Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cookie Day

For Thanksgiving, most everyone has traditions related to food. Usually they are related to the Thanksgiving meal itself.  For me it's to go over the top and make some fancy dessert. For Joe it's the unfulfilled desire for marshmallows on the candied yams (because I refuse to make it that way). But for my friend Jacey the best part of the holiday is the day after. In her family they have been baking cookies that day, all day, for...I dont even know how long, but it's a long time.

Jacey and I used to be housemates, and cookie day was something that was looked forward to pretty much as soon as the weather got cold and talk turned towards the holidays. The cookies probably never lasted more than a week. Tops. More like only a couple of days.

The best were the peanut butter buckeyes. Those things are awesome.

Anyway, this year I got invited to cookie day. So, I headed down to Jacey's parents' house in Olympia for the afternoon last Friday to hang out, eat cookies and let Lilli work her magic on a grandpa just out of the hospital.  On the way I had a road buddy, Copper, who was also our housemate back in the day. We were pretty excited to see the magic in action.

Once we got there it was immediately clear that I would not be baking any cookies, but instead that I would be following Lilli around while she dismantled all their Christmas decorations. It worked out OK though, since I was totally unprepared and didn't actually bring any cookie recipes to make. I had been thinking of chocolate crinkles, but I'll have to save that recipe for another day.

Copper however, was very well prepared. After a recent trip to Germany, she had been inspired to get traditional wooden cookie presses. She made a dough and kneaded it for a while, then painstakingly pressed each cookie, dusting the press each time. She manually cut around each one, placing them on baking sheets to dry for a bit before baking. In the end I had to leave her there to get a ride back with another friend who was coming back to Seattle a little later than I. The cookies took longer than expected to bake and I had to leave kind of early to attend another Thanksgiving dinner. 

Even though I left early I did not return empty handed. The rest of the ladies had been busy since 8 o'clock that morning and there was lots of things to sample and bring home. I ended up the proud owner of a box piled high with goodies and a whole batch of peanut brittle. (If you ever find yourself with a whole batch of peanut brittle and some vanilla ice cream, please mix them together. You can thank me later.)

Just before leaving, I did finally help by make royal icing and even managed to decorate a couple of sugar cookies, but then had to go back to toddler corralling. 

Today, Tuesday, we have only a few cookies left of what I brought home, and about 1/2 of the peanut brittle. Lilli is partial to the peanut butter blossoms and the ginger cookies, but my favorite are the cardamom crescents, which come from a recipe in a magazine that Jacey's mom had saved. 

We might have drunk a little champagne, discreet tumbler style.

I'm a sucker for cardamom, and they were at once buttery and light. I didn't see how many the recipe made, so you'll just have to make them for yourself and find out!

Cardamom Crescents

2 ½ cups flour
¾ tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp kosher salt
1 ½ cups powdered sugar, divided
1 cup pecans
1 cup unsalted butter, room temp
1 Tbsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350ºF. 

Whisk 1st four ingredients in a medium size bowl and set aside.  In a food processor, pulse the pecans and 1/2 cup of the powdered sugar just until a coarse meal forms, and set aside.

Cream the butter with the vanilla. Add nut mixture, blending until just combined.  Add dry ingredients, blend well (dough will be moist but still crumbly).  Transfer to a work surface and knead until the mixture forms a ball, about 4-5 turns.
Measure 1 rounded tbsp of dough, and form into a ball. Roll into a log about 1½” long.  Gently bend into a crescent shape, pinching ends to taper (cookies may crack slightly).  Repeat with remaining dough, spacing about 1 inch apart on cookie sheets.

While baking, be sure to rotate sheets halfway through. Bake until bottoms are golden, 12 – 15 minutes.

Sift remaining 1 cup powdered sugar into a shallow wide bowl.  Working in batches of about 8 cookies each, roll warm cookies gently in powdered sugar to coat and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Having Given Thanks

I have vivid memories of being at the kids' table when I was a little girl. This would have been at my Grandma Vernice's house for holiday dinners, probably Christmas because we mostly spent Thanksgiving with my mom's family. But still, a holiday dinner nonetheless. 

