Monday, October 30, 2006

You Will Love These Scones.

I adore tinkering around with recipes, and when I happen upon something that works, I am giddy as anyone who ever yelled "Eureka!" These simple drop scones were concocted, baked, and being... appreciated (num num num), in less than an hour. The recipe differs from most scone recipes in that it involves no rolling or cutting, there's no shortening, and I used light brown sugar in place of granulated. The result is nothing short of a delightful buttery and crumbly scone with just a hint of sweet to it.

I do lay emphasis on the "crumbly"; you could cut these, once cooled, and spread with butter and jam, but I find they work best if munched whole with a cup of tea. Either way, I continue to stand by my title and declare than you will indeed, love these scones.

Drop Scones

2 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup light brown sugar
6 tablespoons softened butter
3/4 cup cream
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 375. Combine flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Add butter and mix well. In a separate bowl, lightly whisk together cream and egg. Add to dry ingredients, and quickly stir. With your hands, section out dough onto a lightly greased tray. Bake 15 minutes, or until golden brown along the edges.
Enjoy and love!


Sunday, October 29, 2006

In a Jam- Cranberry that is!

I know there's been quite of bit of cranberry on this humble little blog, but with a bunch of fresh cranberry left over after making the Cranberry and Gruyère breakfast quiche, I decided to jump full into oncoming winter and make the first batch of cranberry jam. I might have played Christmas music, and it might have still been October. But you weren't here, so that's a secret you may never find out!

Cranberry jam is one of the simplest and quickest ways to cook something to put you in the holiday spirit. Vibrantly red, sinfully tart and alive, this recipe is sure to make you smile- it also happens to be a fantastic gift.

This version is one I've created, taking a little of this, a little of that, and finding what works for me. I use a few unconventional items, such as grapefruit juice instead of lemon or orange, and brown sugar instead of granulated. What I've ended up with, however, never fails to delight. You can serve a spoonful of this with poultry, or lamb. Spread on toast, biscuits, or scones it fulfills every facet of what a jam should be. It is, indeed, a jammiest of jams.

Cranberry Jam

3 cups or 1 bag fresh cranberries
1 cup water
1 cup ruby red grapefruit juice
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine water, juice, and sugar in saucepot. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the cranberries. Top with a lid- very important! (This is my favourite part! The cranberries pop as their skins burst, making this delightfully fun sound effect.)Reduce heat to medium low, adding the cinnamon. Stir often. When the sauce thickly coats the back of a spoon, transfer to a warmed jar, cool, then refrigerate if using immediately.

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Simple Crème Fraîche

I was super excited to be baking something for SHF. It would be my first event as a food blogger, and I had those first-day-of-school jitters as I prepped the recipe I had planned. Would it be edible? Would it look good? What were the other kids doing with their decorations?

As I began my foray into the event, it soon became clear that for me, the spolight was not going to be on my oh-so-cute mini cookies, but instead the crème fraîche. I had never made it before, and as a recent cross-country mover, I lack many standard kitchen appliances, utensils, and aids. What if I needed to do something incredibly high tech and convoluted to create this creamy, silky, nutty crème?

Rest assured, kitchenmates. Creating the crème fraîche is apparantly simple as encouraging the helpful bacteria to sour. After some poking around, a common recipe emerged: cream and buttermilk. I picked up both at the dairy, athrill with the idea of chemistry at work, and headed home to test this out.

My first roadblock was the innocuous labeling on my heavy whipping cream- the only whipping cream avaliable at the store. "Ultrapastuerized". No! Not ultra! The whole point was less pastuerization! Sometimes American dairy laws can be a bit on the frustrating side, eh? One site assured me that ultrapastuerized was okay, it just might take a little longer to set. It turns out that they were right- even without the extra time, ultrapastuerized was just fine.

In my research, I kept coming across two methods of thought for crafting crème fraîche; one was to warm the cream, then add the buttermilk. The other was to mix the two (without warming). I decided to test both methods and see which turned out the best. Several recipes also called for more buttermilk, while others called for less. I added a little extra to recipe #2, and also stored it in a plastic container with a lid (lid ajar) while recipe #1 was in a humble bowl, loosely covered with saran wrap. Then it was time to wait.

24 hours later, and it was clear there was an obvious winner. The cream and buttermilk I had combined without warming had thickened superbly, and was a lovely eggshell white in the plastic container. The other attempt however, refused to set even after additional hours were added to its time. It remained liquidy, with a runny layer on top. Dolloping my mini pumpkin cookies with the crème, I couldn't help but sneak a few bites. Later, I tried it in the tomato soup, and I am now plotting several winter soups with this addition. Until then, however, practice making simple crème fraîche on your own.

