Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Worlds collide

At a lot of the training classes and district meetings that I go to, not everyone knows one another, so we go around and introduce ourselves.  Name, branch, how long with the company, that sort of thing.  And to make it slightly more interesting, sometimes we'll add "and tell something about yourself that no one else here knows."  It's fun to hear what people come up with.  For me, I've mentioned things like:  I played the flute for 10 years, including chamber music in college.  I've visited 36 states, and lived in 8 of them.  My husband and I have been married for almost 8 years, but have known each other for 22 years. Recently, I told them that I write a baking blog.  And I have one ready for next time--I'm part of a fantasy hockey league.

I played fantasy hockey once before, but it was a number of years ago.  I came to be a hockey fan because Jamie (my husband) has been a diehard fan practically forever.  At first, I didn't really know what the heck was going on as I watched games on TV with him.  Eventually it started to make sense.  Then I got really into it.  Then I had kids. =)  So for the past few years, I've been lucky to watch two or three games a season outside the playoffs.  This year, though, I have incentive to pay more attention.  A few days ago, Laurie (our fearless leader of TWD and FFwD) tweeted that she needed one more person for her fantasy hockey league.  I responded, saying that I might be interested.  She assured me that the league was for fun (not super serious), so I figured, why not?  We had our draft yesterday; now we wait for another week or so for the season to officially start.  Laurie commented during the draft that it was a bit weird to have her baking and hockey worlds overlapping.  I can understand that.  For a lot of us, we're different people in different situations, like at home versus at work or at school.  It's a bit weird when people from one world suddenly show up in another, and see a different side of us, and sometimes learn stuff that they didn't know about us.

So aside from Laurie, what does fantasy hockey have to do with this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe?  Well, one of my good blogging friends, Leslie of Lethally Delicious, picked Tarte Fine for us to make this week.  This fairly simple recipe consists of a rolled out sheet of puff pastry layered with thinly sliced apples and topped with sugar (with a bit of egg wash to help it stick).  I think I had this recipe on the brain when I first logged in to set up my FHL team, because when it asked me to pick a name for my team the first thing that popped into my head was Puck Pastry.  I tried to think of something else, since it seemed a bit too silly, but it stuck.  So Puck Pastry it is.  Wish me luck! =)

A few more notes on the tarte... I have a hard time finding all-butter puff pastry dough around here that isn't outrageously expensive, so I made my own. I used the recipe for Quick Puff Pastry from The Art and Soul of Baking. It makes about 2 pounds of dough and I only needed about 8 ounces for this recipe, so the rest is waiting in my freezer. For the apples, I used one of my favorites, macintosh. We're just starting to get New York apples down here, but the new crop of macs showed up in time for this and some of the other apple recipes coming up in the next few weeks. Tart apples are my favorites--macintosh, macoun, jonathan, jonamac, gravenstein. We'll see how many I can get my hands on this year. I baked the tart until the edges were getting nicely browned, about 30 minutes, I think. And I didn't have anything to use for glaze, so I skipped it.

The verdict?  This tart was delicious. I just wish there was more of it. =)  I cut the large rectangle into 6 pieces, as Dorie suggests in the recipe.  But each is so thin, it's gone before you know it, and you're left wanting more.  I could eat buttery, flaky pastry all day long, given the opportunity.  But I was good--I ate one piece after taking the pictures, and had a second for breakfast the next morning.  Brianna and Gillian joined me for breakfast, and really seemed to enjoy the tart as well.  (Jamie got some, too, the night I made it.)  I definitely think I'll be making this one again.  I'd like to try the butter & sugar variation given with the recipe, or at least have something to use for glaze next time.

