Friday, November 19, 2010

Bread disasters, one of which becomes pita

It's been such a busy month, but things should calm down at work, which means fewer late nights so home should become easier and I should have more time for baking. Which is good since it's time for holiday baking!

Had a few bread disasters lately. The first--I mixed up a batch of dough the night before leaving for a conference so that I could make fresh bread as soon as I got back. I set it in a different place--on one of Nutmeg's chairs next to the heater since it's the warmest spot in the house. After tucking Nutmeg in bed, I came downstairs to find Jedi (our dog) throwing up. It looked very weird, especially since he'd just eaten dinner and it didn't look like kibble. It looked like foam. And then I went to pick it up. It was bread dough! He'd eaten the bread dough!

Besides losing 7 cups of flour and any chance of baking bread on Saturday, the more immediate concern was that dogs shouldn't eat bread dough. I had no way of knowing how much he'd eaten compared to what came out. So Eric had to get him to throw up. Luckily, dogs will throw up with hydrogen peroxide. Took two tries, but it worked. (Thank goodness for a yard, too!) In case you wonder why they shouldn't eat dough, just think about the two things dough needs to rise: heat and moisture. Dogs have died from eating dough.

So I made dough when I got back from the conference and all was well. Except that, despite it being near the wood stove, it didn't rise! I've never had this happen. I can only imagine that my water was too hot and killed the yeast.

But this time, I had a solution: I had always meant to try making pita bread. Flat breads--pizza, foccocia, pita, naan--are perfect uses for dough that doesn't rise. I had imagined pita bread took a special bread dough, but I checked at Artisan Bread in 5, and indeed I could use any basic dough to make pita. It took a long time to bake it; I only realized a couple days later that instead of baking them one by one on the pizza stone, I could have used cookie sheets and gotten at least 3 in at a time, maybe more if I didn't make them too big. They were really super simple to make: Take a piece of bread dough about the size a plum to a peach. Roll to about 1/8" think--any thicker and it won't puff, any thinner and it will only puff in places and be more cracker-like). Use lots of flour; if you have one, use a rolling pin cover. A nearly 6-year old can roll these out--that's right, Nutmeg made most of them! Takes about 8-10 minutes for one in the oven at 425-450, depending on the size.

Later, I called it "puffy bread" but Nutmeg mis-heard me, and had been reading 101 Dalmatians recently with lots of rolly poly puppies, so we now call it "puppy bread." Her favorite way to eat it? Pieces with strawberry yogurt! Me, I like it with cheddar cheese, shredded carrots, and spinach--there were a few little leaves of spinach that grew this fall and were still green despite frosts (pictured)! Or with sundried tomato ranch chevre, shredded carrots, and sprouts. Chevre and carrots courtesy of the winter farmer's market. The sprouts I grew myself. Nutmeg doesn't like them.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Hmmm, I thought I posted last week but I guess not. Last Sunday, our 10 year old fridge died. Eric only discovered it because we got ice cream to eat during football. (A bribe to get Maggie interested in the game!) He got it out and it was softserve.

Thank goodness we keep lots of frozen water in 2 liters in the deep freeze. We used them all week. They didn't keep things at 34 degrees as recommended, but things were cold enough to not go bad. It took a couple days for bottles to thaw out, and some never did. I swapped some in and out each day. I'm so thankful for the deep freeze and these water bottles!

On Tuesday, the repairman came out. The problem is the compressor is dead. He said it costs so much to replace, he recommended getting a new fridge. So Eric was going to shop on Wednesday. Until we remembered we have another fridge in the laundry room. The house came with a fridge and stove, but we like ours better (larger!). We were going to sell or give them away, but with one thing and another, hadn't gotten around to it. (And the fridge made an ideal tool storage area.)

Took another day to get the fridge upstairs. Then Friday I started cleaning the shelves. And on Saturday morning, I discovered just how dirty it was. Maggie and I attacked what was left--the interior, the doors, and the door shelves. I thought we'd whip it all out in 15-20 minutes. But the doors had some bad spills. Took over an hour to scrub it down!

Before we transferred food, we plugged it in overnight to make sure it worked. It does! And so yesterday, we finally swapped fridges. The "new" one is smaller and has the freezer on the top. Not sure if we like it...time will tell. And we've saved over $1000 by using what we had already.

Now I'm afraid to give away the stove. Our stove is also 10 years old!

We're wondering if the compressor from the new fridge could be swapped into the old fridge. If so, we'd rather have the old one back as we liked the extra space.... And I like the bottom freezer (it's more energy efficient), even if the racks don't move smoothly and it is a pain to get anything out of it and Maggie can only read one shelf in the fridge (which might be a good thing with her bottomless pit).

All in all, I didn't make anything this week. And I won't this coming week either as I head out at 4am Wednesday to a conference. In Florida!!!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Peanut butter granola

On Friday morning, I made a fast and easy Peanut Butter Granola. I love granola, but ran out a few weeks ago. It's growing on me, but, as I left in a comment on the post, I think this recipe is way too sweet. It was fast and easy, but it's not our style of granola. I'll be making my recipe again soon. In the meantime, it's good with our relatively tart plain yogurt--no need to add honey to these parfaits.

Apple crisp

I made a triple batch of apple crisp on Sunday, which fit in two 9x13 pans. Unfortunately, I made a few mistakes. First, I didn't realize how long it would take to cut enough apples, and I ended up having to do three things at once instead of in a nice, gradual order so that I could just finish one item before I had to work on the next. Second, I didn't check the sugar stocks, and I had barely half the required sugar, and no more brown or white sugar was in the house. I had written it on the grocery list on the white board when we opened the last bag of each...but we forgot to actually look at that list lately. Third, I grabbed a teaspoon instead of a tablespoon, so instead of the "use a lot more than called for" cinnamon, I didn't even use enough for one recipe.

I really didn't want to take nearly an hour to go get sugar (in Oshkosh, it was a 15 minute total trip for a quick grocery run, here it's more like 45+), so baked it as-is. I had a lot of sour apples, so it's not the really sweet dessert it usually is. Plus there's almost no cinnamon taste. And I should have used the full amount of butter to partially make up for the lack of sugar, but I didn't think of that.

However, while it's not very sweet, it's actually still a good apple crisp. This is, I guess, one of those recipes that has a LOT of wiggle room! Which is good, as the second one if for a potluck tonight. I'm considering put a caramel topping on (leftover from the peanut rolls).

I used a typical crisp recipe, although I add in oats and wheatgerm to make it healthier. And, even healthier with the lack of sugar!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Haven't been baking much

I'm sorry I haven't posted, but I haven't been baking much other than bread. Last week, I spent 8 days with my parents. We didn't bake at all! Dad didn't even make any bread like he usually does, until the last day when he made Pyragas for breakfast on Sunday.

We did, however, process a lot of apples. Wish I'd thought to take some pictures, as I probably won't be doing any of my own this year. Some apple trees int heir neighborhood had lovely apples this year--and no one picked them. So Mom and her walking partners started picking up the drops and got permission to pick any they wanted from some of the trees.

I brought along my dehydrator, steam juicer, and some quart jars (Mom was running out) and we made applesauce, apple cider, dried apple slices, dried apple pieces (perfect for granola and trail mix), and apple fruit leather (when we got tired of canning applesauce). Some batches had cinnamon sticks put in with the apples in the juicer. Mom and I spent 1-2 hours three days chopping, coring, slicing, and dicing apples. It was a good time to chat, and one time Dad joined us and did a crossword puzzle with us. My hand got very sore from the knife, and I couldn't only do so much coring. I thought Mom's arthritis would do her in long before me but she never faltered. I hope this doesn't mean I have to start worrying about arthritis any time soon.

I usually buy dozens of pounds of apples each year and make cider and sauce, and dry apples, during January or February. I probably don't need to this year! I brought home 5 quarts of sauce, 2 quarts of cider*, and I don't know how much of the dried things. *After telling Eric he couldn't use so much cider last winter, we forgot about it and used almost no apple cider either hot in the winter nor cold in the summer. So we still have about a dozen quarts from last year. Ooops!

Good thing I forgot about going to the orchard previously...but I do still need to get some keepers. I like to eat an apple a day at work--and with Maggie needing a snack at school, apples are perfect. Eric also uses them in oatmeal. We did bring some back from my parents for the next weeks, but I doubt they are keepers. Also, some of them are far too sour for me (the sample was sweet, but the ones I've tried so far have been so tart and crisp I couldn't finish!).

Friday, September 24, 2010

Peachy Nutmeg

Just to show I'm not the only one who has fun in the kitchen, the other night Eric made a Peachy Nutmeg:

Roasted beets and potato

I love roasted vegetables. I don't make them very often because it takes a while to chop them all up then another 45 minutes to roast them. I don't have time or energy for that after work.

Last winter, it occurred to me to chop in the morning or the night before, which would give the veggies a lot of time to soak up their seasonings. Now I do it more often, including yesterday for the first time this season. Here's my favorite way to make them.

