tiny tomato cakes keep them guessing

sometimes, i like to have fun with desserts.  my favorite game is to make people guess what the secret ingredient is.  once, for thanksgiving, i made a pie with white beans; it was fun to watch as our guests ate the pie while trying to guess what type of squash i used.  there have been many such desserts coming out of my kitchen.  a favorite of mine is tomato cake because it always keeps them guessing.
a recent outing with the nashville food bloggers included a pot luck lunch.  as a pastry chef, dessert is always my contribution to a pot luck meal.  naturally, i decided to have a little fun and make them guess the flavor.  to see the complete recipe, click here.

 my skinny muffin pan from ikea.  it is a little tricky to use.  even though it is nonstick, you really need to grease and flour the cups to ensure the cakes come out intact.

 the best way to present them, wrapped individually and dusted with powdered sugar.

in my search for bakers twine, the kind i remember from childhood, red and white and hanging from the bakery ceiling in a metal stringholder, i came across some cotton yarn.  it works very nicely and is so much cheaper!

tomato berry fougasse; tuesdays with dorie

 this week for our baking with julia challenge, we were given the choice of baking blueberry muffins or a sweet berry fougasse, sigh…as a former bakery owner, trust me, i have mastered the art of blueberry muffins.  whose recipe it is just isn’t important, it’s a blueberry muffin; eat one and you’ve tasted most of them.  that left the sweet berry fougasse.  a simple description is a plain focaccia with a few berries and a handful of crumb topping.  one mention of berries in focaccia, both me and my husband immediately wrinkled our noses up-can you hear the ewwww?  either way, i was determined to bake something and while standing in the kitchen staring at the small mountain of tomatoes on the counter top, sudden epiphany; tomatoes are berries.  that small technicality was all i needed.

to bake the recipe yourself, consider buying or borrowing the book and turning to page 194 and for the muffins, page 208.  or, for those of you not able to find the book, the recipe for the fougasse and the required focaccia can be found here.

to make my bread, first i cut the focaccia recipe in half.  with just two of us in the house, more than that would be a waste.  after the required 24 hour rest in the fridge, i cut the dough in half and formed two rectangular slabs.  i gave them a liberal brush of olive oil, a sprinkle of freshly chopped herbs from the garden (rosemary, oregano and basil) and topped the loaf with thin slices of tomatoes.  into the oven they went.

nice and chewy with a tang from the fresh tomato slices.  perfect for a lazy dinner of salad and bread.  to see what the other bakers came up with, visit the tuesdays with dorie page.

a cake with tomatoes? absolutely!

you are not imagining this-i really am suggesting that you make a cake with tomatoes.  a spicy, moist cake studded with currants and pecans that is perfect for the extra tomatoes your garden is dumping on you hourly.  it is also good in late winter when dreams of a summer garden are all you have to keep you going in dreary weather.  honestly, it is good anytime; when isn’t a bundt cake a good thing?  never, if you ask me.

it does not matter what type of tomatoes you use for this recipe.  they can be yellow, pink or red, even green.  what is important is that they taste good to you.  sweeter varieties will probably add a little to the sugar content of the cake but the tomato flavor really isn’t detected in the final product.  the only exception might be that the redder varieties could give the cake a more golden-orange hue.  i haven’t tried it with green tomatoes but i am thinking that the color may not be as pretty as the cake in my photos-i used deep red beefsteak tomatoes.

one final note, you can use your own homemade puree or if you do not have flavorful tomatoes to make puree, use tomato juice or canned whole or crushed tomatoes.  be sure to run them through the food processor to eliminate the chunks and be careful of using a brand with flavors added; no one wants garlic or onion in their cake.  

the tomatoes will need to be peeled first.  you could simply run them through a food mill to do this or mark an “x” on the bottom of the tomato with a paring knife and then lower the tomatoes into rapidly boiling water.  after 45 seconds to a minute, remove the tomato and check it by pulling at the skin where you cut it.  if it peels up easily, they are ready.  if not, put them back in the water for another 15 seconds and repeat the test.
the skin will peel off easily when they are blanched properly.  

cut the tomatoes in half, remove as much of the jelly and seeds as you can, roughly dice them and put them into the food processor.  pulse them to form a puree that has no detectable chunks of tomato.

so easy to make!  this is one of my favorite bundts.  
to see the recipe, visit my page on food52.com by clicking on this link.
go ahead, bake one, i dare you.  then send me a photo, i will post it here along with mine!

