Wednesday, February 26, 2014

{Sigh}

Where do I begin? Where have I been?

Let's begin with the latter. I've been here. Just on the other side of my computer screen, but I don't seem to have much to say. I've talked about blogger burnout before, but it just seems to get worse instead of better. I'm still cooking and baking, still taking photos (although I'm not really happy with most of them), but when it comes to putting the dishes into words and recipes.... well, it just escapes me.

Maybe it's because I'm trying to do too many things at a time. I have seriously considered the idea of switching my blog from blogspot.com to its own domain. I've been reading and studying, but it is a HUGE learning curve for me. I'm not a programmer, nor do I have a desire to be one, but some of those skills are required to build a new website.

I read expert advice on how to be a better blogger. Use all the social media available, they say, but I get overwhelmed: twitter, facebook, sulia, tumblr, reddit, google+ and there's plenty more. Who has that kind of time to spend all day at the computer? I'd never have time to do what I love most. Cook and bake.

In the midst of my burnout/questioning/soul searching I've determined I am not ready to move forward quite yet. So here I am on blogspot.com. For now I think I will make myself comfortable here. I have a Facebook page and a Twitter handle. Those are plenty for me right now.

So what can you expect from me in the near future? Exactly what I have done in the past. I will cook, bake, take photos and share them with you.

I know it's already February... correction, I know February is almost gone... but let's start with herbs and other stuff.

During the spring, summer and early fall, I grow my own herbs. Basil, chives, tarragon, sage, parsley, oregano, marjoram just to name a few. Late last fall I decided to cut up and freeze the chives and tarragon in olive oil in ice cube trays (I love Pinterest!) for use during the winter. It worked out beautifully. I have used the onion chives and garlic chives for my weekly batch of Focaccia. Unfortunately, I didn't come across the freezer idea until after the first heavy frost to which the basil, sage, parsley,, oregano and marjoram succumbed.

Speaking of frost... and ice... and snow... and winter... I'm over it. Really over it. We've had a few nice mild days, you know, as a teaser. But it is supposed to get cold again and the little girl inside of me is screaming, Nooooooo!!!!! I want warm weather! I want crop pants, t-shirts and flip-flops!

Okay. Enough of my tantrum.

What I'd really like is to be able to move my tropical plants and Meyer lemon tree from the garage where it's been winterized since before the first frost in November. They are doing pretty well, but I'd like my garage back.

We pulled the plants out to the driveway during those nice few days. The tropicals are a little yellow in spots, but some good fertilizer, heavy watering and sunshine should do the trick.

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I have seven Meyer lemons that continued to grow over the winter and they are almost ready to pick.

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And blossoms have already started to develop for the next crop.

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I went out to the back yard to dump old coffee grounds in the garden and, even though temps have been below freezing at night, my onion chives are already starting to peak through.

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The garlic chives aren't as hardy, but they, too, are showing signs of life.

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Shockingly, last year's Italian parsley is also peaking through. That almost never happens!

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It almost gives me hope that Spring is right around the corner.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Cheddar Pecan Wafers

Cheddar Pecan Wafers photo CheddarampPecanWafers1_zps39f28f3d.jpg

Is it safe to come out of my rabbit hole? I know I've been gone a long time. I've been posting a little on my Facebook page, sharing photos of what we have been serving for dinner and such, but I haven't felt compelled to create a whole blog post simply because none of food has really been holiday related, which is what everyone seems to be looking for these last couple of months. So I've kept quiet, waiting for the pumpkin season to pass.

I have a confession. I don't care for pumpkin all that much. It's probably because boring ole pumpkin pie was pretty much the holiday dessert mainstay when I was growing up. You know how it was made: a can of pumpkin, some sugar, a couple of eggs, a can of evaporated milk and pumpkin pie spice. Meh.

Last year when my blogger friend, Desperately Seeking {gina}, invited me to do a guest post during her annual Month of Pumpkin, I was hard pressed to come up with something creative. Mostly I lean toward savory flavors, but I did finally settle on Pumpkin Walnut Baklava. That's about as creative as I get with pumpkin. When it comes to pumpkin, I have nothing to add, nothing to contribute.

But we still have one major holiday to go...Christmas! And I love to bake and give my family and friends containers of sweet and savory baked goods for Christmas.

And when I have guests, I also like to set out a nice charcuterie or salumi and cheese plate with homemade wafers. I'll even make a plate just for the two of us for dinner occasionally and these wafers are perfect for that.