1 cup heavy cream (just pastuerized is best, but in a pinch, ultra-pasteurized will work)

2 Tablespoons buttermilk (I am inclined to think that 1 1/2 will work a bit better, but until I try that, I know for certain that 2 tablespoons works fine.)

Combine cream and buttermilk, and place in a glass jar, or small plastic containter. Set in a quiet area, at room temperature, and leave the lid slightly ajar. Let sit 24 hours, or until crème fraîche is thick. Once set, stir the crème fraîche, and refrigerate, up to 10 days.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Tomato is Good for the Soul

Chicken soup for the soul? Please.

The other day I was having a rough one. It's hard sometimes, moving someplace you've never been. Not knowing anyone is perhaps the most difficult part. In Wisconsin I had a set and comfortable social network, but here- although I love California, it's pretty much starting from the ground up.

Throwing myself into this blog is one way I've attempted to get past those days where life can feel pretty hopeless. I've loved puttering about in my kitchen, music dancing from my speakers, throwing together quiches and scones and more recently, soup. It's an act that not only gets my mind off my troubles, but also serves as a feeling of accomplishment when something turns out right. And this soup? It turned out very right.

Tomato soup has always been my favourite, and I am fortunate to rent from a traditional Italian couple with a (not so) traditional tomato garden that takes up half the back yard. I slipped on some shoes to poke around the fading garden. I was in no mood to wrestle over a big pot of soup, but a quick pick-me-up might be perfect. I started selecting tomatoes.

I have never made tomato soup, and this was pretty much by wing. Some steps I figured out half-way through; such as it might be a good idea to get the skins off the tomatoes, and that seeds don't constitute a creamy soup. I also had no masher, ricer, processor, blender, or any form of making a puree. So I went rustic, and I used my hands. Therapeutic? You bet.

Creamy Tomato Soup For One

1 dozen cherry tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste.

Quarter, peel, and de-seed tomatoes. With cherry tomatoes, this is easier than it looks. Simply use your thumb to scoop out the seeds along the sides, then again to remove the meat from the peel. By your third tomato you'll totally have it down. Once they're in a bowl (with a few renegade seeds, probably) you'll want to mash the suckers. Form your hand into a fist and press down slowly, so as to not cover yourself in tomato juice. It doesn't need to be a puree consistency, as long as they are smooshed pretty well.

Heat up the olive oil in a small saucepan, gently. You don't want to fry the tomatoes when you add them. Add the tomatoes and stir for a few moments, then top with 1 cup water. Cover, and let this simmer down and reduce, about ten to fifteen minutes. Once it's cooked down to a thick, bubbling consistency, stir, then add another cup of water. Up the heat slightly to quickly reduce, stirring often. You'll be smooshing the tomatoes slightly here, turning them into a bit of a tomato paste, and you'll want to be careful not to burn them over the high heat. Once the tomatoes have cooked down, remove them from the heat. Add the cream a very little bit at a time, stirring quickly, then add about 3/4 cup of water. Place this back over the heat once more for a few moments, stirring. Serve in one bowl, topped with crème fraîche and crushed red pepper.

This soup was creamy, thick with tomato, and vibrantly alive. It tasted so amazingly good, and heartwarming. Chicken noodle? Not on your life.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

WBB #6 Cranberry and Gruyère Quiche

The thing I love about events like Weekend Breakfast Blogging, is that it inspires me to look outside the box and try to create something new. I truly get a kick out of pondering what to put together for an event, mixing tastes and textures in my head. When the rules for this event (A twist on an ordinary breakfast) were announced, it didn't take me long to decide what I wanted to make.

I love quiche. I don't think I bolded that enough; I love quiche. Eggy, cheesy, often packed with savoury meats and veggies, all wrapped up in a flaky pie crust. What's not to love? They're inexpensive to make, and look great when entertaining, or even as warmed over leftovers while sitting on the couch and watching Veronica Mars. (Admit it, you love that show too.)

