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It’s coming, I promise.  I just got back to my computer after a 5-day absence.  I actually got my cake done more than 2 weeks ago, but the craziness of the past 5 days made it absolutely impossible to get to the computer and complete my post.  So, it will be coming, hopefully later today.  Stay tuned and check back in.  I’m looking forward to all of your wonderful posts as well.

I hope everyone out there had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday (at least those of you in the US!)

Erik – Baking in Oregon

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Baking in Oregon.  Today, that has a dual meaning.  It’s hot.  We’re not only baking in the kitchen, we’re baking in the living room, baking in the den, baking in the bedrooms.  You know, nothing can kill the desire to work in the kitchen over a hot stove like a scorching, sticky, summer day.  We don’t get a lot of really hot days here in Oregon, but we’re just coming off a run of 5 really hot days, 3 of which were over 100°F and rather humid.  These are the kind of days that just wipe you out, sapping all desire to do just about anything right out of your system.  Still, you gotta eat, and on days like these, quick, easy and cool are the way to go.

Not too long ago, we had some family over for an informal gathering.  We kept the menu pretty simple, with a few cool drinks to go along.  I made up a batch of my Strawberry Lemonade, which has been very popular in the past.  I started with a gallon, but it became apparent very soon that it wouldn’t be enough.  I whipped up a second gallon and it too, was quickly wiped out.  I threw together a third gallon and finally managed to quench everyone’s thirst.  Thankfully, I can prepare this simple recipe in just a matter of minutes.

The next day, I found at least 1/2 gallon remaining in the refrigerator.  Since my wife and I don’t drink the stuff too often, I wanted to put some of it to good use.  Looking around the kitchen, I noticed I had some fruit and yogurt I needed to use.  The fruit was just starting to look a little less fresh.  In the heat of the summer it wasn’t going to last too much longer.

So, I concocted a smoothie which I based on the Strawberry Lemonade and a few more items I had on hand. The result?  Thick, cool and refreshing as well as filling, but in a good way.  This was a tasty treat that made a warm day a bit more enjoyable.  The next day I tried a different variation, but stayed with the Strawberry Lemonade as my starting point.  Want to give it a try?  I’ve listed my recipe for Strawberry Lemonade as well as my 2 versions of fruit smoothies here.  Enjoy!

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One of the things I find frustrating is that for all of the restaurants out there, it seems like the ones I like the most manage to close up shop just when I really start to like them.  We’re don’t live in a large town, so we get mostly fast food places and the usual small pub type restaurants.  I’m not complaining, some of those little pubs/bars have some great food.   We do have the chance to go to quite a few good restaurants if we don’t mind driving awhile, but when we want the opportunity for a regular sit-down style family restaurant, we appreciate the chance to stay closer to home.

We’ve had restaurants come and go here before.  It seems they just couldn’t keep the doors open with the amount of business they could get in our area.  One such case was Cucina Fresca, an Italian restaurant that opened in our town some years ago.  They were in business for maybe 2 years before they closed.  Now, we have access to other Italian restaurants, but this place was a little different.  They had dishes we didn’t found at the other Italian joints.  My wife and I each had our personal favorites.  For me, it was the Spicy Chicken Alfredo – unlike any other I’d had before – it was hot, but not too hot and that heat mixed very well with the creamy sauce.  For my wife, it was a dish they called Balsamic Beef.

When the restaurant closed, we both lamented the passing of yet another nice place to eat in town.  Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, but these dishes were unique, and we just couldn’t find them anywhere else.  While I could (and probably should) live without the Spicy Alfredo, my wife was sorely lamenting the loss of her dish.  I decided to set out replicating that dish myself.  And so my quest was on.

I’m a fair cook.  I can follow a recipe fairly well and can even improvise from time to time.  But developing a recipe from scratch is not a particularly strong talent of mine. 

