Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Just Too Much

Have you ever had so much to do you didn't know where to begin?

Yes, of course you have. Well, it's been happening to me lately, which is part of why I haven't done a whole lot of cooking or canning projects. Sometimes, being busy is a good thing. It gets you going in the morning, out the door, and then it's easier to run your errands and get things done because you're already past that inertia. Sometimes, you either have more than that or just slightly less, at which point the path of least resistance is to sit on the couch and play video games and justify that you'll do that thing tomorrow. Over and over again.

So much so that I let an entire bag of Meyer lemons go bad because I kept putting off making curd. That I haven't even planned our summer vacation. That I have to be reminded to do the things I said I do. This is not like me.

Therefore, when I saw that apricots were on sale today I took that as an opportunity and bought a whole bunch. Enough to make a batch of apricot jam and a batch of apricot ginger jam. (I had fresh ginger in the house because I planned to make something with it and, you guessed it, never got around to it.) I'm hoping the apricot ginger jam is fair-worthy and I'll set two jars aside.

Maybe this is the kick I need to get moving. I certainly hope so.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Latest Projects, Frozen and Fresh

Yesterday, partly because it was Saturday and partly because my husband had just returned on a red-eye flight, no one really felt motivated to do anything. Sure, we went for a walk in the park, and did some chores, and I mowed the lawn, but no one had the energy for the grocery store. So I raided the freezer for dinner...

I took some garlic scape pesto and bittercress pesto and mixed them together with a little heavy cream, to make a sauce. There were portobello ravioli and butternut squash ravioli; I thought the pesto would go better with the portobellos. The youngerchild, not being a fan of mushrooms (or squash, for that matter) got steamed pork buns instead. It was a successful meal, and I even used the pesto sauce to dress up the plate for the buns. Just because it came from the freezer doesn't mean it can't look pretty!
Part of the reason I was tired yesterday was I spent a fair amount of time making brioche dough and pastry cream in anticipation of making cinnamon rolls this morning. The brioche dough, after it's fermentation, is refrigerated overnight to develop flavor. This morning I rolled it out, spread the pastry cream on it, added cinnamon, rolled them up and voilá:

Friday, May 5, 2017

Out of Practice

Preparing the Violet Infusion
Today I made the first batch of jelly for the season - violets. I'm really out of practice. I don't think I've canned anything for quite a while. The violets came from my yard, they finally bounced back from the landscaping work we did in the front of the house. It still took 4 separate gatherings to get enough violet infusion to make jelly.

Four cups of infusion, 1/2 cup of strained lemon juice, a box of powdered pectin and five cups of sugar. Yield: 12 4-oz jars of violet jelly plus some in the fridge for now. The youngerchild will be pleased.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Belated Birthday Cake Post

The youngerchild turned 12 the other day and we had a little party with the extended family. I hadn't made a cheesecake in a while, and that is what the youngerchild chose when given the option, so I made a NY style cheesecake with a chocolate graham cracker crust. However, that wasn't enough chocolate, so I made a little ganache and topped the cheesecake with the ganache and then sliced strawberries. While the cheesecake didn't crack as much as the one I made in school last year, it did crack a little, so the ganache did a nice job of hiding that.

Another New Skill

Two days ago I learned how to make soap. I have a couple of friends who make soap, one of whom sells her products. I had saved up some beeswax and honey for her and brought it over so we could make soap together.

First of all, apparently beeswax isn't the best ingredient for soap, at least not in large quantities. A quick web search suggested only 1-2% of the total oil weight should be beeswax so we used... 10g. And it was a challenge to melt it and incorporate it into the mix.

My friend showed me how to calculate the lye content, make the lye water, and measure out the oils. What we decided to do was to hold some of the water back, boil it, and use it to melt the beeswax. It sort of worked, but the minute we added it back in the wax would solidify so there were tiny little flecks of beeswax in the soap. I still think it worked reasonably well.

