Dinner On A Dime

>> Thursday, December 20, 2007

So I have not been doing a lot of fancy cooking lately or much cooking at all for that matter. Baking yes, but cooking no. Which means I have not been doing my weekly grocery shopping and planning of dinners like I usually do. So last night I opened the fridge and there was not much in there. I had to get creative, very creative. So here is a dinner that does not take long to prepare and cost very little to make.

Carrot and Potato Pancakes

The carrots add a nice sweetness to the potato pancakes. If I had a zucchini I would have thrown that in too. Its a great way to get veggies into kids.

2 lg. carrots
1 lb. potatoes (whatever kind you have on hand), peeled
1 onion
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 large eggs, beaten
vegetable oil for frying

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Shred carrots, potatoes, and onion on large whole of grater or in food processor. Spread vegetables on paper towels and roll up to squeeze out excess moisture. Add vegetables, flour, salt, pepper, and eggs in large bowl and toss.

Heat enough oil just to cover bottom of non stick skillet. Working in batches drop 2 heaping Tablespoons of mixture into hot skillet. Spread out mixture to form small pancakes. Cook until brown, about three minutes per side. Transfer to baking sheet and repeat with remaining batter. About 15 minutes before you are ready to eat finish pancakes off in oven for 10-15 minutes. Serve with apple sauce and sour cream

Quick and Easy Apple Sauce

2 large apples, cored and peeled
1 Tablespoon honey
dash of cinnamon
2 whole cloves
1/4 cup apple juice or water
pinch of salt

Cut apples into chunks. Put remaining ingredients along with the apples into a small sauce pan. Cover. Simmer on low until apples are tender. Mash with a fork and let cool.
Simple and Delicious!


You Didn't measure The Peanut Butter???

>> Tuesday, December 18, 2007

So my friend Sopha (hi Soap) called me up and asked me why I thought her peanut butter cookies came out so flat? "Maybe you over mixed them" I said, "I'm not really sure".
She then proceeded to tell me she got her recipe from Martha and that she did not measure the peanut butter because she was in a hurry. Well I think she may have answered her own question. If there is one thing I have learned in baking, its that you have to measure everything. There are no short cuts in baking, after all it is chemistry.
So I told Sopha I would give her my recipe and here it is. But remember Soap, you really do need to measure the peanut butter (along with everything else).
These are crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, just as a peanut butter cookie should be!

Jumbo Peanut butter Cookies
adapted from Tish Boyle, The Good Cookie

2 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 sticks unsalted butter (1 cup), softened
1 cup creamy peanut butter at room temp. ( I use Skippy)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 lg. eggs
1 Tbsp. vanilla
3/4 cup chopped peanuts plus more for sprinkling on tops of cookies.

Whisk together dry ingredients, set aside.

Using electric mixer beat butter and peanut butter until smooth. Gradually beat in both sugars. Beat in eggs, one at a time. beat in vanilla. With mixer on low gradually add dry ingredients. Fold in chopped peanuts. Cover bowl and refrigerate until dough is firm, about 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease baking sheet or use parchment.
Scoop out dough with 1/4 cup measuring cup. I left the dough rounded to get a good size cookie. Flatten dough with hand a bit. Use a fork dipped in flour to make a criss cross pattern in each cookie. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts. Bake about 20 minutes until golden around edges but still soft in the middle. be careful not to over bake them or they will not be chewy in the middle. let cool on wire racks. Freezes really well. Enjoy!


Church Windows and Cookie Dough

>> Tuesday, December 11, 2007

So I have been doing a lot more baking these days than blogging. I get this sort of itch when days have gone by and I have not posted anything new, especially if I have a lot of beautiful baked goods to blog about. There's just not enough hours in the day this time of year for me! So here is my attempt at blogging during this crazy month of holiday preparation.
Cookies, cookies, cookies! My freezer is filled to the rim with cookies! What says Christmas better than cut out cookies? Not much if you ask me. Here is a wonderful simple sugar cookie recipe with a hint of orange and vanilla. The dough rolls out beautiful and the cookies stay true to form after they are baked.
And if you want them to look even more christmasy (is that a word??) you can cut out even smaller shapes and melt some hard candy for a stained glass effect. It reminds me of going to church on Christmas eve, and I don't even go to church on Christmas eve!

