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December’s Third Thursday December 15, 2011

Posted by Toy Lady in baking, random stuff, Third Thursday.
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Welcome to December’s Third Thursday – it’s December already!

Now while I don’t have any special holiday baking that I’m doing right now, I guess one could consider these Gingerbread Scones to be holiday-ish.

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I’ve been reading Elly Says Opa for a while now – Elly’s a young mom – I remember when she “announced” her pregnancy!  I think her little boy is at least a toddler now, though he may be ready to start school for all I know.

I’m kind of bad at keeping track of things when I get busy.

So here I was, earlier this week, wondering what the HECK I was going to do for Third Thursday.  I mean, I have been working late every day for, oh, about a month now,   Elly posted a list of some of her favorite holiday recipes, and oh, hey, gingerbread scones?

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We love scones.

And it appeared that we had everything on hand to try these – which is always a plus on a weeknight when I’ve already worked 2 hours late.  The LAST thing anyone wants to do is stop at the store on the way home, you know?

As you probably know, scones are basically a variation of baking powder biscuits – which are totally not hard.

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First, we mix up the dry ingredients – in this case, 1-3/4 c.  flour, 3/4 c. rolled oats, 1/3 c. brown sugar (yes, I know sugar usually counts as a liquid), 2 tsp. ground ginger,  1-1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/8 tsp. ground cloves, 1/4 tsp. salt, 2 tsp. baking powder and 1/4 tsp. baking soda.

And meanwhile, we take a stick (1/2 cup.) of cold butter, and chop it into little bits.  I like to cut it into tablespoons, then cut those tablespoons into quarters.

Cut the butter into the flour mixture – you can use two knives, but honestly?

I don’t know how that works.  I went to the local restaurant supply and invested the $2 in a pastry cutter.  Seriously.  If you ever make biscuits (or scones) just do it.

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Then it’s time for the liquids.

To 1/2 cup of buttermilk (I don’t even remember when we got the buttermilk – or for what – but it wasn’t lumpy, and it wasn’t furry, so it was still good!) so to the buttermilk, we add 2-1/2 tablespoons of molasses (I JUST picked up a quart of baking molasses last weekend, too!) and 1 teaspoon of vanilla.

My parents brought us back a quart of vanilla  from Mexico – I won’t lie, it was probably the best vanilla we’ve ever had.

But DUDE, a quart?  Goes a long way.

(We’re actually working on our second quart.  Not to mention the homemade stuff we’ve always got brewing.  We like our vanilla.)

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So . . . the scones.  Just like biscuits, you add your liquid to your dry, and give it a quick mix.

You don’t want to overmix it – just moisten the flour mixture enough so you can dump it onto the counter and knead it a bit.

Knead gently half a dozen times until everything (mostly) sticks together.

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I divided my dough in half and patted it into two rounds.

Then I sliced each round into 8 wedges – I wanted small-ish scones.  After all, any minute now, the Holiday Cookie Gifts are going to start flooding into the office.

The last thing we want when they show up is to be all full of scones, you know?

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Now here is where Elly and I kind of parted ways.  Rather than an egg wash, once the scones were placed (not touching) on a lined baking sheet, I   brushed a bit of cream on their little tops.

Then I sprinkled them with some maple sugar.

See, I don’t have patience for glaze – you’ve got to sift the sugar (which, really, who has time for that?) and then you want to drizzle and wait for everything to set. . .

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And glaze is just so sweet.

One of the vendors at our public market has maple syrup, maple candy, and, of course, maple sugar.

So I went ahead and sprinkled my unbaked, cream-brushed scones with a healthy pinch of maple sugar.

Maybe not as visually stunning as a nice glace, but much simpler, and, in the long run, slightly healthier.

Heh, look at me, using a stick of butter, brushing with heavy cream, and sprinkling with sugar, THEN talking about healthy!

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So yeah.

I baked the little guys at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes until they were nicely golden.  It’s kind of hard, though, to tell when something flavored with molasses and cinnamon has browned.  So I  tested them with a toothpick, just like a cake, to be sure they were done.

And at 20 minutes, they were perfect.

I took a bunch to work to share, and Peeps took a bunch to work to share.  His container came home empty – they were a big hit.

Unfortunately, the cookies started coming into my office today, so the  less-glamorous scones kind of got forgotten.

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That’s okay, though.  More for me.

And these scones were quite good – not quite gingerbread, but very tasty – not too sweet, with just a  touch of maply goodness on top, and just perfect with a fresh cup of coffee.  Or tea, if that’s how you roll.

If you’d like to play along, leave a comment with a link to (or a description of) your Third Thursday project – tell us what you’re up to!  For loose (really loose!) guidelines, or if you want to check out some past Thursdays, they’re right here!

