2010/02/25

Nature's Snowglobe

I can't complain about the very unusual winter we have been having.  Yes, it has been a very cold winter; but the lack of snow has been a little refreshing.  So, of course on the day I have to go pick up my shiny, clean new car we get the first significant snow fall of the year...  The good news is that the car handled the weather really well (even better than the Subaru).  But, now that I have had my obligatory grumble, I must admit the heavy mess was very pretty. 

A shot of the back deck...


Pretty snow...


Snow hoops, anyone???


More snow on the trees...


Hey, I had my piece done...


No picnics today, eh?


No, the tree isn't falling over - I took this picture at an angle.


This snow was so heavy, that it clung to everything.


One more month of "winter"!

2010/02/22

Labors of Love

When my mom asked me when I was going to write again, I had absolutely no intention of doing this tonight.  But she put the bug in me, so this one's for you, mom. 

Aaaahhhh.  February - the month of love.  XOXOXOXO.  Showing people that you care takes many different forms.  Some people say it best with words.  Others say it with flowers or gifts.  All of those things can be beautiful expressions of feeling.  Hey - I am a girl...  I have no problems with a bouquet or a pretty bauble.  And of course, like everyone else I need to hear the words once in a while. 

I believe that the means of expression has to fit the nature of the person giving it.  There are two things about myself that I hold to be true: 1) I am a practical person at heart (I know this may surprise some, but at the base of almost every decision I make there is usually some practicality-based logic at the heart of it all); and 2) a person's time is their most valuable asset.  As a result, when I want to express my care or appreciation for someone, I find that I tend to lean toward things that reflect these two things. 

So this V-Day, instead of buying flowers or gifts, I said it with food.  In my world FOOD = LOVE.  Food nurtures and sustains the body; time and thought are required to prepare food.  If time is precious, then gift of something that requires time is like giving a piece of yourself.  I know it's a little goofy - but its "Cher logic".  (OOOHHH, I just made an "IF,THEN" statement and used the word logic in the same sentence, I feel smartical).
 
A couple of weeks ago, the KAF website was showcasing a killer recipe for Apple Walnut Bread.  Whenever I see an interesting recipe involving apples, I think of my momma & poppa.  Hmmm.  My parents make me think of apples...  Anyhoo, my V-Day Sunday baking started off with a few loaves of bread.  (And some pecan sticky rolls in the oven). 

MMMM.  When a dough looks like this, you know it's gonna be goooodddddd. 
  
And it was...  Crunchy on the outside.  Chewy on the inside.  And absolutely killer when dredged in some Cheese Fondue.  (Since I skipped lunch, I noshed on a loaf while making dinner). 

For V-Day dinner, I embarked on a true culinary adventure. I was brave.  I was bold.  I went French.  Boeuf Bourguignon was the order of the day.  So while my apple-walnut bread was rising, I took an early morning jaunt to the grocery store.  Now, anyone that knows me well knows that I don't like to approach people and ask for anything, but I was making "the Boeuf" for Pete's sake and it had to be just so.  Nothing less would do.  I was on a mission.  Onions, check.  Carrots, check.  Celery, check.  Parsley.  NOT CHECK.  That was some sad looking parsley and it was not worthy of my dinner.  Over by the bananas, I saw my victim the produce dude...  I "nicely" explained how his wilted herbs were not fit for consumption and asked him how he planned to remedy this horrendously tragic situation.  He mumbled something in response as he ran away.  And just as I thought that was the last I would ever see of him, he came back with a whole brand-new box of parsley and let me pick!  That was kind of fun.  Well played, Cher.  Well played. 

On to the meat counter for three pounds of boneless chuck.  Nothing even close.  "Excuse me, Mr. Butcher."  "Yes ma'am, what can I help you with?"  "I need some chuck and I don't see any out."  "What do you need?"  "Oh, three pounds...". "Give me a few minutes and I will cut that up for you."  Sure enough - meat cut to order.  And she was beautiful.  Lesson learned: it pays to be picky...  Mission accomplished, it was time to cook.  I didn't get any pictures, but it truly was a thing of beauty.  So, in closing, I have only two things to say 1) It was a lot of work.  2) It was goooooddddd.  I might even still have some stuck to my chin after sucking the bowl clean. 