Basic Decorative Cookie Dough
adapted from Tish Boyle, The Good Cookie

3 1/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 cups unsalted butter (2 1/2 sticks)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1 Teaspoon finely grated orange zest

Whisk together flour and salt and set aside.

with electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg, egg yolk, vanilla, and orange zest and beat until smooth. Add flour a little at a time and mix just until incorporated, be careful not to over mix. wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes.
preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two cookie sheets or use parchment paper.
roll dough out to 1/4 inch on lightly floured surface. Cut dough using cookie cutters of your choice. When cookie sheet is full I put it back in the refrigerator to chill for 10 more minutes. This help it retain whatever shape you chose to use.
Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on size of cookie, until pale golden brown. Transfer to cooling rack and cool completely before decorating.
If you want to do the stained glass cookies crush or chop hard candy of your choice (I used Jolly Ranchers cinnamon flavor hard candy). Fill cut outs in with candy before you bake (be careful not to over fill or the candy will go up onto cookie) and bake as directed. Let cool completely on baking sheet so the candy has time to harden up again.


I Heart Shortbread

>> Tuesday, December 04, 2007

I looooove shortbread cookies. Maybe its the simplicity of them. Comprised of mostly butter and sugar, whats not to love right? And you can add any kind of flavoring you want to them. Nuts, chocolate, dried fruit, a bit of lemon zest, the possibilities are endless!

Well every year I make these Dried Cranberry Shortbread Cookies , from Ms. Martha, for our Christmas Open House and every year there is not one beautifully wrapped package left. Cut into little hearts, I think they make a delightful gift to give any time of the year.

I usually double the recipe and press it into a 9x13 inch pan. This makes for a slightly thicker cookie than what Martha calls for, which I happen to like. Also if you do it this way add a few minutes to the baking time! You can also just cut these into bars so you have less waste, but I think the hearts are so darn cute! I package them in little clear plastic pillows to sell and they look adorable.



>> Sunday, December 02, 2007

So I finally started my cookie baking for the Christmas open house. Its going along pretty well. A few glitches here and there but for the most part successful. One issue is, I have one of those side by side refrigerator and freezers, and the freezer does not hold all that much stuff. Needless to say I have had to empty out the freezer of our real food and fill it with Christmas cookies. And yes, it is already almost full and I am only about halfway through with my baking. So that leaves me to hunt down other people's freezers and hope they don't mind storing some of my Christmas goodies.

Note to self: buy a second freezer for next year!

Anyway, a lot of my cookie inspiration this year came from Tish Boyle's book The Good Cookie. This book is filled with lots of wonderful recipes that really work (and let me tell you, that's not always the case). Some recipes I changed a bit, some I didn't change a thing but the end result was always a winner!

A few tips on cookie making:
~Use best ingredients possible (King Arthur Flour)
~Always make sure ingredients are at room temp.
~Let dough chill and rest in fridge for at least an hour.
~If doing cut out cookies chill cookies after you cut them out but before you bake them. This helps them hold their shape better.
~Let cool completely on wire racks before storing.
~Most cookies freeze beautifully for a couple months.

Chocolate Peppermint Polka Dot Pigs
(and yes they are as cute as they sound!)
Adapted from The Good Cookie by Tish Boyle

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened (3/4 cup)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 lg. egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. peppermint extract
4 oz. good quality white chocolate
1 tsp. shortening
pink paste food coloring
pig shaped cookie cutter
pastry bag

sift the flour, cocoa and salt into medium size bowl and set aside.
Beat the butter until creamy in bowl of electric mixer. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg and mix well. Add vanilla and peppermint extract, scraping sides of bowl as you go. Gradually add flour mixture and mix just until blended. Be careful not to over mix. shape dough into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap for at least 2 hours.
preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
roll dough out on a lightly floured surface to about 1/4 of an inch. Using pig cookie cutter cut out pigs and arrange on cookie sheets about 1/2 inch apart. Reroll scraps and cut out more. Bake cookies for about 8 to 10 minutes until they no longer look wet but should still be soft. Cool on wire racks.
melt white chocolate and shortening in microwave for about a minute. Add pink food coloring to turn mixture a pale pink. Put in pastry bag fitted with plain tip and pipe varied size circles onto pig. Be sure to make a smaller circle for the eye. Let dry completely before packaging or storing.
Makes about 15 cookies (depending on size of cutter).


