Category Archives: baking

Snow Patrol

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We got snowed in and I couldn’t be happier.

I love snow; always have. I grew up next door to a small park that is probably a whole lot bigger in my memory than it actually is, but memories do that as we get older, don’t they?

It was big enough to have a basketball court, a small playground, a Little League-sized baseball field tucked into one of the corners and a large hill that was just perfect for sledding down. It was pretty steep and if you got enough momentum going, it was entirely possible to end up down in the middle of the park, between the basketball court and the slide.

And it was right next door to the house. True, I probably would have preferred living next door to the local library, but since I had a tendency to be on the, ahem, chunky side as a kid, I was probably better off living next door to Woodland Park.

It was always great fun to have school cancelled, drag the sled out of the garage and take it next door for a couple of hours. And it was always more fun to come back home, get out of the wet stuff and into dry clothes. With some hot chocolate and cookies, natch.

Here in Philly, we ended up with around two feet of snow. Of course, now when it snows I have to make sure we have enough cat food and people food and baking supplies and tea. I remember when wine and cigarettes were on that list, but no more.

But the makings for lasagna and apricot linzer torte bars were. And cookies are always good, blizzard or no blizzard.


I found this recipe on the Betty Crocker website when I was craving thumbprint cookies. You know those; you usually see recipes for them around the holidays. They’re a butter cookie that’s dipped in beaten egg white and then rolled around in finely chopped nuts. Then you take your thumb, make an indentation and fill it with jam before you bake them. They’re beautiful to look at and absolutely delicious, but a bit of a “do” to make. I’ve made them for the holidays and I’ll be honest; the older I get, the less fuss I want to deal with, cookies included.

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Tea, anyone?

I make mine just a bit differently from the recipe though (of course I do). For some reason, there’s no salt in the cookie base part of the recipe and you need salt to bring out the subtle flavors of the butter and ground nuts. And I like less “base” and more topping too, so mine’s more like a filled cookie bar.

The only other suggestion I’d make is to use a really good jam or fruit spread for the filling, and warm it up a bit before you spread it on the base. Sprinkle a bit of confectioner’s sugar on top if you’d like, and you’re ready for tea.

Apricot Shortbread Cookies

  • 1 cup of unbleached white flour
  • 1 cup of confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 cup ground walnuts
  • ¼ tsp of salt
  • 1/2 cup of unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2/3 cup of fruit jam, preserves, conserves or spread (please promise me you won’t use grape)
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2. In a large bowl, mix everything but the jam together until it looks like coarse crumbs. You can use a fork, two knives or a pastry cutter, but your fingers work best for this. Besides, it’s fun!
  3. Put half of the mixture into a 9”x9” pan. Press it evenly  into the bottom of the pan and then press down into the corners to make sure it’s nice and firm.
  4. Warm up the jam a bit in the microwave. Spread it over the base evenly and out to the corners. Sprinkle the rest of the cookie mixture evenly and lightly press into the fruit filling.
  5. Let it bake for about 25 minutes or until it’s nice and golden. Let it cool completely before you cut into these; the filling is crazy hot.
  6. Enjoy!

“If I Only Had A Brain…”

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So as of this past Wednesday, I have three weeks left on my work contract. And six weeks until I have my surgery to fix that brain thing of mine, for those of you playing along at home.

And I’d be lying if I said all of it wasn’t starting to affect me just a little bit. Okay, a lot. I’m exhausted, tired, and more than a little bit cranky, in constant need of a cup of tea and a long nap. I went through something very similar right before my cancer surgery last year. It’s a combination of the anticipation (if it can be called that), a good old-fashioned case of the jitters (Brain surgery! Eep!) and keeping overly busy to avoid dealing with both of them.

Clearly, I’m very well-versed in avoidance techniques.