November’s Third Thursday November 17, 2011

Posted by Toy Lady in baking, random stuff, Third Thursday.
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Welcome to November’s Third Thursday – November!

If I were a good blogger, I’d be blogging about Thanksgiving sides, or maybe even how to roast a turkey.

Though honestly?  If you’re cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year, you’ve probably already got your menu set, and if you’re not, you don’t care, right?

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However, maybe you’re a guest at a family dinner, and you want to bring something non-intrusive, but still welcome.

Or perhaps you have an actual food assignment.  (Or am I the only one who gets those?)

So anyway.

My food assignment is usually “rolls” and it’s often “rolls and . . . ” where “. . . ” could be pie, or it could be some vegetable – but it usually includes bread of some sort.

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So anyway.

Every year about this time, I like to pay special attention to the King Arthur Flour Blog – I read it regularly, but they really do shine when it comes to breads and rolls and that sort of thing, don’t they?

And we really need nice breads and rolls around the holidays.

Or, you know, when your mother-in-law is coming to town and you need something nice to go with vegetable soup.

PhotobucketSo it just happened that one day King Arthur featured their Butterflake Herb Loaf -a delightfully rich potato bread (I used 1/4 cup of instant potato flakes to the dough – how easy is that?) filled with an herby filling.

The original recipe used a butter-herb filling, but there were alternate versions – including pesto and even a maple sugar-butter filling.

I had a container of pesto in the fridge, and I thought the basil-y pesto would be excellent with vegetable soup.

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It was truly a beautiful dough to work with – rich and cooperative – it was a happy dough that rolled out nicely and worked and played well with others.

So I rolled the dough out and used round cutters to cut it into a dozen 3-and-a-half inch circles.

I spread HALF of each circle with about a teaspoon or so of pesto, then folded each into a little half-moon shape, and layered them into a sprayed loaf pan.

PhotobucketActually, two loaf pans – six folded circles fit into each pan nicely.

And yeah, sure, it may not look too impressive before it’s baked – after all, it’s raw dough pesto sandwiches.

BUT.

Let those babies rise a bit, bake them, and the next thing you know, you have pre-sliced, pre-seasoned, pull-apart bread.

Bread, I might add, that goes mighty nicely with any vegetable soup you’d care to try.

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Also – and I’m just sharing my experience here – I couldn’t help noticing that over the course of the next couple of nights, it appeared that the Boy put a pretty good hurt on what bread was leftover.

Probably because it was THAT GOOD.

Definitely check out the King Arthur Blog if you ever like to do anything remotely baking-like.  Those people know their stuff.

If you’d like to play along, leave a comment with a link to (or a description of) your Third Thursday project – tell us what you’re up to!  For loose (really loose!) guidelines, or if you want to check out some past Thursdays, they’re right here!

October’s Third Thursday: Stewed Beans – Not as Dull as it Sounds October 20, 2011

Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking, Cooking Challenge, Third Thursday.
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Welcome to October’s Third Thursday!

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One of my goals for this monthly Third Thursday feature is to challenge myself to try new things and, hopefully, to encourage my tens of readers to do the same.  A challenge can come in many different forms, you know – it may be doing something you’ve never done before, or doing it in a new way, or eating something you’ve never tasted – everyone’s different, and we’re all challenged by something different, you know?

PhotobucketYou all know that in recent months, we’ve developed quite a fondness for dried beans.  Baked beans, bean soup, beans & greens, chili  – they’re cheap, they’re healthy, filling and, most especially, tasty.

However, I’ve never once had fresh beans.  I don’t mean green beans – I mean beans that are normally dried but just haven’t been.  Not-yet-dried, still moist beans.

So when I saw directions for cooking fresh borlotti beans on Kopiaste – a Greek cooking blog that I subscribe to – I bookmarked it.  I figured that, if worst came to worst, (you know me) I’d plant some borlotti beans in the garden next year.

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Fortunately, it didn’t come to that.

My last trip to the market, one of the farmers had baskets and baskets of fresh beans.  I asked him what kind they were (I had no idea!), and he said they were pinto beans.  BUT they looked just the borlotti beans on Ivy’s blog.  And I figured that, since Ivy wasn’t completely sure what her barbounofassoula actually were in English, well, pinto beans were just as good a match as cranberry beans.

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I had the option of shelled or unshelled – I spent the extra buck and bought the beans already shelled.  On market day, I have enough to do with all the other vegetables I drag home – the least thing I had time for was to spend an hour shelling beans!

And so, we sauteed our chopped garlic and onions, then added the borlotti/pinto beans along with the last of the garden tomatoes, some tomato paste (I used the stick blender to blend the tomatoes and the paste, along with a bit of homemade vegetable juice to punch up the flavor), some salt and pepper, and enough vegetable stock mixed with water to cover the beans by an inch or so.

