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Good News Bad News

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Well, the good news is the easy repair of our washing machine. Just the switch which says the top is down and the motor can run.

The bad news. Our internet died Tuesday. Much drama. Two visits. Trucks with buckets trying to access connections in brutally cold weather. No internet and suggestions that we need a new cable run. Then, OMG, the internet returned at 11 pm last night. Magically. Now, we have no idea if we need new cable runs from the main road. I am just frantically paying bills and answering emails in case it dies again.

It is amazing how much we now rely on internet to support us.

My volunteer work, at the Conservancy, for example. I need to publicize upcoming events like the renowned owl expert with incredible information about one of our favorite predators. Paul Bannick, on the 12th of January. Ranger will be there. This event may sell out. Go online and book quickly. His event on the 13th in VA has already reached its limit at 175 participants.

Another fun event on the 13th, we have a haiku writing fest. With crafts by Columbia Families in Nature. Come out and banish those cold weather blues.

The last bad news in our area. The closing of Casual Gourmet. I will miss Alexandra’s shop in Glenwood. They are retiring and no one wanted to buy it from them. For the rest of this month, they are liquidating their inventory. Stop in, help them out, and say farewell.

All in all, this brutal winter is knocking us down. We just need to find things to keep us occupied and WARM.

The Big B’Day

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Happy New Year!

From my last post you would see that I celebrated a major milestone birthday two days before the end of the year. Did I go out? No. Was it a problem to make dinner? No.

I contemplated calling this the $15 feast. Steaks, $10. Dessert, $5. The sides were down in the noise, so to speak. Dinner took 15 minutes to make. Simple salad with bleu cheese dressing. Couscous with tomato pesto.

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The wines?

birthday dinner 002.JPGMade the dinner, and cost us a fraction of what we would pay if we went out. I mean, how many 20 year old wines can you find on a menu? For $25. Which is what this cost when we bought it. It was exquisite. Cherry bomb, really. Mostly Cabernet Franc.

If you can, try this for a future special event. You could easily have a feast for a fraction of a restaurant meal. Besides. I picked the music for background. Vangelis.

Everything was seasoned the way I like it. No settling for whatever they offered.

There were roses, delivered that afternoon.

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Dessert came from Dandelion Bistro. Raspberry Wine from Big Cork.

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Turning 65 wasn’t all that bad, and the dinner was superb. Thanks to local wineries, and the bakery up the road, and sirloins from Wegmans.

A December to Remember

And not always in a good way.  Maybe turning 65 tomorrow is a good thing. Time will tell. Hopefully the dozens of phone calls trying to sell me Medigap policies will cease.

As for why I wasn’t enamored with this month? So many things failed, or had to be replaced. I felt the checkbook and credit cards were always out.

The one that hurt the most? Having to take down a beautiful spruce tree.

I loved that tree. Standing as tall as our house. Weathering storms.

It survived snowmageddon, and ice storms. But needlecast did it in. We couldn’t save it, and last week it was felled. A hole in my yard and my heart.

It was just one of those things this month. Add to it a failed heat pump. Struts and shocks on the SUV. And, today! A dead washing machine. Anyone know where the nearest Laundromat is?

I shouldn’t complain. We are lucky that we have small local vendors who take good care of things for us. Landers’ Appliances will come to assess the 13 year old washer to see if it is salvageable. If it isn’t, Bray and Scarff will be replacing it.

BA Auto Care (formerly known as British American) did an awesome job as usual on our 14 year old car.

Advance Arboriculture surgically removed the tree, leaving nothing but mulch in our front yard.

Environmental Systems Associates (ESA) replaced our failing heat pump with a new energy efficient unit.

What did you get for Christmas? I got a bunch of invoices for all this work.

As for tomorrow, we aren’t going anywhere for my birthday. It’s just too cold and miserable out, so we will hunker down, pan sear a few filets, and open a bottle of old red wine. I should send my hubby up to Dandelion Bistro to pick up a nice chocolate dessert to savor with the leftover wine, after dinner.

I must be getting old. I prefer an evening by the fireplace, watching old movies, instead of going out to celebrate.

Baking

German Baking. Classic German Baking.

Most of my family is of German descent. I grew up with German influenced cooking and baking on both sides of the family. For me, the discovery of Luisa Weiss’s book, Classic German Baking, was a special treat for the holidays.

I opted to download the eBook when I found a great deal for it. I am glad I did it. I have already made two cookies for the holidays, and have dozens of treats bookmarked for the future.

Luissa’s Pfeffernüsse is far beyond those dry things you buy in the store.

I had to hide the container that I want to use for my Christmas gifts so my husband wouldn’t eat them all. I have to make more of these. I love them. Not really sweet, but just right. The secret to good German baking is finding ingredients. Like Baker’s Ammonia.

