Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Good things come in small packages

I have no idea how it can possibly be the end of May and the end of the school year.  Brianna's last day was last Thursday.  Being a worrier, I don't think she was completely convinced that she had been promoted to 4th grade until she saw it in writing on her report card.  Then last night we had Gillian's graduation from pre-K.  (She'll still be at the daycare for the summer, but they had the ceremony at the end of the traditional school year so that no one would miss out because of vacations, etc.)  It wasn't a very long program, since 4 and 5-year-olds don't have very long attention spans, but it was certainly entertaining.

One of the things I like to do at various times including the end of the year is make little gifts for the teachers.  I don't usually do anything big, but I try to make sure that it's something special.  For Teacher Appreciation Week in early May, I made World Peace Cookies.  What teachers wouldn't welcome a little more peace in their lives? =)  Since I went with chocolate for that occasion, I wanted something different for the end of the year thank-yous.  Something...vanilla.  

Over the past couple of weeks Central Market did a focus on France, with lots of interesting French products and ingredients.  I picked up some salted butter, so I had to find something to make with it.  Naturally, I turned to Dorie.  I remembered seeing a cookie recipe of hers in a recent issue of one of my cooking magazines.  I had to do a bit of searching through the stack by my computer, but I found it.  Vanilla Bean Sablés--French butter cookies.

The recipe calls for unsalted butter and sea salt, so I used my salted butter and skipped the additional salt.  Rather than two vanilla beans, I used one and some of my vanilla sugar.  I love rubbing the vanilla seeds into the sugar--it always makes my fingers smell good.  (And after I scraped the seeds from the pod, I stuck the pieces into my container of vanilla sugar to make more!)  The rest of the ingredient list is simple, just some powdered sugar, flour, and an egg yolk.  The dough mixes up quickly in a stand mixer, and gets formed into a couple of logs.  Once the dough is chilled, it's rolled in coarse sparkling sugar, then sliced and baked.  I did skip the step of brushing the dough logs with egg wash before coating with sugar; I just pressed the sugar into the dough.  The cookies bake for about 20 minutes, and you can smell when they're done.  

The verdict?  I totally love these cookies.  The flavors of butter and vanilla play so well together, especially when the bottoms of the cookies turn such a lovely golden brown.  The cookies have a great texture, short and crumbly and with the contrast of crunchy sparkling sugar on the edges.  They're great paired with a mug of tea.  I hope the teachers enjoyed them as much as I did.  

If you'd like to try these cookies for yourself, you can find the recipe in the April/May issue of Fine Cooking, or here online.  

Ready for kindergarten!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Monday, May 21, 2012

One of those days (Cooking the Books)

I've been having one of those days.  Except that it's not the usual one of those days.  It started with me getting up at 5 because I was scheduled to work all day today.  That schedule usually means that I have to drop the girls at school and daycare before I go to work at 8:15 or so.  But things didn't go as planned.  Brianna was still complaining of a really sore throat when I went to wake her up.  She'd been telling me the same thing for most of the weekend.  I checked, and it was red.  But it didn't look that bad, and since she hadn't been running a fever I figured that she was suffering from a virus and not strep.  I could tell she wasn't quite herself, though, since she napped for about 3 hours on Sunday afternoon.  

So I had the always fun parenting dilemma...  B didn't seem that sick, but sending her to school probably wasn't a good idea.  At the same time, I was worried about leaving my coworkers shorthanded.  Jamie had already left for work, and it was doubtful that he'd be able to come home early to stay with B.  I just love it when the parenting guilt wars with the work guilt--nothing like having an unexpected day off that you can't really enjoy because you feel like you're supposed to be somewhere else.  I did get to take a nap, but it wasn't a very good one.  I ended up feeling sort of restless and out-of-sorts all day.  I did get some reading time in, but couldn't really settle on anything.  And writing was right out.  I've been trying to get this post done for my Cooking the Books event for two days, and just haven't been able to figure out what to write, which is why you're getting my sad story.  =)

Maybe some dessert would make me feel better.  We had Brianna's favorite soup for dinner, this chicken chowder from Cook's Country.  Naturally, since B loves it, Gillian hates it.  (I decided not to fight that battle tonight, and just made G a sandwich for dinner.)  I like it just fine, and soup is nice because it generally leaves room for dessert.  This particular one was inspired by the new book J got me for Mother's Day--Alice Medrich's new Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts.  The idea is that you can make lots of great desserts from simple, tasty components.  What I came up with first was sort of a mini ice cream tart/sundae.  

The base was a simple butter cookie.  Central Market has an event going on called Passport France, and they've had a lot of great French products and ingredients available.  I bought some Breton salted butter, and turned to Dorie's Around My French Table to figure out what to do with it.  Naturally, she didn't let me down, and I found a recipe for Sablé Breton.  I didn't want to do a full-size tart, but there was a Bonne Idée for making slice and bake cookies with a variation on the dough, so I went with those.  I didn't add any salt, since my butter was nicely salty, with noticeable crunchy crystals in it.  I did roll the log of dough in a combination of sparkling sugar and a bit of fleur de sel before slicing it up for baking.

