Thursday, January 31, 2008

Traditional Family Favorites - Linzer Torte

Precious Linzer TorteThis is a traditional all time favorite treat in our family. First, thanks to my dear friend, Gerhard Schlinke, of Merzhausen near Freiburg, Germany, for sending me this wonderful picture of our family favorite. The Linzer Torte has a crust made of ground hazelnuts and includes a filling of rasberry jam. When my sister or I see anything like it in a store, we must purchase it . It rarely tastes like the original baked by my mother, aunt or maternal grandmother but brings back precious memories.

My mother once baked two for a school bake sale, shortly after we immigrated to the U.S.A. She cut the dough into leaf shapes to make the top. Her masterpiece was beautiful and added much profit to the bake sale. I remember that I wanted to purchase my mother's baked goods, but they were already gone.

I love the crust that can also be made into a Linzer cake. The entire cake is ground hazelnuts and holds up for a very long time when covered in chocolate that hardens on cooling. I never made the cake but when I would visit my aunt in Freiburg, Germany, she would make a huge loaf and cut it in half for a piece for my husband and a piece for my brother-in-law as they both loved the cake as much as my sisters and I.

The Linzer Torte and the Linzer cake bring back the most precious memories of our family celebrating precious moments together. The Linzer cake was a specialty of my late Tante (Aunt) Hanelore, my mother's dearest and youngest sister.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Cakes - Decorating for Everyone

Birthday cake for three year old Megan, now expecting her own baby
Soccer Birthday Cake for my 10 year old nephew having 30 major food allergies
Tennis Cake for my husband's brother's 40th birthday

Notice that the decorated football themed birthday cake looks like any other decorated cake sitting next to two conventional decorated cakes. Decorating birthday cakes was a hobby until my nephew was born. When my nephew entered school he asked me if he could have a decorated birthday cake like the other kids. Until this time we used a dusting of confectioners sugar on his cakes per his allergies. I said of course you will have a decorated cake and we searched for alternatives to food coloring using natural jams or jellies. The cake on the far left, a football cake, is made with frosting using natural ingredients he could tolerate. The top cake and the one to the right are cakes made with the usual food coloring for others in our family.

I took cake decorating as a hobby but never expected it to bring such happiness to someone that would not otherwise have a decorated cake. The cake itself is eggless, dairyfree, and modified from the recipe used when eggs and milk were rationed, thus one may think of it as a patriotic cake instead of an "allergic cake" as the kids would call it. The "special" birthday cake tastes the same as any decorated cake and can be made in flavors and any types of jams or jellies, that are permitted per the person's allergies, mixed into the frosting.

It takes me over 20 hours to prepare the "special" birthday cake but it is much fun. Variations of the football theme will be appropriate for many years.

Vacation - Foods

Precious Memories relating to fresh foods and the sea from our trip to Hawaii

Collage of Pictures from Hawaii

One of our favorite places is Hawaii. Of the islands we visited, the Big Island of Hawaii, is most precious to us. With the city of Hilo on one side and Kona on the other, one enters a world including every climate one could imagine from tropical, to snow, to volcanoes, as if the four seasons all agree it is their favorite place to stop and rest.

We love the small bananas used in many items including pancakes and purchased papaya from a local market. The ocean scenes were fantastic as was the food. We enjoyed driving around the entire Island meeting those selling Macadamia nuts from the trees on their farms and enjoyed the unique features of each island. We found a small shop selling coffee and sandwiches, the avocado given to us was from the huge tree in the backyard overlooking the ocean. The coffee was from the beans in front of the small store. The Macadamia nut farmer suggested this unique place, high on a hill overlooking the beautiful Pacific Ocean, when we asked him if he could direct us to a nearby coffee shop.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Gadgets - Zester

One of my useful gadgets is a zester. My mother told me she loved the cookies that I made for her, the ones having a lingering aroma of citrus. I call my recipe:

Andrew David's Orchestra Cookies: a Zesty Dough

Zest from two tangerines/oranges/lemon (optional)
Cream 2 sticks of butter (I soften it slightly in the microwave if necessary)
Add 1 1/2 cups of sugar and continue creaming the butter and sugar (important step)
Add 3 whole eggs to the mixture
Add 1 tsp vanilla
Add 1/8 cup milk (an alternative is about 2 Tablespoons of Lemon Juice + Zest)
Add 3 1/2 - scant 4 cups of flour to make a stiff dough remembering to
Include 2 teaspoons of baking powder in the flour (I use unbleached flour)
Mix and place the dough in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight, be sure the dough is covered so that it does not dry out in the refrigerator.

After refrigeration for at least three hours, I take out some of the dough and hand roll it into one inch balls. I slightly dampen my hands as the dough becomes sticky. I place the one inch cookie dough balls on a cookie sheet (I use the silicone covers on my cookie sheets and nothing sticks to the pans).

As the dough is not overly sweet, one can add jams, nuts or a chocolate kiss to each cookie by pressing the kiss into the round ball or making a thumb print in the cookie ball and filling it with a jam. We like rasberry and apricot preserves in our cookies as the flavors and colors are appealing. One can also press a favorite nut, such as a pecan into the round cookie balls.

