Monday, August 20, 2012

I'm still here.....

Just excessively busy.  While I will be posting again, I don't foresee it being before November.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

C is for cookie, that's good enough for me!

After finally giving up on Thanksgiving leftovers, I have decided that it's time for me to start work on the long list of Christmas cookies for this year.  These lovely jam sandwich cookies have been on my list every year that I've been on my own and were made every year that I can remember either by my mother or my Oma when I was growing up.  Surprisingly, I don't have their recipe for these and quite frankly can't remember ever seeing one.  Instead I use a recipe from The Best of Baking which is absolutely amazing and tastes just like theirs.

Austrian Jam Rings
2 2/3 cups flour
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla sugar
grated peel of one lemon
1/2 cup finely ground hazelnuts
1/3 to 1/2 cup jam (red currant, seedless raspberry, or the like)
powdered sugar

Put flour in a large bowl and cut in butter.  Make a well in the center of flour mixture and add in egg yolks, sugars, lemon peel and hazelnuts.  Knead all together until dough sticks together and can be formed into a disk (if the dough is not coming together gently knead in another egg yolk).  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Roll out dough 1/4 inch thick on a floured surface.  Using a round, fluted cookie cutter approximately 2 1/2 inches in diameter, cut dough into rounds.  Using the the clean top of a round lipstick tube (hey, don't laugh, it's the best thing ever), cut a hole in the center of an even number of those rounds.  Use a spatula to move the rounds and rings to the baking sheets.  Bake for 10 minutes, or until browned.  Remove from sheet and place on a wire rack to cool completely.  Repeat with remaining dough.

Using the tip of a butter knife, place about 1/2 teaspoon of jam in the center of a round.  Top it with a ring and press slightly together.  Repeat with remaining rounds and rings, lining them up on a wire rack.  Heavily sift powdered sugar over the tops of the cookies.  Let sit until powdered sugar is absorbed by the jam in the middle of the cookies.  Store in an airtight container.

a note on filling:  If you use red currant, don't use jelly.  You really need the jam to get the correct flavour and texture.  If you can't find red currant then I would suggest seedless raspberry or if you have homemade jams, any tangy red jam will work beautifully. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Real Sugar Plum

I am a big proponent of traditional foods on holidays, but I always try to add in some new things here and there to make it interesting.  If the thought of having only the same pies for Thanksgiving this year makes you feel like you're stuck in a rut, give this plum cake a try.  Not only is it still very fallsy, but it's refreshing, surprisingly light and can be prepared a day in advance.  In fact, it's actually better the next day.

Coming from a German background has given me a great appreciation for "peasant" fare; hearty, simple, and using the foods available during the season.  This is one of those type of dishes.  The plums that are used for this dish are called Italian prune plums in the few stores that I've been able to find them in here, but where I come from in Germany (Rheinland-Pfalz) they're called Quetsche and they are a staple fruit during the tail end of summer and throughout fall.  My Opa used to make Slivovitz, a Slavic plum brandy, with them and my Oma made Latwerg, an extremely thick plum butter that needed to cook for three days.  My mother and I still make the Latwerg, but sadly we never did get to see my Opa make the Slivovitz.  On the day of my graduation my mother presented me with a bottle that he had put up the year I was born.  It was amazing....but could burn the hair off a rhino at 20 paces.  The only one brave enough to have a second shot straight after the first was my sister, and she couldn't speak above a hoarse, raspy whisper for a few hours afterward.   I don't think I have ever mentioned this before, but I am so glad I have the heritage that I do, it is amazing.

This recipe makes three 10 inch cakes so adjust according to your needs.

dough (adapted from a recipe in The Best Of Baking):
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup warm milk
2 packages active dry yeast
4 2/3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
4 eggs
canola oil

9 pounds Italian prune plums
granulated sugar

For the dough:
Mix sugar and yeast with warm milk (between 110 and 115 degrees) and set aside to proof for 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, at the Hall of Justice....uh, oops, this isn't my Useless Superheros slash page....mix flour and salt together in a large bowl.  Heat oven to 220 degrees and turn off heat.  Stir cooled butter and eggs into yeast mixture and pour liquid ingredients over flour mixture.  Bring together into a ball, adding flour if too sticky.  I made this on a fairly humid day and ended up adding about another 3/4 cup of flour before a nice soft dough was achieved.  Knead briefly into a smooth ball.  Place ball in an oiled bowl, spread a little oil on the top, cover with plastic wrap and put dough into preheated oven to rise.

