Fall Baking for a Rainy Day: Spicy Pumpkin Gingerbread Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

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Gray, drizzly weather all day today, a perfect day for curling up with a good read, candles lit, a good cup of Chai tea, and for baking a cake with the fragrances and flavors of Fall. Bright blue skies, burnished golden and auburn-colored leaves, wind stirring up the leaves as I walk, cool air, scarf about my neck, the fragrance of burning fireplaces. hot apple cider… These are, of course, my fantasies today, and memories of October in Boston! I am in St. Petersburg, Florida, where the highs are still in the 80s, the lows in the 70s, and certainly no fires in fireplaces yet, although I live in neighborhood where that does occur just as soon as the temperatures drop below 68! My mood for all things Autumnal precedes the onset of Fall weather here!

Today, I am in the mood to bake a cake full of flavors and fragrances that I associate with Autumn–a Pumpkin-Gingerbread Cake. This is a moist, tender cake full of warm spiciness that I love to serve for a Thanksgiving Day dessert, topped with Cream Cheese Icing and finely chopped crystallized ginger, or for Christmas events, topped with a Toffee-Caramel topping that oozes down the sides of the cake. The important tip here is to use the very best, freshest spices. Once spices are ground, the oils begin to lose flavor. So, I purchase spices in small quantities from a source that freshly grinds their spices weekly, so I know that they have not been lingering on a grocery store shelf for a year. If you have never tried crystallized ginger, take a taste–I love the sweet, lemony, ginger flavor and use it in scones, cookies, or to top cakes.

Susan’s Pumpkin-Gingerbread Cake

Ingredients
Yields 1 9 inch Bundt cake
2 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur Organic)
2 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger (I used Savory Spice Shop Chinese Ground Ginger)
2 teaspoons Cinnamon (I used Savory Spice Shop Ceylon Cinnamon)
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg (I like Savory Spice Shop Granada Nutmeg)
1/4 teaspoon Allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup boiling water
3/4 cup unsulfured molasses
1 cup pure pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon pure orange extract
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (I use Kerrygold)
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup golden raisins, soaked in rum for an hour and then drained

Method

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and lightly butter and flour your bundt pan. If you do not have a bundt pan, you can use a 9 inch spring-form, but the baking time may be altered.
Whisk together in a large bowl the flour, spices and baking powder and soda and the salt.
Boil the 1 cup of water and add the molasses to it. Set aside to cool.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs to the butter-sugar, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, until light and thick.
Add the pumpkin puree and extract while beating on low speed.
Add the cooled molasses mixture on low speed and beat until well-blended.
Stir in the dry ingredients with the drained raisins, mixing until just combined. Do not over-mix.
Pour into your prepared pan, This is a relatively thin batter. It is a light, tender cake.

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Bake for 35 to 45 minutes for a Bundt pan. If you us a different 9 inch pan, I suggest checking it for doneness at 30 minutes.
Cool it for about 10 minutes, and then invert onto your cake plate.

 

 

 

You can serve this cake simply dusted with a combination of confectioner’s sugar sifted with some cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, or you can prepare a frosting or glaze.
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Cream Cheese Icing
Yields enough to top the cake.
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
4 Tablespoons softened butter
1 teaspoon orange extract
1 teaspoon dark rum
a little half and half to achieve the proper consistency

Beat all of the ingredients together in a small mixing bowl, beginning at low speed, so that you do not throw confectioners sugar all about the kitchen! Use the half and half to achieve a consistency that is thick, but will allow you to mound the icing on top of the cake. make certain that the cake has cooled prior to icing it.
I garnished the icing with 1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger.

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This cake is a deep, dark, gingerbread-like color, but will be enjoyed by even those who dislike gingerbread, because the dark molasses flavor is tempered by the pumpkin. The cake is moist, light in texture, and warm with spiciness. The cream cheese icing adds a sweet, creamy finish.

You can tinker with this recipe, omitting the rum-soaked raisins and simply using raisins, if you wish. The spices are really lively in this cake, so you can reduce the amounts of the spices, or substitute just cloves for the Allspice, is you are not an Allspice fan.

Sticky Toffee Glaze
, adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe, from Martha Stewart Living 2007–my copy is sticky and dog-eared!

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1 Tablespoon water
Pinch of salt
2 Tablespoons heavy cream
Toffee bits for garnish

Bring the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, water and salt to a boil over medium low heat in a medium saucepan, stirring occasionally.
Boil for 3 minutes, and then remove from the heat.
Whisk in the cream.
Allow the glaze to cool for about 15 minutes.
Pour the glaze over the cake, and garnish with the toffee, bits, 1/4 to 1/2 cup, depending on your taste!

Martha makes a version of this glaze, where she whisks in 4 ounces of bittersweet chocolate, very finely chopped after she whisks in the cream, and she adds a Tablespoon or so of brandy. I imagine this would be a very good glaze for a Pumpkin Bundt Cake!

Readers, I would love to hear about your favorite aspects of Fall, about your favorite desserts for Thanksgiving Day or for any Autumn day. Please let me know if you try this cake recipe and about your outcome. The Comments box is locate at the conclusion of each post.

Just a reminder that any brands that I mention in recipes are simply my personal preferences. I do not represent any brands, nor do I receive payment for posts. Always use your preferred brands and products from your trusted sources–and let me know who they are!

Easy and Elegant Thanksgiving Day Dinner for a Small Gathering

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I realize that some readers are still preparing for Halloween, creating costumes and confections. While I am selecting recipes for confections for a neighborhood Trunk-or-Treat event, I like to begin to think about my Thanksgiving menu in October, and to begin tweaking or creating new recipes based on our planned gatherings. There are those years when Thanksgiving gatherings are smaller than usual, but you still desire a home-cooked meal with some of the traditional Thanksgiving Day flavors. “Food is memories,” as stated in Richard Morais’ book The Hundred Foot Journey, and Thanksgiving Day meals of past have left many of us with very particular, indelible family and flavor memories. Here is a method for enjoying some very traditional flavors, without fussing with a huge, whole turkey, if you would like to forego that production. Perhaps you would like to prepare turkey during other times of the year. Whether for Thanksgiving, another holiday, or for a Sunday supper any time of year, here is a recipe and technique that has served me well.

Turkey Breast in White Wine Sauce

Plan a quarter pound of poultry per person. Boneless, skinless turkey breast has no waste, and this braising method yields moist, tender turkey breast that can be carved beautifully every time.

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2 and 1/2 pounds of boneless, skinless turkey breast. I had a butcher cut one for me in one large half turkey breast portion, and then I cut it in half lengthwise. But, you can purchase those smaller 8 ounce portions at the supermarket, if you wish. The cooking time will be less, 45 minutes versus 1.5 hours for a large, intact half off the bone turkey breast.
Salt and pepper
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup brandy or cognac
2 cups dry white wine or dry champagne
1 cup turkey stock
3 Tablespoons flour
2 and1/2 teaspoons dried sage leaves (if you are not a sage fan, you can use tarragon or thyme with very good results)
1/2 cup heavy cream

Method
Melt the butter in a 5 quart pot suitable for braising. I like enamel over cast iron for this purpose, and it must have a lid. Add the salted and peppered turkey at medium high heat and brown each side, about 6 minutes each side. You want to see some golden caramelization on the turkey.
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Remove the turkey to a platter. Turn off the heat, and add the cognac or brandy. Light the brandy flame with a safe fireplace lighter. Once the fire dies out, add the flour and herb, whisking til nearly smooth. Don’t worry about lumps at this point. Add the stock and wine or champagne and whisk until smooth over medium heat. It will smooth out nicely.

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Add back the turkey, place the lid on the pot, bring to just a boil and lower to simmer to braise for 45 minutes if you utilized the usual turkey breast portions found in the supermarket, or 1 and 1/2 hours if you have an entire half breast in two large portions.
You can test for doneness by inserting an instant read thermometer into the thickest portion of the breast. If it registers 165, it is cooked properly.
The beauty of this technique is, that the breast becomes moist, succulent, infused with wine, herb and stock flavor; and, even if you cook it a bit too long, the consequence is tat it will be falling apart tender and will not slice so attractively.
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After you remove the turkey, add 1/2 cup heavy cream to the pot, whisk, and adjust for salt and pepper.
Allow the turkey to rest for 5-10 minutes, and then slice it and arrange on a platter. ladle some of the sauce over it. Garnish the platter. It is pretty garnished with fresh sage and orange slices.

This recipe was inspired by an old favorite of mine from the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, with Sarah Leah Chase, Chicken Breasts in Champagne Sauce. This is a dish that I have served to dinner party guests often, because it is simple, delicious, and allows me some relaxation time with guests. You can use either a favorite white wine or champagne, your preference–I have prepared it with both with very good outcomes.