If you'd like to try this one for yourself, head over to Leslie's blog for the recipe.  And you can find out how the other TWD bakers fared this week over on the Links page.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Everything nice

I'm kind of afraid to say it too loud, but I think fall might finally be here. As I'm typing this, it's down to 61ºF, and it's supposed to be down into the 50s tonight. Tomorrow might only be in the high 70s!  Those of you who live farther north will probably think I'm crazy, since almost 80º is still pretty warm, but for Texas, it's a definite improvement.  I was able to take the girls to the park this morning and it was actually pleasant.  I got to sit in the shade and read, and they ran themselves ragged climbing all over the playscape. A win for all of us. =)

I can't say that all my recent fall-inspired baking is responsible, but I figure it hasn't hurt. =)  So I thought I'd share another recipe that I made recently.  I was very excited to receive my copy of Dorie Greenspan's new book, Around My French Table.  But even before I got it, Dorie published one of the recipes on her blog, and I knew it would be one of the first I made.  It was a recipe for Speculoos, crisp brown sugar & spice cookies.  It wasn't the very first (I made some hummus and vanilla ice cream before it), but it was close.   

I decided that these cookies would be one of the items I'd send to Kayte, my Secret Baker recipient.  (Secret Baker is a monthly activity where a bunch of us send baked goodies to each other, with the sender being unknown to the recipient until they get the package.)  I figured she'd enjoy them, since she's not a chocolate person.  The cookies were easy to mix up--cream butter and brown sugar, beat in an egg, then add the dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking soda, spices).  But for the shaping, I deviated from the recipe.  I really wasn't in the mood to roll out dough and cut out cookies.  First I thought of doing slice-and-bake, but for some unknown reason, I really hate doing that.  So I went in a different direction.  After chilling the dough for a few hours, I scooped out the dough (with my #100 disher) and rolled it into balls that were about 3/4" in size.  I dipped a glass in granulated sugar (so it wouldn't stick) and used it to flatten the cookies.  I baked them for 12 minutes, and ended up with about 50 cookies.

The verdict?  Mmm, these are good!  My cookies ended up with crisp edges and just a slight chewiness in the centers.  They did get a bit softer after a day or two, but that's not surprising with the high humidity we've had.  I used Vietnamese cinnamon, so the cookies had a strong spice flavor.  Everyone here liked them, though I've probably eaten the most.  I shipped a couple dozen of them off to Kayte--she said she wasn't sure she was going to tell anyone else about them so she could keep them for herself.  I will definitely be making these again, sometime when I have more patience so I can roll/cut them out the way I was supposed to.

If you'd like to try these for yourself, you can find the recipe here on Dorie's blog.  It has a correction from what is in the book; apparently the egg got left out of the recipe in the book.  Even though you can find the recipe online, I highly recommend getting a copy of Around My French Table.  I can't wait to make more of the recipes.  And if you like cooking and baking along with others and comparing notes, be sure to check out the new French Fridays with Dorie group.  We'll be baking through the book, one recipe per week.  Everyone is welcome!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tea time

I'm a tea drinker, and have been for a very long time.  I knew I was considered one of the grownups when I was allowed to stay up late enough to drink tea with everyone else before bedtime during family visits.  More often than not, you can find me relaxing with a cup of tea late in the evening.  Actually, I drink tea almost any time of day.  I'll occasionally drink iced tea, but most of the time it's hot tea, even in the summer.  I find the whole process of making tea to be a stress reliever.  It takes time to heat the water and brew the tea.  You might think I would just be impatient about that, but instead it forces me to slow down and relax.  I like my tea really hot to start, so you can only sip it slowly at the beginning.  That's one of the things I disliked about living in Boulder.  At the higher altitude, water doesn't get as hot when it boils, so the tea starts off less hot.  Drove me crazy. =)

So when I read that this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was Coffee Break Muffins, I knew what changes I was going to make.  The recipe was picked by Rhiani of Chocoholic Anonymous.  While I'll occasionally use coffee or espresso powder in baked goods (usually chocolate ones), I'm not that fond of items where you can actually taste the coffee.  But I figured why not just use tea?  In particular, chai.  I've been doing a lot of baking with spices during the past few weeks, trying to will fall to arrive, even though the temperature is still consistently in the 80s and 90s around here.  Hasn't really worked yet, but I'm going to keep trying. =)  As part of that, I've actually made these muffins twice so far.

