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Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Wizard the Platinum

. . . in which dimples were flaunted, a lingering question about the tongue-rolling gene was answered, and an owie was preserved in pixels for posterity.


Sir Isaac

Yesterday we took advantage of a relatively balmy late afternoon for some time out in the back yard. I at first thought I could get good shots of the three kids together, but as you can see that didn't work out.

So, I aimed to shoot each child individually. Here are the best shots of Newton:


Monday, November 17, 2008

Goin' All Medieval on Your Tummy

Book group met on Saturday last to discuss The Goose Girl, young adult fiction by Shannon Hale. It's set in a medieval-Europe-type place, and tells the story of an intrepid princess and her (mis-)adventures, which inlcuded serving for a time as a goosekeeper. I thought soup sounded appropriately peasant-y, served with a simple and simply-dressed green salad and crusty bread. We started with the leftover cheese from my brother's birthday party (11 kinds!), and we finished with Panna Cotta with Almond Cream and Pomegranate, so no one was in danger of experiencing butterfat deficiency.

Some of the cheeses.

Fettuccine and White Bean Soup
adapted from Cook's Illustrated Sept/Oct 1999

1/4 C olive oil
4 oz prosciutto, diced fine
1 med onion, diced fine
1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes, with liquid
1 celery stalk, diced fine
1 med potato, peeled and cut into 1/2" dice
2 t salt (unless you are able to find low-sodium everything, I would start with a teaspoon here and add more if needed later)
2 15.5-oz cans white beans, with liquid
1 1/2 T minced fresh sage leaves
5 oz fettuccine, broken into 2" pieces
ground black pepper

Heat olive oil in large dutch oven over medium heat. Add prosciutto and onion; sauté until onion is translucent, 4-5 minutes. Add tomatoes with their liquid, celery, potato, salt, beans with their liquid, sage, and 6 C water; bring to a boil and cook until potato is tender, about 5 minutes. Add fettuccine and cook, stirring occasionally, until pasta is tender, 7-8 minutes. Off heat, adjust seasonings and serve.

Butternut Squash Soup
adapted from Cook's Illustrated, Nov/Dec 2001

4 T unsalted butter
2 med shallots, minced (about 1/4 C)
1 carrot, peeled and diced fine
2 celery rib, diced fine
6 C water, or part homemade chicken stock (I used just water this time and it was great)
3 lb butternut squash, halved lengthwise, seeds and pulp removed and reserved, and each half cut into quarters
1/2 C heavy cream
1 t dark brown sugar

1. Heat butter in large dutch oven over medium-low heat until foaming; add shallots, carrot and celery and cook, stirring frequently, until shallot and celery are softened and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add squash seeds and pulp and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and breaking down, about 4 minutes. Add water or mixed water and stock, and 1 1/2 t salt and bring to boil over high heat; reduce heat to medium-low, and put squash over simmering liquid in steamer basket. Cover and steam until squash is completely tender, about 30 minutes. Off heat, use tongs to transfer squash to shallow dish; reserve cooking liquid. When cool enough to handle, remove peels and strings from squash and transfer flesh to medium bowl; discard skin.

2. Pour reserved steaming liquid through mesh strainer into second bowl; discard solids. Rinse dutch oven if it's yukky.

3. Use your preferred method to purée squash and liquid--either in a blender, with a stick blender in the pot, or by running squash through a food mill. Heat over medium heat until at least simmering; remove from heat and stir in cream and brown sugar. Adjust seasonings and serve.

Panna Cotta with Almond Cream and Pomegranate
published in the Oregonian FOODday, December 13, 2005
from Cathy Whims of Nostrana
(it's still on the menu, currently with blackberry sauce)

Panna cotta:
2 C heavy cream
1 1/2 t unflavored gelatin
1 C sugar
2 C whole-milk plain yogurt (she likes Nancy's; I used Brown Cow)

Almond cream:
1/4 lb almonds (orig recipe calls for whole unblanched; I used diced roasted and loved the flavor)
5 T sugar
2 C heavy cream
tiny pinch of salt
1-2 drops almond extract

1/2 C pomegranate seeds for garnish

To make panna cotta: Pour the cream into a small saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin over the cream. Let stand for 15 minutes. Add the sugar to the cream mixture and heat over medium eat until just hot to the touch. Stir well to be sure the gelatin and sugar are dissolved (it will look a little yellow) and then take off heat. Whisk yogurt in a mixing bowl until smooth. Slowly whisk in hot cream mixture. Pour into 8-12 4-oz ramekins (sprayed with nonstick cooking spray if you're going to want to unmold them). Cover and refrigerate overnight.

