Bistek a la Catska

Today was a long, trying day. Family health issues and work combined together for a tired evening. Fortunately, I have a friend staying with me, and even more fortunately, she decided that tonight was the night she would cook dinner. So my beautiful friend and my handsome Frenchman headed off to procure some meat and veggies to roast for dinner.

Since I had the pleasure of eating and not cooking, I can’t tell you all the steps or all the ingredients. But I can share with you these beautiful pictures of my delicious dinner, cooked for me and not by me!

Roasted zucchini, potatoes, and carrots appear to have been caramelized perfectly with a lovely garlic and chive butter. Roasted on my favorite Nordic Ware pans, the parchment paper keeps everything clean and the tinfoil added a nice crisp to the vegetables.

Perfectly caramelized onions were sweetened with baby mangoes. A perfectly seasoned set of thinly sliced beef steak was seared to perfection.

All deliciously arranged on my beautiful plates, at my beautiful dining table, with my beautiful friends, and served with a toast of well wishes. What a lovely way to wind out another manic Monday.

Cock-a-Leekie Soup

The farm stand up near my folk’s place in Solano County, Larry’s Produce, is a beautiful place full of local fruits and vegetables at amazingly great prices. Three giant leeks for only a dollar. How could a girl pass that up!? Here is my Aunt with our entirely-full cart, leeks front and center, for which we paid roughly $45.

And what better to do with leeks then a classic Cock-a-Leekie soup…

While it is often called “Scotland’s National Soup,” it probably originated as a simple chicken and onion soup in France. By the 16th century, it had made its way to Scotland, where the onions were replaced with heartier leeks. The first known recipe was printed in 1598, though the name “cock-a-leekie” did not come into use until the 18th century. “Scotch broth” is a related soul-warming favorite.

Now, you may find summer to be an odd time for a hearty chicken and onion soup like this one. However, in San Francisco July is one of our coldest and foggiest months of the year. We have had highs of 60° and fog nearly every day this month. (Karl has been visiting for a very long time…) This rather Scottish weather lends it’s self well to a warm brothy soul-healing soup. (And maybe a dram of scotch, come evening.)

Traditionally this soup features hearty peppered chicken, mounds of thick leaks, sometimes rice or barley, and oddly, prunes. As I am currently aiming toward less grain in my diet, I substituted the rice or barley with some thick cut back bacon. I also used one of my favorite kitchen tools: my Instant Pot. Olive oil butter garlic and pepper were layered in first, followed by a basic mirepoix.

There are many, many ways you can cut an onion. I actually went ahead and used a finely diced sweet yellow onion, along with the garlic, in the butter and caramelized it because I enjoy the flavor it imparts to the broth. Yes, this will make a very onion-y soup!

Next came a giant pile of thinly sliced leeks. One recipe I found calls for 12 small leeks; I decided that three giant ones were roughly equivalent. The other primary traditional seasoning is Bayleaf, and of course, pepper.

The old simple Scottish recipes call for boiling a whole chicken overnight, and reducing the broth before removing the meat from the carcass. I wasn’t in the mood for that process this week, although last week I did, in fact, do just that with the remains of a five buck cluck from Costco. This week, I added some chicken breasts and thighs from the freezer along with some Better-than-Bullion. And, that’s about it.

It really is pretty much that simple:

  • Butter/olive oil (I use both.)
  • Garlic, just a little
  • Black pepper, ground
  • Chicken
  • Leaks
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • A few Bayleaves
  • A sprinkle of other herbs, of your choosing
  • Rice/barley
  • And/or bacon
  • I will garnish with some dried fruit, probably apricots and cherries. I don’t believe I have prunes this week. And, owing to a habit of my great aunt Margaret’s, I adore a dollop of sour cream on my chicken soup. All in, including pulling everything out, chopping everything up, washing the cutting board and knife and putting everything away, and hitting start on the Instant Pot, this was about 20 minutes of prep time.
  • Pera – A Mediteranian Affair

    When was the last time you ate so much you were uncomfortably full? When the food was so delicious you just kept eating even after you were beyond sated? Well, tonight, I found myself doing just that.