I remember feeling very grown-up getting to sit in a totally different room from the real grown-ups. We even got out own butter plate. How cool is that? There were probably times when I wished I could be part of the larger group, but thinking back, those feelings are overwhelmed by how special it felt to sit with just my older cousins in charge. 

Our Thanksgiving Day hummingbird visitor.

But now, I can't even remember the last time I was at a family event that had a kids' table. That thought prompted me to set places for the boys this year that were a little apart from the grown-ups, but not too far. I hope they liked it. Even if Nanna sat with them. 

This year was my last small Thanksgiving for a while. While it was nice to have complete control over the food, I've decided it is time to go back to going big. I used to have family thanksgivings that were probably at least 15-18 people, and I kind of miss that. The last couple of years we've had just 5-8. That's a pretty big difference. I guess I'm just cut out from a bolder cloth than that.

As you can imagine, having fed only 8 people this year, 3 of them under 10, we had a lot of food left. So this week I have been using it up and spreading it all out. I wanted to pass on my favorites, just in case you still need some ideas for creative ways to use up those leftovers. 

  • Fried dressing cakes. Just press out some thin patties of leftover dressing/stuffing and fry it up on the griddle or in your favorite skillet.
  • Rose's amazing leftover pizza, which I didn't get to try but did sound pretty swell.
  • Creamed corn with pumpkin puree added to it. Seriously. Just make creamed corn but add pumpkin puree. 
  • Turkey Pot Pie. I made one of these and put it in the freezer. Instead of cream of whatever soup, use gravy and pumpkin puree, and replace the traditional crust with leftover mashed potatoes. Thaw overnight before baking.
  • Turkey Enchiladas en Mole. I used store bought mole sauce, and in our house we omit the cheese and use fake sour cream. Just put some avocados on there and you will never ever know.
  • Turkey Shawarma. This one is tomorrow night's dinner. Joe just about fell over when I suggested this as a meal. I think he would move to Israel just to eat shawarma everyday. No joke. It might be how he convinces me.
  • The obligatory turkey stock, to be used later to make soup or risotto or whatever I can dream up.

To aid in the making of shawarma, pot pie, etc. I shredded all the meat that was leftover as I made the stock. That way I was able to get all the bones and bits into the stockpot, and have all the leftover meat ready to go for making dinners this week. 

I hope your Thanksgiving was something special, no matter how many people were there or what you ate. And now on to the end of the year!

Filming their "Thanksgiving Special"

Thursday, November 24, 2011

One for every year

Our family wrote lists of the things we are grateful for, one for every year you have been on the planet. Here's my list. It's not complete, but at the same time it's really hard to write a list like this without adding a whole bunch of little silly things.

I hope you all have lots of things to be grateful for, because the world sure is full of beauty.

1. Joe, who’s my best friend and whom I love more than I ever thought was possible.

2. Lilli, who has inspired me to be the best I can be, for her.
3. The rest of my family, for being quirky and keeping me on my toes.
4. My and my family’s continued health. 
5. The full use of my body, especially my hands and eyes.
6. My sense of taste, so I can make others happy.
7. Our home.
8. Having enough and then some.
9. My chosen family--they are some of the best friends around.
10. Scourge, who loves me unconditionally and brings us presents.

11. The chickens. Especially Effie, who was such a hero even though we didn’t know it.
12. To live in Seattle, where we have access to fresh and clean anything we need.
13. The ability to travel freely.

14. People who are willing to enact change.
15. To be left unpersecuted for choosing Judaism.
16. Small farms, food artisans, and food advocates.

17. Neighbors who mind their own business.
18. Hummingbird visitors.
19. Accurate histories of important world events.
20. The internet.
21. My sense of humour.
22. Other people’s recipes.
23. Art and music to make our lives more brilliant, and to help us think outside the box.
24. Free speech.
25. The ability to learn from my mistakes.