A decadent dinner deserves a decadent dessert.  I had picked up a Chocolate Indulgence Cake mix up at the King Arthur Store and this seemed like the perfect end to an excellent dinner.  I was already "in for a pound" (or twenty) after the Boeuf Bourguignon, so why not go for it?  I wish I had a picture of the inside, because this was the creamiest, chocolatiest dessert I have ever had.  Topped it with homemade vanilla whipped cream & fresh raspberries.  #1 child said it was a hit...  Personally, I could have rolled in it. 


 As a side note, yesterday I remade Woody's Lemon Luxury Cake (from this post).  It was the only thing on my docket Sunday, so I even went whole-hog and made the frosting that was meant to go with it.  TA DA!  Can you say butter????  I think by the time I was through, I used a whole pound of butter.  The "buttercream" frosting used about 20 tablespoons of butter - I kid you not.  It was probably one of the best frostings I have ever made, but a little went a long way.  I made the cake for a co-workers birthday and I must say that I felt pretty accomplished bringing it in.
 

In other news of note, Union won both their home games this weekend - bringing their national ranking up to #15 (2nd in ECAC).  Two more games this coming weekend before play-offs.   


That's all she wrote for tonight!

2010/02/13

Cher (heart) King Arthur Flour

I know that many girls dream of bouquets of flowers for Valentine's Day, but my happy place involves flour -- lots and lot of flour!  No roses for this girl (not that I wouldn't appreciate them if they came my way...) Rye, Wheat, White Whole Wheat, Pumpernickel, Graham, Durum Semolina...  Those are the things that dreams are made of.  Oh, and unique ingredients, pans, cookbooks, other kitchen paraphenalia...  Ah.  Just thinking about it puts a goofy grin on my face. 

I probably don't even have to mention that the best source of so many of these things is King Arthur Flour.  Which "JUST HAPPENS" to be in Norwich, VT.   Which "JUST HAPPENS" to be across the river from Hanover, NH.   Which "JUST HAPPENS" to be the home of Dartmouth College.  Who "JUST HAPPENS" to be in ECAC Div I Hockey with Union College.  Who "JUST HAPPENED" to be playing Union College on their home ice two days before Valentine's Day.  Wink, Wink, Nudge, Nudge...  It was fate, I tell you.  It was fate. 

You should know that this has been on my list of "things I really, really, really want to do" for a very long time.  I have made a couple of subtle hints; but never really pushed it, knowing that life was just a little too crazy and it wasn't in the stars.  I was getting pretty bummed that my secret wish just wasn't gonna happen.  But a few days ago, my almost extinguished wish was restored and the stars started lining up again.  I told you it was fate.  On Thursday, the stars finally finished lining themselves up and I found out my Valentine's present was going to be the granting of my wish - 1 Union Hockey game + 1 trip to King Arthur Flour.  YEAH! 

We packed up the girl into the car and made the drive.  Three hours later (angel music & heavenly voices in the background), we had arrived.  Walking into the store was like finding the holy grail.  Walls and walls of my favorite baking goodies.  Things only seen on the pages of the catalogue were now in front of me for the touching and taking (with buying, of course).  Oh!  And they had a bakery.  A bakery I tell you. Goodies freshly baked by the "King Arthurians"in the King Arthur Flour bakery.  I could have just layed down on the flour and wept with joy.  Really, I could have.  It was better than a trip to Disneyland.  (P.S. The reason that there are no pictures of the girl is that she had the camera.  I had bolted out of the car and into the store before the car stopped rolling...)

Of course I walked out with a few bags of goodies and some treats from the bakery.  DUH!  And, of course I was plotting how I could get back there one more time before leaving Saturday morning.  (I wasn't very secretive about that desire - in fact, I was down right blunt!).  I know that flour & college hockey isn't every girls dream Valentine's Day experience, but for this girl it was one of the most thoughtful presents ever.  The "boy" and & the girl were both very accommodating of this girl's pilgrimage. 
I know that I haven't said much about the Union game yet.  That gets a post all of its own - I felt each topic deserved it's own special treatment.  For now, I am signing off.  There are some bags of flour sitting in my kitchen dying to get turned into something.  It feels like Christmas!
    

2010/02/09

Editor's Note

The dabbler apologizes for the improper use of certain words during her last post...  (as in substituting "to" for "too" or "morale" for "moral".

My head is hung low.  I realize that I was raised better than this and there is no excuse for my sorry(ier) butchering of the English language.  Alas!  You would think I was the daughter of a scullery maid and not an English teacher.  (Head drops lower). 

I still blame it on the lemons. 

2010/02/08

Lemons forced me down the path of insanity. Yes, Lemons...

First things first...  Union won both Friday & Saturday and regained their 1st place ECAC ranking (three-way tie for first, but we'll take it).



