Sunday, December 30, 2012

Quick Fixes

I've taken a partial baking vacation this past week and plan to do so in the coming week, baking just a few different kinds of bread for my shelves at Local Roots and not a whole lot else.  I sort of miss the luxury of having about a week and a half completely off work as I did when I worked at the library, but there are ways of getting a little extra time off now that my schedule is more flexible.

Of course, even though I wasn't taking as much to market, I was still doing some work behind the scenes.  Since I'm teaching a class on making whole grain biscuits and scones at Today's Kitchen Store on January 12, I needed to finish testing and tweaking recipes.

And, well, someone has to sample the results!

I worked out the basic scone recipe (with eggnog and pecans, yum!) just before Christmas, but I needed to tweak the cappuccino hazelnut scone recipe again (above).  Oh, darn.  And though I've got the biscuit recipe pretty well perfected, it's hard to resist making cheddar buttermilk biscuits whenever possible.

Because, you know, when you have leftover chili, you need cheddar biscuits.  You do.

Finally, I tested my last recipe, a semi-original recipe for orangette scones using some of the candied orange peel I made last week.  While you might think a whole grain scone loaded with chocolate would be dense, these actually turned out beautifully light and flaky.  Rich, yes, but ethereally so.

(I confess, after having a test scone from that batch, I did give the rest away, mostly to the gracious ladies at the public library.  I just couldn't let myself be tempted any more!)

So now I have all my recipes tested, my handout written up, my prep lists together -- and I am ready to go forth and teach.

Hungry yet?

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Live and Let Pie

I wanted to do something a little different for our Christmas feast this year.  It's been hard for me to get motivated to make much of anything sweet -- I burned out on baklava by mid-December, and I only made one batch of biscotti (and gave it all away to the Absent-Minded Professor who was, as always, hungry and grateful).

But I splurged on some delicious Page oranges from Florida this year, knowing that I wanted to make some candied orange peel for an upcoming TKS class.  And with that many oranges in the place, it naturally followed that my special Christmas dessert would be... Pie in the Sky.

I haven't made this pie in a while, and I decided to update it a little this time around.  Instead of using store-bought graham crackers to make the crust, I borrowed an oat-pecan pie crust recipe from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking.  It made for a thicker crust, but the contrast in textures was wonderful.

The delineation of layers turned out to be a little more dramatic this time around, too, with the meringue-like top being very light and spongy and the custard filling being very creamy.  The orange flavor working through every part of the pie (including the orange-peel-infused whipped cream, not shown) was extraordinarily intense this time around; what a treat!

It took four oranges (juice and pulp) to make the pie, so I had plenty of peel left over to candy.  This year's candied peel is better than I remember: each strip tastes almost like gum drops, only way better.

The pie got rave reviews at dinner, and I got the leftovers (which is not a wholly good thing).  It will be a few years before I make it again, probably, so I will enjoy this year's pie for as long as I can.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Holiday Dish List

'Tis the week of Christmas, and since I plan to take a partial vacation from business baking later this week, it seemed an ideal time to indulge in some delicious baking and cooking for myself (and for My Dear Papa, since we are sharing a holiday feast today).

--Okay, technically these scones are business-related as I need to finish testing and tweaking recipes for my upcoming biscuits and scones class at Today's Kitchen Store.  I made a basic whole wheat scone, replaced a bit of flour with rolled oats, added some eggnog in place of cream, dusted the dough and the scones lightly with nutmeg, brushed cream on top and sprinkled with sugar and chopped pecans.  How lovely!

--I found a recipe recently for a Brussels sprouts hash that incorporated candied pecans.  Since I had picked up fresh sprouts at the market last week and received a gift goodie bag of candied pecans from one of the cafe chefs, I knew I had to try it!  Easy peasy: shred the sprouts, then saute them in olive oil with a bit of salt and pepper and balsamic vinegar, then throw in the crushed pecans.  This dish was so good, My Dear Papa asked for some of the leftovers!

--Of course, it wouldn't be a special winter feast in my book without the ever-decadent gratin dauphinois I learned to make in France.  This year's dish used potatoes and garlic from my own garden, homemade butter from the Delighted Gardener, lots of shredded Gruyere cheese, and straight-up cream.  Not milk, not half-and-half -- cream.  Now you know why I only make it once a year.

I also provided the dinner rolls (spelt) while Dad made the fennel-and-cornbread-stuffed turkey breast, and I brought a special dessert, too.  But that's worthy of its own post...

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Saturday, December 15, 2012

I Have a Beef With This Recipe

This month has been utterly exhausting so far, and I have felt more than usually depleted of iron and other nutritional tweaks to my well-being.  I'm still mostly a vegetarian, though I've become a "meat snob" who will occasionally indulge in good local grass-fed meats in small quantities.  But this week, I knew I needed beef and plenty of it.

Luckily, a couple of weeks ago I spotted a recipe for Ginger Beef Noodle Soup on my friend Emily's blog (recently revived to share what she has learned about her new house and how to live a less energy-dependent lifestyle).  I knew I had a package of beef stir-fry strips (from the Fiddlin' Farmer) and plenty of local ginger in the freezer, and with fresh carrots, onions, and garlic plus pac choi from the freezer, I was pretty sure the soup would be a breeze to throw together.

Bless Emily and her bare-bones recipe, I didn't even have to worry about exact quantities or sticking exactly to the directions.  I browned the beef with the onion and ginger, added most everything else, and let it simmer a while before I ladled out a dish for dinner.

Wow!  Spicy but flavorful, my version of the soup had a wonderful kick from red pepper flakes as well as lots of ginger, and every bite had a perfect melding of flavors.  I had a nice big bowl for supper and still tucked two pints into the fridge for later consumption.  And oh! do I feel better!

So what's my beef with this recipe?  Only this: I can't wait to make it again!

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Sunday, December 02, 2012

To Syrup, With Love

Since I've been trying to give a little more time to writing lately -- writing articles, that is -- I've started working some little field trips into my schedule.  Last week I headed south to visit a friend from Local Roots to see his family's farm and to check out his home business.

With 55 acres of rolling pasture bordered by woods and gardens, you'd think Michael Jaeb would do more with livestock or field agriculture.  Instead, he gathers both wild crops and cultivated ones, takes them into his new commercial processing kitchen, and makes syrup.

He started with maple syrup and gradually learned how to make hickory syrup from the bark of his shagbark hickory trees.  Following the success of that, he started developing syrups using the fruit and herbs from his gardens.

Since I use a number of his syrups in my baked goods, I was thrilled to get to see behind the scenes of these beautiful bottles.  He gave me a tour of his kitchen, answered lots of questions, patiently allowed my snap-happy photography -- then fed me a deliciously creamy squash soup for lunch before we headed out to walk the back 40.

Over the holidays I'll have to sit down and work on the article as I hope to send it to a local magazine for their spring issue, but suffice it to say, it was a wonderful afternoon and I learned a great deal.

Now that's sweet success!

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