eastern mediteranean pizzas; a tuesdays with dorie recipe

tomatoes are in season, finally.  we were so late at getting them into the garden due to a cool, wet spring that i was beginning to think that we would never have them.  this recipe was the perfect way to use a few ripe ones. 
 the simple recipe calls for few ingredients.  yeast is stirred into water.
 whole wheat flour is added and stirred until silky smooth.

 the sponge is allowed to rest and develop flavor; mine sat for 5 hours.  when i was traveling last year, i brought home a shower cap from the hotel i stayed in.  they are perfect for covering a bowl of dough and they are reusable.

 after resting, all purpose flour is added and stirred in.  once the dough is too stiff to stir, it is kneaded.

 eight to ten minutes later, the dough is ready to rise and double.

 the topping is simple too.  onions and garlic are sauteed.  the recipe calls for the addition of ground lamb but i didn’t want to buy a pound of it for just the needed four ounces; i used a vegetarian ground meat substitute.

 tomatoes from the garden were diced up and added.  after a few minutes of sauteing, they needed to be drained of the juices.  finally, traditional spices were added.

 can you believe the size of this tomato?  have i mentioned how much i love my garden?

 the dough doubled in less than two hours.

 the dough is rolled out by hand.  the directions call to use a well floured surface.  my advice, go lightly with the flour or the dough will not cooperate and will slide around the table.

 the topping is spread around the dough and into the hot oven they went.  i baked them on a stone.

 they baked up quickly.

 the recipe calls for half the dough, i made pita bread with the rest.  i used a cast iron skillet and “baked” them on the stove top.

 the rounds of dough puff up slowly in the skillet.
 suddenly, they will expand
 and you have, pita pockets!

perfect for sandwiches and so much more!  to see what the other bakers came up with, check out the tuesdays with dorie page.  to participate, buy the book, baking with julia.

tuesdays with dorie: tomato and cheese galette

 for this weeks challenge, we have chosen to make tomato and cheese galettes.  sigh.  big sigh…tomatoes are not in season yet here in tennessee.  the spring weather was so cold and wet so late in the season that our tomato plants didn’t go into the ground until the third week of may.  oh well, off to market i go.

in between stops, i ducked into my local publix supermarket.  generally, i can expect them to have a better than average selection of produce.  finding heirloom tomatoes shouldn’t be a problem there and i didn’t have time to go across town to whole foods to over pay for said tomatoes.  all i can say is that if tomatoes are not in season in tennessee, it is unlikely that tomatoes from ontario (yes, ontario in canada) will be better.  way to go publix!  at least 75% of what they had available was listed as produce of canada.  honestly, can we not grow our own tasteless hot house tomatoes?  do we really need to import them???  my options were severely limited, i chose a tomato from florida and made the decision to focus on mushrooms and onions-at least i knew they were going to have some flavor.

we have begun to go hostless here at tuesdays with dorie so to see the original recipes, buy the book!  or you can check it out on this heart of mine, blogger amy posted the recipes for the dough and the galette back in 2011 and it is word for word from the book.

 my first bit of tinkering was with the flour for the galette.  i have a bag of atta flour-indian flour made from durham wheat and wheat bran, and the only cornmeal i like to bake with is blue.

 when combined, it looks a little grey.
 i cut the butter in by hand and it looks a little lumpy when done properly.

 the recipe cautions that it is a soft dough.  trust me it is.  however, i think that is more due to the mixing instructions than the nature of the dough.  you are instructed to use sour cream or an equal portion of yogurt or buttermilk and to whisk it into the water.  however, the ingredient list suggests that you may not need all of the water.  so why would you combine the sour cream with all of the water?  it should tell you to add the sour cream (buttermilk in my case) and begin mixing and to add the water bit by bit as needed to get the proper consistency.  my dough was a little on the sticky side.  luckily, i know how to work with sticky dough, i partially froze it and worked with it cold.  while the dough chilled, i made the topping.

 one thing i do know, it is chanterelle season here in tennessee; we picked some last week.  these are a little past their prime but would be fine for the topping

 the herb garden is pumping out leaves all over the place so finding them was easy.  exit back door, snip, snip, snip… i quickly had basil, oregano, thyme and sage leaves.

 first step, caramelize some sweet onions.  to this i added a little garlic but was careful not to burn it.

 in went baby portobello mushrooms and the chanterelles.
 the herbs were last.  i let the filling sit and cool while i rolled out the dough.

 the texture of the whole grain flours gives the dough a nice crunch and a little color.

 close up you can see the dark flecks of blue cornmeal and little bits of wheat bran.

 first on was a layer of fontina and romano cheese.  i used about 3/4 of it on the bottom.  then came the flavorless florida tomatoes (sigh) and the onions and mushrooms.  the last bit of cheese was sprinkled over the top.

