The Good Stuff

September 15, 2011 § 2 Comments

Well, School is in full swing, now, and it’s been a rough couple of weeks. We’ve had a few bathroom accidents during school, a few forgotten homeworks, one completely missed project (in an email, the teacher sweetly asked why my child’s project wasn’t there. I had never even heard of this project! Not a great start…), and  some major meltdowns here and there. Outside of school, my youngest got eight stitches in her forehead one Friday night, we’ve had two chickens die in the last week (pretty gruesome), and I’ve been laid out for days with the flu. Sometimes life just kicks your butt. But, I know it could be worse.

There have been great things, too, however and, in effort to dwell on the beautiful and good (something I’m working on),  I’m going to list them:

~While I was sick with the stomach flu recently, my oldest totally came through, rousing everyone from bed,  making lunches, and fixing breakfast for everyone, so that I could just roll out of bed (curled up in a cramping ball) and get in the car to drive them to school. I was touched by her kindness to me.

~My son’s teacher sent home an “award” for his performance in the math part of class that day. He really gets excited by solving number problems.  We see some geeky coolness in his future, but this is not breaking news with him.

~My second daughter, June, loves to read out loud (loudly), and has recently taken to reading the non-readers stories.  Bedtime, mealtime, in the car time…she’s reading to someone.  She likes to be in charge and I’m hoping this is a good way for her to be.  Plus, the younger ones are being read to more. I’m so appreciative of that.

~I couldn’t be enjoying all the time I’m getting with my youngest any more. We are having a blast working our way through a book, practicing the formation of letters, going to the YMCA (where grandmotherly types read her books, she makes clocks to learn how to tell time, etc. all while I’m getting some exercise), reading books while eating warm roasted peanuts, and baking something almost every day (thesethis, and this amazing thing, for example).  See what I mean? I’m just reveling in it because she goes off to kindergarten next year. Sniff.

Speaking of granola (one of the links above), we have been eating it on a pretty regular basis as I continue to try to reduce our sugar intake (I know, I’m one of those people.  But read this article and tell me what you think) by making our own cereal.  I have no hope, nor wish, to eliminate sweetness from our diets entirely, but I can do what I can, right?

I kind of just wing the granola at this point, dumping the dry stuff into a big bowl (seeds, nuts, flax meal, dried fruit or not, salt, cinnamon or nutmeg) and mixing it with some wet ingredients (maple syrup, vegetable or grape seed or even olive oil, honey, vanilla extract).  If it’s too dry I add more wet stuff.  If it’s too wet, I add more dry. Then I bake it on a sheet pan at 375 degrees for ten minutes, stir it, see if it needs to toast more, and go from there.  It’s pretty foolproof and you can customize it to your tastes. Oh, and your house will smell like it will in heaven.

Other Stuff to Love:

This version of Jane Eyer, lent to me by my friend, Angie. I’ve only watched it three times this week. (what?)

Daydreaming over this beautiful, little bed and in what kind of dream world it would fit (can you imagine how dirty that could get? still…).

 

Good to the Grain: Chocolate Chip Cookies

August 10, 2011 § 1 Comment

I’m loving my latest library (that’s a lot of l’s) check-out.   It’s pastry chef Kim Boyce’s excellent book Good to the Grain that came out last year.  I think I first heard about this book via Orangette, but finally pursued it b/c we were headed to North Carolina for vacation, and my sister-in-law and I agreed we should try some new stuff while we were there.  I brought along Good to the Grain. (We both love to cook and we both are always looking for ways for food to be it’s best. Good, yes, but it can get annoying.  I think at some point we were trying to use up  extra peppers and when it was proposed that they go in a salad that contained bacon, I said “I’m having a hard time with that idea” or something equally obnoxious. See? A hard time? with peppers?)

Anyway, the cookies…

I was skeptical, I admit, that you could make a “real” chocolate chip cookie  with only whole wheat flour. Would it taste like it came from the health food store? Wouldn’t it be tough? Would it be bitter? Well, no.  I’m now convinced that chocolate chip cookies might be at their best with whole wheat flour. At the top of their game, the pinnacle of their career! It’s something about the nuttiness of the flour with the bold and bittersweet chocolate. Add salt, a GOOD portion of butter, extra vanilla, and dark brown sugar, and you’ve got a real deal, soft and chewy classic. I was amazed.

The things is, this isn’t the only good recipe in the book. Boyce doesn’t treat the grains she uses (what we would usually think of as “health food” grains like quinoa, teff, barley, millet, etc.) as something to be endured, just thrown into a recipe for health reasons.  She seems to have really gotten to know the flavor of each grain and paired it with other  ingredients accordingly.  It’s such a thoughtful way to cook; really evaluating flavor combinations.

