Tuesday, October 31, 2006

As Promised: The Goblins

Trick-or-Treating was more fun today than I expected. Once Zander realized what happened when he held onto that plastic pumpkin and said "trick-or-treat" with his big sister...he was all over the experience. It was so cold tonight, so I hadn't planned on going very far, but we certainly didn't need to. Our neighborhood is very generous. I mean, literally, people were giving the kids HANDFULS of candy. And not the cheap kiddie mix- in fact, I don't think there's a single Tootsie Roll in there. I took my two biggest rubbermaid containers and labelled one for each of them- and they are packed with premium candy. Can we say a sugar buzz that will last well into Christmas?! Mr. Ninja's certainly buzzing now!

Anyway, here is a picture of the two of them being silly for the camera. While we were making the rounds, I left a bowl on the porch with a note for everyone to help themselves to two pieces of candy. This actually worked quite well. But when we got back, Abigail wanted to hand it out herself, so I set her up on the porch with some hot chocolate, and she had a blast. She was very generous herself to the visitors. Although not quite enough... we have quite a bit leftover.

And that was our Halloween night. Once trick-or-treating time was over, we rushed over to Grandma's to say hello and show off the costumes. Right now, Andy is having Zander run laps up and down the stairs while Abigail is practically asleep on the couch watching Tom&Jerry.

Tomorrow I will be posting about a breakfast item that I have never eaten before...

Happy Halloween!

So what dumb person waits until the morning of Halloween to go get her son a costume. Yeah... that's me. I didn't think he was going to want a costume, I just figured he'd wear his pirate hat and be done with it. Well, last night Abigail asked Zander what he wanted to be for Halloween and he said "I'm going to be King Austin!" (Austin is one of the Backyardigans). Oh no. I can't tell you how many times he repeated that. This is not good, I'm thinking to myself, because Austin is a character costume, and those always sell out first, and I really didn't want to spend all day today hunting down an overpriced piece of felt.

I resigned myself to a trip to Wal-Mart. I needed to pick up diapers and treats anyway, so we headed to the costumes. Of course, there were no Backyardigans. There were Incredibles costume- I asked him if he wanted to be Jack-Jack... "NO! I'm King Austin." This was not looking good. Then I randomly saw a ninja costume, and just kinda joked, "well, how about a ninja?" I got "Yeah!!! Cause Ninja's like to steal pie!" Woo-Hoo for me. It was still overpriced, but now he can dress up with his sister and go trick-or-treating tonight. We'll see how long that lasts.

Last Friday when I took Abigail shopping, we stopped at Bed, Bath, and Beyond because I needed a new candy thermometer. As we were walking around, she stopped dead in her tracks and just stared at a display. My heart sank when I saw what it was. It was none other than a Betty Crocker Bake-N-Fill. She has been after me for this cake pan, and here it was within her grasp. Oy. She always wants to help Mommy, and she really, really wants an Easy Bake oven. I keep telling her that she can use Mommy's real oven and baking pans anytime she wants- she doesn't need the Easy bake oven. So that Bake-N-Fill made it's way into her arms and to the checkout. I quickly scanned the box to see what we needed to make her a cake, and assessed that all we needed was cake and filling. Since this was going to be her project, she chose a chocolate cake mix and some Oreo pudding. Well, once we got home I learned that to make the big filled cake, you need at least two boxes of cake mix, so we settled on the smaller dome cake. Here's Abigail using the hand mixer to mix up her cake.
And here's her finished cake, half eaten so you can see the filling.

Overall, she did have fun with it, and although her cake is all "not-from-scratch" products, she was very proud of it and we all enjoyed it. I personally may have some fun playing with some homemade cakes in this pan. It will be interesting to see if they bake up the same as a cake-mix cake. Abigail really was thrilled that she made this cake. The only thing she didn't do was put it in the oven and take it out of the oven. Everything else she did herself. And that is definitely one benefit of making a cake from a box- it's easy enough that the smallest hands can make a successful cake.

I'll be back later after school sometime with a picture of my two trick-or-treaters together. :-)

Monday, October 30, 2006

Candy Class

This is the time of year when my thoughts begin to turn to the holidays. One thing that I love to do during the holiday season is make candy. There is just something so wonderful about putting sugar, corn syrup, butter, and flavorings into a pot and cooking them in different ways to produce candy. I love it. My absolute favorite candy to make are my truffles. It's a little early to be working on the truffle factory, but this is the perfect time to experiment with something new.

Today I opened my book "Candymaking" by Ruth A. Kendrick and Pauline H. Atkinson. This is a great book for a beginner candy maker. I haven't liked everything that I have made out of this book, but the directions are pretty straightforward, and it doesn't take long to get a handle on the basics. Today's challenge was Fondant. This particular fondant was called Water Fondant. Fondant is the basis for many candies, and what I am after is cream fillings to be dipped in chocolate. My truffles are excellent, but I would like to provide some variety to the rich truffles. Fondant is actually what makes the liquid center in a cherry cordial. And, as it turns out, fondant is fairly simple to make, provided you have some time and some elbow grease.