The cookie balls will spread out so leave two inches between the cookies and bake for about 15-18 minutes in a preheated 350 F oven until the bottom of the cookie becomes slightly brown. Do not over bake, the cookie will remain very light.

The recipe makes from 80-96 cookies depending upon the size of the small ball one hand rolls. The dough may also be rolled in larger long rolls and cut. The nice thing about this dough is one need not use a rolling pin or cookie cutters.

I usually make one tray with chocolate kisses, one with nuts, one with apricot jam and a tray with rasberry jam. This cookie dough does not crack when a chocolate candy kiss or nut is pressed into the raw cookie dough before baking or if the cookie is indented with a thumb print, something that might appeal to children helping to place their thumb prints in the cookie before adding jam or preserves.
At our house, when we eat a piece of citrus fruit, I wash the peel vigorously and collect the zest before peeling the fruit. I have the zest on hand for baking and find that it replaces the need for salt in many recipes. I am trying to get my 90 year young Mom to gain weight and decrease her need for salting everything by substituting a citrus flavor. She often says "I will eat it if you do, as it is more fun to eat with someone than eating alone". Thus, I gain weight and Mom does not gain a single pound.

The cookies with a chocolate candy kiss in the middle of each cookie, sold at a recent bake sale benefiting my nephew's school orchestra. Next year I will make a tray including all four types of cookies by cutting a long roll of cookie dough into 1/3 inch rounds and including all four cookies on one tray of cookies. One dough recipe makes four unique tasting cookies that also look appealing.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Homemade Foods - Pizza

I make my pizza similar to a graphics program, in layers. I am a self taught techie. My pizza recipe is modified from a recipe included on page 104 of the cookbook entitled Everyday Cooking with Dr. Dean Ornish, M.D.: 150 Easy, Low-Fat, High-Flavor Recipes published in New York by HarperCollins in 1996.

This is not a political blog. I noticed today that Dr. Ornish dedicates the cookbook to President William Jefferson Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton with this statement, a direct quote:

"May G-d grant you the wisdom, courage, and compassion needed to lead our country during these transformative times."

I honestly did not notice the quote in the book until I decided to include my favorite homemade pizza recipe in this blog. I am not making a political statement. I seem to remember that perhaps Hillary brought Dr. Dean Ornish to the White House kitchen. The Clintons were reported to be eating pizza for dinner during the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday night. I wonder if they were eating a modification of this recipe?

The pizza recipe I use for my family is as follows, one recipe makes one large round pizza, I double or quadruple the recipe depending upon the number of pizzas I need.

Please note: if you are interest in studies on pizza you might wish to look at an article from the American Chemical Society (2007, March 27). Chemists Create Healthier Pizza By Boosting Antioxidants In Dough. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 22, 2008, from that mentions nutrient advantages of high heat and a long fermentation process (related to the yeast)in making the most nutritious pizza.

I let the pizza dough rise in separate plastic bowls in a turned off stove, overnight in plastic bags for individual pizzas the next day in the refrigerator or for a party of "make your own individual pizza". I have never made more than 4 times the recipe in my largest green Tupperware bowl as the dough raises more than twice the size in the first rise.

After the first rise, I punch it down, smooth it out in a pizza pan and let it rise for a second time, again until about double the height. I use flour over the dough and around the bowl when it rises the first time and cover the bowl with a clean cloth. For the second rise, I place the pizza pan with dough in a turned off oven without covering the dough on the pizza pan. I always tap the dough to the edges, should it stick too much to my fingers, I add a bit of flour on top of the dough or to my fingers. Wetting the hands also works (some use a bit of oil in their hands but I may not do this per the dietary restrictions in our family).

I pre-bake the dough at 425 F until I have a light brown color on the bottom of the crust (about 10-15 minutes) and if I want to be able to remove the crust from the pan I must always spray the pan with a nonstick cooking spray. The cooking spray step seems to be important no matter what type of pan I use. I spray the pizza pans lightly before placing any dough on them and then proceed to fit the dough to the pan. If I do not lightly spray the pizza pan, the dough will stick to the pan!

After pre-baking the dough I cover it with ingredients that individual members of the family tolerate. I always microwave the vegetable toppings in the microwave and let them cool a bit before placing them on the pre-baked pizza dough. Cheese is not added in the oven but added later in the microwave for those who may eat it. Cheese can be added to the pizza during the last few minutes of the baking process if cheese is permitted in the household.

Many toppings may be added to the baked dough. I often use a can of tomato paste mixed with a bit of water and ketchup but if tomato is not permitted, I add the permitted item directly to the pre-baked dough. Red or green pepper, cooked chicken, hot dogs, or the usual pizza toppings used on a commercial pizza may be added to the pre-baked crust.

To make one large pizza crust I mix the following:

1 teaspoon yeast
1 teaspoon cane sugar
1 cup luke warm water

(Reserve about 2 cups of flour total and don't forget a nonstick baking spray)

Let the mixture of yeast, sugar and lukewarm water rest for about 3 minutes. I never use anything metal with my yeast dough. I use cold water from the faucet that I place in the microwave for a few seconds to bring it to lukewarm, if too hot, I add cold water to the microwaved water.