Balsamic Beef consisted of strips of beef, marinated and sauteed in a balsamic vinegar sauce and served over a bed of creamy risotto.  I wasn’t sure exactly where to start, so I started with the obvious – the Balsamic Vinegar.  Prior to sampling this recipe, I hadn’t even heard of Balsamic Vinegar before (I’m not exactly cultured when it comes to food).  I did some research and found what I was looking for.  I sampled some straight from the bottle and realized I needed to temper the acidity and bite of the vinegar.  I couldn’t decide what to use, so I went to the cupboard and started grabbing things.  I tried sugar, salt, honey, soy sauce, sweet and sour sauce – nothing worked.  I finally came very close to the taste of the sauce in the original recipe when I mixed 1/2 Balsamic vinegar with 1/2 Kikkoman Teriyaki.  Kikokkoman is not a particularly sweet teriyaki, but it was sweet enough to calm the flavor of the vinegar.  The taste was very similar to the sauce in the original dish.  I figured the meat must have been marinated, so I took some strips of beef (pre-cut stir fry beef from the store) and marinated it for about 1 hour in the balsamic/teriyaki sauce.  Next I cooked the beef in the marinade (yes, in the marinade) as that was the only way I could fully duplicate the taste of the beef and the sauce they used.  I checked a few sources and found that it would be okay to use the marinade as long as it was well cooked.  I succeeded in duplicating both the beef and the sauce, now I just needed to replicate the pile of carbs it was sitting on.

              

As I mentioned before, I’m not particularly cultured when it comes to food, so at the time, I could not figureout what they were serving with the beef.  It looked like rice, but tasted like pasta and was creamy in texture.  I looked around and asked questions, but didn’t get much help (this was before we had access to the internet).  I tried what seemed to be close, some cous cous I had in the pantry.  It was good, but it just wasn’t the same.  I kept looking around and came across a show on television where they were talking about risotto.  I’d never had risotto before, so I wasn’t sure what it was or how to make it.  Bobby Flay to the rescue.  He talked about stirring this stuff for the better part of 30 minutes.  Sounded like a lot of work, but it was worth a try.  Once I found that what I needed to buy was Arborio rice, I quickly snatched some up and hit the kitchen.  You know, it wasn’t too hard – it just needs some attention and tender loving care.

I combined the ingredients together and voila, I had managed to recreate, as closely as my wife could tell, the recipe from our dearly departed eatery.  Now if I could only muster the guts to try and re-make that tasty alfredo – maybe some day…

If you’d like a copy of my recipe, click here.

 

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Making the Praline

Making the Praline

This month marks my first Daring Bakers Challenge.  I’ve been watching this group for the past year or so and debating with myself as to whether or not I wanted to join.  With a better than full time job, a wife and a 18-month old little girl at home, it’s not easy to spend a great deal of time in the kitchen.  That being said, after watching last month’s challenge, the Danish Braid, I just couldn’t hold back any longer.  They are baking up some great stuff and I just had to join in.  So, I sent my email and got on board, so, here I am.

This month’s challenge – and yes, it was a challenge, was a Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream selected by this month’s host – Chris over at Mele Cotte.  This recipe challenged me on several levels.  First, it was going to take some time.  I definitely had to plan out my baking schedule and do this in pieces. 

Cutting the Layers

Cutting the Layers

Second, I had to do some things I’ve never done before – whipped cream from scratch, whipping up meringue, making true Swiss Buttercream, melting sugar – all of which I have not done before.  Finally, here, like many other places in the country, it’s been a bit warm lately, and the thought of keeping the buttercream intact in the heat and humidity was a bit of a concern.

Finding the ingredients was not a problem.  Filberts (hazelnuts) are grown here in Oregon, so they can be purchased, in bulk for about $6.00/lb.  Add up the rest of the ingredients and the time it takes to make this recipe and it turns out to be a spendy little treat.

The Completed Layers

The Completed Layers

I enjoyed the fact that I was learning some new procedures.  I’ve watched countless times as meringue and whipped cream were whipped up on the Food Network, but I’ve never had the guts to try it until now.  You know what?  It wasn’t all that difficult.  Both came together very well.  I did add a small touch of cream of tartar to my egg whites as that is supposed to help give them volume and stability.  The hazelnuts weren’t too much trouble as I’ve worked with them before.  I had more trouble skinning the little buggers than I’ve had in the past, I’m not sure why, but I was left with some skins on the nuts.  Not a problem, I left them there with no ill effects.

The cake itself came together nicely, though there were a few hiccups.  I didn’t have any of the listed spirits available, so I used a Vanilla Flavored Rum we had picked up on a cruise to the Caribbean.  I forgot to spread the apricot glaze on the cake when it came out of the oven, so I did that later, after I had cut and filled the layers.  Cutting the layers wasn’t too difficult.  I have a Wilton tool for cutting cake layers, but I wanted to try it freehand and, if I do say so myself, the layers actually turned out nicely.  I did have some trouble cutting the sides of the cake.  I should have refrigerated the cake again for awhile after assembling the layers because the cake started to kind of crumble on me as I tried to make the cut.  The finished edges weren’t quite what I had hoped for, but once the ganache was poured on, it didn’t look too bad. 

The Big 'Ding-Dong'

The Big 'Ding-Dong'

Finally, I had a little trouble piping the buttercream on top of the cake.  I was trying to go around the outside edge of the top of the cake with a kind of scalloped pattern, but the buttercream was slightly separating and was breaking on me – kind of falling apart rather than staying in one nice unbroken line.  Oh well, I’m not much of a decorator anyway – that’s why my stuff has to taste so good – my creations may not be much to look at, but they usually taste great.  So, I made the best of it and I’m actually pretty pleased at my giant Ding-Dong of a cake (at least that’s how it looked with just the ganache on it).

Getting Ready to Decorate

Getting Ready to Decorate

We had a small gathering the day I finished the cake for an out of town visitor.  I served the cake to our guests who proceeded to wipe the whole thing out in one sitting.  One person thought I had bought the cake at a bakery – I’ll take that as a compliment.  They all enjoyed the somewhat complex mix of flavors in this cake.  It’s definitely what I would call more refined in terms of flavors.  You need to savor this cake slowly to appreciate the subtle qualities of taste and texture, rather than wolf it down with a big glass of milk.  No, for the amount of time and effort that goes in to making it, you’re darn well going to sit there and appreciate it! Tell me what a good job I did.  Tell me you love me. 

I guess it’s time to settle down and prepare for the next challenge.  Thanks again Chris for selecting a challenging recipe and to Lis and Ivonne for keeping the Daring Bakers rolling along.  See you all next month. I’ve posted a copy of the full recipe here.

 

 

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Orange Pecan French Toast

Orange Pecan French Toast

I love breakfast.  Just about any breakfast food will grab my attention and make me stop whatever I’m doing so I can dig in. Hot breakfasts particularly.  Sweet, savory, it doesn’t really matter.  If it makes up that wonderful food group known as breakfast, I’m in.

I had recent occasion to prepare breakfast for a small group, but my time was very limited.  We had to be on the go fairly early in the morning, so I wasn’t going to have time to prep and cook the same morning.  I thought about a variety of prepare ahead breakfast dishes, but I wanted to try something I hadn’t done before.

Searching through my archives of many, many unused recipes I’ve collected from recipe and blog sites.  I had a collection of recipes filed as Breakfast Casseroles, so I drilled down deeper.  I was thinking about a savory type casserole – something with hash browns, eggs, cheese and some kind of meat, but I had made that recently and it didn’t fit my desire for something different.  Then, I happened across a group of recipes that I’d forgotten about – Baked French Toast.  I must have at least 10 different recipes for some kind of Baked French Toast.  There are a number of variations of this recipe, including some that are really more like a baked bread pudding, all of which looked mighty tempting.  As I perused the virtual stack of culinary deliciousness, my eyes locked on one I had picked up from Allrecipes.com some time back. 

Now, I can sometimes be an Allrecipes.com junkie.  There are quite a few good recipe sites out there, and some even more amazing foodie blogs, but Allrecipes is definitely in the top 10 as my go to source for recipes.  What I like best about Allrecipes, besides the very large database of recipes, the great photos that often get posted, the good looking and easy to navigate site and the nice printing options, are the reviews and ratings from readers.  While I can usually find reviews and ratings on other sites, Allrecipes consistently seems to get loads of good feedback from people who have tried and modified the recipes.  Some of these recipes have hundreds of reviews from folks that have taken the time to give their suggestions on how to tweak a recipe to make a good recipe great or a bad recipe better.  That feedback helped me to make my choice:  Orange Pecan French Toast

Rated 5 out of 5 stars, it just sounded (and looked) too good to pass up.  I read at least half of the 60+ reviews to get some ideas on how or how not to modify the recipe.  In the end, I decided to stick pretty close to the original.  I used thick cut french bread from the bakery aisle that did not have a crunch crust.  I added more pecans than noted, mostly because I like pecans and I happened to have quite a bit on hand.  I also used 5 whole eggs instead of 2 whole eggs and 3 egg whites as another reader suggested it and I didn’t have any use for 3 egg yolks in the near future.  I whipped up this easy recipe and put it in the refrigerator overnight.  In the morning, I tossed it in the oven, and voila – out came a masterful piece of oooey-gooey uber-sweet nutty and hearty French toast. 

Actually, it’s really a bit more like a sweet roll than French toast.  That’s okay, once I got a taste, I could have eaten the whole pan – but that wouldn’t have been fair to anyone else (can’t say it didn’t cross my mind though….).  This stuff is awesome.  Seriously.  You need to make this – people will thank you.  Significant others will kiss you.  Non-significant others will kiss you.  Strangers on the street will kiss you.  On second thought, don’t make this, you’ll just be mad at me for getting you addicted to this little slice of breakfast ‘crack’.  Want to live on the edge (of breakfast)??  Here’s the recipe, you’ve been warned.  (BTW, I hope the folks that host ‘Sugar High Friday’s’ don’t mind my nod to the name of their event.)

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Cape Mears Lighthouse

Cape Mears Lighthouse

Since the name of this blog is ‘Baking in Oregon’, I thought it would be a good idea, from time to time, to talk a bit about my home state.  I was born here, have grown up here, and will probably spend the rest of my life here.  I’ve traveled a bit, and seen some very beautiful places around North America, but when it all comes down to it, I love Oregon.  I’ve been excited to see visitors to my little blog from all over the world.  To those of you returning for a visit and to those visiting for the first time – welcome, I’m glad to have you stop by.

Looking North Near Cape Mears Lighthouse

Looking North Near Cape Mears Lighthouse

For the benefit of those outside of the United States and who those may not be familiar with the location of Oregon, we are on the west coast of the United States, immediately north of California and immediately south of Washington State.  We refer to our region as the ‘Northwest’, a term you’ll probably see me use from time to time, a term which typically includes Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. 

Before we get too far, let me start by saying that ‘Oregon’ is pronounced ‘or-eh-gun’, not ‘or-y-gun’ or ‘or-y-gon’ as it is sometimes heard from non-Oregonians.  I thought I would highlight a few key things about Oregon for those who may not know much about us here.  For this post, I’m focusing on one of my favorite areas, the Oregon Coast. 

The Oregon Coast is far too big a topic to cover in one post, so I just want to give a little summary of what you’ll find, along with a few photos I’ve taken.  You can find a variety of different types of features on the Oregon Coast.  The Oregon Coast stretches 362 miles, from the northern tip of California to the Columbia River (which separates Oregon from Washington).  Along the coastline you’ll find sandy beaches, rocky cliffs towering 100′ above the surf, low level wetlands and estuaries, and massive sand dunes.  You can find just about anything on our coastline.  Old growth forests line much of the coast.  Thankfully, those who came before us had the foresight to protect much of this land.  In 1913, the State Legislature passed a law leaving our coastline as public land, accessible by anyone, anywhere, anytime as well as placing restrictions on development.  While a small amount of coastal land is privately owned (ownership that occurred prior to 1913), the rest remains public land, a ruling which was upheld by the Beach Bill of 1967.  Only Hawaii provides as much protection of public beaches as does Oregon.

The towns that dot the coast host a vast array of shops and attractions from wineries, seafood restaurants (clam chowder and salmon being two foods we’re well known for here), bakeries, sweet shops (saltwater taffy, fudge, chocolates and ice cream), knick-knack shops, art galleries, kite shops, clothing stores, aquariums, museums, arcades and many others.  For activities, you can try your hand at deep sea fishing, camping, hiking, sailing, horseback riding, golfing (Bandon Dunes is rated as one of the top 50 golf courses in the world), mountain biking, motorcycling (touring and off-road), swimming, surfing, beachcombing, scuba diving, dune buggy riding, climbing, bird watching, historical tours and even sun-bathing (okay, maybe not year-round, but definitely in the summer time).

You won’t find any large cities on the Oregon Coast, which gives it a more ‘rustic’ feel.  There are some cities and towns (populations up to 4,000 to 10,000) that cater to the tourist trade, but sometimes the little places in-between can be some of the most interesting.  You can reach the entire coast along Highway 101, which extends the entire length of the coast.  NPR called the tourist traffic on Highway 101 the worst in the United States.  I don’t know about that, but I can say you won’t be using Highway 101 to make ‘good time’.

There is something very peaceful about the Oregon Coast.  At less than 2 hours from downtown Portland, it’s an easy day trip, but it’s isolated enough to feel like you’ve really gotten away from the hustle and bustle of the city.  When I want to relax, it’s my first destination of choice.

I’ve included some photos I’ve taken of Cape Mears Lighthouse and the surrounding area.  The Oregon Coast has 7 Lighthouses spread across its length.  I love photography, and lighthouses, for whatever reason, are one

Looking South Near Cape Mears Lighthouse

Looking South Near Cape Mears Lighthouse

 of my favorite subjects.  The lighthouse you see here is located just 20 minutes outside of Tillamook, OR (have you ever had Tillamook Ice Cream or Cheese, that’s where it’s made) it’s an easy drive off Highway 101 along the Three Capes Loop.  It’s the shortest lighthouse on the Oregon Coast at just 38 feet tall, which isn’t a problem as the lighthouse is located 217 feet above the Pacific Ocean on a rocky cliff.  The location of the lighthouse is a State Park and is a great place to get some photos or relax for a nice picnic.  The walk down to the lighthouse from the parking area is short and paved, but quite steep, so be prepared for a little work on the return trip.  I took a series of photos this day as a storm front moved right past me (because of the questionable weather, I was the only one there at the time – big loss for everyone who didn’t see what I saw that day – beautiful).  I’ve placed 2nd and 3rd in two different photo contests with photos from the series of shots I made that day.

If you’ve enjoyed this post on Oregon, please leave a comment, I’d like to know what you think.  I’ve got plans for more ‘…in Oregon’ posts, so your feedback will be helpful.

Another Shot Looking South

Another Shot Looking South

Silouhette Near Tillamook Bay

Silouhette Near Tillamook Bay

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The Foodie Blogroll

For those of you who don’t know (and I don’t know how you couldn’t) the Foodie Blogroll is a site hosted by Jenn from The Leftover Queen.  The Blogroll is (to my knowledge) one of the largest collections of links to foodie blogsites available in one place.

As of today, the Blogroll has now been updated with my new site address.  If you haven’t been there before, check it out by clicking here now: The Foodie Blogroll

A special thanks to Jenn who takes the time to help all of us little bloggers out there get some of the attention we desperately need 😉

Erik ≈ Baking in Oregon

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