26. The natural world.
27. Science.
28. Changing seasons.
29. People who are more patient than I am.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Not Your Grandma's Caramel Corn

I am unabashedly in love with popcorn. It's pretty much a perfect food. It's sorta plain on its own so it can be flavored like anything. It's always crunchy. It's easy to make. It's easy to make totally fattening with loads of butter, or it's easy to make very healthy with just a little olive oil.

I also am pretty sure that gingersnaps are another perfect food. They're spicy and sweet, chewy and crispy. They're all pretty and crackly, and the flavor is very complex. They're probably my favorite cookie.

So what happens if you get a totally genius idea. To set gingersnaps and popcorn up on a blind date?

Well, if you add a bottle of champagne, like I did, then they have a love child that is pretty much the most perfectest food in existence. At least, this week.

And then if you have leftover popcorn from making that not-too-big-there's-no-such-thing batch of caramel corn, you make something that is even better. Because you have the ingredients, and a buddy who is willing to get a little crazy with them. You know, the buddy whose idea it was to add rosemary and maple syrup to her caramel corn, because she's also a genius.

It will also be spicy and sweet, and sorta floral too. That's the cardamom talking. But when you taste the chipotle, then you know you have a winner. The chipotle is like a ninja.

You can put in all in bags if you want, but chances are it won't last long enough to get stale. Consider that your warning.

If you have a stash of popcorn kernels and some brown sugar and butter, you too can make a delicious snack that will make your house smell good until the next day. 

Variations on Caramel Corn
makes about 8 quarts

Old Fashioned:

8 or so quarts air or oil popped popcorn, plain
2 cups light brown sugar
1 cup butter
1/2 cup corn syrup
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 250ºF. Bring the sugar, butter, corn syrup and salt to a boil while stirring. Once it's really going, let it boil undisturbed for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add the baking soda and vanilla. Stir well (careful, it might foam up) and pour over popcorn. Coat completely and spread over sheet pans. Bake for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Let cool, break up any big chunks, and devour store in an airtight container.

Gingersnap Caramel Corn:

Replace the corn syrup with blackstrap molasses.
Replace light brown sugar with dark brown.
With the baking soda, add the following:
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
Omit vanilla.
For extra ginger kick, add a cup of finely diced candied ginger to the caramel just before pouring over the popcorn.

Cardamom Chipotle Caramel Corn:

Follow the recipe for Old Fashioned, but add 1 (heaping) tsp cardamom and 3/4 tsp chipotle when you add the baking soda.

Rosemary Maple Caramel Corn:

Replace the corn syrup with grade B maple syrup.
When combining the popcorn and caramel, add about 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh rosemary as you stir, or more to taste.
Omit vanilla.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Getting Ready

Fall is definitely a food lover's season. I mean, along with summer and spring and winter of course.

In this crisp, cool season, there is much to look forward to as a person who enjoys spending time in the kitchen and at the table. There is the promise of a warm kitchen when the oven is on to bake or roast. There is the beauty of a steamed up window when you are cooking a hearty soup or a big pot of pasta sauce.

There is the smell in the air when you step outside, the crunch of leaves underfoot. The dirt under your fingernails when you put your garden to bed, and the warm mug that awaits you when you step back inside. 

Maybe all of these things aren't directly food or eating related, but they all play a role in how we experience the world around us, and they all, eating included, help us to connect with that world. 

In our family, keeping kosher is also meant to help us connect in a deeper way, through our food, to our environment, and of course, to God. But you can do that even if you don't keep kosher. You can do it just by being present as you savour a meal, or enjoy a brisk walk in the glow of a late afternoon. 

As you prepare your tables for the feast that many of us will be sharing with loved ones next week, take some time to remember those connections. Try for a day or a week to take them out of the I-take-these-things-for-granted closet in the back of your mind, and embrace them. 

