Thursday, December 22, 2011

K's Gingerbread Houses

Due to poor planning on my part, we missed out on the Bi-Rite/18 Reasons Gingerbread House decorating session this year. Instead, for the first time, we made our own at home. Are they as beautiful as the ones the workshop would have provided us with? Definitely not and there are certainly more toothpicks involved. Would it be nice to have a perfect looking house? Sure. But that is a very different sort of project. When baking with K, it is the project that matters and not the outcome. Our baking adventures almost always taste good, but their appearances can be messy. For K, making the house together is what mattered. And the crookedness and drippy frosting and mess are what she is excited about because, "I made it myself!" Plus, R2D2!

Note that even the template is crooked.
Rolling the dough.

Crooked, flour "stained" pieces.
K is all Star Wars, all the time these days.

Initial construction, left to dry overnight with support.

Are they ready yet? Sure. Rather crooked though.
I believe the phrase of the day was: Never too much frosting.

R2D2 on the house.

House #2.

Yes, that is more leftover Halloween candy.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Cooking from the Books with K: Heidi

"I feel like Heidi eating bread and cheese."
Ah, Heidi. I still remember wishing I could live on a mountain, instead of in suburban Connecticut. How wonderful does this sound?
“She started joyfully for the mountain. During the night the wind had blown away all the clouds; the dark blue sky was spreading overhead, and in its midst was the bright sun shining down on the green slopes of the mountain, where the flowers opened their little blue and yellow cups, and looked up to him smiling. Heidi went running hither and thither and shouting with delight, for here were whole patches of delicate red primroses, and there the blue gleam of the lovely gentian, while above them all laughed and nodded the tender-leaved golden cistus. Enchanted with all this waving field of brightly-colored flowers, Heidi forgot even Peter and the goats. She ran on in front and then off to the side, tempted first one way and then the other, as she caught sight of some bright spot of glowing red or yellow. And all the while she was plucking whole handfuls of the flowers which she put into her little apron, for she wanted to take them all home and stick them in the hay, so that she might make her bedroom look just like the meadows outside. Peter had therefore to be on the alert, and his round eyes, which did not move very quickly, had more work than they could well manage, for the goats were as lively as Heidi; they ran in all directions, and Peter had to follow whistling and calling and swinging his stick to get all the runaways together again.”

K says that Heidi "is about a girl who goes to live with her grandfather on the mountain. Everyone thinks her grandfather is mean and should not be allowed to take care of her. But, he's nice to Heidi. There are friends, a boy and his family and a girl. The girl is in a wheelchair and the boy is really poor. She meets the boy while he is herding goats. She meets the girl when she has to go to the city for some reason. The girl is really nice. Someone gives Heidi kittens. The kittens get into trouble. Heidi comes back and later the girl comes to visit and the boy, Peter, pushes her wheelchair off a hill and the girl, Klara, learns to walk. That is most of the story.
I thought the story was awesome. Because it is a good book and the characters seem like real people. I read this when I was 7 or 8 and I liked that it was a chapter book. It kind of reminded me of the Little House books. "

So how could we not do a Cooking from the Books: Heidi? The obvious dish: fondue. I put this off a bit because not only do I not own a fondue pot, but I had no idea if my cheese-averse child would enjoy it. Unlike most kids, K is rather anti-cheese, except on pizza. But after she learned to eat grilled cheese, albeit with the blandest cheddar possible, I figured it was worth a shot.

First off, I sent a plea out on Facebook for a loaner fondue pot and got two offers. It seems that most people who own fondue pots simply don't use them. As for having never made fondue, well, sometimes opportunity knocks. From our place in the Della Fattoria bread line at the Ferry Plaza Farmers market this past Saturday, we spotted a tub of fondue mix at Andante Cheese. To me, it was a clear sign that this was our weekend for Heidi. Sure enough, Sean Timberlake, of Punk Domestics fame, had a fondue pot we could borrow, mere blocks away. Social media: the modern way to meet your almost neighbors and thus, borrow their cookware. So after a trip to the hardware store for sterno, we were set.
How could I resist an Andante fondue mix?

Our recipe is as simple as it comes and was adapted from the Joy of Cooking. Not wanting to push my luck with K, I skipped the kirsch, though for less picky eaters I highly recommend it.

1 tub Andante Fondue Mix (about 8 oz. grated cheese)
1 cup white wine (from the Savoie in this case)
As much nutmeg as K felt like grating
1 teaspoon corn starch

Heat wine over a medium-high heat until it begins to foam but does not boil. Add cheese gradually, stirring all the while. Grate in nutmeg and continue to stir until the mixture begins to thicken slightly. Add cornstarch and stir until the mixture thickens enough to coat your dipping items. Pour into a fondue pot and place over sterno to keep warm.
We dipped Della Fattoria semolina bread, apples slices, salami and mystery box purple cauliflower.

Purple cauliflower, apple slices, Boccalone salami and bread for dipping.

To my delight, it was a hit. K reports that "the fondue was awesome. It made me kind of feel like Heidi because I was eating bread and cheese. It was fun to dip the bread and the apples. I want to try chocolate fondue next!"

"The apples are good!"

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Holidy Cookies: A Creative Use of Leftover Halloween Candy

Using the recipe I posted here, this year K and I decided to use leftover Halloween candy to help decorate our first batch of holiday cookies. I made a batch of dough Thursday. We baked the cookies Friday night and this morning was decorating time. Pictures below.

Preparing the frosting: Royal icing and gel food color, mixed with a take-out Chinese unused chopstick.

Frosting, now mixed and colored, assorted sugars and leftover candy.
At work. Chopstick now serving as a "paintbursh."

Squeeze bottle is another frosting option.

Hard at work.

Trees, stars, hearts and a K. K likes the tree with the grape "berries" best.

The "men." My favorite is the guy with the candy corn tie.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Cookie Time Again

This year, I have promised K we can make a gingerbread house. To say that I am nervous about it would be an understatement. So in the meantime, I'm making up a batch of my favorite shortbread dough, which we use for cut out holiday cookies, to keep on hand in case our house has construction issues.

The recipe we use is from the Cookie Swap book, which I have mentioned here before. I've included some photos of earlier projects below. Like always, we modified the original recipe, in this case substituting almond extract for the ground almonds in the recipe as K had insisted that nuts would "make the recipe gross." I expect that I could add them back in at this point, but I am more likely to have the extract in the house than almonds anyway. I also flavor the royal icing we use with either almond or vanilla extract to add a but more flavor.
The original recipe can be found on the Kitchen Musings blog.

Last year

Slightly less traditional colors

Same dough, set up for a cookie decorating party.


Makes about 2 1/2 dozen (2 1/4 to 2 1/2 inch cookie). We often make 2 batches.

2 cups all purpose flour, divided
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract

Place the butter and sugars in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium to medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Turn the mixer to low speed and add the vanilla and almond extracts. Gradually add the flour mixture, blending just until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Flatten the dough into a disk and wrap tightly in plastic. Refrigerate 1 to 2 hours, or until firm enough to roll without sticking.
Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Line two or more cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to a 1/4-inch thickness. Cut with cookie cutters of your choice. Carefully transfer the cookies to the prepared cookie sheets, spacing them about 1-inch apart.
Bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until lightly browned on the bottom and firm to the touch. Immediately transfer to wire racks with offset spatula to prevent breakage. Cool completely before frosting.