Second to pancakes (Mmmm), quiche is likely my number one breakfast food. It's definitely in the top three. That being said, I've never had a "sweet" quiche before, they've always been savoury. When pondering the event, I wondered to myself how a sweeter quiche would taste, and then grinned. I would make a fruit quiche! Originally I was going to go with strawberries, and a lighter cheese. Once at the store however, I decided to go instead with something a little more in season. Cranberries beckoned delightfully from the shelves, and I picked up a bag of dried, and fresh. For my cheese I wanted a strong, nutty flavour. You can use any swiss in the recipe, but Gruyère is what I recommend.

The recipe itself is fairly simple, and quick to make. I have to say, now that I've tried this, I definitely want to make some other sweet quiches, such as the strawberry one, perhaps a mango or peach quiche, or even a dark chocolate and nut quiche! In addition to the ready amount of fruits available there are also endless matching cheeses one could pair.

The original recipe is one of a myriad of quiche recipes. I learned to make quiche years and years ago, and they're all pretty much the same- eggs, cream, good fillings. This one in particular appeared in a French cookbook, and used bacon, onions, leeks, and cheddar- tell me that doesn't sound delicious!

Cranberry and Gruyère Quiche

1 pie crust (for the sake of time, I used ready made, but there are many good pie crust recipes about, such as here and here.)
3 eggs
1 1/2 cup light cream
7 ounces Gruyère or swiss cheese, cubed
3 handfuls dried cranberries (about 1 1/2 cups worth)
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Beat together the eggs and cream, then season with salt and pepper. The cranberries bring alot of sweetness to the quiche, so don't worry about salt in a sweet quiche. (Granted, don't go nuts, either. ;)) Sprinkle half the cheese over the pastry, then top with the cranberries, then the rest of the cheese.

-Side note: I didn't include it, but a breakfast type meat would go wonderfully with this, and perhaps make it more appealing to the carnivores in your family. Canadian bacon or crumbled breakfast sausage would be wonderful. If you intend to add meat, brown it first before adding it with the cranberries.

Pour on the egg mixture and bake 45 minutes, or until golden brown and set. For a topping, I sauteed some walnuts in some brown sugar and butter, then poured the bubbling mixture over the quiche.

I loved the way the cranberries plumped right up and flavoured the quiche, the cheese providing delightfully sharp contrast. Served as part of a holiday morning spread, you can't get very more festive than cranberry. :)

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Farmers Markets

Who doesn't love a Farmers Market? Fresh produce, smiling merchants, tiny tidbits of season suitable fruits and baked goods. Unfortunately, the FM I journeyed to on Sunday didn't hold true to the expected vision. There are a few reasons contributing, and those local who find that it was the Santana Row Farmer's Market can most likely immediately guess. Instead of stall after stall of crafts, baked goods, cheeses, and most importantly- community feel; I instead found a rather quiet and somber affair, some redundant stalls, and little else to experience.

There were a few nice things. Some plump clusters of grapes, easily beating the other vineyard offers at the Market. A "new" fruit called a jujube- enticing enough to warrant a possible trip back, if I find a recipe for it. There were some early pumpkins, and it's true that a pumpkin will always make me smile.

Over all, it just felt rushed and sad to me, plastic and pretentious. It felt as though the only reason the Market existed at all was so that people could stop and say "I went to a Farmers Market this Sunday", to their friends. It felt false. Perhaps I'm used to Wisconsin, where the feeling of community pervades everything that happens in the city. Where the markets stretch for several streets, not one small courtyard. Where the farmers are truly farmers, and this is their passion, their life's blood. I know such markets have to exist in Northern California, I can feel it. In this windswept, pine-scented portion of soil, there must be a market that is alive.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

SHF #24: Mini Pumpkin Cookies with Crème Fraîche

When I read the rules for Sugar High Friday's entry, I was enchanted. Visions of petit fours, tiny tarts, or little canapés of fruit danced through my head. Should I use chocolate? Something fancy with a raspberry reduction? No, I wanted something simple, earthy. Something reminiscent of back to school days, pencils, and books. Suddenly, I knew what I wanted to make.

I'd been looking for an excuse to make a classic pumpkin cookie. I had been putting it off though, because I plan to bake a batch of pumpkin muffins soon, and didn't want to make everyone around me sick of pumpkin so quickly into autumn. Once decided, however, I firmly resolved to go ahead with my pumpkin plan, and everyone else could just deal with it.

I adapted a pumpkin drop cookie recipe, making small changes to suit the taste I wanted to achieve. I'd be making the crème fraîche by hand too, and didn't want to over spice the cookies. I halved the recipe, and still ended up with quite a bit of extra batter, which was easy to whip into some larger size cookies for the neighbours. Spreading autumn cheer with efficiency!