In three weeks the work will be over and it’ll be Thanksgiving and then I’ll have some time to catch my breath. I’ll finish up my accounting class and get some knitting in. I’ll fill up the freezer with soups and stews and pasta sauce and some lasagna so my wonderful P won’t have to worry about cooking anything while I’m on the mend.

Man and woman can’t live on pizza alone. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea, you understand.

But if I’ve learned anything from the whole cancer recovery experience, it’s that it’s much, much better to be over prepared than under-prepared. Especially when one half of the couple is snoozing away on the couch, drooling into her mug of Darjeeling, stomach growling.  And the other half hates to cook.

Of course, I’m also stocking up on yarn for the afghan, since the plan is to get as much crocheting in as possible. I’m not counting on getting a whole afghan done, but hey, you never know.

I’ll have things to read, but I’m not sure if I’ll want to get a jump on my spring semester reading or not. Macroeconomics doesn’t exactly sound like a lightweight subject, so I think I’ll stick to something that I don’t have to think about. A co-worker gave me a whole box full of knitting books and patterns and magazines she no longer wants.

Which will be absolutely perfect, especially if all I feel like doing is looking at the pretty pictures.

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Last weekend I made a loaf (okay, two small loaves) of three grain bread. I put the pictures out on the Intertubes and my Twitter friend Roy asked me for the recipe. So I sent the poor guy over here on a wild goose chase because I was pretty sure that I’d shared it at one point last year and was really surprised to discover that nope, I hadn’t. And then I remembered (or conveniently…forgot) that this time last year I was still on the semi-liquid diet and wasn’t able to eat anything that wasn’t tapioca pudding or instant breakfast. 

Voila!

Voila!

Shudder.

Anyways, I’m making up for lost time this year. This comes from “Love Soup” and is one of those great wet-dough-no-knead-technique bread recipes which are pretty perfect to start with if you’re new to baking bread. There’s a lot of liquid and a whole lot of yeast and what you end up with is a very heavy, wet dough that, ta-daah!, doesn’t have to be kneaded. At all. You just mix it and let it rise. Then you shape it and let it rise again. You bake it and you have bread.

See? That’s about as easy as it gets.

This is a very rustic loaf of bread; it’s not fine-grained and it’s even a bit crumbly. But it’s delicious.


Three Grain Bread for Roy

  • 1 ½ cups very warm water (about 100° F or so; it should feel like very warm bathwater)
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp dry active yeast (do not use fast-rising yeast)
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • ½ cup rye flour
  • 2 Tbsp cornmeal, plus more for the baking sheet
  • 2 Tbsp neutral-tasting oil (I use sunflower)
  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the water, honey, salt and the yeast. Let it sit until the yeast dissolves and gets foamy, about 10 to 15 minutes or so. If the mixture doesn’t get foamy, you’ll have to start over.
  2. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the flours and the cornmeal to mix them.
  3. Whisk in half of the flour mixture into the yeast mixture and give it a really good stir until it’s all dissolved. Whisk in the oil. Now, with a good, heavy wooden or hotel spoon, add the rest of the flour mixture. It’s going to be heavy and thick and really tough to stir. Keep at it until it’s all mixed.
  4. Now put a towel over it and let it rise until it’s doubled and collapses on itself. This will take a good couple of hours, so just be patient. Go and knit something or make some soup. The bread doesn’t need you right now.
  5. When it’s ready to be shaped, preheat your oven to 375° F. Take some cornmeal and cover the bottom of a baking sheet with it. Not a lot; you don’t want it to burn. Just enough so the bread doesn’t stick to the bottom. It’ll give you a nice, crunchy crust.
  6. Now, wet your hands and take the dough out of the bowl. Very quickly (it’s going to be very, very sticky) shape it into a ball. Place it, seam side down, on the baking sheet. Flatten it just a bit and cover it. Let it rise again until it’s about doubled.
  7. The recipe says that you should put a roasted pan of water in right about now to make the oven all steamy and to help create a crust. Since I always manage to spill the water all over the place, I never do this but you can if you like.
  8. When your loaf has risen, put it in the oven and let it bake for about an hour. You know your oven better than anyone, so you’ll have to adjust the time accordingly. I like to turn the bread around about halfway through just so it bakes evenly.
  9. About 5 minutes before your timer goes off (you are timing this, right?), take it out and off the baking sheet. Tap the bottom and see if it sounds hollow. If it does, it’s done. If not, give it another few minutes and then place it on a baking rack to cool. I like to take it out a few minutes short of when I think it’ll be done so it doesn’t overbake. Don’t forget, it’s still baking when it first comes out of the oven.
  10. Let it cool a bit and dig in. This also freezes really well. Just let it cool completely, put it in a freezer bag, get all the air out of it and toss it in there.
  11. Enjoy!

