Thursday, December 31, 2009

Rosemary Parmesan Crackers

Adapted from Parmesan Cream Crackers by Mark Bittman
2 cups flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup packed and grated Parmesan cheese
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup cream
2 tsp finely chopped rosemary
1 tsp each: ground pepper, nice flaky salt for sprinkling

Pre-heat oven to 400°. Pulse flour, salt, cheese and butter in a food processor until combined. Add the cream and let machine run; adding more cream if needed, a teaspoon at a time, until mixture holds together but is not sticky. Divide dough in half and roll out on a lightly floured board until 1/8" thick. Carefully transfer rolled out dough to Silpat (or parchment) lined baking sheet. Sprinkle top of dough with sea salt, ground pepper, and chopped rosemary. Pat toppings lightly with hands. Bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes, rotating pans half way through cooking time. Cool on a rack. Serve warm or at room temp.

My Notes: These are not as crispy as I was hoping for, but they sure taste good and were quite easy.

Pick A Peck Of Pretty Pink Peppers

After reading this article about pink pepper-berries, I couldn't wait to see if there were any growing at my Mom's house when I visited for Christmas. Just off the back yard, there is a huge and graceful Peruvian pepper tree. That's where my tree-house was when the tree and I were much younger, but I don't ever remember there being pink berries on it.

Turns out that these trees bear little or no fruit if there are not enough female flowers present. Since I've been away though, there has been a new Brazilian pepper tree growing under and among some other plants by the fence, stretching way up high for a bit of sunlight. And there were pink berries on it. Not a lot, but a few.

This scrawny lanky "tree" was a volunteer in the yard, and though I didn't pick a peck* of pepper-berries, I did manage to reach a couple clusters. Next time we'll need to get the ladder out. With these rosy little foraged berries, homemade crusty bread, and some goat cheese, we'll be all set for New Year's Eve! Now if only I had the thyme...

Pink Pepper Goat Cheese Spread

My Notes: This couldn't have gone together easier. I split the goat cheese between two shallow 4 oz. ramekins (truth be told, they were from Trader Joe's frozen créme brulée). No fresh thyme was available, so I used some that I dried myself from our old garden before we moved. The spread smelled fantastic coming out of the oven and tasted great smeared on the homemade bread. The honey really countered the pepper berry perfectly. As easy as this is, I love that it can be made ahead of time and kept in the fridge. Let's see: it's super easy, really tasty, not your average party offering, and it's pretty too. Most definitely a keeper.

*Ever wonder just how many peppers were in that peck that Peter Piper picked? Click here to find out.
Peruvian Pepper Tree (Schinus molle)
Brazilian Pepper Tree (Schinus terebinthifolius)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Blackberry Lemon Redemption Cookies

Blackberry Lemon Redemption Cookies
First of all, these treats were named by my Hubs. I had wanted to call them Reincarnation Cookies or Resurrection Cookies, or even Recycled or Repurposed Cookies. Hmm... How 'bout Metamorphosis Cookies? His idea trumped them all for its sweetness, appropriateness, and positive once-bad-now-good swing.

You see these cookies are the final reward for my Blackberry Pâte de Fruit from last summer. I'd saved it, ate one or two sticky globs, but there wasn't much to be said for it. Except that it was a big fat fail. Disastrous, yet still edible. It was thick, gooey and crunchy (the sugar that it was rolled in had been absorbed but not dissolved), beyond jam but not quite candy. But still there was that incredibly intense blackberry flavor that I couldn't turn my back on. So there it sat in an airtight container in the fridge. In limbo.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

(Hazy Shade Of) Winter Cookies

These cookies are the color of my mood. They are mood-cookies. Did you ever have a mood-ring? I did. When I was in elementary school. I quickly figured out its secret. It was sensitive to heat and would change colors as your body temperature fluctuated. I was a skinny little kid though and most of the time my ring only turned dark blue. That's the first color it would go to beyond the default black. If I rubbed my hands together (or put them under warm water), the ring would change to all sorts of lovely teals and amber colors. But it didn't really tell my mood. These cookies though? They are doing just that.

It's five days before Christmas and two days before we leave to go visit family. Everything must be finished in the next two days or it doesn't get done at all. This is a time when I realistically reevaluate everything on my to-do lists and drop the things that are not going to get done. This generally drops my mood exponentially. And so I've discovered that it's not the best time to bake cookies.

Baking is all about the love. And if you're not feeling it, your end result will show it. This is not to say that all baking disasters are the result of a poor mindset. Just that, if you start out that way, it'll show in the final product. Baked goods are empathic. Thus, my mood-cookies: I'm feeling muddled and depressed, the skies outside my window are dark and cloudy, my cookies are muddy gray lumps.