    We had friends coming for dinner, and my Frenchman suggested we have a glass of wine in and then go out. Well, I’d been dreaming about the apricot desert I recalled at our favorite local Turkish place, so that’s where we went…

    After an over-the-top spread of cheeses and smoked fish and fruit and wine at home, we headed out.

    “Pera, A Mediterranean Affair” is one of the many fantastic restaurants on Potrero Hill – close enough to walk except for the three 20• grade hills between!

    http://www.perasf.com/

    I was too busy eating to remember to take pictures of everything, but we had quite a feast even though we had already partaken of many delicious appetizers and wine at home.

    We started with the trio of dips, which includes hummus, tzatziki, and patlican salata… and two orders of spanakopita. From there we had half the menu!

    A favorite dish of ours is the Manti: a ravioli-like pillow of heaven cooked in a yogurt sauce, drizzled with paprika butter and sprinkled with sumak dust. Amazing. The table was also filled with Kabak Mucver – zucchini patties and Iskender – A beautiful skirt steak with tomato.

    Pera is definitely a place to come with a party of people who like to share. All of the options are delicious, and generous portions allow several people to each have a bite. The restaurant itself is beautiful: cozy while still feeling open, traditional art, beautiful hand-chiseled pewter glassware. The owners are charming, and sweet. Our waiter is usually one of the owners, Matin. He always remembers me and is very sweet. It is one of the hallmarks of a great local business when they know their regulars and go out of their way to make everybody feel special.

    Finally, after we were so full we could hardly handle it, it was time for Turkish coffee and dessert. The apricots stuffed with marscapone cheese and rolled in crushed pistachio are every bit as good as they sound. Every. Bite. I dream about them when I’ve been away too long. The baklava was also exceptional – we had three servings among the five of us, and a serving of a truly beautiful vanilla bean gelato. Topped it all off with Turkish coffee for a truly decadent and indulgent evening.

    Just for You cafe, a little Bayou by the Bay

    Just over the hill from the Hidden Cottage is one of our favorite brunch places. This fine Easter Monday, we had family in town and decided to indulge in the fresh-baked fabulousness that is Just For You. It’s everything you want in a local cafe: casual, easy, welcoming, hearty, and delicious.

    Every time I arrive, I’m greeted in the same jovial manner by the same jovial host, who says “Good Morning! We’ve been waiting for you!” At this point, he recognizes me, and I get an authentic smile to go along with my hearty welcome. Sure enough, he pulls together a table for six in no time flat and we settle in. If you were to go on, say, a Saturday at say 10am, you would get to add your name to a growing wait list. It’s that good. And, if the weather cooperates, you can enjoy being sidewalk seated on the public parklet just outside their door.

    We didn’t get them today, but this is one of a few places in town where you can get real, good, grits. There’s a nice variety of eggs, pancakes & french toast, New Orleans & Mexican specialties, California classics, sandwiches & burgers, salads, home-made sausages & breads, hot plates, desserts, and always some daily specials. All their bread-goods are made in house from scratch, and they even now carry some wheat-free options. Plus: It’s the only place I go in town to get NOLA-style beignets. Oh yeah.

    They’re also known for their neighborhood vibe and their quirky decor and signage.  The walls are covered with a bevy of music and concert paraphernalia as well as homages to New Orleans and diner culture.  A quick glance through the menu will keep you smiling with things like their description of grits, and reminders to keep your cell phone off the table. Here are a few smile-provoking images:

    This visit, we had a Gregg’s scramble, two orders of the huevos rancheros with the YOWZA! verde sauce made with chicken broth, some biegnets, a burger, some fruit… You know.  A hearty mix of dishes to appeal to young and old, all served with house-made bready treats, and all delicious. We come here again, and again.  When you come to SF, put this on your list of local hang outs.  It’s easy to get to: Take the Muni T line out past the ball park and hop off at 22nd.  Walk just around the corner and look for the parklet and the line of people; You can’t miss it.

    Learn more on their website:
    http://www.justforyoucafe.com/

    What’s your favorite local diner?

        

        

    Matterhorn Magnificence

    Three years ago this week, I found myself at a charming authentic Swiss restaurant, with a charming French man. At the time, I didn’t know I was on a date; today, we visited again for our anniversary dinner #1. (We celebrate several anniversaries.) 