Dressing with Onions, Apples, Dried Fruits and Nuts

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Every family has its favorite, beloved Thanksgiving Day dressing recipe. In our Italian-American family, the dressing always included some browned, crumbled Italian sausage. Through the years, I have made many variations on bread dressing, sometimes with browned sage-flavored sausage, sometimes very Italian with roughly chopped prosciutto. But, for this year, I think that I am in the mood for an apple-dried fruits-nuts dressing, but with a twist. I always use a good quality bread to make my cubed bread for dressing, but this year, I will use a very special rye bread made by a local Pastry Chef and Baker. This rye is incredibly flavorful, rich and moist, and has a “secret” ingredient, which is sauerkraut! Here is the recipe that I created today.

8 thick slices of good quality rye bread, cut into 1 inch cubes and toasted until dry in a 400 degree oven
2 teaspoons dried sage leaves
1 large sweet onion, coarsely diced
1 cup large dice celery with leaves, if you have them
3 Granny Smith apples, cored and diced small
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1/4 cup golden raisins, or dried cranberries, or chopped dried apricots, your preference
2 and 1/2 cups stock
1 and 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3 Tablespoons butter, plus butter to butter the casserole dish
1 small bunch flat leaf parsley

Butter a minimum 2 inch deep, medium size casserole and set aside.
Melt the butter in a 12 inch, deep skillet and sauté the onions until translucent. Add the celery and the apple and sauté for just2 or 3 minutes. Add the salt, pepper, sage.

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Add the bread and the stock, and stir t combine.
Add the nuts and the dried fruit. Stir to combine.
I added a small bunch of chopped flat leaf parsley at this point.

 

Spoon the dressing into the casserole, and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Top the dressing with dots of butter, totaling just a tablespoon or so. Add additional stock if you think the bread is not sufficiently moist. I did add a bit more, maybe 1/2 cup.
Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 10 additional minutes til a bit crisp on top edges.

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This dressing is moist, sweet, savory, and the very flavorful rye bread adds to the savory flavor without being identified as rye bread. It is outstanding, coupled with apple, onion, sage and dried fruit. I think that I might add some sautéed mushrooms for Thanksgiving day to add an earthy element of flavor, and I will use the dried apricots again–they are sweet and a bit tangy.

Tonight, I served simply steamed green and yellow wax beans, lightly buttered.

So, now I can preview and tweak recipes for the other elements of our Thanksgiving Day dinner! Perhaps this post will inspire you to try something new with traditional Thanksgiving flavors. Please share your favorite Thanksgiving food traditions with me–the Comment box follows the conclusion of this post.

Easy, Elegant Dinner for Two: Seared Sea Scallops and Risotto with Porcini Mushrooms and Butternut Squash

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Oh, the romance of risotto, that creamy, northern Italian rice dish savory with wine, stock, vegetables and herbs, the flavoring agents changing with the seasons and your desires! We were to have a quiet, relaxing Saturday night at home, and we had gorgeous, fresh sea scallops on hand from the morning market, as well as leeks and butternut squash. So, our easy but elegant Saturday night at home dinner became Seared Sea Scallops and easy Risotto with Leeks, Butternut Squash and Porcini Mushrooms, stiulating memories of northern Italy!

Risotto was not within my father’s repertoire–his family originated around the Abruzzo-Umbria regions of Italy, and rice grows in northern Italy, in the Piemonte and Friuli regions. The origins of rice in Italy are disputed. Did the Arabs bring rice into Sicily, or did Venetian merchants bring rice from the Levant?

Whatever its origins, rice continues to be grown and harvested in Italy today, primarily in Piemonte, or the Piedmont region. There are three types of rice grown for risotto–Arborio, Carnaroli, and Vialone, which are all large grain, starchy rices, perfect for cooking into creamy but al dente risotto. Venetians seem to prefer the Vialone rice, and make risottos rich with seafood. The seafood risotto that I enjoyed in Venice contained squid, mussels, and shrimp, white wine, stock, garlic and was finished with a drizzle of olive oil. Risotto is a beloved dish in Venice, in the Friuli region north of Venice, and over to the Adriatic coast, where it often features fish or seafood.

In the Lombardy region, adjacent to the Piedmont region, is beautiful Lago di Como, or Lake Como, which is one of our favorite places in Italy due to its surreal beauty, unusual microclimate and for its gastronomy. In Bellagio on a sunny Autumn day, we enjoyed Risotto ai Porcini, creamy risotto prepared simply with the plentiful Autumn Porcini, delicate and earthy in flavor. One day, we ferried across the Lake from Varenna, our home base on Lake Como, and boarded a bus for a curving, hairpin-turn ride up into the mountainside to lake Lugano, Switzerland. There, we strolled the lakeside promenade among colorful flowers. Then, we selected an outdoor cafe for lunch, where I enjoyed a savory risotto rich with duck, a variety of earthy mushrooms, and topped with a great shard of roasted, glazed pumpkin. In Autumn, Italians often use pumpkin, zucca, in stuffed pastas, in risottos (Risotto alla Zucca), or roasted as a vegetable.

In Milan (Milano), Risotto alla Milanese is revered for the flavors of beef bone arrow, beef stock, wine and saffron. Risotto alla Piemontese is a simple risotto flavored with meat stock, butter, lots of Parmesan cheese and earthy truffle, another revered Autumnal product in Italy.

According to Lidia Bastianich, risotto only began to appear in American Italian cuisine within the last twenty years or so. Risotto has taken much longer than pasta to gain in American popularity. We have enjoyed the best restaurant preparations of risotto at Chef Todd English’s small Beacon Hill trattoria, Figs. Chef English created a risotto with duck ragu, porcini mushrooms, and caramelized figs–inspirational!

The basic authentic technique for making risotto is to first toast the grains of rice in fat before adding hot stock gradually, stirring continuously to bring out the starch, which creates the creamy texture. It is a labor intensive process that I like to avoid when October temperatures here in St. Petersburg, Florida are still in the 90s. I learned an easy method from Ina Garten that allows the oven to do much of the work, with brief, vigorous stirring toward the end of the cooking time. It yields creamy, al dente, luscious risotto every time.

The following is my recipe for Easy Risotto with Leeks, Porcini, and Butternut Squash, borrowing ina’s technique.

Risotto with Leeks, Porcini, and Butternut Squash

Serves 6

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Ingredients
1 and 1/2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli Rice (I used Carnaroli this time)
4 cups simmering stock (I used chicken)
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used Chateau St. Michelle Dry Riesling)
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 and 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons dried sage leaves
1 large leek, cleaned and chopped
1/2 of a large butternut squash, cut into 1 inch cubes
4 ounces of sliced Baby Bella mushrooms
1/2 ounce package of dried porcini mushrooms, reconstituted by soaking in 1 cup hot water for 30 minutes
1 and 1/ cups finely grated pecorino Romano cheese

Method
Soak the dried porcinis in 1 cup hot water for 30 minutes, set aside.
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In a 5 quart enamel over cast iron Dutch oven, melt 2 Tablespoons of butter and sauté the sliced baby Bella mushrooms and the leek for about 4 minutes over medium heat.
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In a large saucepan, heat the stock to simmering.
Add the following ingredients to the Dutch oven: rice and 3 cups of stock, along with the leek and mushroom mixture, the drained porcinis, roughly chopped, the porcini liquid, the squash cubes, and the seasonings. Stir to combine and cover with a lid.
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Place in a 350 degree preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until the rice is al dente and most of the liquid is absorbed.
Remove the pot from the oven, and add the wine, remaining butter and the cheese, and as much of the remaining hot stock as needed to achieve a creamy but not wet risotto, stirring vigorously for 2-3 minutes.

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The risotto will become very creamy. Some of the squash will melt into the sauce, but some will remain as soft cubes.

Taste and adjust seasonings, if you wish. Serve hot.

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Seared Sea Scallops
Serves 4

Sea scallops are light, so in order to have 5 scallops per person, you need roughly 2 pounds of large, 10 count per pound sea scallops. Buy from a trusted vendor, who can tell you when and where the scallops were harvested! You are paying a premium price, and so you do not want to be disappointed by tasteless or off-tasting scallops, which will happen when they are treated with a sodium chloride solution. The scallops that I purchased were harvested in the northeast on Thursday, were flash frozen, no solution, and I purchased them Saturday morning for Saturday evening consumption. They should be sweet, and have a firm, not mushy texture.

Sea scallops are the easiest seafood to prepare! Melt 3 Tablespoons of butter in a 12 inch, shallow skillet, over medium high heat, and wait until the butter is really sizzling before you add the scallops. Do not crowd them, and do not touch them until they have seared for 3 minutes on side one. Once side one looks properly caramelized, flip them for an additional 3 minutes of searing. Remove them to the plates. Season with just a bit of seat salt and pepper. They should be cooked through, but with good shape and texture, sweet flavor, and lovely caramelization.

