Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Apple of my eye

I had the following conversation with Gillian last night as she and Brianna were finishing up dinner:

Gillian: "May I please have some ice cream for dessert?"
Me: "No, because we don't have any."
Gillian: "Well, make some!!"
Me: *laughing so hard I can't respond*

In just about any other house, the kids would be asking their mom to buy more ice cream.  But not here, no.  My kids just naturally assume that I can and will make just about anything they want.  I suppose that's a good thing. =)  But I wasn't about to start making ice cream, so I offered her a piece of this wonderful homemade apple pie instead.  She was happy. =)

Pie is one of those things that I definitely prefer to make myself.  Especially with fruit pies, I just don't like the ones you can buy in the grocery store--too much crust, not enough fruit, and way too much gloppy goo around what little fruit there is.  With homemade, you can customize things to be the way you like, and it tastes so much better as well.  The only downside to homemade pie is that I like it way too much, and am likely to eat most of the pie myself.  That's why it seldom makes an appearance outside of Thanksgiving.  But for Tuesdays with Dorie, I'll make an exception.  I missed last week's pie (though it will probably show up here the week of Thanksgiving, I think), but there was no way I was going to skip the All-American, All-Delicious Apple Pie that Emily picked.  

Apple pie is my favorite.  Without question.  I love apples, so I've been happy with all of the apple desserts we've been making for the past month or so.  What made me really happy was having my favorite apple show up at Central Market a couple weeks ago.  I love tart apples, and will happily eat pretty much anything related to a Macintosh apple.  But my favorite of these is definitely the Macoun apple.  (Thanks to Nancy for recommending them to me a couple years ago.)  And they arrived just in time for me to use them in this pie!  

Do any of the rest of you try to get the apple peel off all in one long strip?  I used 5 apples for this pie, and wasn't being that careful, so I only managed it with one apple. =)  My girls think it's cool that I can do that.  Nice that they like something that I do once in a while...

For pie, I like to slice my apples thin and pile lots of them into the pie shell.  I somewhat followed Dorie's recipe for the filling--I used the sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg as listed.  (I love freshly grated nutmeg--I use my microplane to grate it.)  I used flour instead of tapioca for the thickener, since I can't stand tapioca.  (I stood in front of it in the grocery store, but just couldn't bring myself to buy it.)  I also left out the lemon zest--I used it in the apple torte a couple weeks ago, and thought it overpowered the other flavors too much.

I skipped the crumbs to put in the bottom of the pie shell, too.  I have another method for avoiding soggy apple pie--dried fruit.  When I was growing up, my mom always put raisins in apple pie.  I love raisins, so that was fine with me.  It wasn't until I was baking on my own and tried making apple pie without them that I realized that they actually suck up a lot of the extra juice, keeping the pie filling from being too runny.  Cool.  I mostly use raisins, but dried cranberries are also tasty, and I'm sure dried cherries would be good if you like cherries.

I was already deviating a lot from the original recipe, so I did use Dorie's pie crust recipe.  I was only going to make a single crust, but started measuring out the ingredients for the double crust recipe (since it's listed first on the page).  I figured I'd go ahead and make the double version since I was getting out the food processor anyway, and freeze half for later.  Yes, the recipe does call for a double crust.  But besides adding raisins, the other thing my mom always did was put crumbs on top of the pie.  I thought about trying crust on top, but since I make pie so seldom, I wanted to go with my favorite. =)  I've tried different toppings over time, but my current favorite can be found in this recipe from Bon Appetit.  

Once last thing that I do that wasn't in the recipe...  To bake the pie, I first put it on a parchment lined baking sheet (to catch the juices that will inevitably bubble over).  Then I put the sheet directly on the baking stone in the bottom of my oven.  Baking on the stone ensures a nice browned bottom crust.  If you do this, you should make sure that the oven and stone are preheated for quite a while.  (I had good timing--I had the oven on for dinner before baking the pie, so the stone was already pretty hot. I just had to turn the oven up to 425ºF.)  I'm not used to turning the oven down partway through, and ended up baking my pie for 50 minutes at 425ºF.  That isn't a problem with my usual pie crust, which doesn't have any sugar in it.  For Dorie's, which does, I'll make sure to lower the temperature next time, since the edges of the crust got a little dark.  It was late when the pie finished, and I prefer to let it cool to just warm before serving, so I didn't get to try any until the next morning.