I started by putting my ingredients into my pot. I placed this on the burner over high heat, and let it combine, stirring occasionally. Once it started boiling, all I needed to do was add my thermometer and let the candy do its stuff. I monitored the thermometer carefully, as it is a new one, and I wanted to be sure it worked properly. It seemed to anyway. I waited patiently for the temperature to get up to 240-or soft ball stage. Without stirring I removed the thermometer and poured the boiling sugar into my 9 x 13 ungreased pyrex pan. I tried to move the pan as gently as possible to my garage floor- which was nice and cool. A refrigerator works as well, but I didn't want to take the time to make space in there. The directions stated to wait until the bottom of the pan was no longer warm. It only took about 30 minutes in my garage to achieve this. Here is what it looks like at this point: You really want your pan to be cool at this point. The cooler it is, the creamier the end result will be. You can see that it is pretty shiny, and here is where the elbow grease comes in. I took my heavy duty wooden spoon and started stirring. The mixture kind of resembles something unpleasant, rubber cement comes to mind, but I decided this was the perfect time to add my flavoring and color. Today's flavor selection was raspberry. I took some raspberry extract, a few drops of lemon oil, and some red food coloring and stirred it in. Here is the result of that additive.
Now the tough part. According to my book, this stirring can take as long as 30 or 40 minutes. I took my wooden spoon and just continuously stirred the mixture in my pan. Over and over. The longer I stirred, the tougher it got, but I kept at it. What I was looking for was for the gloss to go away, and for the fondant to set up. What this book doesn't help with was how to stop the pan from sliding around on me. It wasn't long before I needed to use both hands on the spoon to stir, and the darn pan just kept slipping and sliding. So I ended up dampening a towel and sitting on the floor. I put the pan on the damp towel, and I wedged the pan and myself between my stove and counter, so it wasn't going anywhere. And I kept stirring, and stirring, and developed and burst a couple of blisters, but by golly, I was determined. And thankfully, my stirring only took about 20 minutes before I ended up with this beautiful pile of fondant:
The fondant will keep for several days in a fridge, or several months in a fridge. This is supposed to improve over time, so I will be freezing it until closer to Christmas. All it needs is to be rolled into balls and dipped in chocolate. It tastes great now, and would be excellent now, but I'm looking forward to trying it after it has had time to ripen. It's light and creamy and tastes like a bright raspberry. I am very pleased, and I am hoping to get to a cake supply store sometime soon to pick up some orange extract, as I would like to do an orange cream as well, and possibly a mint cream. First though, I need to heal up my blisters. And the best part? One batch of fondant will make about 100 centers- that's a lot of chocolates that I can give for gifts. Now I just need to find a source for inexpensive chocolate boxes. Suggestions anyone?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

It's Official

These are officially my favorite brownie. They were so good the first time, and as it turns out, they are extremely versatile. I have many, many plans for these brownies. Tonight's variation was a direct result of an unexpected find in the grocery store. When looking at the chocolate chip selection, I found a bag of Ande's Peppermint Crunch Baking Chips. They looked like they'd be pretty and they looked promising. I went back and forth on whether or not to buy them, but eventually, they made their way into my cart (as did a package of Hershey's chocolate-mint chips). That same day I saw this post at Culinary in the Country, and I'd already been planning a brownie for these bits, but gosh his cookies look great! Cookies or brownies. Cookies or brownies. Today the brownies won.

I made the brownies as written, omitting the nuts and malted milk balls (but still using the malt powder). Instead I added a healthy cup of the peppermint bits. After baking I let the brownies cool completely before giving them a bit of class. I started with a very basic vanilla buttercream that I tinted pink. I spread this thinly over the brownies. Next, I melted 1 cup of chocolate-mint chips and four tablespoons of butter together. When this cooled to room temp, I spread this over the frosting layer. And finally, a sprinkling of the peppermint bits gives these brownies a festive look, as well as giving a hint to the inner flavors. The brownies are fantastic. I would like a little more mint flavor myself, so I might add a drop of peppermint extract to the brownie batter next time, but overall, these are a 5 star brownie. Andy doesn't think the frosting layer is necessary, and it probably isn't but it sure looks impressive with the layering going on. Up next I have a treatment for this brownie batter that involves pecans, Fluff, and caramel. Now I just need to find a neighbor willing to eat my brownie creations for me...

Other than that, today and tomorrow is a Teacher Convention, so Abigail is home from school. I miss my princess when she's at school, so we're certainly trying to make the most of a few bonus days together. Today we spent time visiting Grandma before raking the neighbor's leaves into our yard for some leaf pile playing. Tomorrow, Abigail and I are spending some much needed Mommy-daughter time as we go shopping and out to lunch. The boys will be home pretending to be men together, and most likely attacking those leaves some more. I will leave you tonight with a picture of some of the leaf play.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Good Idea Mom!

Well, tonight was dance night, so that meant something quick and easy needed to be prepared for dinner. I have been staying away from the crock pot, as I have discovered I just am not liking what comes out of it. However, it has found fantastic use as a re-heater. I don't care to actually cook in it, but to cook on the stove and then put it in the crock pot to re-heat or keep warm works perfectly. And so it was that today was a soup day.

Last week, while at the butcher with my Mom, she ordered some Polish sausage and told me she wanted to use it to make a lentil soup. Oh! Good idea! They make fantastic Polish sausage. So I picked some up as well, and they've been sitting in the freezer patiently waiting. Since I spent yesterday and this morning making a pot of chicken stock, I had plenty of that for a base and created a lentil and sausage soup. I checked around for several recipes, but I didn't have a lot of the ingredients for some. The recipe I most closely stuck with was from good ole' reliable, Joy Of Cooking.

As I was cubing up the sausage for the soup, I recalled a recent experience with a sausage soup where the soup leached all the flavor out of the sausage. Made for great soup, but rather sad bites of sausage. I decided to only cube up half of the sausage for the actual soup making process. I saved the other half to be sliced and added in at the end. Worked perfectly! At the last minute, I also decided to toss in a diced sweet potato- mostly for color, but I think it also added a lot to the end flavor. The only problem I had with this soup was that I was out of thyme. I ended up using basil, and I really think that the thyme would have made this soup sparkle. I have now added a Penzey's run to the list of priorities, and Lentil and Sausage Soup will be repeated quite a few times in the near future.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Quick and Tasty

There's been a pork tenderloin in my fridge for a few days that's stumped me. I can turn chicken, beef, ham, and turkey into leftover magic, but pork is one that I have a hard time using in a repeat meal. The only thing I could come up with was pork fried rice, and since the kids don't like pork fried rice, that was out. This was an even worse case of stump the cook because it had a sweet application to it. It had marinated in apple cider, been basted with brown sugar and mustard, and rolled in pecans. I had resigned to the fact that I may not be using up this leftover tenderloin. Then today, Zander and I went grocery shopping, and I spied some fresh corn tortillas. Oh I loooove fresh corn tortillas crisped up in a bit of oil. At that precise moment in time, I knew we were having tostadas for dinner, and somehow, the pork was going to be incorporated into it. But how...