Besides the great butter, I also picked up a package of dark muscovado sugar on my shopping trip.  My new Medrich book has several caramel-type sauces in it.  One is a simple mixture of muscovado sugar, cream, a bit of salt, and a splash of rum.  It was really easy to make.  For the final component of my dessert, I wanted something that would provide a contrast to the richness of the cookie and sauce.  I found what I was looking for in one of my earlier Medrich books, Pure Dessert--sour cream ice cream.  It's a non-custard ice cream, which really allows the sour cream flavor to shine through.  The technique for making it is similar to the one in my Jeni's ice cream book, and I tweaked the procedure just slightly to make it even closer (I added a bit of corn syrup to the milk/sugar mixture, and boiled it for several minutes before adding the cornstarch in a slurry).  

For the final dessert, I started with a cookie, topped it with a scoop of ice cream, and drizzled warm tropical sugar sauce over the top.  The verdict?  Yum!  All of the components are really tasty, and work well together.  There's a great contrast of sweet and salty, cold and warm, soft and chewy/crisp.  The cookies are also great with a cup of tea.  My favorite part was the ice cream.  We also ate some of it topped with fresh strawberries--the cold tartness of the ice cream is a great foil for fruit.  I can't wait to try it with peaches, too.

I definitely encourage you to check out all of the books that I mentioned.  Your local library might even have them!  To get you started, you can find the ice cream recipe here.  This is my contribution to our spring Cooking the Books blog event; you can find links to the other contributors in this main post.  If you'd like to join in, submissions are welcome anytime this week.  If you'd like to be notified of future events, send me an email at diskitchennotebook at gmail dot com and I'll add you to the list!  

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Cooking the books (a seasonal blog event)

So, have any of you gotten funny looks because you read cookbooks like novels?  I think my coworkers are used to it by now. =)  It helps that they like the baked goods that come from the recipes I discover.  I'm trying to reduce the number of cookbooks I buy, since my shelves are almost overflowing and I haven't done justice to the books I already have.

My favorite cookbooks are the sort that have lots to read besides the recipes.  I love to hear about how the authors come up with recipes--the stories behind the food.  I also like to read about recipe testing and technique.  I realized recently that a lot of the fiction that I like to read includes a lot of writing about food as well.  I read a few authors that are all about the food, even including recipes in the books.  (They tend to be mystery or suspense writers--I wonder why that is?)  The more I thought about it, the more I wondered what books other food bloggers like to read, whether cookbooks or other books.

That gave me a great idea for the theme of our latest seasonal blog event--Cooking the Books.  (You can read about the start of the seasonal blog events here.)  I've invited my blogging friends to share a dish inspired by one of their favorite authors, whether it's a author of cookbooks or other literary works.  Everyone is welcome to join--just post some time this week, and leave your link below so that everyone else can read about what you made.  I can't wait to see everyone's contributions!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wordless Wednesday - Mother's Day

 (I'll be making these again, for sure)

 (Pretty much the only time they're quiet... *sigh*)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Let's do the twist

Sunday is family dinner night around here.  It's the only night that we always eat together.  We occasionally pull it off on a weeknight, but way more often than not, I feed the girls early and then J & I eat later.  Early is relative, of course.  The parent who picks the girls up from school/daycare gets home with them around 6:30 or so.  The other parent doesn't get home until after 7:30.

Since that doesn't leave me with much time or energy for cooking during the week, Sunday is also my day for meals that are more involved, or that just take more time.  A lot of times, it's something that makes lots of leftovers that I can eat for lunch during the week.  Tonight's spaghetti and meatballs is a good example of that.  I try to save the things I know the girls won't eat for me & J to have during the week (as long as they're relatively quick to make).  I want B&G to try new things (and they're really pretty good about that), but I get tired of hearing about how unhappy they are with some of my menu choices.

Last weekend, I tried something new that I was pretty sure they'd enjoy.  A few days earlier, my friend Tracey had a great new dish on her blog.  That's not unusual, since Tracey posts all sorts of good things. =)  But this was one that I wanted to make right away--Pretzel Dogs!  I regularly make my own dough for mini pigs-in-blankets, but it never occurred to me to wrap them in soft pretzel dough.  In fact, I realized that I've never made pretzels at all.  I've been meaning to, but just haven't gotten around to it.  

The great thing about this dough is that it doesn't take long at all to make.  The dough is straightforward to mix up (I used my dough whisk for the initial mixing) and can be kneaded in your stand mixer.  I did some machine kneading, then finished by hand.  The dough is really nice to work with, and it needs less than an hour to rise.  Then you portion out the dough, roll it into ropes, and wrap them around hot dogs that have been cut in half.  I only did five hot dogs (so 10 pieces), using 60 grams of dough for each piece.  I formed the remaining dough into 4 rolls (similar to hamburger buns).  The pretzel dogs are boiled in a baking soda solution for about 30 seconds each.  I boiled the rolls as well, but had to flip them over halfway through the time, since they don't roll the way the hot dogs do.  Finally, the dough is brushed with egg wash, sprinkled with salt (I even had actual pretzel salt!), and baked for about 15 minutes.

The verdict?  These were fantastic!  I definitely think they've earned a place in our regular menu rotation.  Jamie ate his with mustard, which sounds appropriate for pretzels as well as hot dogs.  The rest of us don't really like mustard, so we used ketchup.  But what I really want to try with them next is cheese sauce...  

I'm excited to try my hand at other pretzels as well.  I can't believe it's taken me this long to make them.  If you'd like to try these pretzel dogs for yourself, you can find the recipe on Tracey's blog.  My friend Abby made them, too; I love her cinnamon sugar bites for dessert.  I'm also submitting these Pretzel Dogs to Yeastspotting; be sure to check out all the other delicious yeasted creations.