Archive | November, 2008

I Wish You All a Wonderful Thanksgiving

25 Nov
Happy Thanksgiving to pie lovers everywhere.

Happy Thanksgiving to pie lovers everywhere.

Friends, we’re off to Delaware in the morning to visit the beloved husband’s relatives, so I won’t be posting again until Monday.  I want to wish you a lovely holiday.

I appreciate the time you all have taken to read my little blog.  I hope that I have given you some good ideas and the confidence to just get in that kitchen and do it!  I’ve got some good things up my sleeve as we get into the Christmas season, too, so I look forward to getting back to posting on the 1st.

Again, I wish you and your friends and family a fantastic and tasty Thanksgiving.


“Gee, I’d like my kid’s breakfast to be a little more nutritious.”

25 Nov
There is nothing natural about this, folks.

There is nothing natural about this, folks.

Wow.  I just saw this commercial for a breakfast to please kids and moms alike.  I can’t remember what they called it, but it’s some sort of strawberry pastry thing.  The kids wanted “more strawberry filling,” and the moms wanted to “sneak some nutrition in.”  Moms, here’s a thought:  If you want to sneak nutrition in, don’t buy those things.  Feed them a healthy breakfast and save the fruity pastry for dessert.”

And that’s where I come in.  I want to give you some ideas for little treats that you can make for your kids (or for yourself) that aren’t health food, but contain ingredients that actually occur in nature.  I firmly believe that if you feed your family healthy food most of the time that a little splurge every once in awhile is good for the soul.

Make some pie crust.  Try this recipe.  Keep rolled pastry in the freezer so you can make these treats whenever you want to.

Cut 3-inch circles out of your dough, put about 1 1/2 teaspoons of some all-fruit spread in the center, wet 1/2 of the rim of the circle with a bit of water, fold over and crimp with a fork.  Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with a little sugar.  Bake at 350 degrees, F until golden brown and lovely.  Let cool for several minutes.  Eat.

Peel and core small Golden Delicious apples.  Stuff the centers with some brown sugar, a pinch of salt and cinnamon, butter and some raisins if you like them.  Cut circles 6″ circles from your dough.  Set the apple in the middle and start bringing up the edges to meet at the top of the apple.  Fold a bit up, make a pleat and fold up another bit.  Keep going until all the pastry is pleated around the apple.  Seal it tightly at the top.  Brush with some egg wash, sprinkle with some Sugar in the Raw or other sugar with large crystals, and bake at 350 degrees, F until golden brown and lovely.  Let cool a bit; serve with some ice cream or a little real whipped cream.

Cut out a 4 to 5 inch circle of dough.  Sprinkle the center with some brown sugar, butter,a pinch of salt and a bit of ginger.  Place a peach half, cut side down (no pit, thank you very much) on top of the sugar.  Sprinkle with a bit more sugar and pleat up the edges of the dough.  You’ll probably still be able to see the peach–that’s fine.  It’s pretty that way.  Bake at, you guessed it, 350 degrees until it’s done.  This would be lovely with just a little unwhipped, unsweetened heavy cream.

And there you have it.  Three ideas.  Not health food, but not masquerading as a “healthy breakfast,” either.  Enjoy a treat every once in awhile, and stay away from fake food.

And Now, the Perils and Pitfalls of Homemade Fudge (duhn, duhn, duuuuuhn)

24 Nov
Homemade fudge with toasted walnuts.

Homemade fudge with toasted walnuts.

There is something about fudge that fascinates yet strikes fear into the heart of the home cook.  And I will admit, homemade fudge can be kind of particular about how it is treated.  If you mistreat it, it will let you know by turning into a grainy, sullen mess.  You can almost hear it muttering, “Serves you right, treating me like that.”  Take heart, friends, for I am here to help.  Let me tell you, if college kids home on summer break can learn to make this stuff while singing in front of an audience on the boardwalk, you can learn to make it, too!

