Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thumbprint Butter Cookies and a Lot of Jam

I've mentioned already that I got a huge 16 Quart Pressure Canner for Christmas. I loves it. It's huge and shiny and I have the ability to can huge amounts of Jam and Fruit Butter in one go. Enter 12lbs of plums that I managed to pick up at a really good price. I spent a lovely Tuesday morning making 7 pints of plum jam and 4 pints of plum butter to be either eaten, sold, or distributed to friends. I love making jam. I find it incredibly relaxing and really fun. And who doesn't adore rows of shiny jars filled with yummy goodies?

I knew that, so soon after the Cranberry Apple Butter, I probably couldn't get away with posting the Jam recipe. Besides, it's jam. It's not really fancy having only three ingredients. So I scratched my head and decided that it was cookie time. Since jam was on my mind, I came to the conclusion that it was more specifically Jam Thumbprint cookie time. So off to the kitchen I merrily went, using dairy products for what feels like the first time in ages.

These Thumbprint cookies are really buttery with a fine crumb. The nice thing about Thumbprint cookies is that you can fill them with whatever you like. You can do jam, or candy, or peanut butter... whatever floats your boat.

I made two kinds here, one with my homemade Plum Jam, and one with some Apricot Preserves that have been hanging out in the fridge since I made pork tenderloin with apricot glaze a while ago. Make sure when you make these that you don't make your dent too deep. You need to leave enough of the cookie base so that when they are cooling the jam doesn't just go through the bottom of the cookie.

Thumbprint Butter Cookies

3/4 Cup Butter (1 1/2 Sticks), softened
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 3/4 Cups All Purpose Flour
2 Egg Yolks
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
Zest of One Orange
1/4 Cup Preserves

Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
Mix the softened butter with the sugar until well combined, add in the salt and vanilla, then the egg yolks. Grate in the orange zest and then add the flour half a cup or so at a time until you have a nice soft dough. You might not need all the flour.
Roll the dough out into 1 inch balls and then flatten them a little with your palm. Press your thumb in to make an indentation, but be sure to leave a little cookie base at the bottom for stability. Put half a teaspoon or so of jam or preserves in each indentation. I recommend Plum, Apricot and Raspberry.

Bake for 15 minutes until the bottoms are golden. Be careful when removing from the baking sheet as they can fall apart until they cool.

Makes about 24 cookies.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Paprika Vegetable Skillet and Having Great Friends

I consider myself to be a very very lucky girl. I got some incredibly awesome Christmas Presents, and most of them were for my kitchen and my cookbook shelf. Not only did I get a gorgeous salt grinder (which is exciting when you broke yours several months ago and have been stuck grabbing salt out of a ramekin), a fantastic 16 Quart Pressure Canner which I've already broken in, and my friend Preston got me the 12-Inch Cast Iron Skillet I've always wanted.

It's amazing! Not only could it kill a person in a single blow, but it makes delicious dishes and it's so very very homey. I'm using it every chance that I get. One of the best things about it is that I can put it in the oven to finish a dish off if I need to crisp up the top.

I used to live in a house where we used to make cornbread in a big cast iron skillet. have really fond memories of it always sitting on the stove, ready to go. Kitchen pieces like these turn into heirlooms. They get passed down or duplicates of them are gifted to remind someone of times past, of home. I love that this piece of kitchenware was added to my kitchen by a really great friend. Hopefully someday I'll be able to cook for him with it.

Cast Iron skillets need to be taken care of in their own way. You don't want to put them in a dishwasher, you just wash them with hot soapy water, then put a little light oil such as canola or vegetable oil in them and spread it around to coat the pan, wiping out the excess with a paper towel. This keeps them happy and in great condition. They really can last forever.

When I think of a traditional skillet meal, I think of crispy potatoes and vegetables. Great for breakfast or lunch, especially with a poached egg on top, you can use whatever vegetables you like but the combination below is my personal favorite.