Roasted Veggies
  • 1# root veggies, including garlic and onions
  • <1/4 cup oil (olive and/or canola)
  • 2Tbs Balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp dried or 1 tsp fresh thyme
  • 1 tsp dried or 1/2 tsp fresh rosemary
  • salt and pepper
Chop the veggies. I like to make then about 1/4" because they cook faster. Mix seasonings and oil together. Pour over veggies and mix. 425 degrees, greased sheet or Silpat, 40-60 minutes depending on amount and size of veg. Stir every 15 minutes.

I had fresh herbs and I used more than called for. For veggies, I used yellow (from the deck boxes) and red beets, purple potatoes, and garlic. I had 1/2# and it was just a little too much for me for dinner. Nutmeg and Eric aren't too keen on roasted mixed veggies.

Before I started using Balsamic vinegar, I liked the following:

Roasted Veggies II
  • 1# root veggies
  • 2 cloves garlic, quartered
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1/2 Tbs fresh herbs such as rosemary, sage, thyme
  • sea or kosher salt and pepper
Same directions as above.

I guess it's nearly the same recipe, isn't it?

Drying fruit

Have also dried peaches, pears, and plums these past couple weeks. (Happy Birthday, Mom! I always give her some dried peaches for her birthday.) Today I'm also trying some pear fruit leather. First, I made a double batch of Pear Pie fruit leather last night (apple pie recipe says pears can be used). If I do it again, skip most of the water. A bit too wet, which means more time in the dehydrator.

Then when I woke up early this morning and started thinking about it, I remembered I love plain old dried pears. So why not plain pear leather? Whipped up a batch of that this morning. Which means I chopped the pears finely and then pureed them with the immersion blender. I added 3 tsp of Fruit Fresh (ascorbic acid) to see if it helps stop browning.

4 cups or 4 pears fits on one dehydrator tray. I lightly greased the trays with canola oil. I've made leather before but never oiled the trays. Hoping it comes off easier and makes it so they don't stick to each other when boxed up.

Fruit Sauce

In the midst of search for pear jams, I found a post about small batch canning, that made a plum sauce and a peach sauce. I figured I could make a pear-plum sauce by combining the recipes. My plums were smaller than hers and my pears bigger than peaches, so I adjusted a bit. I'm so glad I found a sauce, as I'm getting quite a few jams back there and was starting to wonder how many years they'd last us. With Maggie now taking her lunch to school and asking for peanut butter and jelly 9 times out of 10, however, I don't think it will last us more than a year. We've never been much of a jam family before; a jar will last us a good 6 months or more. Until this month!

Pear-Plum Sauce
  • 7 plums
  • 3 pears
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
Chop fruit, mix with sugar and cinnamon. Cook, stirring frequently, until sauce thickens. This took about 10-20 minutes (I also made a double batch). Ladle into hot jars, leaving 1/2" headspace, 10 minutes boiling water batch. (I think 1/4" would be fine.) Makes about 3.5 cups. Even doubled, it's small batch canning!

This is fabulous heated up on old brownies from work found in the freezer. I'm sure the same will be true on ice cream. And fresh homemade brownies.

I then found a USDA guide to canning that included directions for fruit purees, consisting of any fruit except figs, tomatoes, cantaloupe and other melons, papaya, ripe mango or coconut, 1 c water per quart of fruit (way too much for my fruit), and sugar if desired. So I made

Blueberry Pear Sauce
  • 3 c pears (~3 pears)
  • 2 c blueberries
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch of allspice
Cook slowly until fruit is soft. Puree as desired (I simply mashed it some with the potato masher). Add sugar and spices to taste. Reheat to a boil or sugar dissolves. (I put the sugar in at the beginning.) Fill hot jars, 1/4" headspace, 1015 minutes boiling water canner. Makes about 3 cups, to my surprise.

This was so good I immediately made a second batch.

UPDATE: Today I noticed it's an older guide, so I looked for the most recent, which I found at The National Center for Home Preserving at the USDA (Guide #2). It recommends 15 instead of 10 minutes, and added to the list of non-preservable puree fruits (back in the 90s, no one preserved mango in the US I guess, which doesn't surprise me!). So I might have under done my sauce, although 10 is what other sites lists for other fruit sauces. They aren't quite as thick as applesauce, which is also listed as 15 minutes. I will, however, use the 15 minutes for the next batch.

Pear Jam

My books didn't have much in the way of pear jams, so looked all over the internet. Apparently, most people don't make pear jams. And I think I know why. They just aren't flavorful. But I didn't find two good recipes.

I started with Spiced Pear Jam. Despite needing a few ingredients from the store (fresh lemons) and some hassle in preparing (zesting and squeezing said lemons), I tried it before the easier recipe. Sadly, it wasn't well-liked. Rather bland. Kind of tasted like the Peach Cobbler Sauce, but not quite. It was another use for the liquid pectin, which I bought a few years ago when I was going to try making jam but never got farther than the strawberry and grape that didn't work out. Anyway, I won't make this again. I hope others like it, however! It just paled in comparison to our favorite.

Then I tried Spiced Caramel Pear Jam. This is a keeper!

Plums--Jam and Dried

Then I moved on to plum jams. I was afraid the peels would be too sour or tough, so I chopped my plums smaller than called for. Universally, I've found no taste issues, and everything gets very soft, so no need to cut them so finely! I do, however, really like pieces of fruit or peel showing up in my jam (I'm more of a preserves than a jam person probably).

Found the easiest recipe in Joy of Cooking. I bought their special All About Canning & Preserving a couple years ago (last year?). I think the recipes are identical to the Joy of Cooking. But they have lots of pretty pictures!

Plum Jam (bottom right on picture)
  • 2# plums, chopped to desired size (about 8ths for me)
  • 2.5 c sugar
  • 1/4 c bottled lemon juice
Mix in large pot (I used my stock pot again). Cook on medium-high; when the fruit starts to get soft, crush as desired (I used a potato masher). Boil rapidly, stirring frequently, to the jelling point. ~15 minutes start to finish. Remove from heat; skim off foam*, and ladle into hot jars. 1/4" headspace, 10 minutes boiling water canning. Makes 3.5-4 cups.

* I couldn't figure out how to skim off foam from any of my jams. I would have removed half the jam! Some recipes call for up to a teaspoon of butter to reduce foaming. I didn't think it worked until I tried one recipe with and one without (Peach-Plum on bottom left of picture, it's light colored because of the foam). The without didn't only have foam on the top, but all the way through the jam. I will put 1/2-1 tsp of unsalted butter in all my jams going forward. Except this one. It didn't get very foamy.

I made this three times because we loved it. I made each batch separately, as elsewhere, I've been cautioned to never double a jam recipe. The last time I made jam, I scorched it (grape jelly, which I still have because I can't stand to part with something that took so much work. But yet I don't want to eat it either. Silly me.) or didn't cook it long enough (strawberry ice cream topping instead of jam). But this time, I got it!

I also found out that our thermometer probe doesn't work. The first batch was boiling away merrily...but the thermometer registered only 212 degrees. It's supposed to get up to about 220 for the jelling stage. Thankfully, I decided after a while of that to test it and it was there. So I tested some boiling water. The temp registered around 202, off by 10 degrees! Time to get a new thermometer. I want an instant read one anyway; this one you have to wait a couple minutes to register, which is a pain on things like bread where you have to put them back in the oven. Might also be why my bread was always so hard; I over baked it!

I also dried some plums. The first time out of the dehydrator, I thought they were very sour--the peel was overpowering. Since they dry unevenly, I take them out, put them in a container for a day or two, them dry them again. The second time, I thought they were a lot better. Not quite like the prunes you get in the store these days (which they called dried plums now), but quite good. I should make some more, if my plums aren't too squishy.

Peach jams and sauces

top: Spice Pear Jam, Peach Butter.
Bottom: Peach-Plum Jam, Peach Cobbler Sauce, Pear Jam
The first peach recipe I tried was peach butter. I have made a lot of apple butter, and it always goes pretty quickly. I forgot that I start out with applesauce from steam juicing: most of the water is already gone. Not so when starting with fresh peaches.

So what I thought was going to be a one hour process took nearly five. I ended up complaining quite a bit near the end, as I'd brought the canning kettle to a boil at least three times already and the butter was still not ready. We were going to go out for an early lunch, and that time had passed. And so I stopped. I didn't quit--I came back after lunch to finish. But boy was I frustrated! Luckily, the butter came out delicious. Unfortunately, two of the five jars didn't seal. I gave one to my coworker, whose partner loved my apple butter. He  thought it was fantastic!

Spiced Peach Butter from Ball Blue Book

  • 18 medium peaches
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 - 1 tsp each ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg
Chop peaches. Cook until soft, adding only enough water to prevent sticking (I used the recommended 1/2 cup, which was too much). Puree (blender, food mill, or sieve). Measure 2 quarts pulp. Combine with sugar in a large pot, preferably heavy bottomed (I used my stockpot). I had three quarts so I used 6 cups of sugar. Cook until thick enough to round up on a spoon. It doesn't happen forever, but when it does, you'll know it. As mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking. This can take hours, so don't stand at the stove the whole time.

Ladle into hot jars, 1/4" headspace, 10 minutes boiling water bath. About 4-6 pints.

Original recipe says to blanch and peel the peaches. I never peel my fruit if I can help it.

