Dec 272014
 

I love making homemade gifts for Christmas – some years almost everything I gift is homemade and some years it’s only a little token. This year I’ve got a serious sweet tooth going on so I had to try my hand at marshmallows and caramels.

homemade marshmallow

First up were the marshmallows – I have had the cookbook “Marshmallow Madness” for a few years now and for some reason I was too intimidated to try them before now. Even though the author is completely reassuring and the recipes are straightforward I just thought it couldn’t be simple to make marshmallows. How wrong I was! It’s so easy to do! I kind of felt like it was life-altering to make homemade marshmallows and I also kind of can’t wait for the summer so I can try out s’mores with my own marshmallows. I also kind of can’t wait to make some of the other flavored varieties – I just need an upcoming holiday or other reason to gift them so I don’t eat the whole pan. Maybe Valentine’s Day?

homemade apple cider caramels

I’ve also wanted to make caramels for a long time. We made them once when I was a girl and we must have overcooked them, because they ended up hard as a rock (like break your tooth hard) and so I’ve been scared to tackle those again too. The lure of making Apple Cider Caramels was too much though, so I finally overcame this other candy fear and got to work.

Months ago, in anticipation of making these caramels I made Boiled Cider, using the homemade apple cider that our family made earlier this fall. Then, armed only with a candy thermometer, I set out to tame the caramels. And guess what? They also weren’t all that hard, and they were absolutely amazing! I could have eaten the whole batch but I’m glad I didn’t – instead I wrapped them up for gifts as well. I definitely sense more candy-making in my future!

homemade caramels sheet

Galletas de Navidad or Tita’s Christmas Cookies

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Dec 152014
 

galletas de navidad christmas cookies

Do you have a special cookie recipe that you just absolutely must make each Christmas? One that actually defines the holidays for you? Maybe your family is like ours and each parent brings their own must-have cookie to the mix. For us the special Christmas cookies are the Chocolate Drops that my grandma and now my stepmom makes each December, and Tita’s Galletas de Navidad (Abuelita’s Christmas Cookies). Because Tita lives so far away from us it’s up to me to make the Galletas de Navidad and bring the taste of Christmas into our home.

We’re not sure where the recipe for Galletas de Navidad came from – Tita grew up eating them but we don’t know how the recipe came into her family. They’re vaguely german – somewhere between pfeffernusse cookies, lebkuchen and springerle. We roll the cookies out and cut them into shapes, then glaze them with a lemon sugar icing. The warm Christmas spices of cinnamon, anise and nutmeg give a great traditional flavor and the cookies keep well too.

Galletas de Navidad / Tita’s Christmas Cookies
makes approx. 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 egg
  • 1 TBS cinnamon
  • 2 TBS cocoa powder
  • 1 TBS ground cloves
  • 1 tsp anise seeds steeped in 1 TBS hot water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda dissolved in 1/4 cup water
  • 5 cups flour

Directions

1. Cream together the butter and sugar.

2. Mix in the honey, egg, cinnamon, cocoa powder, cloves, salt and anise seed (with the water it was steeped in).

3. Mix in 3 cups of the flour and the baking soda with its water.

4. Mix in the remaining 2 cups of flour one at a time.

5. Chill for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator.

6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

7. Roll out the dough to 1/4 inch thickness, cut out shapes with cookie cutters and put them on baking sheets lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

8. Bake cookies for 8 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet and then cool completely on racks.

9. Ice with your favorite sugar cookie icing or (our favorite) a simple confectioner’s sugar and lemon glaze.

galletas de navidad christmas cookies

Swiss Chard and Artichoke Tart

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Nov 072014
 

swiss chard artichoke tart

Savory tarts are some of my favorite things to eat – I love the combination of the rich crust, the flavorful vegetables, the filling egg and salty cheese. They’re also versatile, so you can serve them for breakfast, lunch or dinner. In Peru there is a popular swiss chard tart made with whole eggs baked in the middle – this swiss chard artichoke tart is a variation on that with the egg mixed into the chard instead, and the addition of artichoke hearts.

Because I’m really trying hard to cook healthy food for my family, we end up eating a lot of simple grilled or baked meats or fish – my old standby dishes are often too loaded with fats and sugars to fit into our menu anymore. This tart tastes like a treat, but it’s packed with leafy greens and protein so it’s good for us too.

 

Swiss Chard and Artichoke Tart
serves 8

  • 1 package prepared pie dough (2 sheets), or your own favorite dough recipe divided into two and rolled out into circles
  • 1/2 cup yellow onion, chopped (about 1/2 medium onion)
  • 20 oz Swiss Chard, chopped
  • 10 oz Artichoke hearts, quartered (I like using the frozen kind so they have no added oil, but thaw them before using)
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 cup Gouda cheese, grated
  • 1 TBS olive oil
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat, add the onion and saute until the onion has begun to brown lightly.

2. Add the chard and stir occasionally for about 20 minutes, until it has softened and reduced in volume. (you might need to add it in two batches, depending on how big your pan is – if you do, let the first batch cook down some and then add the second).