Tree Hunting And Cookie Baking

>> Tuesday, November 27, 2007

So it is that time of year again where everything goes at warp speed. First its Thanksgiving and planning the perfect meal. Then its time to gear up for Christmas, shopping, decorating, cooking, finding the perfect tree. Cyndee thought I was nuts wanting to go to the tree farm the day after Thanksgiving, but at least its one more thing I can now cross off my list. And I must say our tree looks magical! It really gets me into the Christmas spirit. But it all happens so fast and it all seems to happen at once.

This time of year also brings another particular challenge for me. But this is a challenge I truly enjoy, even if it is a bit stressful! Every year in December I bake and sell beautifully decorated and packaged cookies for the Cheswick Companies Christmas open house. Its a good way for me to make a little extra Christmas money and, more importantly, its a great way for me to be creative and truly enjoy my passion for baking! I love coming up with new ideas, even if they don't always work out. Last year I made cookies in the shapes of buttons and then threaded them onto beautiful paper using licorice. Unfortunately the cookies crumbled as I was threading them, but they didn't go to waste, I just put them on the half price table! I still think its a good idea, I just need to find a cookie dough that can hold up to licorice string!

I have been waiting for my box to arrive from King Arthur Flour so I can start my baking and get the show on the road! If anybody out there does not know about King Arthur Flour, they not only make great flour (the only kind I use) but they also sell quality baking ingredients that make all the difference between a good cookie and a great cookie (or whatever you happen to be baking). So my box finally arrived and I thought I would point out a few of my key ingredients that you really can't go wrong with.

The first thing is Espresso Powder. Espresso Powder turns anything chocolatey into decadence. I use it to make my very popular Double chocolate Espresso cookies. These seem to sell out every year, and with good reason, they are amazing!

This brings me to my next ingredient, Cocoa powder. The quality of the cocoa you use , or any kind of chocolate for that matter, makes a huge difference in the end result of your baked goods. Some recipes call for Dutch process cocoa and some recipes call for Natural cocoa powder, there is a difference so make sure you pay attention to what the recipe calls for. If the recipe does not specify I usually go with Natural cocoa powder, like in the Double Chocolate Espresso Cookies.

Snow White topping is like a confectioners sugar but won't disappear. This is really great for me because I package most of my things in cellophane and it holds up nicely.

Meringue Powder replaces the egg whites in the icing I use to decorate my cookies.

Vietnamese Cinnamon replaces regular cinnamon. Has AMAZING flavor. Also melts much nicer on cinnamon-sugar toast!

Sparkling White Sugar coarser than regular sugar and adds a beautiful sparkle to any decorative cookie.

Real White Chocolate A lot of the white chocolate (chips) you find in the grocery store is not chocolate at all! It really does make a difference using real white chocolate.

And last but not least, Flour. This really is good flour and it makes a big difference in the end result. I can get it at my local grocery store and it really is worth the extra cost.

So those are some of the tricks I have up my sleeve to make beautifully delicious Christmas cookies. In the coming weeks I will be posting some of my favorite cookie recipes. So if your looking for something to bake for the holiday season be sure to check back! And if you live in the area and would like to sample some of my creations or purchase some of the Cheswick Companies beautiful Christmas creations be sure to come to the open house! Details on the Cheswick companies web site. Happy Baking and Tree Hunting!


Made For Each Other

>> Tuesday, November 20, 2007

If your tired of the same old butter cream or chocolate frosting then give this one a try. Its really great on chocolate cupcakes! Come on, who doesn't like chocolate and peanut butter?

Peanut Butter Frosting
adapted from Barefoot Contessa

1 Cup confectioners sugar
1 Cup creamy peanut butter
5 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room Temp.
3/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup heavy cream

Cream together the sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla and salt until really creamy. Add the cream and continue to beat until light and smooth.


Its nice to have friends who bake!

What a treat we had this weekend! Our good friend Anita brought over this amazing Chocolate Espresso Pecan Pie. It was scrumptious! You can find the recipe here, its from Fine Cooking magazine. It is kind of a cross between a really rich fudgy brownie and a pecan pie. What can be better than that? Well maybe a little vanilla ice cream to go with it!

It not only tastes good but it looks good too! The pecans around the perimeter are left whole and make an impressive design.

So if you want to try something different this Thanksgiving, I highly recommend it!

Nice job Anita, and to think it was your first pie crust, could have fooled me!


