Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Blueberry Bread and Bunko

I was invited to attend a birthday celebration for my 87 year old neighbor this past weekend and wanted to bake Alice a small treat for her enjoyment later. I also needed to return recently borrowed camping gear to another friend and wanted to take along a little thank you gift for her, too.
Gift loaves of Blueberry Hazelnut Bread came to mind, since I’m still dealing with the balance of my last blueberry picking foray. Oregon blueberries are compact little morsels that aren’t terribly sweet, and to compensate for that, I wanted to add another ingredient that could offer up a little more natural sweetness and moisture. In my recipe collection, I found a cleaver idea: crushed pineapple.
Frequently, sweet breads can be loaded with oil--which I find completely unnecessary and unimaginative. Applesauce has long been regarded as a beneficial and handy substitute for some of that excess oil; so, why not pineapple? The only caveat I might offer, is to drain the pineapple well; if you add some of the lovely pineapple liquor, do so sparingly, because the batter thins quickly.
When making blueberry muffins, I like the gentle addition of a tiny bit of nutmeg. Here instead, allspice is used, which is the heavy hitter in the nutmeg spice spectrum—and is a true and loving companion to pineapple. These flavors are instrumental in Caribbean cuisine, so perhaps this is also a slight homage to an idyllic month long stay in Grenada, the heart of nutmeg and allspice country.
Quick breads are by name, easy to create; I used a mixer, but a good whisk would incorporate the eggs and sugar just as well. In the past I have made similar breads to round out luncheon plates, and the slight sweetness of fruit bread is the perfect accompaniment with a chicken or seafood salad. However, if you are baking a stand alone tea bread for general snacking, a couple spoonfuls of brown sugar added to the granulated sugar will give a slight bump in the sweetness.
Since these were gifts, I finished the loaves with a drizzle of confectioner’s sugar thinned with lemon juice. After they were cooled and firmly set, I wrapped them in colorful plastic film gathered up and tied with raffia bows.
As a footnote, the loaves were a huge success. I spent the afternoon with Alice’s friends and family experiencing my first ever Bunko phenomenon – a spirited dice game, where one moves from table to table lured by laughter and high stakes. I carried home a bite-size chocolate bar as one of the top three winners. Now, I feel as if I am firmly planted in Oregon. What’s next, Bingo?
Blueberry Hazelnut BreadThis slightly sweet bread is good with luncheon salad—chicken or crab. Inspired by Elizabeth Terry’s Savannah Seasons
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon allspice
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup crushed pineapple in natural juice, drained
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, chopped
2 cups blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray with oil, two - 6 cup loaf pans.

Sift dry ingredients. In mixer, beat eggs with sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the oil and vanilla and beat well, and stir in the dry ingredients.

Fold in the pineapple, nuts and berries, and pour into pans. Bake 1 hour, turn out and cool on rack before slicing with serrated knife. Yield: 2 loaves ~~

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Into the Wilderness

For the past three weekends I have been a sublimely happy camper enjoying the great outdoors as part of a Forest Ecology class. Our first outing was a two day trip where we hiked part of the Pacific Crest Trail and became familiar with Douglas Firs and hemlocks. On our following trip we headed to the Redwoods for a long and utterly magical weekend walking the beach of the Pacific ocean and exploring lush fern canyons. Our final trip was a stunning overnighter to Crater Lake; here we breathed in the high desert pine air and were awed by intense volcanic history and Indian lore.
I had visited all of these places in the past, but this was indeed different. Our instructor was a bundle of information and enthusiasm—and we all jumped on board with her; overnight we literally became “Tree Huggers.” (It’s actually one way to measure a tree’s girth.)

We learned about the necessity of fire in the wilderness—it is nature’s way of renewing itself. We learned the critical importance of balance in nature; when one species disappears, it affects an entire community. I didn’t know that the redwood tree is fire resistant, and that its ability to retard fire partially accounts for its longevity. The redwood is our tallest and most primitive tree, and sadly, we are left with only a handful, and these are protected primarily in the preserves of Northern California and Southern Oregon. Over the last couple of centuries we have sliced and diced these ancient marvels almost to extinction, and have managed to nearly eliminate what it took nature thousands of years to create.

As you can well imagine, the discussion of food was a serious and ongoing conversation among our ranks. We did some fine dining which included such extravagant camp treats as: smoked brisket, burgers, and bratwurst. Breakfast was often on our own; or some made piles of egg burritos, or other such treats. As long as I had my pressed coffee in the morning I was very happy. To round this out, I decided to make ahead a stack of my old sailing favorite, Eggs McBorah, a convenient breakfast enjoyed while underway, traveling or other limited conditions.These solid morsels pack well; they are nearly non-destructive, and highly satisfying.

You’ve probably surmised that we are talking shades of Eggs McMuffin and you certainly do not require a recipe; but here is one alternative for planning and execution purposes. I have also learned that this is one breakfast that goes down with equal enthusiasm hot, room temperature, or cold.

Eggs McBorah
4 eggs
spray oil
4 slices chiplotle cheese, or as needed
fresh ground pepper
4 slices smoked ham, thin sliced, or more if needed
4 English muffins, spit, toasted and lightly buttered
1 or more ramekins, or other small microwaveable dishes

Spray the ramekins and lay 1 or 2 slices of ham in bottom of ramekin. Crack 1 egg into each dish, break the yolk with a sharp knife, and sprinkle with a few grinds black pepper. Top the eggs with thinly sliced cheese. Cover the top with a paper towel, tuck under the dish and place in microwave oven.

Cook one at a time for approximately 40 seconds or until cheese is melted and top is firm. The yolk should still be slightly runny. Carefully remove with mitts or towel, the dish will be hot. Run a knife around edge to loosen the egg and invert onto the top slice of a toasted English muffin.

Add the bottom slice and set upright. Repeat with remaining 3, or as many as needed. Allow to cool before wrapping. Can be made ahead; store in refrigerator or other cool spot. ~~


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