Flour, Sugar + Butter

Flour, sugar, and butter.

So darn much of it.

Has anyone else found themselves recently with counters laden with red and green plates full of sugar cookies, cello bags filled with frosted Scandinavian goodies, and tins full of fudge and shortbread?  Apparently, ’tis the season to eat cookies.  And I’m not complaining.

I have delayed writing anything lately, partially due to the busyness of shopping, wrapping, and shipping, but also because I have absolutely no need to bake anything. I’ve been having trouble rationing out this motherlode of cookies in my kitchen and to add to that would be dangerous to my health.

Plus, Keller has adopted a new word that he finds great meaning in: cookies.

My friend Dee and I did spend an afternoon baking a week or so ago, and we churned out two batches:  soft sugar cookies and our first ever attempt at French macaroons.  Here are a few images from that afternoon of those lovely pink macaroons . . .

They were quite addictive, even better on the second day than on the first.  The recipe is called Raspberry Chocolate French Macaroons and is from the December 2006 issue of Gourmet magazine.  And since it’s Christmas, let me be honest here:  I don’t have the energy today to type up the recipe for you.  Since it’s not mine anyways, I’m just going to give you the link to it right here.  Joyeux Noel!

Raspberry Chocolate French Macaroons

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Ginger Orange Fudge

I have been having a distinctive, somewhat disturbing craving for all things sweet lately.

Today I made oatmeal chocolate chip raisin cookies.

Tomorrow I think I might make gingerbread.

And this past week I made fudge.  Delicious, gooey, sweet and cheeky.

This fudge recipe is a hybrid between my favorite fudge recipe and my two favorite flavors of Green & Black’s chocolate bars.  The original fudge recipe comes from Jeanette Funk, my college roommate’s mom, and it is decadent all on it’s own.  I seem to have a sickness, however; I can never leave a recipe alone.  I’ve always wanted to combine the flavors from G & B’s Maya Gold (flavor profile: orange and Mexican spices) and their Ginger (flavor profile: uh . . . ginger) bars into a brownie, cookie, or something else awesome.  It hardly seemed to be worth making something as chocolatey and delicious as fudge if I wasn’t going to experiment on it with this.

I peeled an orange (please wash it first, you’re basically going to be eating it later) and steeped the rind in the original mixture of sweetened condensed milk and sugar.  This does double duty: it infuses the milk with the flavorful oils from the rind, as well as candying it (to be used later).

Secondly, I finely chopped some crystallized ginger . . . as finely as sticky chunks of ginger will allow themselves to be chopped.  I love the flavor of ginger, but in small doses.  Stirring the ginger into the near finished fudge is a good thing.

A quick note here:  I truly despise one of the ingredients in this fudge, but as far as I know, it is necessary.  That fatal ingredient is Marshmallow Cream, and it’s ingredient list is a nightmarish blur of fake, artificial, and phony.  But . . . my friend’s mom’s recipe called for it, and her fudge was awesome, so . . . shut your eyes and stir it in.  You only eat it once a year, after all.

Lastly, sliver that candied orange rind and sprinkle it atop the poured fudge before refrigerating.

Now, sadly, I had a few computer problems earlier this week and have lost all the photos of the finished fudge . . . I know, the best part.  Ah, well, you’ll just have to make this yourself to see what it looks like.  Or maybe experiment with a new flavor combination, and then please let me know!

What’s your favorite treat this Christmas season?  Have you had the chance to bake any of them?

Okay.  Merry Christmas, friends!

Ginger Orange Fudge adapted from Jeanette Funk’s recipe, Briggitine Monk’s Fudge

4 1/2          cups sugar

12               ounces evaporated milk

Rind of 1 orange

9                 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

9                 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips

7                 ounces marshmallow cream

1/2             cup butter

1                  tablespoon vanilla extract

1/3             cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped

Bring sugar, orange rind and milk to a boil and cook exactly 6 minutes in a saucepan.  Remove orange rind and set aside to dry.

Remove milk mixture from stove and pour into bowl of a standing mixer (or leave it in the pan if using a handheld mixer).  Add remaining ingredients.  Beat until firm and shine is gone-about 10 minutes.  Let stand 15 minutes then beat again with an electric mixer to loosen up.

Pour into buttered or parchment lined 9 x 13 pan.  Sliver remaining orange rind and sprinkle over the poured fudge.  Refrigerate overnight, then cut into bite sized pieces and EAT!