She wanted to make a soap with layers, so first we made the basic soap, which is white. She used palm oil, coconut oil, olive oil and that little bit of beeswax. When you mix in the lye and whisk and whisk, it turns white (begins the process of saponification). After we added the scents (lavender with a little rosemary) she divided it into three portions. To the second portion we added about a tablespoon of honey and the tiniest bit of turmeric. To the third, about a teaspoon of turmeric.

We poured the soaps one at a time into the molds, trying to keep the layers level in between. Then they sat, wrapped in towels, in an insulated bag, for two days. Today I picked up my oblong of soap, which looks beautiful, and cut it into eight bars. These will now sit for a month to finish the process of saponification and become lovely little bars of soap. They smell divine.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Treats

In the few days leading up to today, I was busy with work but also with baking. First, as a lunch box treat, I made Easter-themed Linzer cookies. In order to do this, I needed to get tiny little cookie cutters. Even with them being so small, the cookies needed to be a fairly large size to accommodate the challenges of asymmetric cut outs. Many of the rabbits broke, but here are some of the ones that made it:
The fillings were blueberry jam and strawberry lavender jam.

Today, in between Easter baskets, video games, an egg hunt and a walk to the grocery store, I made Puits D'amour (wells of love) out of quick puff pastry (butter, flour, salt and water, folded and rolled many times), lemon curd and meringue. Since they ended up being more oval than round, I took that as serendipity. They are egg shaped, after all.

Happy Easter!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Now I'm REALLY Confused

Today is a gorgeous, warm day, and I headed out to clean the hive up and get it tucked away. After all, the bees were dead, right?

Wrong.

I found the queen, still alive and kicking, with maybe 200 bees. Not enough to start a colony, I don't think. There was no evidence of any new brood. There was a LOT of honey. I decided to organize the hive a bit and removed all the burr comb, cross comb, and otherwise shaggy looking comb. I took some but not all of the honey. The bees even fanned a bit to let the rest know where the queen was. I tucked them all back in.

And then I contacted my mentor, who told me that was the right thing to do. Either they'll make it or they won't. He suggested I could get a new package and install them but I don't think I have the energy right now to make that happen. I'm going to let nature take its course.

Meanwhile, I'm busy extracting honey and rendering beeswax. And scratching my head at the tenacity of my hive. 

Monday, April 3, 2017

I Guess It Did

A month ago I reported that the bees were flying in the unseasonably warm weather, bringing in pollen and looking healthy. Sadly, we subsequently had a cold snap that maybe triggered the demise of the colony.

It's hard to know for sure. Were they weakened by the previous summer's drought? Probably. Maybe Queen Beatrix died for real this time. Anyway, after that cold weather, when it warmed up just a bit, I peeked through the window and saw one live bee carrying a dead one toward the entrance. I didn't see any more live bees; usually when light comes in the window they rush to it and that didn't happen. So I worried and I wondered if they were going to make it; maybe they just needed time to deal with that event and there were more in there that I couldn't see.

Nope. Yesterday I went again - it was 55 degrees and sunny, and they should have been flying around. I saw one live bee, sitting on the roof, and the hive floor had many dead bees. Even under the roof there were more dead bees, who all appeared normal to the eye, just dead.

On the advice of one of the beekeeping class instructors I have closed off the entrance to the hive to protect the honey that is still in there (they didn't run out, I can see some) and next week I'll open it all up and clean it out. I have a friend or two who make soap, and I can render the beeswax for them and save the honey for me.

This isn't the year for me to take on more projects so I won't get a new starter colony this year. I'll plan on the following year, if circumstances allow. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Birthday Boston Cream Pie

It's been a bit more hectic than usual in our household and I haven't had a lot of time for baking or any cooking, really. In fact, the elderchild commented on the amount of take-out we were eating! However, it was my husband's birthday and I needed to throw him a little party. So I made one of his favorite cakes: Boston Cream Pie.