    Upon arrival, owner Brigitte Thorpe welcomed us – and recognized us from our few previous visits. This is the kind of place you always feel welcomed – the ambiance and staff together make you want to come back again and again.  The restaurant has a nice open feeling along with several cozy seating alcoves and tonight we were tucked into a corner table. When they describe the restaurant on its website as a “casual, smart Alpine setting,” it’s clear they are referring to the warm wood and quaint decor, but it’s also clear they mean they want you to feel at home. 

    Swiss travel posters line the hallway leading to the main door. Visitors arrive at a doorway into a wood-paneled room full of warmth and Swiss culture. With knotty-pine wood paneled walls, and sweet wooden benches lining the walls it’s easy to feel transported – folksy European music, troll masks, flags, floor rugs, linens… having traveled to Switzerland before I can say this place is surprisingly authentic. And a big dose of that come from Brigitte’s welcome. Her staff echo the same warmth, and our server was attentive and knowledgeable.

    We opted for the Fondue Allemande “The Smoky One” – a fondue blended of smoked cheeses that was tremendously good.Think liquid smoked gouda spiked with white wine… unbelievably good.  Our dinner came with a delicious side salad, with fresh oranges and dried cranberries in a light, fresh vinegary dressing. We ordered a side of potatoes and one of fresh baby bella mushrooms. Our server suggested we put our mushrooms into the pot to warm up, which turned out to be great advice. Our potatoes became lovely little smashed starch beds to soak up the drippings from our fondue. These yummy small sides were a great addition to the bite-sized french bread bites served along side. The bread baked onsite is fresh and has a soft crust and open crumb perfect for soaking up the bubbling liquid cheese. 

    The wine selection is decent – we chose a bottle of Sav Blanc from Bordeaux recommended by Brigitte, and enjoyed a strong coffee at the end of our meal. I wish we had had room for desert, but then again I think it may take me several extra hours at the pool this week to make up for dinner! 

    I love this place, and am sad to say that they will gone in a little over a year. After 25 years in business, the Thorpes will be closing their little restaurant – Brigitte tells me they will spend time on the golf courses around Sarasota, FL and enjoy retirement. She is looking forward to serving fondue and raclette to friends at dinner parties in her new home in late 2018, but until then, if you have a chance to get over to Pac Heights and can find a place to park on Van Mess, you are sure to enjoy an authentic, delicious meal.

    Brunch for friends… with a Bang!

    Today, I invited a big group of friends to come see my newest client’s space at the Palace of Fine Arts. I’m working with a neat organization at an incredible location, and thought it would be an unexpected and fun place for a social get together.

    Of course, anytime you’re going to be seeing friends, feeding them is half the fun! My social circle is a fun-loving and diverse crew of folks from all manner of backgrounds – busy, intelligent professionals who enjoy cultural activities and time together celebrating life. For a while, a core of the group had ties to Minnesota, and so we named ourselves the MN Mafia. As we realized the group was growing beyond just the Midwest connections, we renamed ourselves for another thing we all love; we’re now the Champagne Mafia. Think concerts at the park, competitive urban picnicking, museum adventures, day trips to wine country…

    Today’s meal challenge: a large group of people, size unknown due to last minute additions and cancellations. We’d be doing a tour first, so brunch would have to be something that wouldn’t need to be served hot and also didn’t need to be kept cold. Vegetarian, and maybe even a vegan option or two, no peppers, nothing spicy. Easy to transport from home. About an hour of total prep/cooking time that would also have to include time to shower… Easy! Frittata.  And, of course, mimosas. And maybe a doughnut or two, if there was time to stop and pick some up. Here’s how it went down, instruction style:

    Step one: Warm up the oven. Don’t bother checking to see if anything is inside. Crank it up high, because it’s 7am and you’re cold.

    Step two: Get out the mixed baby red and yellow potatoes. Only half of them, because you’re not totally awake and not sure how many you should use. Quarter them. Begin thinking you probably didn’t need to turn the oven up quite so far. Get out an onion. Slice it in half. Then rinse it – this takes the sting out and loosens the paper outer layer. Begin chopping it up small. Think one more time about the oven being too hot and decide to turn it off after you finish slicing. Get out the other half of the potatoes and quarter those, too.