I have occasionally tried making chai by adding a mix of whole spices to brewing tea.  But most of the time, I just use one of Stash's chai teas.  My favorite for drinking is the Holiday Chai; I enjoy it year-round.  I didn't use it for the muffins, though.  For the first batch of muffins, I used some Double Spice Chai, figuring the extra spices would stand out more.  I left out the espresso powder and added some additional spices to the batter.  I kept the cinnamon, and added 1/4 teaspoon each of ground ginger and ground cardamom, as well a pinch of ground cloves.  I used 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  I also used half white whole wheat flour for that batch.  I wasn't sure how much the muffins would rise, so I was conservative in filling the muffin tin, and ended up with a dozen regular muffins and 8 minis.  

I made those muffins back at the end of August.  I did take pictures, but wasn't that happy with them.  Since then, I got some new stuff for pictures, in lovely fall colors.  (I couldn't resist some of these towels from SLT.)  So I made the muffins again.  I was partway through adding the dry ingredients to the bowl when I realized that I used all AP flour for this batch.  I was out of the Double Spice Chai, so I used some Chai Spice Tea for this round.  I decided to increase the spices a bit, using half a teaspoon each of cinnamon, ginger and cardamom, and a pinch of cloves.  Since the first batch of muffins ended up a bit short, I filled the muffin tin more this time, and just made 12 regular muffins.  I baked them for 18 minutes.

The verdict?  We enjoyed these muffins a lot.  Brianna and Gillian ate theirs with a variety of jams; I just put some salted butter on mine, which was quite tasty.  It's nice to have another muffin recipe to add to the rotation.  A lot of the ones the girls like are more involved, with add-ins or toppings; I needed another "plain" option.  We'll definitely be making these again, maybe trying some different teas and different spices.

Want to try these (coffee or tea) for yourself?  You can find the recipe on Rhiani's blog.  For everyone else's take on this recipe, check out this week's links.  

Friday, September 17, 2010

Rolling along

Most of the time when I tell people that I’m going to be on vacation for a week, they ask if I’m going anywhere. More often than not, the answer is no. This time of year, Brianna is in school. Plus it’s not exactly inexpensive to fly four people to another part of the country (since none of our family members live anywhere near here). And honestly, I’m okay with that. Traveling long distances, especially with young children, can be pretty darn stressful. I’m quite content to stay at home and do some baking, take some naps, and maybe even do some cleaning up around the house.

This week I had more than the usual incentive for the cleaning up part. My dad came down from Pennsylvania for a few days. I wish he could have brought some of the cooler fall weather with him, but he was pretty happy with our warmer temperatures. He got to spend some time with the girls, even with B in school. I’m particularly glad he got to spend some one-on-one time with G, since she often gets overshadowed by her older sister. (Though Gillian certainly does her best to make her presence known.) Jamie and I even got to have dinner out by ourselves one night, while Dad took the girls to McDonald’s. Yay for grownup, uninterrupted conversations! =)

With Dad here, I didn’t do quite as much baking as I might have on my own, but that’s okay. The baking I did do was mostly for him. Gillian and I made crumb cake for breakfast yesterday, which is one of his favorites, and I packed some of it up for him to take for breakfast on the plane this morning. We also had to make chocolate chip cookies, which I knew he’d be more than happy to help us eat. (And a bunch of those got packed up for his carryon, too.) But the surprise hit of the week was some simple rolls that I made.

It started with dinner on Sunday. We were having hotdogs (with sauerkraut for me & J; with ketchup for the girls). Brianna had requested them a week or so before, but I kind of forgot that they were in the fridge. Since I started BYOB, I almost always make my own hot dog and hamburger buns. I was getting ready to lookup my usual bun recipe from KAF, when I remembered that one of the Mellow Baker recipes for this month was Soft Butter Rolls. I pulled my book off the shelf and took a look at it--it was an easy enriched dough recipe that wouldn’t take all that long to make. I also took a look at the MB discussion board for this recipe. Unfortunately, the first couple reviews I read weren’t very positive. But I decided to give it a try anyway.

The dough was very easy to mix up--it’s a straight dough, so no preferments to worry about. And it used a generous amount of yeast (about 8 g according to the errata) which allowed the dough to rise fairly quickly despite the additions of butter, sugar and egg in the dough. The dough was mixed, then allowed to double. Then the recipe called for dividing the dough into very small portions. I went a little bigger.  I made 5 oblong buns at 75 g each and then formed the remaining dough into round rolls of about 60 g each (yielding 9 rolls). The buns and rolls were placed relatively close together on a baking sheet so that once they were done rising and baking, they were touching each other, keeping the sides soft. Since several people commented that their rolls browned quickly, I baked mine for 13 minutes even though they were larger in size than the ones in the recipe.

The verdict? Well, despite my worries, these were a huge hit with everyone in my family. The dough made excellent hot dog buns--sturdy enough in the face of drippy sauerkraut, but soft inside. Brianna has been quite happy to use them for small sandwiches in her lunch. I ended up making a second batch (just round rolls) to go with beef stew this week--they were really tasty when consumed hot and dripping with butter. I substituted 100g of white whole wheat flour for an equal amount of the bread flour in that batch, and really liked the result. I will definitely be making these again--it’s nice to have another fairly quick and tasty dinner roll in my repertoire.

If you’d like to try this recipe for yourself, you can find it on page 258 of Bread. Be sure to make note of the corrected yeast amount (should be .29 oz, or about 8 g).  And to see what all the other Mellow Bakers thought of this recipe, check out the discussion board.  For lots of other fun bread options, check out Yeastspotting!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Summer into Fall

It's September.  We're past Labor Day.  Kids here have been back in school for three weeks already.  These should be signs that fall is pretty much here.  Except that, according to the thermometer, it's still summer.  *sigh*  The one thing I really miss about the northeast (where I grew up) is fall.  The crisp air in the mornings.  The apples.  The changing leaves on the trees.  Here, in September we're lucky if the temperature only makes it into the high 80s instead of the 90s.  Genuinely cool weather is at least another month away.  We had a little bit of slightly cooler weather last week, but that was courtesy of tropical storm Hermine, which brought plenty of other problems (like flooding and schools being closed for a day).  My dad is here to visit this week and he's sure to enjoy the weather since he likes it warm and it's about 20 degrees warmer here than in Pennsylvania.  Me, I'm wishing he could have found a way to bring the 50s and 60s with him. =)

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe definitely makes me think of fall.  Sabrina of Superfluous picked the Cranberry Upside-Downer for us to make this week.  Unfortunately, it's a bit early for fresh cranberries for a lot of people, but from the comments on the P and Q, most were able to come up with good solutions for that.  In the book, Dorie gives a peach variation, and also suggests frozen cranberries.  I actually planned ahead for a change last winter, and stashed a whole bunch of cranberries in the freezer at the end of last year's season.  So I originally planned to just make the cranberry version.  Then I realized that I had a whole bunch of plums that needed to be used up.  Also, I wasn't that thrilled with their taste, but figured that cooking them (especially with the skins on) would remedy that.  So I decided to use both cranberries and plums for my cake.  I didn't add any nuts, since I knew that B&G wouldn't like them.  The other change that I made was to play around with the spices.  I kept the cinnamon, but reduced the amount to half a teaspoon.  For the other half teaspoon, I went with cardamom, since I really like it with plums.  