For the topping:
While the dough is rising it's time to get your plums prepared.  I forgot to take pictures of this process so I'll try to explain it for anyone who has never done it like this.  Hold the plum with the stem side up, seam towards you.  Using a sharp paring knife cut along seam until the plum is cut down one half.  Carefully open, like you would a book, without tearing uncut half.  Slide the tip of the paring knife between one side of the pit and the plum if it doesn't want to come loose on its own.  Remove pit.  At stem end, cut about a third of the way down on the uncut side to more easily open the plum.  Make two slashes about a third of the way down on each plum half to produce the characteristic points seen in the picture.  Repeat with remaining plums.

Lightly grease three round 10 inch tart pans.  Remove risen dough from oven and preheat to 350 degrees (if you are using dark tart pans, reduce the heat of your oven to 325).  Punch down dough and separate into thirds.  Press each third evenly into each of the tart pans.  Starting from the outside, lightly press prepared plums into dough in concentric rings, points facing up.  Sprinkle liberally with sugar.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until dough is golden and plums are a little wilted.  And don't worry if you have a "plum juice puddle", it's perfectly normal.  It will be reabsorbed by the plums as well as the now golden dough without making the cake soggy.  Sprinkle a little extra sugar over the plums as the cakes cool.  Cool completely and serve at room temperature. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What's up, Doc?

When I was growing up I really didn't like carrots that were cooked.  They were mushy and pretty bland all around.  It's not that my mother didn't cook well, quite the opposite in fact, I just never remember her cooking carrots in any way that was good.  As I got older I began experimenting with my cooking and soon put together my first "gourmet" meal - Chicken Cordon Bleu, Potatoes Gratin, and Carrots Vichy.  To this day I don't know why I chose that recipe for carrots as my vegetable, but boy am I glad that I did.  I can't recall preparing cooked carrots any other way since that day.

What is also really great about this preparation method is that people who don't normally like carrots at all (let alone cooked) tend to eat these like they're going out of style whenever I make them.  And they make a great alternative vegetable for corn on Thanksgiving.

Carrots Vichy
3 pound bag of baby carrots
1-2 sticks unsalted butter
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or 2 tablespoons dried parsley
salt to taste

Melt 1 stick butter in a large, high sided pan (I use a chicken frying pan that has 3" sides and is about 18" in diameter).  Add carrots and flip to coat.  Do this by flipping them in the pan as you would for pancakes, don't actually use a utensil to stir or otherwise move them around.  If the carrots are not well coated and a nice bit of melted butter is not left in the pan, add as much as needed of the second stick of butter to achieve this.  Place a well fitting lid on the pan and cook over medium low heat until carrots are tender.  Make sure to flip every once in a while.  Once they are tender, uncover, sprinkle with salt to taste and turn up the heat to medium high.  Cook the carrots, flipping often, until they are browned and caramelized in spots.  Sprinkle parsley over during the last 10 minutes of cooking. 

Not A Happy Camper

My latest foray into achievements in WoW has me camping out in The Storm Peaks which is snowy enough to make me feel cold just by going there.  What am I camping for, you might ask?  The Time-Lost Proto Drake.  This is an extremely rare dragonkin who flies around just asking to be killed because he drops reins that let you get him as a riding mount.  The frustrating part of camping for him is that there is no pattern to his spawning.  He could spawn three times in one day or not spawn at all for three weeks.  Yesterday I camped for 14 hours with WoW in the background and listened for my SilverDragon to go off while I worked on homework.  As I was on my last question for my discussion board, I was concentrating so much on my answer that I didn't hear SilverDragon.  I finished my answer and posted it then flipped back to WoW and found the Time-Lost plate up on my screen and realized I had just missed him flying by.  I swooped down the mountain only to find that a douche on the server named Nish, who had seen me camping, had stolen the kill out from under me by about 30 seconds.  It's not that Nish needs this mount by the way, he's killed it at least three times.  The first time he did he stole the kill from a guildie of mine who had also been camping him and had him marked already.  No, Nish killed it just to be an ass because he knew I was tabbed out.  He even said so to another guildie of mine who was online at the time.  I'm not ashamed to say that I was extremely put-out, frustrated and very unhappy.  So now I sit here and camp some more because Seph loves green mounts and TLPD is olive green.

Oh, and Nish, if you read this, thanks for proving everyone on the server right about your character.