Peach-Plum Jam
I made a couple batches of this before finding the best recipe (below). But at this point, I can't find the recipe back. I'm not sure if it's in one of my books or online. It's good. I think. I'm starting to forget with all the jams I've made. I do know the one we like the least, so I'm pretty sure this was a good one. Now to find the recipe back....

Then I found the best peach recipe: Peach Cobbler Jam. Mine didn't get very jammy, and might firm up as time goes by. But that's okay: It's the most fabulous peach cobbler sauce. We can't wait to eat it on ice cream or brownies this winter. I made two batches...and then ran out of peaches to our disappointment. Can't wait for next year! I might skip the pectin and intentionally make a sauce. As you'll see shortly, I can make any fruit sauce!

Been busy

I'm sorry I haven't written lately. At work, the new semester has begun, and I usually come home exhausted. Meanwhile, at home, in the last three weeks we bought two cases of peaches, one of pears, and half a one of plums. What a lot of fruit! We thought the peaches went bad about 10 days in; all three of us got peaches that were mealy near the core. So I started processed peaches. Oddly, I only found two more that were mealy. But also thankfully!

Last weekend, I started making jams and sauces with the pears and plums. Half a box of plums is a LOT of plums. The pears seemed to be doing fine, still looking beautiful back in the pantry. Until I discovered two days ago that despite their pretty exterior, they were going soft inside. So I had to find recipes NOW. So all weekend plus almost every evening, I've been at the stove.

Coming up, all the preserving I've been doing. Plus a few other things.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Made more pesto

For weeks, I'm been telling myself to make pesto again, but I keep putting it off. I finally did so on Sunday. Some of the basil had started to flower so I had to do it. The picture is a jar of pesto in the window box that used to be filled with pesto. A left a few leaves at the bottom of most plants as they may continue to grow now that the cooler weather returned again.

Eric made these boxes back in June(?) for the edge of the deck. They aren't window boxes, but I've never heard of deck railing boxes so call them window boxes since everyone knows what they are. It's one long box split in three. On this end was basil and carrots (only 8 grew; we ate two earlier and the other six Saturday). In the middle was greens (only the spinach grew, and it was spindly and tiny, plus one carrot and a Johnny Jump Up; definitely the weird box!). On the right are bunching onions (grew great and stayed small) and beets (need to pick and eat them soon).

I finally thought of using regular jar lids instead of wasting a canning lid in the freezer. In the paste, and I've been making and freezing pesto for at least 5 years, I always used a canning lid and ring. I was never sure if the lid would still be good for canning--I did use them again last summer, and two failed so I probably shouldn't--but for some reason I never thought of using a regular lid. (I don't have the highest common sense sometimes.)

Fig Newtons?

I really wanted to try fig newtons, so I made them on Sunday. Quite a while ago, I bought a jar of fig preserves with this intention. I'm trying to use up things in the pantry instead of buying more food. So this was the time!

I had seen a recipe for fig newtons at Chickens in the Road a year ago. I checked Joy of Cooking, but it didn't have anything similar, so I went with CitR. Her recipe makes a raisin filling, which is said to be delicious, but I used the fig preserves of course. You can also use any preserves, she says. But we found the filling overly sweet, especially since the cookie is so sugary. We will try again, however, as Nutmeg and I really like them. Eric didn't care for the sweetness of the filling and won't have more.

I made a half recipe, and ended up with 5 dozen cookies, made as Suzanne did as bars. As usual, I cut mine thinner than called for. With a bit of leftover dough, we tried the original recipe of making folded over squares. While Nutmeg got a kick out of using a fork to press the edges, they were far more work than the bars. We won't do that again. I think both kinds spread about double in the oven.

Mine weren't at all crumbly and made a great snack on a hike in Black Brook Preserve yesterday. We tried both kinds--both worked well. I was afraid the filling would ooze, but it didn't. Might be more of a problem with other preserves; the fig preserves were pretty thick.

And I don't think they taste anything like fig newtons. The cookie is harder and thinner (might have been my rolling and baking), and preserves aren't as thick (they spread more than I'd imagined so I don't think I could make them thicker), and none of it tasted the same. But that's okay because we really like them anyway! Should just called them fig bars.

Ginger ::Snap!:: Cookies

I love long weekends! Gives me time to do some baking (and some reading) that I usually don't get to without a lot of planning on regular weekends. On Saturday, I asked Maggie if she'd rather make ginger cookies or fig newtons, which she'd bring as dessert at school*. She's never had either one. She chose ginger cookies. (*Maggie delighted in bringing a homemade dessert on Thursday, telling me at least twice and Eric once how she told her lunch buddies about it. I now have a reputation to live up to!)

Years ago (okay, no more than 3 I guess), my sister-in-law Ann Marie gave us some fabulous ginger snap cookies that were thick, soft, and filled with candied ginger. It's the first time I ever liked candied ginger. We never found the recipe back, but I bought some ginger last winter with the intent of making some ginger cookies. So, about 8 months later, I finally did. I found a recipe for Ginger Spice Cookies at Epicurious. My changes are using butter instead of shortening, using a mix of dark molasses (its all I ever get) and honey (because only had a little molasses left and didn't realize I had some in the pantry), and finely chopping the ginger. I made them about 1" diameter, ending up with about 45 cookies. We also changed the name, as I had great fun getting Nutmeg to snap instead of saying the word. So they are Ginger ::snap!:: Cookies.

Nutmeg helped make these, including mixing the dough and rolling them in sugar. It's really nice to have a helped when cookies are rolled in sugar--my hands stayed in the dough and hers in the sugar.

We all enjoy them! Nutmeg says they are the bestest cookie she has ever eaten, hence the photo of her in the middle of saying so. I'm a little surprised as they are very gingery, and she doesn't usually like spicy things. I think I should take them along on the next rollercoaster or boat ride. They might help my motion sickness. (Ginger was the only thing Myth Busters found to actually setting motion sickness.)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Peach Sorbet

I made peach sorbet over the weekend, but forgot to blog about it until I saw another peach recipe photo on my phone today. Found a good sounding recipe at the Food Network. Surprisingly, none of my ice cream books (I have three, plus had another one checked out) had a recipe. (I think I found one later in Joy of Cooking.) BTW, sorbet has no dairy. Sherbet has no cream but does have milk.

I actually followed the recipe for once, so I will just link to Curtis Aiken's Peach Sorbet. The recipe for simple syrup provides far more than you need for one sorbet recipe. I did 3 cups each of water and sugar and ended up with about 4 cups of syrup. I need to make more sorbet, but we haven't finished it yet. It's been cooler (and actually raining, but mostly just cloudy till today when it's been pouring) so ice cream just isn't as on the top of the head as during summer. (Summer is over in Maine. It lasted about 4 weeks this year, split in two sections. I love summer in Maine.)

The sorbet is like eating a frozen peach with extra sugar. Frankly, I could just eat a peach and be happy. But we have so many peaches to use up, it's another way to preserve them a bit and eat a few more each day. I've also put some in the freezer and started drying them. And we each eat about 1.5 peaches a day.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


One of my favorite foods is pesto. Sort of. I learned last year that pesto has to have pine nuts (or some kind of nuts) while pistou is the same thing without nuts. I don't use nuts in mine--at first because I couldn't find pine nuts and when I did they were expensive. And using other kinds of nuts just sounds weird. By the time I learned I was using the wrong word, I was so used to saying pesto that I couldn't switch. Besides, everyone knows what pesto is and no one has heard of pistou.

This recipe is based on one my Dad sent me. I make it in large batches and freeze it to eat all winter. Or longer. I still have a jar labeled 08 in the freezer, although I think I may have just reused the lid last summer.

  • 2 c fresh basil
  • 1/2 tsp salt (or less)
  • 1/2 tsp pepper (or 5 twists of a grinder)
  • 3 cloves garlic or more
  • 1/2 c olive oil or less
Put everything in a blender. Using Lo/Grind, blend a few seconds, push herbs down (if you don't have an awesome blender that really mixes well), repeat until thin but not liquid. Or, if you don't have a blender (I don't), put in a large bowl, preferably taller rather than wider, and use a stick blender on 2 or 3 to combine.

  • 1/2 grated Parmesan cheese (not the Kraft kind we used as kids on spaghetti. Your cheese can affect the flavor greatly. I tried a ME-made parm that I don't care for in my first batch. Then I returned to the Bel Gioso I used in WI (it was local there). I like the pesto better.) You can also use Asiago or other dry cheeses, of course.
Mix well and put in fridge or freezer. Makes about 1 c.

I have made enormous batches (8x recipe) in a metal bowl with the stick blender; far more than I could put in a regular blender. This is the only thing I used the blender for, so I got rid of it and bought a really nice stick blender instead. I don't recommend making 8 batches at once. It took me 3 hours, and I didn't have to grate the cheese that time. But my basil was all bolting so I had to process it right away.

This year, I'm going slowly and have made 3 batches so far on two days. I don't think I have as much basil either; although I have more plants than ever before, they aren't as big as they were in WI. For the first time, my basil actually sprouted and grew--it's the only thing that's growing better in ME than in WI! By the time I knew it would grow, I'd already bought 6 basil plants, too.

