August 19, 2008

Rest in Peace, Gonzo

Our sweet boy Gonzo has left this world.

I wish I had a better photo that captured his indominable spirit, fearless sense of adventure and deep love for his family but he looks so peaceful here, curled up with his friend Merlin.

Gonzo was a part of Tom's family since he was a tiny foundling kitten, and we took him in after he lost his mother and father. He loved to jump into our laps and into our cars and he always told us when we were "doing it wrong." He continued to live life on his own terms, up until the very end when he left us to find a spot to rest his paws forever.

We miss you, Gonzo, and we hope you find peace where you are now.

TWD: Grab a Granola Grabber

I didn't realize how many recipes I had already made from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours until I joined TWD. This is another one that I baked last year. I wasn't crazy about the grabbers then and my opinion didn't improve much this time, but they're not a bad cookie. I just think that in the same basic flavor category, I prefer a really good oatmeal-raisin cookie (I have one that I love from Cook's Illustrated - will have to post it in the future).

Nevertheless, the idea of using granola in a cookie is a bit unique and a good way to use up granola if you have it in the house. I make my own granola*, which includes dried fruits. Dorie suggested using fruit-free granola because the fruit in packaged ones is often dry but since mine is fresh, there seemed no reason to do so. The cookies were chewy and chock-full of nuts, fruits, oats and chocolate chips (my addition). A nice enough cookie, but as I said above, I think I'll stick with oatmeal cookies.

I posted yesterday about the heavy cream and fruit that I bought upstate over the weekend. I made a fresh apricot ice cream that complemented the grabbers nicely since my granola had dried apricots in it.

Thank you to Michelle of Bad Girl Baking for choosing the Grabbers this week and giving me another opportunity to try them out. You can find the full recipe on her blog.

*Homemade granola is super easy! Plus it makes your kitchen smell amazing while it bakes. Here is my basic recipe:
4 cups old-fashioned oats
2 cups sweetened coconut
2 cups sliced almonds or other unroasted nuts
3/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
1/2 cup honey or maple syrup
1 tsp cinnamon
3-4 cups dried fruit (any combination of: diced apricots, diced figs, cranberries, cherries, golden raisins or currants)
1 cup roasted unsalted cashews (or other nuts) (optional, if you like extra nuts)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Mix the oats, coconut and almonds together in large bowl.
In small saucepan, combine the oil, honey and cinnamon. Heat gently, stirring, until fully melted and combined.
Pour the liquids over the oat mixture and stir well until all the oats are coated. (Hands are sometimes helpful).
Pour onto a 13x18-inch baking sheet that is lined with wax paper, parchment or silpat.
Bake, stirring occasionally, until the granola is golden brown and very fragrant, about 1-1.5 hours. (Make sure you really stir well so the granola on the edges don't get too brown).
(I recommend lining bottom of your oven with foil as you may spill some oats while stirring.)
Remove from the oven and cool on baking sheet. When cool, put in a bowl and add the dried fruit and cashews (if using). Cool fully before storing in airtight container.

Granola is a very forgiving blend. You can easily vary the amount of sweetener; combine honey & maple syrup and play around with the add-ins. I don't recommend reducing the oil though as you need to get the oats well-coated. I have used a dark chestnut honey in my granola a few times, and highly recommend it if you like a very rich, earthy flavor.

August 17, 2008

Festival of Maize

We were up in Columbia County, New York this weekend. FARM country! I love it. So, I went a little crazy at the farm stands. I know there are women who get excited by sales at Saks or the deals at For me, it's farm stands. I can't hold back. I need to buy, buy, buy. I purchase a little bit from each place, trying to spread my farm-stand-love around. It takes a real effort not to pull the car over at *every* *single* farmstand. My husband knows by now that he shouldn't even ask - he just slows down as soon as the "Fresh Produce Ahead" sign appears on the side of the road. Because, yup, I'll need to stop and see what they've got.

So, I went here and here and here and a few other unnamed, non-websited places. The selections were amazing - all kinds of tomatoes (heirlooms at great prices!), string beans, zucchini, peaches, apricots, plums, berries, early apples - pretty much every summer vegetable or fruit was there, all of it local. Be still, my heart. Nothing beats August in the Hudson Valley in my opinion. Unless it's September in the Hudson Valley - it's a toss-up whether you'd trade the late-summer berries for the early-fall squashes, apples and pears. Fortunately, we don't have to choose as I'll be heading north again in a few weeks' time. Sure, it's nice to see my friends who live up there but really, I'm there for the farm stands. And it's okay, because they know that about me. :)

So on this spree, I bought 24 ears of corn at Samascott Orchards. Some was bi-color, some was all-white. The all-white corn is as sweet as candy. I think I might actually need to make sweet corn ice cream because this corn is perfect for it.

My kitchen was a corn workshop today. I shucked a bunch of ears and froze the kernels for chowder later in the season. Then I made corn stock from the cobs ,which then went into corn soup with 2 quarts of stock leftover for the freezer.

I also made Dorie's fresh corn muffins, which are incredible with fresh corn. I've made them in the past with packaged, frozen corn and they were just not the same. I also baked them in jumbo muffin tins and I think they work better on that scale. They were so tender and moist.

Then we had some corn on the cob with dinner tonight. Can you believe I still have more corn in the fridge?? I am starting to feel like we live on a cornfield. Not that I'd have any problem with that! Bear in mind, there are just 2 of us in my house. And I bought 24 ears. Thank god corn is cheaper than Manolo Blahniks or we'd really be in trouble.
Among my other purchases, was heavy cream from a local dairy. Ooooh the cream, the cream!! This is the real McCoy. Thick globs at the top of the glass bottle, a rich creamy flavor with no hint of cardboard or over-pasteurization. Perfect for a fresh apricot ice cream. More about that on Tuesday, when I'll also report on the granola grabbers for TWD.