I couldn't decide if I wanted a thin and crispy cookie, as I planned originally, or mini drop cookies. In the end I made both, and went with the thicker cookie to balance out the flavour of the crème fraîche.

The taste was exactly what I was looking for: nutty, earthy, and home. Not too sweet, and not too rich.

The recipe ended up being alot of fun keeping to a mini amount. A note, I've included the full cookie recipe, it makes great cookies even when not in miniscule form. :) The original pumpkin recipe is adapted from Susan Kosoff's Good Old-Fashioned Cookie Recipes.

Mini Pumpkin Cookie Sandwiches with Crème Fraîche

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground nutmeg

1.) Preheat oven to 375.
2.) Cream butter and sugar until light and smooth.
3.) Beat in egg and vanilla. Add pumpkin a few tablespoons at a time until well blended.

4.) In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add in thirds to creamed mixture.
5.) Drop onto cookie sheets, and bake 6-8 minutes until edges begin to brown.*

*for mini-cookies, I used a 1/8 tsp for size consistency. The baking time was closer to 10
minutes, just keep an eye. When the edges turn a dark golden, they're done. Remove and
cool on a baking rack.

Take the mini cookies, and add a small dollop of crème fraîche to each side. Press
together lightly. Serve immediately, or chilled.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Salad Days

Tomato days have finally ended, and the end of summer goes with. The best thing about a tomato garden steps from my front door is obviously the ease of which I can incorporate this tangy tempting fruit into my everyday eating. Want to scramble some diced tomato in my eggs? Just step outside. Grill a few with dinner? Right there. A quick rinse, and these babies are good to go.

Sadly, as the evenings draw up closer and a chill creeps into the air, the plants slow on their supply, the fruit ripening and dropping quickly as if in a rush to bed down for the winter. In honour of the last days of these delicious additions to my summer consumption, I'll share with you my favourite tomato recipe.

There are endless recipes that incorporate the humble tomato, and many many varieties of tomato to compliment said recipes. For simplicity's sake we'll use the tomato that's most commonly found in my kitchen- the unassuming cherry tomato. A little smaller and sweeter than most tomatoes, I like their quiet, simple attitude.

These tomatoes in particular are superb for canning and sauces, especially when paired with a slightly spicy (instead of just garlic) flavour, such as roasted chili oil. In this case however, we're skipping the oils, the buffalo mozzarella, the hours of stewing and saucing. This recipe will be ready in mere moments, and it's without a doubt the best way to eat a tomato off the vine.


3-4 small tomatoes, freshly picked

Halve the tomatoes, and arrange on a plate. Sprinkle liberally with salt. Add the merest dash of pepper.

That's it. Salt and pepper on tomatoes. Many times the pepper is even optional, I use it more for an eye-pleasing technique than actual flavour. The salt brings out the sweet burst of tomato goodness, a taste that plays like a child in your mouth. A snack of tomatoes is such a refreshing pick-me-up, something that always makes me smile. I'm sure that come next year, when the red globes begin to ripen once more (and possibly even before-fried green tomatoes, anyone?) I'll be cracking open my cookbooks to find extensive use for them. For now though, I'm quite content with this very simple, yet utterly fulfilling treat.

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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Let Them Me Eat Cake

Light and airy, cream and custard adding just the right amount of rich sweetness, and tart little strawberries making their maidenly presence. We are heading full into autumn here in the Bay Area, but there's always time for one last summery cake. Unfortunately, I do not have the recipe for this delectable morsel, but I am tempted to give it a whirl if my taste buds and memory do not play tricks on me. The whipped cream topping wasn't exactly the freshest, and neither were the strawberries- but the custard and cake itself made up for it, a delightful mix that brought to mind green grass and early summer. We've had a bit of a heat wave here in the Valley- the recent autumnal weather a near distant memory as I bit into virginal white cream topping, and blushing berries.

I have to admit, as far as desserts go, I'm a sucker for custard. Anything creamy and rich, I'm there. Flans, creme brulee, creme caramel... the list goes one. There was a book I read at an impressionable age, the details and plot long forgotten. One bit stuck with me, however- a young duckling planting his feet firmly into a custard. Goodness knows why, I'm sure the story led up to it somehow, but I simply remember thinking of the chilled custard surrounding webbed feet, and agreeing that (were you not going to eat it) it might be a nice feeling. Even the word itself is thick and cool, inspiring thoughts of sweet summer shade, and eggy desserts.

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