I spent some time today reading Rick Bayless and wrapped my head around a few things, and I also had Italian marinara going through my brain. So I merged the two cuisines. I started with a small onion, which I caramelized. To this I added bell pepper, garlic, and chipotle chiles. After cooking together, I added crushed tomatoes, and a little worcestershire. This cooked down until I had what was essentially a ranchero sauce- it screamed eggs to me! It was to this luscious Mexican inspired tomato gravy that I slid the chopped pork tenderloin. And the marriage was a perfect match. I let the pork simmer slowly for about an hour, and it made a fantastic base for a tostada. All it really needed was a handful of cilantro and it would have been perfect. Alas, no cilantro for me today. But all in all, it was an extremely satisfying and quick dinner. And it made tons of leftovers. This Pork Ranchero as I'm calling it will head to the freezer until it is beckoned forth for a repeat performance.

Monday, October 23, 2006

A Different Sort Of Pie


Lately, I've been making quite a few pies. Fall just inspires the pie-maker in me to come out and bake away. If it's a fruit, I'm determined to toss it in a crust and call it pie. Tonight's dinner, while technically in the pie family, could actually be more appropriately termed a cobbler. I am speaking, of course, of the humble pot pie. One of my absolute favorite ways to use leftovers is to make a pot pie. I start by making a roux which turns into a gravy, and then I basically dump in whatever I feel like dumping in. Usually after Thanksgiving, I dump in turkey and vegetables from dinner leftovers. Sometimes, I use pot pie as a way to clean out some odds-n-ends in the freezer. Tonight I had a chicken leftover from Andy's birthday dinner. I made two small chickens with the purpose of using some straight up once, and then utilizing the rest for at least three more meals. This is the first of those three. I also have enough leftovers to make enchiladas, white chicken chili, and then using the carcasses I intend to make some chicken stock and soup. (Stock may very well be tomorrow's project.)

I have shared the recipe before, but it really changes every time I make the pot pie. I don't even follow the recipe anymore. The recipe in the Trove is what I closely follow, but I toss in just about anything. I have come to love tossing in a little fennel, so I was slightly disappointed to realize that I didn't have any. Fortunately, the chicken was roasted with fennel spice, so I could get at least a hint of that wonderful fennel flavor. Chicken Pot Pie. Comfort food all the way, and as an added bonus, when you make it, make two and pop one in the freezer after it's baked and cooled. To reheat, cover with foil and bake from frozen state in a 350F oven for about 45 minutes. Peel off the foil, and bake for a few more minutes to crisp up the top.

My Jack-O-Lanterns

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Cherry-Red Raspberry Pie...Take 2

I tried to make this pie a few weeks back, and while my end result was good, I made some unintentional changes and I was certain it could be better. So when Andy asked for it for his birthday, I knew this was the opportunity to make it the right way. When I was at my local grocery store looking at the frozen raspberries called for, my eye caught these big buckets of locally grown cherries. Ah-ha! They had both sugared and un-sugared, so I grabbed them and the raspberries, and headed home. As I pulled the cherries out of the grocery bag, I looked at the label to see just where they were grown, and wouldn't you know it... I picked up the sugared ones when the recipe called for unsweetened cherries. Ah well. I stuck them in the fridge to thaw overnight, and I tossed the raspberries into a bowl for the same thing.

Fast forward to yesterday morning. After setting my pie crust to chill, I got out the berries. Those raspberries turned to a pile of mush overnight. I just can't win with those guys! The benefit was that I did get plenty of juice, and just decided to use the mushy berries in the pie. Since I picked up sugared berries, and I didn't want the pie to be cloyingly sweet, I actually eliminated the sugar from the filling. It worked very well. Someday I will make this pie with raspberries that are whole, but this one turned out much better than the last one. It is so good, it makes the cut for the coming Thanksgiving holiday. You can find the recipe for Cherry-Red Raspberry Pie on the Food Network website, or you can find it in the Recipe Trove.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Product Review Time

Yesterday I was looking for something different for a side dish, but somethign convenient. I will confess that on occassion I like to peruse the noodle and rice convenience items. Things like Lipton's noodles and Rice-A-Roni occasionally do make it to my table. As I was walking through the grocery store yesterday I was thinking along the lines of possibly picking up one of Zatarain's products. But then I saw an entirely new package that totally caught my eye. It was a Rice-A-Roni package, but it featured WHOLE GRAINS. I was intrigued and picked up the box for further investigation. "A blend of whole grain brown rice, pearled barley, and pearled wheat." I read the back of the box for ingredients, and other that "natural flavors" there wasn't really anything that I considered mysterious or unnecessary (MSG for example). So two boxes came home with me and I prepared them to go with our dinner. All in all, it was pretty good. I liked the texture of all the grains together- slightly chewy, with a bit of texture. The flavor I chose was chicken and herb, and I didn't really taste the herb part, but for a convenience food, there could be far worse things. Both kids ate some of it too, so that is always a bonus.
To accompany, I made a Cider-Pecan Pork Tenderloin which is easy and fantastic every time I make it.
On tap for today... Happy Birthday to my dear hubby! Tonight we dine on Michael Chiarello's roasted chicken and raspberyy-cherry pie.

Friday, October 20, 2006

How would you prepare this?

Here you see last night's dinner. I bought it just like this at the butcher yesterday. It is a pork loin roast that has been stuffed with an apple/raisin/bread stuffing. It just called to me from the glass... so I picked one up, and on the label the suggested cooking method was to smother it with a can of undiluted cream of mushroom or cream of chicken soup. Hmm. Cream of etc. soups get occasional use, but if I can, I avoid using them. So I headed to the grocery store and settled on a can of Healthy Request Cream of Celery. I thought the celery would compliment the stuffing better than the other suggestions. I really just couldn't think of how else to cook this puppy. I thought about pouring over some apple cider, but I didn't think that would hold the moisture in the pork- which is what I was concerned about. I thought briefly about strips of bacon... but layering pork with more pork seemed a little odd to me.

The end result was good- very good, I am planning on picking up another of these roasts, but I'd like to figure out what else to do besides cream of etc. soup. Between that and the stuffing the pork was just moist enough. There was virtually no fat in the pork, so it needed something. So if anyone has suggestions, I would love to hear them.