    Step three: Startle at a loud *POP!* as your giant Pyrex lasagna pan, left empty and forgotten on the bottom shelf of the oven from its most recent duty as a steam bath for bread baking, bursts into a thousand pieces.

    Step four: Realize what the sound was. Curse softly to yourself and recognize that your intuition told you to check that a few minutes ago. Curse yourself for blowing up your lasagna pan. Congratulate yourself on not slicing off any fingers when you jumped at the sound. Rinse your hands and turn off the oven. Open the door, and take in the damage… At least you’re now awake, and no longer cold.

    Step five: Nothing to do about the glass until the oven cools down, so finish chopping the potatoes, onions, and half a bulb of fresh garlic. Layer a medium mixing bowl as follows: potatoes, onions, garlic, salt, olive oil. This way the garlic and onion will permeate the olive oil as it marinades the potatoes.

    Step six: Now, fetch your herb scissors and gathering basket and go out to the garden. Gather sage, rosemary and oregano – at least you think it’s oregano. It might be basil, but both plants are so woody and leggy after the winter it’s almost hard to tell. Cut a stalk/branch of both. Head back to the kitchen, and bring along the gardening gloves. Realize it would be easy to change the mood by turning on some music – find a nice indie folk rock mix on Pandora, but don’t turn it up too loudly because you don’t want to wake your partner. Remember you meant to get out your apron.

    Step seven: The oven is still too hot to mess with the broken glass chunks, so go back to chopping vegetables. Rinse the green beans, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower. Chop them up very small – tiny, maybe 1″, smaller than bite sized. Then, wash the herbs you just gathered. Layer your veg in a large mixing bowl as you chop so you don’t crowd your cutting board or make a huge mess on your counter.

    Step eight: Give in to the inevitable: You won’t be able to bake your fritatta if you don’t clean the glass up and turn the oven back on. Put on the gardening gloves, fetch the trash can, and start picking up and tossing the shards of your once-lovely large Pyrex pan. Congratulate yourself on remembering you own garden gloves to protect your fingers as your carefully pick up the pieces. Realize your fingers are too thick to fit in the crevices.  Wish you had a shop vac handy.  Then realize the bottom of your incredibly fabulous and ingeniously-designed oven LIFTS OUT for cleaning!  Get all the large pieces by hand, and then go find the dustbuster in the bedroom where you inevitably wake up your sweetie who has somehow managed to sleep through an hour of chopping, explosions, cursing, music, and entering/exiting the house to the garden. Finish cleaning the entire interior of your stove, because you might as well at this point, right?  Then, close the door and turn it on to about 325-350. It’s now about 8:15am.

    Step nine: Answer your barely-awake sweetie, who is gawking at the mountain of vegetables and the vacuum cleaner next to the oven, by telling him, “No, we are not having a large salad for breakfast.” Realize you can’t find your parchment paper, and ask said sweetie if he’d go find it downstairs.  Kisses when he comes back, and then line your two big baking sheets with parchment. Flip your bowl of prepped potatoes onto one of the parchment lined sheets, and massage the garlic- and onion-infused oil into all the edges of your potatoes, spreading evenly into the corners of the pan.  Lay a few sprigs of freshly washed, freshly harvested rosemary over the whole mess and stick it right into your nicely cleaned re-heating oven.

    Step ten:  Now, prep the eggs: Start cracking, and wonder how many people will show up.  Think about that a fair bit while you keep cracking, and question whether you might add just one more.  Decide that if you’re cracking 10 eggs, you might as well do 12… and then do two more just to be on the safe side, in case extra friends show up.  Wonder what else you put into fritatta, and then remember you don’t have milk.  Oh, but you do have yogurt.  So get out the yogurt and add a few dollops to the eggs as you begin to whisk them.  Realize you probably picked the wrong sized bowl to hand-wisk 14 eggs and that your clumpy yogurt is never going to get smooth by hand, and transfer the whole mess to your Kitchen Aid, where you should have started in the first place.  Turn it on, thankful you don’t have to hand whisk it, and begin to think about other herbs.  Obviously, oregano, parsley.  Also add salt, pepper, and cumin.  Because eggs are delicious with cumin.  Really.