The verdict?  Well, my original thought was that with this much cake, I could always take some to the daycare.  Then I sampled a piece, and decided that I didn't want to share!  I haven't made an upside-down cake in a long time, and had forgotten just how tasty they can be.  I love the combination of fruit and moist cake.  And I was very happy with my choice of fruit.  The flavors of the plums and cranberries played well together, and I liked the contrasting textures of the two.  Adding a little homemade vanilla ice cream didn't hurt either.  Everyone else here liked the cake, too, although Brianna did say she liked the cake and fruit separately, but not together.  (So I did share a little.)

If you'd like to try this cake for yourself, head over to Sabrina's blog for the recipe.  To see what variations the other TWD bakers came up with, check out this week's Links.  And while you're at the Tuesdays with Dorie page, don't forget to check out the info for French Fridays with Dorie, the new group forming to bake through Dorie's new book!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Choosy kids

I wasn't much older than Brianna (who is now 7 1/2) when I started making my own lunch for school.  When I started complaining about what was in my lunch, my mom basically said that if I didn't like what she made, I could make it myself.  =)  The main point of contention?  I don't like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Never have.  On the occasions that I ended up with one, I'd take the sandwich apart and put the peanut butter with peanut butter and jelly with jelly (the sandwiches were cut in halves or quarters).  To this day, while I will eat peanut butter, I don't usually go out of my way to make stuff with it.  So Brianna and Gillian haven't had much exposure to it, especially since it's not allowed at daycare (in case of peanut allergies).  

For some strange reason, though, I've been on a real peanut butter kick lately.  Especially peanut butter with chocolate.  I bought a pint of Ben & Jerry's peanut butter cup ice cream.  I made these chocolate peanut butter no bake cookies.  I made milk chocolate peanut butter ganache for B & G to use as fondue (which I had to sample of course--quality control!).   I bought a bag of peanut butter m&ms.  And I made this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, Peanut Butter Crisscrosses.  The recipe was picked by Jasmine of Jasmine Cuisine.  I love simple cookies like these--easy to make, and they work great for stuff like lunches.  

I almost never get out my mixer when I'm making cookies, especially drop ones like these.  For some reason, I just love mixing them by hand.  I also don't like cakey cookies, and mixing by hand keeps me from adding too much air.  I was going to make the full batch, but when I looked at the quantity of ingredients, I realized I would end up with a whole lot of cookies, so I went with half.  First you cream together butter and peanut butter, then add granulated and light brown sugars.  Next comes an egg, then dry ingredients--all-purpose flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and a bit of nutmeg.  The recipe calls for chopped peanuts to be added at the end.  I don't usually have peanuts on hand, and I know the girls don't like nuts in their cookies.  So I substituted peanut butter chips--how can you go wrong with more peanut butter?  I used my #40 disher to scoop the dough onto parchment-lined sheet pans.  I wasn't sure how easy it would be to make the crisscrosses with the chips in there, so on the first pan I experimented--I did half with crisscrosses and half without.  For the ones I did mark, I dipped the fork in sugar first to help the crisscrosses hold their shape.  Leslie gave me a tip to shorten the baking time slightly for chewier cookies, so I baked mine for 11 minutes.  I ended up with 26 cookies from my half-batch.

The verdict?  These cookies were a big hit with all who tried them.  I kind of wish I'd made the full batch.  The texture was great, thanks to the brown sugar in the dough and the shorter baking time.  Brianna seemed to enjoy them in her lunch last week.  So far she hasn't complained too much about what I've put in there, so I haven't told her to make her own lunch yet. =)  As for the crisscrosses, they only sort of held their shape.  I liked the unmarked ones just as much, so I may go the lazy route in the future and skip the fork.  I'll definitely be making these again.

If you'd like to try these for yourself, you can find the recipe on Jasmine's blog.  And be sure to check out this week's Links to see what everyone else thought of these.  While you're there, also take a look at the new group forming to cook & bake through Dorie's new book!