Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Little Holiday Cheer...

I want to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas...Happy Holidays...Happy Hanukkah...Fabulous Festivus or whatever it is that you happen to celebrate at this time of year.

Enjoy the time you spend with your family or if you can't be with your family, then the friends who have become your family.

May it be filled with joy, love, lots of laughter, and of course, good food with even better company.

And because I like it old doesn't get much better than this...

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Twelve Pounds of Flour Later...

...and the oven is getting a wee bit of a break...well, not so much, I'm roasting peppers in it at the moment.  Since the month started, it's been a pretty non-stop whirlwind of sugar, flour, butter and baking powder in the kitchen.  This year I've also been a little obsessed with baking savouries....we're talking crackers.    I'll be honest...I've been pretty selfish with those.  Oh biscuits have found there way into goodie baskets for the family and my Girls...but the crackers don't get much further than me.  They're so easy to make and you can add pretty much anything to the basic dough.

I originally made Olive and Rosemary crackers from The Purple Foodie last year and loved them.  I made more yesterday.  But it was a couple of weeks ago when I was looking through my King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion book and found the recipe for Sesame Thins.  It doesn't get much easier than flour, water, oil, salt and sesame seeds.  I'll tell you one reason I love this recipe.  It's yeast-less.  I'm still working on the yeast-baking skills and it's going all right.  I made grissini the other day and they turned out wonderfully.  Though I'm the only one that knows it.  (Selfish again...I'm not afraid to admit it!)

I played with that Sesame Thins recipe.  I have a jar of blue cheese stuffed olives in the fridge and after a Friday night dirty martini I thought how cool would that be in a cracker?   Whether the people at Ketel One vodka thought that's where their product would wind up, I don't know...but it's a winner with me.  Of course, you can make them without the alcohol as it only gives it a slight punch in taste to the cracker, but if you're so inclined to make a little something fun for your holiday cocktail party...try it.  Or be totally selfish, buy a nice wedge of aged provolone from the neighbourhood Italian deli and make a dinner out of cheese and crackers.

Dirty Martini Crackers
(Adapted from King Arthur Flour's Sesame Thins)

1/2 cup chopped green olives (stuffed or not)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
4 tablespoons vodka (optional)
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 to 3/4 cup water

Add 2 tablespoons of vodka to the chopped olives and let marinate for about an hour.  Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.  Mix flour, salt, and oil in a bowl and combine with fingers until you have a crumbly dough.  Add olives, garlic and the last 2 tablespoons of vodka.  Work with fingers to combine.  Start with a half cup of water to bring all the ingredients together to make a more cohesive dough.  If still dry, add more water slowly.  Knead for a couple of minutes, then turn dough onto a flour-covered board.  

Roll dough out to 1/4 inch thickness or less.  Cut into whatever shapes you like.  I used a small  (1.5 inch) biscuit cutter with the fluted edges.  You can also just lay the rolled dough onto a baking sheet and cut with a pizza cutter.  

Bake for 25-30 minutes until bottoms are golden brown.  Definitely begin to check on them at the 25-minute mark depending upon how hot your oven runs.  

Dirty Martini Crackers

Sesame Thins and Olive Rosemary Crackers
Chocolate Crackles
Earl Grey Cookies

Grissini with Smoked Salt
Cherry Chestnut Drops
Cinnamon Shortbread

Monday, December 5, 2011


I turned the oven on this morning at 10:30 a.m. and finally turned it off a little after 9 p.m.  It certainly was a baking day.  Three kinds of biscotti and two kinds of crackers.  I like finding a 'basic' recipe that can be well adapted to additions or simplification.  Today it happened twice!  

Today I made Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti, Cranberry Pecan Biscotti, and what I think is now my favourite biscotti, Alice Waters' Anise Almond Biscotti.  I'm going to go out on a limb and proclaim that biscotti have to be my favourite cookie.  You can pretty much add anything you want to it and I love how it can be part of an enjoyable ritual.  While you can just munch away at it, the preferred method of sitting down with a biscotti or two and an espresso or cup of tea to dip your cookie in and taking your time to savour the flavours is so appealing.