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The sea scallops were sweet in flavor, and beautifully caramelized. The risotto was creamy, but the grains al dente and holding their shape, flavored with sweet leeks, earthy mushrooms, sweet butternut squash, salty pecorino cheese, and herbaceous sage. The wine is added to the risotto after cooking, so there is a wonderful wine flavor that comes through.

Easy but elegant Italian-inspired comfort food. We drank the remainder of the delicious dry Riesling, reminisced about travels in northern Italy, and then enjoyed a movie at home!

Readers, you can use the Comment box below to share your food related travel memories, favorite ways to fix risotto, or your thoughts or experiences about the recipes posted here today. Grazie!

Tampa Bay Times #CookClub Recipe Number 26: A Tale of Two Cakes!

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There are cornmeal cakes in the South, either sweet cakes for dessert or cornmeal griddle cakes.  There are cornmeal cakes in Brazil, sweet Bolo de Fuba, made with a higher than usual cornmeal to flour ratio, often with corn oil and buttermilk for fat.  The cornmeal cake that I am familiar with and love, is, of course, Italian in its approach.  It contains olive oil and some butter for the fat, and citrus flavors.  It is a dense, slightly sweet cake, with a tight crumb, often adorned only with a citrus-flavored sugar syrup.

The featured recipe for CookClub, Recipe No. 26,  is from a new cookbook by Zoe Nathan, Huckleberry:  Stories Secrets and Recipes from Our Kitchen.  Zoe and her husband, Josh Loeb, own a bakery in Santa Monica, California, Huckleberry Bakery and Café.   This cornmeal cake recipe is unusual in that the recipe contains yogurt and ricotta cheese.   I wondered how those ingredients would impact the flavor, and more so, the texture of my usual, beloved, Italian-inspired Polenta Cake.  So, I decided to make two cornmeal cakes, one following the CooKClub featured recipe, and one using my favorite recipe, which is Italian-inspired, but authored by an American living in Paris, David Lebovitz, from his cookbook, Ready for Dessert :  My Best Recipes, page 62, Polenta Cake with Olive Oil and Rosemary.  

Please refer to the Tampa Bay Times CookClub site for Zoe’s recipe and for lovely photos of Janet Keeler’s outcome:  http://www.tampabay.com/things-to-do/food/cooking/

Here is what I learned! Zoe Nathan’s version of Cornmeal Cake is dense, very moist, has a beautiful rise and absolutely luscious flavor! Here’s the primary difference: this cake contains four sources of fat. The recipe calls for ricotta cheese, yogurt, butter and vegetable oil, which contribute to the wonderful moist crumb and the distribution of flavor over your tongue. The ratio of cornmeal to flour in the two recipes is similar, but the higher fat content in Zoe’s recipe accounts for the tremendous moisture and denser, softer crumb. Delightful!

I made only a few alterations in Zoe’s recipe and technique. When I read about the fragility of the cake and difficulty turning it out of a cake pan and placing it face side up on a cake plate, I decided to do two things. One thing was to bake it in a spring form pan, and the second thing was to not only butter the pan, but to dust if with cornmeal. I had no difficulty moving the beautiful cake from the pan to the plate.

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The second alteration was to use half pure lemon extract and half pure orange extract in place of the vanilla. I simply thought that these citrus flavors would contrast the maple syrup in the recipe and the berries well. For the final sprinkling of sugar prior to baking, I used a maple sugar that I had in my spice cabinet. Here is Zoe’s recipe, paraphrased here.

Zoe Nathan’s Cornmeal Cake
Yields 1-9 or 10 inch cake

Ingredients

3/4 cup plus 1 and 1/2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cute into small cubes, at room temperature
3/4 cup plus 3 Tablespoons sugar and additional 2 Tablespoons to sprinkle on top of the cake prior to baking
1 and 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 eggs
4 and 1/2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
3 Tablespoons maple syrup
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract I used half orange and 1/2 lemon extract)
1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
2 and 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup plus 2 Tablespoon whole plain yogurt
1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon ricotta
1 cup fresh berries (I used a combination of blackberries and raspberries, as they looked good at the market)

Method
Butter and line a 10 inch cake pan (I buttered a 9 inch spring form pan and dusted it with cornmeal)
Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and whisk well to combine (I added this step).
In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with mixer til light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
Add 1 egg at a time and beat until well incorporated, scraping the bowl as needed.
With the mixer on low speed, add the oil, yogurt, ricotta, extracts, maple syrup and flour mixture, beating until just combined. Do not over mix this batter.
Spoon the thick, fragrant batter into the pan, distributing evenly. Top with the berries and 2 Tablespoons of sugar. (I would use a flavored or demera sugar for good flavor and some sparkle).
If you use a spring form pan, then place a sheet of foil under your pan to catch any butter that may leak)

Bake for 1 hour or until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. My cake took 80 minutes, likely due to the depth of the 9 inch spring form pan.

This cake is best when served the day it is baked, but can be wrapped and stored at room temperature for 2 days.
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This is one gorgeous cake, and I am gifting it to my neighborhood association board for their meeting tonight!

Now, for the Italian-inspired version.

Polenta Cake with Olive Oil and Rosemary, adapted from Ready for Dessert, My Best Recipes, by David Lebovitz, page 62

Please refer to David’s book for the original recipe.  I have paraphrased it here, with my few, small alterations.

Ingredients
1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into small cubes
6 teaspoons total fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons polenta
1 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
5 eggs, room temperature
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon almond extract or 1 teaspoon vanilla (I used 1.2 teaspoon lemon, 1/2 teaspoon orange, just a preference)
1 and 1/3 cups sugar

Method
Preheat the oven to 350 degress F.
Butter a 10 inch bundt, tube or a 9 inch spring form pan with the 1 Tablespoon of butter. Dust it with the 2 Tablespoons of polenta.
In a small bowl, sift together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, olive oil and extract.
In a third bowl, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes.
While the mixer is running, dribble in the egg mixture a little at a time, until well-incorporated.
Stir in the flour mixture and the 4 teaspoons of rosemary until well-combined, but do not over mix.
Pour the batter into the pan and bake for about 40 minutes until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
Allow it to cool for 30 minutes and then invert onto a cake plate.

I served this cake with a Fresh Blueberry Compote–1 and 1/2 cups of blueberries, cooked for just a few minutes with 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice and 1/4 cup sugar. I limited the cooking time, because I wanted the berries to hold their shape. David Lebovitz makes a Blueberry Compote, contained in the same cookbook, with gin! Alas, no gin in the house, so I used lemon juice! I garnished the cake with some slices of crystallized ginger.

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A tale of two cakes! What were the differences? The olive-oil rosemary polenta cake has that savory nuance of rosemary and olive oil and a more rustic texture and appearance. It has a more noticeable flavor of cornmeal. So, if you are looking for a more savory, cornmeal flavored, rustic Italian-style cake, this is it. But, Zoe’s version of Cornmeal Cake is the one to choose when you want a more refined, softer crumb, sweeter, moister cornmeal cake. The surprise flavor here is the slight flavor of maple. I enhanced that a bit by topping the cake prior to baking with maple sugar, but you could alter the flavors by using some dried lavender and lemon zest rather than maple syrup and by dusting the top of the cake prior to baking with lavender-vanilla sugar.

If you try these recipes, or perhaps yet another version of cornmeal cake, please share your experiences in the kitchen by commenting in the designated box below!

Talking Technique: Easy Oven Slow Braise Method Roast Chicken In White Wine, Boeuf Bourguignon and More

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I came upon a Pampered Chef glazed on the outside, unglazed on the inside stoneware oven roaster while organizing my kitchen. I remember this purchase so well, assuring myself that I would use this roaster often. I examined it on rediscovery–not a sign of use, pristine. I reviewed the literature that had informed my choice, words that promised moist, succulent, tender meats and poultry and great versatility. I decided to challenge myself to use the roaster to create some dishes and to decide whether to keep it or to free up some storage space. I will save you the suspense and tell you now that I will be using this roaster frequently throughout Autumn and Winter. I would go so far as to suggest that, if you do not own one, you may consider shopping for one–there are a variety of brands on the market.

Chicken roasted in PC stoneware
I began with one of my favorite dishes to prepare, Roast Chicken. This technique is so simple, so hands-off, and it yields a chicken that is moist, falling-off-the-bone tender, and infused with wine-lemon-herb flavor. I uncovered it and raised the heat a bit for the last 15 minutes of roasting and browned the bird, so it had a lovely golden brown color.
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Emboldened, I decided to create a simple Boeuf Bourguignon, that rather fussy, multitude of steps French beef-red wine stew. The outcome was spectacular. The beef was tender, the vegetables perfectly cooked, and the sauce rich with red wine, stock, caramelized onions and mushrooms.