Nutmeg and I both love this on pasta, making our favorite dish, pestasto! I've also made some breads (fougasse) with it. I'll make more this winter and post them.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

More garlic bread

I did make more garlic bread Monday night. The bread is hard to cut in half, being rather dense and not very thick, with a hard crust. So I was cutting very carefully, worried about slipping, but telling my self it would be pretty difficult to hurt myself since the knife moved pretty slowly. And then I hit the center, where my two cuts met and suddenly it wasn't so difficult anymore and the knife went into my finger.


Unfortunately, Eric was cutting up jalapeno peppers for his salsa so he certainly wasn't going to help me. The bathroom closet door was locked so Nutmeg couldn't get a bandaid for me, if she could even reach that shelf. And I was bleeding quite a bit. Luckily, I managed to get it taken care of. The cut isn't terrible, and is more wide than deep. And we were lucky to have a set of finger bandaids, including ones for fingertips. They are awesome. We will definitely keep these in stock. (They are water blocking, too, which is so nice for fingers.)

Back to the bread--I used about 3 Tbs of butter this time and it didn't pour off the bread onto the pan (just a little bit when I cut it up). I used the same herbs and garlic, since that's the best part.

The peach ice cream, by the way, is delicious! We're having small servings each night to make it last. I'm looking forward to trying peach sherbet or sorbet next. I should remember to try those more often--one of them doesn't use any cream and then I wouldn't have to wait to get to the grocery store. We tend to make vanilla ice cream the most, however. I've never heard of vanilla sherbet/sorbet. Can you make either of those without fruit? Oh, I could try apple! Always have lots of apples around.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Peach ice cream

The Connecticut peaches came in to the farmer this week. Some are already ripe enough to eat, so we dove into them yesterday, including peach ice cream. The base recipe is based on the sweet cream II recipe in Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream & Dessert Book (Amazon link) with the peach from their peach recipe. We thought the sweet cream base was too rich, and tried it with many variations on amounts of heavy cream, half & half, whole milk, 2% milk, and skim milk over the years. Basically, as long as you have 2 2/3 c of milk & cream, it's okay. The more cream, the richer the ice cream, of course. We used to use some half & half all the time. It took me a couple years to realize that using half & half was purposeless, as I could just use half cream and half milk instead.

Peach Ice Cream
  •  2 cups chopped peaches (just two peaches)
  • 1/2 sugar
Macerate in the fridge for 2 hours, stirring occasionally if you remember to do so. (Macerate: Something I've been doing with fruit and sugar since I was kid, but only learned the name of recently. Basically, it just means put fruit and sugar together and let them sit to draw out the juice and soften the fruit.) Mash remaining peaches or leave chunky as desired. We like them mashed but not quite pureed.
  • 1 c heavy cream
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 1 2/3 c skim milk
Put cream in a bowl. Slowly add sugar and whisk till you can't hear the sugar granules anymore. Whisk another 1-2 minutes. Add skim milk. Drain juice from peaches and add.

Let chill for 2+ hours in the fridge. Freeze according to the ice cream maker directions. If using mashed peaches, put them in when freezing is about half done. If left as chunks, put in when 2-5 minutes remain.

I have a manual crank new fashioned ice cream maker. I love it! The electric ones are terribly loud. And use electricity. The new ones all have a metal container with a special gel inside (like freezer packs have) so you don't need ice and rock salt. This one, Salton brand, is the only one that doesn't plug in that I could find. Sure, it takes paying attention to it every 1-3 minutes for 30 minutes. But it gives you the fun of cranking your own ice cream. Nutmeg loves helping to make ice cream.

And it was delicious! We will probably make more this week. And with frozen peaches later in the year.

    Garlic bread

    Sometime last week, Eric caught a cooking show tip that he thought I'd just love. And since it was such a good one, he decided to tape the whole show. We enjoyed watching Tyler's Ultimate; we actually wanted to make the recipes! Including a lovely garlic bread, which I went and made Saturday. First, I needed baguettes. My ABin5 dough was on its last pound, so perfect for something small and flat. So Saturday morning, I made 2 baguettes. They are supposed to be 2" around, but mine went a bit flat and are more like an inch by 3-4" wide. Then, that evening, garlic bread with one baguette:

    Tyler's Ultimate Garlic Bread (slightly revised)
    • 1/2 stick butter (1/4 cup), at room temperature (or, if you forget, microwave for about 10 seconds. Not 15.)
    • 2 garlic cloves, mashed to a paste with a pinch of salt and extra-virgin olive oil
    • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley leaves
    • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
    • (Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper; I forgot these but didn't miss them)
    • Parmesan cheese, optional
    • 1 loaf crusty baguette
    Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Stir together the butter, mashed garlic, and herbs in a small
    bowl and season with salt and pepper. Tear or slice open the loaf of bread lengthwise, spread the herb-garlic mixture over both halves. Sprinkle with cheese if desired. Place on Silpat and bake for 15-20 minutes. Picture is from before baking; the one in back has the cheese.

    I loved the plain garlic bread. Nutmeg loved it with cheese. Eric doesn't like my really sour sourdough bread, which he thought overwhelmed the garlic and cheese.

    It might be too much butter. A good deal of oil was left on the Silpat afterward. But it was nicely soaked into the bread. Probably depends on how much surface area and bread depth you have. I'll be making this again tonight with the remaining baguette.

    Oh, and the tip? If you will be using a mixing bowl, take a tea towel, and wrap it up like a bandanna. Form a circle on your counter with the towel and place the bowl in it. It shouldn't slip around. I will use this the next time I'm mixing cookies or whipping egg whites, or such.

    Monday, August 9, 2010

    Yogrut [sic] Parfait

    One of our favorite meals lately is Yogrut Parfaits. The spelling is intentional--Nutmeg has never been able to say yogurt properly. She always says Yogrut. We're working on it, but she really hates practicing saying something correctly so it's an uphill battle. Pictures would show a lumpy, soggy mess, so I won't bother. Maybe if I layered it in a pretty clear glass like they do at restaurants...but I don't have such glasses and I don't like plain yogurt so I eat it all mixed up anyway.

    Yogurt Parfait
    • yogurt
    • honey to sweeten if desired (I desire it!)
    • fruit (fresh, frozen, canned, or dried)
    • granola
    Everything is to taste. I make my own yogurt and it's pretty sour. Maggie adores it plain (or, lately, on pretzels). I think it's terribly tart and don't like it at all. But if you add about a teaspoon of honey (more or less depending on the tartness of the fruit and granola) all is well. I use a baby spoon, which encourages small amounts of honey.

    Some flavors lately have included blackberries (freshly picked by Nutmeg in our front yard), dried peaches (new peaches arrive Saturday, so I HAD to finish the last couple pieces I was savoring), apples (dried, fresh, and frozen for apple pie filling which needed no honey), and pear (canned spiced pears Mom made a couple years ago--fabulous in this). I often mix flavors, too. Blackberry pear was quite good.

    A very simple recipe to include here, but until the past couple weeks, I don't think I'd ever made this for myself. Yet, I always have yogurt around since it's an ingredient in my favorite dip/dressing. Usually I get Maggie to eat it up. I know it's good for me, but I didn't have anything good to do with it. I'd tried putting jam in to sweeten it, but it was so boring. Adding in granola made it so much better. And I eat granola for breakfast already, so it's been easy to make the parfait instead.

    We also like this for lunch, dinner, dessert, and snacks. It's all in how you present it to the kid!

    I also baked bread this weekend. I missed the morning it was 50 degrees at 6am, but I did get it in the oven the following day, when it was about 60 (it's been over 70 at 6 am lately). It's very sour so very delicious. Also made a foccacia with pesto on top with the remainder of the rye dough; it was rather old and I recently saw a tip to make flatbreads with older dough. Perfect since when I make a loaf, it usually is less than 2" tall and is so hard to cut. As a flatbread, I don't care that it doesn't rise and it tastes just the same. And gives me an excuse to use my pesto.

    Oooh, recipe for that coming up soon. I made my first batch of pesto last week. I thought the basil was about to flower, but the sudden coolness held it off. I hope it doesn't flower till the weekend when I have more time to make it.

    Monday, August 2, 2010

    Bread, salsa, and concussions

    Aack! It's been too long since I posted. I have done a little in the kitchen, but after making so many desserts while Eric and Nutmeg were gone, I realized I needed to hold off on more sweets for a while. It's continued to be hot, well, at least for Maine (our two weeks of summer have passed and now it's only hot for part of the day to be honest), so I haven't felt like turning on the oven much. Plus, last Wed, Eric got a concussion and it's barely gotten better so I have been a lot busier than usual with Nutmeg, the animals, and everything else around the house.

    I did bake bread, but those photos seem rather repetitive after a while. However, the last two times, I let Netmeg make something with a small piece of dough. Since I use a rather wet dough, this hasn't worked out too well (it gets stuck all over her hands) so I've "helped" her make a figure: both times, she's made Sweetie (her kitten). This last time, I remembered to take a picture. See the tail, legs, eye (slightly darker brown bit towards the right) and ear (tiny point on the right above the eye)? She got to actually eat this one. The first one she was eating downstairs, we got an idea and everyone headed upstairs...and about 15 minutes later I remembered it had been left in easy reach of the dogs. Sure enough, it was gone. (And maybe Emma had bread dough stuck in her teeth and that's why she was hacking and licking a bunch?)

