Wednesday, December 29, 2010
I don't know about you, but I'm in serious need of some vegetables. I used to be able to go all of Christmas week eating only (or mostly) carbs and sweets. I'm the kind of girl that eats cookies for breakfast when they're available. But in the past few years, when faced with a sugar-carb explosion, I find that my body starts craving something legitimately healthy. I guess I'm getting old.
While we started off last week with an obscene number of cookies in the house, it has been whittled down to a very reasonable level. And not just from us eating them - we managed to bring cookies places and leave them. The problem is twofold: there are a number of varieties of Christmas cookie that I dearly love, and love to bake so I want to do all of them. And new recipes get slipped in alongside old favorites without getting rid of any old favorites. So the number of batches tends to grow. Next year, though, I vow to be smarter and halve some of these recipes. That should keep things under control. Maybe.
So yesterday, after days of cookie overload, I decided we needed a bit more vegetation in our lives and roasted half a cabbage for dinner. This is a wonderful go-to recipe of mine. I found it last year when I was desperately searching for vegetables other than bell peppers and carrots that I might like to eat. I knew I'd eat cabbage in certain preparations, like stir fries and coleslaw without tasteable mayonnaise (did I mention I'm a picky eater?), so I thought I'd give it a shot. It is wonderful. I love the caramelization on the edges of the leaves. Roasting allows the cabbage's natural bite to mellow out a bit, similar to what happens to garlic when you roast it. The leaves are tender and delicate, and the lemon juice brightens it up. It's a winter side dish that feels like a light summer one. A worthy addition to anyone's winter menu.
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living via Meet Me in the Kitchen blog.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
I want to post about these Polish Christmas cookies my family makes every year, but I'm having a hard time starting the post. You see, I don't know what to call them. My mom, brother and I always called them suhadki (which I haven't a clue how to spell, by the way - I've only ever heard and said it aloud). Grandma, however, (whose cookies these are) calls them suhadi (no 'k' sound). When asked how to spell it, she replied: sucharki. We've always just lived with that discrepancy in pronunciation. Interestingly, my dad's father, who is Italian, has always called them chrusciki, which is what they're called when you see them in the grocery store. While we've accepted our own idiosyncratic pronunciations, his has always been wrong.
So in order to solve this mystery, I went to the repository of all knowledge: the internet. When I googled 'sucharki,' I got this recipe for 'Polish Papal Wafers,' a traditional Easter cookie which looks like this. Our cookies look nothing like that. So I decided to google 'chrusciki' for comparison. Apparently, Grandpa was right - a thousand pictures of our cookies came up.
I'm not sure how this came about. It's possible that Grandma confused the names of two Polish cookies. Or even that her own mother did, since Grandma herself is not from Poland. Whatever the case, I don't think it's going to change my family's pronunciation. You can call them chrusciki. We're going to continue to call them whatever the heck we want.
Polish Christmas Cookies
My great-grandmother's recipe.
3 egg yolks
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp red wine (or whiskey, although we find we get better results with the wine)
~ 1 1/2 c flour (Grandma doesn't really measure flour . . . this is a guess based on this weekend's baking. I believe I was using a 1/2 c scoop and needed about three of those per three eggs, give or take a little)
powdered sugar, for topping
For this recipe, you'll need some sort of fryer filled with vegetable shortening. The shortening needs to be very hot to cook the dough properly. Best prepare this and let it heat before beginning the dough.
When the shortening is very hot, add cookies to the fryer (you can test the heat by adding a small bit of dough to the fryer - if it floats to the surface right away, the shortening is hot enough). The cookies will bubble and sizzle while frying. When they stop bubbling, they are done. When one side stops bubbling, flip them to cook the other side.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Friday, December 10, 2010
This side dish was actually made on Monday to accompany the beef that refused to shred until 9:30 pm. Instead, it accompanied leftover stuffed shells. I had thought about blogging the recipe then, but with the haphazardness of our dinner, I decided to skip it.
This was a fortunate decision, for now you all get to benefit from my busy-ness. You see, the chipotle was a little intense. I mean eye-tearing, tastebud-scalding intense. I took the slender wedge of squash in my hand and ate it like a slice of watermelon. Unfortunately, that puts the full intensity of the chipotle right on the tongue. Bad idea. It's hard to compel your tastebuds to operate again after that sort of shock. I'm pretty sure Jeff would agree - we were both running for the milk after that side dish.
Yet we still thought it was worth a second shot. We agreed that some additional sweetness would help mitigate some of the intensity of the chipotle. Tonight we tried again - this time, with some honey (although I think maple syrup might be nice as well).