Thanks to Amazon Prime and “OliveNation” I had what I needed to make these cookies. For those of us really old, this is smelling salts. Seriously. But, it works to make the cookies vastly different from other non-traditional recipes.

I also made Vanillakipferl. The authentic version of almond crescents.

I went with the use of almond meal, and I also made my own vanilla sugar, by blitzing a vanilla bean, pod and all, in the sugar, and letting it mellow for a few days before using.

Fragile. Fresh from baking, and dredged in confectioner’s sugar mixed with vanilla sugar, these melt-in-our-mouth morsels are a memory of cookies my mom used to make. My paternal grandmother was born in Austria. These cookies are something special to me, as I pay tribute to my heritage.

Next year? I will work in advance to try Lebkuchen, which need time in advance to “age”, and who knows. Maybe I will spring for those Springerle molds.

I also have my eye on a cookie that reminds me of Berger’s cookies. That would be really bad for my waistline.

The Yeast Beast

Conquering yeast breads. One of those “bucket list” type items on an old list of things I wanted to do in retirement. With the challenge in my cookbook club this month being “Genius Recipes”, this one had to be included.

The famous No Knead Bread from Jim Lahey. Catapulted into the limelight more than 10 years ago by Mark Bittman in the New York Times. According to his website, it is one of the top ten recipes that are visited there.

There are many variations. The ratios, though, are fairly constant. The one from the book is a bit different in that it calls for active dry or instant yeast. As I learned later, every other recipe calls for instant yeast. It works with active dry as that is what was in my pantry at the moment, but I think it would be better with instant.

Here is what I did. Twice, now. Once plain. Once with dried rosemary added. First, I invested in a digital scale and made this recipe using weight, instead of measuring with cups and spoons.

Not a fancy scale, but certainly useful. Zeroed out with the bowl in it. Started with 400g of bread flour. Added 5g kosher salt, 1g yeast (I just used a 1/4 tsp for the yeast as it was so little change in weight). I thought it was interesting in the recipe that the 1 1/2 cups of cool water (55-65 degrees F) to be added used 360g for the measuring.

You mix it all together and then let it sit covered with a towel in a warm corner of your kitchen, out of direct sunlight. I let my first one rise for 12 hours, the second one for 20 hours. The longer rise gave me a bread that was definitely different. This scientific approach, although simple, is really quite educational and erased my trepidation with using yeast.

After the first rise, you flour a board. Dump the wet, sticky dough and pull into a round shape. Recommendations to use parchment paper for this will decrease the messiness of using a floured towel. This second rise or 1-2 hours wrapped loosely in the towel will just about double the dough ball. I used cornmeal for my first bread, and flour for the second.

Here is the first bread.

The crunchy cornmeal coating added to the flavor. It was crusty on the outside and dense, chewy, but with lots of air bubbles inside.

The directions call for you to use a heavy covered pot, like a Dutch oven. I used a Pyrex baking dish. It has to have a lid because what you are doing is creating an oven in your oven. The dish has to be preheated for a half hour at 475 degrees before dumping the dough from the towel into it. It will spread across the bottom. If you want a higher small boule, you need a pot that size.

This was my rosemary bread, dusted with flour. It was baked, covered, for 30 minutes, and uncovered for an additional 15 minutes. I have convection ovens so that last timing with the cover off will vary for those without air circulation. The recipe calls for 15-20 minutes uncovered.

The rosemary bread rose a bit more than the first bread.

Fresh from the oven, lifted out of the pot with a large spatula. Be careful as that pot is screaming hot at 475 degrees.

I will be making this easy recipe every chance I get. I do want to try some of the variations, like using a drizzle of olive oil, and adding sliced olives. Or, making a sweet bread with mini chocolate chips and chopped walnuts.

Google NoKnead Bread, if you want to mess around in your kitchen. Me, I need to get some instant yeast and see if it makes the bread rise more than mine. The slow “fermentation” of that 18 hour rise time makes this bread. It is almost foolproof.

Thanks to the Genius Recipe book by Kristen Miglore for rekindling my interest in baking bread, without fuss.

Cookbook Club

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In my last post, where I talk about all the ways we experimented with brining turkey, I mentioned the inspiration of the cookbook club. Friday I started cooking from the 10th book, a different one every month, and sharing it on social media with other “club” members. This version of an online community is managed by Food52, a popular web site for people obviously interested in food.

The club, a closed group on Facebook, has thousands of members. A small percentage of us cook and write about it. What is so interesting to me is seeing results, and comments, successes and failures, by cooks from around the world.  Seasonal cooking as well as regional cooking are thrown for a loop when the Aussies and Kiwis from the bottom of the world, and the Asians, the Europeans, the Canadians, South Americans and those of us Stateside all try and cook from the same book with ingredients we can source.

We vote for the books, three months at a time, a few months in advance. This allows us to reserve library books, or to have a book readily available worldwide.