Disclaimer:  Although the story you are about to read is true, it could be said that some "artistic license" may have been used for effect.  Just clearing the air on that one...

It started innocently enough.  This journey down the path of insanity that I took yesterday.  Somehow, several worlds collided and I was way down the path before I even knew what hit me.  I have been trying to sort it all out and frankly, it had to be the lemons fault.  I can think of no other logical explanation.  So take a deep breath before going any further - you're going to need it.   

This story has multiple starting points...  One of my recent cookbook acquisitions is Rose Levy Berenbaum's Roses Heavenly Cakes.  I have been dying to try something from this collection & have been "patiently" waiting.  And waiting.  And waiting.  And waiting for the right opportunity.

Flash forward a few weeks....  I was reading Soup Addict's Blog and developed a bad case of pan envy, which unleashed my latent desire to enter into the world of tart making...  From that point on, I knew that a trip to Williams Sonoma was inevitable.  (By the way, the inevitable did happen.  I will spare you the gory details, but they got me...  hook, line and & sinker.  Oh, it felt soooo good.)

Flash forward a few days....  It was Sunday morning & I knew I "kneaded" to make some sandwich bread. 

Flash forward one more time...  During my Sunday grocery shopping the citrus section attacked me.  I swear I never saw it coming.  Those lemons kept jumping off the case and right into my cart.  By the legions, I say.  Uno, dos, tres, quatro, sinco, seis, seite, ocho.  I don't remember inviting them into my cart, but when I got home there they were in all their lemony glory.  Such beautiful little babies just waiting to be turned into something un-chocolately (I must be in the middle of my post-holiday chocolate revolt). 

Now it is 2:30 on Sunday afternoon and I have "Ideas"B-I-G ideas.  (I think there was some football game or something on that was occupying most of the rest of the world - I guess I was still under my rock).  I will have you know that I used my special brand of Cher logic to justify every insane decision made from this point on.  But in retrospect, I blame the lemons - pure & simple. 

It kind of went like this.  As I mentioned, I "kneaded" sandwich bread, so started on making KAF Classic White Bread Recipe.  No big deal - a few minutes to get this going then it is basically all rising & baking time from that point on.  I am 'da pro.  I can do this in my sleep.  Snooze, snooze, yawn, yawn.  Bread is rising, I need a real challenge.  Besides, it's only 2:45ish at this point, I have tons of time...

OOOOOOOOOOOOOHHH!!!  I know!  I have shiny new tart pans (both the long skinny one that resulted from bad case of pan-envy and some itty bitty baby tartlet pans that were just so cute I couldn't leave them sitting there on the shelf - it would have been criminal).  Oops, sideroad again - sorry.  The tart pans were just begging to be tried out, so I dragged out my handy, dandy cookbooks and started making some dough (pastry dough, that is).  One thing should be noted at this point.  All my past attempts at pie crusts have flopped miserably, so I am not sure where this new-found courage to make the crust came from.  But it was there and I was fearless

I found this recipe for Sweet Pastry Dough on Gourmet.com and forged ahead.  I must say that food processors have done many wonderful things to help pastry-challenged chicks like myself.  At this point, I was thinking I can do this!!!  I perservered, got the crust going (double recipe nonetheless) and into the refrigerator.  HMMM.  I started to think about what could go in the pastry.  But I had plenty of time to worry about that later...  Easy, peasy. 

Up until this point, I had everything under control and if I could have left well enough alone, my story would be waaayyy shorter.  But alas - leaving well enough alone is not something I do.  So I had another bright idea!  LEMONS.  I could make a lemon cake.  It was only 3:30ish.  My dough was rising; my crusts were in the fridge.  How difficult could it be to slip in a cake?  And I was really having a hankering for Woody's Luxury Lemon Cake from RLB's Rose's Heavenly Cakes.  At this point, my sub-conscious was fully aware of what I was getting into, but was so bound by denial that there was no saving me. 

For those of you who have never had the pleasure, please let me "learn you" something...  As wonderful as this cookbook is, it is not for the faint at heart or the commitment-phobe.  Anytime that a recipe spans four pages and there are four recipes within a recipe - be afraid.  Be very afraid.  But I was brave!  I was bold!  I melted, I stirred, I chopped, I zested.  Into the oven they went.  Another task down.  Man, I am 'da bomb!

