it flopped.  The publishers that read it ultimately chose to pass on it and after all was said and done, I was done with it too.  The whole process led me on a journey to figure out what I want to do and what I want to write about and after some major soul-searching and more than a couple of pity parties, I finally figured it all out.  Well, most of it anyway, and thanks to a consultation with a literary agent, an even better and more focused plan is beginning to emerge.  This proposal will focus on things I love so you know it will involve baking. But for now, I will leave it at that; you will just have to wait to hear more about it…

While I work on that proposal, I am trying to get back to things I love doing and Tuesdays with Dorie is one of those things that I have truly missed.  If things go as planned, I will get caught up and make all of the recipes I missed over the last 6 months.  This week, we are baking from Baking Chez Moi and our chosen recipe is for Tiger Cakes.  

Can you say “easy peasy” because that is what this recipe was-easy; crazy easy and quick and topped with ganache.  The batter mixes up quicker than you think, it actually takes longer to measure out the ingredients than it does to whisk them together!  The main ingredient is almond flour and it is whisked into egg whites and sugar with a bit of flour and a generous helping of finely chopped bittersweet chocolate.  These decadent little cakes are moist and chewy and as if that wasn’t enough, they get dressed up with a bittersweet chocolate ganache.

Join us, bake from Dorie Greenspan’s books, Baking Chez Moi and Baking with Julia; to see how the other bakers made out with the recipes, check the website, Tuesdays with Dorie.


tourte milanese; a tuesdays with dorie post

FullSizeRender (4)My husband and I found ourselves attending three different potluck dinners in a 10 day run and luckily for us, the most recent Tuesdays with Dorie recipes were perfect choices for a dinner party.  The Tourte Milanese from Baking with Julia is on the left while the Apple Kuchen from Baking Chez Moi is on the right.  We took these to a potluck party to celebrate the 5th anniversary of PECK, the Peninsula Chicken Keepers association.

The Tourte was not new to me; years ago, I made that recipe when it was featured in one of those best cookbook of the year annuals.  While I do not remember what book it was, I could never forget that tourte and thought about making one on many occasions.  For this tourte, I followed the recipe pretty closely.  My only changes were to use herbs fresh from the garden in the eggs, adding eggplant slices (also from the garden) and mushrooms to the spinach and a few convenience products.  The puff pastry was homemade and had been in the freezer for a while so it was time to get it out and put it to use.  To save some time, I used a bag of frozen spinach and a bottle of roasted peppers from Trader Joes.  If only we had something left to take a photo-I brought home an empty plate and the knowledge that I must make that again and when I do, it will not go any further than my own dining room table so that I can have more than just a little sliver…

The Apple Kuchen is actually a tart packed with apples and a cream custard.  To make it a little more fall like, I decided to combine apples and pears.  Ordinarily, I love an apple tart.  But this one, not so much; it just did not work for me.  My instincts told me to add spices but followed the recipe as written.  All of that fruit, the custard, the absence of starch in the filling-it added up to a wet filling that I just didn’t care for.  The majority of it was eaten at the potluck and I only brought home a small wedge and the knowledge that this recipe would not be on my “make it again list” any time soon.

To see how the other bakers did with the Tourte Milanese, visit the Tuesdays with Dorie website.

Rhubarb Crumb Tart: a Tuesdays with Dorie Rewind


Way back in August, the Tuesdays with Dorie group baked the Cherry Crumb Tart from Baking Chez Moi.  The recipe calls for a frangipane-like filling made with either almond or hazelnut flour, fresh red cherries and a topping of  cardamom scented struesel.  Put together, it is a perfect marriage of flavors, especially if you are lucky enough to find tart red cherries.  Unfortunately, by the time August rolls around, cherry season is done and while you may still find some dark sweet cherries, the tart red ones are impossible to locate.  Honestly, I have not had luck finding the tart ones fresh, even at the peak of season and my only option ends up being a canned product unless I want to spring for a mail order bulk purchase requiring overnight shipping.  More than once, I have found myself dreaming of a tree in my garden, laden with plump, juicy, tart red cherries.
IMG_4228Rather than letting the disappointment stop me, I chose to make the tart using rhubarb.  And yes, rhubarb is another plant that is out of season in August but luckily for me, I can find sliced rhubarb in the freezer section of the grocery store.  Because it is just the two of us here, I only made half of the recipe and it was enough to make three 4″ tarts.
IMG_4272Rhubarb is one of those foods that while subtle in flavor, it can pack a tart punch and add a huge amount of moisture making it a great substitute for the hard to find red cherries.  The rhubarb released its juices and blended with the almond filling to make a custard like filling.  As far as I am concerned, I can live with rhubarb standing in for the cherries, for now, at least until I get that tree planted in the garden…

Do yourself a favor, pick up a copy of Baking Chez Moi and bake along with us, or just bake from the book!  To see how the other bakers fared, check the original post from August or the rewind post.