This month? Food52 Genius Recipes by Kristen Miglore. I am lucky to have a great county library where I can reserve books, and then use online renewals to keep them for up to nine weeks if no one else requests them. I got the book in midNovember and started reading. I like this book quite a bit. Her column on line explores these great recipes in depth, and uses input to make them easy for anyone to tackle. Tweaks to them. Hints. Substitutions.

I needed to make cookies for a cookie party. I spent Friday doing one from this book and one from the latest Ottolenghi book, SWEET. Sweet is the book of the month for the baking version of our little online community. If you have never cooked from Ottolenghi’s books, you should get your hands on any of them and just have fun. I have all of them in eBook versions. The cookbook club in June let us loose on all of his previous books.

What did I bake?

From Genius Recipes I visited an old favorite. Molasses cookies from the Silver Palate. Mine spread too much. I think I didn’t let the dough chill enough. Still, they taste great and they look like lace cookies, which make them perfect tea cookies.

From Sweet, I made these absolutely amazing cranberry, oat, and almond cookies, covered in a white chocolate glaze. These disappeared immediately at our event Saturday. Not sugary at all. There is only a half cup of sugar in the entire batch, which made 48 cookies. The white chocolate is the right touch to make these really good. Perfect with a cup of tea. The online recipe for these cookies is on the Random House UK web page, The Happy Foodie.

I am working on my baking skills this month. In my CSA share, I am getting the flour and grain shares, which will be put to use often, as I work my way through the Genius Recipe book. Jim Lahey’s famous No Knead bread is on my short list, as is an interesting one grain ingredient cracker. More on whether I do these, and if they are successful, later this month.

As for why I am active in this community. I promised myself that I would continue to challenge myself in retirement. Trying new things. Different cuisines. Tackling that fear of baking. Within our little online group, we commiserate. We encourage. We share. Some of us aren’t as good at it as others. Doesn’t matter. We enjoy cooking and by seeing the results, we become determined to try a harder recipe, and expand our knowledge of techniques.

In February, the cooking club celebrates its first anniversary by opening the month to a free-for-all with all the books we used in the first year. I joined the second month, so I didn’t cook from Art of the Pie by Kate McDermott. I will be reserving that book and facing that challenge. To me, pie crust is hard to do.  But what the heck! They may end up messy, but taste is what really counts.

My other favorites from this past 10 months? Deep Run Roots by Vivian Howard. Made in India by Meera Sodha. All the Ottolenghi books. I had three of Ottolenghi’s already on eBooks, and have downloaded the others. CSA farm shares tempt me to dig into those books for good vegetable recipes. And, if it wasn’t for Deep Run Roots, I never would have grown okra in my garden.

Or made these.

Or this.

The okra fries are so easy, and so good. Just olive oil, cumin, salt and pepper. Screaming hot oven or on the grill. Crunchy, salty, spicy. As for that awesome cauliflower cake from Ottolenghi, it will be repeated when we get cauliflower again from the CSA. It is absolutely the best show stopping addition to a pot luck party, and really not that hard to make.

What’s stopping you? Get cooking!

 

Turkey All Ways

Thanksgiving is over. That 14 pound turkey is history. Or, is it? Quite a bit of it is in the freezer in some form or another. Stock. Soup base.

This year my local Maple Lawn Farm turkey was the subject of an experiment. How best to cook the big bird.

I did three different preparations. Using The Food Lab as inspiration. I cut the turkey in half. Cut half of it in half. That gave me three blank canvases to use. Half of it I dry brined. Mixture of salt and Provencal herbs. Massaged under the skin.

It went into the oven on 300 degrees for the first 45 minutes and was finished at 400 degrees to crisp it up.

The verdict? This was by far the best turkey I have made for the holidays. Dry brining is the way to go. It took 24 hours in the refrigerator to brine this turkey. We ate the wings, thighs and drumstick for dinner, and broke down the breast meat to make a simple turkey Bolognese for two nights of dinner this weekend.

Take your favorite Bolognese recipe and substitute turkey for beef.

The other breast was dry rubbed. Just a variation by using spices instead of herbs.

The dry rub included cumin, coriander, paprika, oregano, cinnamon, cayenne and salt.

This part of the bird became salad. So tender and juicy. We mixed it with cherries, celery, pistachios, mayo and pickle juice. It has been lunch for most of the past week. Never getting tired of this mix.

As for the other quarter, I followed my old wet brine recipe. Cider, oranges, and brown sugar, boiled with a healthy dose of salt. I do agree with the Food Lab assessment. It made the meat mushy instead of sharp and flavorful. Most of this meat went into my soup base.

We ended up with two containers of soup base in the freezer. When I bring them out, they will get heated with egg noodles and a bit of stock to thin them down.

Also done this weekend, a large pot of stock. Two quarts in the freezer.

That one 14 pound bird will be yielding 16 meals for the two of us. Not a bad return on investment. Besides, who gets tired of turkey? Not us.