Note:  (Keep fudge in fridge, it tends to get gooey when left at room temp for too long.)

Chile Corn Casserole

Aw, yeah.  This is where it’s at for me on Thanksgiving.

I am extremely thankful for this tasty little pudding, a spicy, cheesy, corny concoction that has it’s roots way back in the history book of my family.  In fact, I’m not sure where the recipe originated, but I can say that we’ve been making it every year for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter dinners for as long as I can remember.  It’s the type of recipe that is straight out of your grandma’s church cookbook (but please let this redeem that for you if that reference only brings to mind dishes like orange jell-o with shredded carrots on a lettuce leaf and topped with mayonnaise).  This is seriously good.

Chile corn casserole is comfort food that can rival macaroni and cheese.  And while I say that no holiday meal is complete without it, it suddenly occurs to me that we should absolutely be eating this for those normal, everyday dinners as well.  It’s not like it’s hard to make; in fact, I assembled the entire dish today in about 5 minutes.  It will take longer to find pants that fit after eating dinner tomorrow . . . and to think I took back those jeggings.  For shame.

Friends, I sincerely wish you a wonderfully happy Thanksgiving.

Chile Corn Casserole

3          cups creamed corn (2 cans)

3/4      cup cornmeal

3/4      cup canola oil

3          eggs, beaten

3/4      teaspoon salt

1 1/2   cup grated cheddar cheese

3          small cans diced green chiles (I like using 2 cans chiles and 1 can jalepenos, but the jalepenos definitely add more     heat.  Your call.)

Additional grated cheese for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix first 5 ingredients together (through salt) in a large mixing bowl.  Stir in cheese and chiles.  Pour into a 9 x 13-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray.  Sprinkle additional cheese on top.

Bake for 1 hour.  Your cheese will be nicely browned, your dish hot and ready.  Enjoy!

Pear Vanilla Bean Sauce + Vanilla Bean Sugar

Wow.  It’s only been, oh, forever since I last wrote on this thing.  20 days?  21 maybe?  The reason for my absence is that I’ve had my creative juices flowing into other endeavors, and when that happens, inevitably one area that usually gets some love no longer gets any.

This is what I’ve been working on lately:

1.  A painting.  I haven’t painted much since Keller was born, and am happy to have the excuse of a commissioned piece to force me to do it again.  Here’s to picking up old habits.  It’s of a local winery, and maybe, if we’re lucky and it’s even remotely presentable, I’ll show it to you.

2.  Continuing my endeavor to become a world-class guitar player.  I’m doing this by strumming away at the same 5 chords that I know and repeatedly playing the same 5 songs that I always play.  Hmmm.  Now that I write this, I think I need to come up with a new plan.   Mine doesn’t seem to be working.

3.  Coming up with a design for this years Christmas card.  This is harder than it sounds and will require some serious alone time with my pen and index cards.

That is where my head has been these past few weeks.

But!

I did make this Pear Vanilla Bean Sauce recently and swooned over it.  The recipe came to me as a jam recipe in the magazine Cooking Light, but I reduced the sugar called for by half and made a few other tweaks.  Also, it is really awful as a jam.  The vanilla bean, which I think is such a luxurious ingredient, is completely wasted in this if we’re going to use it as a jam.  At least for me.  It makes the jam almost cloyingly sweet when slathered on toast or paired with peanut butter.

Pour it on ice cream, though, and it’s completely another story.  This is what I want for dessert on a fall evening: a bowl of French vanilla ice cream submerged in this pear sauce (best warmed a bit) and sprinkled with a few hazelnuts.

It’s pretty much perfect.

And since vanilla beans can be so costly, I can’t stomach the idea of throwing away the spent pod after making the jam.  I ground it up with 2 cups of sugar in a food processor to make Vanilla Bean sugar, a fragrant little something you can stir into your tea, coffee or use in baking.  You can do this too (just don’t breathe in right away when you remove the lid from your food processor-there’s quite a bit of dust that floats up out of it and it needs to waft away for a bit).

By the way, pears are great right now and I found vanilla beans for a pretty good price at New Seasons in their bulk spice section (1 for $1.50), so this may just be the perfect thing for you to make on your Sunday afternoon.  Enjoy!