Did you ever have a dream that just felt so real, that after you woke up you could swear it really happened? Two nights ago I had a rather remarkable dream. I dreamt that I had been invited out to a private dinner at Emeril's new restaurant. I was seated alongside Anna from Cookie Madness and her hubby. Emeril sat down with us, and then his staff proceeded to bring us course after course- he was testing out a new menu offering of a Prix Fixe. Then last night I had a dream that my family spent the day at a food festival with Mario Batali and Bobby Flay. I must be neglecting my FoodTv viewing. I honestly can't tell you the last time I watched Food Network, it's become something other than what I want to watch. Semi-Homemade and Travel and Quick cooking are just not my interest. But I think that since today I am fighting off a serious migraine attack, I may just spend some time inviting some old friends into my living room.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Quiet Week

I guess it's been a bit of a quiet week in my kitchen. I was on such a roll, and I just haven't been cooking anything spectacular or noteworthy. The next few days should perk up a bit. I have something new to try tonight for dinner, so come back for that. Tomorrow my sister Lizzie and her hubby are visiting us, so a special dinner is in order, plus Saturday is Andy's birthday... I really should find out what he would like to eat.

Today Zander and I made a special trip to the butcher to pick up a few things, and when we returned, I decided I just had to bake something. But what to bake, that was the question. We're still working on the nut cookies from a few days ago, so I didn't need to make cookies. We finished off the brownies yesterday, which by the way, my entire family went ga-ga over them, so they are an instant redo and will be made again very soon. So today I decided it was time for a quick bread. However, when I went to pull out the loaf pans, I decided that I wanted muffins instead. Instantly visions of biting into a bakery fresh cranberry nut muffin popped into my memory banks, and I knew my decision had been made for me. A quick search through the fridge confirmed that I had the cranberries. Delicious and delightful, the only thing missing from these muffins (I think) is a hint of orange zest. The combination of buttermilk and leavening gives them a beautiful lift, and they are exactly what I was looking for. Perfect for a cool afternoon with a spot of tea. You can find the recipe for Cranberry-Walnut Muffins in my recipe trove.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

So Close!

These brownies are so close to being the perfect brownie. I am not kidding. I'm just not certain they are the perfect brownie, because I doubt there really is such a thing. But these... they are truly fantastic. They are the perfect texture- that is a certainty. I have always been on the fence between cakey brownies and fudgy brownies, because sometimes a fudgy brownie is borderline raw and uncooked. This is not so. These brownies are indeed a dense fudgy brownie- they remind me very much of a flourless chocolate cake. The malt powder contributes an underlying flavor that isn't overwhelming. It's more of an aftertaste or a lingering flavor on the tongue. It's there, and it's identifiable, but it makes the brownie so good! You have to take another bite to make sure that was what you just ate.

When I was making these up yesterday, I noticed there was no leavening just before I was going to pour them into the pan. I hesitated and thought about adding a pinch of baking soda, but decided that the 4 eggs would be sufficient and I would do the recipe as written. I am so glad I did! There are some minimal changes that I will make next time. One, is that I don't care for the malted milk balls. The ones IN the brownie aren't terrible, but they aren't really significant either. The ones on top have gotten chewy, and I don't like that. So next time I will eliminate the malted milk balls and add a handful of mini chocolate chips with the walnuts instead. I also frosted mine. I misread the recipe, it said to use canned frosting to adhere the malted milk balls to the top. I didn't realize it meant dab some frosting on a ball or two to decorate each individual bar... so I made some homemade chocolate frosting and spread it over the whole thing. It's good, but it would really take these brownies over the top it they were topped with a ganache. Next time I want to try a ganache topping- it could only further gild the lily, so to speak.

The only actual change I made was that I baked it an extra 5 minutes. I really didn't want that rawness to the inside- and the extra 5 minutes was perfect for me. I also was using a glass pan though... so that may have made the extra 5 necessary, if you try these, check them right at 35 minutes. And like any good brownie- do your best to wait until completely cool before digging in. They were good warm, but soooo much better at room temperature. And I already sampled a small piece today- even better this morning. So without further ado, here is the recipe for Malt-Fudge Brownies, from Better Homes and Garden's Annual Christmas Cookie publication.

Malt-Fudge Brownies

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup malted milk powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, cut up
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
4 ounces coarsely crushed malted milk balls (about 1 cup)

1. Preheat oven to 325ºF. Lightly grease a 13 x 9 x 2 inch baking pan; set aside. In a medium bowl, combine flour, malted milk powder, and salt; set aside.
2. In a medium saucepan, combine butter and chocolate; heat and stir over low heat until chocolate melts. Remove from heat, stir in sugar. Using a wooden spoon, beat in eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla. Stir in flour mixture, wwalnuts and half of the crushed malted milk balls. Spread batter in prepared pan.
3. Bake in preheated oven for 35 minutes. Cool in a pan on a wire rack. Cut into bars. To package, place remaining crushed malted milk balls in a small plastic bag with the instructions, "Use a small amount of canned frosting to 'glue' malted milk balls atop bars." Makes 30 bars.

To Store: Layer unfrosted bars between waxed paper in an airtight container; cover. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Project Weekend

Sorry. I guess I've been MIA. It's been project weekend at our house, so there hasn't been much to tell. Andy and I have spent the weekend working on a couple of things, and there really hasn't been anything going on in the kitchen. Friday we took the opportunity to go out to dinner. Since our last dining experience was so terrible... we felt it was time to go out and erase that memory. So we let Abigail choose, and she chose a new restaurant for us- Texas Roadhouse. I've heard good things about this place, so we thought it would be okay. And overall, dinner was good. The steaks were nicely seasoned- and the sweet potato on the side was really good. In fact, should we go again, I plan to order a sweet potato and a salad and call that dinner. I only have one caveat to returning there. And that is the kids menu which features Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

What is with restaurants these days??!! Anybody who features Easy Mac on a menu and charges $3.99 for a small bowl of it is suspect. I don't care if you butcher your own steaks or make the best pizza in town. DO NOT serve my children macaroni and cheese from a box. Fortunately, Texas Roadhouse does state right on the menu that it is Kraft Mac and cheese, so the kids didn't even have the option of macaroni and cheese. I don't know. I'm torn about this restaurant. The food was very good, good enough to go back for, but the mere fact of the mac and cheese may sway me. I already have a list going of restaurants we will never go to again, merely because of the macaroni and cheese being out of a box. Needless to say, it may take some convincing to get me to go back there. And for those who are curious, my little list includes Hudson's, Uno's Pizzeria, Boston's, and now Texas Roadhouse.