The verdict?  Well, if you don't already know, pie for breakfast is the best. =)  I'd much rather eat it for breakfast than for dessert, really.  (My husband thinks I'm a bit crazy. No, not just for that, either.)  As expected, I loved this pie.  I'm still a bit undecided on the crust.  Dorie's crust is definitely more tender than my usual, but mine is more flaky, I think.  Both are good.  And hers makes better pie crust "cookies."  Everyone else here loved the pie, too, even Brianna.  She loves crust, and was even willing to eat some of the raisins.  

For the original recipe, head over to Emily's blog.  And be sure to check out this week's Links to see what everyone else did with their apple pies.  As for me, I'm going to go eat another piece of pie for today's breakfast. =)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Birthday girl

I've mentioned before that birthdays are a big deal around here.  The birthday girl (or boy) gets to pick what kind of cake she wants and also what she wants for dinner.  I felt really bad this year for Gillian's birthday, because life was really crazy and I didn't manage to make her requested meal for her birthday.  We eventually had what she requested, about a week later.  We did have cupcakes on her actual birthday and a fabulous birthday cake a few days later for her party, so I hope that made up for it somewhat.  (It didn't help that Gillian's birthday was on a Thursday, and as I mentioned in my last post, Thursdays are somewhat difficult around here.)

Gillian's isn't the only October birthday in our family.  My youngest sister's birthday is tomorrow.  And one of my cousins was on the 21st.  I have friends with birthdays on the 12th, 13th and 14th (which G shares).  I just made cupcakes for my boss's little boy, who turned 1 on the 22nd.  And I recently discovered that one of our favorite cookbook authors, Dorie Greenspan, celebrates her birthday today!

One of my blogging friends, Holly, had an absolutely wonderful idea.  She and Laurie (our fearless leader) asked a bunch of us TWDers who have also joined French Fridays if we'd like to help celebrate Dorie's birthday.  I'm not sure what Dorie's favorite cake is or what she would pick for her birthday meal.  So we've picked for her. =)  It's probably safe to say that she likes all the recipes in Around My French Table, so we've chosen a variety from all sections of the book and are sharing them with you today.  It's like a giant progressive dinner party!

My recipe come from the "Salads, Starters and Small Plates" section of the book.  I picked the Spinach and Bacon Quiche (which can be found on page 160).  I actually made this before I made the mustard tart that I just posted.  This was my first experience making the tart crust recipe from the book--the dough is lovely to work with.  It turned out great, though I did have a bit of trouble with the crust shrinking during baking (even though I froze it for several hours beforehand).  I'd recommend using weights when blind-baking it.

The filling calls for fresh spinach to be steamed.  I don't have a steamer, so I had to find another solution.  I put the spinach in a large bowl with a tablespoon of water, covered it and microwaved it for several minutes until the spinach wilted.  (I think you could use thawed frozen spinach instead if you want.)  The hardest part of this recipe is squeezing all the liquid out of the spinach.  Talk about a workout for your hands! =)  Next, you cook the bacon in a skillet.  Again, I didn't quite follow the directions.  I cut my bacon into small pieces first, then sautéed it until it was crisp.  Once the bacon is done, you cook onion and garlic in some of the bacon drippings until they're soft.  Then the spinach and bacon are mixed in.

The whole mixture goes into the partially baked tart shell.  The last part of the filling is a custard mixture made of eggs and cream.  I added a bit of nutmeg, as well, since I thought it would go well with the spinach and cream.  (I should have added more--I couldn't detect it in the finished tart.)  Before it heads to the oven, the tart is topped with finely grated Parmesan cheese.  My tart was puffy and golden brown in 26 minutes.