I will keep this book as long as I can possibly hog it from the library, but until then I plan on continuing to make as many recipes as I can find (and afford) the flours for.  But I had to tell you about the cookies.  The cookies, oh, the cookies. They’re crazy, I’m telling you…

Chocolate Chip Cookies

From Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce

Dry mix:

3 cups whole-wheat flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt  (I used sea salt the first time and loved it)

Wet Mix:

8 oz (2 sticks) COLD unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces (I used salted once and it’s good)

1 cup dark brown sugar

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

8 oz bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped into 1/2″ and 1/4 ” pieces

(note: she suggest Valrhona chocolate, but says any chocolate with a high percentage of cacao is good. That said, first time, I used Hershy’s special dark. Second, Ghirardelli big chips, still cut into pieces. Third time, a mixture of Ghirardelli and Publix mini chips.  None have been failures.)

Place your oven racks in the upper and lower third of your oven and heat it to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (or you can butter them really well, if you don’t have parchment).

Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl with a sifter.

With a standing mixer (or a hand mixer, using a large bowl if you don’t have one), mix the butter and sugars until blended, about 2 minutes (since the butter is cold, it takes a while to come together). Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix in eggs, one at a time, mixing until each on is combined.  Mix in the vanilla.

Add the flour mixture to the bowl and mix, at a low-speed, just until the flour is combined.  Scrape the sides of the bowl again.

Add the chocolate all at once and mix on low until the chocolate is evenly distributed.

Scoop mounds of dough (she says 3 tablespoons worth, but I did about two)  onto the baking sheets, leaving about 3 inches between each. You will only get about 6 cookies on a sheet.

Bake cookies for 16 to 20 minutes (I was on the low-end), rotating the pan halfway through the baking for even cooking. Transfer the cookies either to the counter, still on the parchment, or to a cooling rack, and repeat with the remaining dough.

These will keep in an airtight container for 3 days (they won’t last that long…)

Happenings

August 8, 2011 § 6 Comments

This week

…I’ve been enjoying this recipe over and over again. Our orange tomatoes from the garden make an even more colorful dish.  I officially need a tart pan.

…looking forward to seeing Josh Ritter (in November. Long term goals, people).  I can’t get enough of this version of “Thin Blue Flame”.

…cooking out of Kim Boyce’s book Good To the Grain.  Amazing whole wheat chocolate chip cookies! I’m going to post the recipe soon if I can get a picture of them before they are gobbled up! They’re shocking…really.

…working on making three little messenger bag/backpacks for my back to school kids. This may stretch into next week too! I need to get working…

 

What about you? What are you up to in the last few weeks of summer?

French Friday with Kids: Speculoos

June 17, 2011 § 1 Comment

My kids are all home now for the summer. It’s a great thing, but I’m finding myself still adjusting to all of the “activity” that is constant in the house, now. It’s loud. It’s messy. And I feel like I’m supposed to be coming up with stuff (other than just playing) for my kids to do all summer. Why? I don’t know. I’m a firm believer in them not having too much structure in their lives, letting them be kids who get to wander a bit. But the past week has felt way too nebulous.  Maybe it’s because MY schedule has been totally thrown off. I’m feeling adrift. They’re probably fine.

Anyway, I thought I’d do the French Fridays with Dorie recipe this week, only to discover it was a roasted rhubarb dish. Rhubarb has completely disappeared from my grocery store (it always seems too expensive to me anyway), so I knew I wouldn’t be making that one.

I was going to cook SOMETHING from Around My French Table , though, and I landed on a simple cookie that would let the kids participate: Speculoos.   Speculoos are a Belgian cookie, actually, but, according to Dorie, quite popular in France, mostly around Christmas.  The  ingredients are simple, they’re short on baking time (you do have to let the dough chill for a few hours), and make a great, little snack with coffee (me) or milk (them).

As we tasted them together we had to describe them as best we could. “Cinnamon-y”, “Crunchy” (yelled at top volume), and “More cinnamon-y than snickerdoodles” were some of the responses.  Everyone agreed they were “YUMMY!!!”, though, and that’s hard to beat.

Unless you add ice cream…

You can find the recipe here.

Strawberry Scones

June 13, 2011 § 3 Comments

Scones never go out of style here in my house. I’m trying to think if I’ve ever made a version that wasn’t gobbled up in a day. No. Even ones with flaxseed in them were snapped up without delay. So, strawberry scones?  Gone.

I love them, first of all, b/c they taste like strawberries and sweetened cream. Isn’t that enough to cause devotion?  Agreed. But, these scones have even more things going for them that are making them my current favorite baked good:

  • They put to good use some strawberries that we picked and froze back in April (code for: The ingredients are already in my pantry and I don’t  have to spend any money).
  • They’re beautiful (!).
  • (and, just to get on my good side) Making them produces barely any dirty dishes.

See? All three of these thing go along with what I need out of a recipe at this point in my life.  They… you know,the strawberry scones… just get me.  Why can’t all recipes just intuitively know what I need and provide it?  Wait.  Is that too much to ask of food?