For this, I used the go-to white cake recipe. Since we were not having cake on his actual birthday, I scooped out enough batter to make four cupcakes and frosted them with 1/4 of the recipe of fudge frosting. It was actually enough for only 3 cupcakes (apparently that day I was not good at math, I needed to make 1/3 of the recipe for 4 cupcakes) so I used the last of the saffron-white chocolate ganache from the profiteroles on mine. It was fine. Anyway, I made the cake in the tall ring from my culinary classes and stored the cake in the fridge until yesterday.

The next thing was to make the custard. I think that, after 30 years, my pots are finally starting to get thin on the bottom as things seem to burn more than they used to. Anyway, the custard had a very slight tinge of "toasted marshmallow" that maybe only I noticed. No one else seemed to care, anyway.

Last came the ganache: 54% chocolate with cream, butter and vanilla.

Then I trimmed the cake into two layers and tried to use my ring to make the cake look pretty. First I tried to put a layer of ganache on the chilled ring, but I'd trimmed the cake a little too small so there was a gap. I filled the gap and the middle of the two layers with the custard and then topped the whole thing with a layer of ganache and chilled it.

After I removed the ring, it looked way better than I had anticipated! I took the little bit of leftover ganache and piped some decorations then kept it chilled until almost time for dessert. After a dinner of cheese fondue, of course.

Not bad for my first attempt at Boston Cream Pie!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Snowy Pi Day

This year, for Pi Day, I was prepared. I bought some pears before the snowstorm and today, with the help of the elderchild, made a maple pear pie. After slicing the pears, I let them sit with 1/2 cup sugar while we made the crust. Then I drained the pears and boiled the juice with some maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg and cornstarch to thicken it. This was mixed back with the pears before filling the pie crust. Here's the finished pie.
Note the vents - the elderchild carved at least 11 digits of π into the crust!
We had some of our neighbors over to enjoy it with us, and it was terrific! Also I made a raspberry tart with the rest of the crust; that was an afternoon snack.

In addition to all that, while the storm was dumping eight inches of snow, and then rain, on us, I made a gallon of yogurt, a batch of cornbread, a batch of chili, and also did a whole bunch of laundry. Oh, yeah, and last night I made bread. All sorts of lovely food!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Profiteroles

Before the onslaught of illness, we were supposed to have dinner with friends at their house. I planned to make profiteroles, which are pate a choux puffs filled with ice cream and then topped with some sort of chocolate sauce. I made them, and then they hung out in the freezer until we finally all got well enough to reschedule.

Gougères
I wasn't sure how my oven would deal with pate a choux. It's not well sealed, and loses heat all the time, and I was afraid it would lose the moisture created in the first half of the baking process. Thankfully, it didn't, and I got 20 puffs made without much fuss. I used the rest of the pate a choux batter to make gougères by mixing in shredded cheese and some mustard and scooping the batter onto a baking sheet. These were amazing and got consumed within a few hours. Yum.

The next step was making rose flavored ice cream, just like I did for class a year ago. A custard base, with rose water added, then that rested in the fridge for a day. After that I churned it in the ice cream maker and, while it was still soft, piped it into the puffs. I know this isn't the usual way to do this, but I thought it might be interesting to have them filled this way. It did work out, although I had to move quickly to keep from being covered in melty rose-flavored ice cream!

These then lived in the freezer in an airtight container until last night. To top them off, I made a saffron-white chocolate ganache, with 4 ounces of white chocolate, 4 ounces of cream, a little butter, and a generous pinch of saffron (added after the cream was heated, before being added to the chocolate). By the time we got to dessert the ganache was the perfect pouring consistency. I also brought chocolate fudge sauce because I wasn't sure how the kids would like the saffron. We ended up all trying both. I think the saffron ganache was the better choice!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Comfort Foods, Again

There has been an unbroken circle of illness going around the house over the past two weeks. So much so that a lot of our plans have completely gone out the window. Such is winter, I guess.

Anyway, yesterday to ease unsettled tummies, I made chicken noodle soup. Actually, I made chicken and goose noodle soup, as I found both chicken and goose bones in the freezer. This won't be canned as it's needed now.

