Monday, September 27, 2010

Daring Bakers: Leaf Cookies

The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!” Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking. She told us to make sugar cookies that represent September. You can find the recipes she gave us to work with here.

I make cookies all the time. Roll-out cookies (including sugar cookies) require more effort (and counter space) than drop cookies, so they get made less often, but there are still several slightly stained recipe cards for them in my recipe box. One of the two go-to cookies if we needed to take cookies to an even when I was little were my mom's butter cookies. When these cookies were taken somewhere they were almost always decorated - although essentially never with frosting. The mess that comes with frosting was reserved for birthday cakes and the the construction and decoration of gingerbread houses. Thus this challenge was essentially asking me to take two things I was familiar with and put them together.

The theme for the cookies was easy - fall leaves. I have a couple of leaf cookie cutters (and an acorn!) that I picked up in the dollar bin at Target one time and have been looking for an excuse to use. We split the dough in half so that we could make some plain (and thus see what exactly the recipe gives us) and added orange zest and a dash of cloves to the other half. I would give you measurements, but we didn't actually measure the flavorings. They came out well, but I have to admit that this particular cookie recipe is not one I am likely to be going back to. I have others that fill the same kind of role that I like better.

With decorating, we tried putting veins in the leaves before and after flooding. Our conclusion was that it was more effective to add the detail after. One of the pictures below shows the difference.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I have been posting pretty butterflies and such lately. I would not have expected to find butterflies in the city, but they are here anyway. They serve as a reminder to look for the little spots of unexpected beauty in life. On the other hand, when you are chasing butterflies it is easy to miss the beauty in the bigger picture. Sunset and sunrise are bright enough to catch my attention and remind me to not get lost in the details.

On a less philosophical note, I'm trying to learn to use things like traffic lights and power lines instead of always fighting them.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Butterfly collection part 2

This first one is a little beat up, but pretty anyway.

This one is also black and blue, but less beat up (though it really did not want to sit still).

Then there is a lovely yellow one. Maybe I will eventually learn their names. For now though I am happy to just admire them.

In addition to all of these big showy butterflies there are a whole host of small ones that are easy to overlook.

This last guy isn't a butterfly, but I thought it was a nifty picture anyway :-).

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Butterfly collection

For something completely different, here is some of the gorgeous produce I have acquired from the farmer's market. The three purpley ones are eggplants, the rest are various squashes.

This batch was mixed with some beans and a can of tomatoes and turned into a thick tasty stew. It goes well both with couscous and with biscuits and was even good mixed with scrambled eggs. I am a big fan of foods that lend themselves to lots of variations as leftovers.

Oh, one other thing:

Red leaves! Fall is coming earlier this year than it did last year. I am pretty ok with this.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Daring Cooks: Canning!

Once again I am running late on posting this... life has been doing far too good a job of keeping me busy, especially in the middle of the week.

The September 2010 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by John of Eat4Fun. John chose to challenge The Daring Cooks to learn about food preservation, mainly in the form of canning and freezing. He challenged everyone to make a recipe and preserve it. John’s source for food preservation information was from The National Center for Home Food Preservation. The instructions they gave us can be found here.

Now, the first part of this challenge was gathering all of the supplies. I already had a wonderful large stock pot and the size of my kitchen dictates that one very large pot is enough. This meant that getting an actual canning pot was out of the question. The only problem with my pot is that it is about an inch less in diameter than the typical canning pot and thus the standard canning racks are not going to fit in it. On labor day (since I actually had time...) I set out for the local Ace Hardware to track down jars and figured there was a decent chance that a hardware store would have something I could repurpose as a canning rack. Apparently I was wrong on that second count. While I was looking around I was approached by an employee who asked what I was looking for. I explained and was informed that they did not have anything that would work as a canning rack and was further given a lecture on how dangerous canning is. I smiled, assured him I would be careful, bought my jars and set out for the walk home.

Walking to Ace took me somewhat farther east than my normal errands do. Whenever I find myself in a part of the city that I do not know as well I try to be observant and learn where things are. In this case I discovered that the Trader Joe's shopping center also has a Richard's Variety Store. Since I had a few fairly odd things I was looking for (something to act as a canning rack and jar tongs) I figured it would be worth stopping to check it out. Not only did it have the tongs and a cooling rack that would work as a canning rack, it has all sorts of other entertaining things. This includes a nice selection of cookie cutters (and some silly ones like gingerbread men missing a bite), unusual note cards, a lovely selection of jigsaw puzzles and stick candy. Overall it was a very good find :-)

Ok, now onto the food. I was very bad about taking pictures this month, so I only have a picture of the finished products:

As you can see, I made peach jam and apple butter. The peach jam was made from the last of my farmer's market peaches from this summer. They had gotten to the point of needing to be used, so jam seemed like a good bet. To make the jam, I blanched the peaches so that I could peal them, and chopped them up. At this point I had a little over 5 cups of peaches. I stirred in about 4 cups of sugar and a splash of lemon juice and let it hang out for a while so that the juice would come out of the peaches and mingle with the sugar. Once it was nice and mixed I transfered it to a large pot (you want one larger than you think you need, as it boils it fills a rather larger volume) and cooked it until it reached 220 F. At this point it went into the preheated jars and then into the stock pot of boiling water for processing. The texture isn't quite ideal, but it isn't bad either and is quite tasty, so I'm calling it a success.

For the apple butter my friend and I got three bags of apples from the grocery store (gala, granny smith and McIntosh) and more or less followed the challenge recipe in the above link. Our only major deviation is that we don't believe in Splenda, and so used a mix of honey and brown sugar to taste instead. The result was fantastic. We now have grand plans to make the Flying Biscuit's cranberry apple butter at some point later this fall when cranberries become available.

Overall this challenge was fantastic :-)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Beautiful Day

The weather today was gorgeous. I went to the farmer's market at Piedmont Park (and got an exciting collection of squash) and then wandered around the park for a bit before finding a nice shady spot under a tree to sit and do some math. It was lovely. I also remembered to grab my camera when I left the house this morning.

You can click on the panorama (or any of them for that matter) to see it larger :-)