Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Gingerbread Castle


Little Miss K and I do gingerbread houses most Christmases.  When she was younger, we did prebaked kits:

(Yes, that is a cookie cutter stuck to the roof--do you have a point?)

Last year, however, we entered a local Gingerbread House Contest and made our first from-scratch gingerbread house.  Crazy process with frosting everywhere and candy canes flying in all directions, but Little Miss K and I are fans of the madness so we had a lot of fun.



So much fun, in fact, that we decided to do it again!  Little Miss K is the design lead (all design decisions are hers to veto at will) and I take up the engineering.  This is what she came up with:


And this is how it went down:



 
And this is the final result:




 

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Crusty Bread and My New tools


Made a classic French boule bread yesterday and I got to use some of my new Pampered Chef stuff in a nice way, 




and my Large Round Stone with Handles


I used the recipe in Julia Child's The Way to Cook, though any number of French bread recipes would do it here.  This recipe uses 3.5 cups flour and makes 3 18" baguettes or 1 12" boule, and it doesn't use a poolish or starter.  I doubled the yeast because I just didn't have the time for the slower rises.

The ingredients are:
1 pkg yeast
1/3 cup water
1/4 teaspoon sugar
3.5 cups flour
1 Tbs whole wheat flour
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 cup water

but Julia's instructions are very well done and very detailed--I recommend taking a look at the book.


I usually just eyeball the dough during rises, but Julia is a little particular about how much it should increase in each rise, so to make things easier on myself I dumped the dough into my batter bowl with the measure on the side and found it a nice way to see how much it had risen compared to the initial size.




Then, to get the perfect bake, I put my baking stone into the hot oven for about 20 minutes to get nice and hot for baking the bread on.  Once I had the dough shaped and risen, slashed and ready to go, I just used my large cutting board as a peel and slid the dough onto the stone.


Ended up with a very nice loaf of bread with a beautiful crust--check out the underside of that thing.

I make bread fairly often, though not always artisan style, of course.  Still, it's fun once in a while to make something very special.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Cost of Dinner - Pot Roast Edition

So my little family and I were eating dinner tonight and we were talking about home cooked food and high-fructose corn syrup (we're a real interesting bunch, clearly...).  And we were talking about the price of food, and how it was pretty darn cheap to make things that way.

And I thought about it, and how a few years back I had costed out my bread recipe and my sweet rolls, to see just how much I saved, and I thought it might be interesting to do that for the meal tonight, too.

It's fall now, I had an in and out kind of day, so I threw a pot roast into the crock pot with potato and carrots, and made crusty bread when I got home.  I made the pot sauce into gravy and that was that.  So, here's what we had:

  • $5.09-- half of a 3.4 lb. Beef Round Eye Roast at $2.99/lb on sale or $10.17 total (I cooked the whole thing but have 2/3 to 1/2 left over for another meal)
  • $0.60 -- (give or take) for 4-5 fresh carrots from a 2 lb bag ($1.79 per bag), peeled and cut after purchase
  • $0.90 -- (give or take) for 3 potatoes from a 5 lb bag ($3.50 per bag), peeled and cut after purchase
  • $0.10 -- ok, now I'm just guessing -- what do you suppose a shake of sage, thyme, salt and pepper and a glug of cider vinegar cost?
  • $0.60 -- 3.5 cups King Arthur Flour (= 1 lb) from a 5 lb bag on sale for $2.99
  • $0.15 -- 4 teaspoons yeast (appx. 2 packages) -- I buy my yeast at Whole Foods in 1 lb bags for appx $5.00 a bag (a 1 lb bag is appx. 64 packets worth) --  the same amount of yeast bought in packets at $1.99 for 3 packets would come to $42.45, not much of a deal.
  • $0.20 -- this is another guess, I used 1/4 teaspoon sugar, 2 teaspoons salt, and some water all around.  I also used 3 Tablespoons flour to thicken the gravy and a little butter on the bread, but how picky can you really get?

For a grand total of  $7.64 or $2.55 per person, I fed my family of 3 a beef dinner with carrots, potatoes, gravy, and fresh baked crusty French bread.  Not to bad a deal I think, and we have some leftover veggies and a bit of bread for another meal, too.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

It's a Spritz!

I've wanted a cookie press for the better part of the past 30 years.  Sometime along the way I saw one in a cookbook and thought they were wonderful--beautiful cookies combining the joy of piped cake decorations and play-doh, what's not to love?

My mother did not think a cookie press was a good idea at all, she said spritz cookies don't taste very good (note: not true with these cookies!), so the idea went into the backroom of wishes, the same place where I put those other wayward plans like being on Dance Fever with Deney Terrio and becoming the first woman to play Major League Baseball (obviously there are many good reasons for many plans to go directly to that wayward plan place and stay there, please just STAY THERE).