“I Sure Do Like Those Christmas Cookies, Sugar”

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When my boyfriend and I got together ten years ago, we thought it would be a fun idea to make a whole bunch of cookies for Christmas.

It made sense. We both liked to bake and since we weren’t going to spend the holiday together (sob!), we could “share the wealth” with our families and friends. Besides, everyone likes cookies.

So we bought butter and sugar and chocolate and I brought down my food processor. We ground nuts and creamed butter and dipped and spooned and flattened balls of dough. We both dug out recipes we loved and it seemed every time we turned around one of us was saying, “Oh! We have to make these. They’re just too good.”

And we baked and baked and baked some more. We had cooling racks on every empty horizontal spot in the apartment. We bought way, way too many zippered storage bags.

Finally, after a couple of weekends of doing this, we took a count of how many cookies we had.

536.

Yes, you read that right. 536 cookies, And that’s not counting the ones we ate along the way.

We gave away a lot of cookies that year. We had our own stash of cookies until March. Let me repeat that. March.

We had cookies until Easter. Easter, people.

And we still love cookies. I don’t eat a lot of sweets, but I will never, ever turn down a homemade cookie. One of the many (ahem) cookies we made that Christmas were these linzer torte bars. Bar cookies are great for when you want cookies but don’t feel like futzing around too much. And these are basically thumbprint cookies without all that faffing around.

Cuppa?

Cuppa?

Two things, though. The recipe doesn’t call for salt and the dough definitely needs a pinch of it. I know, you don’t think about salt in cookies, but most recipes do call for a tiny smidge of it. You could probably go all hipster and add a very small sprinkle of Himalayan pink salt to the top, but it’s just easier to add maybe an eighth of a teaspoon to the dough itself and not get that huge salt hit on your tongue, which I don’t particularly care for.

And it goes without saying that they’ll only be as good as your jam or fruit spread is. I used Bonne Maman’s apricot preserves in this and it worked beautifully. They’re perfect with a cup of tea.

And I had a stubborn craving for these almond cookies this week, which are also great with a brew. I haven’t made them in forever and once I pulled the recipe out, I remembered why. The recipe, as written, calls for “solid vegetable shortening”, or Crisco.

Eww. I don’t use Crisco. Actually, most almond cookie recipes call for lard, which as you can figure out, has no place in my vegetarian kitchen. So I’ll hold off on making these until I can find a substitute for the solid vegetable shortening. Yes, I can use butter, but butter isn’t used in Asian cooking. Hmm.

Clearly more research is needed. Time to fire up the Kitchen Aid.


Almond Cookies (from Martin Yan’s “Chinese Cooking For Dummies”)

  • 1 ¾ cups of all-purpose flour
  • ¾ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup solid vegetable shortening
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup packed light brown sugar
  • ⅛ tsp salt
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • ½ cup chopped blanched almonds
  • 32 almond halves
  1. Sift the flour, baking powder and baking soda into a bowl.
  2. In a large bowl, beat the shortening, sugar, brown sugar and salt with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and almond extracts; beat until blended. Add the flour mixture and beat until fully incorporated.
  3. Add the chopped almonds and stir to mix well. Shape the dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to two days.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350°. Roll about a tablespoon of the dough into a ball and place the balls (ahem) 2 to 3 inches apart on a baking sheet. Press and almond half into the center of each ball.
  5. Bake until golden brown, 14 – 16 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheet for 7 minutes and then transfer to a rack to cool completely.
  6. Enjoy!