    It's finally time for some non-cooking adventures in the kitchen: the farmer's market finally has something other than plants and a very few salad items. (My delight at the early opening of the market here was short-lived. Almost no one had rhubarb, there was no asparagus at all, and only a couple folks had salad fixings in June. Mostly they sold plants.) It's time for TOMATOES! And that means salsa time in the Johnson house. We did this a little in Oshkosh, but something clicked last August and we made salsa a few times a week, buying a ton of tomatoes, peppers, and hot peppers every single week. And there weren't many tomatoes in Maine last year due to the extremely wet season combined with the late blight. So we're hoping to have salsa even more often this year.

    I used to follow recipes, except that didn't really work since we didn't have the right ingredients. So I finally realized the basic formula and now I just make sure to use the right things and taste for a few (salt and lime juice) and just put in all the tomatoes and peppers we want. Sometimes, I also make a corn and black bean (with my homegrown dried Cherokee Trail of Tears beans) salsa.

    • tomatoes, chopped into whatever size you like (it does work best if you take out the seeds and pulp; be sure to put these innards in the discard pile, not your salsa bowl or it will still be really wet. Yeah, I wasn't paying attention.)
    • sweet peppers (lovely to use a variety of colors although red and orange ones will blend in with the tomatoes. Unless you use a variety of tomato colors, too)
    • onions, chopped (green, scallions, or regular; the smaller the pieces, the more the onion taste and chance of tearing up while chopping)
    • garlic (I usually use the garlic press, but could also be chopped)
    • lime or lemon juice (I really like lime juice and this is the only thing I use it in)
    • cilantro if at all possible. Mine didn't grow well this year, so I hope the herb lady sells it by the bunch. It's okay without it, but lovely with it
    • salt to taste (often, this is what is missing when the salsa tastes a bit bland)
    • hot peppers to taste (Nutmeg and I prefer none while Eric likes his salsa really hot. In the picture, his bowl is to the right, adding them in after the whole batch is mixed together)
    • other veggies as desired. I've never done anything other than beans and corn, but you can put a lot of different things in salsa if you like! I might grate some carrots next time, as Nutmeg stopped eating them (except from our garden, which has only about 12 and they are radish sized).
    The flavors are best if you make ahead, but also tastes great freshly made. I tend to use more lime juice when it won't be sitting.

    I'm looking forward to trying a salsa with pineapple sage. Eric's favorite salsa has some pineapple in it, so why not?

    We all love salsa and every ingredient is good for you and hardly has any calories at all. So why not eat as much as you want? We do buy tortilla chips to go with it, but I actually think the fresh salsa tastes fine without any accompaniment. It's rather like a cold, uncooked veggie soup in a way (especially if you don't take out the tomato pulp).

    Friday, July 23, 2010

    Choco-Coco-Pineapple cookies

    Grandma Frost's Chocolate Chip Cookies are rapidly becoming my go-to recipe! I like the ones with coconut so much that I made another batch early this week. In half, I chopped up dried pineapple, which was a lovely touch. Pineapple is a rare item in this house, but last January I found some deeply discounted with Christmas baking products and snatched them up. It was a great addition, but makes the name rather long. Have to change it to something tropical.

    I had a problem baking these. I had originally intended to make them the day before and set out butter to soften. But I forgot and it got hot so I didn't want to. But then I had the idea to mix up the batter that night so that I could make them while it was still cool in the morning.

    That part went just fine. But it took a lot longer to bake coming straight from the fridge. And each batch took a little less time than the one before. So every one of them came out a little overdone. None burned, thankfully, but it was still annoying to have to watch them so carefully. The first sheet took at least 4 extra minutes, maybe 6!

    Better Than Reese's bar

    Nutmeg's favorite treat at the farmer's market is Better Than Reese's Bars. I figured I could make them far cheaper--they sell for $1.50 for a 3x2" bar! The ingredients for a whole batch might cost 4x that (because I usually buy fresh ground PB at about $4/2 cups). So I set out to try a recipe earlier this week.

    I realized that I essentially made the same thing I made last Christmas, except at Christmas time I was trying to duplicate PB cups and went through a heck of a lot more work, making them in a mini-muffin pan with chocolate on top and bottom. I looked at a bunch of recipes online and chose the one that sounded the best and included graham cracker crumbs (healthier than straight sugar, I hope). But it was way too sugary, so I added even more PB. Here's what I came up with:

    Better Than Reese's Bar
    • 2 1/2 c crushed graham cracker crumbs (18 full crackers)
    • 2 c peanut butter
    • 3/4 c butter, softened
    • 2 c confectioner's sugar
    • 2 c semi-sweet chocolate chips
    • 1/2 c peanut butter (opt)
    Mix together the crumbs, pb, butter, and sugar. Spread in a 9x13 pan. Melt chocolate chips (90-120 seconds in microwave, stir every 30 seconds, hold back 1/4c to temper after rest are melted). Add 1/2 c pb if desired for more pb taste. Spread on top. Cool for a while and cut into squares before chocolate hardens.

    Based on comments on the recipe, I'd already reduced the butter and sugar. But when I was done, it tasted like sugar only, so I double the PB (to 2 cups). I still wasn't sure, but after they cooled it tasted peanuty enough. I liked the idea of the pb in the chocolate, especially since I wasn't sure about the pb taste of the main portion. But that ended up tasting more PB-y as well, so I think it was a bad move.

    I crushed the crackers by hand. First, it took forever. Second, I couldn't get every crumb fine. Well, I could have, but I didn't want to spend another half hour doing it (imperfection is the key!). But this is one recipe where fineness matters. I would actually consider sifting out the larger pieces to crush by themselves. The small pieces make the bars feel like a Reese PB cup since it has little bits of nuts (or maybe crackers, too) in them. But the big pieces make it seem like you are eating pb on a graham cracker. (Which, by the way, is a lovely treat, but not what I was going for here.)

    I put most of them in the freezer and look forward to seeing what Nutmeg thinks of them. Perhaps she'll pay be $1.50 each Saturday for one? Well....I should at least give her a discount...say $1/bar? What better way to teach her that making it from scratch is cheaper than buying?

    On the other hand, she doesn't have a concept of money yet, so I'm not sure if that's what she'll learn. Maybe if I sell her two for the same price it would click? [Mine are a bit smaller, too. Maybe 4 for $1.50?]

    Oh, and I don't think these are better than Reese's mini peanut butter cups. It would be pretty hard to get better than them. But a close second that's far cheaper and I can make from scratch!

    Benedict Bars

    Special K bars were another favorite recipe from college. And one day, the recipe was published in an alumnae newsletter. But I improved it a bit, so I changed the name, in honor of my schools, The College of St. Benedict and St. John's University. This is probably my favorite dessert. I don't make it often, however, since I have to buy the main ingredient--cereal--as we almost never buy cold cereal.

    Benedict Bars

    Grease a 9x12 cake pan. Put in
    • 8 c cereal such as Special K, puffed grains, Cheerios, etc.
    In a small saucepan stir together
    • 3/4 c sugar
    • 3/4 c white corn syrup, honey, molasses or simple syrup (1/2 c sugar, 1/4 c water)
    Over medium heat, bring to a boil. Remove immediately. Stir in
    • 1 c peanut butter (I prefer fresh ground creamy)
    Pour over cereal and mix thoroughly with a spoon. Appears impossible, but just go slowly and eventually the syrup will coat all the cereal. Spread evenly and press down firmly with waxed paper, cereal bag, or butter wrapper.

    • 11-12 oz chocolate and butterscotch chips (I usually go about 2/3 and 1/3, but do it to your own tastes). 
    In microwave, takes about 90-120 seconds; stir every 30 seconds. Keep a dozen chips or so to stir in at the end (helps temper the chocolate). Spread over cereal and let cool. Cut into bars before chocolate hardens. These freeze well (thank goodness. Otherwise I think I'd eat them all in two days they are so fabulously yummy).

    The syrup should be stirred almost constantly so it doesn't burn. However, it's slow enough in the beginning that you can probably put it on while greasing the pan, measuring the cereal, and getting the PB ready.

    Original recipe called for corn syrup, which I never use. (I know it's not high fructose corn syrup, but it's still corn syrup. And another ingredient I'd have to buy special for this recipe, which I hate doing. So I experimented and found honey and simple syrup work just fine. I'm guessing molasses would, but I haven't actually tried it. I used honey today as I have a jar that sugared, so it's perfect for use in recipes that require heating the honey.

    I experimented with the recipe until I had too little syrup and too little chocolate (and then upped the amounts). These amounts seem almost right. Today, I think I could have used more syrup as some of the cereal fell off as I cut them into bars. But maybe I just didn't stir it together well enough. Some days I wish I put more chocolate on top, too. ;-)

    Eric found Chocolate Special K (regular cereal with chocolate chunks in it) and got it for me for these bars (he's so sweet!). Many of the chunks melted when I poured the syrup on. It's nice to have the extra chocolate in, but I won't bother again since I could just put more chocolate on top or throw some chocolate chips in.