It will make the food taste even better.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Sweet Weekend

It's funny how when autumn comes to the NW, people really get good at holing up inside in the best sort of ways. Movies, too many library books, and of course, tasty food. I am totally guilty of this. I think I have about 4 library books right now, which is way more than I can read in 3 weeks. Good thing now I have a lot of treats to go with. Hmmm...

Ok time to be serious. One thing Seattlites are good at this time of year (at least some of us) is sharing what we have. 

Today I got to take part in Will Bake For Food, the second annual even to help raise money and nonperishable donations for the Seattle and King County Emergency Feeding Program. It was very successful, and it was even more fun. 

There were so many amazing bakers and bloggers in attendance, and of course a lot of very kind patrons. Some of whom were so excited to get there and get goodies that they were lining up well before 11 o'clock, the official start time of the event. We got to schmooze and check out each others wares before the public started to show up, which The Jennys (from here and here) finished up organizing and getting everybody set up. And, at the end we got to swap out any leftover treats from the ones we had been eyeing along the way. 

This was not leftover. It went rather quickly.

I tried way too many goodies, and I might have come home with more than I started with (well maybe not that much considering I brought 4 dozen cookies and a whole bundt cake, but lets just say it was like a gourmet second Halloween). When the boys asked me if we could have dessert after dinner tonight, I almost couldn't even answer I was so sweeted out. Good thing I had a big salad with dinner.  (Tomorrow I'm going to do even more balancing by taking a class at The Pantry to learn how to make amazing pizza a la Brandon Pettit from Delancey. Yay!)

Of the two things I brought, the one that most intrigued people was the Chai Spice Snickerdoodle cookies. The conversation I had with myself when I tried them (I had to eat the ugly ones, quality control) was pretty much this:

"Shut up. These cookies are awesome"

And then there wasn't any more talking because I had told myself to shut up. Basically so I could, you know, eat more cookies. 

That's a wrap.
My "sales" force.

So here is the recipe, promised to a few lucky folks today who got to pick up cookies from me in person, and gladly shared with all of you. And no, drinking a cup of sweet, milky chai tea with these cookies would not be overkill. I promise.

Chai Spice Snickerdoodles
(makes about 2 dozen, using a # 30 scoop)

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temp
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract

for the sugar to roll the cookies in:

1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp each all the above spices, omit allspice

Preheat oven to 400ºF. This might sound crazy for a cookie, but it will allow the cookie to bake without getting too brown and crispy. Trust me. Put one rack in the top 1/3 and one in the bottom.

Whisk together all the dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar together until very light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla, mixing completely between each addition, scraping down the bowl as necessary. 

Add the flour mixture in 2 or 3 batches, making sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl between each addition. Mix just until combined.

Scoop. You may need to chill your dough for a bit if, unlike me, your kitchen is actually warm.  Roll each cookie completely in the sugar mixture before placing on parchment lined baking sheets, just 6 to a sheet. Bake about 6 minutes then rotate and bake for 6 more, adding a minute or two to the end if they are still very soft in the middle. They will not brown very much, which is just what you want for them to stay chewy. Cool for a couple minutes on the pan before transferring them to a rack to cool completely. Or not, because you probably won't be able to wait that long.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

It Comes Natural

I don't think I'm a natural born writer. I've never been one to keep a journal, and even keeping up a blog once a week or so is tough for me. I just never feel like I need to write. Take pictures or eat a cookie, sure, but writing is something I have to put a little effort into.

But there are things I can say I am a natural at. I am a natural blonde. I am a naturally good swimmer. I have a natural green thumb. And, I like to think that I am naturally gifted with a sense for what tastes good together, and also for having a sense for what a set of ingredients will taste like once they are combined. This last week a friend commented that he thinks I have really honed that sense of taste, which was a very sweet compliment (Thanks Mike!) and also got me thinking about if I am using that skill to it's fullest potential. 

