Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Yule!

Busy day, wasn't it?
Here are a couple of pictures showing part of the bounty:

the cookies

The kids (the brunch is there, too)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Yule to All!

As promised, I made the mushroom galette for Solstice dinner (courtesy of Nicole and her wonderful mother). Oh my. It was so good. Even the crust turned out well, and that's always hit or miss for me. I baked it on my pizza stone, and it was flaky and olive-oily and light. It blended perfectly with the earthy mushrooms and spinach and guyere cheese.

It will be a regular addtion to my menus, methinks. Such a lovely thing to do with mushrooms.

Tonight is Christmas Eve, the special night my husband and I share together. I have a light dinner all ready (it's wrapped and stuffed in our stockings - except for the champagne, which is in the fridge), We'll light a fire (I hope) and have our meal, then we'll take our champagne to the living room and open our gifts to each other. It's always a fun and magical time.

In our next house, I hope we have one room that we can have both fireplace AND Yule tree together. That will make it perfect.

Tomorrow my kids come over and we have brunch-that-lasts-all-day. Baked ham, beef brisket, oat scones, peanutbutter coffeecake, scrambled eggs, country-fried potatoes with roasted peppers and onions...

Eggnog, mimosas, tea... and of course all those cookies and cakes. We'll open presents with them and play lots of games. In good years, we always take a long walk, but this year, a slow recovery from surgery means it's not a good idea. And there are no dogs to walk with us, either.

But we have two pregnant couples this year, although only one will be here for Yule. And the best news of all: my stepson is home from Iraq, safely with his family in Honolulu. Life is good, and I know we're lucky.

So Merry whatever holiday you celebrate, and Happy New Year, too! On to 2009!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Baking Bread

I love bread, and making my own is still a big thrill. I try to do it as often as possible. I like knowing exactly what's in my bread, and I like knowing there are just a few ingredients there. I don't mind kneading, either.

My ongoing problem with bread is getting the loaf to rise to the right height. My bread always ends up just a few inches high. Considering that our bread is used mostly for sandwiches, this is a drawback.

I can't say that this method has solved that problem, but I found a great idea in a recent copy of Mother Earth News. The idea is to make a big batch of dough and let it sit in the frig until you're ready to tear off a chunk and bake it. The dough doesn't require kneading, and it keeps for at least a couple of weeks. I made the whole wheat version and I'm sold. This is great bread!

I'm experimenting with pan sizes and the amount of dough to use. The second loaf I made rose a bit higher than the first, but I used more dough. Next time I'll use more dough and a smaller pan. I really want a 6 inch high sandwich loaf!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holiday Cooking

My Kitchen Aid is getting a workout as I fill the counters with rum cakes, bourbon balls, and cookies. I love to bake, and although I've reached an age when one cookie has to be enough (well, one cookie a day), I still have to fill the urge. So the goodies become gifts to friends and kids, which is just plain, simple fun.

Of course, my friends are doing the same thing, so I still end up with a decent supply of forbidden goods. I'm the master of freezing and eating a small amount at a time.

I'm planning a winter solstice feast for the 21st - just my husband and me. If the goddess will be merciful, it won't be a Spare the Air Day, so we can have a fire. Wouldn't it be sad if our overpopulation and pollution prevents us from celebrating the lengthening of days with firelight? If it does, I'll light a few candles and be content.

But the feast: I'm making Nicole Spiridakis' Mushroom and Spinach Galette, which recipe you will find here, on NPR. Nicole's version sounds wonderful, but I'm following her Mom's advice and adding Gruyere cheese to mine.

I will also cook up a kale salad: just saute some shallots and minced jalapeno in olive oil, add torn kale leaves and toss until the leaves wilt. Add a little salt and you've got a bright green and slightly spicy addition to the meal.

I think the galette calls for a Zinfandel or maybe even a Cab.

Dessert will be Viennese Crescents, a cookie from my childhood that I simply adore. Nicole has that recipe on her blog, but I'll add it here, too. These are perfect representations of the crescent moon.

