March 4, 2012 § 2 Comments
If you’ve spent any time here at all you know money is pretty tight for us. We never go hungry or anything, but there is very little cushion at times and for the past week or so, we’ve been scraping: no spending unless it’s gas in the car. That means no new groceries (we eat what’s already in the house plus the eggs from our chickens), no drive through coffees, etc.. It’s not a self-imposed period of no spending. There just isn’t any money until we get paid again, and so we tighten down and make do. This go around hasn’t been horrible (we’ve done it before), but the boxed in feeling is never fun. Thankfully, these periods pass, and on the other side, I feel a little more confident in our ability to live on very little, and far more grateful for the relative luxury in which we live most of the time.
As far as cooking goes, when the money runs low, I’ve noticed I make a lot of two things: bread and beans. Suitable, right? So, today, I’m going to talk about bread and next time we’ll go over the method I use for beans. I know, I know. You’re on the edge of your seat! But these are great standbys to have in your arsenal if ever you need to tighten your belt.
Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread
Note: this makes a pretty large loaf of bread and unless you are feeding a large group, you will have leftovers. This is a great opportunity to make toasts (bake at 375 degrees F for 10 minutes or so and rubbed with a clove of garlic) that you can top with anything you like (cheese, fried egg, wilted greens, all of the above, etc, etc). You can also make fresh breadcrumbs. Or, you can tear them in pieces, toss with olive oil and a bit of salt, bake until crunchy, and have the best croutons you have ever tasted.
3 cups (430g) flour
1½ cups (345g or 12oz) water
¼ teaspoon (1g) yeast
1¼ teaspoon (8g) salt
olive oil (for coating)
extra flour, wheat bran, or cornmeal (for dusting)
special equipment: a 6-8 quart pot with lid (Pyrex glass, cast iron, or ceramic)
Combine all the dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Add the water and mix with a wooden spoon or spatula until the flour is incorporated (not more than a minute). The dough will be pretty shaggy and sticky. Lightly oil another medium-sized bowl or large container with a lid and transfer the dough. Cover with plastic wrap or top and let sit for 12-18 hours at room temperature (about 70 degrees F).
When the time is up (the dough will have bubbles on the surface), use a spatula to remove the dough from the container to a well floured surface. With floured hands, gently fold the dough over on itself once or twice (in half is fine). Let sit for 15-30 minutes more and then shape into a ball. Move dough to one half of a floured towel (not terry cloth, but a smooth kitchen towel). Sprinkle the top with flour and cover with the rest of the towel. Let rise for 1-2 hours, or until doubled in size.
In the last part of the rise preheat the oven to 450-500 degrees F. Place the container and lid in the oven to preheat, as well. Once the dough has doubled in size, take the hot pot out of oven, take off the lid and place the dough in the pot seam side up. Don’t worry what it looks like at this point. You can transfer the dough to the pot while still on the towel by picking up the towel like a tray with two hands. Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover the pot and let bake for 15-30 more minutes. Remove from the oven and pot and let cool completely on a rack.
February 15, 2012 § Leave a comment
Words are failing me at the moment. It’s late and it’s been a long (but good) day. My brain feels fried, though, so I’ll be brief with what I’ve been excited about lately: Tomato Jam Turnovers. There. I said it. Tomato jam turnovers are from Fany Gerson’s book, My Sweet Mexico (a great library loaner) and have been taking up real estate in my head for a while. Needing all the brain space I can get (for things like remembering permission slips, helping with valentines, brushing my teeth, etc) I decided to just take action and see what they were like. I’m so glad I did. What a treat these are from the savory/sweet tomato jam, to the flaky, cream scented dough. We all ate them warm out of the oven, some of us (two of my kids and myself) loving them and others eating them happily until I told them it was tomato jam in the center (I still get the victory in getting them to taste new flavors).
I should tell you up front: this is not a quick and easy recipe. It will take you a couple of hours even if you barrel through. But, to me, it’s worth it to take some time to make something new and have an adventure in the kitchen. It’s like my mini vacation from real life, but with the bonus of having, at the end of the vacation, a wonderful treat for us to eat, in real life. Another thing: you could make these in sessions, making the jam in the first, the dough in the second (then refrigerating) and then rolling out and assembling in the last. Don’t let the time scare you off. Sometimes harder (or more time-consuming) is better and I think this is one of those times.