The verdict?  Jamie and I both loved this quiche.  I'm not a big egg person, and this tart is perfect for that.  There's more "stuff" than custard in the filling, and a nice amount of crust, too.  I'll definitely be making this one again, and I can't wait to try some of the other quiche recipes in the book.  Even though it's listed as a starter, we actually ate the quiche as our main course, with salad on the side.  The leftovers are good for breakfast, too.  I knew the girls wouldn't like this one, so I saved it for a night when I fed them early and Jamie and I ate after they went to bed.  Below, you can find a rare glimpse into my crazy life--where the food sometimes ends up after it's carefully photographed. =) (yes, that's the coffee table...)

Head on over to Holly's blog for a full round-up of today's dishes.  I hope you'll visit all of the other people who came together for this birthday celebration.  Happy birthday, Dorie!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Timing is everything

I really need to schedule things better. Or maybe just schedule them, period.  When I originally learned that the new Dorie group was going to be posting on Fridays, all I thought was that it was nice that it was several days away from Tuesday.  I didn't really think it through.  To get something posted on a Friday, I really need to be working on it on Thursday.  Well, around here, Thursday is the worst day of the week.  We're all worn out.  Yes, we're probably more tired on Friday, but by the time we get to Friday morning, we all know that the next day is Saturday, and a chance to relax.  Thursday, we're almost as tired, but a lot more cranky, knowing that we have another day to get through still.  Ugh.

So forget actually accomplishing much of anything on Thursdays.  Unless I have something really solid planned for dinner, it ends up being pretty random.  Then it's a race to get kids to bed before they completely melt down, followed by getting my stuff organized so I can crash, too.  The moral of the story?  If I stand any chance of being able to post something for French Fridays with Dorie, I'd better get it done the weekend before!  And now you know why you haven't seen a post from me since the first week. =)

I'm still behind, but I'm trying to catch up.  Last weekend, I finally got a chance to make Gerard's Mustard Tart.  I was really looking forward to it, because I love leeks.  I made it for the small party that we had for Gillian's birthday.  It probably sounds like a strange thing for a 4-year-old's party, but there were as many adults as kids.  And Gillian's best friend is French, so I thought her parents would enjoy it.  We also had some savory snacks made with puff pastry (that's another post), fresh fruit with chocolate/peanut butter dipping sauce, and Cheetos (the poofy ones, not the crunchy ones).  The last was a specific request from Gillian. =)  And of course, cake.

Fortunately, the tart was pretty easy to make in between the other things that I had to do.  I made the tart dough, but it didn't get a 3-hour rest in the fridge.  It got about 30 minutes in the freezer.  It was still pretty nice to roll out, though.  I decided to use my rectangular tart pan for easy serving.  I froze the crust while working on cake assembly, then baked it.  I did use weights to keep it from shrinking too much. (I have a bunch of dried black beans that I keep just for pie weights.)  After baking it for 20 minutes, I removed the foil and weights and baked it for 7 minutes longer.  I let it cool while prepping the filling ingredients.  I went with 2 carrots that I cut into short julienned pieces, and three small leeks that I quartered lengthwise and then cut crosswise into half-inch pieces.  I don't have a steamer (or didn't, until I bought new rice cooker this week), so I sautéed them in a bit of butter and olive oil until softened (and seasoned them with salt and pepper).  I put the vegetables in the tart crust and then poured the custard filling (eggs, cream and mustard) over it.  I baked the tart for 23 minutes, until it was browned and puffy.  I let it cool until just warm before serving.

The verdict?  Wow, this didn't last long at all.  The best compliment of all was that it was eagerly eaten by our French guests.  Jamie and I really liked it, too.  Gillian wouldn't try it (and I didn't force the issue, especially since it was her party).  Brianna sampled it and said that "it was okay, but it's not my favorite" which is her polite way of saying that she didn't like it all that much.  We will definitely be having this one again; I'd like to play around with the veggies.  

If you'd like to try this recipe, I highly encourage you to get yourself a copy of Around My French Table.  It's on page 154.  For this month only, you can find the recipes here, on the FFwD site.  The group is quite flexible, so feel free to join in on the fun (if you haven't already).  And to hear what everyone else thought of the tart, check out the Links.  