 honestly, the dough was too soft to do much with so i quickly folded it up and into the oven it went.

 it took the full 40 minutes to bake but it was nice and bubbly with just a little color.  the house smelled like pizza and it almost tasted like it until you got the crust-that made it taste like a tart.  a winner if you ask me, but next time, can we do this when tomatoes are in season?  please???

to see what the other bakers came up with, visit the tuesdays with dorie page!

guess again cake and the importance of following directions…

there are few scents as intoxicating as the smell of a spice cake in the oven.  immediately, the house feels warm and inviting.  once it comes out of the oven, very few can resist the urge to grab a knife and slice a thick slab.  just be sure to take it out of the pan first…and speaking of that pan, if the directions call for you to grease and flour it, please, for the love of cake, heed the warning.

sad but true, i did not do as the directions instructed and the results were a lovely cake coated pan.  sigh.
doubly sad since not only do i bake for a living, but that recipe was one of my own; i broke my own rule.  my excuse, i was in a hurry.   even worse, i needed the cake for a meeting and there was no way to hide this.  so, off i went, head hanging low and my lame excuse at the ready for anyone who dared to ask.

funny thing is, no one seemed to think much of it.  sure, they were a little surprised that i could have such a mishap, but none were the least bit shocked.  it was if they knew something i didn’t and had just realized…regardless, i came home with a tray holding just a few small chunks and some crumbs.  apparently, they liked it.

when they learned the cake had a secret ingredient, they went back for a little more.  it was fun making them guess.  spice cakes are easy to hide unusual ingredients in since the spices tend to mask the flavors of the other ingredients.  are you curious about that ingredient?  well, believe it or not, it was a can of crushed tomatoes.  once baked, the tomatoes are not obvious in either appearance or taste.  they do add some wonderful color and lots of moisture.

guess again tomato cake with pecans and raisins
makes 1 (10-12) cup bundt pan serving about 16
3/4 cup golden raisins
3/4 cup pecan pieces
3 cups cake flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
8 ounces unsalted butter, softened
2 cups dark brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1 can (14.5 ounce) crushed tomatoes-make sure they do not contain things like garlic and herbs!
preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour the bundt pan.  place the raisins in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to a gentle boil.  remove from the heat and allow them to cool completely in the water.  drain well.  
toast the pecans on a baking sheet for 5-7 minutes, allow to cool before using.  in a mixing bowl, combine the cake flour, baking soda and the spices.  in a large mixing bowl, beat the butter, brown sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  add the eggs and mix completely, scrape the bowl and mix it in.  place the dry ingredients into a sifter or mesh strainer and sift them over the butter mixture.  fold it a few times by hand.  pour the entire can of tomatoes over the top of the batter and fold it all together.  fold in the raisins and pecans and scrape it into the prepared pan.  bake until a tester comes out clean, about an hour.  cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes.  invert onto a rack and allow it to cool completely.  

sundried tomato focaccia

 when it comes to simple and easy bread, focaccia is the only one you need to make.  you can slice it into strips and serve it with a salad, cut squares and stuff them for sandwiches or you can simply eat pieces of it.  there isn’t any intricate shaping or special pan required; just your finger tips will do.  the best part, the dough is so forgiving that mistakes are hard to see.  even better is the fact that you can add just about anything to the dough and still get a good result.

this weeks recipe from baking with julia is the focaccia featured on page 143 and is hosted by sharmini of wandering through.  be sure to visit her page to see the recipe or better yet, pick up a copy of baking with julia-it is worth every bit of space on the shelf.  to see what the other 100 or so bakers have come up with, visit the tuesdays with dorie page.

a few notes to share.  since there is just two of us in the house, i cut the recipe in half and made two small squares.  while the recipe called for a 24-36 hour rest in the fridge, my life could only accomodate about 16-18 hour period.  that is probably why i did not get all of the little bubbles on the surface.  maybe next time, or maybe not.  the bread was nice and light; the shorter resting did not seem to be a huge issue.  since i was pressed for time, i didn’t bother with the fresh herbs and just sprinkled a little sea salt on top of each loaf.

 my sundried tomatoes came packed in olive oil.  to add even more flavor to the bread, i used some of that oil in the bread too.  it gave it a nice tomato orange shade.

the window pane test for gluten development.  if you can stretch it out to a transparent window without tearing, it is ready.

shaped and waiting to be baked

 after a light brush of olive oil, this loaf of bread is waiting its turn in the oven.
 fresh from the oven.  

be sure to check out the tuesdays with dorie page and bake along with us sometime!