And I leave you with some sexy apricots:

I send out a big thank you to my fellow food blogger Jaime at Good Eats n Sweet Treats. Jaime gave me some really helpful advice on how to use my camera - thank you for making my blog look better, Jaime! Go check out her blog, she has great photos and recipes.

August 13, 2008

TWD: Blueberry Ice Cream

So, I'm a day late (and many dollars short) with my post for TWD, but I served the blueberry sour cream ice cream Tues night and it was hard to get the post up until now. I made this ice cream once before and though I love the flavor and the ease of preparation, I still think a custard-based ice cream results in a creamier texture. Nevertheless, this is still a great recipe and I love the tanginess of the sour cream as a change from the eggs-and-cream standard base.

I actually used 1/4 cup sour cream (because that's all I had) and 1/2 cup full-fat Greek yogurt but I think the yogurt tastes almost identical to sour cream so there was no difference. I used lots of lime juice - almost 3/4 of a lime as opposed to 1/4 lime and still didn't taste as much lime as I would have liked. I think the citrus quotient could be significantly upped.

The Summer Fruit Galette made an encore appearance:

This time, I used plums and blackberries and significantly more custard. It was delicious, again, but I think the apricots would always be my first choice if available. My farmer's market fruit stand said their season is over already - so sweet but so fleeting!

I had also made a vanilla & wild raspberry swirl ice cream last week after picking 3 quarts of wild raspberries in the woods. We served both with the tart. Wild raspberries are AMAZING! Oh my goodness - they are nothing like the ones even from farm stands, let alone the grocery store. I can't describe the texture - they're sort of like little silky pearls of jammy goodness. You just have to taste them to experience it. My friend Howard showed me several spots where there are hundreds (or more) of wild raspberry bushes. If the day had been cooler and I wasn't sweating buckets, I could have picked for half the day and ended up with several gallons - all for free! When they're running $4.50 for a half-pint, it's well worth the effort.

This week's recipe was chosen by Dolores of Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity and you can find the recipe on her blog.

On a side note, I ordered bulk vanilla beans today from The Organic Vanilla Bean Company. What a bargain! I got a mixed sampler of 40 beans for $18. They normally cost me $1.50-$2 each, so this is about 75% off. And they're organic, too! I am excited to start using vanilla bean in more recipes. I normally hold back because of the expense but now I predict a bit of a vanilla obsession will take hold in my kitchen. I am even planning to try making my own vanilla extract once I have enough used beans accumulated. I found guidelines for making your own extract here. If you're wondering what you might get for Xmas from me this year, think vanilla.

Have a great week, everyone!

p.s. thanks to herb for the photos this week!

August 3, 2008

TWD: Black & White Banana Cupcakes

For this week's TWD, I decided to double the fun...

Ashlee of A Year in the Kitchen chose Dorie's Black and White Banana Loaf Cake. I have been on a bit of a cupcake tear lately (what else is new??) so I decided to make cupcakes instead of a loaf. I frosted the cupcakes with a swirl of Dorie's bittersweet chocolate ganache and topped them with banana-honey chips. But did I stop there? No, siree. It seems I needed even more chocolate and even more banana on the plate. So I got out the ice cream maker and made Roasted Banana Ice Cream from David Lebovitz's fantastic book, The Perfect Scoop. I added in his fudge swirl for a marbled ice cream to mirror the marbled cupcake.

Here's the dynamic duo, Black & White Banana Marble Cupcakes with Roasted Banana-Fudge Swirl Ice Cream - what a mouthful!

To marbelize the cupcakes, I alternated dollops of each batter horizontally & vertically, and then swirled with a knife. They look like black & white cookies in the cups, don't they?

Ta da! Marbled cupcakes! I think they look really cool inside:

I baked the cupcakes for 20 minutes at 350 (as opposed to 90 minutes+ at 325 for the loaf cake). I had made this cake about a year ago and it came out underbaked despite a long baking time. While the cupcakes were not undercooked this time, I still found the texture a bit rubbery. I think there must be some flaw in the recipe -- too much liquid maybe? I scaled back the amount of banana to help with that problem but I just think there's something messed up with the proportions - maybe too much milk? Who knows...I doubt I would use this particular recipe again but I have to say that marbled cupcakes are pretty cute, so I'll be doing that again for sure.

And the ice cream? Deeelisssshuuuus. The bananas are roasted with butter and brown sugar before pureeing with whole milk, sugar, lemon juice and vanilla. I have thought banana ice cream to be a bit bland in the past, but with the fudge swirl added, that's not an issue at all. The texture was a bit grainy, despite my pulling it from the machine at 13 minutes instead of the usual 20 minutes, but the flavor is great.

I'm wondering if the fact it was a fruit & milk recipe only, instead of a custard with cream & eggs, caused it to be grainier or if 13 minutes was still too long for this particular ice cream. I'll have to try it again sometime to figure that out.

Next week's TWD bring us even more ice cream - yea! Check back for Blueberry Sour Cream Ice Cream next Tuesday.

P.S. A blogger's plea for help! I am having a lot of trouble with my digital photography. If anyone can give me some advice on getting good close-ups indoors, I'd love to hear from you. I use a Canon SD400 point & shoot. I find that when I use the digital macro setting, the shots are often blurry but I keep reading that I should be using macro for the best shots. And I have a terrible time with the flash. If I use the flash, it's too bright and if I turn it off, the shots are either blurry or dark. I don't know if this is something that can be easily resolved or not. I have better luck when I shoot outside, but I'm usually doing my baking shots at night. I have signed up for a class in September which might help but in the meantime I am desperate for any advice, help, suggestions, etc. Please get in touch if you think you can help me out!