So on to the projects this past weekend. I bought fabric and a pattern to work on some new ballet skirts for Abigail. It's been a little more difficult than I expected to make them. Working with those layers and layers of tulle was maddening to say the least. I think part of the problem was my choice of pattern. I was really looking for something more simple. So we'll see. I have one successful skirt, one that needs some finishing, and two more that need to be started. I may save the unused fabric and find a different pattern. Andy's project though was much more fun. Last weekend we were given a hutch. A rather hideous hutch, actually. It was very 1970's, and dark. In fact, it would have matched my sister's hand-me-down furniture perfectly. (You know Rachie. The wood look that is actually mostly plastic?) Anyway, we decided we really didn't have room for it in our dining room, but thought that with a few changes and some paint, it would make a great bookshelf for our bedroom. Here is the finished project off to the right. It's hard to tell from the picture, but it's actually a deep wine color that I pulled out of our comforter. Andy also aged it a little in spots with some ivory colored paint. He changed the hardware to gold hardware, painted the inside a contrasting white, and the coolest change was the glass panels on the top half of the hutch. The original panes were glass with this VERY dated matte gold detailing. So he pulled those out and actually used ceiling light acrylic to fill in the sides. It turned out awesome. And as you can see, there is plenty of room for more books, and it looks fantastic in our bedroom. It's starting to really all come together. Next week he's going to paint a couple of things this same wine color to pull the together, and I'm thinking I may actually get started soon on some window treatments. But the best part of this whole project was the cost. Total, I think we spent about $25 on paint and materials for this hutch.
Today I have some new brownies that I want to tackle... if they turn out, I'll be sure and share them. But other than that, it's Monday Night Football night, so it's hard to say if there will be much cooking going on.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Dinner with Mario

I've been on a quest. For as long as I've been cooking, I've been in search of the perfect Chicken Cacciatore. I don't know where that desire came from. I didn't grow up eating it or anything, it just appealed to me. I've tried several recipes from several sources, but it wasn't until last night that I found perfection.

I should have known to go with an Italian Chef. Last night I cracked open a little used cookbook, Molto Italiano by Mario Batali. A wonderful book to read, as I read through the recipe for Pollo alla Cacciatora, it struck me as very simple, which is what I thought it should be. It is a lengthy process, after all, Chicken Cacciatore is a braised dish, so it does take some time. I started by marinating the chicken. Mario's directions made a paste which you rubbed on the chicken and then chilled for 2 hours. I simplified that by using my Foodsaver Marinator- cutting down the 2 hours to 15 minutes. I also needed to make a simple tomato sauce, and I did use Mario's recipe for that as well. The sauce itself was simple and delightful, I intend on using it later this weekend for lasagna, actually.

The only real change I made to the recipe as a whole was to reduce the oil by a lot. The entire recipe called for 1/2 cup of olive oil. And when you're adding chicken fat to it later on as well, that's a whole lot of fat going on. So I used a nonstick pot and started with 2 tablespoons of oil. I also used 2 tablespoons of oil in the marinade initially. That was the perfect amount for getting the chicken nicely browned. And in the end, I actually scooped off the layer of oil on top of the dish, and removed over 1/2 a cup of chicken fat, so I was very glad I reduced the oil. And I doubt the dish needed the excess. It was wonderful. Andy has always been hesitant about chicken cacciatore, and last night he was licking his plate clean and eyeing up for a third helping before deciding against it. This is now my standard chicken cacciatore recipe, and I am ever grateful to Mario Batali.

Pollo alla Cacciatora

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

These things just scream fall!

Yesterday I succumbed to a purchase I didn't need. Every year around this time, Better Homes and Gardens puts out their annual Christmas Cookie magazine. This is the only annual Christmas magazine I buy, and I am always thrilled with the results. So I picked it up. Today I woke to a cold and drizzly day. We're even possibly expecting snow later tonight, and the cooler weather just screams to bake some cookies. I sat at the table and flipped through my recent acquisition, looking for a recipe for which I had all the ingredients on hand. These babies are what I found:

Cinnamon-Nut Spice Cookies. These are an extremely simple drop cookie. The only effort involved is to toast the walnuts. Otherwise, the come together in a heartbeat, and just a few minutes later, you can enjoy them with a steaming mug of spiced cider. The cinnamon and allspice combine to create this wonderfully sweet spice cookie studded with toasted walnuts. I wouldn't change a thing. The directions state to bake for 11 to 13 minutes. Cookies baked to the 13 minute mark are crispy throughout. Cookies baked to the 11 minutes mark are crispy on the outside- chewy on the inside. A perfect cookie either way.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

More Apples

Last night for Monday Night Football I thought I'd make Andy a pie. Since my apples are very juicy, a plain pie was not to be. So I turned to another favorite from Cooking Light, a Buttermilk Apple Pie. In this pie, you cook the apples over the stove top first to soften them before adding to the pie. I started there. I tossed my apples into the pan and cooked them as long as I possibly dared. They were very soft, and most of the moisture had cooked away. If I'd stirred them vigorously, I would have had applesauce. I put the apples in the pie crust, the custard in the pie crust an tossed it in the oven.