Paprika Vegetable Skillet

3 Medium Potatoes, diced
1/4 of a Cabbage, shredded
6 Mushrooms, cut into thick slices
1 Cup Broccoli
1 Cup Cauliflower
1 Teaspoon Paprika
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Cheddar Cheese

In a cast iron skillet, heat up the olive oil and add in the potatoes with the paprika, salt and pepper . Cook for about ten minutes, then add the cabbage. Cook two more minutes and then add the rest of the vegetables and some more salt and pepper if you like. Cover and cook for about 5 more minutes. Then, sprinkle with cheese and stick under the broiler for about three minutes until the cheese browns.

Makes 2-4 servings depending on serving size.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Vegan Pumpkin Bread and Freezer Envy

Many years ago I used to always pick up an extra pumpkin around Hallowe'en. I'd scoop out the seeds and oven roast them, and I would break down all the pumpkin flesh and puree and freeze it. I stopped doing it a few years ago for no reason that I can tell, but this year I received a free pumpkin and couldn't resist the urge to fill my freezer with potential baked goodies.

I love having a full freezer. Right now it's filled with pesto and home made chicken stock and pumpkin puree and peach pie filling and other things I've made by hand or am going to use to make other scrummy things. We have a little little freezer right now, the kind that goes over a fridge and a quarter of it is taken up by the ice maker.

One day, I'll have a grown up house with a garden and a grown up freezer and I'll get to store things that I grow myself. This is a big goal of mine, one that will take quite a while to accomplish I'm sure, but will be worth it when I get there!

Pumpkin Bread is a big big favorite of mine. I love to load it up with spices and I adore how moist it is. It's just hearty and delicious. I have a vegan house guest right now and I wanted to make something that he could partake in. I was flipping through some of my staple recipes when I realized that this recipe only had one non-vegan ingredient in it, and that could be very simply substituted with something that might make the bread even yummier. I have to admit, it's unlikely that I'll ever make this recipe in a different form ever again.

Vegan Pumpkin Bread

If you want a little extra texture, sprinkle the top of the bread with crushed walnuts. You can use apple sauce instead of apple butter. If you don't want this to be vegan, use three large eggs instead of the Apple Butter. You can also mess around with the spice mixture based on taste.

1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Cup Packed Light Brown Sugar
1 1/2 Cup Pureed Pumpkin
6 Tablespoons Apple Butter
2 Teaspoons Cinnamon
1 1/2 Teaspoons Nutmeg
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
1/2 Teaspoons Ground Allspice
1 Cup Vegetable Oil
2 1/4 Cup All Purpose Flour
1 1/2 Teaspoons Baking Soda

2 Tablespoons Crushed Walnuts (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Mix the top ingredients together up to and including the oil, then add in the flour and baking soda. Pour the batter into a 9x5 Loaf Pan and sprinkle with the walnuts. Loosely cover with foil to stop the loaf from getting too brown, you'll want to tent it so that the loaf can still rise a little. Bake for one hour, then take the foil off and bake for another fifteen minutes for color and crunch. Insert a knife into the center to make sure it come out clean. It may need more time in the oven as this is a big big loaf.

Makes one delicious really big loaf.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Marsala Mushroom Quinoa and Listening to Leslee

Here's the thing about Marsala Mushroom's not the prettiest of dishes. The raw ingredients look way better than the finished product, but the finished product is incredibly yummy. I made this for the first time a couple months ago and randomly mentioned it on Facebook. The lovely Leslee asked for the recipe and so, after a little tweaking, I managed to get it put together. Much of the cooking that I do is a little of this, a little of that with spices and ingredients. I tend to do a lot of cooking by "feel", and I do a ton by tasting and adjusting. If I make this recipe again in the future, I might try doing it with a more varied mix of mushrooms. It tastes great with just normal white mushrooms, but throwing in some portabellas or shitake would probably be quite lovely.

Quinoa is a fantastic grain. It's high in protein, it has an interesting texture, and it takes flavor really really well. It's just as quick to make as rice from scratch. I like this dish as a side item, but if you wanted to make it into an easy main course, you could use it to stuff some peppers and then wrap them in foil and bake for 25 minutes or so. You can also throw in a bunch more veggies to turn this into a main course.