Check back in the next few days to hear about my great class at Central Market with Dorie!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Over the top

The past several days have been interesting.  Gillian has been totally out of control.  I guess that's what happens when you've just turned four.  =)  I think she may have finally crashed.  I certainly hope so, since she's been bouncing off the walls for days.  That also means that she hasn't been napping much and has been getting up too early, so she's been cranky when she hasn't been silly.  Her birthday was Thursday (the 14th), but her party (a small one) wasn't until today, so she's had four days of excitement.  I don't think I can take any more...

I made cupcakes for Gillian's actual birthday, which was pretty easy.  (post coming soon)  But I was undecided on what cake to make for her birthday party.  The only real requirements were chocolate cake and chocolate frosting.  A few days ago, I was chatting with people on Twitter before I had to go to work, and Caitlin mentioned that she was thinking of making a cake this weekend.  The one she had in mind was the Hot Chocolate Layer Cake that was on the cover of Fine Cooking back in January of this year.  I remembered seeing it when I got my copy of the magazine, and thinking that it looked pretty amazing.  Fudgy chocolate cake with shiny chocolate frosting and an impressive pile of homemade marshmallows on top.  Both my girls love marshmallows, so I wasn't surprised that Gillian gave her approval when I suggested it as the cake for her party.  It looked like a bit of a production, but I knew I had the weekend off and would have time to make everything.  

I made the various components on Saturday.  First up was the marshmallows, in the morning.  I've only made them once before, with mixed success.  This recipe was a bit different though, and just used a bunch of gelatin without any egg whites.  The ingredient list is pretty short--water, gelatin, sugar, corn syrup, a bit of salt and some vanilla.  Oh, and a bunch of powdered sugar for coating sticky edges.  My only addition was some gel food coloring, in an attempt to make the marshmallows a swirly purple color.  I used my pizza cutter to cut the finished slab of marshmallow into individual pieces, which worked quite well.  

hard to see the purple under all the powdered sugar

The cake layers and frosting didn't get done until Saturday night.  I decided we didn't need an enormous cake, so I only made two-thirds of each recipe so we'd have a two-layer cake.  The recipes were pretty easy to reduce accordingly, and both are pretty easy to mix up.  I love that you don't need a mixer to make the cake.  You make a "hot chocolate" mixture by heating together water, butter, oil and bittersweet chocolate until the butter and chocolate are melted.  Then you mix in sugar, flour and cocoa powder (natural, which I prefer), and finally you whisk in buttermilk, vanilla, baking soda and salt.  Since baking soda is the sole leavening (and starts working right away), it's a good idea to get the batter in the pans and the pans in the oven as quickly as possible.  I baked my layers for about 25 minutes.

The frosting can be started while the cake layers bake.  The recipe calls for a vanilla bean, but I was lazy and just used vanilla sugar and some vanilla extract.  You heat cream and butter until the butter is melted.  Then you whisk in sugar, cocoa powder, golden syrup, and salt, continuing to heat until everything is smooth and dissolved.  The frosting mixture then goes into a 13"x9" pan to chill in the fridge overnight.  I did the final assembly this morning.  You take the chilled frosting mixture out of the fridge and put it in your stand mixer.  First you beat it with the paddle attachment to loosen it up, then you whip it with the whisk for a few minutes.  The result is a shiny, luscious chocolate frosting.  Once the cake is filled and frosted, you pile marshmallows on top.  And then you hope you have lots of friends to share it with, because even with only two layers, this cake is huge. =)

The verdict?  Well, I think it's safe to say this one was a hit.  The only complaint that I heard was that the cake was so rich that it was hard to eat very much of it.  It's also a bit hard to cut neatly, as you can see.  I think chilling might help with that.  Even though I didn't need more than half of them for the cake, I still made a full batch of marshmallows.  Brianna and Gillian are definitely looking forward to eating the rest of them.  The marshmallows are a bit soft for my taste (I have texture issues), but I'll definitely be making them again.  As for the cake, overall, it was pretty easy to make, which makes me happy.  I just need to figure out how to adjust things (mostly the leavening, I think) so that I end up with more even cake layers.  Mine ended up higher at the edges than in the middle.  Also, the cake by itself is a little bland, but I think a bit more salt would help that, and maybe a little espresso powder.  It's amazing with the frosting, though--a great combination. 

If you'd like to try this one for yourself, you can find the recipe here on the Fine Cooking website.  (Last I checked, it was available to everyone, not just subscribers.)  It takes some time, but can be broken up into stages, and the end result is definitely worth the work.

And last but not least, a couple pictures of the birthday girl.  I can't decide which is my favorite.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fall cleaning

We’ve lived in our house for almost 9 years. We moved in on Halloween in 2001. A lot of the reason we picked the floor plan that we did was the kitchen. I love my kitchen. It’s set up in a U-shape, with an island in the center. There’s plenty of room for a big kitchen table, too. After living in apartments for quite a few years, it was so nice to have lots of kitchen cabinets, plus lots of shelves in our pantry/laundry room. I’ve always done a lot of cooking and baking, but even with all my stuff, I figured it would take quite a while for me to fill up all of the storage.

Well, this past weekend, I officially ran out of room in the pantry. Well, at least until I came up with a new solution. When we got back from grocery shopping Saturday night, I went to put things away. The problem was, there wasn’t really anywhere to put some of it. Since I do so much baking, I routinely keep extra bags of the most common flours and sugars in reserve. I also have small quantities of a whole bunch of different ingredients that I use less frequently. I didn’t help matters by getting a variety of specialty flours in my first ever KAF order a couple weeks ago. And then there’s the chocolate...especially the assorted chips, both chocolate and otherwise, that were threatening to spill off their shelf. Didn’t leave much any room for other stuff like pasta and canned goods...

So first thing Sunday morning, I headed to Target. (I wanted to go early before they got busy, plus I had some time while cinnamon rolls were proofing.) I came home with six new storage bins, 3 large and 3 small. I was able to organize all my reserve ingredients, as well as a bunch of the chocolate and most of my decorating supplies. (I had no idea I had such a collection of colored sugars until I put them all in one place!). The plastic bins take the spot vacated by my collection of cooking magazines. They used to be stored in magazine boxes there, but after the recent issue with a puddle on the pantry floor, it seemed like a good idea to relocate them to higher ground, away from the washing machine. (We’re still working on a permanent home for them.)

Once everything was neat and organized, I move on to my other Sunday tasks. A bunch of us had plans to get together on Twitter to bake this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie recipe. Cakelaw of Laws of the Kitchen picked the Fold-Over Pear Torte for us to make this week.  This recipe required a bit of organizing as well; it's one of the more involved recipes we've made in a while.  First you need pie crust.  Then you need to fit it into a springform pan.  Next there's lots of dicing and mixing of fruit, then mixing of custard filling.  Finally, the torte is all assembled and baked.

I went with apples simply because I don’t really like pears. I’m not that excited by the flavor of pears, but what I really dislike is the texture. For lack of a better idea, I made my torte with apples. Instead of the dried apricots, I used dried cranberries, since I thought they’d be a nice complement to the apples, and I skipped the nuts. For the crust, I thought about using Dorie’s recipe, but ended up going with a Cook’s Illustrated recipe that I like. It’s an all butter pastry dough that was originally part of a recipe for a freeform tart. It’s flaky and buttery yet sturdy, so I thought it would hold up well in the torte. For the custard filling, I stuck pretty close to the recipe, with one small change. I used the tablespoon of dark rum and one teaspoon of vanilla extract. In place of the rest of the vanilla and the almond extract, I used a teaspoon and a half of Calvados.

I also wanted to dress things up a little bit.  This weekend I picked up some cute mini cutters in fall shapes at Sur la Table.  One of them is an apple, which I thought would be perfect for decorating this torte.  I cut several apple shapes and several maple leaf shapes out of some scraps of pie dough.  I put them on the sheet pan next to the springform pan containing the torte.  I brushed them with water and sprinkled them with turbinado sugar.  I put the sheet pan in the oven and let everything bake for 15 minutes.  Then I carefully transferred the shapes to the top of the torte; the custard had set enough so that they wouldn't sink.  I baked my torte for almost 70 minutes, tenting the middle after about 45 minutes so it wouldn't get too brown.

The verdict?  The torte was good, but not my favorite.  I'm just not that fond of custardy desserts.  Gillian enjoyed it a lot, as did Jamie.  He commented that he really liked the contrast of textures between the filling and crust.  Brianna wasn't a fan, but I'm beginning to think she just doesn't like cooked fruit all that much.  I was disappointed that my crust didn't brown more.  I think that's because the oven temperature was lower than what I usually use for pie, and the dough doesn't have any sugar in it to aid in browning.  (Something to keep in mind for the future.)  I'm not sure I'll make this again, but I'm glad I tried it.

If you'd like to try this one for yourself, you can find the recipe on Cakelaw's blog.  To see what everyone else did with this recipe, check out this week's Links.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The apples don't fall far from the tree

I didn’t realize how good we had it with Brianna in the sleep department. Oh, of course there were issues when B was a newborn. And we went through the annoying stage after she moved out of the crib where she would come back down the stairs repeatedly every night--just because she could. But for the most part, she was a pretty sound sleeper. She still is--not much wakes that child up. If she calls for me in the middle of the night or (even more rarely) shows up at the side of my bed, it’s because something is seriously wrong. In that respect, B is definitely my child. Sure, I have that “sleeping with one ear open” thing that most moms develop, but aside from that, I usually sleep pretty soundly.

With Gillian...well, it’s completely different. I swear, for the first month of her life I never got to sleep lying down for more than 20 minutes at a time. And certainly not in my own bed. Her crib was in our room, but to avoid bothering J, who is a light sleeper (why yes, that would be where Gillian gets it from) we spent a lot of time downstairs in the living room where the pack-n-play was set up. Not that she really slept there. Whenever I’d try to lay her down and stretch out on the couch, it was like she knew. Within ten or fifteen minutes at most, she’d wake up and start crying. And this is my child who doesn’t eventually give up--she can keep it going for quite some time, no problem. So we slept in the recliner a lot. It was either that or not sleep. Life is just like that with an infant, sometimes.  She eventually got better about sleeping, most of the time, anyway. Even now, we seldom go more than a few weeks without a middle-of-the-night appearance by Gillian. And she’s not subtle about it--she just flings open the door to our bedroom. “Mommy!!” Always mommy, never daddy. *sigh* (And yes, J does try to help. It’s never done any good.)

The latest thing? It seems that Gillian has mostly given up napping. Oh, they still have nap time at daycare, and we have it at home on the weekends (it’s rest & reading time for B). But G doesn’t sleep. She plays, or pretends to sleep. She even tells me that she takes a nap. But when I ask her if she slept or if she just rested, usually the answer is “well maybe I just mostly rested.” All in all, it makes for some very cranky evenings in our house. And cranky dinner table scenes, where Gillian is too tired to eat her dinner, but wants dessert. “Can I have some of that apple cake?” “No, sweetie.” “But I want apple cake!!” “Well, sweetie, you can’t have it, because you haven’t eaten dinner and because we don’t have any more.” “BUT I WANT IT!!!”    **beating my head against the kitchen table**  

The apple cake in question?  That would be this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, Double Apple Bundt Cake.  Lynne of Honey Muffin is our host this week.  This was a perfect choice for the beginning of October, as lots of new crop apples are arriving at my favorite store.  I went with my favorite, Macintosh.  The second apple referred to in the recipe title is apple butter.  One of these days, I'll have to try making my own.  For this cake, though, I picked up some wonderful apple butter at Central Market.  (It's from the company that makes my favorite raspberry fruit butter. Mmm.)

The cake batter is pretty straightforward to make.  You cream together butter and sugar, then beat in eggs.  Next up is grated apple and the apple butter.  Then come the dry ingredients--flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.  The recipe calls for adding raisins and nuts.  I skipped the nuts, since I knew Brianna and Gillian wouldn't like them, so I increased the raisins.  I ended up baking my bundt for 45 minutes.  Once the cake was cooled, I drizzled it with a milk/powdered sugar glaze.

The verdict?  Well, as you probably already guessed, Gillian was a big fan.  Brianna, on the other hand, wasn't as happy.  She doesn't really like raisins in baked goods, and I think she's tired of all the spices.  I enjoyed it (I love most apple things), but will make a few changes next time.  The cake was rather sweet, and increasing the raisins made it more so.  I'd like to try it with the nuts, or maybe sub dried cranberries for some or all of the raisins.  (Thanks for the idea, Amy!)  Also, as soon as I added the glaze, I wished I'd gone with something different.  I think the salted toffee glaze from David Lebovitz's wonderful plum cake would be excellent with this cake.  One thing I am glad I thought of was the ice cream I had with some of the cake.  Brown sugar cinnamon ice cream.  Mmm.  (Post with recipe coming soon, I hope.)  I definitely plan to make this again, so I'll have a chance to play around with it.

If you'd like to try the cake for yourself, head on over to Lynne's blog.  To see what everyone else thought of this week's recipe, check out the Links.  And for some savory Dorie recipes, be sure to check out French Fridays with Dorie

Saturday, October 2, 2010

LiveSTRONG with a little heart

Today is LiveSTRONG Day 2010.  October 2, 1996 was the day that Lance Armstrong was diagnosed with cancer, at the age of 25.  I can empathize a bit.  For me, 1996 was the worst year of my life.  On January 22nd, my husband Nate died of cancer.  On February 21st, I turned 25 years old.  It sometimes seems like, in a heartbeat, my life was turned upside down.  I think that's the case for most people whose lives are touched by cancer.  Whether you're the one with the disease or the one on the sidelines, life will never be the same, even if you manage to beat it.  So the question is, how do you deal with it?

I was lucky enough to have a couple of very good friends living nearby in Seattle (where Nate and I lived at the time).  But even so, I'm not the sort of person who usually shares a lot of my feelings with people.  It was hard talk to my friends, to deal with the grief.  So I pretty much didn't.  I had myself convinced that I was fine.  Up until the point where I had no choice but to accept that I was anything but fine.  It pretty much took getting physically ill myself before I realized that I couldn't deal with everything on my own.  

During the eight or nine months when I thought I was doing okay, a grief counselor from the hospice contacted me periodically.  I told her that I was fine, more than once.  But she kept calling every so often.  And ultimately, I'm really glad she didn't give up on me.  Because when I really needed someone to talk to, I remembered her calls.  And the fact that one of the things she'd told me about was a support group for young widowed people (now part of The Healing Center).  It was incredibly hard to get myself to go the first time.  But it was so worth it.  It was so difficult to talk to my friends and family about how I was feeling that I didn't realize it might be easier to talk to strangers.  Because they might have been strangers at first, but they had all been through similar losses.  They got it.  And they helped me get through it.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that whether you're a family member or the one with cancer, it's okay to admit that you might need some help.  And that the support doesn't have to come from the ones closest to you.  When Nate was going through treatment, he didn't talk to me about a lot of his feelings.  But I knew that he was talking to other people.  I was hurt by that.  I didn't understand until much later that it was probably too hard for him to talk to me about everything, that it was easier for him to talk to people with a little more distance from the situation.  

Help can come from a lot of places.  One of them is the Lance Armstrong Foundation.  

This post is my contribution to the LiveSTRONG with a Taste of Yellow event organized by Barbara of winos and foodies.  This is the fourth year she's hosted this event, and the third time I've participated.  You can find my previous entries here (Nate's story) and here.  Each year, one of the requirements is to include a yellow food in your post.  This year, Barbara also requested that we include a heart.  So I made  heart-shaped lemon shortbread cookies, decorated with yellow sugar.  I definitely recommend that you read Barbara's post for today.  She'll also have a round-up of Taste of Yellow posts sometime in the next week or two.  