Strawberry Scones (adapted from Confessions of a Tart)

 

1 cup strawberries (fresh or frozen)

3 tablespoons sugar

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons butter, in cubes, slightly softened

2/3 cup half-and-half or cream or cold buttermilk (I prefer cream having tried all three)

Sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a cookie sheet (or use parchment paper). Cut strawberries into bite-sized pieces (small bites). Sprinkle fruit with 1/2 tablespoon sugar; set aside.

Combine remaining sugar (2 1/2 tablespoons) with flour, baking powder and salt. Add butter, and, using your fingertips, quickly combine the butter into the flour mixture.  Stir in fruit; then add cream/half-and-half/buttermilk all at once. Use a spatula to gently stir dough until it holds together. The dough will be pretty wet.

Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times to incorporate dry ingredients. Be gentle so you don’t break up the berries and don’t overwork the dough. Sprinkle dough with flour if it gets sticky.

Pat the dough into a circle 3/4 inch thick. If any berries peek out, push them into dough. Cut circle into 6-8 wedges, then transfer wedges to the cookie sheet, leaving at least 1/2 inch of space between them.

Bake 15 minutes.  Sprinkle with sugar and bake 5-10 more minutes or until the tops are beginning to brown. It was more like 10 minutes, but keep an eye on them as all ovens are different.

Sandwich Bread

May 18, 2011 § 4 Comments

This bread has been ignored for too long on this blog. Especially when one considers that I make it mostly every day. I mean, c’mon. It’s more a part of my kitchen than any other recipe (except maybe popcorn).  We’ve eaten sandwiches on it for years now, starting with the day I wanted us to eat healthy bread, but didn’t want to spend 3 bucks a loaf.

All signs pointed to the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to wait and watch for stages of rising or doubling in volume at that point in my life (I think I’d just had my fourth baby), so I wanted a bread machine. I looked around my church family for about 3 minutes for one that wasn’t in use (they are everywhere! You know someone at this moment that isn’t using theirs and wants to get rid of it, trust me.) and then I searched for a good, basic recipe.

It didn’t take me long to find this recipe on Amanda Blake Soule’s (incredibly creative) blog. She is amazing, so, of course, her WHO bread is too.  WHO bread is wheat, honey, and oat bread.  It worked for my budget (no special add-ins like wheat germ or flax meal), tasted delicious, and my family loved it.

The recipe has morphed a bit over the years of use in my kitchen (all whole wheat flour, no cinnamon), but we still use it constantly: toast, (beloved) fried egg sandwiches, PBJ, even fresh bread crumbs. It’s one of my security blanket recipes: with it, the pantry has possibilities.  Without it: I’m saying stuff like “we have no food in this house” quickly followed by an impulsive trip to the grocery store (never a good idea when you’re money conscious).

You  might get hooked by the ease of spending five minutes at night on it and having fresh-baked bread for sandwiches in the morning (that’s mostly how I do it).  You might like the fact that it’s filling, wholesome, and still tastes really good. Or, you might like the price. Liking all three? Ask around about that bread machine and give it a go.

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

inspired by Amanda Soule’s WHO Bread

1 1/4 cups water

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 cups whole wheat flour (white whole wheat works well, too)

1/2 cup old-fashioned oats (quick is fine in a pinch and steel-cut oats add a nutty texture, but they’re pricey)

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

2 1/4 teaspoon ( or 1 packet) yeast

Add ingredients to bread machine’s “bucket” in the order listed. Use the manufacturer’s instructions to bake bread. Carry on with the rest of your life.

** My machine has several settings, but I always use the “basic, medium brown” setting. The instruction book will guide you in the right direction.

French Friday: Late and on a Sunday

May 16, 2011 § 2 Comments

Yesterday I finally got around to making the goat cheese torte my French Fridays with Dorie group made weeks ago. I’m a bit behind after having had a couple of weeks of crazy family time. Not that my family is crazy. I mean, we are, but I mean crazy as in busy, family time. I literally had the ingredients lined up in my fridge for a week and  just could never find the time to get the thing made.

But, I did finally make the “Tourteau de Chevre” and took it over to a going away party for my good friends Susan and Kevin.  I thought it was fitting since she’s the one who inspired me to start this blog project, thinking she and I would cook our way through Around My French Table.  The plan changed a little, right away, due to her work schedule and, now we can’t do it b/c they are packing up and moving to Boston. Bittersweet.  Excited for them, sad for us. My little family is going to miss Aunt Lusan and Uncle Shebo.

(Avoiding sad feelings and focusing on food) The torte itself is not like a classic cheesecake, it’s less dense, more airy, and not especially sweet.  If I make it again, I’m going to come up with some flavored syrup or another topping to give it more oomph.  It’s good, but if I’m making desert, I want it to sing a little. In all fairness to the recipe, I forgot some things here, didn’t time things right, there…I was a little off my cooking game, so it could be tons better than the version I produced.

Read other people’s experiences with this recipe here.

Sus and Kevin, if you are reading this, know you will leave a void in our lives.  Stick together out there in the great unknown.  We love you both.

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