3. Add the artichoke hearts and the salt and pepper and cook for about 5 minutes more, then remove the pot from the heat and let the mixture cool.

4. In a mixing bowl, lightly beat the 6 eggs and then add the grated cheese and stir to combine.

5. Line a 9″ pie plate with one of the dough circles and lightly prick the bottom of the crust with a fork.

6. Once the chard mixture is cool, add it to the egg mixture and fold the two together until they are mixed well, then put the filling into the pie crust.

7. Top the pie with the second crust, crimp the edges of the bottom and top crusts together and cut 4 slits in the top to let the filling vent.

8. Brush the top of the crust with milk or an egg wash to help it brown, then cook in a 425 degree oven for 30 minutes. Let the tart cool slightly before serving it – this tart is delicious hot, room temperature or even cold from the refrigerator.

Cook the Collection #9: Better Homes & Gardens Cookies Cookies Cookies

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Apr 212014
 

Cook the Collection Header


Better Homes and Gardens Cookies Cookies Cookies is an older cookbook (published in 1992) which is a bit of a novelty book – half of the book is called “Any – Day Treats” with basic recipes for peanut butter cookies and snickerdoodles and when you flip the book over and turn it upside down you have “Christmastime Treats” with more elaborate shaped and decorated cookie recipes. It’s a pretty no-nonsense book generally, with spare header notes and straightforward, easy-to-follow directions.  I’ve had this book for 20 years and I don’t know that I’ve ever baked anything from it before (why do I hold on to these books? It’s crazy, I know).

My little guy wanted to bake Chocolate Chip Cookies the other day and  instead of just using the recipe off the back of the chip bag like I usually do, I pulled out this book to give it a try. The ingredient list was pretty much what I was expecting except that it called for a half cup of vegetable shortening – which I don’t usually keep on hand and didn’t want to buy just for these cookies. What I did have in the pantry was a jar of coconut oil so I substituted it with a 1:1 ratio. It ended up giving the cookies a subtle coconut flavor, but I thought it was quite a nice addition. After baking these cookies I’ll probably give another recipe from this book a try since the one I tested was easy and successful.

chocolate chip cookies

(Disclosure: The cookbook link in this post is an affiliate link and if you happen to make a purchase via the link I’ll receive a small percentage of your purchase – and of course would be so grateful!)

Cook the Collection #8: Falling Cloudberries

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Mar 052014
 

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Time to get back on the ball with the cookbook challenge – at this rate I’ll never get though them all – especially since I’ve acquired more since I started. Most recently I baked from the intriguing cookbook Falling Cloudberries: A World of Family Recipes by Tessa Kiros. This is a lovely book to read, full of family stories and remembrances of grandparents, in-laws and family friends. Its a very eclectic collection of recipes, drawing from around the world with just the unifying theme of the author’s family, but it works, especially when you read the headnotes of each recipe. There’s something in that eclectic mix that reminds me of how our family eats, drawing our culinary influences both from family recipes and the world around us.

I baked Apple Cake with Toffee Topping and it turned out delicious – good apple flavor with a yummy caramel toffee topping. The recipe was straightforward and easy to follow but the best part for me was the way it got the gears turning in my mind. For me, the best recipes get you thinking as you make them and eat them; I was quite inspired by this recipe and can’t wait to work on my own variations.

apple toffee cake 2

Easy Apple Blueberry Crisp

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Jun 072013
 

I ended up with an excess of apples in the house the other day and made Apple Blueberry Crisps to use some of them up. I mixed up apples, blueberries and vanilla and topped it off with an oatmeal crumble. So good! Ok, here’s the deal: Fruit crisps/cobblers are so easy to make it’s almost criminal. You don’t even need a recipe – seriously. Here’s how it goes:

Choose which fruit to use. Firmer fruits work better, so think apples, pears, peaches, plums. Berries are delicious in crisps too, but add some firm fruits as well for better texture. Cut your fruit into bite sized pieces – you need enough to fill whatever container you’re using to bake the crisps. You could use a pie plate, a cake pan, a baking dish or individual ramekins. Add some flavoring; think cinnamon, vanilla or almond extract, bourbon, rum or other liqueurs. Sweeten the fruit with sugar or honey, not too much, about 1/4 cup and adjust it for how sweet the fruit is naturally. Add a spoonful of cornstarch, mix it all up and pour the fruit and juices into your baking dish.

For the topping mix up some uncooked oats, a bit of flour, some brown sugar, a pinch of salt and a few chunks of butter. Crumble the butter into the other ingredients until its into little pieces and evenly combined, then dump the whole mix on top of the fruit in the baking dish and bake it at 350 degrees until the fruit is soft and bubbly and the topping is browned.

That’s it! No measuring, no fuss, just a yummy fruit dessert.

I’m sharing this post at some of these great link parties – check ’em out!

Cook the Collection #6: The Bread Bible

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May 272013
 
 

(Disclosure: The cookbook links below are affiliate links and if you happen to make a purchase through them I’ll receive a small percentage of your purchase – and of course would be so grateful!)



I had the chance to hear Rose Levy Beranbaum speak years ago at a reading and book signing and she was just what you’d expect a baker to sound like: warm, witty, compassionate and helpful. She took questions well past the scheduled end of the talk and was thoughtful and thorough in her replies.