What's next, you may say?  You see, in order to be a LUXURY lemon cake, you gotta have some "LUX".  This "lux" came in the form of lemon curd -- from scratch.  Yes, siree.  SCRATCH.  I juiced, I zested, I stirred.  (Ok, I had some help with the stirring...).  What is this you say?  Child labor...  Hey, take advantage when you can get it.  Now the curd is in the refrigerator for its 3(ish)-hour nap.  Oh man, time to shape the bread.  Oh man, time to get the tart shells shaped and ready for the oven because those cakes aren't staying in there forever.  I shaped (and weighted).  I pricked.  I baked.  I cooled.  Oh man, time to make the filling.  HMMM, what shall it be.  DUH, of course!  LEMON.  I knew those lemons jumped me in the store for a reason.  It was destiny.  I already had a lemon cake going; so why change themes mid-stream?

Where did my child labor ahem, I mean stirrer go???  Time to make more lemon base for the tart.  Hey, she's getting good at this.  Filling cooked & cooling.  Check.  Egg whites beaten.  Check.  Meringue beaten into filling.  Check.  Tarts filled & back into oven.  Check. 

"Uh, mom...  What's for dinner?" says the child laborer stirrer.  "Dinner, what do you mean?  It's only... Oh, it's 7:15.  My bad."  What is a busy mom to do...  Oh, I am so all over this one.  What beautiful, healthful meal can I whip up in no time flat... HMMM.  Let me ponder.  Oh, please tell me you didn't see those boxes?  Oh, you already saw them?  Um, yeah, they are "health pizzas".  "Health pizzas". Yeah, yeah, that's the ticket...

So where are we??  Cakes are cooling.  Tarts are out of the oven.  The long forgotten bread is now in the oven.  Surely, I must be done...  Time to clean up, right?  WRONG.  What?!?  Oh, man.  The cake needs frosting.  Where is that recipe - oh, poo.  That frosting needs to set for three hours.  No, thank you.  I am sooooo over this process.  Buttercream it is!  It's quick, it's easy and I can do it in my sleep.  Which is probably a good thing at this point because it is now somewhere after 8:30 and the toothpicks are starting to break under the pressure of holidng my eyes up. 

Buttercream gets made.  Layers are sliced; lemon curd is applied; buttercream is applied.  Whew.  Cake in the fridge to set...  Are we done yet?  DISHES!!!!!!  No, say it isn't so???  Tear, tear, sob, sob, sob.  But it's 9:30 - it isn't fair!  What is a girl to do?  (Child laborer Stirrer has "long" since gone to bed).  So I washed, and washed, and washed... TICK TOCK.  TICK TOCK.  Razzle frazzle grumble grumble.  FINALLY!  Off to bed, Fred!

Are you tired yet?  I know that I am.  I suppose there is some silly morale that should be applied to this story like "don't bite off more than you can chew"; but frankly, I am enjoying the chewing to much to quit biting....  I said it once and I will say it again, I blame those gosh darn jumping lemons and that's my final answer, Alex Trebek. 

RECIPE FOR LEMON SOUFFLE TARTS (adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook by Ruth Reichl). 

2 Recipes of Sweet Pastry Dough (see link)
5 large eggs, separated
1/2 + 1/4 cups sugar
Zest of 3-4 lemons
3/4 cups lemon juice (freshly squeezed preferred)
Pinch salt

2 8" tart pans 

Prepare pastry dough as per recipe, separate into two disks, wrap in plastic & refrigerate for at least 1 hr.  Twenty minutes before baking, place rack in lower 1/3 of oven and preheat to 400F.  Remove dough from refrigerator, roll and shape into pans -- prick bottoms to help mitigate rising layers.  Cover dough with foil, weigh down and bake for ~10 minutes (until edges are gold).  Remove from oven & take off foil and weights.  Return to oven & bake for another 10-12 minutes - until bottoms are golden. 

Beat together egg yolks & 1/2 cup sugar at medium-high speed until "ribbon" forms when paddle is lifted from mixture (5 mins or so).  Beat in zest/ lemon juice.  Transfer to medium sauce pan and cook (stir constantly) over medium-low heat until mixture thickens (almost like a pudding).  Remove from heat, place in a large bowl, cover with buttered wax paper and let cool to luke warm. 

Beat egg whites w/ pinch of salt until soft peaks form.  Beat in sugar slowly until stiff peaks form and mixture is "shiny".  Fold 1/4 of the meringue into the lemon mixture to lighten it.  Then fold in the remaining meringue into the mixture.  Gently scoop into prepared shells, mounding in the middle.  Transfer pans to a baking sheet.  Bake on a middle rack of the 400F oven for ~10-12 minutes until the tart appears puffy & the tops are lightly golden. 