Today I made "kitchen sink cookies," meaning chocolate chip cookies but with anything and everything in them. Some of the things I'd been hoping to add had gone bad, including pretzels (really? yes, pretzels can apparently go bad) and peanuts, so here's what was in them: mini chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, coarsely chopped almonds, coconut flakes, craisins, raisins, and mini marshmallows. I should try to remember not to bake with marshmallows. They melt and caramelize before anything else bakes.

However, having a weekend in which I am stuck in the house helped me finish another project. Mocha, our rabbit, has a problem with textiles. By that I mean he finds some of them irresistible. So about a month ago my husband recovered the window seat. I took the leftover fabric, bought a contrasting but complementary fabric, some trim, and a few pillow forms and, very slowly, made replacement pillows. I finally got them all done today.

Just don't look too closely at the seams!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

I Hope This Won't Mess Them Up

You might have heard, it's been unseasonably warm in Massachusetts so far. Today it was 65 degrees, last week it was in the 70's. And the bees have, thus far, survived the winter. Today I went out and had a peek.

I saw bees flying in with pollen, although I have no idea from what! (Maybe maples and crocuses?) Which implies that there is some sort of nectar somewhere. And I saw capped honey still so there may be some for me to take next month. Or later this month, if it stays warm. My plan to not feed them fondant this past winter seems to have worked out. There were no guarantees it would, but I think overall it was a mild enough winter.

Since January I've been taking a beekeeping class which has been a nice review for some of the things I already knew and I'm learning a bit more. One of the things I wanted to learn was the terminology and use of a Langstroth hive. Not that I'm going to get one, but when beekeepers talk about how to tend to a hive, they use Langstroth jargon and I don't always know how to extrapolate to my top bar hive. Now I have a bit of a better idea. I also have a connection with a top bar beekeeper who has said I can call him if I need help. I may tap him when I want to try to split my colony this year so I can figure out how to do it properly.

Here's wishing for a year without drought, and maybe I'll finally see what my hive can do under proper conditions.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Happy Birthday, Mom

So my Mom had a birthday and I decided I would make her a cake. It took three days, if you consider I made the cake and then froze it for a day until I could do the rest. One of my favorite cakes from school was a white genoise cake with strawberries and kirsch flavored mousseline. I decided to make it with a chocolate genoise instead. The genoise was easy. (I used half of the recipe in the text, and that made enough for one cake. Perfect.) The rest used every pot I had: kirsch flavored syrup to soak the cake, pastry cream and buttercream for the mousseline. Here's the sink when I was done with all that:
I then chilled the cake and yesterday morning removed the ring (using the torch) and then decorated the top with more berries and a little chocolate. Then glazed the berries using apricot glaze mixed with a little strawberry jam.

Mom was pleased. 
I also brought the last baguette to their house and made garlic bread with it for dinner. It was phenomenal.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Blizzard and Baking

The other day we had a blizzard, dropping about 15 inches of snow on our area. After spending a few hours at work (I went REALLY early so I could be done before the worst of the snow started) I tried a second time to make baguettes. This time, I used a recipe from one of my culinary school pals but I used the school method of folding the dough every hour to build up the air pockets. I was also much more careful about overproofing. I may, in fact, have underproofed slightly but that is less of a problem in this case.
My friend has a different method for folding the dough and I'm going to try that next time and compare. Instead of the dough being flat, it's kept round and then the sides are folded up and over like flower petals. It'll be interesting to compare.

Last night another friend came over and we had the bread with my homemade paté, some cheeses, and a really terrific artichoke spread she brought with her. The bread sliced easily and had some nice air pockets but didn't have quite the crumb I was looking for. This is why I want to try the other method and see what I get.

I have another project I've been working on, but I won't be done with that one until later today and then I'll see how it all looks....

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Valentine Linzer Cookies

With Valentine's Day coming up, I needed to make some cookies for the kids. Thankfully, shortbread-type cookies work just fine in my oven and that's exactly what Linzer cookies are. I made them without almond flour so they were just regular flour, butter, sugar and egg yolks. I cut my recipe into a third and that made 22 cookies. I suppose could have made them smaller, but these felt just right.