I decided that this roaster, and the slow braising technique would likely create a luscious Turkey Pot Pie, another comforting Fall or winter one-pot meal. So, I was off to the market to pick up some turkey tenderloin and leeks, fresh sage and a good dry Riesling wine. I think that the possibilities for this little stoneware roaster may be infinite.

Slow Oven Braised Whole Chicken with White Wine and Herbs

Serves 4
Total roasting time 3 and 1/2 hours)
Ingredients
1 – 3 and 1/2 pound roasting chicken, lean and patted dry
Olive or canola oil to brush the chicken
fine Kosher salt, pepper
2 Tablespoons dried thyme (or Tarragon is very good)
2 lemons, quartered
1 large sweet onion, cut into eighths
3 fat cloves of garlic, smashed
2 cups dry white wine
1 cup chicken broth

Method
If your stoneware is new, then brush the interior of the base and lid with vegetable oil.
Season the cavity of the chicken with salt and thyme. Brush the chicken with oil, and season the exterior with salt, pepper and thyme.
Place the chicken in the base of the roaster and place the onion, lemon and garlic around the chicken.
Pour the wine and broth into the base.
Cover the chicken with the roaster lid.
Place the roaster in the cold oven, and turn the oven to 325 degrees F. (note: these stoneware roasters are sensitive to dramatic changes in temperature, so place it in a cold oven and then set the temperature.)
Roast for 3 hours, and then uncover for the last /12 hour and turn the oven temperature to 375 degrees to brown the chicken.

Remove the chicken to a platter, cover, and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Carve and spoon the white-wine, broth juices over the chicken.

This is the simplest, most hands-off method for roasting a chicken, and the moistness, tenderness, and flavor are excellent. While my chicken roasted, I relaxed and read a book and savored the aromas wafting from the kitchen! And, this is a technique, so you can tinker with the wine, herbs and flavoring agents to suit your taste. Tarragon for the herb, champagne for the wine, and orange for the citrus? You decide!

Easy Boeuf Bourguignon

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I have made very traditional Boeuf Bourgignon, following either Julia Child’s or Jacques Pepin’s recipe. While the traditional French beef stew in red wine is decadent, rich, and very delicious, we do not always have the time to take the multitude of steps that the traditional recipes require. So, here is a simple version that resulted in a hearty, rich, earthy beef stew.

Serves 4
Ingredients

1 large sweet onion diced
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1.25 pounds beef stew meat in 1 and 1/2 inch cubes
4 carrots, scrubbed and diced small
2 large parsnips, scrubbed and diced small
8 ounces baby portabella mushrooms, quartered
1 cup fresh garden peas
fine kosher salt
pepper
2 Tablespoons dried thyme
3 bay leaves
3 cloves smashed garlic
2 cups full-bodied red wine (a Burgundy would be traditional–I used a good Italian Pinot Noir)
1 cup beef stock with 2 teaspoons cornstarch or potato starch whisked in til smooth (a slurry for thickening)

Traditionally, Boeuf Bourgignon begins by rendering the fat of salt pork or bacon. I elected not to do this, just as I elected not to enrich the sauce with butter. However, you can use bacon, or pancetta, or salt pork diced to render fat to caramelize the onions in if you wish. I caramelized the diced onion in olive oil. This takes about 15 minutes on medium-low heat.

Add the wine to the skillet and deglaze the pan. Add the broth, and turn off the heat.

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Season the meat and diced vegetables with salt, pepper and thyme. Place the meat and all vegetables into the roaster base, and pour the onion-wine-both mixture over it. Place the lid on the roaster and place in a cold oven. Turn the oven to 325 degrees F.

Roast undisturbed for 2 hours. Make a slurry of 1 cup broth and 2 teaspoons of cornstarch or potato starch, whisking to dissolve. Remove the roaster from the oven, uncover, and stir in the slurry, which will thicken the sauce. Return the stew to the oven without the cover for 1/2 hour.

Remove the roaster from the oven, and prior to serving, stir in a 1/2 cup additional red wine. Garnish with freshly chopped thyme leaves or parsley, if you wish. I served this hearty beef stew over smashed, baked russet potatoes, lightly buttered and then flavored with a few drops of white truffle oil. Another very simple, but rich and delicious dinner that allowed me time out of the kitchen for gardening, reading, looking for my next inspiration.

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For my next easy, oven braised dish, I am going to go for Thanksgiving preview Fall flavors–chunks of turkey breast, leeks, mushrooms, butternut squash, sage, turkey stock, and Riesling wine; and, if I can coax Pastry Chef Michael Ostrander to give me some tips on making a flaky, savory pastry, I just might top this turkey casserole with a bit of pastry,

I would love to hear about your creations using your slow oven roasting tools and techniques, so please use the comment box below to share! Perhaps you have a favorite technique that you find allows you a lot of versatility–share it here!

Spicy Autumn Breakfast: Chai Spice Scones

Once you learn how easy it is o make delicious scones, you will stop heading to that coffee purveyor on every corner that sells scones!  Yes, you can put together a batch of Pumpkin Scones, or Lemon Blueberry, or Cranberry Orange, or any of your favorite flavors in ten minutes and bake them in just 15 minutes, and have a large enough batch to share with friends or to freeze for another day.  In the post, Summer Sunday Scones, Updated, you will find a basic buttermilk scone recipe with which you can create many flavor variations.  Today, I am sharing a recipe for Chai Spice Scones, that I created by adapting a Currant Scone recipe from Sarabeth Levine, Sarabeth’s Bakery, From My Hands to Yours, Rizzoli Press, New York.   Sarabeth is a legend as a Pastry Chef, and owner of Sarabeth’s Bakery in the Highline District of Manhattan, New York.   Sarabeth is the winner of the James Beard Outstanding Pastry Chef Award, and this book is a great primer for all who love to bake.

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During Autumn and Winter months, I love hot, spicy Chai Tea with steamed, frothed milk, and any baked goods that incorporate warm cinnamon, potent ginger, exotic cardamom. Several yeas ago, I began making shortbread cookies flavored with chai spices, and they were so good that they are now part of my holiday baking production every Christmas. I make a very spicy Pumpkin Scone with plenty of hot Chinese Ground Ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and a Double Ginger Scone that contains ground ginger and finely chopped crystallized ginger. But, I began to dream about a chai spiced scone, and so set out to create one. I gathered together my best cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, some ground inner cardamom seeds, and a newly discovered chai spice blend at my local spice shop that contains black pepper, star anise, allspice and bay leaves, in addition to cinnamon, ginger and cardamom.

I decided that, although my buttermilk scone recipe is fool-proof, I did not want the tang of buttermilk in this scone. So, I turned to Sarabeth for a well-tested basic scone recipe, which is her Currant Scone Recipe, and adapted it to achieve the exotic chai spice flavor that I was seeking.

Chai Spice Scones, adapted from Sarabeth Levine’s Currant Scones, Sarabeth’s Bakery, pages 73-74

Please refer to Sarabeth’s book for the original recipe.

Yields 15 scones

Ingredients
3 cups all purpose flour (I used King Arthur’s Organic)
1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon Savory Spice Mt. Baker Chai Spice Blend (or your favorite chai spice blend)
1 teaspoon Ceylon Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Chinese Ground Ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground green Cardamom seeds

10 Tablespoons chilled unsalted butte, cut into small cubes (I used Kerrygold)
2 large eggs, chilled
3/4 cup whole milk, cold
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg, beaten for egg wash

Method

I read Sarabeth’s tips for well-raised, puffed up scones.

  • Make certain that your milk, eggs and butter are well-chilled. Don’t take them out of the refrigerator in advance.
  • When you brush the formed scones with beaten egg prior to baking, brush the tops lightly only–if the wash coats the sides, they will not rise as much.
  • Use a sharp biscuit cutter so that it does not compress the sides when you cut the scones.
  • Do not over-handle the dough–bring the dough together quickly, shape it quickly–no kneading or over-working the dough.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F, and line a half sheet pan with parchment paper.
Whisk together in a large bowl all of the dry ingredients so that all ingredients are well combined.
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Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter, or with your hands and fingers, if you which is my preferred method. Stop when the mixture has pea-sized clumps.
In another bowl, beat the milk, 2 eggs and vanilla with a whisk and then add to the butter-flour mixture. Stir just until combined, and if it appears too moist, add additional flour a tablespoon at a time. I found that I needed 1/4 cup additional flour.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured sheet of parchment and flour your hands. Just bring the dough together and shape it into a circle 3/4 inch thick.
Cut with a sharp, floured 2 inch round biscuit cutter.

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Brush the tops only with a beaten egg.

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Reduce the oven temperature to 400, and place the sheet pan onto a center rack in the oven.
Bake for 15 minutes and check them. They should appear golden and puffed, somewhat firm to the touch when done.

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Glaze

I glazed the scones with 1 and 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar, whisked with a teaspoon of vanilla, 1 Tablespoon honey, and 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg and enough half and half to achieve the proper consistency for drizzling or spreading. I glazed them while they were slightly warm.

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These scones puffed beautifully, are sufficiently sweet to balance the spices, and are very aromatic. The chai spices are warm, exotic, leave a bit of buzz on the tongue. They are moist and tender, with a nice slight crunch on the top created by butter and sugar content.

Make a batch, and please let me know how you like the flavor and texture, using the Comments box below the post. You can alter the recipe to your taste, emphasizing those spices that you love most. This is going to be a very spicy Autumn this year! Look for a post featuring my Pumpkin Scones and my Double Ginger Scones soon!

Exploring the Vibrant Flavors of Cuba: Spicy Black Bean Soup

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Although my family food traditions are primarily rooted in Italian and French cuisines, I have lived in Florida since just prior to adolescence and in the greater Tampa Bay area for 34 years. Cuban culture and cuisine have had a powerful impact on Florida, especially the Tampa Bay area. Cubans seeking freedom and opportunity emigrated to Miami and to Tampa, bringing with them their colors, traditions, and flavorful cuisine. We will drive across the bay to Ybor City in Tampa in order to have the best Cuban pressed sandwich or Lechon asada, or roast pork. Through the years, I have worked professionally with people with Cuban heritage, who introduced me to good Cuban coffee, Flan de Leche, black beans and rice, and educated me about sofrito.

Just like Italian, French, or other cuisines, Cuban food absorbed influences from other lands. Spain, who colonized Cuba at one point, African slaves, Asian laborers, immigrants from the Caribbean, and even the French contributed to the flavors of Cuba. And, just like other countries, the cuisine varies from one region to another. So, the cuisine of Eastern Cuba differs from Western Cuba. Finally, to add to the complexity of Cuban food, the Cubans who emigrated to America and raised families here absorbed some American and Latin American influences, so we have Cuban-American food that is not the strictly traditional food of Cuba. I am not an expert on Cuban cuisine, but I know that its rich history has resulted in potent, pleasurable flavors.

Here is one of my versions of a quick Black Bean Soup, which pays respect to its Cuban heritage, but is not a traditional Cuban Black Bean Soup. The flavors of the herbs and spices are prevalent in Cuban cooking, but I have added a few flavor twists

Cuban-inspired Black Bean Soup
Serves 6

Ingredients

2 slices smoky, thick-cut bacon (optional)
1 large sweet onion, diced
4 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 large carrots, scrubbed and cut into a small dice
32 ounces broth of your choice (I used beef low sodium)
1 cup canned crushed fire roasted tomatoes (I use Muir Glen)
3 – 15 ounce cans of black beans, drained
2 Tablespoons Cuban Island Spice blend (from Savory Spice Shop, contains garlic salt, pepper, bell pepper, cumin, annatto, oregano, cilantro, parsley, kaffir lime, basil, rosemary, marjoram)
1 chipotle chili pepper in adobo sauce, chopped (this adds heat–optional, or use 1/2 pepper for less heat)
(note: normally, I would add red and greed bell pepper, diced, but, alas, forgot to pick those up at the market!)
Chard, or spinach, or kale (optional–when I make a one-dish soup dinner, I like to add nutrition by adding a green)

Garnish
1 large avocado, diced
additional fire-roasted tomatoes, or you could use fresh diced, if you have then on hand
sour cream

Method
In a large soup pot, cook the bacon until it begins to brown–I used the bacon because I like a bit of smoky flavor that it imparts to the beans. Add the onion and cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes til they begin to pick up some golden color. Add the carrots and garlic and cook, stirring for a few minutes. If I had bell pepper, this is when I would have added it. Next, add the spices and stir to distribute.

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Add the broth, the tomatoes, and the chipotle pepper. Heat for 5 minutes and ten add the drained beans. Heat until the soup is just beginning to boil, and then lower the heat to simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes. During the final 5 minutes, add any chopped green, if you wish–chard, spinach or kale, chopped small. Taste it as it cooks, because the flavor will develop, and it is good to have an opportunity to adjust the seasonings if you wish.

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I served the soup topped with diced ripe avocado and a swirl of sour cream.

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This would be great served with Cuban bread, toasted in the oven or grilled. This is a quick and easy method, and you can make a vegetarian version by using vegetable broth and omitting the bacon. The flavor of this soup is savory with onions and herbs, spicy with cumin and chipotle, and there is a slight sweet note from the lime. The Cuban Island Spice blend is new to me, and I like that there is vibrant, complex flavor in one jar. I used this as a rub for grilled chicken breasts, and the outcome was delicious.

I would love to hear your explorations with the flavors of other cuisines, and your experiences if you try this Black Bean Soup recipe.

Christopher Columbus said, “Cuba–this is the most beautiful land that human eyes have ever seen.” Quoted in The Habana Café Cookbook, by Josefa Gonzalez-Hastings, University Press of Florida 2004. Perhaps someday, we will be able to visit!

The Warm Spicy Flavors of Fall!

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When there is just a hint of autumn in the air, I begin to yearn for certain flavors in baking–apples, pumpkin, maple, cinnamon, gingerbread, toffee, and caramel. I bake more during the fall season than during any other time of year. I recently visited my source for spices, dried herbs, cocoa, and extracts, and am inspired to expand the range of warm spices that I utilize for fall baking. Many pumpkin and apple recipes use cinnamon. What about cardamom, star anise, spicy sweet cloves, allspice, and sweet-hot ginger? What about chai spice blends? And, are all cinnamons created equal?

I credit neighbor, Paul Bailey, proprietor of Savory Spice Shop, 400 Beach Drive, Suite 173, St. Petersburg, Florida, with inspiring me to consider herbs, spices and flavor palates that I had not previously considered. He introduced me to Black Onyx Cocoa, which makes deep, dark chocolate ice cream and brownies. He introduced me to Bourbon Smoked Black Pepper, which makes an incredible seasoning for chops and steaks. While truffles are outrageously expensive, I can achieve some truffle flavor with black-truffle-flecked Truffle Salt. And, he has educated me about the variety of warm spices for fall, helping me to identify the differences between various cinnamons, and recommending a particular Chai Spice blend. I never make Chili without his Peruvian Lime Chili Powder, and now I have a new mole seasoning blend to play with when I make my Shredded Pork Mole Chili!

Paul was a banker for 26 years, and then a CFO for a large construction company before finding his bliss as a purveyor of fine quality herbs and spices. He is an avid cook. He always seems on or ahead of the flavor trends, recently expanding curries and spices used in Indian cuisine, as well as spices used in Cuban cuisine. His shop now provides herbs and spices, salts and peppers to a good number of the best restaurants in St. Petersburg.

I write about Savory Spice Shop, not as an advertisement for Paul, but to encourage readers to explore, go to local shops where you can talk and taste. Shops that encourage tasting and that have knowledgeable staff have contributed to my growth as a cook. In addition, Savory Spice grinds spices and herbs fresh weekly in small batches, so customers are assured freshness, which is essential. The oils in many spices lose their potency rapidly, and we have all tasted dried herbs that taste like dust. So, trusted local sources of premium quality, small batch essential ingredients are worth discovering.

Here is what I learned from Paul about cinnamon, a spice that I use on a daily basis and much more when I am baking for fall. The bulk of cinnamon that we find in the supermarket is made from cassia bark of an evergreen tree, Cinnamon loreiroi which grows in Vietnam. I do utilize a very good quality Saigon cinnamon from Savory Spice Shop that is very potent, spicy, warm and delicious. Ceylon true cinnamon comes from the cinnamon tree bark. The organic variety, which comes from the quills rather than the mature bark, has a superior flavor due to a higher percentage of oils. However, it tastes milder, sweeter, and with a slight citrus note on my tongue. Taste them both, and let me know what you think about the flavors. The cinnamon tree is grown in Sri Lanka. So, now I have these two types of cinnamon in my spice cupboard!

Here is a Cinnamon-Maple Swirl Bread that I baked, which began with a recipe from Baking with Julia, written by Dorie Greenspan, page 81-82, White Loaves, by contributing baker, Craig Kominiak. I will paraphrase the recipe here.

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This recipe yields two 1 and 3/4 pound large loaves of bread. The book states that the loaves have a high lift–4 and 1/2 inches. Mine rose well, about 4 inches, but did not have as high a lift. I think that the addition of a filling may be the reason, but I am not certain. At the point of folding and forming the dough, I added a layer of cinnamon, maple sugar and raisins.

Ingredients

2 and 1/2 cups warm water (105-115 F)
1 Tablespoon active dry yeast
1 Tablespoon sugar
7 cups (approximately) bread flour, or unbleached all-purpose flour (I used bread flour)
1 Tablespoon salt
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temp

4 Tablespoons cinnamon (I used Savory Spice Shop Saigon Cinnamon for really potent cinnamon flavor)
4 Tablespoons maple sugar (Savory Spice)
1/2 cup raisins

Method
Allow the butter to come to room temperature. Oil or butter a large bowl. Butter two 8 and 1/2 by 4 and 1/2 loaf pans and set them aside.

Mixing and Kneading: Pour 1/2 cup of the warm water into the bowl of your stand mixer, fitted with a dough hook. Add the yeast and sugar. Whisk to blend and allow the mixture to rest until the yeast is swollen and creamy, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining 2 cups of water and about 3 and 1/2 cups of flour to the yeast. Begin to mix on low speed to prevent flour from flying all over, and mix on low speed, adding and 1/2 more cups of flour. Mix on medium speed, stopping and scraping down the dough as it forms.
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Add one tablespoon of additional flour at a time as needed until the dough comes together. Knead the dough using the dough hook at medium speed for about 10 minutes. The dough should be smooth and elastic. If you wish, you can knead the dough by hand rather than with the dough hook once the dough has come together.
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When the dough is smooth and elastic, knead in the butter one tablespoon at a time. I did this by hand on a lightly floured surface.

First rise: On a lightly floured surface, shape the dough into a ball, place it in a large oiled or buttered bowl. Turn the dough to coat all sides with the oil or butter. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and allow it to rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour. It will double in volume.

Shaping the dough: Deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough in half and place one half back into the buttered bowl. On the floured surface, use your fingertips and hands or a rolling pin to shape the dough into a rectangle, 9 inches wide and 12 inches long. The dough is very elastic, and I formed mine by hand easily.

Sprinkle half of the cinnamon, half of the maple sugar and half of the raisins onto the rectangle. Beginning at the short end, fold the dough over to cover 2/3 of the rectangle, and then fold it again pinching the seam to seal it. Turn the roll, so that the seam is in the center, and seal the ends of the roll and tuck them under just enough to fit the loaf pans. Now, flip the roll so that the seam is on the bottom and place in the loaf pans. Repeat with the second half of the dough.

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Second Rise: Cover both loves with oiled or butted plastic wrap and allow to rise for 45 minutes in a warm place. I turned on my over very low to warm my range top and allowed them to rise there.

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Bake: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Bake on the center rack for 45 minutes, or until golden brown,. You can turn them out and plunge an instant read thermometer through the bottom of each loaf to see if it registers 200, which would indicate that it is perfect.

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Turn the loaves out on racks to cool.

This bread has a beautiful crumb, has excellent flavor, and the warm, potent cinnamon and maple sugar swirl is sweet and spicy. This makes wonderful toast, and it freezes well for up to a month. Thaw at room temperature.

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Ginger is one of my favorite baking spices. I love the hot, sweet flavor and lemony fragrance. It originates with the rhizome or fibrous root of a plant that is original to China, but has spread to some of Asia, South Africa, the Spice Islands, and the Caribbean. The plant is related to turmeric and cardamom. Savory Spice Shop carries an Organic Peruvian Ginger and an Organic Chinese Ginger, both of which are very potent, and have an affinity for apples, pears, cranberries for chutneys or relishes, and for pairing with pumpkin. My Pumpkin-Gingerbread Scones have a healthy amount of ground ginger plus finely chopped crystallized ginger that I also source from Savory Spice Shop.

I have discovered cardamom recently, green ground inner seeds, and find it very aromatic and unique in flavor, and very good in cakes and cookies, as well as savory Indian dishes. I was reading Baking with Julia, came upon a recipe for a beautiful braided yeast bread, called Finnish Pulla, and it contains cardamom. So, off I went to Savory Spice Shop in search of cardamom. It does lose its flavor quite quickly when ground, so I just purchased a small amount. Cardamom has a unique flavor. Some describe it as minty, honeyed, flowery–it is complex. It elevates sweets and pairs nicely with apples. Perfect! I added cardamom to my Apple Walnut Cake recipe.

Susan’s Apple Walnut Cake

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Apple Cakes are beloved in many countries. In France, especially in Normandy, apple cakes are a type of butter cake, dense and moist, but without a high lift. Many bakers with Italian heritage report a recipe from “Nonna,” usually made with oil for the fat. My recipe does use oil for the fat and uses a large amount of sugar and apple. This cake is moist and dense, deep, and because of the sugar content has a top that cracks when you cut into it. I think what may make this cake unique though, is the blend of spices. Try it, and let me know what you think.

Ingredients
Makes 1 deep 9 inch cake

Lightly grease a 9 inch spring form pan. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Peel and core 3 cups of cubed apple. I cut each apple into 6 slices and then into small cubes.
3 cups all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur Organic)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon of your choice (I used Organic Ceylon)
1 teaspoon ground ginger (I used Organic Chinese Ground Ginger)
1/2 teaspoon ground inner seeds of green cardamom (Savory Spice Shop)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon pure organic orange extract (Savory Spice Shop)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 and 1/4 cups canola oil
2 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs

In a large mixing bowl, place the 3 cups of apple, the spices, the extracts, and the walnuts and stir well. Allow the mixture to sit.

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In another bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the oil and sugar until thick and well-blended and until the sugar appears dissolved, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs and beat for just two minutes.
Add the flour mixture to the egg-oil-sugar mixture and mix with your mixer just until well combined about a minute.

Fold the apple mixture into the batter and combine well with a spatula.
Spread the batter evenly in the pan.

Bake for about 90 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. My cake took 99 minutes.

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Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 1 hour prior to removing the spring form.
Dust the top with confectioner’s sugar and serve warm.
This is a very moist cake, so refrigerate it. Will keep well for 3 days.

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During fall, I crave chai spice tea, with a bit of honey and steamed, frothed milk. But, a number of years ago, I made Chai Spice Shortbread Cookies at holiday time, and received rave reviews and requests for the recipe, so they are now part of my fall through New Years cookie baking repertoire. Your local spice shop can likely provide you with a variety of chai spice blends, ground for you. I selected Mt. Baker Chai Spice blend from Savory Spice Shop, made with Saigon and Indonesian cinnamons, ginger, cardamom, black pepper, star anise, allspice, and bay leaves. I am going to develop a Chai Spice Scone recipe utilizing this blend. Watch for its appearance in a later post!

Readers, I would love to hear about your Fall bake specialties, and about your unique use of spices. And, of course, I would love to hear about your experiences if you try these recipes! Please see the Comments box below the post. Thanks for visiting!

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Savory Spice Shop has a website at www.savoryspiceshop.com, if you do not have a store in your area of the world!

Disclosure: I am not a paid representative of Savory Spice Shop, nor did I receive any free product to write this post. My opinions are my own, and I only write about those brands that I honesty love and use regularly. I write about local shops that add to my knowledge about ingredients, cooking, recipe development, and that inspire me.

Pantry Essentials: Anointed with Olive Oil, Bathed in Balsamic

“Overall, personal taste and freshness are your best guides to the slippery, crowded oil aisles.”
Julia Moskin, The New York Times, as quoted in Olive Oil Times.com, retrieved September 27, 2014.

“To make a good salad is to be a brilliant diplomatist–the problem is entirely the same in both cases. To know exactly how much oil one must put with one’s vinegar.”
Oscar Wilde, Cookery, Dictionary.com, retrieved September 27, 2014.

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The two pantry essentials that I use and replenish frequently cause the greatest angst when I must shop for them–olive oil and balsamic vinegar. This is because of the hundreds of bottles of each among my supermarket and my favorite specialty store shelves. Must the olive oil be solely from Italy? Every Mediterranean country proclaims itself the producer of the best quality olive oils. Must the olive oil be cold-pressed, and what exactly does that mean?

I am similarly confused about balsamic vinegar. Is there really a significant difference between the 10.00 and 30.00 bottles, and why do the fruit-flavored balsamics so frequently disappoint?

One of my friends recently suggested that I visit a retailer with a tasting room, Kalamazoo Olive Company, and so I did spend a very enlightening morning sampling olive oils and balsamic vinegars and discussing their origins, production processes, and uses with proprietor, James Ryan, and his assistant, Andrea.

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I believe that Julia Moskin is absolutely right about olive oil–freshness of product makes a tremendous difference in flavor. My chat with James, augmented by some reading revealed to me that olives ripen, are harvested, and are crushed during different months in the southern hemisphere than in the northern hemisphere. So, retailers of premium olive oil order from many small groves around the world, according to season, and buy in small batches in order to insure freshness. Kalamazoo sources oils from 88 groves according to the season.