Cool completely before sampling.   

Like my day yesterday, this post was far too ambitious. I need a nap (or my bed now).  I'm outta here. 

2010/02/03

I know momma always said "don't play with your food", BUT...

Oh, come on now.  Surely I can't be the only person in the world whose momma used to scold her for playing with her food.  "Use your fork" or "Stop making animal sculptures out of your liver and onions" or "Beets are not for pets".  It can be a real buzz kill, 'eh???

Well, guess what?  I am a big girl now and I can play with my food if I want to.  HEE HEE HEE.  I can do all sorts of things.  And oh what fun that shall be!  Now that I am big girl, I have all sorts of tools and gadgets that can be used to do what ever I want to my food.  Mutiny in the kitchen, I say!  This girl has plans...  You see when I was at the grocery store, for some reason I thought that buying boneless pork chops would be a great idea.  It must have been on sale or something.  I can't think of any other reason why the insanity over took me (we aren't big pork eaters & #2 absolutely refuses to touch the stuff).

So, there I was with pork in the fridge and a "use by" date fast approaching.  They were lean and pretty and rarin' to go.  So what was a girl to do???  AHA!  Play with her food.  Fortunately, Red was ready and able to come to the rescue with a handy, dandy attachment.  THE MEAT GRINDER (suspenseful music plays in the background).   Oh, by the way, in case any one notices the pukey purple counters, I am so NOT IN LOVE WITH THEM.  They are on my list of things that need to go...  I did finally paint over the pumpkin baby dookie walls this fall (and no, I still haven't gone back and done the finish work and yes, the painters tape is still up... and yes, I know that is bad). 
Here is Red all dressed up and ready to go for a spin.  Isn't she pretty????  I LOVE her grinder attachment.  It's like a power tool for chicks!

I dragged her out of the pantry (I know that is so sad, but I don't have enough counter space to let her stay out all the time) and got ready for my play date.   Now, I am sure that some of you are catching on by now and may be wondering "hmmm, what is she going to do with that pork"?  Ok, I won't keep you in suspense!  I was gonna make me 'sum meat balls!

I had about 1.5 pounds of pork, which I cut into chunks.  I rummaged through the freezer and found my bread scrap bag (I throw bread heels in a bag in the freezer and save them for croutons, bread crumbs, etc.) -- grabbed 3-4 heels & shredded them (~2 cups).  I then chopped up an onion into large chunks and ran the pork, bread & onion using the large plates on the grinder. 


Kind of looks like worms, huh?  Or that Play Doh hair that extruded through the molds.  (EXTRUDE!  I love that word).  This is where the playing with your food starts to get kind of fun...  After all of the ingredients made it through the first grind, I added two eggs to the mixture, 2 tsp. of Italian Seasoning, 2 tsp. sea salt & 1 tsp. pepper and mixed them up really good.  I changed the plates on the grinder to the finer setting and ran the mixture through the grinder a second time.  Pretty cool, huh?  Now it looks a lot like the stuff that you get in those silly styrofoam packages at the supermarket (except, you get to control the cut of meat and the amount of fat going into your meal).

I took the mixture and formed them into 2" balls.  Da, da!  Pork balls!  Since I was trying to keep things lean, I baked them @ 375F for about 20 minutes (until they came through just about done in the center) - turning them over once during baking.  Since I planned on being a trickster and sneaking them into sauce for pasta & meatballs, I left them a little pink in the center so that they could finish off while the sauce was simmering. 

And what do you know?  PORK BALLS!  Here they are sitting in a pot of sauce.  This picture was taken mid-meal, so it's a little less pretty.  But, yum.  The left overs ended up being turned into open faced meatball sandwiches.   Excellent. 

The moral of the story is... it's ok to play with your food (especially when you get to make cool worm creatures in the process).  Sorry, mom - a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do!


Recipe for "Pork Balls"
1.5 lbs pork (pre-ground or grind your own)
2 cups bread chunks (if you are not grinding your own, I would substiute ~1.5 cups finely shredded bread slices)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 eggs
2 tsp Italian Seasoning (or other blend)
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

Preheat oven to 375F.  Mix well.  Form mixture into 2" balls & place onto lightly greased baking sheet.  Bake for ~20 minutes or until the interior is done (no longer pink).  Turn over at least once during baking.  Remove from oven & enjoy! 

The combination of lean meat & baking keeps this dish on the "lighter" side.