The filling is strawberry lavender jam from my stash. Half are being frozen for now and the other half can be eaten in the next few days. Yum!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

First Attempt

The other day I learned how to make azuki bean paste from a friend. I brought some home and, since the youngerchild loves bean buns, tried to make my own.

Let's just say, they looked nothing like the photos on the webpage. They were edible. That's the nicest thing I can say about them. I didn't take photos.

So, for future attempts:
  1. Don't make the dough circles too thin
  2. Mash up the bean paste more
  3. Don't overproof
  4. Put down some sort of parchment or rice paper on the steamer first
  5. Don't let them touch each other in the steamer
I'm sure there are more things I could do better, but this is a start. I think I had ONE out of sixteen that looked like it was supposed to.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Gooduckey Soup

Finally, I had all the ingredients amassed to make this soup! Usually it's turducken but this year we also had a goose, so I could play around a bit. Yesterday I made the turkey stock - two gallons of stock. Don't judge.

Here's the ingredients for this year's batch of poultry wonderfulness:

2 leeks, sliced
6 ribs celery, chopped
1 package each of portabella and shitake mushrooms, sliced
12 ounces oyster mushrooms, sliced
4 cups turkey meat
2 cups each duck meat and goose meat
1 cup wild rice
1/2 cup farro
4 quarts turkey stock
2 quarts duck stock
2 quarts goose stock
salt, pepper and tarragon to taste

Once the vegetables are sautéed, the meat and stock were added to the pot. This was brought to a boil and then simmered for at least 30 minutes. After that, the rice and farro were added and continued to simmer until done, about another 30 minutes. Super easy, as long as you have everything ready to go.

Now I have 14 pints of soup in the canner, and at least 3 more quarts in various containers in the fridge and the freezer. I can use the non-canned stuff for lunches at work over the next week and gradually start to dip into the canned ones later. 

Once these are done, I will can the rest of the turkey stock. Eight Nine(!) pints worth. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Year of the Rooster

Today is the Chinese New Year and a friend of ours was hosting a celebratory dinner/housewarming party. I wanted to make something at least remotely traditional and didn't have a lot of time. A quick Google search yielded various cookies and then I found a recipe for Chinese peanut candy. I've seen this stuff in Chinatown, little batons wrapped in plastic, always factory-made. I'd never even thought about making it from scratch. But it was so easy! The peanuts are roasted and then mixed with salt and five spice powder, then put on a baking sheet with sesame seeds and red pepper flakes. Then the sugar is cooked with water and a little vinegar for 16 minutes and poured over the top. When the sugar is poured, the candy is sprinkled with more sesame seeds and, after a few minutes, cut into pieces.

A few notes to self: the amount of the sugar wasn't enough, so while I doubled the recipe I should have tripled the sugar portion AND maybe use a little less of the red pepper flakes. It has a kick.

Another gift I brought for my friend was paté, made from a combination of chicken, duck and turkey livers. I'd saved a bunch of livers from all our various roast birds and ended up with 18 ounces of liver. That, when cooked with the shallots, garlic and duck fat, made two 12-oz loaves of paté. I made the paté a few days ago, using this recipe, and had frozen some of my share for later meals. I think my friend may do the same. Twelve ounces is a LOT of paté.

The other project for today was making turkey stock. I now have all the stocks I need to make Gooduckey soup, which I think I'll do tomorrow. I have a ton of turkey meat, some duck and some goose meat to go with all the stocks. I just want to pick up some more exotic mushrooms and then I'll have everything I need. I didn't can the turkey stock yet; I'll take what I need for the soup and then can the rest.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Snickerdoodles

Yesterday, I made a batch of snickerdoodles. They were so easy! But I used my #24 scoop, which was too much dough per cookie. It's my smallest scoop, and I thought I'd be OK. Not really. Some of the cookies ended up hexagonal because they ran into each other. I decided to try again.