Just Wanted To Share

>> Thursday, November 15, 2007

I have run across a few things that I thought were pretty neat and just wanted to share them. I think these would make amazing, thoughtful gifts.

The first one is something called TasteBook. TasteBook is a site that lets you create your very own cookbook. You can use recipes from epicurious and from your very own kitchen. I have always dreamed of getting my recipes in some sort of order, wouldn't this be a great way to do it?
The second is a site called Blurb. This site lets you turn your photos or your blog into a hard bound book. Now wouldn't that make a thoughtful gift for someone?
Cyn, are you reading this???



So I haven't been blogging much, sometimes life gets in the way. Its that time of year again, can you believe it? I went to the mall the other day- it was packed with people, get me out of here I thought to myself. And can you believe Santa was already there all set up for this years picture. Life moves to fast sometimes. Cant we just enjoy Thanksgiving without having to think about Christmas for a change?
Thanksgiving is hands down my favorite holiday. Maybe its because we don't have to go insane finding the perfect presents and spending money we don't have. But I think its more about the traditions for me, and of course the food! In our family the food is pretty much the tradition!
From the creamed onions to the scalloped oysters. And then there's the dates stuffed with peanut butter and rolled in sugar, it just wouldn't be Thanksgiving without these.
While staying with the tried and true recipes I am also always trying to find ways to simplify. It can be quite a challenge to get everything to the table at the same time. The past few years I have been making day ahead Mashed Potatoes, given to me by my good friend Jen. They are Delicious. A little more flavor than your typical mashed potato, but much easier to just heat up in the oven than have to worry about mashing them while your trying to carve the turkey! And besides, there's nothing wrong with a little more flavor!

Day ahead mashed potatoes

5lbs. Russet potatoes
1 stick butter
8oz. cream cheese
16oz. sour cream
salt and pepper to taste

Cook potatoes and mash. Add other ingredients and mix together. Put in casserole dish and bake the next day (covered) at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until heated through.
For even more flavor I was thinking some grated horseradish would be a Delicious addition to this dish!
And to end this post I would like to share with you a poem Caleb wrote and is planning to read as we are all so fortunate to sit down to this years feast.

I Like Thanksgiving Day
By Caleb
Thanksgiving is good
Thanksgiving is great
Thank you for the turkey
Thank you for the cranberry sauce
Thank you for for the apple and pumpkin pie
Thank you for all the people at our table
After we eat we will play
oh it is such a nice day
I'm glad to have a lot of my family on this special Thanksgiving Day!


Is Pop Coming Over?

>> Monday, November 05, 2007

There's just something about a popover!
Baking popovers takes me back to a time when things were much simpler, much slower paced. A time when baking and feeding our loved ones was much more a part of our everyday lives. I guess that's why every time I make popovers I feel comforted, I feel like I am baking up a big warm hug for me and my family.
Every time I make them it amazes me how such a simple batter can turn into such magnificence. So impressive to bring to the table these huge puffed up muffins of eggy bread.
I have tried a few different recipes. Some tell you the trick is to start them in a cold oven, some say a warm oven. Well the best recipe I have found says to start them in a hot oven and to heat the popover pan before you put the batter in. There are a few other tricks I have learned along the way.
~ In order to get a good size popover it is best to use a popover pan which is much deeper than a muffin pan. But if you don't want to invest in a popover pan, a muffin pan will work.
~Always make sure you grease your popover pan.
~Make sure the batter is at room temp.
~And no matter what you do DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN! This can result in collapsed popovers! Not to pretty when you are bringing them to the table.
~You can add a few tablespoons of sugar for sweeter popovers. You can also add cinnamon or other spices depending on what you serve them with.
~Its best to serve them right away, hot form the oven. They do tend to deflate after a while.

This recipe is adapted from Bonnie Wolfs book, Talking With My Mouth Full. It is a fun book to read about food stories and also has really great recipes.

Magnificent Popovers

1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
3 large eggs at room temp.
1 1/4 cups milk at room temp.

Preheat oven to 450 F.