    Step eleven: Make sure your parchment is plenty big, with tall sides and nicely creased edges.  Spread evenly the whole mess of veg into the corners of the pan.  Turn off the Kitchen Aide, which has meanwhile perfectly beaten the eggs into a nice airy whip with no yogurt lumps, and pour the egg/herb mix all over the veg.  Tip the pan to evenly distribute the eggs.  Remember you didn’t add the cheese. Find the shredded mozzarella in the fridge, and scatter a handful or three across the pan; massage the cheese into the eggs and veg as though it had been there all along. Slide it into the oven and close the door.  Set the adorable timer on the little retro wall clock you bought yourself for your birthday to about half an hour, as you note it’s now about 9:30am.  Go shower.

    Step twelve:  Admire your beautifully browning potatoes and fritatta in the oven.  Remove both pans from the oven to begin to cool on the counter. Pull out two more lengths of parchment and some nice clean dish towels. Putter around, getting dressed and ready to leave. When you’re just about ready to load the car, lay a fresh sheet of parchment over the fritatta, and then layer a nice clean dishtowel, folded in half. Place the second pan, with the potatoes on top of the fritatta pan, and then add a parchment sheet and another clean towel. This way, they’ll stay warm and stack nicely in the trunk.  Find your car keys, which are not where they belong.  Remember the champagne.  Also remember you promised to bring a friend’s left-behind umbrella and congratulate yourself on remembering something. Leave the house right on time a few minutes after 10am, with your sweetheart, a lovely pan of perfectly baked fritatta and some golden-roasted potatoes that smell divine.

    Step thirteen: Stop by the grocery for orange juice, and snag a few extra bottles of champagne and some donuts from the bakery case while you’re there because they look fresh and smell yeasty and sweet. Arrive on time to your destination, feeling remarkably accomplished for 11am on a Sunday.

    Last step, fourteen: Hug your friends as they arrive.  Have a fun tour.  Toast to future possibilities.  And, enjoy a lovely brunch together on a sunny Sunday morning.

    The Magic of Instant Pot

    I was waxing poetic with my friend about my new Instant Pot today, so I thought I’d make a special post where I can share with her the fabulousity of this device and a few of the glorious items we make. You don’t have one?  Well, let’s remedy that:

    This image is of a pretty straight-forward hamburger soup: Onions and ground beef on saute; add some garlic while it’s browning.  Then throw in some frozen mixed veg from Costco.  Add a can of tomatoes.  And I kinda think that might have been it?  Probably oregano and basil. Definitely salt and pepper.  Pretty simple and straightforward.  Then press the “soup” button and come back in the allotted time for a delicious dinner!

    Lentil soup is about as easy as anything, too: Saute setting first for onions and garlic.  Add celery and carrots.  Once that’s all in, dump in the rinsed/picked-through lentils and a bunch of seasoning.  I like cumin, and I added some Braggs aminos this most recent batch, as well as whatever green herbs smell good to me that day.  Fill it up with water, and put on the lid; hit the “soup” button and et voila!

    Sourdough: Round one!

    Today was the big day! I started my first scratch sourdough loaf today, and feel pretty good with the results.

    So about three weeks ago, I started my first sourdough starter…  And it worked!  Daily feedings for the first week or two, then every other day.  It bubbled, grew, and crusted over, and got good and sour.  A couple times I thought I screwed up because I missed a feeding or didn’t cover it.  I was surprised how well it went.

    I think it went so well because I read a lot, and read some more, and then reread.  I was especially glad to have ordered the book Tartine Bread.  I’ve always wanted to know how to really make good bread, so I have made it my 2017 kitchen goal to really learn bread.  I was inspired to do this when a friend shared this link on social media around the new year: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/sourdough-starter-recipe

    This post made it sound entirely possible, and since I live in San Francisco – a town famous for our unique sourdough – I figured it was worth a shot.  Then, I ordered the Tartine Bread book.  On pages 45/46 this treasure of a book gives a different perspective on starting your own starter than did the article from King Arthur – but the same basic idea: Flour, Water, Love and Patience.  It takes the perspective of a baker – referencing things in terms of ratios and percentages.  This will, I’m sure, be helpful to me in the long run but I decided it was going to be trickier for me to be successful this first time and so I opted for a measuring system I’m more familiar with – you’ll see that below.