Today's batch was a touch different. Rather than rolling them in cinnamon and sugar, I decided to use cardamom and sugar instead. Which meant, of course, that I needed to add some rosewater to the dough! I added a teaspoon of rosewater. Maybe not enough. It smelled great before baking but lost the rose flavor/scent after. The cardamom tasted great, though!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

*TINK*

That's the sound I hate to hear when I have the pressure canner going. It means something has gone awry!

For New Year's Day, we were coming back from skiing and a friend had purchased a goose with a plan that she would cook it at our house after we got back. THAT plan went off without a hitch. She found a terrific recipe for roast goose, complete with a gravy that was just OK until the last ingredient was added - minced goose liver. Then the gravy was phenomenal. And I'm not usually a gravy fan! (I'll admit, I had eyes on that liver so I could add it to the paté I'm making soon but, I agree, the gravy needed it more.) We saved all the bones to make stock and I set aside some chopped up meat in the freezer to make a different soup variation...Turgoosuck. Well, maybe the name still needs a little work.

Last week I took the bones out of the freezer and made stock. Four quarts of stock, to be exact. And I set them aside until I had time to can them. See, to make the soup, I need turkey, duck and goose stocks, and I can only really make one at a time. But I've been busy, so I haven't had the time I needed to can them. Until today. And only because the youngerchild is sick and wasn't in school and so isn't doing the usual afternoon activities. So. I took the stock, which was cold, skimmed off the fat and poured it into four quart jars. Which were also cold. I put cold water in the pressure canner, left the top off, and heated everything up together. This seemed to be going fine. Then I put the lid on, and continued to heat everything up until it started to vent steam. After it had vented steam for five minutes, I heard it.

TINK.

Sadly, I know what that means! I turned off the burner, undid the canner and, sure enough, one of the jars had snapped at the bottom. The TINK was from the jar pieces hitting each other in the canner. I had to take everything out, rinse out the canner, and put in new water. Which, now that the jars of stock were hot, had to be heated up before I could put the jars back in. Once everything seemed to be the same temperature, I put the jars (three of them) back in and am trying again.

So much for trying to be clever.

Also, I'm making duck stock today, and will can this as well. Then, all I'll need is time to make the turkey stock and then I can devote an afternoon to making soup. Turgoosuck soup. Durkeese? Gooduckey?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Muffins and My New Scoops

Good morning! We awoke to about 6-8 inches of new snow and before anyone felt like shoveling a proper breakfast was required! I pulled out my school cookbook and found a recipe for berry muffins. I had to cut the recipe in half, or I would have ended up with 32 muffins! This also gave me an opportunity to use my new scoops so I could distribute the batter evenly amongst the muffin cups. The tops were sprinkled with sanding sugar, yum!

Yesterday during the snowstorm I went to a friend's house to teach her how to make macarons. What I found was that, even with her newer and better functioning oven, they still didn't do the right thing. I'm not sure where to go from here, but I've been eyeing professional grade convection ovens for my kitchen and I might just have to go that route. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Meyer Lemon Ideas

Happy New Year!

There's lot to write about, particularly the adventure of co-roasting a goose for dinner the other night, but I'll get to that when I make goose stock, hopefully soon. Today's slow-payoff project was to brine Meyer lemons.

A few weeks ago I'd purchased Meyer lemons to make curd but never got around to it. As it's the beginning of the season around here, I figured I will have a chance in a few weeks to do that but these lemons really shouldn't wait that long. My sister tipped me off to a blog called Punk Domestics (although, I think I made the slow cooker pulled pork using a recipe from there a long time ago) and I saw that someone had brined lemons for a year, dehydrated them and then ground them into a powder which was used as a spice. That sounds awesome. I want to do that.

Getting the lemons brined is a very quick process. I followed these instructions and incompletely quartered them and salted them, but when it was time to get them into the jar I added bay leaves and some water which had been boiled and then cooled, so I knew it was sterile. I'll leave it on the counter a few days until the salt has been dissolved and then they'll go into the fridge for 6-12 months.

That gives me that much time to figure out if I want to purchase a dehydrator or maybe by then I'll have an oven with a dehydrator feature. We'll see!