First, let’s look a little bit at the science behind fudge.  Sugar is an amazing ingredient, and the hotter you cook it, the more firmly it will set up when cooled.  Also, sugar crystals can vary in size from so tiny that they give the finished product a creamy texture to huge rock candy crunchy crystals.  Here’s how fudge happens:  you heat sugar with some chocolate and some dairy and a few other things until enough water has evaporated to leave such a concentration of sugar that it will crystallize as it cools.  Agitation at just the right temperature will result in those tiny creamy-feeling sugar crystals.  If you heat the sugar too high or wait until it is too cool to stir it, you will pretty much end up with rock candy, so that’s why the first thing you need if you’re going to make fudge is a good candy thermometer.  It’s a good investment, even if you only use it a few times a year–they don’t take up much storage space, and they can help ensure that your candies turn out perfectly every time.

And, by the way, if you’re saying to yourself, “I can just use the ice water test,” and are thinking to yourself that you don’t need a thermometer, I’m telling you:  get one.  Even with ice water close at hand, you can seriously burn yourself if you’re dripping molten sugar around.  Keep the sugar contained in the pan, and buy a candy thermometer.

Here’s the fudge we used to make at my old restaurant (we’d give it out with the check instead of little Starlight mints).  I think you’ll be surprised by how easy the procedure is:

  • 2.5 cups sugar
  • 4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, chopped fine, or good quality semi sweet chocolate chips
  • 1.5 oz. softened butter
  • 8 oz. half and half
  • about 1/2-1 teaspoon of salt, to taste (taste it before it comes to a boil)
  • 1 T corn syrup
  • 1 T vanilla
  • toasted nuts (optional), 1 c.

Line a loaf pan or a 6″ square cake pan with parchment or magical non-stick foil.  Butter the pan well.

Put all the fudge ingredients except for the butter, vanilla and nuts into a large, heavy-bottomed sauce pan.  Heat on medium-high heat, stirring with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula (so heat doesn’t transfer and burn your hand), to boiling.  Cover the pan for 2-3 minutes to let the steam wash any errant sugar crystals down off the sides of the pan.  Remove the lid and turn down the heat to medium.  Clip on the candy thermometer, and let the fudge cook without stirring until the thermometer read 234 degrees, F.

Remove the pot from the heat, leaving the thermometer in the fudge.  Put the butter and vanilla on top of the molten candy, but don’t stir it in.  Now, leave the pan alone.  Do not bump it, slosh it or stir it until the thermometer reads 130 degrees, F.  This is the magical temperature at which you will get tiny creamy-feeling sugar crystals, and if you start stirring before then, the crystals will be too big and your fudge will be grainy.

Once it hits the magical 130 degrees, stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the fudge thickens and is no longer shiny.  Streaky/shiny isn’t good enough.  Make sure it’s uniformly matte and very thick.  This means you have achieved uniform crystallization.  Yay!  Stir in the nuts, if using, and pour/scrape into the prepared pan.  You might need to press the fudge into a uniform thickness.  Let it cool the rest of the way and then slice into tiny pieces.

If you’ve followed the directions and made perfect fudge, and I know you have, the fudge will have a delightful bite/chew/melt mouthfeel, and you (or the lucky recipient/s) will be swooningly happy.  By the way, this recipe quadruples really well–so make a vat and share with your friends.

Ooh, How Did You Get Those Ridges in the Sides of Your Cranberry Jelly? Ingenious!

23 Nov
Making cranberry sauce is easier than you think.

Making cranberry sauce is easier than you think.

You know what’s worse than a can of cranberry jelly?  Cranberry jelly that still looks like the can when you take it out.  There is something profoundly wrong–or profoundly telling–about a side dish that makes a sucking sound as it is leaving the can.  I must admit that I grew up eating canned slices of cranberry jelly and being quite pleased with it, too.  But, when I was able to compare the fresh, bright flavor and color of homemade cranberry goodness with the dull red blandness of the canned kind, well, the scales fell from my eyes, and I became a convert to the Way of the Fresh Cranberry.

And, like any good zealot not content to hold her revelation private, I am here to convert you, as well.  Here are some ideas for making your own cranberry deliciousness.  None of these ideas are terribly time consuming, and all will make you ever-so-much happier than, try though it might, the can o’ cranberry ever could.