To make almond cream: Process almonds and sugar in food processor for two minutes. Meanwhile, gently simmer cream with salt for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add ground almond mixture. Let cool (takes a couple of hours), then pass through a sieve lined with a single layer of cheesecloth or a fine-meshed chinoise. If cream is too thick to pass through the cheesecloth, thin with a tablespoon of plain cream. Add almond extract.

To serve, run a knife around the edge of each ramekin, turn upside down on a dessert plate and shake downward sharply once or twice to release panna cotta. Spoon a ribbon of almond cream around each panna cotta and garnish with pomegranate seeds.

I decided not to unmold them to save time, and I don't know if they would have stood up on the plate if I had. Certainly by the following day (two days after mixing them up), they were pretty runny, but still edible. I suspect it was because of the live cultures in the yogurt.

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Fall Colors

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes We Can . . . Bake Cookies!

I was inspired by Adriana's cupcake. I initially thought I'd make cupcakes, too, but then I decided to make sugar cookies instead. Unfortunately (as you can see in the picture of the larger-sized cookies), I ran out of my blue and then red sugars! But you get the general idea.

This is the sugar cookie recipe I grew up with. I like to roll them thin and bake them until they're starting to brown, so they're nice and crispy brown-buttery. YMMV. To make the design, I printed out a couple of the pumpkin stencils from Yes We Carve, cut them two ways (so I'd have one stencil for the white sugar and the other for the colored), and found cutters the right size. I had a biscuit cutter just right for the O in the BOO! stencil; for the larger size (from No More Tricks!) I used the mouth of a drinking glass.
Miller's Cookies for Kids

1 C unsalted butter
2/3 C sugar
3 T dark brown sugar
3/4 t salt
1 t vanilla
2 eggs
3 C flour

Cream butter and sugars together, then beat in salt, vanilla and eggs. Mix in flour until just incorporated; do not overbeat. Make dough into two discs, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate (I sometimes skip this step, but it makes it easier to roll them out if you don't). After a few hours in the fridge, preheat oven to 350 and roll out dough on well-floured surface to desired thickness (I prefer 1/8"; I wouldn't go much thicker than 3/16"). Cut into desired shapes, and arrange on parchment-lined baking sheets. Sprinkle with colored sugar if desired. Bake 12-15 minutes on insulated sheets, 10-12 on noninsulated. Transfer to racks and let cool, then ice if desired (and you didn't sprinkle them with sugar).


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Night Olio

I got so caught up listening to the election coverage that we completely spaced Newton's piano lesson tonight. Oops! Hope we can figure out a time to make it up.

Just after the election was called, around 8 pm here, I heard some ruckus, so I went to the front door to check. I could hear neighbors in at least three different directions out on their front porches, whoopin' and hollerin', and a few car horns tooting. I let out a whoop, too. Wonder when we'll get around to taking down our lawn sign, or taking the magnet off our car?


I have taken to calling myself a Garbage Nazi. I try not to throw anything away that can be reused or recycled. I really knew it was bad when I was able to organize three Enrichment crafts just from materials I had on hand. So this morning as I was pulling out of the driveway to take Newton to school (and teach music there), I noticed that our next-door neighbor had some block styrofoam balanced on top of his garbage can. I immediately pulled out my phone and called to tell David to snag it and add it to our own basement stash of block styrofoam so it wouldn't go to the landfill. No, I don't have a reuse in mind for the block styrofoam. It's just enough of a pain to recycle (though less than it used to be) that I'll wait until I have a good load of it to do so.

Question: should I tell the neighbor I took it? Should I send an offer of recycling assistance on the neighborhood e-mail list? Or should I just keep my mouth shut and not turn completely into a recycling evangelist?


Quite suddenly, the Wizard started being able to match pitch, a little, sort of. I had been a little concerned that it wasn't able to carry a tune or match my pitch when I was singing with him, even after I experimented with different ranges. Then, last week, he just started spontaneously matching me, between 10 and 30% of the time. Then he would say, at the end of each song, "Mommy! You sing just like me!" Very cute. I hope it does end up being spontaneous and effortless--I would hate for it to become an issue like it did with my youngest sister (she was a little later to match pitch than some, and we made fun of her, and she stopped singing).


The Martha Stewart enameled cast iron dutch ovens have been marked down further, at least some of them. The smaller size is now down to 50% off, so keep an eye out for the larger size to do the same.