I made some changes this time. The original recipe, as published in Cooking Light is in my Recipe Trove, but sometimes I just want to tweak. First of all, I never, ever, use a store bought pie crust. So that was my first change. Secondly, I added an extra 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon to the custard itself- I thought that would perk up the flavor, and I was right about that. Thirdly, when I cooked the apples, I left their glorious liquid in the pan, and just put the apples in the pie. I'm sure I lost some flavor there, but custard is a touchy thing, and I didn't want excess moisture gumming it up. And finally, I actually eliminated the streusel topping. I love streusel topping, and I've always used it for this pie, but in this case, the streusel never crisps up. So I left it off completely, and I confess that I don't miss it. If you wanted a little bit of crunch, I think this would be the perfect place to crumble up some oatmeal cookies for a topping, but really, the streusel isn't necessary.
I also learned something else about this pie. It's better to cool it completely before cutting- possibly even refrigerate overnight. This is a deep-dish pie, and my only deep dish pie plate is a stoneware plate, so every time I make this pie, we're cutting into it slightly warm. Well, since no one came last night, it sat untouched until lunch time today- and it cut perfectly. This is excellent to learn, since this is on my Thanksgiving menu for this year. No I know I want to make it at least a day ahead, and I wonder if it would fare okay made 2 days ahead, or if the crust would weep up on me. Something to test I think.

Anyway, this is a fantastic pie, always a favorite, and it is a lighter pie, so you can feel less guilty about eating it. So check out the recipe for Warm Buttermilk Apple Pie. You won't be disappointed.

Monday, October 9, 2006

Per Request: Bagels

This bagel recipe is from the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion. As I mentioned before- the dough is more stiff than bread dough, and by all means, if you like to use a mixer to knead, go ahead. I followed this recipe to a "T", and I used brown sugar as my brown sweetener. Next time I intend to pick up a bottle of barley malt syrup, but the brown sugar did work just fine. And lastly, watch the baking. I think I would have liked them just a tad darker, but I already baked them a full 30 minutes, so I thought that was probably long enough- let the color be your gauge. And please let me know if you try them! I'd love to hear how they work out for you, and what additions you come up with.

Makes 8 Bagels.


1 Tablespoon instant yeast
4 Cups unbleached bread flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon non-diastetic malt powder, brown sugar, or barley malt syrup
1 1/2 Cups lukewarm water

Water Bath:
2 Quarts (64 ounces) water
2 Tablespoons (1 ounce) non-diastetic malt powder, brown sugar, or barley malt syrup
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar

Combine all the dough ingredients in a mixing bowl and knead vigorously, by hand for 10 to 15 minutes, or by machine on medium-low speed for about 10 minutes. Since you're using a high-protein bread flour, it takes a bit more effort and time to develop the gluten. The dough will be quite stiff; if you're using an electric mixer it will "thwap" the sides of the bowl and hold its shape (without spreading at all) when you stop the mixer. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl and set it aside to rise until noticeably puffy though not necessarily doubled in bulk, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Transfer the dough to a work surface and divide it into 8 pieces. Working with one piece at a time, roll it into a smooth, round ball. Cover the balls with plastic wrap and let them rest for 30 minutes. They'll puff up very slightly.

While the dough is resting, prepare the water bath by heating the water, malt powder, and sugar to a very gentle boil in a large wide-diameter pan. Preheat the oven to 425ºF.

Use a bagel cutter, or use your index finger to poke a hole into the center of each ball, then twirl the dough on your finger to stretch the hole until it's about 2 inches in diameter (the entire bagel will be about 4 inches across). Place each bagel on a lightly greased or parchment lined baking sheet and repeat with remaining pieces of dough.

Transfer the bagels, four at a time if possible, to the simmering water. Increase the heat under the pan to bring the water back up to a gently simmering boil, if necessary. Cook the bagels for 2 minutes, gently flip them over, and cook 1 minute more. Using a skimmer or strainer, remove the bagels from the water and place them back on the baking sheet. Repeat with remaining bagels.

Bake the bagels for 20 to 25 minutes, until they're as deep brown as you like, turning them over after 15 minutes, which will help them remain tall and round. Remove the bagels from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack.


Sesame Seed Bagels: Brush each bagel, just before baking, with a glaze made of 1 egg white beaten until frothy with 1 tablespoon of water. Glaze each bagel and sprinkle heavily with seeds.

Onion Bagels: Bake bagels for 20 to 22 minutes (or until they're almost as brown as you'd like) and remove the pan from the oven, keeping the oven turned on. Working with one bagel at a time, glaze as instructed above and sprinkle with minced, dried onion. Return the bagels to the oven for no more than 2 minutes (the onions will burn if left in the oven longer than that).

Cinnamon-Raisin Bagels: Knead about 2/3 cup of raisins into the dough toward the end of the kneading process. Just before you're done kneading, sprinkle your work surface heavily with cinnamon-sugar and give the dough a few more turns; it will pick up the cinnamon-sugar in irregular swirls. Divide the dough into eight pieces, form each piece into a ball, and roll each ball in additional cinnamon-sugar. Let rest and shape as directed above.

Today's Project

This week I've decided to learn a new baking skill.

One of our favorite breakfasts when we travel is bagels and schmear. My personal favorite is Einstein Brother's Bagels. Every day they have a different assortment of bagels, and a different assortment of schmears. Their sandwiches are also to-die-for, and make a very hearty lunch. (Try the Tasty Turkey if you ever get a chance!) Unfortunately for us, a good bagel is hard to find. The local grocery store here in Seymour makes terrible bagels. They have very little flavor, and definitely are not chewy enough to be considered a bagel.

Now when I was in high school, I had a friend who thought she could bake and cook. And we all ran as fast as we could from her offerings. But she had this great idea once to have a bagel making party, and we all contributed our hand at making hockey pucks with holes in the middle. In the end, we all walked away thinking that we could make bagels. When really, we made some pretty awful bagels. I tried one other time, following her recipe, and pretty much failed bagel making 101.

Today I turned to my trusty King Arthur Flour's Baking Companion for a basic how-to for bagels. I read it through and really was surprised at how easy they sounded to make. I set Zander up in the living room with his new favorite hobby, the computer, and got to work.