Marsala Mushroom Quinoa

8oz Mushrooms, sliced
3 Tablespoons Butter
1 Cup Quinoa
2 Cups Vegetable or Chicken Stock
2 Tablespoons Marsala Wine
1/4 Cup Parmesan
Fresh Parsley (optional)

Melt the butter is a large pan and brown the mushrooms. When they are browned, remove them but leave as much liquid in the pan as you can. Add the Quino and mix on a medium heat for about a minute. Then, add in the Stock, a hefty pinch of salt and several good grinds of black pepper and let simmer. It will take about twenty five minutes on a medium heat. Quinoa is down when each grain is big and translucent. Taste it at 20 minutes and see if you like the doneness. The Stock should all be absorbed.
Next, add the Marsala wine and the parmesan. Cook for two more minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. You may want to add a little more butter. Serve with a sprinkle of fresh parsley if you have it.

Makes 4 side dish servings or 2 main dish servings.

See how it's just not that attractive? I feel bad for the little dish.

So, since Leslie got her request, does anyone else have something they would like a recipe for?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Cranberry Apple Butter and Tasks Best Done in Pajamas

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I have a friend who, in my mind, is the Queen of preserves. When we lived in the same city, I often went to her house for dinner and I rarely left without a jar of something special. She makes plum butter, fig preserves, jams, all kinds of delicious goodies. It was quite inspiring, really. So I found myself a teeny tiny pressure canner on eBay and when I found a good deal at the store on apples I decided it was time to take the plunge. I loved the result and a week later I was at it again. It was just after Thanksgiving so I also had a bag of cranberries in the fridge.

There is something so lovely about filling my kitchen with the smells of apple and cinnamon. Making Apple Butter takes a couple of hours so the house gets deliciously warm. It's a low maintenance project. You just have to stir it here and there while you potter around doing other things. Thats really one of the best things about making preserves in my mind. They are a labor of love. It takes time to develop flavor and adjust spices, with lots of tasting in between. For me, it's a relaxing Saturday morning task, one best done in pajamas with a ready supply of hot tea.

Apple Butter is a favorite in my house. It goes really well on toast or bread, and it is particularly perfect on fluffy biscuits. It's thicker than apple sauce and it isn't as sticky as a jam. The idea for this comes from one of my favorite Southern breakfast places; the Flying Biscuit. They are famous for their biscuits and they always come with a yummy dish of apple butter on the side. This is definitely a nod to them, and to my friend Laurie, the Queen of preserves.

Cranberry Apple Butter

The best apples here would be something like a Granny Smith, but honestly you can use anything you want as an apple base. The apple cider vinegar really pulls out the apple flavor, and you're going to hit it up with a lot of spices. Taste often and play with the spices until you are happy.

4lb Apples, peeled, cored and diced
12 oz cranberries
2 Cups Water
3 Cups Sugar
2 Tablespoons Cinnamon
2 Teaspoons Nutmeg
2 Teaspoons Ground Cloves
1 Teaspoon Allspice
1 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
Zest and juice of one Lemon

Put all of the ingredients in a large heavy saucepan over a medium heat. Stir occasionally for thirty minutes. The cranberries will start to burst and the apples will soften up. Grab a potato masher and squish up the apples. Then turn the heat down a little and let it cook. Stir every so often so that the butter doesn't start to burn on the bottom. The butter will reduce and thicken. Start tasting after about another thirty minutes, and adjust the seasoning as you like. It's probably going to take another hour for it to be nice and thick. If you like it smoother, you can puree three quarters of it in a blender, which I would actually recommend.

Sterilize the jars you want to use and then pour in the butter, process them in a regular water bath or or a pressure canner for about twenty minutes. Let them sit and cool and make sure they seal.

If you put them in pretty jars, they also make great gifts.