The tray I made recently included dried chorizo slices with chives....

Cheddar Pecan Wafers photo CheddarampPecanWafers8_zpsc9cba438.jpg

But they would be equally as tasty with salami, prosciutto or even pepperoni.

I also caramelized some apples slices with just a slight sprinkling of brown sugar and topped it off with a hint of fresh tarragon....

Cheddar Pecan Wafers photo CheddarampPecanWafers7_zps0d87aa53.jpg

It was sort of like eating apple pie with a cheddar crust. Yummy!

These wafers are a wonderful by themselves or as a compliment to just about anything. Use your imagination.

Cheddar Pecan Wafers photo CheddarampPecanWafers17_zpsd57f4d86.jpg

Cheese Pecan Wafers

Makes about 50 wafers

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 pound butter, room temperature
  • 1 pound bag of grated sharp cheddar cheese, cut into smaller chunks
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans (I used "Pecan chips". I also think these would be equally good with walnuts)

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and cayenne pepper and set aside.

In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Turn the mixer speed to low and add the cheese in batches gradually until all of it is incorporated.

Now add the flour mixture slowly, about 1/4 cup at a time, making sure to incorporate each addition completely before adding more. The dough will be very stiff.

Place a nice sized piece of plastic wrap about 15 inches long on your counter. Spoon the dough in the center along most of the length of the plastic wrap, fold the plastic wrap tightly over the dough, gently rolling the dough into a neat cylinder that is approximately 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Twist the plastic wrap gently at both ends to seal and refrigerate the roll of dough at least 4 hours up to overnight.

Preheat your oven to 375° and prepare your cooking racks or kitchen counter by covering with parchment paper.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and gently unwrap the dough and discard the plastic wrap. Cut the dough into slices approximately 1/4-inch thick and place on an ungreased baking sheet about 1-inch apart. Bake the wafers in the preheated oven for about 7 to 10 minutes, until they are golden brown.

When the wafers are done, remove them with a spatula to your prepared counter or cooling racks. Allow to cool completely.



Sunday, September 22, 2013

Focaccia ~ The Easiest Bread You'll EVER Bake!

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Well, hello there!

Yes, I'm back. Maybe not with a vengeance, but I'm back just the same. I can't really explain why I took such a long break. A little blogger burnout, a little depression or just not able to find the right words to communicate my love of cooking and food. But, now that it is somewhat behind me, I feel like I have a little more enthusiasm.

During my absence, Tom and I took a vacation to visit our youngest son, Chris, and his family in Florida. Chris is an aspiring chef/restaurant owner and he cooks up a storm. So when we arrived in the late afternoon, Chris and his wife, Kelly, met us at the house we rented for the week. When I say "met us," I mean with some very tasty goodies. Our afternoon snack consisted of crab cake morsels with an amazing dipping sauce and Focaccia bread still warm from the oven ready for dipping in olive oil and 30-year old balsamic vinegar. Chris said he got the recipe for the bread from an acquaintance who just happens to be an Italian baker.

It was, by no stretch of the imagination, the best Focaccia I'd ever tasted. And the easiest bread I've ever made. Seriously.

Now this is not a loaf of bread that you just mix up and throw in the oven. It takes time. Four separate rises worth of time. But it's easy, perfect for a beginner because there's no kneading, just a few stretches and fold-overs. Most of the time is spent waiting the 45-minutes for it to rise each time. Plenty of time to do the laundry, vacuum the living room and tune-up the car.

The basic recipe is only 5 ingredients. Bread flour, yeast, salt, water and olive oil. That's it. Nothing fancy. But, you can jazz it up any way you want. These are some of the ways I flavored the bread:
  • The first time I made it, I used roasted garlic mixed into the dough and sprinkled more chopped roasted garlic on top before baking.
  • Another time, I chopped up some olives (kalamata, green and black), some roasted garlic and some herbs (rosemary and Italian parsley) and mixed them altogether with a little olive oil (see the photo at the top) and sprinkled the mixture on top before baking.
  • I also experimented with adding ground rosemary (1 teaspoon) and garlic powder (2 teaspoons) when I mixed in the flour.
  • I added 2 teaspoons of course ground pepper ("restaurant style ground pepper") to the mixture just before mixing in the flour, then sprinkled the dough with rosemary salt just before baking.

It's tasty no matter what you use, so use your imagination.