For your edification and enjoyment, some recent shots of Cindy Lou:

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Monday, November 3, 2008


In my family of origin, spudnuts were a Halloween tradition. Since there's not much not to like about deep-fried and glazed sweet, yeasty dough, I've continued the tradition with my own family (much to my neighbors' delight!).

You could also make these for Hanukkah.

(adapted from the Salem Fourth Ward cookbook, Garden of Eatin'; recipe submitted by Pat Youngberg)

2 eggs, beaten
1/2 C unsalted butter (original recipe calls for Crisco)
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C light corn syrup
1/2 C leftover mashed potatoes
1/2 C potato water
1 C scalded milk
2 t salt
3 T yeast, dissolved in 1/4 C warm water
6 C flour

Make sure all ingredients are at room temperature. Mix all ingredients in stand mixer. Before you add the flour, the mixture may look something like this, with unincorporated bits of butter:

Do not fear. After you've mixed in all the flour, you will have a smooth, albeit sticky, dough.

Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let stand for two hours. It will have about doubled in volume. Turn dough out onto a heavily-floured surface. Knead in just enough flour that the dough doesn't stick to everything (only a few turns), then roll 1/2" thick. If dough springs back too much to easily reach that thickness, do something else for five minutes and come back after it has relaxed a bit. Cut rolled dough with a donut cutter, and arrange on waxed-paper-lined cookie sheets, spaced as shown.

Let rise for 1 hour. I arrange my donut-filled cookie sheets in the oven with its light on. Do not let rise longer than an hour, or the dough will start to stick to the waxed paper. A half-hour before rising period will be over, start heating oil to 375 degrees in a deep-fryer or electric skillet. For my large electric skillet, I used almost a full gallon of canola oil. I suppose it's possible to do this without one of those appliances, but I think managing the oil temperature would be much more of a pain. And maintaining a consistently-hot temperature is the most important factor in turning out perfect (non-greasy) donuts.

Just before starting to fry the donuts, whisk together 1 1/4 lb powdered sugar and 1/2 C + 2 T boiling water in a flat-bottomed bowl (the original recipe calls for 1 lb and 1/2 C, but there's never quite enough glaze to finish the whole batch).

When the oil reaches temperature, add donuts to the pan and fry until golden, flipping mid-way with a fork. Do not fill the pan full, as it will lower the oil temperature too much (for my size pan, I don't put in more than 9 donuts at a time). When they're done, transfer them to paper towels or clean brown bags to absorb excess oil.

Then quickly dip the donuts in the glaze, turning with a fork or skewer. Let as much glaze as possible drip back into the bowl, and place on a rack over a sheet of waxed paper to cool.

With my 3" cutter (with a 1 3/8" center), this recipe makes four dozen plus a couple donuts (I also have a 3 1/2" cutter, and those donuts are just too big).

Don't forget to recycle your used oil! You can use it up to four times before you have to get rid of it, but you have to filter and refrigerate it in between, and you shouldn't keep it longer than a month or so. I made batches on Friday and Saturday and used the same oil, without filtering and refrigerating, because I was making the same thing only a day apart. Now I'm decanting it back into its original bottle to take to Metro's hazardous waste facility, and it will eventually make its way into biodiesel. Yay!

Edited to add: I forgot to say, beware of making this into an assembly-line operation. There was a time when I wished I had a sous-chef for the frying and glazing part of the process, BUT the time it takes to glaze each panful is just about the right amount of time for the oil to get back up to temperature for the next set.

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Sunday, November 2, 2008

Happy Day of the Dead

We decorated Day of the Dead sugar skulls at Enrichment at church this month, and I finally got around to icing the leftovers. I wrote the names of our dead loved ones (thankfully few--I ran out of names before I ran out of skulls), and kind of went nuts with the intensely-colored icing. Did you know royal icing is still usable even after two+ weeks if it's sealed in a pastry bag?

Making them is not hard--just buy the molds (I ordered my first one online, but I bought the rest for less at a local fair trade import store) and follow the instructions. Then make royal icing (again following the instructions) and use gel food coloring to get bright colors. I had disposable plastic pastry bags, but you could easily use zippered bags and just snip a tiny corner to squeeze the icing out. I put coloring in each bag, the divided the icing, sealed the bag, and kneaded the color in until no streaks remained.

Mavis and I attended a Day of the Dead party. We thought of a few costumes that would have been more Day of the Dead-ish, but at the last minute decided on Zeus (complete with foil-covered cardboard lightning bolt) and Hera. (The fact that Zeus' eyes are closed in the picture was not apparent when I looked at the picture on the camera.)

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