Well, along came my recent Pampered Chef gift certificate and the catalog included this beautiful piece of cookie forming gorgeousness: The Beautiful New and Improved Pampered Chef Cookie Press (cue angel music...).  How could I refuse?
So it arrived and Little Miss K and I mixed up a batch of the Spritz Recipe from Joy of Cooking.  Apparently some recipes are more cake like and some are crisper--these were heaven itself with buttery crispness and just the right amount of sweet, vanilla, and almond--these are very, very good cookies.

But, I do hear you, that's all well and good, but what about the cookie press?


Fabulous fun!  Little Miss K and I took turns trying out the press and we used every disk except the extruder and the potato ricer.  It takes some practice, each disk requires a slightly different touch and some are easier that others.  We had some perfectly lovely cookies, some a little off, and some that we just scooped up and put in the bowl to be put back in the cookie press for another shot.

Next time I think we'll also use parchment instead of greased cookie sheets.  It's sometimes a fine line between not enough dough to stick to the sheet and too much dough making a smooshy mess.  I think parchment might cling the dough better and make that fine line a little less fine--we will see.

Fortunately, we were just baking for us--I would definitely recommend practice before you plan to use these in public.  The good thing is the cookies are delicious.  Very, very, very good.  I think we'll find the time to practice again soon!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Piece of Pizza Pie

As promised, here's the first up from my brand new Pampered Chef haul (hooray!).  That very day we grabbed that baking stone and made us some pizza!

And when I say we, I mean mostly Little Miss K--her adoring mom mostly sat around taking photos and being my usual adoring self.

What to know something great?  I was thinking about the cost savings of this pizza--and I'm going to skip ahead just enough to let you know it was delicious and every bit as good as pizzeria pizza--all together it cost us $4-$5--and no gas, plus Little Miss K gets to eat so she doesn't need tipping.

So anyway, here's the process:

We made dough from the Betty Crocker cookbook recipe, which is a double portion of the dough recipe here:

1 Package (appx. 2 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (105-115 degrees)
2 1/2 cups flour
2 Tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt

Dissolve the yeast in the water, add everything else until well mixed.  Kneed until smooth. Let rest 5 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Press pizza dough into a 15" diameter circle on your baking stone (or cookie sheet).


Toss gratuitously to impress others, if desired.



Spread pizza sauce or spaghetti sauce over crust.



Sprinkle shredded mozzarella, or Italian blend, or mozzarella and cheddar to form a thin layer over sauce (I keep a few kinds of shredded cheese in the freezer--it doesn't mold there and you can just sprinkle the frozen cheese--it works just fine).  Bake for 20-25 minutes, till crust is golden brown and cheese is melted.



Enjoy (and pat yourself on the back while thinking of what you'd rather do with the saved cash)!










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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Enabled (new stuff!)

Yes, I seem to have that cooking monkey on my back (figurative, not literal) and, like all good addicts, I have a few good enablers to keep me in it.

First and foremost are Mr. K and Little Miss K, who constantly make me feel that homecooking is what makes life worth living (love you guys!), but my big brother, it turns out, is my foremost tool enabler.  Birthdays, Christmas, kitchen things are always a hit, and the wife of one of his good friends is a fabulous cook--she gives him good advise and the good goods flow.

A package came yesterday from a recent gift certificate spree from Pampered Chef (bless you, bro!)--want to share the joy with me?


(woo-hoo!)


 
 
 

Funny thing, Little Miss K took all the pictures and they're uncropped--she actually shot them "Muppet Babies adult" style--funny kid!)

For those of you who don't haunt the Pampered Chef pages (which included me until this gift), those pictures (and those not pictured) are:
  • Collapsible Strainer
  • Cutting Board with Measure Cups
  • Gravy Separator 
  • Large Round Stone with Handles 
  • Cookie Press 
  • Pie Gate 
  • Chef's Silicone Basting Brush 
  • Bamboo Specialty Cooking Set 
  • Measure-All® Cup 
  • Classic Batter Bowl 
  • Mini Measure-All® Cup   
Fun, fun, fun!  Coming soon--food made with those items!

(but, till then, also from last night, here's a preview:








)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Chicken in Every Pot

Ever have one of those days?

I'm a homeschooling Mom, which in some ways helps me cook and bake more easily--mix bread, teach grammar, punch down dough, answer math question, start to shape loaves, explain a bit more math, finish loaves, explain why she simply has to do math whether she likes it or not, let loaves rise, tell my angel princess to knock off the drama and just do the stinking math--you get the idea....

But life is life and motherhood is motherhood so there are obviously those days on a regular basis--you know, the ones where you're driving to whatever activity, biding your time, hustling the kiddo to get ready to go, stopping at the CVS, a "quick" trip to the grocery for milk, pop into the bank, finally home at 7:00 and wondering what on earth you're going to feed these people.

Couple that with trying to spend as little money as possible on food (despite rising food costs!) and possibly attempting to feed the family nutritious foods while you're at it...

This is why I love my crockpot.