Whisk together the flour and salt. In a separate bowl whisk together the eggs and the milk. Add the eggs and milk to the dry ingredients, until it is the consistency of heavy cream. Pour into a liquid measuring cup and let sit on counter for 1/2- 1 hour.
Grease your popover pan and preheat it in the oven for around three minutes, until its very hot. Pour the batter into popover cups until half full. Bake for 20 minutes, then lower the oven to 350F. and bake for 15 to 20 minutes longer. Remember, do not open the oven until they are completely done. They should be beautifully browned and crispy.
The last time I made these for the kids I was trying to get Abraham to try one. You know how two year olds can be about food. And in Abe's case unless it looks like a waffle he wants nothing to do with it.

So I said "Abe, Do you want a popover?"
He just looked at me with this blank stare on his face. "Is Pop coming over?"
"No, Pop came over for breakfast, he was already here today.
A while later, "Abe I really wish you would just try a popover."
Abe's reply, again with a blank look on his face, "When is Pop coming over?"
It literally went like this for a good five minutes until Cyndee and I realized every time we asked him if he wanted a popover he thought we were saying Pop was coming over (Pop is what he calls my dad!) We got a good chuckle out of it and also felt very stupid for not catching on sooner!

Popovers are delicious served with roasted chicken or roast beef. You can use the drippings from the roast beef to grease your popover pans and you have Yorkshire Pudding. They would be wonderful to go with chicken a la king or creamed eggs or tuna (a few of Cyndee's favorites). And like I said in my previous post, popovers are sooo goood served with homemade raspberry jam.


Hot Water Bath Need Not Apply

>> Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Every year at harvest time I always have these high hopes of turning the seasons bounty into something that can be put on a shelf and enjoyed when nothing local is to be found. In other words, canning peaches, making pickles or turning strawberries into jam. I get out my cookbooks, find some amazing recipes, and then get to the part about a water bath and a seal on the jar. Ahh, maybe next year I think to myself. The whole canning process just seems like such a hassle. And it is a hassle when your trying to get dinner on the table or give the kids a bath. Or when your so tired at the end of the day that all you want to do is veg out on the couch in front of Greys Anatomy with a nice hot cup of tea (or bowl of ice cream).
So even though I am not at the point in my life where I can devote hours to preserving the summers best, I can still make one heck of a raspberry jam, and here's how!

Raspberry Jam
adapted from Nigella Lawson

2 cups fresh raspberries
2 cups granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Put the raspberries and the sugar into separate pie plates. Put the pie plates in the oven for about 25-30 minutes until they are both very hot. Carefully remove them from the oven and pour the hot sugar over the hot raspberries. Stir together with a wooden spoon, and as you do the sugar and the raspberries will become one. Pour this amazing jam into clean jars and let cool before storing in the fridge. Alternatively, after mixing the raspberries and sugar you can strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve if you want to remove the seeds.

Sooo good with popovers fresh from the oven. Look for this recipe in my next post!


Raspberries and 'Apples For Jam'

>> Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Roses are Red
and Raspberries are too,
Did you know that they
belong to the same family?
Well they do!

Sorry for the rhyming, just something I wanted to share with you all. I guess that explains why every time I smell a rose it makes me think of raspberries. And don't worry...I am not thinking of becoming a poet!

So you may have figured out by now this post is about raspberries! In particular, the raspberries we picked from Rob and Sally's garden. They were amazingly sweet and juicy and picked at their prime! Cant ask for more than that!

I thought this would also be a good time to tell you about a new cookbook I bought since one of the recipes will be taken from it. Cookbooks to me are like novels or memoirs. One of my favorite things to do is to sit down with a comfy blanket and a good cookbook and read it straight through cover to cover. Well this cookbook is one that you can do that with. It is filled with childhood memories and beautiful pictures and wonderful drawings made by the authors children. Its a cookbook I had to have. And I have to tell you it was love at first sight! The cover had me at hello! I bought the cookbook for the cover alone! Actually, I should say, Cyn and I were just browsing at Borders on a kid free night and she must have seen me longing for it because when we got out to the truck to leave it was sitting on the front seat. I know, pretty nice-huh?

Anyway, its called Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros. The recipes are very kid friendly and not to complicated. The chapters are arranged by colors, I love that. All the red foods are together, the browns, the greens, and so forth. Towards the end of the book there are chapters called monochrome and Multicolor.

The recipe I chose to make is from the chapter called Stripes. It is Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream. The best part about it is you don't need an ice cream maker to make it. I also made Vanilla Shortbread from Nigella Lawsons Forever Summer cookbook. The two together were awesome. Can you say Vanilla shortbread Raspberry Ripple ice cream sandwiches?

Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream
from Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros

Ice cream
1 Cup milk
3 eggs
1/2 cup superfine sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups heavy whipping cream

Raspberry Puree
3 T. superfine sugar
Juice of half a lemon
1/2 cup water
2 cups raspberries

For the ice cream, heat the milk gently in a saucepan. Whisk the eggs, sugar, and vanilla extract together in a bowl until they are smooth and creamy. Just before the milk comes to a boil, remove it from the heat, and whisk a ladleful into the eggs to acclimatize them. Whisk in another ladleful and then pour the eggs and milk back into the saucepan. Turn down the heat to its lowest , and cook for a minute or so, whisking all the time, just to cook the eggs through. Remove from the heat, whisk in the cream, and pour into a bowl that has a lid. Leave to cool completely, whisking now and then while it cools.

Put the lid on the bowl and put it in the freezer. After an hour, remove the bowl from the freezer and give the mix an energetic whisk with a hand whisk or an electric mixer and then put it back in the freezer. Whisk again after another couple of hours. Put it back in the freezer until it is nearly firm.

Meanwhile, make the raspberry puree. Put the sugar, lemon juice, and 1/2 cup of water in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil. Simmer over low hear, for about 5 minutes until it has reduced a bit. Take it off the heat, add the raspberries, and then puree until smooth. Strain the puree through a fine sieve to catch all the seeds. Cool completely.

Swirl the puree through the ice cream with a spoon. Make a few more swirls, folds and pirouettes, but no so many that the puree starts to blend in with the ice cream. Cover the bowl again and return to the freezer to set completely.

Alternatively, pour the ice cream mixture into an ice cream machine and churn following the manufacturer's instructions. When it is ready, transfer to a freezer container, and then add the raspberry puree and make your swirls.

Take out of the freezer a few minutes before serving so that it is not rock hard.

Makes 6 cups

Vanilla Shortbread
From Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson

2/3 cup confectioners' sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, preferably Italian 00
2/3 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons very soft unsalted butter
seeds from 1 vanilla bean
vanilla or ordinary granulated sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 325 F

Put the confectioners' sugar, flour and cornstarch into the bowl of a food processor* fitted with the metal blade and give them a quick blitz (just to save you sifting, which is my most-hated job in the kitchen) before adding the butter along with the vanilla seeds you've scraped out of a bean. (I find the easiest way to do this is by cutting the bean in half across, and then splitting each short half lengthwise and prising out the seeds with the point and edge of a sharp knife. Don't even think of throwing the seeded bits of bean away: stash them in a jar of granulated sugar to use next time a recipe requires vanilla sugar.)

Process again until the soft mixture coheres and begins to form a ball, loosely clumping around the blade. Turn this out onto a jelly roll pan** and press to form an even (or as even as you can make it) layer, using fingers or the back of a spoon, or both. Be patient: I promise you it will fit smoothly.

Using the tip of a sharp knife cut the pressed-out shortbread into fingers. I make two incisions lengthwise - i.e. to form three rows- and then make ten cuts down 0 so that you end up with eleven fingers per row. Obviously, the aim should be to cut at regular intervals, but don't start getting your ruler out. Just go by eye: uniformity is the province of the conveyor belt not of home cooking. Use the tines of a fork to make little holes in each marked-out biscuit: I press down about tree times, diagonally, on each finger.

Now that you've pressed, incised, and punctured, slide the jelly roll pan into the oven an bake for about 20 - 25 minutes, by which time the shortbread will be pale still, but not doughy. Expect a little goldenness around the edges, but shortbread should be not crisp but melting. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes or so, before removing, with a palette knife and your fingers, to a wire rack. Sprinkle with sugar and leave them to cool completely before storing in a tightly lidded tin.

Makes 33 fingers.

*I don't own a food processor so I just blended everything with a pastry blender.

**I used a 13x9" pan.


A Meal Fit For A (Vegetarian) Queen

>> Tuesday, October 16, 2007

We don't often eat a meal with out some kind of meat or poultry. I'm not sure why, its a perfectly healthy way to eat. But after getting back from Rob and Sally's garden, meat was the last thing on my mind. We had so many wonderful (and Perishable) fruits and veggies that I knew if I didn't use them right away I would be sorry.