The 'To Bake' list keeps changing slightly because I keep coming across various posts from magazines or other blogs and thinking how great it would be to make something else.  We'll see where it all ends up.  I managed to get photos of the biscotti today, but the crackers will have to wait.  I love the shorter days, though I don't love missing out on a couple of extra hours to take photos.

I also have Cinnamon Shortbread on the brain and may just get the dough ready tonight and bake them up tomorrow.

Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti
(Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis' Citrus Biscotti in Everyday Italian)

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon espresso powder (optional)
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup toasted hazelnuts, chopped

Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees and place hazelnuts on a baking sheet.  Toast nuts for 10-15 minutes, transfer to dishtowel to remove skins and chop roughly.  In large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, cocoa, and espresso powder.  Mix well and set aside.  In another bowl, combine sugar, eggs, and almond extract.  Whisk until well combined.  Add flour mixture gradually to make dough.  Stir in hazelnuts and mix to combine.  Dough will be soft and sticky.  Allow to sit for 5 minutes.

On a floured board, split dough in two equal pieces and form logs about 14 inches long and 3 inches across.  Transfer to parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake for 30-35 minutes.  Remove from oven and let stand for 5 minutes.  On cutting board, cut logs in half-inch slices and place face down on baking sheet.  Bake for another 10 minutes, then turn cookies over and bake for an additional 10 minutes.  

While you're waiting for the biscotti to finish baking, you can always make yourself that cup of espresso...

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Beauty in the Flesh

Thanksgiving is once again behind us, it's December and Christmas is a mere 2 days shy of 3 weeks away.  Do you ever wonder where the time goes?  Or just how quickly the months go by now?  I hope your Thanksgiving (for those that celebrated) was full of love, family, and lots of good food.  I skype'd with the family, then spent mine with Jill and her family and brought homemade Oreos.  (Yes, they have made it to this year's Christmas Baking List).

I think I've been in a little funk lately.  Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure this happened last year too.  Time to shake myself out of it, because I've got a lot of cooking and baking to do over these next three weeks!  The past week was also memorable because I was asked to make appetizers for seventeen...and GOT PAID to do it!  I think it officially counts as my first paid job to cook!  Woo!  It wasn't anything too too fancy, as it had to be ready and delivered the day before Thanksgiving, but I think it all turned out great.  Baby steps, right?  I also had one of my co-workers ask if I would do the same thing for her.  You bet I would!  This may be the start that I'm looking for.

The next couple of weeks are going to be filled with lots of flour, sugar, and eggs.  Think homemade Oreos, Italian Polenta Cookies, biscotti, shortbread, and a few new additions both sweet and savoury.  I'm just hoping I haven't picked too many to accomplish...though somehow I seem to get it all together and sent off in time.

But let me tell you about what I found last night.  I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a couple of items and in the produce section, I was looking at the apples.  At first, I decided that I didn't need any, knowing I still had a couple Golden Delicious and a few Granny Smiths in the fruit bowl at home.  Then...I saw them.  Deep red...but not the shiny red-red Red Delicous...nor the mottled red and greenish gold of Fujis, Galas, Jonagolds, or Honeycrisps.  No...these were darker and decidedly more intriguing.  The skin is closer to burgundy.  The handwritten sign above them read 'Arkansas Black.'  Is it wrong to think of an apple as 'sexy?'  The Arkansas Black is sultry. Like a beautiful girl with full, pouty lips, and long hair worn with a Veronica Lake sweep.  I googled and this is what I found out through the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture site

The Arkansas Black Apple is recognized by early sources as having been first produced in 1870 in the orchard of a Mr. Brathwaite, which was then about one and a half miles northwest of Bentonville (Benton County). The fruit, a variety of Winesap, is usually round and of medium size. The flesh is yellow, fine grained, crisp, juicy, and aromatic, while the skin is dark red to black, hence its name. It ripens in October or November, and the fruit keeps well though the storage season of two to four months. Originally, the tree was thought to be a seedling of the Winesap Apple. It is a true native apple grown in the Ozarks of both Arkansas and Missouri.

I haven't eaten one yet, but they smell amazing.  I'm thinking of baking one for breakfast tomorrow with a big bowl of oatmeal.  That is, if I can stop looking at them long enough to actually eat one.

Of course, there's a song to go along too...