Check this action out: sometime in the morning I grab a raw chicken (cheap broiler/ fryer not the more expensive roaster), toss it in the crock.  Dump a little something on top (salt and pepper?  garlic powder?  soy sauce? mustard and honey? vinaigrette salad dressing? apricot jam? I've tried it all and it's hard to go wrong here) . If you feel like it peel some carrots and toss them in on top (or get the baby carrots--whatever).  Potatoes if you have them, or don't bother, doesn't matter much.

Call it done and go on with your day.

This way, when you finally stumble into the house at the end of the day, you open the door to the lovely scent of supper ready.  Let me repeat: the lovely scent of supper ready!  Yes, that's right, Supper Is Ready.

Of course, chicken in the crock looks a little pasty for most people's tastes.  Let's face it, you want this:


And this is not the same thing:


Not a problem, I use my "superior presentation skills" and carve it in the kitchen.  Ha!  take that pasty chicken!

The meat is so moist and tender from the crock pot.  Really good.  And you can pour the drippings into a gravy separator and thicken it in a pot on the stove (stir in 1 Tablespoon corn starch (mixed with a little cold water) for every cup drippings) and...voila!  gravy!

This never ceases to make my little family happy and make me look like a good cook...roast chicken dinner on a busy day.  Easy, cheap, and good...Love it when a plan comes together!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Cake Wreckage


Oh my!  I had found this site, laughed my fool head off, forgot all about it, had a chat about it at work in the context of some bad cakes, laughed my fool head off, forgot all about it, got a call today from my husband (who works in a bake shop) asking for the web address to share it with a co-worker, opened up the site again, laughed my fool head off all over again.

I just love this site.  Please check out www.cakewrecks.blogspot.com 

You will see the most amazing cakes--some beautifully amazing and plenty more what the heck amazing.

Some of the comments (and some of the cakes) are a little off color, but it is just so funny

Or maybe my sense of humor is just that odd?  Whatever.  I love it.

I Made that Chocolate-Cherry Brioche


Remember the Chocolate-Cherry Brioche I wanted to make?  Well, today is the day...

Actually, last night I started it, since it can use a nice rise overnight.

I had a minor glitch of my own making (usually that way, isn't it?)--this time I somehow managed to delete the last ingredient in the dough...so here I am mixing it up in my trusty Kitchen Aid and wondering how a brioche can have no butter?  and, where is this stickyness they speak of?

Obviously time to check the King Arthur site, which would have been more helpful except for one thing...why on earth is the King Arthur site down now when I really, really need it?

Figuring it was a time for action, I compared the ingredients I had with the Brioche recipe in the Joy of Cooking and figured that 3/4 cup very soft butter would do the job--dough looked right (which is to say sticky and soft but getting better) and I was back in the running.


So I was over by 50%--better that than a Brioche that's not buttery, that's what I always say (or at least what I would always say if I really did go around chatting about brioche all the time).


Butter in place, everything mixed with the paddle mixer, I moved on to the dough-hook.  They certainly weren't kidding when they said it would be "sticky mess"--basically, it was like the hook dragging through mud, nothing forming, nothing clinging, nothing pulling from the sides of the bowl.  Not at all!

But true to description, after about 12 minutes, the stuff really had transformed.  I threw in the chocolate and cherries and had this:


Truthfully, the chocolate and cherries didn't work in all that well with the bread hook, so I took the whole gob out and kneeded it in a bit better.  After that I threw it back in the bowl with the cover and followed directions (ok, maybe I'm just not that good a follower, 'cause I didn't grease the bowl--I rarely do anyway because the bread always unsticks just fine without it (what with the worked up gluten and all), and since this already had almost half a pound of butter in it I figured I might just be good to go as is).

After that bit of rebellion, I really did follow directions and this morning I smashed it into a long rectangle and dumped cocoa and sugar all over it:

--all directions should be this much fun!

So, that just left me to roll it up (shoving the random popping out cherries and chips, enjoying the little clouds of cocoa-sugar that puffed out between the bits of stuff in the dough), and drop it into my greased 9" x 3" springform pan.  Looked like this:




I dutifully waited 3 hours till it was puffed (Note: there is a reason why they say puffy instead of, say, "doubled" or even "risen").  Three hours later I had this:


Puffy might be charitable here, but it seemed good enough for me.

I never did get out to get the large crystal sugar that looks so cool, so I just dumped lots of granulated sugar on it--enough to show up after baking.  Mine took closer to 45 minutes to bake--might be due to the extra butter, might be due to the cold house--but here we go:




Lovely, no? and the house sure smells good.

I've got to tell you, is this stuff is very, very good.  Tender, flavorful, moist, soft, crisp "crust" but not crusty.  And that extra butter?  Didn't hurt a bit.

Can't wait for that lovely guy I married to come home and smell this house!  Of course, while we wait, my sweet daughter and I are going to be munching on brioche...