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Changing seasons, weather and holidays invoke varying tastes and desires – to me.  I’m not going to speak for you, so don’t get all up in my face about how much you love candy cane bark throughout the year.  However, there is one candy that really transcends at least two seasons and four holidays: caramel.  You can eat caramel in the fall, whether plain or draped over tart apples with a popsicle stick through its core.  Then caramel milks its way through the rest of winter while invoking comfort and security.  Security? YES.  Each bite of a soft caramel is pure security if for no other reason (that I can find) other than it invokes home, warmth, fireplaces and…security.  Wouldn’t you want to gift that to someone?

First, whip up your favorite batch of caramel, and cut it up into small servings.

BUT, before you wrap it up all cute in individual wrappers made of wax paper (see – homey, cute and sweet!), temper your favorite chocolate in a double boiler.  When it has cooled down somewhat, take a regular/two-tined serving fork or your favorite candy dipping set and dip your caramel in to the chocolate.

However, be careful to get enough of the chocolate off our caramel so as to not develop chocolate feet on the bottoms.  Having the right tools when dipping will also immensely help in avoiding this.  However, if this advice fails you, rest assured that these feet can be amputated as soon as the chocolate has set.

It’s one thing to give the gift of security, as best as chocolate covered caramel can, but it is another thing to give the gift of ugly.  You HAVE to pretty it up, which means nothing more than waiting for the chocolate to set then drizzling chocolate over it.

Do you see the difference?  DO YOU SEE THE DIFFERENCE!? No feet and super sophisticated.  Your friends, family, mail carrier and paper delivery person will be so excited to receive such a beautiful and tasty gift that your friends and family will forever be indebted to you because they will want this treat in years to come.  Your mail will never be returned to you even when you did not include enough postage and your paper will always be at your stoop on time, unless your neighbor steals it.

See?  Security in caramel.

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Rugelach is just about the most adorable little pastry (with the exception of course of petits fours).  It is not only cute, but it’s fillings are limitless.  Wikipedia explains that rugelach means “creeping vine”, but it also explains that it means “little twist” but I thought I read somewhere that it means “little horn.”  I’m so confused and don’t know what to believe, but I can tell you a few things about rugelach:

  • It’s delicious
  • It looks like a conjugal product between a croissant and a Pilsbury Crescent
  • When you bake it, you need to double-pan it up.

Really, these are the most important things to know.  Oh, and here is the recipe from Ina Garten, one of few Food Network stars who is there based on merit and not how much cleavage she can show from a single camera angle.  Anyway…

You start out with a cream cheese based dough.  After mixing it in your mixing bowl knead it on the counter wit a little bit of flour until you can form it into a disk (like pie), wrap the dough in plastic and keep it in your refrigerator for at least an hour.  If you keep it in the refrigerator for more than an hour or a day, you may just need to take it out to warm up a bit before working with it – not a big deal.  When you can work with it, try using as little flour as you can while still having the ability to roll it out in a large circle since you don’t want/need to incorporate more flour than necessary in the dough.

I have a 14 inch round cake pan which I was able to use as a stencil and cut away any of the scraps.  I decided not to utilize the scraps in any future rugelach because I feared over-working the dough which, as we know, would result in a tough end-product – gross.

The, or, a school of thought on rugelach is that you have a wet ingredient and a dry one; apricot glaze and walnuts for instance, where you paint a layer of the glaze on the dough and then sprinkle it with nuts.

raspberry poppy and almond love

I followed that school in one batch, but got totally wild with the second batch where I merely chopped some bittersweet chocolate and combined it with nuts.  Like whoa.

As you can see, I did not cover all of the dough with filling but left room in the middle and on the outsides.

Because you will be rolling the dough and baking it, you certainly don’t want all of the delicious filling to go to waste when it bakes out of the middle.  Using a pizza cutter, or similar tool, cut the ingredient topped dough into triangles as you might a pizza.  The amount is really up to you and how large you rolled your dough out.  Then starting from out the outside and going in, roll each triangle into a croissant like shape.