The basic idea:  cook cranberries with some sugar and other yummy flavors until the cranberries pop open and get juicy.

Specific ideas:  cranberries+sugar+orange juice+orange zest.  Cook, cool, stir in mandarin orange slices.

cranberries+sugar+apple chunks+lemon zest+crystallized ginger

cranberries+dried blueberries+golden raisins+sugar+a splash or two of apple juice+star anise

cranberries+apricots+sugar+lemon juice

cranberries+dried cherried+apple chunks+splash of Amaretto

Anyway, I think you get the idea.   If you want your cranberries chunky, leave them as is.  If you want it a little smoother, you can use an immersion blender to take them to the consistency you like best.  Feel free to experiment with your own creations.

I hope I have inspired you to branch out from the can o’ cranberry sauce and venture forth into the new, exciting and extremely tasty world of fresh cranberry sauce.

Please feel free to weigh in with your thoughts or with other ideas in the Comments section.

I have fun (to me, anyway) Pastry Polls at my site.  Right now, I change them once a month.  If enough people come and vote, I might change them once a week.  Come have a look!

I Hate Cool Whip

21 Nov
It's time for a Cool Whip Intervention

It's time for a Cool Whip Intervention

I’m sorry, but I do. No, wait a minute.  I un-apologetically hate Cool Whip.  I wince when I see folks put Cool Whip on foods–and don’t get me started on recipes that actually say “Fold in a tub of Cool Whip!”  Ack!  Do you know what is in this stuff?  Allow me to elucidate you, if you are unaware:  water, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated coconut and palm kernel oils, sodium caseinate, vanilla extract, xanthan gum, guar gum, polysorbate 60 and beta carotene.  For “color.”  It might as well be called “Non-Edible”, let alone “Non-Dairy.”  And then they went and made the chocolate kind and–ugh–French vanilla.  Sign of the end times, my friends, sign of the end times.

If I sound harsh, it’s partly because my spell-checker recognizes those words and partly because I’m a believer in real food, not Frankenfood.  So, for those of you who need your Cool Whip–or those of you who have friends that need their CW, please allow me to offer you some natural and yummy alternatives to top this year’s holiday desserts.

Whipped creme fraiche.  Creme fraiche is easy to make, so make some.  Once you have it and it’s chilled, you can whip it like cream.  Use brown or white sugar, or even some maple syrup or honey as your sweetener.  You can also add ground spices or extracts.  Don’t forget your pinch of salt, people.  When you whip creme fraiche, it will thin out initially.  Fear not, keep whipping and it will thicken up nicely, even to the point where you can form an elegant quenelle to perch atop your dessert.  And no, there is no real recipe–just do this to taste, and use flavors that will be complementary to your dish.

Another alternative is whipped cream.  You can treat this the same way as the creme fraiche.  The only difference will be that your creme fraiche toppings will whip up a little firmer and have a bit more of a tang to them.  You might consider saving the creme fraiche for the grown ups and pass whipped cream at the children’s table.

And if for one minute you try and tell me that you don’t want all those calories from heavy cream, I ask you “You’d rather have high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils mixing with your lovely homemade creation?”  Please.  It’s the holidays.  Eat a tablespoon or two of the real stuff.

And that is what I have to say about that.  Feel free to weigh in with your comments.  I’d love to hear from you!  You can also check out my site for some more Thanksgiving dessert ideas.

I Can’t Believe That’s Butter

20 Nov
Make these with a compound butter, and you rule the world.

Make these with a compound butter, and you rule the world.

I’m in charge of the turkey for our pre-Thanksgiving feast on Saturday, so I was making a compound butter to stuff under the beautiful bird’s skin.  Shallot, kosher salt, white pepper, lemon zest, savory, marjoram, flat-leaf parsley and some Old Bay ’cause I love it. (By the way, if you can’t get Old Bay in your area, get it here).  Anyway, it got me to thinking that there is absolutely no reason why we can’t make compound butters for pastry and baking use!