tomato season means blt’s!!!!

this week’s tuesdays with dorie post featured a loaf of freshly baked semolina bread.  it was over 90 degrees, it was too hot and humid to bake bread, but i went ahead and did it anyway.  actually, the day i was baking the bread was rainy and gloomy and the oven didn’t heat up the house too badly for a change.

with just the two of us in the house, it can sometimes be difficult to finish a loaf of bread before it becomes a deadly weapon or turns green and fuzzy.  but this is tomato season and the challenge now is to have enough bread and bacon to eat all of the tomatoes we picked from the garden.  i know, it’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it…

for the last 8 years, i have worked in a restaurant that is famous for its breakfast fare.  needless to say, i am well aware of the best methods for cooking (and burning) bacon.  so how does a busy restaurant cook tons (literally tons each year) of bacon?  they do it in an oven, on a sheet pan and not on a grill or a stove top-that’s too labor intensive.

first of all, start off with a decent bacon.  i use one that is uncured and dry rubbed.  next, line a heavy duty pan (i use restaurant style half-sheet pans) with a piece of baking paper (not waxed paper!) and then i lay out the bacon so that it slightly overlaps.  by shingling the bacon, you slow down the process and allow it to cook without crisping to quickly.

 heat the oven to 350.  if you used a convection mode, you will need to watch it closely, or you can turn down the temp by 25 degrees.  to keep it soft and pliable, you will need to take the bacon out of the oven after about 10-15 minutes and turn it over.  then bake it for about another 10 minutes so that all of the white parts are slightly translucent and just beginning to show signs of caramelizing.  remove it from the oven at that point.  remember that the bacon will continue to cook after it comes out of the oven so stopping here allows for the carryover of heat to finish the job out of the oven.

place a few sheets of paper towel on a clean tray and gently lift some of the warm bacon off the baking tray and place it on the paper to blot the grease.  top it off with more paper and repeat until all of the bacon is blotted dry.  now you have cooked bacon that isn’t greasy and isn’t likely to break into little shards when you bite into your sandwich-nothing worse than hard, crunchy bacon shards falling out all over your lap!

 vine ripened tomatoes…what a concept!  everyone should have a tomato plant or two just so that they can make tomato sandwiches (a true southern obsession) as well as blt’s!

 the spread-we had kohlrabi slaw using freshly picked kohlrabi from our garden.  right now is not the season for lettuces and other salad greens due to the heat but that didn’t stop a few rogue arugula plants from popping up.  needless to say, we ate our sammiches with arugula.

 the bread; a really simple loaf to make, i highly suggest making one.  if you do not have a copy of baking with julia or how to bake, find the recipe here or here(with the nice addition of rosemary)

now that’s a sandwich!

millet tabbouleh

wandering through thrift stores is a favorite past time of mine.  visiting the used book store is another.  whichever the destination, i am bound to make my way out to the car carrying an armload of stuff, especially cookbooks.  recently, i found a hardback copy of mark bittman’s “how to cook everything” for $7.99 and it was sporting the tag color of the week; serious thrift shoppers know that means it was discounted, i picked it up for $4 and change.  yesterday, i mailed it to my older daughter who has expressed an interest in cooking.  not to worry, a couple of months ago, i found a paperback copy at the used book store for $2.  wow-two copies of that book and less than $10 spent.  
you would think that as a cia grad that a comprehensive book like that wouldn’t be of much interest to me.  after all, i should know the material.  however, i gave up the cooking part a long time ago to pursue the baking/pastry side and with a husband who is a chef, i don’t need to do much cooking.  with the girls out of the house, i really don’t need to do much cooking.  but for some reason, i am finding myself in the kitchen after spending the day in a kitchen, cooking.  and i really mean cooking from scratch using as many ingredients as i can pick from the garden.  
reading through this book, i stumbled upon what i think is the best tabbouleh recipe and more importantly, it is a perfect way to use the abundance of tomatoes and parsley out in the garden.  while the traditional recipe calls for bulgur, i have been experimenting with other grains.  the last batch i made had red quinoa in it.  lurking in the cupboard was a jar of millet and today, it became the grain of choice for my tabbouleh.

my husband scoffs at the idea of eating millet-“i’m not a bird…” and i understand his point since he is constantly filling the feeders outside with a seed mix that includes millet.  but this is a great way to get big kids like him to play nice and try new foods…

millet is starchy and it must be rinsed a few times after cooking to prevent it from becoming sticky and pasty.  the method i used can be found in a tabbouleh recipe from the vegetarian times.  i used their cooking method and substituted it for the cooked bulgur in mark bitumen’s recipe.