    I like to imagine these are a healthy dessert with all the good for you cereal and the peanut butter. And honey--honey's better for you than corn syrup, right? But you have to cut the bars small, too!

    Sunday, July 18, 2010

    Scottish scones

    It was a beautiful sunny day, so I wanted to bake something in the Sun Oven. I had a lot of other things on my to-do list, so I didn't want to try something new so went back to an old favorite, Scottish Scones. I adapted this to have the least sugar and butter that the recipe could stand and we still loved.

    This is what I compare all my other scone recipes to. This is what I think of when I think of a scone.

    Scottish Scones (adapted from Pillsbury)
    • 1 1/2 c flour (ap, mix whole wheat and ap, or up to 50% ww pastry flour)
    • 3/4 c rolled oats
    • <1/4c packed brown sugar
    • 2 tsp baking powder
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
    • 7 Tbs butter
    • 1/2 c raisins, chopped apple, or other dried fruit (if cranberries, add extra sugar)
    • 1/2 c milk
    Combine dry and mix well. Cut in butter until crumbly.  Add milk all at once. Stir just until moistened. Knead 5 or 6 times. Will be very sticky. Place on greased/Silpat cookie sheet. Press in 6" round, 1" thick. Brush with milk and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Cut into 8 wedges.

    375 25-30 minutes or Sun Oven ~45 minutes (unless the sun goes behind clouds and then it takes longer, like this morning). Cut out a scone and check for doneness (will be nearly dry).

    Apple Cheddar: 1 chopped apple, 1/4c shredded cheese

    I almost always make a double batch, which just barely fits on one cookie sheet. Can do with only 13 Tbs butter.

    With all whole wheat pastry flour, they are too crumbly. Half works just fine.

    Note: I gave in and edited the scone picture. In keeping with the Imperfect Kitchen, I told myself I was not allowed to do anything special when taking photos and no fixing anything on the computer. I forgot to take pictures when they were still in the pan. I couldn't get close enough without getting a shadow on the scone, so the picture was mostly not scones. So I quickly cropped it. I also took these and the granola outside--but it was dark in the house due to shades being closed from the sun.


    I can't stand hot oatmeal, one of Eric and Nutmeg's favorite meals (any time of day, nearly any time of year). But I adore granola (which Nutmeg also loves, but Eric oddly does not). My Mom made an awesome granola when I was a kid, but I have not been able to replicate it (I think it had more sugar or oil than I wanted, too). A few years ago, I adapted a recipe from Alton Brown's Good Eats along with my Mom's, that has become a favorite. It's quite adaptable, too. It's a flaky granola, not chunky. (I LOVE chunky granolas--that's what Mom made, and what I love at restaurants/farmer's markets. I don't know what makes it that, but I'm guessing using sugar instead of honey, baking on a cookie sheet, and not stirring. But I prefer honey and molasses to having to cook sugar and honey on the stove.)

    • 3 c oatmeal or other rolled grains
    • 1-2 c chopped nuts (walnuts, cashews, almonds, etc)
    • pinch salt unless nuts or seeds are salted
    • 1/2 c coconut
    • 1/2 c wheat germ
    • 1/4 c sesame, flax, or sunflower seeds
    • 1-2 tsp cinnamon or other spices depending on nuts and dried fruit
    Put in 9x13 baking pan and toss with hands to mix well. (This can be done hours in advance.) Pour on top:
    • 1/4 c oil + applesauce OR 3/4 c applesauce (increase time by at least 15 mins)
    • scant 3 Tbs molasses (scant 1/3c for double batch)
    • heavy 3 Tbs honey (1/3 c for double batch)
    Mix well using hand. AB says to wear a disposable glove, but I just wash my hand afterward.

    250 oven for 1 hour 15 minutes, stirring and shifting oven position every 15 minutes. When cool, add dry fruit to taste.

    Walnut orange: 4 Tbs orange peel (although I make my own and its not very strong as I don't take much pith off; YMMV).
    Peanut butter: Substitute 1/2 c peanut butter for oil, shorten bake time to 1 hour.
    Sun oven: 1 hour with lid on, stir once. I didn't care for the taste as it doesn't dry out as much as in the oven.
    Misc: If I don't have nuts, seeds, or coconut, I leave them out. If it's all of the above, I put in more oats to replace the lots bulk. I've used wheat bran instead of wheat germ since I had it once. If you prefer honey or molasses, they are interchangeable; I love molasses but I did not like it when I did more than just under 50% molasses.

    Since we eat so much and it stores well in the freezer, I usually make 2-3 batches at once. Either size will fit in 2 9x13 pans or a roasting pan (increase time by 15 mins).

    This morning, I forgot the coconut as when I prepped the dry last night, I wanted to grate it fresh. But I didn't leave a reminder out and remember after it had been cooking. I did it with all applesauce, which I've surely done before, but it seemed much moister than usual and I baked it at least 30 minutes extra, maybe an hour. I made orange-walnut, with clementine zest from early spring.

    Saturday, July 17, 2010

    7 Layer Bars

    One of my favorite desserts from childhood is 7 Layer Bars. I was first introduced to these by Cindy Soukup, in either 4th or 6th grade. We had the same teacher both years, and she had a fabulous long-term assignment related to the local newspaper. One possible assignment was to take a newspaper recipe, make it, and bring it to share. Cindy brought 7 Layer Bars. I think my Mom still has the original recipe card Cindy or I made. I had been thinking about these anyway, but with the fresh coconut, it was an even easier choice.

    7 Layer Bars
    • 1/2 c butter, melted in a 13x9 pan (put in preheating oven)
    • 1 c crushed graham cracker crumbs (9 large crackers) mixed into butter and spread evenly
    • 1 c coconut
    • 1 c butterscotch chips
    • 1 c chocolate chips
    • 1 c chopped walnuts
    • 1 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
    Layer. Bake at 350 for 30 mins (or less; mine burned).

    I didn't have SCM, and instead of buying some, I decided to try a powdered milk recipe I came across a while back (see below). I think it worked okay. I'm not sure if the problems I'm having are due to the SCM variation or overcooking: I can't get them out of the pan in one piece. The butter/crumbs tends to stay behind. I tried while they were warm, I tried after cooling them down then letting them sit out (although they might have gotten too warm again; it was warmed than I thought in the evening). I tried straight out of the fridge. Will also try setting them out in the morning for only 15 minutes. In the picture, what looks like two bars to the right of the knife? That's one that looked perfect until I tried to pick it up and it split into two. The coconut layer split in half (was it the coconut?)

    The bottom also seems stickier than I recall these bars being; again is this due to the overcooking, the SCM, or something else?

    I used some special chocolate. As a treat for baking this week while Eric and Nutmeg are gone, I picked up some Icelandic chocolate bars at Whole Foods. I put almost $3 of chocolate in these, so I'm extra disappointed that I burned them. They still taste good, but the edges and corners aren't so great. And I don't think I can share them with anyone. And they might end up in tiny pieces eatable only with a fork or spoon!

    Sweetened Condensed Milk
    • 1 cup powdered milk
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 1 tbs butter
    • 1/2 cup hot water
     Blend very well in a blender. Or, mix milk and sugar, put soft butter on top, pour on hot water, and blend very well with a stick blender. It was grainier than from a can, but I think it would be fine in baking where that doesn't matter.

    Food Storage Made Easy has a handy chart with this recipe (PDF) as well as others with powdered milk. I keep mine on the inside of a cupboard door.

    Quick apple crisp

    There was one left over apple from something at work, which I didn't want to eat, so Nutmeg made an apple crisp for breakfast. (Which, it turns out, I'll be eating as she wasn't very hungry, didn't even ask for a snack, and they are now gone...and it's still on the counter.) I think next winter she'll be able to make this for herself, except for cutting the apple as she can reach everything with her stool--including the microwave!

    Quick apple crisp (by Nutmeg)
    • one apple, more or less, sliced or in pieces as desired, in a bowl
    • some oats
    • some brown sugar
    • some cinnamon
    • (some butter--I skip this for her, but it's more like real apple crisp that way)
    Simply sprinkle each on top, mix if desired, zap in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time until done. It took a minute this morning for a good sized yellow delicious apple. If it were winter, I'd probably do another 30 to get it really hot and soft. But it's summer in Maine and I wouldn't eat a hot apple crispy anyway. But Nutmeg loved it. (I bet it would be good with some nutmeg in it, too.)

    That's a hat she and Daddy made on Thursday; it was hat day at day camp. She wanted it in the picture. I asked--just the hat, not her!

    Choco-Coco cookies and using fresh coconut

    Nutmeg and I made another batch of Grandma's Frost's chocolate chip cookies this weekend. A few weeks ago, Nutmeg said she wanted to try a real coconut. They picked one up at the store right away, but we didn't get around to cracking it open. Earlier this week, we finally did and it was rotten. We tried one of those easy to crack ones--I think they cut all the way through then glue it back together. We should have opened it immediately. So last weekend, Nutmeg and I got one and cracked it open on Friday.

    We grated a cup and replaced the nuts called for in the recipe. I think they are FABULOUS with coconut. Eric thinks they are okay but nothing special. Nutmeg likes them, too. I almost threw in some dried pineapple, but these were mostly to send along to the beach house and I thought just coconut might be weird for some people. Next time!