You should see that I did not wrap each piece tightly.  It is a little loose so as to not squeeze out the ingredients as well as allow room for the dough to expand and puff out a bit during the baking process.  If at this point you want to freeze your rugelach to bake for later, you can.  They freeze nicely and you can take out as many or as few as you may need for a breakfast treat or a dessert table feature.  On this occasion, I baked half the batch and froze the other half, waiting until Thanksgiving to bake them.

When you DO  bake them, make sure to apply an egg wash (I prefer using a whole egg with a smidgen of milk, cream or whatever is on hand) and DOUBLE PAN your cookie sheets.  If you do not, the bottoms will burn before the tops look like they are finished.

Use the egg-wash as the glue that it is to sprinkle some of the filling on the tops of the rugelach so you and guests know what is inside the different little pastries!

If these little guys were animated, wouldn’t you just want to pinch their non-existent cheeks theyaresocute!?

If you’re like me (and you probably aren’t – snowflake theory), you have a lot of leftover pumpkin puree after you realized that your dreams of creating a million pies for Thanksgiving fell flat on its face when you discovered you aren’t feeding an army, but a family of eight.  You could certainly freeze it for the time being and pull it out when you feel like making pumpkin something or other.  Let’s be honest though – there are only three months in the year where you (read: I) feel comfortable eating pumpkin anything and September, October and November are long gone.  In an effort to not be wasteful, here are something things you can whip up with your leftover pumpkin puree (unless you DO feel comfortable chomping on pumpkin whatevers come January).

1)  Whole Wheat Pumpkin Scones

Easy peasy and pretty tasty.

The recipe only called for 1/2 Cup of pumpkin puree.  I found this unacceptable (considering how much puree I had…) and added an entire cup instead.

before baking

My only warning is that if you have never made anything with whole wheat, much less a bread recipe featuring only whole wheat (rather than a combination of WW and say regular bread flour), understand that it will be somewhat difficult to see when/if your product has baked through since you can’t judge based on the color.

baked!

As you can see, there was very little lift on these scones despite leaveners such as egg and 2 teaspoons of baking powder.  I don’t know for sure, but I would attribute such little lift to the fact that these scones contained 100% whole wheat flour, which is rather hefty.

Regardless, I love scones, and these were delicious and simple.

2) Pumpkin Cookies

This recipe is also as simple as can be.  However, what makes these cookies super fantastic, other than the fact that they contain just enough pumpkin, is that they are SOFT.  I find nothing more disappointing than hard cookies.  I won’t even eat my own cookies if they are older than three days.

Also, never forget that when making cookies, DO NOT OVER-BEAT the batter.  The longer you beat the wet and dry ingredients together, the tougher your end product will be.  Though I prefer soft cookies and some like crispy ones, no one likes tough cookies.  Remember: you are making cookies, not bread.

What is really great about these cookies, is that even cats like them as evidenced by Gene eating one on the floor when I turned my back.

3)  Pumpkin Cake with Cinnamon Ganache

I completely forgot that I made this!  Instead of pumpkin pie, I made this for our Thanksgiving table (along with apple lattice pie – natch).

TRUST that it looked way better in person – my camera phone certainly can’t do it justice.  Regardless, it was James Beard delicious as well.  I may have added more pumpkin than what the recipe called for (again), but I use my discretion for good.

4) Lastly, don’t forget…Pumpkin Pie

Unfortunately that’s all I have for pumpkin recipes this year.  I would really like some recipes that utilize pumpkin puree in entrées (I’m looking at you Caitlin) since I don’t really feel up for any more pumpkin loafs, cupcakes or much else requiring a lot of flour.  Thoughts?  Ideas?  Recipes, friends (all two of you)?  If not, then we shall close this chapter on autumn 2009.

Move over pumpkin, it’s time for peppermint, chocolate, pretzels, popcorn balls and fruit baskets.