Cucumber Salad +10 Intellect

I took the turkey out of the freezer and put it into the refrigerator a couple of days ago and it's still pretty frozen.  Which means that I can't post about brining it until Sunday at the earliest.  In the meantime, let's talk about side dishes for Thanksgiving.  Salad is a definite need on our table.  In fact, we usually have two or three kinds.  One of the best ones is my mother's cucumber salad.  It's fabulous for Thanksgiving and fantastic any time of the year.  I have converted many people over to the cucumber side of the road with this one.  It's so good we even drink the dressing that's left in the bowl.  Seriously.

Mrs. B's Cucumber Salad
3 large cucumbers, peeled
2 cups sour cream
1/4 - 1/2 cup vinegar
2 - 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon sweet Hungarian paprika
salt to taste

Slice the cucumbers thinly using a mandolin (or if you're gadget-heavy like me, with your Salad Shooter) into a large bowl.  Sprinkle them with about a teaspoon of salt, toss in the sour cream, vinegar, garlic and paprika.  Stir the whole mess together with a wooden spoon until well combined and little bubbles have formed in the sauce.  Let it rest for about five minutes.  Taste it for paprika and salt and add if needed.  Serve and try not to slurp the dressing when you have the bowl to your mouth.

And yes, you have to use a wooden spoon to mix it...because my mother says so.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


After a few months of taking care of too much stuff in real life, I am finally back to post more recipes and occasionally talk about World of Warcraft (just to put it out there, I hate Baleroc).

Thanksgiving is right around the corner and as we have done the past few years, we're going to celebrate with my BFF Jill and her family.  This means copious amounts of food and Harry Potter.  This year's Harry Potter aspect will consist of watching The Deathly Hallows.  Though it hasn't been mentioned, I'm pretty sure it'll be a viewing of both parts.

The food aspect is much more involved.  Both April and I do the cooking and this year's list is staggering; turkey, turkey gravy, turkey noodles, ham, dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, potato salad, roasted asparagus, corn, cornbread biscuits, cranberry relish, and anything else that April added to her stuff that I didn't have on my Big List.  And those are just the things for dinner.  We're also doing appetizers and desserts.

With desserts come the pies.  This year I'll be making pecan pie, chocolate tart pie, and the ever ubiquitous apple pie and pumpkin pie.  Today I'm going to share the recipes that I use for these last two because the apple pie is, well, perfect, and I finally perfected the pumpkin pie (which was quite by accident).

Old-Fashioned Apple Pie (From Martha Stewart Living, November 2005)
4 pounds cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into wedges
3 tablespoons lemon juice
5 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon half and half
sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a large bowl toss apple wedges with lemon juice and set aside.  In a small bowl mix together flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.  Sprinkle flour mixture over apples in thirds, tossing after each addition.  Fill one deep dish or two regular 9-inch pie shells evenly with apple mixture; dot evenly with butter.  Whisk together egg yolk and half and half, brushing rim of pie crust.  Take top crust and drape over filled pie shell.  Brush top of crust with egg wash and press over hanging crust up to form a rim.  Cut four slits into the top crust to allow venting.  Sprinkle top with sugar.  Bake pie for 20 minutes at 400 degrees and then turn heat down to 350 and bake for a further 35 minutes. 

Pumpkin Pie
1 - 4 pound sugar pumpkin, roasted and flesh mashed*
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl carefully whisk together all ingredients listed until thoroughly combined.  Pour mixture evenly between 2 deep dish pie shells.  Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until centers are almost set.  Cool completely before serving.

Just as a side note, I did not make my own pie crusts.  I used frozen deep dish crusts for each pie and then picked up a package of rolled pie crust for the tops of the apple pies.  I'm just like that sometimes, and pie crust and I have never really seen eye-to-eye in the first place.  You can make your own, if you're so inclined.

*You can use 4 cups of the canned solid pack pumpkin in place of the mashed pumpkin, but if you decide to mash it yourself, here's how to do it:  Cut the pumpkin in half with a large knife.  Scoop out seeds and place halves cut side down onto a tinfoil lined baking sheet.  Roast in a 350 degree oven for about an hour to an hour and a half.  The outer shells will have a bit of give to them when they are ready.  Remove from the oven and turn cut sides up.  Allow pumpkin halves to cool completely then scoop out flesh and either puree in a food processor or take the less advanced method and mash it with a potato masher.  Either one works well.