Viennese Crescents

1 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 cup ground (unblanched) almonds
1 teaspoon vanilla
Confectioner's sugar

Preheat oven to 300 F. Cream the butter and then add the sugar, flour, almonds, and vanilla. Mix well.

Shape with fingers in crescents about 3 inches by 1 inch and 1/2 inch thick. Roll in confectioner’s sugar.

Place on cookie sheets. Bake 35 minutes. Cool. Roll in sugar again.

They store best in an airtight container with an inch or so of confectioner's sugar in the bottom.

Makes 36.

Yes - my friends will find some of these in their gift baskets, too.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Turkey Pot Pie with Pumpkin Biscuit Topping

We had this last night, as another way to use Thanksgiving leftovers.

I had the turkey broth, with loads of meat, already cooked and frozen. I used one jar of it, with some added water, carrots, onions, and peas. I mixed in a little cornstarch to thicken it.

Very simple. Classic taste.

It was the pumpkin biscuits that took it over the edge.

They were butternut-squash biscuits actually, using some squash leftover and also in the freezer. Here's the recipe:

2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter
1 cup squash (I think I had a little more than that)
Milk to consistency

Mix the dry ingredients, cut in the butter until mixture resembles cornmeal. Add the squash and mix, adding milk as needed to make the dough pliable.

Knead for a few strokes, pat out and cut into biscuits.

For regular biscuits, you can bake these on a greased cookie sheet at 400 for about 15 minutes.

I placed them on top of the turkey filling, which I'd poured into a greased baking pan. I baked the whole thing, uncovered, at 400 for about 25 minutes,until the buscuits were golden brown.

This was simply delicious. We have enough for two more meals!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Using aioli

Anybody know if aioli can be frozen?

I just made a batch of this delicious sauce, but good grief. We'll never use it up. I'm thinking of freezing it in tablespoon-sized batches, so I can use it as needed.

Can't hurt. I'll have to throw it out anyway, but this gives me a chance to save it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Back for the Holidays

I've missed a couple of months of entries and I feel quite bad about that. I've been distracted by an illness in the family, which has taken a lot of my time and attention. But things are slowly on the mend and I'm going to try and be back.

Yes, I did cook for Thanksgiving. We had ten people all together. Usually, we do a potluck, but this year, for one reason or another, I elected (and was elected) to do all the cooking, except for the appetizer and dessert.

I'm out of practice cooking turkeys. It was a fumble - not quite done at the time it should have been. I cooked it for five hours! But there you have it. It was necessary to toss the thing in the microwave and maybe not cut to close too the bone.

What a mess. But it tasted great and the rest of the meal turned out fine: Sweet Potato Casserole, Cornbread Stuffing (that wasn't stuffed into the turkey), Mashed Potatoes, gravy, cranberry relish, and a yummy salad with greens, cranberries, toasted pecans, apples, and a cranberry-pinot dressing.

Yum. And did that carcass make a great broth when I cooked it the next day!

The next day, all the kids came over and I made stuffed pizzas - one sausage/mushroom, and one pesto/cheese. That one was the big winner and I must make it again!

We had cookies and ice cream and blueberry pie for dessert. Lots of wine. Due to my husband's illness, my son had gallantly pulled all our Chrismtas decorations out of the garage and set up our tree. So the kids helped decorate it after dinner. That's the earliest I've had it up, but what a great help it all was! Thanks kids!

The turkey soup I made was a big hit a few days later. I used the broth and meat from the carcass and added extra carrots and celery and broccoli (including the leaves). I didn't have potatoes, so I made a batch of spaetzle to simmer in the pot as noodles. Great soup!

So the food juggling continues. I'm still trying hard to not let anything go to waste. I even put the leftover whipped cream in little mounds and froze them. These are great for a quick dessert.

I won't promise to post everyday, but I will promise to try. I haven't been working, either and probably won't start up again until the new year. So this is a strange time for me, but I expect things to return to some form of normal.