The hardest part of bagel making is the first 15 minutes or so. Because you have to knead the dough for at least 10 minutes, 15 would be better. I am one of those people who prefers to knead by hand. I just cannot achieve the same consistency baking with my KA Mixer as I can using my hands. By touching the dough, I can feel when it's achieved it's state of elasticity, and feel whether the moisture content is adequate. So when the first line in the directions said to knead vigorously for 10-15 minutes, I knew I was in for a workout. Once my hands got busy and my mind got busy though, the 15 minutes passed quickly, and I set the dough aside to rise.
Interestingly enough, bagel dough does not really rise, it swells, but it doesn't double in bulk. After about an hour, I cut the dough into eight sections, and turned that into smooth little balls of dough. I covered these with plastic wrap and let them rest for 30 minutes. While these little nuggets were resting and swelling again, I turned the oven on to preheat and got a pot of water on to boil. The water had both white sugar and brown sugar added to it. The recipe did say that I could use barley malt syrup, brown sugar, or a particular kind of malt powder. I only had brown sugar on hand, so that is what I used. I brought the water up just to a simmer, and by that time, the 30 minutes had passed, and the dough was ready for shaping.

Each ball got poked in the middle, and then stretched and whirled around my fingers to form a 2-inch hole in the middle. Then the bagels went for their bath. I could only fit a few at a time into the pot, but they got 2 minutes on the first side, and 1 minutes on the other side, before moving to a baking sheet covered in parchment. (Note to self: Use some cooking spray on the parchment next time.) They really swelled up during the boiling, and I got my first glimpse at the size of my bagels. It only took a few minutes to get 8 bagels on the pan and ready to pop into the oven. Look at the size of those beauties off to the right. By this point I was very excited about my bagels. They looked like bagels. But there was this tiny part of me that was remembering what it was like to eat those tiny hockey pucks with holes all those years ago.
Finally, the moment arrived. And here are my bagels baked and cooling. Oh my, it was difficult to wait for them to cool! Just when I thought I couldn't wait another second, they were cool enough to handle, and I eagerly bit into one. My teeth met with a beautiful resistance that could only come from a good bagel. I cannot wait to share these with Abigail and Andy. Zander is not as passionate about bagels, but he will quickly convert once he tries these babies. I cannot wait to play around with different additives and seeds and it will be interesting to learn how to incorporate whole grains into these without compromising that wonderful chewiness. These were definitely simple enough to bake up once a week or so, hopefully there will be bagels a-plenty for a while here. If anyone would like the recipe, please give me a holler and I will be happy to share with you.

Sunday, October 8, 2006

Gooey Goodness

Tonight for company dinner we had a simple meal of sloppy joes with potatoes au gratin. It was simple to make ahead, and enjoyable by everyone. But the real star is a dessert that I know I've posted about before, but it bears repeating. Gooey Apple Sheet Cake is exactly what it sounds like. It is wonderful. It is cakey, it is gooey, it is full of apples, and oh so good. In fact, you can tell yourself it has oatmeal in it, so that makes it good for you- right? This recipe comes from the Cooking Light bulletin board, and a regular there, valchemist. Val is a baker extraordinaire, and when she says something is good, you'd best pay attention. She was so right about this cake, it's definitely a favorite around here.

You can find the recipe in the recipe trove if you're interested, just click on the link above to find it. The only problem I had with it today was with my apples again. These apples have a really high moisture content, so it's throwing my baking out of whack. I had to bake this cake an extra 15 minutes, and it probably still could have used a couple more. I'm debating what else I can do with them, because I certainly can't make apple pie with them- I'd end up with apple pie soup. So we'll see. They may just be used for eating and for applesauce- we always like fresh applesauce, so that's always an option.

As to the week ahead... hard to say. Potty training is going horribly, I really think Zander can't tell when he has to pee. The only times we've caught it, he hasn't even realized he's done it. So I think we may back off on the training. As much as I'd like to be done with diapers, its stressing both myself and Zander out, and it's just not good for us. Besides, I'm certainly in no rush. While it would be nice to not have to buy diapers, I don't think that is a reason for potty training. I think we're going to wait until he's at least 3, or when he comes to us that he wants to use the potty. I had wonderful conversations today with two women who have boys, and when I shared my concerns and frustrations, they both gave me great advice regarding potty training boys. I am so grateful for both those conversations today, the past few days I've kind of felt like a bad mom because training is going no where, and we're both frustrated with it. Zander wants to please Mommy, and he's proud as punch when he makes it, but he seems so disappointed when he comes to me with wet pants. And I don't want him to be disappointed with himself. If he's physically not ready, then he's not ready.

So I guess that answers my own question, doesn't it. :-) I do have a project planned for the week ahead, so we'll see if I get around to it. Happy Sunday everyone! Here's to a great week ahead.

Saturday, October 7, 2006

A Fantastic Family Day

This is a picture posting today. :-) Today was the first Saturday in a while that we didn't have any plans. Nothing required our time or our commitment, so we decided to have a fun family outing. Not far from here, an apple orchard was having a family day, so we thought we'd check it out. The kids had a blast! The first order of business was an awesome hayride. It was a fairly long hayride through soybean fields, past a quarry, through a woods, and ending at a pumpkin patch. There we each got to pick our own pumpkin to bring back with us. It was so cool wandering the pumpkin patch with the kids. They were both particular about the pumpkins they wanted.

After we picked the pumpkins, we climbed back on the wagons for a leisurely ride back to the apple orchard. Unfortunately, they weren't a pick-your-own patch, but they did have plenty of apples to select from. We picked up some Macs, Honey crisp, freshly made cider, caramel apples, and a huge bag of seconds for turning into baked delights. After our return home, I got to work on that big bag, and I've hardly made a dent. I made up a double batch of Cooking Light's Juicy Apple Crisp and a big pot of applesauce. Turns out, these particular apples are very watery, so any applications I use them for will have to take that into account. But the crisp is awesome, the applesauce delightful, and all-in-all, it was a great day. We have already decided that next year we will do it again, it was so fun. Although if the weather cooperates, we may try the pick-your-own orchard down the road a bit next weekend. Abigail wanted to pick her own apples today.

Here we made the kids wait until we got back home before they were allowed to unwrap their caramel apples. They sure enjoyed them.

And, finally, here is a so-so picture of tonight's apple crisp. I love this particular apple crisp. The crisp topping is very minimal, it really lets the apples shine. I do think that last year I doubled the topping, so if I get around to making this again, I may double the topping, as it's really good. You can find the recipe for Juicy Apple Crisp at Cooking Light or in the Recipe Trove.

Of Bananas.