Olives are harvested and crushed during winter and spring in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Tunisia and California. During the summer and fall, olives are harvested in Chile, Australia, Peru, and South Africa. On the day that I tasted, I sampled oils from Australia, Peru and California, and I no longer think that I have to limit myself to olive oils from Italy, or France, which both produce some wonderful olive oils.

Kalamazoo is certified as an “Ultra Premium retailer, ” and James and staff can tell customers the crush date, the origin of the olive, the type of olive, and how the oil was processed. In general, for extra virgin olive oil, no heat or chemicals, or alkalis, or acids are utilized in processing. The ripe, unbruised olives are crushed into a paste, and the oil is extracted from the paste. You can read in great detail, if you wish, about the processing of olive oil in the book, The Olive Harvest Cookbook, by Gerald Gass, Executive Chef of the McEvoy Olive Ranch in California.

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I learned that the extra virgin olive oils also vary in the percentage of polyphenols, which are the anti-oxidants that make olive oil a healthy fat and give that peppery kick to the back of your throat on finish. I tasted extra virgin olive oils from Peru, Australia, and California. The California oil, from Picual olives, is a golden green color, is very fruity, and has a pronounced peppery kick at the end. I learned from reading that the extra virgin olive oils of California are generally modeled after the olive oils of Tuscany. I decided to take this one home. As Julia Moskin said, your palate preference is key, and I loved the flavor of this oil. This will be an oil that I wil use for creating salad dressings, pestos, tapenades and for bread-dipping.

I tasted most of the olive oils that were flavored with real fruit, herbs, chili peppers and other flavoring agents. Normally, I like to create my own favored oils, using herbs or roasted garlic, but the variety of flavors here and the depth of flavor appealed to me. The fresh ingredients are added to the oil silo and left for a time until the flavors achieve peak, and then are removed. The Sorrento oil contained the flavor of fresh lemons of Southern Italy. There were spicy hot chili oils, a Tangerine oil, an Herb de Provence oil and others, all with surprisingly fresh flavor of the flavoring agent.

I selected a White Truffle Oil, earthy in flavor, fragrant with fresh truffle, with a hint of added garlic, and it is perfect for dropping a few drops into mashed potatoes or into scrambled eggs. I tasted black truffle oil as well, which has a stronger truffle fragrance and earthy flavor, and will make a good future purchase.

Kalamazoo oils are bottled in your presence in dark green bottles to prevent light from oxidizing the oil, and are corked and heat-sealed. The White truffle Oil can be purchased in a convenient bottle with an eye dropper for adding just the right amount to your dish. I was reminded in this visit the importance of storing olive oil properly, away from heat sources, away from sunlight in dark bottles to preserve freshness.

I learned that the reason to purchase extra virgin olive oils is that they are not refined with heat, chemicals, alkalis, or acids. They are simply the olive oil that is extracted from the crushed olive paste. Extra virgin olive oil purchased close to the crush and production date will last 12 months if stored properly, which is in a cool dry place in a dark bottle. If you store it near your range, then it will likely go rancid more quickly.

Kalamazoo has a similar approach to sourcing balsamic vinegar in order to insure quality. Their balsamic is sourced only from Modena, Italy, which is in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Authentic balsamic is produced from fermenting the Trebbiano grapes, which only grow here, and by aging it in wooden casks for years. The dark, syrupy aged balsamic is sweet, rich, and without a hard vinegar bite. Light balsamic vinegar is aged less time. I have purchased fruit-flavored balsamics in the past, only to be disappointed by the lack of richness in the vinegar flavor and the weakness of the fruit flavor. Here, I tasted deep, dark, syrupy balsamics with the taste of fresh, ripe, black figs from Italy, fresh apple, incredible fresh ripe strawberry, and an amazing cinnamon pear balsamic. The difference is in the production–fresh fruit, not just essence of fruit–is added to the cask for a period of time. I began to spin with ideas for recipes before I left the shop!

While I agree with Oscar Wilde about the importance of the balance of oil to vinegar, the quality and flavor of the vinegar is equally important!

Here are a few recipes that I created this week, using extra virgin olive oil and the vinegars purchased from Kalamazoo Olive Company.

Autumnal Salad with Kale, Apples and Apple Balsamic
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The tricks to using raw kale in salads are to trim the leaves away from the tough spines, to chop in small bits, and to dress the kale with olive oil, salt and pepper at least one hour prior to serving, You can dress it the morning of the day that you will serve it for dinner, and this is even better. The kale maintains body and crispness, but softens.

For 4 persons, trim, chop and dress a bunch of kale of your choice. I dressed it with the Kalamazoo Picual Extra Virgin Olive Oil from California. At serving time, simply top with 1 medium red onion, sliced thinly, 2 or 3 large, crisp apples, sliced 1/4 inch thick and cored (I had organic Cripps Pinks on hand, but use your favorite sweet, crisp apple), 1/4 cup pecan halves, and 4 ounces of bleu cheese. I used Rogue Creamery Smoky Bleu, because I thought that the smokiness would add another flavor dimension, and it did. Drizzle 2 Tablespoons Kalamazoo Apple Balsamic over the salad and serve.

This salad speaks of autumn! The kale is crunchy, even after dressing it in advance. The fruity, peppery olive oil flavor comes through. The red onions add a spiciness to the mix, and the apples and pecans a sweetness. While the flavors are balanced, the fragrance and the sweet, rich, fresh-apple favor of the balsamic sparkles! My guests loved the rich, fresh flavor of the apple balsamic, and asked me to bring the bottle to the table for additional drizzles, calling it “mellow,” “smooth,” “rich and sweet.”

So, I decided to try the Apple Balsamic as a glaze for pan-seared pork chops.

Pan-Seared Pork Chops with Apple Balsamic Glaze.

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Ingredients
For 4 persons, 4 Bone-in Center Pork Loin Chops, 1 and 1/4 inch thick
1 bottle of hard apple cider (use your favorite. I had a bottle of Scrumpy’s organic on hand, so used that)
1 and 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely cracked black pepper (I used a Savory Spice Shop product, Bourbon Smoked Black Pepper)
2 teaspoons organic cracked dried rosemary (I source this at Savory Spice)
Approximately 1/4 cup Kalamazoo Apple Balsamic Vinegar

Method
Marinate the pork chops in the apple cider in a ziplock bag for up to 24 hours.
About 15 minutes prior to dinner, pat the chops dry and season with salt, pepper, and rosemary. Heat 2 Tablespoons of olive oil in an oven proof skillet on medium high heat. When the oil is sizzling, add the chops and sear each side for 5 minutes, not disturbing them during searing other than to turn them once. You will get some lovely caramelization this way.
Remove the pan from the heat. Pour 1/4 cup of the Apple Balsamic Vinegar over the chops and place the pan in a preheated 425 degree F oven for just 5 minutes.
The heat creates a thicker, syrupy glaze. Take care not to overcook the chops. If the chops are the recommended thickness, the timing provided here provides the perfect degree of doneness.
Remover the chops to a platter to rest for 5 minutes, and pour the syrupy glaze over them.

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The chops were succulent, tender and juicy, and had that sweet, fresh apple flavor of the balsamic glaze–a perfect pairing with pork.

To round out the meal, I roasted petite, mixed fingerling potatoes and butternut squash with the lemon-infused Sorrento Olive Oil and some rosemary and sea salt.

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Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Butternut Squash with Sorrento Olive Oil

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Toss halved petite fingerling potatoes, 1 pound for 4 persons, and 1/2 of a large butternut squash, cubed, with 2 Tablespoons of Kalamazoo Sorrento Olive oil, 1 and 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt, and 1 Tablespoon cracked dried rosemary in a large bowl. Tumble out onto a rimmed baking sheet and roast for about 40-45 minutes until browned and tender. Finely zest the zest of one lemon over the potatoes and serve.

Lemony, luscious, and a good accompaniment for the chops and salad, a bit of lemony sparkle added to the earthy, sweet flavors of the other dishes.

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I created an additional Autumnal Salad on another evening that featured roasted pears and the Kalamazoo Olive Company Cinnamon Pear Balsamic, so incredibly fragrant with cinnamon and fresh pear!

Fall Salad with Roasted Pears, Golden Beets, and Cinnamon Pear Vinaigrette

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Serves 4
Ingredients
1/2 large head of butter lettuce
1/2 head curly endive
4 pears, peeled, quartered, cored (use your favorite–I had red and green bartletts on hand)
1 large red onion, cut into small wedges
4 small golden beets, peeled and quartered
1 Tablespoon Picual olive oil
1/4 cup walnuts
1/2 baguette, cut into thin slices
4 ounces of Gorgonzola (I used Gorgonzola Dolce, a very sweet, runny bleu cheese)
6 Tablespoons Kalamazoo Picual Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Kalamazoo Cinnamon Pear Balsamic, and extra for the table!

Method
Toss the pears, beets, and onion with 1 Tablespoon olive oil and roast in a 425 degree F oven for about 1/3 hour, turning the pieces so that they are evenly caramelized.
Assemble the salad, by arranging the lettuces on a platter, and arranging the roasted pears, beets, and onions, scattering the walnuts.
Whisk together 6 Tablespoons of Picual olive oil and 2 Tablespoons of the vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Drizzle the olive oil over the salad.
Place the slices of baguette into the 425 F oven and bake just a few minutes until crisp and slightly colored. Place them around the edge of the platter and smear each with some gorgonzola.
Serve.

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This salad was a hit with friends and with my husband! Crisp lettuce, soft, caramelized pears, beets, and red onion sweetened by roasting then, nutty walnuts, and the heavenly fall fragrance of cinnamon and pear in the balsamic. Just the right balance of fruity, peppery Picual Olive Oil to the sweet, rich, spiced and fruited balsamic. The crostini topped with gorgonzola was the final flavorful embellishment!

My hope is that readers get out and explore your local sources for premium products, study the ingredients that you use with frequency, so that you can make educated choices that may make the difference that you are seeking in flavor and performance.

Disclosure: This is a reminder that I am not a paid representative of any brand or business, and this post is not intended as a advertisement for Kalamazoo Olive Company. I feature brands and businesses where I learn an aspect of recipe development, cooking, or cuisine that I think might be of value to readers, too. I only write about those products that I value highly and actually use on a regular basis.

If you are now curious about Kalamazoo Olive Company, the local shops in my area of the world are located at:
449 Central Avenue, Suite 100
St. Petersburg, Florida
(727) 258-4925
or
1232 County Road One
Dunedin, Florida
same phone number
Managing Member is James Ryan

On the web: www.KalamazooOlive.com
James ships products.

Cheesemonger’s Choice: A Beer and Cheese Tasting Experience!

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We have been to many wine and cheese pairing tastings, but, today, we attended our first beer and cheese pairing event!  With the increasing popularity of craft beers and artisanal cheeses, we are beginning to see an interest in our area about cheese and beer affinities, or which cheeses pair well with which style craft beer.  So, we were very curious when our favorite cheese room announced a beer and cheese paring event.

We made our traditional visit to Mazzaro’s Italian Market this morning, which is located at 2909 22nd Avenue North, St. Petersburg, Florida.  Mazzaro’s is a European-style marketplace, with produce, including organic, hydroponically grown greens and other produce from local Faithful Farms; an olive bar, where you can select your favorite imported olives from regions of Italy, from France, and from Greece; meat and seafood counter, where Joe the Butcher insures quality products and house-made sausages; an incredible bakery with baked on the premises daily savory breads and sweets; a deli with imported salamis and hams; a counter with handmade fresh pastas, tender little pockets stuffed with cheese, mushrooms, lobster, and this time of year, pumpkin; prepared foods that you can take-away or eat on the terrace;  grocery isles with imported olive oils, vinegars, and much more; and a superb wine and cheese room.   We are regular, frequent customers and have enjoyed watching the Cuccaro family develop this marketplace from their early days of simply roasting coffee beans to today, where shoppers can fulfill most of their food shopping needs and can source some extraordinary foods and ingredients for any occasion.   The ambiance is warm and friendly–have a seat at the expresso bar and enjoy a coffee and a pastry!

Visit mazzaro.com for a tour of the marketplace.

One of our favorite places in the marketplace is the Cheese Room, where the cheese mongers greet shoppers warmly, have samples of a few select cheeses out for tasting and offer others for tasting, as well as very helpful information about the origins of the cheese, the type of milk, the texture, the process, the rind, the aging, and complimentary flavors.  They are able to fully describe each cheese, and they are experts at helping you to select cheeses and accompanying items for your cheeseboard.    Every day, we watch for the posts on Facebook from the Cheese Room to see which special cheeses have arrived.  By Saturday, we have a list of those that we want to sample!

Every Saturday, there is a wine tasting in the Wine Room, which is adjacent to the Cheese Room.  Today, we arrived to find a beer and cheese pairing tasting, with beers from the Ommegang Brewery of Cooperstown, N.Y. and cheeses by Mazzaro’s, of course!  Ommegang is a farmstead brewery rich in the Belgian-style beer tradition.   They have been crafting Belgian style ales since 1997.  It is reported to be a world-renowned, award-winning brewery, and just a quick google search yields a lot of press about food paring and other events involving this brewery. There is an authentic Belgian café on the premises of the brewery, which was built on a 135 acre hop farm, and the brewery is famous for a collaboration with HBO to create ales inspired by the Game of Thrones television series.  Visit ommegang.com for additional information about this brewery and their ales.

Here is what we learned and sampled today!

Gnomegag Blond Ale has robust flavor, golden hue, and some sweet fruity, caramel flavor, with a pronounced hop flavor, we thought.  So, it was paired with a robust blue cheese from Spain, a Valdeon, a creamy blend of cow and goat milk, wrapped in Sycamore leaf for ripening, similar to a Stilton.  The Valdeon is a powerful blue, and we liked it with this rich ale.  This ale won the European Beer Star Gold Medal in 2012.

Scythe and Sickle is a harvest season ale, a blend of wheat, rye, barley, and oats. It is fermented with a signature house yeast. It is described as smooth, creamy, balanced, and toasty in flavor with pronounced malt flavor. It is bright amber in color.  The brewery states in their literature that this ale pairs well with mussels, roast chicken or pork, fondue, aged cheddar and pub food.  We tasted it with a Hawes Wensleydale clothbound cheddar from North Yorkshire, England, a Neal’s Yard cheese. We loved this cheddar–still creamy, but a drier cheddar without being too crumbly, with a tart, grassy flavor.

Three Philosophers is described by Ommegang as a Belgian-style Quadrupel Ale, which is a strong, malty ale, dark, cherry chestnut in color. It is described as a smooth ale, with flavors of roasted malt, vanilla, sweet and sour cherries, coffee, currants, brandied raisins and chocolate. I am not a beer connoisseur, so I was not able to identify all of these nuances.  My favorite in ales tends to be a mild Belgian wheat with apricot, a Lambic, I believe, and so this one was stronger in flavor than I normally enjoy.  This beer won a Bronze World Cup Award in 2004 and a Silver European Beer Star in 2011.  It was paired with a Robiola Bossina Due latte, meaning made from two milks, cow and sheep.  It is produced in the Piedmont region of Italy. It is Italy’s answer to Brie–creamy, runny, soft cheese, sweet but with some pungent sheep flavor.

We missed one of the four beer/cheese offerings, an Abby Ale, paired with a Cacio Nocello,  firm, sheep milk cheese aged in walnut leaves that we have already sampled and love.  The room was becoming crowded, and we decided to move on to the grocery section for a few items.   I did learn a bit about identifying the characteristics of ales, and the complexity of combining a balance of ingredients in order to produce a particular flavor profile.  And, I will no longer think simply about pairing the cheeseboards that I serve with wines.  My husband, who is the primary photographer for this website, is a beer fan, and we have friends who appreciate beer more than wine.  Another food-related culture to explore!  Ommegang Brewery provided useful, informative fact cards about the featured ales, which was much appreciated by this novice beer drinker!

Before departing the cheese room, we did chat with Head Cheese Monger, Charlie, and with Hope, another cheese monger about some of the cheeses featured this week on the facebook website.  We sampled a Gorgonzola Dolce, from the Lombardy region of Italy, a very creamy, runny blue with a sweet, potent flavor, that we will try on crostini with a bit of roasted pear and a drizzle of a cinnamon-pear infused balsamic vinegar.

We also purchased a classic French Tomme de Savoie, (pronounced TUM duh Sav-WAH) which is a generic term for a Rhone-Alps region cheese with a hard gray rind with patches of red and gold mold.  The interior is, in general, creamy, with holes, a pale gold color, It has a mild, buttery favor that we love.  This region of France is mountainous with lush pasturelands and valleys, and this cheese is made from peak of summer milk and then aged til winter.  It is a peasant, Alpine mountain cheese, really good served simply on a cheeseboard with baguette and some fruit.

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MAZZARO CHEESES 3

 

 

 

 

 

I hope that this post encourages you to go to places and events where you can talk and taste, explore various aspects of food culture, and discover something pleasurable. This current season is rich with opportunities to do so!

This is just a reminder that my opinions are my own. I am not a paid representative for any of the businesses mentioned in this post.