The result? Much better than the first time (well, also because we've learned not to put the chipotle right on the tongue). I did not need the milk at all. The chipotle still has quite a kick, but the sweetness of the honey adds another dimension, so it's not all kick. When looking through variations of this recipe online, I saw one comment that said the sweetness of the acorn squash goes well with the spiciness of the chipotle. I don't actually think acorn squash is very sweet. Nothing like a butternut, or, dare I suggest, buttercup (which I actually found too sweet for my taste, and I have a big sweet tooth!). If you do think acorn is sweet enough, you may want to reduce or eliminate the honey. I do agree, though, that the spiciness works well with the squash. If you're looking for an alternative to maple-glazed squash (which seems to be the standard preparation), I think this is a pretty solid option.
Honey Chipotle Acorn Squash
Adapted from Joelen's Culinary Adventures.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
My guess is that people are thrown off by scary terms like "double boiler." I believe they sell double boilers, but it seems like a waste of money to me. All you need is a bowl that fits over your pot. You boil water in the pot, turn off the heat, and put the bowl of whatever you're trying to melt over it. Stir it as it melts. Done. This is not rocket science. The hardest part is waiting for the water to boil while you contemplate the deliciousness you are about to create.
In case you doubt how easy this actually is, let me point out that this was my first time doing it. (Ok, so it's not my first time using a double boiler. I've made recipes involving melted chocolate before. I've just never coated anything in it.) And it was Jeff's first time using a double boiler and he did just fine. In fact, he melted the white chocolate himself while I was dipping strawberries.
Thursday, December 2, 2010
I also took the opportunity to do some experimenting. I got an awesome new oven back in August, but I had yet to try the convection function. I thought cookies would be a good way to test this out. I could try the first batch and, if it didn't work for some reason, I'd still have another batch I could do the regular way. As it turned out, everything went well. My oven manual says that the timer would beep when the time is 75% up (since things may cook faster in a convection oven), but I'm pretty sure that didn't happen. Still, they came out beautifully.
While I think the cookies were good, I'm not a huge fan of the chocolate peanut butter. I felt that, rather than complementing one another, the two flavors almost cancelled each other out. I can taste the peanut butter, but it seems weaker than it should be. I don't think I can taste the chocolate at all (well, maybe in the aftertaste). Overall, I think it produces a pretty ordinary cookie (rather than the kick-ass one I was expecting). But I'm being critical because it's my job. Based on the number of cookies Jeff took last night, I'm pretty sure he was pleased with them.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies
Adapted from Southern Living's Southern Barbecue Cookbook (source of all my favorite cookie recipes).
1 c butter, softened
1 c chocolate peanut butter (of course, you could use any kind of peanut butter you have on hand)
1 c sugar + some extra for topping
1 c brown sugar (I used light brown because I didn't want it to conflict with the flavors in the cookie)
2 1/2 c flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
Using a stand mixer on medium speed, beat butter and peanut butter together until creamy (you could, of course, do this with a hand mixer as well. I think, though, that the cookies turn out the best when the butter is creamed on its own before the sugar is added). Gradually add sugars and cream together. Then slowly add eggs and vanilla (I like to do this on a slightly lower speed, so as not to whip the eggs). In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Add this gradually to the butter mixture. Cover and chill for about 3 hours.
Monday, November 29, 2010
I'm not a very adventurous cook. That is, I generally follow recipes word-for-word. In the last year or so I've developed sufficient confidence to play around a little. Just a little. I tend to have poor results when I attempt to, say, adapt a 7" tart recipe to a 10" tart. Especially when attempting a new recipe.
This is one recipe, however, that I am willing to play around with: turkey chili. I don't mess with the essential ingredients, but I will add things liberally as necessary. It's a good way to use up those random vegetables that are lying around the kitchen. I tend to have a lot of those. I make a recipe that involves half a red onion and then never find a use for the other half. Or, even worse, I get a tomato and only use a tiny bit. I don't eat tomatoes. Jeff loves them, but he's not home all day like I am so he forgets about what might be lurking at the back of the fridge. A recipe like this, though, allows you to just toss them in. Today, my extras included the last two tomatoes left over from my garden (yes, I know it's after Thanksgiving - they took forever to turn red and I never found a use for them!) and some frozen butternut squash cubes.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
This post is going to be a bit light on the pictures - I decided not to put the whipped cream on the pie until just before serving, so it is still unfinished. But here's the post about it, at least, for your holiday enjoyment!
. . . . . . .
The other pie I made for this Thanksgiving is a pumpkin cream pie. Like I said in a previous post, I've been baking pumpkin pies for my family's Thanksgiving since middle school. What I didn't say is that my grandmother usually bakes one too. I like my pies better - she's a bit too light on the spices for my taste (though she makes a mean crust! - until recently, I'd always used the frozen ones). So since Grandma is making a normal pumpkin pie anyway, I thought I'd try out a recipe for pumpkin cream pie. I think the lightness of the cream will be a good counterpoint to the over-eating at dinner.