After resting for a few minutes, I notice if bubbles are forming. If I see bubbles, I gently stir the mixture and add half of the new light wheat flour and half unbleached flour, totaling about 1 1/2 cups of flour or a bit more if the mixture is two sticky to handle.

I knead the dough until it is smooth in the bowl, for just a few minutes. After brief kneading, I sprinkle flour under, on top and around the dough in the bowl for easy removal after the first rising. I cover the dough with a cloth. Flouring the areas that the dough will touch during the raising process is an alternative to using oil in my family, as one family member is on as low a fat diet as possible and is a pizza lover.

For my 90 year young mother, I add the richest ingredients to the pizza. Pizza is one food my mother loves to eat. She is a true pizza lover and enjoys all toppings such as vegetables, meats and cheese (I usually use mozzarella cheese).

After the toppings are added to the pre-baked crust, I bake the pizza at 425 F for about 15-20 minutes. When adding cheese to the pizza in the oven, I add it during the last few minutes.

My sister Maria, a contributor to this blog, taught us how to store leftover pieces of pizza. She cuts the pizza in slices and places them faces together on a plate to keep the toppings together, thus keeping them from drying out. Next she covers the entire cooled pizza with plastic wrap and stores it in the refrigerator. Her husband likes to eat it cold as do I sometimes in the summer.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Homemade Foods - Russicher Zupfkuchen

Russicher Zupfkuchen is a popular European cheesecake
Russicher Zupfkuchen is a popular European cheesecake within a chocolate shortbread dough. This cake was made by my friend, Gerhard Schlinke, of Merzhausen, near Freiburg, Germany who is also an accomplished photographer.

Homemade Foods - Cheesecake

Homebaked Cheesecake form my friend, Gerd, in Germany
In German, a cheesecake is called a Kasekuchen (with an umlaut (two dots) over the "a" in Kase) This is not for those dairy or egg intolerant but is an example of a beautiful and professional looking, international dessert. Many thanks to my friend Gerhard Schlinke of Merzhausen, near Freiburg, Germany, for baking the cheesecake and sending this picture.

Snacks for Special Diets

For over 16 years, I have been working on a line of snacks and meals for those on special diets or having allergies. I am wondering if there is a need for a not too sweet snack that I call Andrew David's Twist Cookies.

The twisted cookie does not contain eggs, dairy products, nuts, or soy and is cholesterol free. The cookie twist can be made with plain sugar or a variety of natural flavors. The cookie twists include unbleached wheat flour. I have not tried making the cookie with alternate flours, but it could also be gluten-free if a gluten-free flour product, not containing wheat, were used.

Would there be any interest in such a product for those with allergies or dairy intolerance were it available? I am still perfecting Andrew David's Twist Cookies per a group of selected taste testers with allergies or on low cholesterol diets.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Cookies - Butterless, anise cookies

I made four batches of anise cookies, the kind one has to dry overnight so that a top or cap forms on them. I used four different recipes that varied by the number of eggs and the use of baking powder. I dried them per the directions overnight or up to 18 hours. None of the cookies developed the traditional tops that remind me of white mushroom caps.

Winter scene in Cleveland's snowbelt

As you can see it is winter in Cleveland and the house could not be too humid for the caps to form. I have no idea why the recipe did not work for me as it has for my mother and my grandmother. Does anyone know the secret to making this self topping cookie? I tried baking on cookie sheets with and without aluminum foil, liners, etc. The cookies were good but capless!

My grandmother would send us these cookies and many of her precious cookies each year in a package that took four weeks to arrive via a voyage over the Atlantic Ocean by ship. I will never forget the wonderful smell when we opened the box. My maternal grandmother lived in the Black Forest and the box had a heavenly smell on opening it. My mother would form perfect little circles and let the dough dry upstairs. I watched with awe as the caps appeared. I would love to recreate this magical cookie, any and all suggestions are most welcome.

I was born in the northern Black Forest.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Cookbooks - Travel

When I travel, one item I purchase for my collection is a regional cookbook. My Mom has accompanied me on vacations and loves to review the trip by looking at the cookbook. I generally have to modify cooking recipes but having purchased the cookbook in the area somehow makes the recipe and the book precious.

Friends visiting cities such as New Orleans or Dallas have borrowed my cookbooks when preparing for their trips. I also love the cookbooks purchased in smaller towns, those detailing local events and international books. These cookbooks make cooking fun and bring back wonderful memories of our vacations.

Cookbooks - Secrets

I read secrets to making pie crusts in an older cousin's cookbook when I was in grade school. The secret mentioned was to roll the crust on wax paper that is made to adhere to the counter by wetting the underside of the paper slightly. After the crust is on the paper, remove the paper from the counter and hold the paper over the pie pan to transfer the crust to the pan.

Although I did not bake a real pie for many years, I committed the secret to memory and have used this method for over 40 years. I wish I knew the name of that cookbook.