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Archive for December, 2009

Waving Goodbye to ’09

As this year draws to a close, I can’t help but pause to reflect on the ups and downs it has contained for me.  Echoing my first post here on this blog, it was the exploration of my hobbies/pastimes/loves that served to sweeten the pleasures of this year and temper the tough times for me.  Everything posted here (and much more!) has kept me sane and joy-filled.  I would never have survived the difficulties of unemployment or the challenges of graduate school that in many ways defined my 2009 if I did not continually take up cooking, baking, reading, crafting, and other things I love.  One of my New Year’s resolutions is most certainly to continue this exploration of these things that I am passionate about–in other words, I hope to never forget love.

Wait!  I’m not done there, I can’t close this post without mentioning some things about family.  I had a wonderful Christmas (except for getting a very bad cold!) and many parts of my holiday and vacation in Connecticut involved food and creative things prepared with love by family.  I realize for sure that this little blog of mine wouldn’t exist without the creative inclinations of my family.  With that, I have to mention some of the food and crafts I am referring to.

When I arrived at my family’s home, I was taken aback by the huge wreath made out of Douglas fir tree branches, bows, and Christmas balls.  Also adorning the house and garage were two swags made out of fir trees.  Credit for the decor goes to my Mom and Dad.

Above, you can see my sister made some yummy buckeye cookie/candies (plenty of recipes can be found on the internet for those if you are interested).

Here, I have some photos of the sticky buns I made for Christmas morning….it was my first time making them and it won’t be my last, they were SO delicious!!!  

 The recipe is from my Brother Juniper cook book and is rather lengthy, so I won’t type it out here.

Also, I got a wonderfully beautiful handmade purse from my Aunt who was my Secret Santa this year!!  I left it in CT by accident so I can’t show a picture but will in the future.  And, I have to mention that for the umpteenth year in a row, my Grandmother cooked a ham for her family despite the fact that she is an almost life-long vegetarian!!  That takes love for sure.

And here I leave you with some snapshots of my family’s home, all decked out for Christmas–wouldn’t be complete without the little pup Hazel.


 

 Happy New Year!

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I’ve been thinking about butter lately.  Well it IS the holidays after all!  Ok so maybe not everyone immediately thinks holidays=butter.  But then again, not everyone loves to bake.  Oh and some people bake with butter substitutes.  Not me, I absolutely love butter.  And I’m not talking land o’ lakes butter–I mean good, yummy butter.  I love to use Kate’s Homemade Butter because it’s made with fresh organic milk by a small family farm.  At Whole Foods it is one of the cheaper good butters.  I understand why people don’t like to use butter in everything or eat it on everything; many of my family members have very high cholesterol and need to use butter substitutes.  That being said, I think maybe Americans have become too scared of butter.  I’m not a nutritionist, but if Julia Child (who loved butter and used it in absolutely everything!) lived up into her 90s, I think it can’t be the bad guy many people think it is!

Whether or not you decide to use it on your toast every morning, one place you simply cannot skimp on the butter is in baking.  Surely I know there are many lovely recipes that use applesauce or other butter substitutes.  However, if you are making a beautiful, special dessert that you want to have a sublime taste, I believe you must must use butter (good butter at that).  Oh and VERY important about baking with butter–if a recipe calls for softened butter, you really must not soften it in the microwave.  If you can, take it out of the freezer/fridge ahead of time and set it on the counter.  I read an article in the NY Times once about how the structure of butter changes if you melt it in the microwave.  Unless the recipe calls for you to actually melt butter, try to resist the urge to soften it in the microwave.

So there is a point to all this butter talk.  Recently, I’ve made some divine cookies.  Rugelach for my book club and (gluten-free) Russian tea cakes for my roommate who cannot eat gluten.  Both use loads of real butter and both are relatively easy to master.  I hope you’ll consider adding them to your holiday cookie repertoire.  Here are some pictures and the recipes:

Rugelach [from Mollie Katzen’s Enchanted Broccoli Forest]

(This is a Jewish cookie that often shows up around Christmas–this is my second year making them with this recipe and I love it!  Instead of using cream cheese, Mollie Katzen uses cottage cheese which seems weird but tastes delicious.  You won’t even miss the cream cheese!!  To make it a tiny bit healthier, I use a bit of whole wheat flour in addition to the white.)

 For the dough:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks butter), room temperature
  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 1 1/4 cup white four
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt

For the filling:

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup minced nuts (I used a combo of almonds and walnuts)
  • 1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, group to a coarse meal 

1. Slice up butter into tiny pieces and place in a large bowl with the rest of the ingredients for the dough.  [If you have a food processor, you could actually mix this up in it, but since I don’t……] Mix the ingredients with an electric beater or a fork until it is somewhat smooth.  Toward the end, I use my hands to get the butter worked in evenly.
2.  Divide the dough into 4 equal parts and roll each into a ball.  Wrap in plastic wrap and store in the fridge for at least an hour (you can keep it there overnight if you like).
3.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Mix up the filling in a small bowl while you wait for dough to chill.
4.  ***Work on one ball of dough at a time, leaving the others in the fridge while you work.  Roll the dough out into a circle that is about a 1/4th an inch thick on a clean counter that is well-floured. 
5.  Sprinkle the filling all over the dough and then make 4 diagonal cuts in the dough so that you end up with 8 triangles.  Working from outer edge to inner edge, roll each piece up and place on an ungreased cookie sheet.
6. Repeat with other dough and bake for about 25 minutes until the cookies are slightly browned, cool for 10 minutes before enjoying.

***Note:  Alternatively, you could roll each dough ball into a rectangle and spread the filling.  Then roll the dough up lengthwise into a log and slice pieces of cookie.  I have made it both ways and although these pictures are for the latter version, I actually prefer the former.  Something about the soft middle of the crescent shaped cookies makes me happy.  But you should experiment for yourself and see which way you prefer!