having an herb garden is wonderful!  especially when you can plant whatever you want!!!  pictured here are the three types of parsley i used.  the large one on top is mitsuba, a japanese parsley.  it looks like flat leaf parsley on steroids.

with only minor changes, i reduced the amount of olive oil called for in the recipe and added a little diced cucumber since it is summer and i do have them in the garden, this is the result.

millet tabbouleh
adapted from “how to cook everything” by mark bittman
makes about 5 cups 
1/2 cup millet
2 cups fresh parsley leaves
1 cup fresh mint leaves
2 cups diced fresh tomatoes
1/2 cup diced cucumber
1/2 cup diced red onions
4 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
salt and pepper to taste
cook the millet according to the instruction on the package or by using this link and allow it to cool.  chop the parsley and mint leaves somewhat coarsely.  combine the cooled millet with the remaining ingredients, season it with the salt and pepper and chill the salad for a few hours to blend the flavors.  while chilling it allows the flavors to meld and develop, it will taste best if it is allowed to come to a near room temperature before serving.  

tomato pie with caramelized onions and fontina cheese, #37 of 52 pies

for gardeners, tomatoes are the holy grail.  every gardener you meet will have a favorite; hybrid or heirloom, red or yellow, sweet or classic flavored.  the choices are abundant.  in our garden, there are mostly heirlooms and they range in color from striped reds, purple and yellow.  there are cherries and slicers of all sizes.  at least that is what the tags promised.  what the tags do not tell you is that if your summer is extremely hot and dry, you won’t be picking much and what is there, the squirrels will get before it ripens…and if you are as lucky as we are, you will also get a dose of fusarium wilt in the bed to really make it difficult.

getting off to a late start hasn’t helped much either.  we had a cool and wet spring that caused us to put the plants in the bed later than we wanted but it also looks as if a couple of those hybrids we planted might make it and produce a few fruits for us.  meanwhile, my tomato sandwich obsessed husband has had to satisfy his yen for white bread slathered with thick slabs of tomato and mayonnaise by purchasing tomatoes at the farmers market and i have had to cancel my plans to stand in the garden and stuff my face with cherry tomatoes  still warm from the morning sun…

decent tomatoes can be had if you are willing to pay for them and pay you will!  i found some kentucky heirloom tomatoes at my local supermarket for $4.99 per pound and while pricey, they had nice flavor and made it possible to bake this pie.  this recipe isn’t totally original but i did make some changes to it to punch up the flavor.

a red and yellow striped heirloom tomato from the supermarket.  it not only looked like it was home grown, it tasted like it too.  a little sweet and not very acidic, these are one of the varieties that will have you cutting it into wedges and eating it as if it were a peach.

 taking the time to caramelize the onions will add lots of flavor and so will the use of fresh herbs.  we have a lot of basil, oregano and sage in the garden and they made a flavorful addition to the pie.

tomato pie with caramelized onions
and fontina cheese
adapted from simplyrecipes.com
serves 6-8
1 (9″) pie shell-home made or purchased and partially baked
2-3 large or 3-4 medium sized ripe tomatoes
2-3 tablespoons bacon fat (or olive oil)
1 large onion, sliced
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/3 cup fresh herbs-measure them first then chop them
salt & fresh cracked pepper
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 cup freshly grated fontina cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
preheat the oven to 300 and prebake the pie shell using the instructions to pie #29 but do not bake it completely since it will be returning to the oven(partially baking the pie shell-it should just barely have color and the bottom crust will no longer appear shiny when you lift out the weights).  turn the oven up to 350.  cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze out as much of the juice and seeds as you can.  dice them into bite size pieces, place them in a strainer which is set over a bowl and place a weight on the tomatoes-you want to remove the juice without pureeing the tomatoes so do not use a heavy weight, just one that causes enough pressure to remove the juice.  while the tomatoes drain, heat the bacon fat in a skillet over medium heat and saute the onions.  as they begin to color, stir them to allow even caramelizing.  add the garlic and the herbs once the onions have caramelized and saute them for a minute or two.  remove the onion mixture from the heat and place it in a mixing bowl.  measure out 3 cups of tomatoes and add them to the onions.  toss them to combine them, season with the salt and pepper and then scrape the filling into the partially baked pie shell.  in a clean bowl, combine the mayonnaise and the cheeses to form a thick topping.  carefully spread the topping over the surface of the filling.  bake until golden brown on top, about 45-50 minutes.
and as always, if you bake one, photograph it and send it to me, i will post it here!  bakinbabe116@aol.com.