    A few coconut tips
    • Don't let a 5 year old grate. She sliced her thumb knuckle quite quickly. :(
    • Eric started with a drill top open a hole to drain the coconut water. He used a very large bit, but that meant we only needed one hole. Neither Nutmeg nor I liked the coconut water.
    • Then he cracked it open with a chisel and hammer. Did not see that tip anywhere online. Much easier than with a hammer alone and didn't need a towel to keep the bits from flying around.
    • Place the pieces attached to hull on a cookie sheet and put in a 350 oven for 15 minutes. They will be easier to pry off the hull now. I let them cool for about 5 minutes; they were still hot so I had to hold the shell with a towel while I pried the coconut meat off. I used a small paring knife to get between the meat and the shell.
    • Then I used a vegetable peeler to get the brown inner shell (?) off. It was so easy with a peeler. Except my hands cramped so it took me a few hours off and on (maybe 30 minutes hands on, if that).
    • I used the smallest holes on my box grater. Never used these before but they are the perfect size for coconut.
    • I considered toasting the coconut, but Nutmeg said to put it in raw. I wasn't sure that it would matter in cookies anyway.
    I also used the coconut in 7 layer bars and hope to make granola soon with the rest of it.  I might make another batch of Choco-Coco cookies, too; I sent all but 6 (and the two or three I had right away) along to the beach house.

    I wish we lived near coconut trees. I really enjoyed having fresh coconut. So much nicer than the dried stuff from bags in the store. :(

    Oh, and for some reason 15 minutes at 350 was a wee bit too long this time. Nearly burned the cookies. Perhaps it was the pizza stone--I put the it on the bottom of the oven this time, as it had preheated and I had nowhere to put it in the kitchen. Sometimes I leave it on the rack. I'll have to keep note of how it affects things.

    Sunday, July 11, 2010

    Cinnamon swirl biscuits

    Decided to throw in another try at Swedish rolls this morning. Last week's scones were disappointing, until I ate them again a day or two later. They definitely had a similar density to what I remembered, so I decided to try again. This time, they look like SRs, but nothing else was similiar. Of course, I did a few other things differently this time, too. Like, last time, I had some half and half leftover and used that instead of skim milk. And I used the sun oven, which only goes up to about 350 instead of the oven at 450. But those two items may be the ticket. Next time, I'm using half and half (or something heavier than skim milk at least) and baking them at a lower temperature. I decided I better start writing down what I've tried to keep track, even when it doesn't work, so that I don't try the same thing twice.

    Sweet Milk Scones (American biscuits)
    adapted from From Celtic Hearths
    • 1 c all purpose flour
    • 1 c whole wheat pastry flour
    • 1 tsp baking soda
    • 2 tsp cream of tartar
    • 1/8 tsp salt
    • 4 Tbs unsalted butter
    • ~3/4 c milk/cream/half and half
    Sift dry (or mix well in a bowl). Cut in butter until it looks grainy. Make a well and pour in milk. Mix well. Add milk or flour as necessary to a soft, elastic dough (I don't know what that is, I just went till it looked like I could nearly roll it; last time, I needed more milk, this time, more flour). Knead dough lightly on a floured surface. For regular biscuits, pat about 3/4" thick, don't go too thin or they won't rise. Cut into 3" rounds. Bake at 450 for ~10 minutes. Or 350 for 20 minutes?

    For cinnamon swirls, roll into a rectangle until about 1/3" thick (I didn't measure). Spread with softened butter and coat heavily with cinnamon sugar. Roll up and cut into about 16 pieces. (Or less--these are pretty thin). Bake at 450 for ~10 minutes.

    Swedish rolls look rather like this, but heavier and with a lot more cinnamon sugar (or possibly cardamon, since that's an often-used Swedish spice).

    I also baked bread yesterday, but it looks just like the others I've posted so I didn't take a picture. Didn't bake anything else because it was over 70 at 6am, and even checking on the bread at 7am it just felt icky getting blasted by the heat. 

    Yogurt Dip/Dressing

    This is my favorite salad dressing and dip (especially for pretzels and potato chips. And veggies. I guess for anything). I found it a couple years ago when I was looking for something to use up a lot of spinach. I make it all year round now as the spinach doesn't add all that much flavor anyway. No picture as it's just a white blob with some green bits from the herbs.

    Yogurt Dip/Dressing
    1 c chopped fresh spinach (optional)
    1 c yogurt and mayo (I like to use 2/3-3/4c yogurt as I make nonfat yogurt so this is almost no calories; original called for an equal split)
    3/4-1 tsp season salt (I make my own)
    1/8 tsp each dried parsley, basil, and oregano OR 1+ Tbsp fresh basil, and a large pinch each parsley and oregano OR to taste
    2 or so cloves of garlic, minced

    It's very forgiving. I just used a bunch of fresh herbs picked from the back deck and the bit of garden out the front door; I didn't measure any of them. I love basil and garlic so usually go pretty heavy on them. Nutmeg would prefer I used less garlic. Last summer, she was eating entire cloves of raw. This summer...can't stand it. (Same goes for lemons and salads in general. ::sigh::)

    I made yogurt yesterday especially for this. Good thing as Nutmeg and I finished the previous batch with pretzels for lunch.

    I also baked bread yesterday (looks pretty much just like all the others I've posted).

    Wednesday, July 7, 2010

    Weekend baking

    Besides the nut rolls, I didn't do anything special this weekend. Spent much of the weekend on the couch. On Friday evening, Nutmeg stepped in front of me at Target, and I hit the floor with my knees. But first, I hit her head with my stomach and had all the breath knocked out of me. She must have hit the floor beneath me, but she didn't get even a bruise. Since I could breathe and my knees were in great pain, I curled up on the floor, causing at least two people to think I'd fainted and trying to call for an ambulance. Eric convinced them the wait, i managed to gasp out that Id had the air knocked out of me and then waited till i could breathe again to start crying over my knees. To finish it up quickly, my knees are fine though bruised and I simply took it easy all weekend.

    I baked bread Friday morning, banana bread in the sun oven yesterday, and some more "scones" today in the sun oven (once again, they are biscuits, very lovely ones, though not what I'm looking for). I did not undercook the banana bread this fact I may have overcooked it which is hard to do in a solar oven. Either that or we over beat it, which since Nutmeg did all the mixing wouldn't surprise me. Wait, could also be the 1/2 c of oats I threw in since everything's been so moist lately.

    Salted nut rolls

    Uncle Monkey, hold your horses! Yes, we'll make these for you some day. But not until we perfect the recipe. Ooops, nothing's perfect around here. So, let's say, till we make it a little better.

    Last week, I received a sample issue of Cook's Country. On the last page is a recipe for salted nut rolls, my brother's favorite candy bar and one that I rather enjoy as well. When Maggie said she wanted to bake cookies yet again, I suggested making candy instead. She thought that would be fabulous, but had no ideas. So I suggested the nut rolls and she thought that sounded great, as she loves peanuts. Had to buy nearly all the ingredients, which made it rather expensive, but worth it if they were better than Pearson's Nut Rolls.

    Made far more than called for. But I couldn't imagine making them any thicker. Had leftover caramel but barely enough nuts. Nutmeg mixed a bit of food coloring into her piece and it turned out quite nicely (can you see the pink on the third roll?). Would be fun to make all sorts of colors and maybe even add some flavoring in.

    They taste like sugar + sugar + a little bit of peanuts. Rather disappointing, although Eric and Nutmeg think they are fabulous. Only after I had already chopped the nuts did I remember that Pearson's has fairly large pieces. So this morning, I set one roll out to soften the caramel and broke some remaining nuts into large pieces. Managed to get them to stick, and it tastes much better. Eric suggested dipping them in chocolate--always a win--or drizzling something on top. Could Lao redip them in more caramel then back in nuts. I have some caramel left so may try that.

    Want to get this posted but don't have the recipe with me. Will update later.

    Friday, July 2, 2010

    Scones? Biscuits? Who knows?

    I am on a quest--just begun--to replicate a favorite recipe from college, Swedish Rolls. I've search online, but only come up with recipes for what is essentially a cinnamon roll with cardamon in addition to cinnamon. But the Swedish rolls from CSBSJU were not cinnamon rolls. They're more like a biscuit or scone, although they are shaped like a cinnamon roll. Not yeasted, either. I can't imagine rolling my favorite scone recipe, as it's so sticky and heavy I can barely press it into a round for baking. So I decided to try the scone recipe from Confections of a Closet Master Baker.

    Boy was I disappointed! I ended up with baking powder biscuits! So I searched to find out the difference between scones and biscuits. Depending on who you listen to, there are all sorts of differences, some of which are contradictory! (First, I should note I live in the United States, so I'm using the American terms.) One is that scones have egg while biscuits don't. My favorite scone recipe? No eggs. This recipe--which I think tastes just like "my" biscuit recipe--has an egg. Some say just adding sugar and fruit to a biscuit recipe makes it a scone, but I do that to the biscuit recipe all the time and still call them biscuits. My scone recipe has oatmeal (making it Scottish) and half the baking powder. I'm going to have to do this more systematically, I suppose, and compare things very closely. Not this morning, however. But I will be experimenting to find the right consistency for Swedish rolls so expect to see more biscuits and scones this summer.