Highview Pastures Farm

We are hosting Thanksgiving this year.  I/we have never hosted Thanksgiving before.  After the initial freak-out of “omfgwearehostingThanksgiving” I reminded myself that it will be fine, we had after all, hosted a homemade pizza party for 30 people last fall.  Because of this, my fear lied in the fact that it is Thanksgiving, a holiday rich in tradition, but not the company nor number of guests.  Eight people, the number we are hosting, is nothing to be concerned about since as usual, I will prepare too much food.  However, I WAS concerned about the turkey.  I called the Birchwood Cafe to see if I could still order a bird from Wild Acres and they put me on a wait list.  But what was I supposed to do until I find out if I get one or not!?  I took to the Minnesota Grown website, hosted by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, typed in my area code and the product I was interested in (poultry, natch).  I was lucky enough to stumble upon the family owned and run farm of HighView Pastures and with a $10 deposit I was able to secure a locally raised, free-range turkey.

I made that call last Monday and got to pick up our bird today in Farmington.  It is rare when I leave the 554XX or even 551XX zip codes, so to make the drive to the country is a bit of a haul for me.  But I was excited! – In the country, by myself, blaring lady GaGa, and despite driving behind really slow UPS trucks, I knew that this turkey farm was going to be fabu – and it was.

This isn’t the mailbox to the farm.  This is a mailbox a few farms away.  I missed it and had to turn around.

However, THIS is the front-yard of the farm and those oblong white guys…err ladies are TURKEYS.  There were turkey hens running around as well as a few Tom Turkeys.

Roaming all around were not just turkey hens and Tom Turkeys, but chickens and geese as well!  They didn’t care that I, a human, at three times their height, was roaming around their territory.  Nor did they seem to care that I drove a large car called a Corolla that could easily squish them.  They just wandered about “cluck, cluck, clucking” away and “gob, gob gobbling” as they walked.  They seemed so at peace.  I wonder if they were curious as to where half of their friends went?  Their other turkey friends who just disappeared yesterday and never came back?  Do birds have the mental capacity to think such thoughts?

Here is one of their brothers…or sisters.  Plucked, decapitated, and vacuum sealed.  The she-farmer thankfully gave me a bag to carry Turkey in.  I would have felt like an inconsiderate slob waltzing amongst the poultry outside, displaying their dead friend like some sick freak.

On the bright side of eating meat – this is where it’s at.  The bird was raised on a lovely farm, able to walk around freely, and had food made available to it as they wished.  Lastly the farmers, unlike Evil Poultry Corporation, did not inject their turkeys with saline thus making them appear and feel more plump and ultimately deceiving the customer.  Better yet, our turkey was ALIVE until just yesterday.  Up until yesterday, I’m sure it lived a happy life, or as happy a life turkeys expect to live.

In following the Cook’s Illustrated recipe for an old-fashioned stuffed turkey (apologies if you can’t view it as you may need to login), I separated the skin from the meat on the breasts, legs, and back with my gloved hand, though I did not remove the skin.  After separating it, I rubbed the meat with Kosher salt and wrapped the bird back up in plastic wrap since it should be salted and wrapped tightly for 24-48 hours.  In essence, I violated the bird, with salt, then mummified it and finished the job by putting it back in the cold, dark refrigerator.

There s/he is!  Alive yesterday.  Dead today.  In my refrigerator until Thursday.

The farm trip was delightful for a variety of reasons and I’m so glad that we were able to get such a happy turkey for Thanksgiving – something to be truly thankful for.

______

HighView Pasture sells s many other products such as eggs, pork, and beef.  Seriously, check them out!