I was sure that I'd created baked-bads instead of baked-goods. But they say that every cloud has a silver lining, and I've always found that to be true. The silver lining of these cookies is that they are really quite tasty, and they go splendidly with tea. They are, in fact, our new favorite tea cookie. They are, in a word, lovely.

Quiz time! Finish the following sentence: Beauty is... a) as beauty does. b) in the eye of the beholder. c) only skin deep. d) vastly overrated. e) all of the above. Substance really is so much more important than appearance. The trick is to find your own real and genuine happy-place and then get baking. If you're happy and you know it, then your cookies will surely show it.

Buttery Jam Cookies from Joy The Baker

My Notes: Accidentally put the eggs in before the sugar. Oops. Used my Triple Berry Jam that I made last summer. The dough turned a lovely shade of mauve. Oven was running on the hot side so the trays sat out waiting for an extra 15 minutes or so while I tried to adjust the oven temp. It dropped too much and the first batch took an extra 5-6 min. since the oven temp was still around 350° for most of the time they were in there. Bah. The mauve-ness made it hard to tell when they were browned. 

They smelled good when I took them out of the oven but they didn't flatten out all the way (maybe due to the temp. problem). And they were a somewhat unappetizing shade of gray now. Don't know if these are going to make it as gifts (as intended) or not. Next time I'll try swirling the jam in last so it doesn't permeate the dough so thoroughly. I also flattened the last few dough balls before baking them to see if that would help... It did. Next time I'll try all that and increase the ginger and jam quantities.

Empathic: Sharing another's feelings as if they were your own.
e) all of the above.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Quoting... Dodie Smith

"I thank heaven there is no cheaper form of bread than bread." 
- Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle, 1948

Pan co'Sante (Walnut Raisin Bread)

No-Knead Walnut Raisin Bread from Jim Lahey via The Kitchn
My Notes: Did not have bread flour, so I used AP instead. Initial rise was 15 hours in oven overnight with light on. Used the parchment paper method from CI instead of the floured dish-towel method used in the recipe. Did not knead it at all. I slashed the top before baking. Not sure if oven was to temp. Didn't get the rise it should have had. Will try again with a little bit of kneading, and a higher initial temp. Smells and tastes great regardless!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

There Is No "P" In Granny Smith*

apple crostataThe rain we were promised earlier in the week finally materialized (and how!), we were snug and warm indoors, and there was a round of pastry dough in the freezer. An apple crostata would be something new, yet also comfortingly familiar.

By now, my friends are probably wondering if I know how to make anything else. How many of these have I made in the last six months? 10? 12 or more? But I've never tried apple; wanted to, but was unsure. Apples are generally firmer than peaches, plums and pears*. How would they act within this recipe? Only one way to find out.

I just finished reading an excellent cookbook/memoir**, and in it the author describes an apple pie like one I made years ago: piled high with apples going into the oven, coming out with a big space under the top crust where the apples used to be. The fruit had cooked down while the crust stayed in place. Her solution was to sauté the apples first and then pile them into the pastry.

Since this was to be an experimental crostata, I decided to try it both ways: cooked and raw, in the same crust. That's my idea of "blind baking"... I had absolutely no idea what would happen. This one wouldn't be leaving my kitchen to be foisted onto unsuspecting friends though, so nobody would be thinking to themselves, "Crostata? Again?".

Frankly, most of it wouldn't even live to see the following day. We ate it before AND after dinner, then forced ourselves to wrap the rest up and save for the following day. I just know, that with the littlest bit of encouragement, we would have polished off the whole thing. Was it perfect in every way? No. Did it look magazine-cover gorgeous? No. Did it taste really really good? Uh, yep!

My Notes: Using the Peach Crostata recipe as a guide, I first peeled and sliced the apples and tossed them with some lemon juice. Then I mixed them with cinnamon/clove/nutmeg along with a little sugar and flour. Half of the apples then went into the skillet with some butter and were cooked until soft, but not falling apart. When they had cooled off, I started layering them into the rolled out dough and filled up the rest of the space with the raw apples. The cooked apples had lost half their bulk, so the pie was more like 25% cooked apples to 75% raw apples. I brushed the crust with water and sprinkled chunky sugar over it (and yes, I'm still working that jar of pastel green sugar). 

When I took it out of the oven, the crust was totally done and the apples didn't look so hot. They had shrunk down and left a gap under the crust, even on the pre-cooked side! The raw fruit looked dry and the cooked fruit looked a little better. And maybe it would have looked fine after being brushed with a warm glaze, but that kind of negates the whole "simple rustic country dessert" feel that I was going for. Next time I'll leave out the flour, sauté all of the apples (will probably need more to make up for the shrinkage) and I'll use more butter and sugar so they'll get more caramel-y. Hopefully that should do the trick.