Pear Vanilla Bean Sauce

4          cups coarsely shopped peeled Bartlett pear

1          teaspoon grated lemon or lime rind

1/4      cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1          vanilla bean, split lengthwise

1          1.75-ounce package pectin

2          cups sugar

Place pear in a food processor; pulse until finely chopped (don’t liquefy).  Place pear, rind, juice, and vanilla bean in a large saucepan.  Stir in pectin.  Place pan over hight heat; bring to a boil.  Stir in sugar; cook 5 minutes or until sugar dissolves.  Bring to a boil; cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat.  Skim foam from surface; discard.  Remove vanilla bean.  Scrape seeds into pear mixture; discard bean.  Stir 5 minutes to ensure fruit is suspended in sauce.  Pour into half-pint jars and leave 1/2-inch headspace.  Refrigerate up to three weeks, or freeze up to six months.

Fettucini With Braised Beef

The rain is hitting my windowpanes in a steady, irregular pitter-patter.  The leaves on the tree in front of my house are a hodgepodge of yellowed green and deep garnet, and they collect raindrops like the clear glass beads on the necklaces I used to love when I was a kid.  Today finally seems like the right day to post this recipe.

When I first wrote the post for Braised Brisket back on August 19, I made this pasta sauce the next day with the leftover brisket.  I remember thinking how delicious it was, and also, how completely not right for the middle of August.  I’m pretty sure it was in the 90’s, or at least 80’s, and a hot, braised pasta sauce turned out to be an awfully delicious way to work up a sweat.  That’s why I held off on sharing this recipe until now.  It was all wrong then; today on this rainy fall day, it will be so right.

Inspired by all the leftover brisket sitting in my fridge, I set out to recreate a recipe similar to one I’d had at our favorite restaurant, ClarkLewis.  When Andy and I first went there years ago, we sampled one of their pastas, a braised lamb ragu on handmade tagliatelle.  That dish won me over and wore me out.  I left full and happy, wanting more.

So, being in a “hey, maybe this would work” kind of mood, I set out to recreate as best as I could that same dish with what I had, braised beef.  I started by shredding the brisket with two forks into small, tender mouthfuls.  Mmmm.  Yes please.

Next, I caramelized an onion in olive oil.


To make it nice and saucy, I pureed a can of tomatoes in the food processor and added that, the meat, and about 1 cup or so of the braising liquid to the onions.

I let it simmer on the stove for a half an hour or so, uncovered so as to thicken up a bit.  Then I added chopped fresh parsley for color as well as flavor.

I let that simmer for another 10 minutes or so, adjusted the seasonings and tossed with fettucini noodles.  (Cooked, please.)  I would have loved to use tagliatelle but wasn’t able to find them that day.

This recipe is really meant to be made with the leftover braised brisket from this recipe, but it may work with leftover pot roast or another type of tender meat that shreds easily.  You’d have to tinker around with the recipe to approximate the tomato braising liquid from the other recipe, but I’d imagine it would still work somewhat similarly.

This is the perfect dish to eat by a crackling fire.  Don’t have a fireplace?  You could get away with just a candle on the table, although make it unscented.  You don’t want your new spiced apple crumble candle interfering with the aroma of this beautiful fall dish, which is completely delectable on its own.

Happy fall, friends!

Fettucini With Braised Beef

2            cups shredded beef brisket with 1 cup reserved braising liquid

2            tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1             large yellow onion, cut in half from root to end then sliced into half moons

1             14-oz can diced tomatoes in juice, pureed in food processor

1/4         cup chopped fresh parsley

Worcestershire sauce

Salt and Pepper to taste

1              pound dried fettucini or tagliatelle

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat olive oil in large saucepan over medium heat.  Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally until browned and aromatic.  Stir in beef and juice, and tomatoes.  Simmer for 30 minutes, then stir in fresh parsley.  Add a dash of worcestershire sauce, and a pinch of sugar to balance the acidity in the tomatoes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and allow to continue simmering.   Cover with a lid if sauce begins to reduce too quickly, and add more braising liquid if needed.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook fettucini according to package directions.  Drain.

Toss noodles and sauce together in large bowl.  Serve, garnishing with more parsley and freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Jeggings = Scary Tight Pants

There are a couple of things I don’t understand in this life.

The first are jeggings.  Jeggings, for those of you who aren’t 13, are the hybrid of jeans and leggings, and they are tight.  Picture the Seinfeld episode where Kramer is wearing jeans (“They’re painted on!“) and he can’t get them off.  Now go even tighter.  Jeggings are not skinny jeans.  Skinny jeans are slim fitting pants; jeggings may as well be denim patterned skin.