My favorite so far is with the roasted garlic. I roast heads of garlic submerged in olive oil (how-to coming in a later post) and use the flavored olive oil along with the roasted garlic for extra flavor. It's exquisite.

This recipe does require one piece of special equipment: a stand mixer with a dough hook. If you don't have one, please invest in one. You will need it because you will make this bread often.

Focaccia photo OliveampHerbFocaccia24_zpse1420915.jpg


In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, pour 2 cups of barely warm (not hot) water. Add 2 teaspoons of kosher salt and stir until the salt is dissolved. Sprinkle 1 package (2¼ teaspoons)of dry yeast over the salt water and let sit for 5 minutes.

When the 5 minutes has passed, add 4 cups of bread flour (if you are adding herbs or garlic, this is where you will incorporate them into the dough; or you can choose to just sprinkle them on top of the bread just before baking). Turn the mixer on low to start incorporating the flour into the liquid. Continue mixing on low for about a minute or so, then increase the speed up one notch for another minute. If you do it any faster, you'll have flour all over the place, so go easy. When most of the flour is incorporated, increase the speed again, but no higher than medium. When all of the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, you are ready for the next step.

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Remove the bowl from the stand with the dough hook still in the dough. The dough is really sticky so put a couple of drops of olive oil on your fingers and push the dough off of the dough hook. The olive oil will keep the dough from sticking to your fingers. Take 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil and drizzle it around the edges of the dough, like so....

Focaccia photo OliveampHerbFocaccia4_zps7a20c13c.jpg

Now take a silicone spatula, rub it with a little olive oil, and run it around the edges of the dough so that olive oil can drip down the sides and underneath the dough, like this...

Focaccia photo OliveampHerbFocaccia6_zps30f6321b.jpg

Remove the spatula, cover the bowl with a clean, damp kitchen towel, set your kitchen timer for 45 minutes for the first of four rises and go do something else. Really. That's it.

In the meantime, you might want to set up your work station. I have a very large 16-1/2- by 24-inch Silpat silicone mat that I use on my counter just for this purpose and to use when kneading all my other bread doughs. It's a bit pricey, but you don't need to be that extravagant. You can use a large piece of plastic wrap. Just wipe your counter with a damp cloth and lay the plastic wrap on top of the damp counter. The plastic wrap will stay in place and you can use it throughout the whole process. Easy peasy.

Okay. Next step. After 45 minutes, pour a couple of tablespoons of oil on your work surface (the silpat or plastic wrap or countertop, whichever you're using) and rub it around with your hands, then rub your hands together to coat them with oil as well. Dump the focaccia dough onto your work surface, using the silicone spatula to scrape out any dough sticking to the bowl.

Focaccia photo 007_zps15311a40.jpg

Now, stretch the dough out into a large rectangle. It doesn't have to be perfect. It just needs a good stretching.

Focaccia photo 010_zps58723739.jpg

Next you need to take about a third of that rectangle and fold it over top of the dough, like so....

Focaccia photo 011_zps3e0b4b9f.jpg

And then take the rest of the dough and fold it on top of the folded third, like this....

Focaccia photo 012_zps858b5117.jpg

And now you have a smaller rectangle. Flip the rectangle of dough 180 degrees and give it a good stretch...

Focaccia photo 013_zpsb074bc12.jpg

Then fold the dough by thirds like you did before...

Focaccia photo 014_zps94c20ffe.jpg

 photo 015_zps02b98d52.jpg

Take that nice little package of dough and tuck the sides underneath creating a ball of dough and put it back in the bowl, cover the bowl with the damp towel and set the timer for another 45 minutes, the second rise.

When 45 minutes has passed, you are going to repeat the stretching and folding process again, form the dough into a ball and allow it to rise again for another 45 minutes for your third rise. After the third rise, again repeat the stretching and folding process for the last time and put the dough back in the bowl for its final 45 minute rise.

While you're waiting for the last rise, preheat the oven to 425° and just before the timer goes off, prepare your baking pan. You'll need a large pan, 11½ X 17½. I bought mine at one of those big box stores (Price Club in California, which merged with Costco) but Sam's Club sells them, too.

So, to prepare your pan, I can only tell you what my son, Chris, told me: "Drizzle the pan with more olive oil than you think you will need," and this is how that looks...

 photo OliveampHerbFocaccia7_zpsd75b9971.jpg

When the final 45 minutes has elapsed, dump the dough out onto the oiled silpat (or plastic wrap or countertop) and stretch it into the best rectangle you can get, then pick it up and quickly drop it onto the prepared baking pan and stretch it some more.