Tomato Jam Turnovers
from Fany Gerson’s My Sweet Mexico
4 cups grape tomatoes (or cherry tomatoes)
1 1/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup crema or heavy cream, plus extra for topping
egg yolk and sugar for topping
Filling: Cut clean, dry tomatoes in half and put them in a small, heavy pot with the sugar and salt. Bring it all to a boil and then adjust the heat to keep it going at a constant simmer. Cook, stirring every few minutes, until the bottom of the pot is visible (about 50-60 minutes). Blend in a food processor if you like a smooth texture for the filling. Let cool before assembling turnovers.
Dough: Whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. In a food processor, with a pastry cutter, or with your fingertips, combine the cold butter into the flour until it looks like coarse meal. Add the cream and mix until just combined. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead the dough until it is smooth, about 2 to 3 minutes. Flatten the dough into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Roll out the dough on a floured surface, with a floured rolling-pin, until 1/8 inch thick. Using a round cookie cutter or the rim of a drinking glass, cut out 4 to 5 inch circles. Gather the scraps and re-roll until all the dough is used.
To form turnovers: Line up circles of dough on the floured surface and place a scant tablespoon of jam in the middle of each one. Fold the dough in half, lightly pressing on the edges to seal (or you can use the back of a fork for this step). Cut two small slits in the tops of the turnovers. Place them on a parchment lined baking sheet and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
While the pastries are in the refrigerator, heat the oven to 350 degrees F, and whisk an egg yolk and some cream in a small bowl. When the 30 minutes is up, brush the turnovers with the egg mixture and sprinkle with sugar. Bake until golden brown (about 35 minutes in my oven, but keep an eye out as oven temperature varies).
Let cool on a rack and serve warm or cold.
December 17, 2011 § Leave a comment
We had such a good, calm, and relaxed day around here. There was no soccer, and not many presents left to hunt for, so we all (almost all) slept in. Past 8 A.M.! Glorious. There has been chess, a movie version of Heidi, some cleaning up with minimal complaining (myself included, there), decorating of the house for Christmas, musings on a Christmas eve dinner menu, soccer in the yard, flower gathering by two of my girls (they love to go hunt for flowers around the yard and put them in vases), and a little baking.
The baking of the day was the especially pleasing kind: using up some blackened bananas that were sitting on the counter, waiting for redemption. A simple banana bread fit right in to our slow and simple day. No frosting, no special ingredients, not even a mixer required (which is good, because I broke mine)! I made little cakes with the batter just because those are always fun to eat. I’ve made this recipe a few times before and I’ll continue making it, although I might mess with the flour type at some point when I’m feeling ambitious. We’ll see. That’s the kind of day it’s been: “We’ll just see…’
Small Banana Cakes
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 2 very ripe bananas, mashed (about 3/4 cup)
- 1/2 plain Greek yogurt
Heat oven to 350 degrees F and line 12 muffin cups with liners (or you can butter 12 muffin cups in lieu of liners).
Mix together flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.
In a large bowl, mix butter, by hand or with a mixer (if you are using a mixer, mix on low speed), until creamy. Add the sugar and mix until pale and fluffy. Your arm will get a workout if you are doing it by hand. Your mixer should be on medium speed. Add vanilla and egg and mix for another minute. Slowing down your speed, mix in the mashed bananas. Add in half of the dry mixture, and then add the sour cream. Finally add the rest of the dry ingredients until just incorporated.
Divide the batter into the muffin cups and bake for 25 minutes and check on the cakes. bake until they are a burnished gold color on their tops. (the original says 28-32 minutes, but that will vary with individual ovens so check them on the early side).
Pull the muffins and out and let cool for a few minutes in the tin. Then, flip them out onto a cooling rack, flip them right side up and let them cool to room temperature (or eat them warm, because you can’t wait anymore, like we do). You can keep them, wrapped tight, at room temp for 2-3 days or you can wrap and freeze them for up to 2 months.