    I think the most important advice I read was that this whole process is as much about intuition and “feel” as it is about perfect measurements and science.  Your dough and levin will take different amounts of time to develop depending on a number of factors: weather, temperature, humidity, and of course local bacteria.

    One peice of advice I found helpful was how clearly Tartine Bread describes the smells you’ll want to identify to know your leaven is ready. “Sweet in an over-ripe fruit sort of way.” “Sour but not vinegary.”  Another great thing to know is the float test: If your leaven is ready, it will float. So, to test it, simply drop a spoonful into a bowl of room-temperature water.  If it sinks, it needs more time to ferment and ripen.

    I was a little surprised by how looooong this method took to raise – most of the day – but I was patient with it, and my patience paid off!  If you have less time, feel free to follow a number of other recipes that integrate active dry yeast in addition to the fresh sourdough starter. But either way, plan ahead and be sure you have the time to be relaxed.  The exciting thing about this process is that you’re working with a living breathing organism.

    Ingredients

    • 1 cup “fed” sourdough starter, prepped the night before, as described above.
    • 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
    • 5 cups unbleached flour
    • 1 tablespoon sugar
    • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
    • 5 minutes, overnight, 15 minutes, 2ish hours, 20 minutes, 4 hours, 5 minutes, 2 hours, 30 minutes.

    Here’s what I did:

    1. Combine the prepared starter, water, and 3 cups of the flour. I used my kitchenaid for this step, and my bread hook to beat it vigorously for a minute or three.
    2. I used the same towel I’d been using on my starter to cover the bowl, and let rest at room temperature for an hour, then into my 100-degree warming oven for another 2-3 hours. At this point, you could refrigerate overnight, for about 12 hours – but I didn’t.  I just let it raise in the warm oven and I think it did well.  Next time, I might do an overnight rise…

    3. When you’ve completed the first rise, add the remaining ingredients: 2 cups of flour, sugar, and salt.  You can also add a “kick” by including citric acid here, but don’t use more than about1/2 a teaspoon.  At this step, I hand kneaded everything together on my big wooden island.  This is the therapeutic part – but I didn’t over-knead.  The goal is to bring the elements together to form a smooth dough, and then form a ball.
    4. I have a beautiful large wide shallow bowl from the 1930s that is perfect for this next step: Spray whatever large container you’re going to use for this raising with oil.  I use my Misto and some nice olive oil for this, but if you have cooking spray that will work or you can smear it with butter by hand. Lay your dough ball in the bowl, and cover it; A great tip I got was to spray a piece of plastic wrap with oil and cover the bowl with that first.  I dampened the dishtowel down with water and laid it over the top, before tucking it back in the warm oven.  Allow your dough to rise in a covered bowl until it’s relaxed, smoothed out, and larger. Depending on the vigor of your starter, it may become REALLY puffy, as pictured; or it may just rise a bit. This can take anywhere from 2 to 5 hours. Understand, again, that sourdough bread (especially sourdough without added yeast) is as much art as science; everyone’s timetable, each time, will be different. So please allow yourself to go with the flow! 


       

    5. Gently divide the dough in half – I used my pastry knife because I didn’t want to deflate it anymore than I had to.  I was really happy with the height.  Then, gently shape the dough into two oval loaves, and place them on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. I love baking sheets, but I’ve also been reading about dutch ovens and several other bread methods that I will try in the future.  This is the third rise, and it’s where I made what I consider one of three minor mistakes: You cover the loaves with lightly greased plastic wrap and let rise until very puffy, about 2 to 4 hours. Don’t worry if the loaves spread more than they rise; they’ll pick up once they hit the oven’s heat. Mine spread more than they rose – and part of that is because I had the plastic wrap on too tight.  Next time, I’ll leave it loose and add a damp towel again.  I think the moisture will make a difference.  Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 425°F.
    6. (This was my second minor mistake: I missed this step altogether.) Spray the loaves with lukewarm water. This is to help form the crust.
    7. Make two fairly deep diagonal slashes in each; a serrated bread knife, wielded firmly, works well here.  This part was fun – it really works, and it’s super soft. A serrated blade will be better because it will keep you from using too much pressure and flattening your now-puffy loaves.