Lemon Shortbread

16 tablespoons (2 sticks; about 225g) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup (85g) powdered sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups (250g) unbleached all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, beat the butter until smooth, then beat in the sugar, lemon zest, vanilla and salt.  Stir in the flour.  The dough will come together in to a ball.  Flatten the dough into a disc, then wrap in plastic and chill for about an hour.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out until it is about 1/2 an inch thick.  Cut the dough into shapes with a small (about 2-inch) cutter.  Gather the scraps together and reroll the dough to cut additional cookies.  Place the cookies about 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet.  Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the cookies are just beginning to brown.  Transfer them to a rack to cool.  

To glaze the cookies, whisk together a cup of powdered sugar (about 115g) and a tablespoon or two of lemon juice to make a thick glaze.  Spread the glaze on the cooled cookies using the back of a spoon.  Decorate with sprinkles or colored sugar if desired.  Allow the glaze to harden completely before storing the cookies, or they'll stick together.

Yields about 2 dozen cookies.

Friday, October 1, 2010


I think everyone (including the author) was pleasantly surprised to learn that Dorie Greenspan's new cookbook was going to be available from Amazon over a month earlier than expected.  I can't remember the last time I was this excited about a getting a new cookbook.  And over the past several years, I've gotten a lot of new cookbooks.  Okay, that's not entirely accurate--lately, most of what I've acquired have been baking books, not savory cooking books.  Not that I don't cook; I just seem to get most of my non-baking recipes from cooking magazines.  But this is one cookbook that I knew I had to have.  With this most recent purchase, I now have five of Dorie's cookbooks.  (The others are BFMHTY (of course), Paris SweetsChocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé, and Baking with Julia.)  She's now tied with Jacques Pépin in my collection.

A lot of my reason for being so excited is that so many other people were excited with me.  Many of us Tuesdays with Dorie bakers have been eagerly awaiting Dorie's new book.  I was a bit worried when I learned that it was going to be a regular cookbook, rather than another baking book.  Baking is my passion, and my comfort zone.  I really wasn't too sure about blogging about savory dishes.  Heck, I'm still not quite sure how it's going to work out.  But our fearless leader Laurie put together such a cool new group, I had to be a part of it.  You can read more about it here.  We were all very excited to learn that the October recipes were selected by Dorie herself.  First up is the very first recipe in the book, Gougères.  Think cream puffs, but cheesy.  In a good way. =)

As usual, I couldn't just follow the recipe as written; I did make a couple of slight changes.  I started off by putting butter, water, milk and salt in a saucepan and bringing it to a boil.  Then I added the flour and stirred like crazy until I had a smooth dough and the bottom of the pan was dry.  Next, I transferred the mixture to my stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  My first change was to mix the dough with the paddle for several minutes to let it cool a bit before adding the eggs.  My second change was with the eggs.  The recipe calls for 5 large eggs.  I had extra large eggs in the fridge.  Not a big difference in size, but with 5 of them, it might be noticeable.  Also, several of my other baking resources recommend using part whole eggs and part whites for drier puffs.  So I ended up using 4 eggs and 1 egg white.  With the mixer running, I added the eggs to the dough.  (I find it easiest to crack all of the eggs into a 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup and gradually pour them in.)  It's neat to watch the dough come together as the last egg or two go in.  Finally, the cheese is mixed in.  I used my #40 disher to scoop the dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets.  I did one pan of 20 that got baked right away, and another pan of 15 that went into the freezer.  I ended up baking my gougères for a total of 26 minutes.

The verdict?  Yum!  Well, at least for most of my household.  Brianna tried one of the gougères and said she liked it, but then changed her mind.  Gillian, on the other hand, love them and ate three or four.  Jamie was happy, because he really likes Gruyère, and I haven't made anything with it for a while.  I liked them, though I think I'll bake them a minute or two longer next time; they were a bit too wet in the middle (though certainly edible).  I still have the ones stashed in the freezer, so we can have these again soon.

For this month only, if you'd like to give these a try you can find the recipe here on the French Fridays with Dorie site.  But you should really just buy the book. =)  And join the group!  To see what everyone else thought of the gougères, head over to this week's Links page.

Next up, Gerard's Mustard Tart (mmm, leeks)!