    Since I was unimpressed, I shan't include the recipe. Extra disappointed because the other recipes in this book are fabulous and unusual. This isn't even the slightest unusual. Unless you count calling it a scone! Also, it made 12 instead of the called-for 8 and I used a much larger biscuit cutter--called for 1.5 inches which is tiny! I used a 2.5" one.

    Also baked bread this morning. still experimenting with buns. These are turning out better-shaped, and I like them as rolls, but they aren't light weight. But the bread isn't, either.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010

    PB choc chip cookies made as bars

    Maggie also wanted to make M&M cookies last weekend. I only had mint M&Ms which I didn't really want to waste in cookies, so I asked her if she'd like to make choc chip cookies with the special caramel/choc swirl chips. She happily agreed. Then we decided to put in peanut butter, too. Again, it was her choice between that and oatmeal.

    We used Grandma Frost's Recipe again, which includes the possibility of an optional 1 cup of peanut butter. We also put in chopped walnuts. Maggie chopped them in my awesome nut chopper--it's the one my Mom had when I was a kid. Not having anything with which to chop nuts as an adult, I dreamed of finding a chopper like her's at a garage sale. Never did. Then it occurred to me that she probably never used it anymore, between having a food processor and arthritis in her hands. So a couple years ago, I asked. And voila! I now have the nut chopper. It holds great memories because I usually chopped the nuts for Mom (and for myself I guess), and now Maggie is doing it "Just like Mom did when she was a little girl like me!" I was surprised that it took her the entire mixing time to chop the nuts. Then later, when we were telling Eric about making them, she added in that she had eaten a lot of nuts and I asked if that's why it had taken so long. She laughed and said yes.

    Rather than making 5 sheets of cookies and having to be in the kitchen with the oven on for more than an hour, we made bars. I put a Silpat in my jelly roll pan (slightly larger cookie sheet); it doesn't quite cover then entire pan, but the dough doesn't go under and everything turns out just fine. I intentionally cut them small--portion sizes are out of control around here and I was shooting for the original sized cookie. The recipe makes 5 dozen if you make them the right size. I think I got 6 dozen! I've found that I will want to eat 2-4 cookies no matter what size they are. So making them smaller...I eat less but am nearly as satisfied.

    They are lovely. Two problems--the caramel swirl chips don't add much flavor. I though the PB overwhelmed them, but Eric said they didn't taste very caramely on their own, either. Second, although they looked great in the pan, in the bag their dryness became evident as at least a cookie's worth of crumbs was left from about 1/3 of the cookies. The tasted fine, but very crumby. I can't wait to try these with regular choc chips since I love pb and chocolate.

    Rhubarb mini pies

    Last weekend, Maggie decided we should make something with the rhubarb we bought the previous weekend from our farmer. I wasn't quite sure this should be "her" thing, as last time we had it, she did NOT like the rhubarb (I made rhubarb compote). But she insisted, since the rhubarb had been her choice at the market. So we did it.

    She didn't help a whole lot, but you can tell she's growing up: She still hung out near the island and talked with me, helping just a little here and there the entire time. In the past, she'd get bored or annoyed and leave. We based it on the banana mini pies, again using the crust recipe from Joy of Cooking. I didn't put plastic wrap over the bowl in the fridge, which I think made the crust dry out. (With the banana ones, I divided the dough in two and put each in a plastic box, since I'd originally made the crust the night before. This time, I just stuck the bowl in the fridge. So, anyway, the point is: Cover the dough in the fridge, just like they say!) The top pie in the pic is very good evidence of the problem with a dry crust. Using rhubarb also didn't help, as it's hard and pokey, so I think every single pie had at least one hole in it. The holes also meant that the nice juicy part of the filling seeped out. Thank goodness for Silpats! Maggie really enjoyed the caramelized spilled filling, so it didn't go to waste.

    I used the rhubarb pie filling from Joy of Cooking as well. It called for 5 cups of rhubarb. I think I used no more than half of what I made, even though I used an entire recipe of dough for a double crust pie. Wait, I did have a ton of crustie cookies at the end. But maybe enough for only one more pie. (I cooked the remaining filling in the microwave for about 5 minutes until it was like compote, but stickier. Then put it in the freezer since I had the fresh pies to eat.)

    I tried a 7-8" crust diameter, using one of my plates for a cutting guide. It just looked too darn big (for individual servings that is). So the others I used a bowl, making them between 5 and 6". That was just about right.

    The rhubarb pie recipe said the brush the tops with milk or cream and spring with sugar. This was far easier than with egg yolk (which the banana's called for). I used the leftover 1/2 and 1/2 from the banana ice cream. And plenty of sugar since I wasn't sure how sweet the filling would be. It was sweet--at least sweet enough for me but then I love rhubarb (with sugar).

    For some reason, Maggie didn't try one until Tuesday night. I offered her a taste before giving her an entire pie. We made an initial mistake: I broke the pie to make sure she had an inner bite, not just crust. She got a bite almost entirely of filling and that was too sour! I convinced her to try a second bit that included crust and she LOVED it. (I tried to get Eric to try it then, too, but he refused. He doesn't even like the smell of rhubarb. I guess I understand, since I feel that way about coffee, ketchup, and alcohol.)

    I put half of them in the freezer, and can't wait to make more next year. I hope it will be with rhubarb from our backyard that time.

    Friday, June 25, 2010

    Pizza pockets

    I've long thought of making calzones or pizza pockets. Picked up some pizza sauce with a coupon last weekend, so decided to make them today. I generally followed The Finer Things in Life's Pizza Pockets Recipe. I used my Artisan Bread in 5 dough, made on Monday with 2 cups of rice flour and sourdough starter. It's a very, very soft dough. Made a decent loaf of bread this morning, although it spread a bit and nearly burned. Did not work the best for pizza pockets, which require a good deal of dough handling. Especially a bad idea to make some in advance, let them rest on a Silpat *without cornmeal* and then have to scape them up to move them to the pan. Here's what that batch looked like in the pan:

    I baked them for 30 minutes in the Sun Oven at 350. Here's what they looked like after:
    The white squares are unmelted Manchego cheese (I also used Cabot's seriously sharp chedder, because these are the two cheeses we have); the red chunks on top are pepperoni so I didn't accidentally give them to Nutmeg who gets the plain cheese ones (below). You can see how thin the dough ended up, even though I tried to keep it decently thick. Here's what the first batch looked like. One 13x9 pan just fits in my sun oven, and 2 large or 4 small pockets fit. The first batch, I just put them in; the second batch I used some cornmeal. It was a little easier on the second batch, but the first wasn't difficult to get out.
    There were 3, but Nutmeg and I shared one for a snack. I like the sauce! They don't brown much in the Sun Oven, but they are cooked. In 30 minutes, they were bubbling.

    Edited to add: Maggie didn't eat them again, saying she didn't like them, but I greatly enjoyed them especially cold. Eric liked them, too. The crust totally didn't work and fell apart more when these were reheated. The pepperoni bits, by the way, did NOT stick to the crust. Will definitely make these again.

    Thursday, June 24, 2010

    Orange Dream Cake

    A few weeks ago, I made a fabulous orange bundt cake. I have kept the web page open on my iPhone ever since as I intended to write down the recipe. I haven't. But now I can "keep" it via the blog! I even have a picture:

    When I posted this to FaceBook, W. said it looked Lovecraftian. Cool! (Although I've never, ever read his books.)

    The basic recipe is for Orange Bundt Cake. I used a couple tablespoons of dried zest (mainly Clementine zest, which tastes just like orange zest as far as I can tell, and is easier to make as the skin is so thin you just peel the Clementine, cut it up, and dry it. Wait, the cutting isn't all that easy. But you don't need a microplane grater at least.) Since I eschew alcohol completely (except as vanilla extract), I made an icing of powdered sugar and orange juice with some more zest in it, too (note: as long as you put it on while the cake is still warm, it will get clearer when on the cake so don't thin too far). It was moist, orangey, and really, really good.

    The day before I made this, I found a regular bundt pan at a garage sale. For some reason, I remember my Mom's quite fondly, and this one was just like it (white interior and orange exterior. Or was Mom's black inside?). I bought it. Then, a few streets over, I found this totally wild bundt pan, expensive at $5 (but I got a steal on something else there) and bought it, too. The primary problem with a pan like this is all the crooks and crannies. I used a pastry brush (silicone) to get shortening in everywhere. Despite my attention, when I floured the pan, you could see I'd missed places. I tried to fix it, but may have made it worse, so I quit while I was ahead. The cake came out easily, so I guess I did okay.

    The recipe filled the pan, plus to 4" ramekins. Which we ate at home while I took this one in to work.

    I need to buy more orange juice. I thought I made make this again this weekend, but then I ended up with all the banana ideas so I didn't. That OJ was gone quickly (got it with a free coupon) so I don't know when I'll have OJ around again. When I do, I will save 1 cup of juice right away!

    Another note: If you have a 5 year old, don't leave this on a counter to cool. S/he might swipe all the frosting off the cake pan. At least she didn't touch the cake itself!