Saturday, November 26, 2016

Cookies for School

The elderchild's school is having a cookie reception to launch their annual Toys for Tots drive. Even though I just did all that cooking, I volunteered to make two dozen cookies for the event. I pulled out the syllabus from pastry school and made these beauties, which are essentially shortbread with apricot jam filling and dipped in chocolate. 'Nuff said.

The Finished Product

Here's our table from last night's feast!

The turkey, brined for two days, was perfect. There was stuffing. Mashed red potatoes. Creamed (well, sort of) broccoli, mashed squash. Pumpkin bread made by my sister-in-law and sent with my in-laws. The sweet potato casserole was made by my Mom, although we did the marshmallows on top here at the last minute. I got a little distracted and so they had a smokey je ne sais quois which, heh, augmented their flavor. Really, they were only burnt a little!

Plus, cranberry sauce, gravy, pickled beets and eggs, pumpkin pie, apple pie, and two different kinds of macarons brought from Zurich and London by a friend who joined us for dinner.

I am thankful for all the love and joy in my life and that I have time to sit back and savor it once in a while. Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving! Here's Your Pie

Yes, I'm aware I'm a day late. As usual, I worked on Thanksgiving and planned my celebration for today. That doesn't mean we didn't also celebrate yesterday; we went down to Faneuil Hall and had dinner at Durgin Park. Faneuil Hall is all decked out with lights and Christmas trees and was so pretty in the drizzly fog. And it wasn't tremendously cold, either, which was nice.

Over the past few days I've been getting my side dishes and pies ready for today. I used my last three butternut squashes from the farm share, and used two jars of my pickled beets to make the beets and eggs my mother-in-law likes so much. And I've made three pies.

The pumpkin pies were first, because I planned to take one to work yesterday. I made the crust the usual way but it was too dry and crumbly so it gave me some trouble. I also had a little difficulty with the leaf cut outs again, I should have learned my lesson the last time when I burned them, but this time I put them on the pie at the beginning of baking and they didn't brown up the way I wanted, either. But, recognizing some of the crust issues had to do with the moisture content, I made sure for the apple pie I added more water.

Last night after we got back from dinner I sliced the apples and assembled the pie. The apples were laid in the crust by hand, which meant they were all flat against each other and I think that makes for a prettier side view when the pie is sliced.

After playing around with the leaf cut outs again, here's the final product.
Now I'm working on getting the turkey in the oven and all the last minute details. More later!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


Last week, the temperature was in the high 50's. Warm enough to rake some leaves, go for walks, and otherwise forget that winter was coming.

In the last few days, it snowed briefly and the temperature dropped to the 30's. Time to face reality!

First of all, I did manage to forage a few wintergreen berries last week, and I have another spot I'll get to soonish. Not a good year for these, either. I had a bunch in the freezer from before and yesterday I used them, plus some of my homemade wintergreen extract, to make wintergreen-chocolate-chip ice cream. It's been a while since I made ice cream and the elderchild always likes this flavor. Soon I shall have to make the flavor the youngerchild requested: Earl Grey with Vienna finger cookies. Me, I like them both....

Yesterday in the windy cold I got the hive insulated. This involves taking off the window panel and hardware and putting the foam lined panels all around. I did not make fondant for them this year. They seem to have enough honey in there, based upon what I found left over from last winter. We shall see if that was a good plan or not, in April, when I open it back up. I am hoping that then I can reorganize their combs and let them rebuild.

We still need to finish raking and mulch all the leaves in the backyard and get them out to the curb. The last leaf pickup will be December 1 so I need to get moving! The garden is otherwise in need of a little attention; we need to put tarps over the tables and chairs out there, and trim a few things.

As for canning, I have a bunch of projects building up in the freezer. Everything is on hold until after Thanksgiving, as I have a lot of prep for that this week. The squash and creamed broccoli are made, the pies will be started tomorrow, and I just have to make the stuffing ahead of time and the mashed potatoes on the day of our feast, which is Friday, as I am working on Thursday. What is waiting in the freezer is four pounds of bacon which I hope to make into bacon jam. I also have some pork scraps which I intend to turn into sausages, and a lot of chicken and duck bones for soups and stocks. I will have plenty to keep me busy this winter!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Problem Solving

Let's talk cookies for a minute.

I love to bake cookies. I used to always bake cookies for my friends. In college, as I had access to a kitchen, I had a deal: if you bought the chocolate chips and the sour cream, I would bake you a batch of cookies. I did this all through medical school as well. When things got hectic as I became a parent I ended up baking less and, when we moved to this house, I was never able to get the cookies right, so I gravitated away from baking those basic, lovely chocolate chip cookies everyone wanted.

Over the years since we've been here, I've chipped away at some of the problems that were making my cookies come out wrong. They were too flat, too crispy or too cakey. I was aiming for "just right," which seemed impossible. I changed the recipe from the one I liked with the sour cream to the traditional one on the packages of chocolate chips. I bought a thermometer for the oven so I could be sure the oven temperature was correct. I even learned more about baking and still, they weren't perfect.

Yesterday I was inspired to bake cookies again. I took a look at the recipe and, using my pastry school training, thought critically about the recipe. It calls for baking soda. Baking soda needs acid to work and there really isn't a lot of acid in the recipe. There was acid, certainly, in the recipe that calls for sour cream, but I wasn't using that one anymore, and I couldn't figure out where the acid was coming from. So I decided to add 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder.

And that, my friends, is what finally made the difference.
Also yesterday I made a batch of the cheese bread I like so much, using Legion and this time getting the liquid content under control. I did the same thing, using 8 ounces of Legion and reducing the flour and milk accordingly. They were perfect!