As previously mentioned, I went to The Affair where I attended a chai demo given by cookbook author, chef, biologist and native Indian Raghavan Iyer.  After realizing that we have this book at home written by Iyer, I paged through until I found a recipe that contained all (or almost all) of the ingredients we already had at home and came upon chicken with potatoes.  I did end up going to the store to grab some ingredients for the spicy garam masaala, and in so doing, forgot the turmeric, and couldn’t locate unsweetened coconut (had sweetened at home though) nor dried Thai chillies and stupidly thought that dried chipotles would suffice.  For the most part they did, but the smokiness was nothing if not lame and the spiciness was somewhat lacking.

Since I am trying this new thing where I carefully read through a recipe before delving in, I noted that I desperately needed to make the spicy garam masaala before doing anything else.  In his demo and book Iyer explains the importance of using fresh spices because one spice has not one flavor, but six.  SIX guys!  It’s like this:

  • Flavor 1: whole seed
  • Flavor 2: ground whole seed
  • Flavor 3: Whole seed dry roasted
  • Flavor 4: Whole seed dry roasted and then ground
  • Flavor 5: Whole seed fried in hot oil (or clarified butter) 10-20 seconds until it has a nutty aroma
  • Flavor 6: Whole seed fried in hot oil (or clarified butter) 10-20 seconds until it has a nutty aroma, then removed from the oil and ground.

Had I not known the above, I would have been a complete slackass and used already ground spices, mixed them together and Called. It. A. Day.  Learning this spice secret is great; greater even than learning The Secret.  To create the spicy garam marsaala then, I used whole spices.  The freshness of them is unclear since I bought them from a grocer who has held them for who knows how long.  However, because I roasted the seeds myself, it has to help…right?

Whoa! It's my banner!

After I roasted the seeds a couple of minutes and let them cool, I took out a reserve coffee grinder (at the time we only had two – I mean this to infer that we now have three) and threw everything pictured above, plus the chipotles and ground it.  No more than a minute later I had a chipotle version of spicy garam marsaala.

Iyer says that this is only good for about a month in a container before it begins to smell and taste rancid.  I assume that the freezer could prevent this from happening as fast?  Regardless that is where mine no resides and I’ll just guess that it is OK for three months (and I just pulled that number out of the air since it lies between 32 days and forever).

I have now spent about a whole ten minutes prepping this part of the dinner (a component of which I only need 1 teaspoon).  Realistically, this was no more complicated than the recipe for the chicken with potatoes, or any recipe really (with the exception of this one).

I wedged the potatoes into eight pieces each and let them simmer in the skillet while I worked the coconut mixture; consisting of coconut, garlic, oil, coriander, and chilies (though truthfully I just used jalapeños).

When the coconut began to brown, I pulled the skillet from the heat, scraped the mixture into the food processor with the specified 1/2 cup of water and let it run a few minutes until it could not be processed anymore.  The seeds are not going to break down in a large processor like mine (11 Cup) and that is perfectly fine.

I started working on the chicken; cutting it up and pan frying it until golden brown.  At this point, everything came together; chicken, the potatoes you probably forgot about, the coconut mixture, spicy garam masaala, the tomatoes, salt, and turmeric.

When the chicken is cooked through, garnish with cilantro and perhaps make some rice!

A few weeks ago, The Heavy Table had a post looking for new blogs they could feature on their site.  Immediately I sent the link to Tracy to encourage her to submit HER blog.  She did so at the right time because she was the 50th person to do so, meaning she won tickets to The Affair for that weekend.  Because I am lucky, nice, or Tracy just couldn’t find someone to go with, she invited ME!  And I went, even though I agree with some of the points Kitchen Bitch made about their advertising sensibilities (I’m more against infidelity but it made me question whether the promoters hired a group of teenagers or an advertising firm?  The obvious imagery is an insult that even Pete Campbell wouldn’t hurl at us).

I’m not going to write-up on the event, but rather just tell you the Who’s Who of The Affair.