Makes around 64oz.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

December Dark

I'm on my December Dark right now, meaning I have two weeks off. I'm eating my way through Atlanta. I'll be back soon!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Five Kitchen Christmas Gift Ideas

Ah the holiday season. Thanksgiving is, for me, all about the food. I love it dearly as a holiday. Christmas, though, is often about the presents. I'm a big fan of people making up Wishlists for Christmas, otherwise I find that I'm flying blind. If you are flying blind, though, and you have someone who is into food that you are purchasing for, let me help you out by recommending a few of my kitchen essentials.

Sil-Pat Baking Mat
This revolutionized my baking world when I got it. These mats are so fantastic. Nothing sticks to them. They clean up very easily. No more scrubbing cookie sheets anymore. They also seem to help things cook on the bottom more evenly. I only have one, but hope to get a couple more soon so I can do multiple cookie batches at once.

A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg
This was the book of the year for me. Molly Wizenberg is an incredible writer and brilliant cook. I discovered her blog Orangette early in the year, bought and read the book, and then read every single post on her blog. Her memories surrounding food are captivating and her recipes are great. I've made most of the recipes in this book and they are all winners.

A Microplane Grater
I was gifted one of these a while ago and it's just wonderful. It's great for zesting lemons and for grating Parmesan and other hard cheeses. I also love to use it to grate chocolate. It cleans up in a snap, too, and takes up very little room. It's a delight.

1.5 Quart Pyrex Casseole Dish
I have no idea where this came from. I swear it just showed up in my kitchen cabinet one day. I think that it came from my other half's kitchen contributions when we combined all of our stuff but I'm quite taken with it. It's wonderful for over braising things and I also use it as a vessel for marinading. I've used it as a mixing bowl and a serving dish too in times of need. It's easy to clean and elegantly simple.

Shun Serrated Utility Knife
So this is the pricey item on the list, but honestly if you're going to spend a little more, spend it on a kitchen knife. I am the lucky owner of three Shun Knives and they are brilliant. I love this serrated one because I can cut pretty much anything with it. I use it to break down chicken, to slice tomatoes, to cut bread, you name it. This knife plus a good chef's knife are a must have for any chef.

So there you go. A range of items that I can't live without that will surely make any cook happy to receive. So whats on my list this year?

A Caribbean Blue Le Creuset Dutch Oven
A KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker Attachment
A Salt Grinder (mine was tragically killed in a kitchen floor incident)
The Man Who Ate Everything
A 12 Inch Cast Iron Skillet

And how about you? Anything you desperately want or couldn't live without?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Sweet Potato Bread

A few years ago I made one of the best investments in my kitchen. I purchased a breadmaker (this Sunbeam one).

It was initially a financial decision. I can make a loaf of bread for less than a dollar, mostly because I buy my flour in bulk. I also adore having fresh bread in the house and greatly prefer it to store bought. I broke even on my breadmaker a long time ago. It's certainly very handy to have it in the house. I never have to get bread at the store, and if I run out in the evening I can just make a loaf overnight with no effort and I have fresh bread for the morning.

I go through a lot of bread. It's my snack of choice, and I eat a poached egg on toast every morning for breakfast. When I moved to America, bread was one of the things that I missed the most. It tastes so different here.

I've played with a lot of different bread recipes, and I have a standard one that I use for every day. I was about to start making a loaf yesterday and when I reached in the fridge to get the milk out, the leftover mashed sweet potatoes that we've been working through since Thanksgiving put an idea into my head. Dense, moist, delicious sweet potato bread sounded like just the thing to brighten up my recipe and change things up.

One of the best things about making your own bread is that when you make it, the house smells phenomenal. It's very hard for a loaf of bread to cool down before being attacked in my house.

This bread is wonderful just smeared with butter. It makes great toast, it's a good bread to have on the side with a meal, and it makes for amazing sandwiches.

Sweet Potato Bread

2 1/4 Teaspoons Bread Machine Yeast
2 3/4 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Mashed Sweet Potato
1 Cup and 1 Tablespoon Milk
3 Tablespoons light oil (Vegetable, Canola)
3 Tablespoons Honey
2 Teaspoons Salt

Unceremoniously dump all the ingredients in your bread maker. Set the machine for a 1.5lb loaf on the lightest setting. Press Go.