December 11, 2011 § 1 Comment
It was my youngest child’s FIFTH birthday about a week ago (seriously, where did the time go?), so we did it up right with a very small party(ish) celebration just to suit her. Drawing has definitely been her thing, lately. She draws with pencils and crayons, and, sometimes, even markers that can barely squeak out their color. She draws almost constantly in the house, in the car, and even sitting in the grocery cart (if she can fit). I mean, I have to make her stop drawing in bed at night. Crazy. SO, what would be a more appropriate (and thrillingly festive) way to celebrate her birthday than a drawing party? That’s right, nothing.
We decided to go with a still-life, drawing class, style where I set up little groups of objects (dolls, squashes, etc) on a large table and they would just do their best. I changed the objects out every few minutes, for about twenty minutes, and then we ended with everyone drawing the birthday girl (who was embarrassed and loving it at the same time)! Then Vince took them all into another room where they sat, stadium style, around him, screaming out guesses as to who drew what picture. That may have been the best part.
The rest of the party went like this: we sang, had this cake, opened a few presents, and I sent all the kids (really, all cousins and siblings) home with little homemade “books” (ripped off from Angry Chicken) and a pack of crayons for their future drawing and writing needs. And, Done. It was one of the simplest, most pleasant parties we’ve had, with not too much screaming (always good) and just enough sugar and fresh packs of crayons to please everyone.
December 1, 2011 § 3 Comments
Well, here it is, only a week or so after Thanksgiving and I’ve been noticing that I’m in my full-on, Christmas-crazy mode. My symptoms include talking way too fast about everything, being even more late than I usually am, and snapping at my children for being children (talking loudly, playing raucously, singing…you know, really annoying stuff). It’s a state of unrest, of fidgety discontent.
Honestly, I kind of dread Christmas every year. It’s sad, I know. It’s supposed to be a time of wonder and anticipation, but I usually end up feeling like a failure. It may be that our traditions aren’t meaningful enough, or our decorations not pretty enough, or our presents not fancy enough. Food wise, I end up feeling crappy that our Christmas dinner isn’t made with 100% local, organic, sustainably farmed ingredients. It seems like the opportunities to fall short are legion and I can’t stand up under all of that pressure, even if it’s self-induced. I start to crack up a bit and it’s the people around me that feel it most.
Well, this year I’m setting some goals: I’m going to try not to put “perfect” expectations on our Christmas. I’m going to take it as it comes. I’m going to try to be very selective about what we “have” to do b/c I want to enjoy my family and not take out my frustration, over feeling too busy, on them. I’m going to try to love the people around me the best that I can, and to that end, I’m going to stay within our gift giving budget (buyer’s remorse makes me cranky). I also have one other very important goal for the Christmas season: to make cookies, lots and lots of cookies. Lots and lots of sables, if we want to get specific.
Sables, french shortbread cookies (sable means sand in French), are buttery, luxurious little dreams made from a few readily available, and inexpensive ingredients (butter being the most used). Rosemary Lemon Sables are just sables with lemon in the batter with rosemary hanging out on the edge for fun. These things are a breeze, too, and that’s important this time of year. You can make several batches, roll them into logs (gently!), and pop them in the freezer where they can stay for up to a month before you bake them (you can also just keep them in the refrigerator for a couple of days if that’s all you need) When you are ready, you can roll them in herbs or whatever (see variations below), and just slice and bake as needed. If you make a big batch now you’ll have little bits of stress-free Christmas joy ready to be given to hosts and hostesses, office mates, or your kid’s teachers at a moment’s notice (ok, more like 20 minutes notice, but still).
Lemon Rosemary Sables*
(Lemon Sable recipe by Dorie Greenspan)
MAKES ABOUT 40 COOKIES
***Plan ahead: This dough has to chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before baking
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter (high-fat, like Plugra is great, but regular butter works well, too), softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Zest of 1 1/2 lemons
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted before measuring
1/2 teaspoon sea salt *
2 large egg yolks, preferably at room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour.
For the decoration (optional):
1 egg yolk
6 tablespoons minced, fresh rosemary
*I used 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt and was very pleased with the results.
1. With a mixer (standing or handheld), beat the butter at medium speed until it is smooth and very creamy (I actually did this by hand and they turned out fine).
2. Mix the sugar and zest together in a bowl and rub them together with your fingers until you can smell the lemon and the sugar is moist.
3. Add the sugars and salt and beat until smooth and looking like velvet. You’re not going for fluffy and airy, so keep it to about 1 minute (Dorie’s advice). Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in 2 egg yolks, beating until well blended.
4. Turn your mixer off, pour in all the flour, and, at low speed, pulse the mixer about 5 times (a kitchen towel over the mixer will help keep flour from flying all over the kitchen). Mix at low speed for about 30 seconds more. You only want to mix until the flour disappears into the dough. If, after 30 seconds, there is still flour on the bottom of the bowl, take a spatula and work it into the dough. You don’t want the dough to come together into a ball. It should be clumpy and soft. (she likens the feel of it to Play-doh)
5. Pour the dough out on a work surface, bring it into a ball, and divide it in two. Shape each piece into a log about 9 inches long and 1 1/2″ wide. (When forming your logs, lay the dough on a piece of plastic wrap and use it to help form the log). Wrap the logs well and put them in the refrigerator for at least two hours. The dough can be refrigerated for 3 days or kept in the freezer for 1 month. (if frozen, let dough thaw a bit before slicing into cookies. If they crumble when you slice them, you can gently pinch them back together)
6. When it’s time to bake, center one baking rack in the oven and pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a baking mat or parchment paper.
7. To apply the rosemary, whisk the egg yolk and brush it onto one log of chilled dough. Sprinkle the rosemary on a work surface and roll the log in the rosemary until somewhat covered. (you don’t want a thick crust, so go easy). Trim the ends of the log if they are uneven and slice it into 1/3-inch-thick cookies.
8. Place the rounds on the baking sheet, leaving an inch of space between each cookie, and bake for 17 to 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet at the halfway point. Dorie says: “When properly baked, the cookies will be light brown on the bottom, lightly golden around the edges and pale on top”. Let the cookies rest a couple of minutes before carefully moving them to a cooling rack (you can use the parchment as a “sling” from one surface to another). Repeat the process with the other log, letting the cookie sheet cool before baking the next batch.
~you could roll this shortbread in other herbs, too. Thyme and basil would be nice. Poppy-seeds or finely chopped walnuts would be good as well.
~Also, for a sugar-free option, you can take out both sugars and lemon and replace them with 3/4 cup of finely grated parmesan cheese. Beat the cheese into the creamed butter before the flour goes in. A roll in a savory herb is still excellent.
October 23, 2011 § 4 Comments
My oldest child turned ten this week. I can barely say it without a pause and a faraway look. TEN!!!? It sends me into a sentimental tizzy where I remember her skinny, little baby self, the kid we took all over San Francisco and beyond (Seriously. She went to cuba at 2 months old), the baby who barely cried. How have 10 years passed and it feels like a breath?
Now, she is a FORCE on the soccer field (she used to be so scared and frail out there), she does her own laundry (I mean, I make her, but she does it pretty happily), she’s an INSATIABLE reader, and she has a pretty decent scrambled egg technique!
I think beside the fact that I marvel at what she is capable of, I find myself just liking her. As a person. I admire who she is, her gifts, her struggles, her interests and instincts. I’m really glad I get to know her.
On the eve of her birthday I was overwhelmed with wanting to tell her how much I enjoy having her as a daughter, so I wrote her a long, sappy, mom, letter. It was so energizing to just focus on all the good stuff I see in her (as a mother, I correct a lot). In the letter, I told her the ways I’ve seen her grow, the things I admire in her, and what my prayers are for her. She really seemed to like it, too: all smiles and big hugs when she read it. I’ve said this here before and I’ll say it again: there may be a time when she won’t like me doing this kind of thing, so I’m reveling in it now.
As a post script, the birthday food was a mixed bag. She got her favorite dinner: shepherd’s pie (with her initials in mashed potatoes, based very loosely on this recipe). The next day we had a small, soccer party in the yard where we had cake. The cake was a complete fiasco: two broken hand mixers in the process, a MESS of a frosting job, and then it didn’t look anything like a soccer ball! What can you do? Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.