    8. Now, it’s time to bake!  Slip the loaves in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until they are a very deep golden brown. I will add: Getting the humidity right is a key part of this step, and to ensure I was getting some extra moisture in my oven, I stuck a casserole pan filled with water on the lower shelf like a steam tray.  This also helps the bread to form a nice crust. I carefully set my alarm, and by the time 25 minutes had passed my loaves were a little too well-done. Another time, I’ll set a shorter alarm to check them sooner – but they’re sill good.  Be sure to remove the loaves from the pan and allow them to cool on a rack. Before mine were cooled, I buttered them to crisp up the crust, which also gave them a nice shine.

     

    So, all in a successful first try!  I’m looking forward to next time – and to continuing to tend my little starter in it’s new home in my fridge! Daddy found me this antique crock – it’s an old butter churn, and while do have the (rare) wooden tamper for making butter, I plugged the hole with a cork that now doubles as a nice lid handle. Should do me well in my fridge, until next bake!

    New Year, New Starter

    I’ve been wanting to learn how to make truly excellent bread for several years. Really, since a dear friend of mine took an artisan bread baking course a decade ago, shared several of his gloriously beautiful and incredibly delicious loaves, and told me a few tips and tricks. But I never have found the class, or the time. So, this year, I decided I will experiment with bread! Lower gluten, higher protein, gorgeous looking loaves for gift giving and enjoying.

    So, today – a rainy, windy, stormy Sunday – I have begun my very own sourdough starter. The old fashioned way: flour, water, love, patience, and time.

    I also read a bunch of articles online, and ordered the book Tartine Bread, so I will know what to do with this new sourdough friend I’m growing.

    Here’s day #1, freshly started. Wish me luck!

    Hot Buttered Rum Snaps

    So, once again, I hosted my favorite holiday/birthday extravaganza a week before Christmas. And, once again, I whipped up a big bowl of Hot Buttered Rum batter. And, for the first time, I wound up with leftovers – A lot of left overs! 

    So what do you do with a large container of creamed butter with brown and powdered sugars? Sounds like all-but-cookies to me! And thats what they became.

    This is the art of baking, where a little science applies but if you get too stuck on portions you’ll never get passed, well, creamed butter. 

    I estimated (eyeballed) and decided to aim toward a standard sugar or chocolate chip cookie. I added a couple eggs, a splash of vanilla, roughly two teaspoons of baking powder, a generous pinch of salt and the remaining heavy whipping cream I also had in the fridge. Into my handy-dandy Kitchen Aid mixer, and away we dough… (see what I did there?!)

    1. When that all looked right, I added flour until the consistency looked right, too – sticky and thick. Enough to hold together. But I got it a little too dense and this is where things turned exciting: Rum balls need rum, right? So, to wet the dough a bit for better consistency, I splashed in a little spiced rum and mixed it just a bit more. Perfect! 

    These being test cookies, I decided to trial a couple of shapes. I hand-rolled two and rough scooped a third. I used a fork to depress one of the rolled ones and added a pinch of salt – like a peanut butter cookie. After 8 mins,they weren’t  quite done but by 10 mins they were perfect. My neice was helping, and we decided to go with rolled but not forked. So another pan in and away we went. They were good – crispy outside, chewy inside, and they expanded into round discs, like you might expect from a sugar or chocolate chip cookie.

    After rolling two sheets of 10 or so cookies each, I forgot the second pan in the oven and discovered a crispy golden cookie, quite a lot like a snap!  Yum – a little crumbly and hard on it’s own, they’ve been great with coffee all week.

    Even after those two sheets, I ended up with enough dough to form two good-sized logs of dough for later, which I double wrapped and stuck in the freezer. 
    So that’s my Make-Good story of the week – what clever things have you done with leftovers this week?