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I know, that just breaks the rules, doesn’t it?  You’re not supposed to cook beans with acids like tomatoes, and you’re not supposed to cook them with salt.

Oh well.

We let it simmer (after bringing it to a good hearty boil first) for an hour or so, covered, until the beans were nicely tender.

Then, since one thing I’d forgotten at the market was scallions, we minced a mess of parsley and chives (scallions, chives, whatever, right?) and tossed that in with the cooked beans.

And, because of the way our schedules run, we then packed everything into a container until later in the week.  Then we reheated, cooked some rice, and crumbled some really good feta cheese over everything.

PhotobucketThe beans alone – they were fine.  They were significantly better after sitting for a couple of days, but, of course, we expected that.  Did they need the rice?  No.  But you know what really REALLY made the dish?  The feta cheese.  It was actually good French feta that I’d picked up at the cheese stall at the market – not that supermarket stuff.  It brought a punch of briny, pungent creaminess to the creamy, mellow beans, and, just, wow.

So here’s the bottom line – fresh beans are cool.  But I’m pretty sure this dish would be (almost) as good using soaked dried beans.

I guess we’ll have to try it and find out.  And maybe plant some beans in the garden next year!

If you’d like to play along, leave a comment with a link to (or a description of) your Third Thursday project – tell us what you’re up to!  For loose (really loose!) guidelines, or if you want to check out some past Thursdays, they’re right here!

September’s Third Thursday: It’s Freedom Cheese! September 15, 2011

Posted by Toy Lady in Cook's Illustrated, Cooking, random stuff, Third Thursday.
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Welcome to September’s Third Thursday!

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You know, with every Third Thursday that goes by, I marvel at just how fast the time goes, don’t you?  Another month, almost done – holy cow!

PhotobucketNot too long ago, one of our favorite people TV shows collectives launched a new bloggy-type website – America’s Test Kitchen’s Feed, and I immediately subscribed to their feed (heh) and, every morning, I’m treated to a bunch of neat information – behind-the-scenes stuff (do you realize ATK is a pet-friendly workplace?  How cool is that?), equipment reviews, random information, and some cool “do it yourself” tutorials.

Imagine – the folks at America’s Test Kitchen meets DIY!

PhotobucketAnd so, a couple of weeks ago, when Homemade American Cheese showed up in my Google reader, I knew it was a sign.

See, I love cheese.  I was raised in Wisconsin, and I am a Dairy State gal through and through.  And, once upon a time, American cheese was sort of a guilty pleasure.

There’s just something about slices of plastic-wrapped, um, plastic that, well, eventually it wore thin, I guess.  I mean, sure, it melted nicely and all, but, well, what is that stuff, anyway?

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I’m pretty sure that “cheese” – the kind that’s made from milk and time – had very little to do with anything.

Now don’t get me wrong – processed cheese food does have its place, to be sure.  Nothing else really melts like those slices on a burger, does it?

Not to mention grilled cheese sandwiches – one of my all-time favorites.

But still.  It’s not really cheese, is it?

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Or IS it?

Suppose you get those good folks at America’s Test Kitchen on the job, and they REconstruct American cheese?

And they start with honest-to-goodness cheese!  And milk!

Imagine that!

I mean, sure, there’s some “processing” involved, yeah.

But does it really count as “processed food” when you’re doing the processing your own self?

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Yeah, I don’t think so either.

So here’s the lowdown.

You take 3/4 of a pound of REAL cheese (Colby is recommended) (we used 8 ounces of colby and 4 ounces of colby-jack) (we’re wild like that), and you shred it and “process” it with powdered milk, salt and cream of tarter.

So far, we know what all of the ingredients are, which is half the battle, right?

Meanwhile, we bloom a bit of powdered gelatin (which we keep on hand anyway) in a bit of water, stir that into some hot milk, and then pour it into the cheese mixture with the food processor running.

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Processing, baby!

Once everything is mixed together, and the “cheese product” is smooth and shiny, we’re ready to pack it into a plastic-wrapped pan-bowl-vessel-container of some sort.

Remember, we’re only starting with 12 ounces of cheese, so we don’t need anything too big.

Cover tightly, and let it sit in the fridge overnight.

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At which point it will be nicely slice-able and ready for whatever you’d normally use processed cheese for – the world is at your feet!

Do you want to make a nacho dip?  Go for it!

Grilled cheese?  Have at it!

You don’t have to worry about what you’re eating – you know exactly what’s in your processed cheese, because you processed it yourself!

How’s that for freedom?

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Since it’s still (barely) grilling season, we went ahead and sliced some cheese and melted them on burgers.

And I’ll tell you what – the flavor and the texture were nearly identical to a certain processed cheese food which shall remain nameless.  And while that may not be what you want every day, it certainly has its place.

Plus, you know what it is, which definitely an advantage over that other block of orange stuff!

So bottom line – it was a little fussy, yeah.  But it actually tastes like processed American cheese – and there’s a reason they still make that stuff, you know!

And I’d do it again.

If you’d like to play along, leave a comment with a link to (or a description of) your Third Thursday project – tell us what you’re up to!  For loose (really loose!) guidelines, or if you want to check out some past Thursdays, they’re right here!

August Third Thursday: Pasta Prima Donna August 18, 2011

Posted by Toy Lady in Cook's Country, Cooking, Third Thursday.
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Welcome to August’s Third Thursday – and may I ask, where did the summer go?

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We may be three weeks into August already, but around here, that means Fresh Produce!  Everything in the world is in season, it seems, and we’d be crazy not to take advantage of that.

PhotobucketSo, while I’m enjoying my tomato harvest, I know it’s a fine line between “oh, look at all the lovely, lovely tomatoes” and “what the heck am I going to do with all these #@!% tomatoes?” if you know what I mean.

So I keep on the lookout for ideas – recipes that I can use that will keep the tomato glut under control, or at least manageable.

Fortunately, we received the August/September issue of Cook’s Country right about the time the tomatoes were starting to ripen, and right there, in the “30-minute supper” section of the magazine, was a recipe for Spaghetti with Summer Vegetable Sauce.

We like spaghetti.

PhotobucketAnd I, at least, love summer vegetables.

Plus Peeps was in New Jersey that weekend, so I didn’t inflict summer squash on him.

See, here’s the thing with Cook’s Illustrated, and, to some extent, Cook’s Country – they know what they’re doing.  The recipes may be a bit, well, fussy, but, when it comes down to it, you get out of it what you put into it.

Or, put another way, you’ll thank them later.

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However, Cook’s Country is much more approachable.  Sure, they’ve got their little quirks (like melting half a stick of butter into ground beef for burgers to guarantee moistness – say!), but all in all, most of their recipes are designed for regular home cooks in a regular home kitchen – those of us without interns (or kids) to clean up after us.

PhotobucketAnyway, when I saw this recipe, I first thought “huh, this sounds a lot like pasta primavera which I like” and “oh, hey, Peeps is going to be at his mom’s one weekend, so I can enjoy zucchini and summer squash to my little heart’s content!”

Peeps is not a fan of zucchini or summer squash.  It’s just easier for me to enjoy them when he’s not suffering through them.  I’m a sport like that.

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The only thing is that the original recipe calls for 12 ounces of cherry tomatoes.  Now, looking at my single cherry tomato plant, one would think that it was producing at least that much – every day!  But, alas, that’s not the case.  The tomatoes are tiny, and there don’t seem to be a lot ripe at any one time.   (I’ve always been kind of  torn about cherry tomatoes – are they cute little packages of tomato-y goodness, or are they a waste of garden space?  I can’t quite decide.)

Not to worry, though – I just chopped up 12 ounces of real tomatoes, that’s all.

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While your pasta is cooking (I used penne rather than spaghetti – I’m a rebel like that), you make your sauce – melt a couple of tablespoons of butter, saute a chopped onion until it’s soft, then some thin-sliced zucchini and yellow squash  (one of each) and cook that.  Add a couple of cloves of minced garlic, then your diced tomatoes, 1/2 cup of dry white wine, and salt and pepper – about 1/2 teaspoon of each.

Let the “sauce” reduce – the vegetables will cook, and the flavors will concentrate and it’ll all be very nice.

PhotobucketOnce the liquid has reduced by half, and the pasta is cooked, it’s time to combine the two.   Reserve a bit of pasta water when draining, and toss the pasta with the sauce.

And now here comes the “secret ingredient” -when you toss the pasta with the sauce, add 6 tablespoons of basil pesto.  (Or, if you still have last year’s pesto in the freezer, and are cheering that you’ve something to use it in, you can use 3 ice cubes of it.)  And, as an extra bonus for me, I also had some of the dried tomato pesto from last fall in the freezer – I added a cube of that, too.  A little extra tomato never hurt anyone!

And here’s the thing.  This pasta was absolutely delightful.  The Boy and I enjoyed it for dinner, and we had 4 servings left.  I froze two, and had one for lunch the next day.  I was looking forward to the second for lunch the following day, but it had, um, disappeared.  I guess that’s a good thing, right?

Except for me, that is.

If you’d like to play along, leave a comment with a link to (or a description of) your Third Thursday project – tell us what you’re up to!  For loose (really loose!) guidelines, or if you want to check out some past Thursdays, they’re right here!

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