“We’ve got some beans and some good cornbread…”

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I made chili yesterday.

This, alone, by itself, was the source of much joy and happiness around chez littleredyarn yesterday morning since I haven’t made chili since last September. It also means that I can eat spicy foods again. My mouth is finally, finally, healing up.

I almost did back handsprings, naked, down Baltimore Avenue. I still may.

But you can’t have chili without cornbread. And rice. And guacamole and sour cream and salsa and grated Cheddar. Well, you could, but where’s the fun in that?

Mmmm.

Mmmm.

I’ll post the recipe for the chili later on in the week, but here’s two recipes for cornbread. The first recipe (from “Love Soup”) is the one I made last night. It’s wonderful and delicious, but it’s a little bit of work. That said, it’s definitely worth it.

The second recipe (from “New Classics”) is a much quicker one and the leftovers are great the next day with peanut butter and jam for breakfast. Yum.


 

Corn and Cheddar Cheese Cornbread

  • 1 ¼ cups unbleached white flour
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 ½ cups cornmeal
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 cups corn kernels (frozen is fine)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup sliced scallions/green onions, white and green parts
  • 2 ½ oz. grated sharp Cheddar
  • ¼ tsp. dried thyme (got fresh? ½ tsp.)
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Butter an 8 inch square baking dish.
  2. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt in a bowl. Add the cornmeal and the sugar.
  3. Combine the buttermilk and half the corn in the blender and puree until you get a rough puree. Beat the eggs lightly, then add the buttermilk mixture, the remaining 1 cup of corn, scallions, Cheddar and thyme.
  4. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ones, mixing everything together thoroughly and stir in the melted butter. Pour the thick batter into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly. BAke the cornbread for about 40 minutes. or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. The top should be slightly puffed and lightly browned.
  5. Let it cool just a bit before diving in.
  6. Enjoy!

Cornbread

  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar
  • 1 cup buttermilk or yogurt

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°. Butter a 9” square baking dish.
  2. Put the dry ingredients into a large bowl and whisk together to remove the lumps.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil, sugar and buttermilk. Make a well in the dry ingredients and stir in the wet ingredients until just blended. Be careful not to overmix.
  4. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. Enjoy. Don’t forget the peanut butter and jam.

Time Out Of Mind

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I don’t know what happened this week.

One minute I was tweeting on and on (and on and on and on) about how long I was waiting for my appointments at Fox Chase on Tuesday and the next thing I know it’s Friday afternoon. Apparently I missed the entry in the “Cancer Patients’ Handbook” that says being sick is a full-time job.

And that time definitely does fly when you’re not necessarily having fun, too.

In keeping with that theme, here’s a quick recipe for whole wheat rolls. They’re from “The Dairy Hollow House Cookbook” which I ordered from Powell’s a few years back.

I need to go and catch my breath. See you next week.


Dairy Hollow House Dinner RollsYum.

  • 1 Tbsp. active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 Tbsp. honey
  • 1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup unbleached white flour
  • ¼ tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp. oil (I use sunflower)

 

  1. Dissolve the yeast in the honey and the water.
  2. Whisk together the flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
  3. Add half of the flour mixture to the water mixture. Stir in the vinegar and oil. Add the rest of the flour mixture.
  4. Knead for about 5 minutes or until it’s smooth and glossy. Place in a buttered bowl, cover and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour or so.
  5. Preheat the oven to 425°
  6. Punch dough down and form into rolls. Place them on an ungreased non-stick baking sheet. Cover and let rise again, about 20 minutes or so.
  7. Bake for about 15 or 20 minutes. Cool and devour.
  8. Enjoy!