First, we went to a chai making demonstration hosed by Om restaurateur, and author of 660 Curries as well as Betty Crocker’s Indian Home CookingRaghavan Iyer.  I learned a lot about making chai and have considered even giving it a whirl at home someday.  What was most surprising to me was that he authored that Betty Crocker book, the same mysterious book that is on our book shelf in the kitchen which I recently moved elsewhere because I thought, “Betty Crocker don’t know jack about Indian home cooking!  Hmpf!”  When I got home after The Affair, I made mention of the demo to David who also started talking about the book.  More interestingly, Iyer hosted a cooking class/demo at their house (I think?) for his sister, AND he got the book signed.  I then made it a point to page through it and make something from it that week, which I did – more on that later…

BUT on our way to a cheese and chocolate demo (which tasted very “blah.”  I want my cheese to taste like something and that something is not bland Velveeta – Heeeeyoooo!), out of the corner of my eye, I caught a fire engine red dress.  The woman wearing it was short, shorter than me (and I’m short).  ZOMG!  It was Marjorie Johnson – Minnesota’s best known home baker (right?)!  You may remember me writing about her here, here and here.  Then again, you may not remember that, so…you’re welcome.  I haven’t followed her career, but a friend gave me her fabulous book, Blue Ribbon Baking a couple of years ago, and I’ve caught her on Leno a few times.  Her methods are tried and true, she’s short like me and she’s so adorably sweet.  I know she was there to sell and sign book but was kind enough to let me get my picture taken with her on my phone.

(I don’t normally look like a dude)

This couldn’t be topped, so shortly thereafter we left The Affair.

Thanks for The Affair, Heavy Table!

So Jim Lahey (YES! THIS Jim Lahey) has a new that came out called My Bread, or rather, my bread.  Because of this, his book reviewed with a recipe in Gourmet’s last issue in November.  The title of the recipe is called Pizza Patate and includes the necessary pizza dough recipe as well.  When I first considered making this I was falsely under the impression that it would be much like a potato knish, or even sort of close to gözleme.  However, after using my brain and eyes to read through the recipe a week thereafter, I came to realize it was nothing more than a potato topped pizza recipe.  It was also not a baked potato pizza a la Pizza Luce which I love love love.  On the other hand, it was because it was none of these things that I became intrigued and made a serous commitment to make Pizza Patate.

I attached the slicer t the food processor and sliced about four medium sized potatoes.  Everything was going well until a potato got stuck and it being 8:30am, I figured that using a knife would be the most effective way to push it down through the spout.  Which it was.  Until the handle of the knife got stuck on the slicer, I had a 7″ chef’s knife wobbling around, and the slicer stem broke.  (Don’t worry, I jumped away for safety rather than do anything effective like turn the food processor off.  Safety first though.)  Being safe and sound, I continued on by placing the taters in a bowl with a generous helping of kosher salt and filling it with water until all the spuds were covered.  I left them in the refrigerator longer than anticipated, but it was not detrimental (Friday morning to Sunday night).

Sunday morning I deviated from my normal pizza dough to use Lahey’s recipe (which is only slightly different from his No-Knead recipe).  After getting the dough close to ready, I emptied the potato bowl of its water and pressed any remaining water out with a dry towel.  Then in went to the thinly sliced onion (which I sliced by hand kthx?), some olive oil, as well as pepper.  Because the potatoes were soaking in Kosher salt for two and a half days, adding salt was wholly unnecessary.  Then I spread these guys across the dough which was already stretched across the pizza stone which had been preheating n the oven for a good half hour.  But something was inherently wrong, and it wasn’t just the lack of rosemary…

It was the lack of bacon.  After more consideration, it was also the lack of cheese.  In essence, I created not pizza patate, but rather, a breakfasty potato pizza, which according to Babelfish (which had steered me wrong so many times before in my seven years of German language learning), looks like this in Italian: pizza della prima colazione della patata.

Pizza della prima colazione della patat pretty much tasted like a giant-sized hash brown, but the delicious kind that was made with love and not with over processed potatoes from Denny’s.  However, now that my replacement slicer stem has arrived in the mail, I may safely slice some potatoes and try pizza patate again, but more accurately.