The recipe is pretty simple and the elements I tried were pretty tasty. I was a bit skeptical about the cream. It does call for 1/4 c cornstarch. That's a cup - not a tablespoon or teaspoon. I don't think I've ever encountered a recipe that called for more than a tablespoon of cornstarch! I definitely see the benefit, though - when I started cooking it on the stovetop, it went from a liquid to a solid in just a few whisks. It was like watching instant pudding set as you frantically try to ladle it out in equal measures. It took a thin, milky mixture and converted it into a thick cream. It still needs to set in the refrigerator for several hours, but you get a clear sense of the final product at that point. It was tasty, too. I look forward to tasting the pie in its entirety at Thanksgiving dinner!
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Pumpkin Cream Pie
From Martha Stewart Living, November 2010.
1 1/4 c ground gingersnap cookies (~25 cookies)
2 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp butter, melted and slightly cooled
Pumpkin Cream filling:
2 c whole milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 c sugar
4 egg yolks
1/4 c cornstarch
1 1/4 c pumpkin puree (or one 15 oz can)
1 tbsp butter, room temperature
1 1/4 c heavy cream (to whip for topping the pie)
pinch nutmeg (for garnish)
Make the crust:
Preheat oven to 350°. Combine gingersnaps, sugar and pinch of salt in a bowl (I found that the gingersnaps didn't grind as finely as graham crackers might, but were still small enough for a proper crust). Stir in melted butter. Press mixture into the bottom and sides of a 9" pie plate. Refrigerate until set, about 15 minutes. Bake until the crust is golden brown - about 15 minutes (I don't know about golden brown - gingersnaps are dark brown already. It's pretty hard to tell). Set aside to cool.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
In the end, I did a lot of guesswork and approximation with this recipe. The original tart dough recipe ended up being plenty for my 10" tart (enough that I decided to make a 5" pie as well, to use it up). 10/7 worth of the filling seemed a decent amount for the final tart. From that point, the difficulty lay in the cooking itself. 30 minutes at 350° was not sufficient. No part of the filling had set. I checked on it at five minute intervals. Finally, after over 25 more minutes, the middle seemed set. By this point, the edges had gone from golden-brown to just brown. I wouldn't call them burnt, but they are definitely overcooked. In retrospect, I might have increased the temperature to 375° or so to speed it along. Next time I think I'll try that.
Since I had leftover dough (and half an egg as well), I threw together a cute little 5" pie as well. For this, I halved the filling recipe. I ended up baking it for 25 minutes. The center wasn't quite set when I took it out, but I didn't want to overcook it like the other. It turns out that the center crust didn't completely cook through, so it did need a bit longer.
I suppose this should teach me not to try new recipes for special occasions. But they usually work! I tend to be more successful the first time I try a recipe than the second or third times. Maybe the lesson really is to not play around too much with a recipe I'm making for a holiday. Especially if that playing around involves math. I hate math.
I am providing the original recipe, since I had so much trouble with my adaptation. I'll continue this post tomorrow, when I've added the finishing touches to pie #2 . . .
Cranberry Walnut Tart
From Food Network.
Sweet Tart Dough:
1 1/2 c confectioner's sugar
1 1/2 sticks butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 c flour
1/2 tsp salt
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Fast forward many months. I suddenly realized that I was using active dry yeast, rather than the instant yeast these recipes called for. Actually, I knew this all along, but I didn't know what it meant. I went to the grocery store looking for "instant yeast," but only found active dry yeast or bread machine yeast. Since I don't have a bread machine, I assumed active dry was correct (I told you I had no idea what I was doing). And it took me months to even realize that this might be the problem.
Now I understand how that active dry yeast needs proofing. I even remember that proofing involves sugar as well as warm water (yeah, left that out a few times). And since I have an oven with a proofing function, I have a nice, draft-free place to let my dough rise. I have made a few very successful batches of white bread. So the last time I made some, I figured that if I was going to spend most of the day baking, I might as well bake multiple things. So I chose the butter-dipped dinner rolls again.
Epic fail. I have no idea what happened. Truly. I think the dough just gave up. I made two beautiful loaves of white bread and a few dozen flat, tough little bread cookies. Seriously - look at the picture! I really wanted to make dinner rolls for Thanksgiving, to prove to my family that I have conquered bread-making (ok, that's a huge overstatement - I want to at least show them I'm not a total spas). Magic Eight Ball says: outlook not good.
Until, that is, I decided to give up on the Bread Bible (for dinner rolls, at least) and try a different recipe. I have bookmarked dozens of bread recipes from the food blogs I follow. These people seem to bake bread all the time and it works for them! I chose a no-knead dinner roll recipe from Baking Bites. This time I had great success with the rise. Unfortunately, I learned that too much success also equals epic fail. The dough rose like mad. "Let rise for one hour until doubled" ended up being around twenty-eight minutes. If I'd let it rise longer, it would have spilled over the sides of the mixing bowl. When I made the rolls, my bigger baking dish was in the dishwasher, so I went with a slightly smaller version. Obviously, this was not ok: