posts tagged with 'cooking'

the apple pie

Last year we got tons of apples from our Northern Spy tree. At the time I predicted, half in jest, that the bumper crop would mean slim pickings this year—in fact that's just what happened. Never mind, we got tons of Honeycrisps this year, which is what the people want, and there are enough Northern Spys to eat a few and make a couple of pies. I made the first one yesterday.

apple pie in process on the kitchen table

putting it together

I have to admit I didn't feel totally manly as I rolled out this particular crust; the refrigerator repair guys working a few feet away put me off my game a little bit. But the apples were good ones, and the pie came out wonderful. Even better, when time came to serve it there was also a cheesecake and a gigantic (and wonderful) carrot cake, so there was some pie left for me and the boys to have for breakfast this morning.

a slice of apple pie on the table

yum

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keeping us in bread

I've been having to work harder to not run out of bread these days. The kids are getting bigger and eating more, and our fuller fall schedule means more packed lunches, so more sandwiches. Maybe we just want to eat more as the weather gets colder. Maybe it's a temporary blip. For whatever reason, baking a batch of two loaves once a week isn't enough any more. So the trick becomes finding time for a second baking day—and that's in addition to a couple times a week that I make sourdough bread (much beloved when it's hot out of the oven, but not much good for sandwiches).

My theory about making your own bread has been that it isn't actually very hard—it just requires being home for a certain amount of time in a day. To that I can now add that you need to know you're going to be home for a certain amount of time in order to be able to safely start the baking. While we certainly spend more time at home than the average American family, we also like to keep our schedule flexible, which has really slowed down my bread production. But needs must, so I'm working on figuring it out. If I get up early enough I can have it done by 10:30... that works, right?

I'm still using the same recipe I have for years and years, which you can find here. The only differences are that I've now started using melted butter rather than oil, I've increased the oven temperature to 360 or 365°F (though that may just be our oven) and 40 minutes is the shortest baking time I'd do... sometimes it needs a bit more.

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the best thing about muffins

I made muffins yesterday. Banana chocolate chip. The best thing about muffins is that you can have them for breakfast, and then later in that same day have them for dessert! It seems almost unfair. The cooler weather is is nice because it makes baking much more attractive: there's no downside! Over the past couple days I made oatmeal cookies, wheat bread, chocolate chip cookie bars, and the muffins. Hmm.. maybe there's a downside to my waistline? Here's the muffin recipe if you're interested, except now I'm using melted butter instead of oil. That's healthier, right?

Yikes, in checking that recipe link I see that I already made the same amusing observation this post is built around before, back in 2011. Oh well, I already wrote this much... let's hit the publish button!

potluck competition

We had a church retreat this past weekend—well, some people in the church had a retreat. I took care of the elementary kids, which is to say two of my own three children plus about 25 more. Of course, I had lots of help and it was lots of fun, but it was also pretty tiring. On our way home we stopped at my parents' house for dinner with them and my brother. We got home around 8:15. Less than twelve hours later I had to leave to set up for my the regular Sunday kids program, with the added effort of unloading and putting away all the materials I brought out for the kids to use at the hotel. So you can see why I was struggling to find something appropriate to prepare for the potluck lunch I was invited to.

I didn't really think about it until yesterday morning, and then for a while I was about ready to just give up and go in there pleading exhaustion and overwhelmedness. But then all the other people who were going had been at the retreat too, and also I'm actually pretty competitive when it comes to food prep, so bringing nothing felt pretty bad. Then in the shower I had a brainstorm: I was going to have over an hour between the end of Kids Church and the lunch. If I mixed up some cookie dough at home, I could bring it in and stick it in the fridge at church—then I'd be able to wow people with fresh-baked cookies coming out of the oven just in time for dessert. Who would be able to top that?!

As it happened, people appreciated the warm cookies a great deal. But they were just one small part of a wonderful lunch that included salad fresh from someone's garden and rice and beans with peach salsa made from someone else's home-grown peaches—all served on a beautifully set table with name cards and wildflowers and artistically-strewn stones and peach pits (it looked cool, really!). So I couldn't stand out. Never mind, I'm happy just to have done my part!

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part butter, part milk

pancakes on a plate

the pancakes of 2019

Eight years ago when I last wrote up a pancake recipe on these pages, I was still using canola oil rather than butter. Just laziness. Besides that it's a good recipe—as you can see by the fact that I'm still making pancakes almost the same way every Friday morning. Recently, though, we saw the biggest change in the recipe in years: we've switched to buttermilk.

A potential problem with making buttermilk pancakes regularly is that it can be hard to keep buttermilk around. I mean, what else are you ever going to be doing with it?! In our case, though, it went the other way: I wanted to have buttermilk for making cakes—not just for birthdays anymore!—but even with an accelerated cake-baking schedule it proved impossible to use up a carton before it went bad. So I thought I would try it in pancakes.

It turns out to be dramatically better than making them with milk. Who knew?! Actually, I guess lots of people knew. But not me. Thankfully, I'm now enlightened. In case you were also among the buttermilk innocents, the main difference is that buttermilk and baking soda make for a much better rise than baking powder alone (that's why buttermilk is in the cakes, too). Then the higher rise makes for a more tender crumb, which is good for its own sake, and also lets the pancakes soak up lots of syrup. Which of course is the real reason we're doing this breakfast!

Here's the (new and improved) recipe.

In a large bowl whisk together:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup wheat germ
3 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cinnamon

Beat well:

2 large eggs

Add to the dry ingredients, along with:

1 1/2 cup buttermilk
3 Tbsp melted butter

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix gently with a whisk until they're well-combined and smooth.

Put your skillet over medium-low heat and butter as required. Pour the batter (I use a quarter cup measure, not quite filled for each pancake) and cook until most of the bubbles on top have popped, then flip and cook the other side for about 30 seconds.

Serve with butter and slightly-warmed maple syrup or preserves.

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new frontiers in cooking

Yesterday a friend brought over some veggies to contribute to lunch, including a big bunch of scallions—which inspired us to try making scallion pancakes! We used this recipe, roughly, and they came out great. The only issue was we started cooking at 11:30, so while we got the rest of the lunch ready by noon we did not have scallion pancakes til much later. Which was bad only because at that point everyone was stuffed with the other delicious food we had made, so for my part at least eating many pieces of scallion pancake on top of that made me feel rather unwell. They're pretty much just flour and water fried in lots of oil, so kind of heavy.

I tend to get in kind of a rut with my cooking, both because I don't want to put a lot of effort into new recipes when there's a good chance the kids won't like the results, and because I tend not to plan very far ahead (like with the pancakes, see). It's not the end of the world—we have more than seven recipes we know we like, so we're not getting the same thing more than once a week unless we do it on purpose—but on the other hand I don't want to miss all the other good things the world might have to offer in the culinary line.

Not quite at the same level, but this evening I made a potato-and-cheese omelet for supper. That was a new one too. Me and Harvey enjoyed it; Lijah liked the bread and the roasted cauliflower, and Zion liked the bread. In his defense, it was just about right out of the oven, so while in no way ground-breaking it was certainly good. Not everything has to be new and exciting.

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gingerbread houses

An important part of our Christmas that I left out of yesterday's report was the gingerbread baking. Besides the cookies the boys made for Grandma and Grandpa, we also did our annual construction and decoration of gingerbread houses. We invited friends over to make the whole affair as festive and exciting as possible.

busy around the table with candy, frosting, and gingerbread

it's gingerbread chaos!

It was a pretty intense day. The boys and I started first thing in the morning making the dough: two batches, with a total of seven cups of flour. That might not sound like a lot but for scale, it's almost all of a five-pound bag. Or maybe it's not, and the bag was only empty because of how much we spilled. Which was a lot. But the dough got made, and we rolled it into balls and left it to chill.

the boys rolling the dough into big balls

the end of phase 1

A little later our friends arrived. Together we designed a house template, then each of the five kids worked (with an age-appropriate amount of help) to roll out their portion of dough and cut pieces for their walls, roofs, and auxiliary accessories. The adults were also making lunch at this time, so there was a lot going on. The house pieces were big enough that each house took up two baking sheets, and each one needed to be in the oven for 15 minutes. There was some confusion over which parts went to which house, but we got it all sorted out in the end. The frosting to glue the houses together took a pound of sugar, and then we needed another batch—another pound—for the decorating.

Which of course is what the kids were waiting for! (Some of them had such a hard time waiting they started decorating before their roofs were quite attached; it was only a little sad, because everything that fell apart was repairable.) We had a tremendous array of candy available, which was good because they expected to taste more-than-representative portions of each type. Decorating techniques varied: the 9-year-olds were guided largely by aesthetic concerns, whereas 7-year-olds and younger were more concerned with attaching the maximum volume of the types of candy they wanted to eat later. Never mind; all five houses came out beautifully.

five finished gingerbread houses lined up on the table

finished!

That was all a week before Christmas. I was talking a couple days ago with friends whose kids were having trouble letting go of the season—they're fellow 12-day-celebrators, but still hadn't taken down their tree two days past Epiphany. I told them my secret for helping the boys accept the end of Christmas: I didn't let them eat their gingerbread houses until the season was officially over! So there was something to look forward to on January 6th.

Harvey breaking the roof off his gingerbread house

finally!

Harvey and Zion's houses aren't entirely gone yet, but what remains can fit in a tupperware container in the bread drawer. Lijah's is still standing; that's because, as he describes it, "I don't like gingerbread, just candy." I estimate another three days till all the decorations have been stripped off, then maybe we can put the remains out for the squirrels.

If you want to make your own houses, here's our recipe as I have it:

In a large bowl whisk together:

7 cups all-purpose white flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons powdered ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon

In the stand mixer, cream:

1 cup (two sticks) butter
1 cup sugar

Add and mix until well-blended:

1 cup molasses
2 teaspoons vanilla

Add the dry ingredients to the wet about two cups at a time, mixing until combined each time. If necessary, add:

up to 1/4 cup cold water

Form the dough into three or four balls, wrap each one in plastic wrap, and store in the fridge until you’re ready to make your houses.

At that point, preheat the oven to 325° F and grease a cookie sheet or two. Roll one ball at a time on a oured surface to a thickness of about 1/4 inch. Cut out your house pieces and bake them on cookie sheets for 15-18 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces Let the pieces cool completely before assembling the houses.

For the mortar—er, frosting—combine in the stand mixer:

1 package powdered sugar
3 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tarter

Whip vigorously with the whisk attachment, adding more powdered sugar or water as necessary to achieve a thick, glue-like consistency.

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taste the smoke

One of my favorite things about cooking on the fire is the leftovers. A couple years ago when we brought some leftover chili back from a camping trip I was delighted to find that, when reheated, it had a wonderfully smoky flavor that totally complemented the other tastes in the recipe. (I hadn't noticed the day we cooked it; then, everything was smoky.) Now that we have our own backyard fire that we use all the time we get to enjoy that smoky goodness much more often, and on purpose. Like the zucchini I grilled yesterday.

Last night we cooked some chicken and a little steak, and I also through some slices of summer squash on the grill. They were delicious, but since I was the only one who ate any there was lots left over. For breakfast this morning I chopped some up and put them in an omelet that Harvey and I shared; he was suspicious ("what are these green things?!") but when he tried one he agreed that they had practically no vegetable taste at all. Just smoke. Then this evening I made my half of the pizza with mushrooms and more of the zucchini, and feta cheese. So powerful was that quarter cup of chopped squash that Lijah almost keeled over from the smell when he came into the house just after the pizza came out of the oven. He didn't like it; to me it was just perfect. Tasted good too.

Who knows what all those smoke particles are doing to our system—probably cancerous or something. But right now, I'm going to say it's worth it!

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independence from the stove

We celebrated the Fourth of July in our traditional fashion today, with a full day at the fair in Concord. More about that later. But the fun didn't end when we got home—after an hour or so indoors in front of the fan to recover, we cooked hot dogs on the fire, and then smores. It was our second smores evening just in the past week, never mind all the other times we've made them this year, which got me to wondering... how did we become a household where such things are possible?! Clearly, building the fireplace helped.. but even before that we were toasting marshmallows over a wood fire in the kettle grill. Maybe it's just that we like being outside, and there's no finer outdoor dessert than smores?

All round, outdoor cooking is the best. Obviously when it's as hot as this it's great not to have to heat up the house; in weather like this even the vacuum cleaner feels like it's pumping out an unbearable amount of hot air, to say nothing of the stove or the oven. But the food is tastier too over the fire. The other day I made beans and as leftovers their noticeably more delicious than stovetop beans—delightfully smoky. I also made steak and peppers for fajitas, which was fine, and tortillas, which I felt was pretty impressive (they didn't taste particularly smoky, but I still think rolling them and cooking them outside was pretty cool). Today Leah—who doesn't eat hot dogs—grilled tofu and zucchini, stir-fried ground turkey, and made rice all over the fire. I didn't taste any of that, but I guarantee it was all wonderful. And of course fire-cooked marshmallows are infinitely superior to those prepared any other way. I hear some people even eat them raw! Not us, not when there's a fire going!

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I think I can feel a little satisfied with myself

There's so much to do in the summer. With our sort of camp, I find myself with a house full of kids all day Monday and Tuesday, which is lovely—but it doesn't leave much time to take care of the house and yard. Still, I don't think I did too badly yesterday. Besides showing the kids—ours and the two visitors—a good time, I managed a little weeding, baked bread, made pickles, and made a cake. It helps that all five kids are wonderful human beings and interacted peacefully for the seven or eight hours they were together. They also made some money selling candy and cycled around 10 miles round trip, to and from the Farmers Market in Lexington. So they didn't do too badly either!

two quarts of pickles on the porch railing

pickles

The cake came out good too: just the thing to end our long busy day, served on our friends' back porch as it started to get dark (you see why all three boys are still sound asleep well after the sun came up this morning!). I made up the recipe; it's based on this chocolate cake, which I've made a few times and which revealed to me that buttermilk and baking powder are magic for making home-made cakes rise almost like ones from a mix. We have lots of blueberries—four of the five kids here yesterday helped pick them last week—so I decided on a blueberry variant.

blueberry cake in the front yard

the cake, pausing on the way to the car

Here's the recipe.

Blueberry Cake

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a bundt pan with plenty of butter. In a large bowl, combine

2 3/4 c. all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4th tsp. salt
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

In the stand mixer, mix at medium speed

3/4 c. butter, softened
1 c. packed brown sugar
1 c. granulated sugar

Increase speed to high and beat for five minutes, until pale and fluffy. Add one at a time, beating at medium speed after each one

3 large eggs

At medium speed beat in

2 tsp. vanilla extract
zest of one lemon

Mixing at low speed, add the flour mixture in three parts alternating with two parts of

1 1/2 c. buttermilk

Fold in

1 1/2 c. blueberries

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50-60 minutes.

For the glaze, combine in a medium bowl

1/3 c. melted butter
2 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Whisk until smooth and pour slowly over the cake, letting a layer dry before adding more on top (I didn't have time to maage that last part between getting back from the farmer's market and leaving for dinner at our friends' house... my one failure in an otherwise pretty successful day!).

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