So this is the amazingly fresh meal we had after getting back from the garden. I cannot explain to you how wonderful everything tasted. So fresh, so tender, so incredible!

We had these huge potatoes that I threw in the oven for 1 1/2 hours at 400 degrees. The skin was crispy and the insides were creamy and golden. I served them with sour cream mixed with fresh chives from my garden and crumbled up bacon bits (OK so we didn't go all vegetarian).

I made a salad using the tender lettuce leaves, steamed green beans and the cherry tomatoes.
I made a basil vinaigrette to go with it and shaved some fresh Parmesan cheese over the top. Mmmmm so good!

But I have to say, the broccoli was the best part. I found this amazing recipe for broccoli on Epicurious. It was so good I'm not sure I will have broccoli any other way from now on.

Broccoli With Toasted Garlic Bread Crumbs

1 1/2 lb broccoli, trimmed and cut into 2- to 3-inch-wide florets (5 inches long)
4 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
1/3 cup olive oil
2/3 cup panko (Japanese coarse bread crumbs)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest

Put 1 inch of water in a 5-quart wide heavy pot, then put a steamer basket inside pot and bring water to a boil. Add broccoli and steam, covered, until just tender, 8 to 10 minutes.Meanwhile, cook garlic in oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until pale golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in panko, pepper, and salt, then increase heat to moderate and cook, stirring occasionally, until crumbs are golden, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in zest.Transfer broccoli with tongs to crumb mixture in skillet and toss to coat.

So that is our meal straight from the garden. I have to say, I wish I could eat like this everyday.

Dessert was pretty good too. So good I thought I would save it for its own post. But I will give you a hint: It has something to do with raspberries!


Squealing Potatoes And Garden Candy

>> Sunday, October 14, 2007

Did you know that a potato squeals when it is stabbed with a shovel? Well according to my uncle Rob it does!

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in October, a little warmer than a typical fall day in New England. The sky was blue and we were ready to pick. We were going to my uncle Robs and aunt Sally's garden. The goal here was to help Rob pick vegetables, teach the boys (and us) a thing or two about gardening and bring a few things home to create with. Sounds like a perfect day to me. And it was!

First thing the boys got to do was collect chicken eggs. They seemed like old pros. Both of them got right in the chicken house and started collecting. We did have to give Abe a few lessons about handling the eggs gently, scrambled eggs are good but not before you are going to cook them! Caleb counted 21 eggs and Abe only cracked 2.
There is nothing like fresh chicken eggs in the morning. The color of the yoke is so much more vibrant than those in a grocery store. Two very fresh eggs poached, whole wheat toast, my favorite breakfast!

Our next lesson, digging potatoes! And yes, part of that lesson was that potatoes squeal when you stab them. Just ask Caleb, he swears he heard it. In order to keep your potatoes from squealing you've got to dig down deep enough as not to harm any of the spuds as they are being harvested. A lesson Caleb will not soon forget!
Here we all are digging potatoes. Cyndee was the official photographer for the day! Thanks Cyn!

Here Caleb is trying his hand at harvesting them himself! Not bad for a beginner! This was around the time Abraham scolded Rob for getting his Mamas shoes dirty! That's my boy, always watching out for his mama!

A pretty good harvest of potatoes that day.

Here's Abraham picking some broccoli shoots. You have to be very focused to get the job done right! You get broccoli shoots after the initial harvest of the broccoli head. They are delicious.

Next we headed for the tomatoes and the raspberries. I think these were the sweetest tomatoes I ever put in my mouth. I cannot remember the official name of them but Rob referred to them as garden candy, a very fitting name. I'm still not sure if Caleb knew he was actually eating a tomato or if he really thought it were candy. Abe on the other hand was not fooled. He would not even take a bite!

Even one of the chickens was able to snag some garden candy.

The raspberries were equally delicious! They nearly melted in my mouth.

Here I am picking some baby lettuce leaves. It was the most tender lettuce I ever ate!

We also picked beans that day and the boys helped Rob harvest a gourd that will dry out and be turned into a bird house or feeder! We had a wonderful day at Rob and Sally's garden. Someday I hope to have a garden as beautiful and as plentiful as theirs. But the best part about it was that I got to take home some of the freshest and tastiest food we have ever had. I will share the wonderful meal we had and all the recipes in my next post.

And now for a little fun after all that hard work!

Thank you Rob for inviting us to your garden. We had a wonderful time!


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