If you are going to sprinkle the top with salt or herbs, now is the time. It should look like this...

Focaccia photo OliveampHerbFocaccia12_zps147656ec.jpg

Isn't it beautiful??

Bake it in your preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until slightly golden brown.

While your bread is baking, get out your best olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping because you will not be able to wait to eat this bread. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

How to Cut a Head of Cauliflower into Florets

We are all creatures of habit, don't you think?

Tom and I lived on a ten acre farm from 1996 to 2006. During that time, we raised ducks, chickens, sheep and cats. Each had their own little habits.

The ducks would start wandering away from the pond about 10:00am each morning, traveling up the right side of the lane to our circular driveway and make their way around the circle from right to left, never left to right. By late afternoon, they'd continue to meander down the right side of the lane back to the pond for the night.

We'd open the door to the chicken coop every morning and out they'd come, one by one, heading for the berry bushes, pecking at the insects in the grass. They'd scratch and peck at the ground around the berries from one end of each row to another all day long, occasionally making their way through the grass along side the driveway. But as soon as one of us made a move to head for the coop, they were off and running behind us, knowing it was time for the scratch we'd throw on the ground. Even on those days when we weren't home in time for the nightly ritual, we'd arrive to find them in coop waiting for their nightly scratch.

The sheep were equally rooted in their habitual behaviors. They were enclosed in a four acre pasture by a wood and wire fence. Every day they would graze all over the pasture, making their way randomly from one end to the other, always staying close to each other. Rarely did one stray from the flock to the opposite side of the pasture. By days end, they'd always be grazing at the end of the pasture furthest from their shelter and as the sun began to set, they would make their way back to the shelter one at a time, led by one of the rams, on a path they'd worn through the middle of the pasture. They always marched, single file, on that path.

We humans do things over and over almost exactly the same way, never thinking there might be an easier, more convenient or less time consuming method. Or at least I do.

Take cauliflower, for example. I would always cut off the leaves and stem, then, one by one, cut off each floret. A time consuming job at best. Then, a while back, I saw a chef break down a whole head of cauliflower into florets in about 2 minutes. Huh?? Why didn't I know this before?

So, here, just for you, I have a tutorial on the fastest and easiest way cut a head of cauliflower into florets.

You're welcome...

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There you have it. In less than five minutes, you can break down a whole head of cauliflower into beautiful florets. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to buy frozen cauliflower florets ever again.

I cut mine into smaller pieces to make this Cauliflower Salad and steamed them for 7 minutes, no longer. For the larger florets, you would steam them about 9 minutes. That's even faster than your microwave!

Break a habit. Give this method a whirl.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Food Blogger Bake Sale


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I've been back from my Nevada visit for a week, but I've been overwhelmed with catching up.

The accounting for Tom's business is now current. Our income taxes were submitted on time and paid. My Earthboxes are planted, as is my herb garden, and it's just a matter of time before the basil is tall enough to use in Lemon Basil Martinis.

Now it's time to plan and bake for the Arkansas Food Blogger Bake Sale which benefits No Kid Hungry.

Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance is the lead partner for all No Kid Hungry programming in Arkansas. Arkansas Women Bloggers (of which I'm a member) and the Arkansas Food Blogger Network are joining bloggers across the country on Saturday, May 4th to participate in the national Food Blogger Bake Sale benefiting the No Kid Hungry program of Share Our Strength, an organization committed to ending childhood hunger in America.

Our local event is 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at 7th and Main Streets in North Little Rock, adjacent to the Argenta Certified Arkansas Farmers’ Market. All proceeds from the sale will go to No Kid Hungry.

The Arkansas event is chaired by Christie Ison of FancyPantsFoodie.com

Food bloggers will be joined by professional cooks and bakers such as Dempsey Bakery, Sweet Love and Gigi’s Cupcakes to provide yummy items for you to purchase. Items like cakes, cupcakes, cookies, breads, caramels and cake pops. You can see the full list HERE.

So please mark your calendars now and join us.

Arkansas Food Blogger Bake Sale and national Food Blogger Bake Sale, benefiting No Kid Hungry

Saturday, May 4, 2013, 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

7th and Main Streets, North Little Rock, adjacent to Argenta Certified Arkansas Farmers’ Market


If you are unable to attend, please consider donating directly to Share Our Strength, Arkansas Food Blogger Bake Sale.

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