I want to hope that I am, but in reality I probably am not. I mean, are any of us really using all of our skills to their fullest potential? Not if we are being honest with ourselves.

But the good news is that that means we have potential that is untapped, right?

I am good at using my skill at eating chocolate to it's fullest potential.

I don't mean to give a pep talk, but I guess I am feeling like I need one myself. I have recently had a lack of passion for what I do with food. It's such a big part of my life, both for pleasure and necessity, as well as what I do for a living, that I guess I have lost a little bit of the magic. Lately, It's been hard for me to get excited about food. As they say, this is probably a #firstworldproblem, but it's my problem and it has been putting me into a sort of melancholy. 

So to help me get out of my funk and to hopefully get me out of my "I'd rather stay home and not talk to any strangers" comfort zone a little bit, I'm going to be baking for a good cause. Next weekend is the Will Bake For Food bakesale, and I volunteered to bake some goodies and hang out at the sale for a while. There will be lots of other, much more well established bloggers (that's where the nervousness about talking to strangers comes in!), and everyone will be contributing something delicious for you to take home. 

This past Friday I ran a test for what I thought I might make and while it was very good, I think I'm going skip it in favor of something a little less fussy. It was a twist on something I dreamed up a few Thanksgivings ago--a dark, creamy pumpkin ganache tart--that turned out to be just too rich for it's own good. I wanted to make it lighter and less intimidating. So, I turned it into a mousse, letting those amazing taste buds guide my stirring hand. 

I hope I get my mojo back soon, because it makes me feel a little heartbroken to be missing it at this time of the year, when so much revolves around breaking bread with others. In the meantime, I guess I'll take someone's (my husband's) sage advice and "fake it till I make it."

Pumpkin Mousse Pie
serves 8-12

For the filling:
11 oz ganache, melted but cooled
1 pumpkin puree
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup sugar
pinch salt

For the crust:
1 cup hazelnuts, oven toasted and skins removed.
1 cup cake or cookie crumbs, toasted. Graham cracker crumbs would also work.
2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 cup melted salted butter

For this recipe you will need an 8" or 9" springform pan.

For the crust: 
Preheat oven to 375ºF.
In a food processor, grind the hazelnuts until they resemble crumbs. Add the cake or cookie crumbs and the sugar and pulse to combine. Pour into a bowl and mix in the butter. I like to use regular salted butter for this, I it helps the hazelnuts a bit. You can use unsalted if you prefer. Press into your pan and using a small measuring cup or juice glass, press some of the crust partially up the sides of the pan, making a thin crust. Bake for about 20 minutes, and let cool completely while you mix the filling. 

For the filling:
When the crust is ready, assemble your mousse. Stir the pumpkin and cinnamon into the ganache. You might want to add more cinnamon if you really like that flavor combo, as what I have here is very delicate. Whip the cream to a soft peak then add the sugar and salt and whip till it holds a firm peak. Next, fold in a bit of the ganache mixture. Then pour the cream mixture back into the ganache and fold until you see no streaks of either cream or ganache. Pour it into your mold, and level with a small offset spatula or the back of a spoon. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

A note about the ganache: I often have ganache in the fridge leftover from other baking projects and this was one of those times. If you aren't the type to have such a decadent leftover, you can make it from scratch easily using a recipe I'll give you below. We like to warm it a little bit and smear it on a graham cracker as a sweet treat, or put it into heated milk to make a delicious hot chocolate...

Semi-sweet ganache:

10 oz good quality semi-sweet chocolate, chopped into pieces about the size of an almond
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 Tbsp unsalted butter

Place the chocolate and butter into a heat safe bowl. Using a heavy bottomed pan, heat the cream just to a very light boil and immediately pour over the chocolate. Let it sit for several minutes and then with a whisk, slowly incorporate the chocolate and cream. Start in the middle of the bowl and use very small movements, gradually working your way to the outer edge of the bowl. This helps to minimize the incorporation of air into the ganache for a smoother finished product, which is helpful if using it as a filling or icing.