The Following is a Public Service Announcement from Pastry Chef Online:

Think about blending softened butter (real butter, please) with some cinnamon and sugar and using that to top the morning pancakes or waffles? Or, let’s say that lemon shortbread is your favorite.  Go ahead and mix up lemon zest and butter and freeze it in the amounts needed in your recipes.  Next time you make lemon shortbread, get that butter out and you’re good to go!  Here’s my sneakiest idea:  what if you blended butter with some sugar and cinnamon and then used that to make homemade puff pastry or croissant dough?  You could make killer palmiers with the puff, and the croissants would be stupid good, especially if you wrapped the dough around some bittersweet chocolate for pain au chocolats.

End, PSA.  What do you think?  I hope I’ve inspired you, and I’d love to hear your ideas!

My Husband Knows Me Very Well

20 Nov
My Birthday Present!

My Birthday Present!

My birthday is Sunday.  I came out this morning to be met with a present on the dining room table.  Yay!  Early birthday, my favorite!  And because he knows me so well, I unwrapped a brand new copy of Shirley Corriher’s long-awaited follow up to CookwiseBakewise!

I will review it later, but I just wanted to give you a brief overview of what’s inside:  Chapters on:  Cakes (Muffins, Quick Breads and More); Puff, The Magic Leavener (all about steam); Pie Marches On and On; As the Cookie Crumbles; Gread Breads–Great Flavors.

While the TOC is short and sweet, the book weighs in at over 500 pages.  What this says to me:  I will be treated to an indepth look at the “whys” of baking.  I am looking forward to sitting back and digesting this, and when I do, the review is on, baby!

Please Pass the Cinnamon-Ginger-Nutmeg Pie

19 Nov
Let the pumpkin flavor shine through.

Let the pumpkin flavor shine through.

I have spent my whole life thinking that I don’t like pumpkin pie.  I recently realized that is just not true.  I actually like the flavor of pumpkin quite well.  I just find the spicing of pumpkin pie to be too assertive, and it masks the flavor of the pumpkin.  Just the wee-est pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg, plus a healthy pinch or two of salt, is all that is needed to make the pumpkin the star of your pie and not just filler.

Here is the list of ingredients for a traditional pumpkin pie.  This one was developed by the Eagle Brand people to promote their condensed milk.

  • 1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin
  • 1 (14 ounce) can EAGLE BRAND® Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (9 inch) unbaked pie crust

Now, just try this:  you can always add more spices later.

Cut the cinnamon back to 1/4 teaspoon and grate in just a bit of fresh nutmeg with your trusty Microplane.  Use maybe 1/8 teaspoon of ginger–a wee pinch, no need to grab out your 1/8 teaspoon measuring spoon.  Increase the salt to 3/4-1 teaspoon.  That might sound like a lot, but you’re going to be cutting this bad boy into 8 slices, and I hardly think 1/8 teaspoon of salt is going to hurt you.  Just drink another glass of water, if you’re concerned.

Please try this.  Like I said, you can add in the extra spices before you bake if you just don’t like the way it tastes.  I’m betting that you will like it, though.  Enjoy!

For the Love of Mike, Put Some Salt in That Stuff!

18 Nov
Don't Be Afraid of Salt

Don't Be Afraid of Salt

I am on a crusade.  A salt crusade.  Salt has been so maligned that some people are not using it at all.  And those that do add a meager grain or two to a pot of stew wouldn’t dream of adding any to their favorite dessert recipe.  I would very much like to change all of that.  Salt is an absolutely vital ingredient in the pastry kitchen.  In the professional kitchen, we put salt in everything.  I don’t mean we measured a 1/2 teaspoon to everything.  Rather, we added a bit and tasted, then added a bit more and tasted, adding just enough salt to each dish–or each component of a dish–to bring out the depth and complexity of the food to best effect.

I implore you, please read my treatise on the importance of salt.  Comment there, or here, about your thoughts on using salt in desserts.

Participate in the Frugal Upstate Mini Series

18 Nov

Go Visit Frugal Upstate

Go Visit Frugal Upstate

Frugal Upstate’s Thanksgiving Mini Series Go see what’s going on–just wanted to pass this on to everyone!  More later…

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