Bananas are a perfect food. So it's stands to reason, that any dessert made with banana can't be as bad for you as you would think. Right? One of my absolute favorite desserts on the planet (and I know, I have many absolute favorites) is Bananas Foster. Caramelized bananas served over ice cream and topped with a luscious caramel sauce. There are very few things better, in my humble opinion. And like most dessert recipes, there are many, many variations. One thing that I don't particularly care for is alcohol in my bananas foster. I realize it is traditional, but I don't care for alcohol flavored desserts in general. I like my alcohol in a glass, sometimes with ice, but in a glass. I don't care to eat it. So I eliminate the rum and the flaming- which may be a bit of a letdown to some, but the end result is always a dessert worthy of reflection.

Erika's Bananas Foster

2 bananas, sliced lengthwise
1/4 cup Butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
pinch of cinnamon
1/4 cup orange juice
Good Quality Vanilla Bean ice cream

Melt the butter in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and cinnamon, stir to combine. Let this mixture come to a boil and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Slide the bananas into the pan. Cook until nicely browned on the bottom and flip the bananas over to brown the other side (about 3 minutes total). Remove the bananas to serving dishes and top with vanilla ice cream. Carefully, add the orange juice to the still bubbling sugar mixture. Stir well to combine, and reduce for another minute, so you have a creamy caramel sauce. Drizzle this sauce over the bananas and ice cream. Enjoy every bite.
Unfortunately today I do not have a picture of Bananas Foster. Last night we sat down to watch The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and there wasn't even a thought of taking a photo. So you'll have to use your imagination. Today we have something special planned, so we'll be sure and take the camera and share pictures later.

Thursday, October 5, 2006


Last night was dance night. It was a special dance night. We had to go an hour early, Zander was going to be a guest of his cousin Kara in her dance class. Except he wienied out and decided he just wanted Mommy. And as it turned out, Kara's teacher was needed to teach a tumbling class, so the dancers went to spend a week tumbling. Zander still didn't want to do it, despite how fun it looked. However, Abigail joined the class and really liked it. If the job situation goes well, in a few weeks we may add tumbling to our Wednesday night activities. It could only help her with her balance and flexibility. Plus it's fun. For Abigail's class last night, her best friend Irissa was able to join her for special friend day, and they got to learn a dance together. Oh my, it was so cute! The two girls had a blast dancing together. I only wish I'd remembered to take my camera, because it was so special watching them dance together and laugh and smile. It was wonderful.

So for last night's dinner I was inspired by this post at The Savory Notebook. That soup looked really good, and you couldn't beat the simplicity. It was really good! The sausage adds so much flavor to the soup as a whole. I imagine it will be even better at lunch time today. I made up some grilled cheese sandwiches for all of us last night to go with, and we had a perfectly quick dinner. I'm thinking that the next time I do this soup I will make two pots of it, and use hot sausage in half of it for Andy and I. Although today for lunch I will add some red pepper flake to give it some heat then. But there certainly will be a next time. I think this makes the list as one of our favorites- right up there with Cooking Light's Northwoods Bean Soup and Cheddar Chicken Chowder. One thing I can always rely on Cooking Light for is great soup recipes.

I'm not sure what's on tap for today. Most likely I should just stay home today and concentrate on Captain Underpants. Being gone all yesterday afternoon he was wearing a diaper, and probably took like eight steps back in potty training. So hopefully today will go smoothly. We'll see what kind of pantry meal I can come up with today.

Tuesday, October 3, 2006


Today I wanted to make a cake. I have about 3 dozen eggs that expire soon, and I'm trying to find ways to use them up. A perfect excuse for cake. So I turned to my trusty Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook and started flipping. The yellow butter cake caught my eye, but I'm out of chocolate and cocoa, and yellow cake really needs chocolate frosting. So I turned to the section on pound cake. And here's the confession. I've never made a poundcake before. In fact, I don't think I've ever even had a real poundcake that didn't come pre-frozen. And the best part? One loaf of cake uses 6 eggs. Perfect. So I whipped up a batter that was much easier than I had anticipated. It took an extra 20 minutes to get the cake to set up. And I'm not sure about the results. It seems a little dry to me, I may have overworked the batter somehow.

Dessert tonight consisted of a slice of poundcake and an oven baked pear compote. My parents have a pair of pear trees in their yard, and tis the season for the seckle pears to be perfect and ready to eat. Oh so tiny, and oh so full of flavor, they simply begged to be used for something. They turned out perfectly, cores removed and baked in a bit of butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and walnuts. A tiny drizzle of homemade caramel syrup finished a rather decadent dessert that really encompasses fall. All that was missing (maybe) was a small scoop of French vanilla ice cream or frozen custard, but overall...Mmmm.

Unfortunately, dinner tonight was a new recipe, but most definitely not noteworthy. Thank goodness dessert was good.

Potty training is going slowly. We have had a few successes, but we're mostly working on him identifying when he needs to wet himself. He definitely doesn't like the wet pants though, so I think it's just a matter of him paying a little more attention. Anyway. That's it for tonight. Storms are blowing in, and Zander is terrified of thunder. So I have to go snuggle.

Sunday, October 1, 2006

Slow and Steady wins the race.

He's close. He's really close. We've had our first success with getting to the potty in time, so hopefully, we're in the home stretch here. I won't hold my breath, but hopefully it wasn't a freak thing. Right now he's napping, and I really didn't want to put him in the diaper he's been asking for. But I also didn't want my bed to get soggy. So there it is.

Anyway, since I'm stuck at home, I thought I would put that time to good use today. Last night for dinner I roasted a whole chicken and today I am using the carcass to make some stock. Stock is a long, slow process (just like potty training). Technically, stock must take between 4 and 6 hours in order for the bones to fully shed their gelatin and good stuff into the stock. A chicken broth, however, is made more quickly, generally in about 2-3 hours. I would give you my method fully here, but I really use Sara Moulton's method, just in this case, I'm using a leftover chicken carcass. You can find her recipe here on Food Network's website. If that link doesn't work for some reason, you can always do a search on FoodTv for chicken stock, and you'll find it. I have posted another method here at this post.

And that's all for today. Abigail has some homework to do, so I must go be read to.