*Up to this point I had only made Crostati with fruit whose name began with the letter "P". Didn't plan it, just noticed it one day. I notice stuff like that.
**Confections Of A Closet Master Baker by Gesine Bullock-Prado. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It was not only a lot of fun to read, it also has an artery-clogging butter-filled pastry recipe at the end of each tasty chapter! I hope the library doesn't notice that I drooled on all the pages.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Vegetable Stock for Free or Cheap

Recently empowered by making turkey stock (and desperately needing more space in my freezer), I decided to make some vegetable stock.

I'd been saving up veggie scraps in a big heavy-duty zip-top bag in the freezer for just this purpose: carrot ends, onion ends, chard stems, herb stems, slightly soft squash, potatoes, tomatoes, and wilted greens, among other things. Almost any vegetable scrap is fair game so long as it's not too far gone. The bag was full, so the time was now...

Vegetable Stock
Adapted from Basic Vegetable Stock, page 73, Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites, 1996

Approximately 6 cups of assorted veggies (avoid sulfurous* ones)
1 potato, cut into quarters
2 tsp peppercorns
1 bay leaf
2 tsp thyme
1 clove of garlic, smashed
filtered water to cover
  1. Put everything into a crock-pot set on LOW for 10-12 hours. Let crock cool until comfortable enough to handle. 
  2. Put a large sturdy metal colander inside a large bowl in the sink** and line the colander with a floursack towel. Very carefully pour the contents of the slow-cooker into the lined colander. Let drain for a few minutes. Gather up the corners and sides of the towel and twist to extract more of the liquid from the vegetables. 
  3. Let the stock cool completely. Use within 2-3 days or divide into freezer containers, label, and freeze to use later. Yield: approximately 3.5 pints (7 cups).

My Notes: I divided mine into 1 and 2 cup portions before freezing. Make sure to leave an inch of space at the top of the containers to allow for expansion during the freezing process. (Oops!) From now on, I think I'll freeze them first and then add the lids.

 *These include: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. According to the original recipe, it's evidently a good idea to also avoid asparagus, eggplant and peppers. I imagine that's because of their strong flavor compounds. They must not play well with others...the little bullies.
**This way I don't have to lift the big heavy (and hot) crock any higher than necessary. There are enough dangers in the kitchen as it is. Thinking ahead and thinking ergonomically will help prevent pulls, strains and other mishaps.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Turkey Vegetable Soup

Two weeks ago the Hubs & I watched some Jacques Pépin episodes for the first time. It was one of those head-shaking, "Where have we been all this time?"-moments for us. The man is a total rock star! Well, the next day I was out "thrifting" with a friend and she finds a Jacques Pépin cookbook on the rack. Of course I bought it. It was all of a dollar I think. How could I not?

Yesterday I made turkey stock with that big carcass from Thanksgiving, and today I went looking for a turkey soup recipe. Imagine my surprise when I found the perfect one in my new Jacques Pépin book! Coincidence? Maybe... maybe not. Using some of that fantastic turkey stock from yesterday and armed with my rockstar cookbook, I made up a batch of turkey soup, packed with vegetables...

Turkey Vegetable Soup
Adapted from: Cooked Turkey Carcass Soup, page 16, Cooking With Claudine by Jacques Pepin, 1996

2 quarts Turkey Stock
1-1/2 cups carrots, sliced into coins
1-1/2 cups celery, diced
2 small zucchini, diced
3 cups baby spinach, roughly chopped
1 leek
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1-2 cups cooked turkey meat, chopped or shredded
2 cups egg noodles
3 big pinches of salt
ground black pepper

Put everything into a stockpot or dutch oven, except the noodles, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, drop heat to low and cook for 20 minutes, covered. Remove lid, add the noodles and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 10 more minutes. Serve with buttered sourdough toast. If not serving it right away, let cool before dividing it into containers. Will keep for a few days in the fridge, or a few months in the freezer. If you are not planning on serving it right away, do not add the noodles. Cook them separately and add them before serving. Otherwise, they will break down too much during the freezing/re-heating process. It will still be edible and probably taste o.k. but it won't look very good, and if you like your noodles whole... they won't be. Yield: approximately 7 cups of soup.

My Notes: The original recipe says to pick any meat off the bones after making the stock, but we picked the usable meat off the carcass before we made the stock. The meat was already cooked to perfection and I didn't want to cook it twice. Went a little nuts with the amount of veg in this soup. May have to add more stock to it when serving, to you know, make it "soupier".