The Bread Bible“, her companion book to her popular book “The Cake Bible” is just like that – a serious book, just like you’d expect with ‘bible’ in the name, but thoughtful and warm as well. It’s comprehensive and thorough, covering breads from quick breads and muffins, through flatbreads, sandwich breads and rolls to  hearth breads, sourdoughs and brioches. All the recipes include three types of measurements: cups and spoons, metric and imperial weights. I like having the choice of how to measure because weighing the ingredients gives great results, but sometimes I’d rather be less fussy and just toss everything in.

So we made scones from this book and OMG they were the best scones ever! We usually just use the Fisher Fair Scone Mix which is quick and easy and makes pretty darn good scones, but these scones blew those scones right out of the water. These were amazingly good scones, like ‘eat too many in one sitting’ scones. These scones were so good they made me want to immediately bake from another recipe in the book.  Of course I probably won’t do that right away because I have so many more cookbooks to cook from (on that note – my lovely children got me a cookbook for my birthday (“Kids Parties!” – I think there was a bit of self-interest at work) so now my collection total stands at 153.

Look at this mint leaf – I think its prettier than the scones!
Apr 102013
 
(Disclosure: The cookbook links below are affiliate links and if you happen to make a purchase through them I’ll receive a few cents of your purchase – and of course would be so grateful!)

 I guess I needed to bake something else this week as a palate cleanser after those cupcakes and I had a bunch of bananas going seriously brown so I grabbed the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion: The All-Purpose Baking Cookbook down from the shelf and whipped up a loaf of their Banana Bread. The recipe header calls this banana bread one of the best they’ve tried, and it is really good. Its already my go-to banana bread recipe with the substitution of chocolate chips for walnuts, but I was feeling frisky this time and added toasted coconut and 68% cacao dark chocolate, and it was spectacular.

I also substituted honey Greek yogurt instead of plain yogurt and I think it made the bread a bit drier than usual, which makes sense because the Greek yogurt is thicker than the regular style. I’ll have to keep that in mind for the future because the drier texture actually works better as a bread and for toasting, while the regular moister texture is more cake-like. Besides just eating the banana bread as a snack, I sliced it into thick slices, toasted it under the broiler, then topped it with vanilla ice cream and drizzled caramel sauce over the top (this idea was courtesy of the cookbook, as well) and that was a hit with us and our dinner company.

This cookbook is another good general baking book, with lots of extra information about the ‘whys’ of baking as well as recipes from ranging from quick breads to yeasted breads to cakes, cookies, pies and pastries. This one does get some use in my kitchen and I’d recommend it for beginning to intermediate bakers.

Cook the Collection #3: Baking Illustrated

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Apr 032013
 
 (Disclosure: The cookbook links below are affiliate links and if you happen to make a purchase through them I’ll receive a small percentage of your purchase – and of course would be so grateful!)

I’m still on the baking kick, but I think this week’s recipe is going to make me take a break for awhile (either that or I’m going to have to bake something else to get the taste out of my mouth). I cooked from “Baking Illustrated” which is a baking cookbook from the Cooks Illustrated library. I usually have great luck with the Cooks Illustrated recipes and their book “The Best Recipe” is one of my favorites but. . . not this time.


I made yellow cupcakes and instead of frosting them with the chocolate ganache in the recipe I used the vanilla buttercream recipe from the same book. The recipes were clear and easy to follow but I just wasn’t very happy with the results. The cupcakes tasted dry to me, and the buttercream was too buttery for my tastes. It was disappointing because I love a good cupcake and I was really looking forward to this one. I’ve baked other things from this book before that were more successful, but its definitely not one of my go-to baking books and the next time I have a choice I’ll try one of my others first.

 

Cook the Collection #2: Macrina Bakery & Cafe Cookbook

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Mar 292013
 
(Disclosure: The cookbook links below are affiliate links and if you happen to make a purchase through them I’ll receive a small percentage of your purchase – and of course would be so grateful!)

Apparently I’m on a Seattle bakery kick, because the next book up is the Macrina Bakery & Cafe Cookbook. Macrina is a longtime Seattle institution, located in the trendy Belltown neighborhood (with two more popular locations on Queen Anne Hill and in SODO as well). The bakery is known most for its breads and cakes – the special occasion cakes are absolutely divine – but its cafe turns out delicious meals as well, and this cookbook highlights both the savory and sweet.

I tried out the Challah recipe the other day – I’m a big challah fan but I never make it at home for some reason. The recipe was easy to follow and the bread looked great. It was a bit dry and the crumb seemed lighter in color than I’m used to, like it wasn’t quite eggy enough. I’d make it again if I didn’t have another recipe, but as it is I’ll probably try another source next time. I feel like I’m selling this book a bit short though, because its pretty comprehensive and all the recipes sound great. I actually wish I had made one of the bread pudding recipes because it might have wowed me a bit more. The final verdict is that this book will stay on the shelf, and I’m looking forward to the next recipe I try from it.

You can see the previous posts in my Cook the Collection challenge here.