 This next recipe came from Living Without, a magazine for people with food allergies.  Because the original recipe is dairy and nut-free, and my roommate is only allergic to gluten, I adapted it.

(Note: These are sometimes called Mexican Wedding Cakes, but growing up I always knew them as Russian Tea Cakes so I refer to them as that.  Regardless of what you call them, they are delicious and one of my very favorite cookies!!)

Russian Teacakes

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature 
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup powdered sugar (plus about 1 cup more for decorating)
  • 2 cups all purpose flour–if gluten free use a gluten-free all purpose mix
  • 1 cup nuts, coarsely ground (I used walnuts, you could use pecans or almonds or a combo)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. xanthan gum if gluten free

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cream butter and vanilla extract together with a metal spoon, mix until smooth.  Add in the powdered sugar, flour, and nuts (and the xanthan gum if doing the gluten free version).  Mix with your hands until just combined.
3.  Roll into 1 inch balls and bake on ungreased cookie sheet for 10-12 minutes (until just slightly brown).  Remove from oven and let cool for about 10 minutes.  Place additional powdered sugar in a bowl and roll each ball in sugar until coated.  Let stand for a few minutes and roll each ball in sugar once more.

Have fun with your holiday baking and don’t forget to use real butter! 

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    Season’s Greetings

    It’s that time again.  We are in the midst of Advent and Christmas is right around the corner.  I know there are many people who do not celebrate Christmas and many partake in a non-religious way and I am definitely respectful of that.  But I think everyone can agree that the essential, beautiful messages of Christmas are needed more now than they ever have been.  As our nation continues to escalate the wars we are involved in, as children in the cities we live in continue to encounter violence every day, and as friends and neighbors suffer because of the economy, I think everyone needs the hope, light, peace, and faith of the Christmas message.

    As for me, I have always loved this time–the waiting, the expecting, the hoping.  I love the preparation for the big day.  For me, it is more than just the material preparation.  I make sure to take extra time each day for myself–to enjoy quiet reflection.  It is that time that helps counter some of the commercial craziness that inevitably comes with Christmas.  This is not to say I don’t enjoy some of the material preparation!  I have a mini-tree in my living room, a pine wreath hanging in the hall, and a snowman angel on our table. 

    Also, I am currently reading the Martha Stewart Living Christmas Cookbook.  I absolutely love it!!  It was an early Christmas present from my mother and I’ve been up at night reading it in bed.  This is more than just a Christmas cookbook–yes, it has beautiful, wonderful, yummy holiday dishes and treats, but it is much much more.  Any kind of holiday party food you could want is all there in one book.  My only problem is that I can’t decide which recipes I want to make.  I have a few holiday parties coming up and on Friday I am hosting book club here with my roommate so I do have some opportunities to test out the recipes.   

    I will keep you all updated as my Christmas preparations progress.  Aside from making food for parties, I will be making treats to give as gifts and making some crafts for loved ones and tonight I am working on some holiday cards. 
    How are you preparing for the holidays?  Whatever you do, don’t forget to take time for yourself and remember why we do all of this preparation in the first place.  Enjoy!

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    Happy (belated) Thanksgiving everyone!!  I hope yours was as relaxing as mine.  I enjoyed some time in Connecticut.  It was nice to be out of the city.  I never thought the suburbs were quiet until I lived in big cities.  Now every time I am getting ready for bed in the room I grew up in, the quiet is so pervasive it is almost difficult to sleep. 

    Over the holiday, I had the pleasure of introducing one of my roommates (who is originally from San Fransisco) to a Connecticut Thanksgiving with my family.  Since she is allergic to gluten, we decided to make a special gluten-free dessert to share.  Lo and behold, the December issue of Martha Stewart Living had a recipe for Pumpkin Flan.  The actual recipe comes from the book Mad Hungry by Lucinda Scala Quinn. 

     The result was a beautiful, spicy, sweet creation I think you will enjoy. 

     Now, don’t let this seemingly fancy dessert fool you!!  Here is the recipe, it is actually quite simple and your guests will be more than impressed. 
    1/2 c granulated sugar
    3/4 c light-brown sugar
    1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
    1/2 tsp ground ginger
    1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
    1/4 tsp salt
    1 cup cooked pumpkin puree
    1 1/2 c half-and-half or cream (I used low fat half-and-half)
    5 large eggs, beaten
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    -Preheat oven to 350. 
    (Ok now comes the only complicated part, more on this below)
    -Put the granulated sugar in a pie plate, set on the center rack in the over, and bake until the sugar is caramelized 8-12 minutes.  Swirl to cover the bottom of the pie plate with the caramel.
    -In a large bowl, whisk together the rest of the dry ingredients.  Then stir in the pumpkin.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the half-and-half, eggs, and vanilla.  Then blend the egg mixture into the pumpkin mixture.
    -Set the pie plate with the caramel bottom in a large roasting pan then pour the custard over the caramel.  With care, pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to reach halfway up the side of the pie plate.
    -Bake until custard is set, about 1 hour and 10 minutes then cool and set in the fridge to chill.  Once it has cooled off, run a knife around the outside edge of the flan and invert it onto a plate. Scoop out and serve with whipped cream.
     So, about that complicated part….carmelizing the sugar took much much longer than the 8-12 minutes from the recipe.  I’m not sure if the oven needed to be higher or if the recipe was wrong.  I also have to admit that I wasn’t feeling well while we were making the recipe, so a lot of the work fell to my roommate.  She probably knows more about what happened with the sugar.  Anyhow, eventually it worked out but it was tricky so just note that when you try it.
    I hope you enjoy this as much as we did!! 

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