They’re taking the world by storm, and every store sells them now.  People are buying them and wearing them.  And using the Jaws of Life to take them off.

And now for the second thing I don’t understand . . . two days ago I bought myself a pair of jeggings.  I tried them on in the store and somehow convinced myself to come home with them.  I tried them on at home and was scared enough to immediately want to take them back.  I’m confident that I, a 27 (not 17) year old, should not be wearing jeans so tight I have to peel them off.  They’re going back tomorrow.

Even if jeggings are to succeed as an article of clothing for someone else, they still have their name counting against them.  Who created this horrible name?  It’s as though the same people who came up with names like ‘Brangelina’ and ‘Bennifer’ were on the tight pant marketing team and just couldn’t get out of their rut.  I get it-the name clearly implies what they are, but still . . . ‘jeggings?‘  If they would have asked me, I would have voted for ‘Skin Pants.’  Clear, concise, and gross enough to let you know what you’re in for.

Ladies, let’s all know our limits on what amount of tight is good for us.  If something is so tight that your husband makes a funny grimace when you try them on for him, take the cue and take them back.  It’s not worth convincing yourself you look hot in them if, when you wear them out in public you’re self-conscious of every lump and belly hang that is bound to occur, not being hidden at all in your suction-cup pants.

Blessings on you, and may you all have better fashion wisdom than I did this past Wednesday when I exited that dressing room.  Thank goodness I didn’t wear them out.

A Rough Morning + A Reminder

Hi all.  I am sitting here, breathing deeply, listening to music and trying to figure out how to be a good mother.

The morning has been full of meltdowns, public and private, by both mother and son.  I was the lady at Jo-Ann Fabric today who should have left her cart full of items and taken her son out of the store after several minutes of whining and throwing things.  I was also the lady who was just a few numbers away from being called at the fabric counter and therefore chose not to leave.  I’m sorry, to any of you who were either hit by a ball of yarn or were subjected to ear-piercing screams.  It’s as much my fault as it is my son’s.

We drove away from the store, Keller frustrated at me (I’m sure) and me frustrated that I didn’t have it in me to just leave and come back another day.  I put his lullaby album in the cd player and pressed play, hoping it would calm him down.  As the song began to play, the lyrics washed over me and as Keller did indeed calm down, so did I.  The cd is a compilations of lullabyes based off the book of Psalms from the Bible, and these are the lyrics from this particular song:

 When your sky is cold and lonely

And your heart is filled with fear

I will wrap my arms around you

Know that I am here

And I will keep you safe and sound

Through the darkness that surrounds

I will never leave you

Nor forsake you

Know that I am with you

You will never be alone.

Reading those lyrics, you may think that I am being very dramatic, and that a temper tantrum in a store is a mild happening for lyrics such as “when your sky is cold and lonely and your heart is filled with fear”.  I agree; reading it back now, it certainly seems as though I’m making the instance out to be a lot worse than it really was.  In the moment, though, when the person you love more than anything and are entrusted to take care of acts out in a way that is embarrassing and frustrating and then continues to do it even after you ask him nicely not to, you can feel very alone.  (And on that note, why don’t toddlers respond immediately to, “Will you please not do that?”  Life would be so much easier . . . )

Nothing in my 27 years has so far been as challenging as motherhood has been.  Or as joyful, don’t get me wrong.  But today, driving away from Jo-Ann’s, I was definitely experiencing more frustration and fear of my seeming inability to do it right.

This is why the lyrics of a simple lullaby could minister to my heart in such a stressful moment.  When I arrived home and Keller was down for a nap, I searched out those words in the Bible.  I didn’t find the verse referenced in the Psalms (anyone know it?), but I did find a similar one in Deuteronomy:

“It is the Lord who goes before you.  He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.  Do not fear or be dismayed.”  Deuteronomy 31:8

Moses spoke these words to Joshua when he was nearing his death.  Joshua would take Moses’ place as the leader of the Israelites and lead the people into the land God had promised them.  I am not leading an entire people group into a new and unknown land, but I am charged with leading a little person into the rest of his life.  This is why the verse above and the lyrics to the lullaby are as relevant to me right now as they were to Joshua back in his day.

So . . . deep breaths, and:

It is the Lord who goes before me.  He will be with me; he will not fail me or forsake me.  I will not fear or be dismayed.

This is true for you too.

Okay, I’m going to take advantage of Keller’s nap and take one myself.  Take care of yourselves, friends.