Sunday, January 31, 2016

Product Placement for the Win knows what I like.  You know how they are.  They create lists of items that you might like based on other things you have previously purchased. They use your buying habits as a way of convincing you of other things you "need". And, most of the time, I am pretty good at resisting their suggestions.  Not so, however, in the case of this handy Glide-A-Scoop Ice Cream Tub.  Having recently pinned several "No-Churn" ice cream recipes to my "Sweet Tooth" board, I realized Amazon was cheering me on from the kitchen sidelines with their strategically placed suggestion to buy this item.

Let me be perfectly clear, though, this ice cream tub does nothing special.  It doesn't have insulated sides that cause the ice cream to freeze while sitting on the counter.  There is not a single affiliation with the Zoku to be found here.  It most definitely does not churn the ice cream for you.  It holds ice cream. That's it.

With all of that being said, the Tovolo ice cream tub was delivered to my home in Prime fashion, where it then sat on my counter for a week.  I found myself moving it from one end of the counter to the other, as it repeatedly got in the way.  But, keeping it out was my way of reminding myself to make some No-Churn ice cream happen; sooner than later.

Finally, after an entire work week went by, my weekend aspirations included filling my Tovolo ice cream tub with some ice cream of the cookies and cream variety (click here for recipe).  Try cutting up 20 Oreos and not stealing a morsel or two.  I may have had to add in extra cookies to make up for lost bits.

In the end, this no-churn ice cream stuff is serious business.  Seriously good, that is.  Having used a Cuisinart ice cream maker in the past, this no-churn method is far easier, with maybe a bit more patience required because it has to freeze 4 hours before eating.  We pulled it out of the freezer a little over three hours in; it was soft, but still very yummy.  However, I would wait the full four hours if serving in ice cream cones.

My boys, nine and twelve years-old, are anxious to experiment with different mix-ins. And, really, that's the best part of cooking and/or baking; the memories made toiling over different recipes, waiting together to see how it comes out, and then enjoying (or in some cases, ditching) the results of our efforts.  It is a process of discovery that is made more delectable by the fact that the product can be consumed.  In those circumstances where the results go awry, the process was not a waste, but a chance to make observations and inferences about what to do differently the next time.

I guess this ice cream tub holds more than just ice cream, after all. We may need to add, "easily store a fraction of scientific process and a handful of memories" to the product description.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A Whole "Latte" Lavender to Talk About...

Phenomenal Lavender is what one would call the particular plant, pictured below. And, true to its name, it has been a "phenomenal" addition to my flower garden. Beautiful plumes of heavenly scented purple flowers adorn frosty grey mounds from early summer to early fall.  That very same aforementioned frosty, grey foliage remains "evergreen" even through our New England winters. Because of it's decidedly exceptional garden performance, it would be safe to say, that this plant is certainly a fan favorite of mine.  

I did have ulterior motives for planting it, however.  Besides loving flowers, and all the visual stimulation they provide, I have been in search of plants that assist in my "homesteading" efforts. By that I simply mean, I now place greater emphasis on acquiring plants that are not merely ornamental. With the area of land that we have, I am hoping to landscape with what is not only pleasing to the eye, but what also provides something to harvest.

So then, cue "Phenomenal Lavender".  Originally, my interest in planting lavender developed from the thought of possibly harvesting it for use in soap making,  Of course, I was also aware of it's uses in baking, but I was not immediately drawn to the possibility of using it for such.  My association with lavender and food consumption stopped at Cupcake Wars.  I mean, how many episodes had I watched where one of the challengers used lavender either in the cupcake batter, the frosting, or both?!  Lavender, it would seem, is a pretty common placed ingredient to be found in the Food Network pantries, but not so much in mine...

...that is until a spur of the moment trip to Pink Box Desserts in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, where I experienced the delight of one of their honey lavender macarons.  Not expecting to get too excited about it, I took the first bite with little to no zeal.  Looking back on that moment, I am surprised by the lack of interest I placed in this little morsel.  After all, I love to bake, and I appreciate the efforts of professional bakers so much so, that I usually leave said bakeries with more than I should.  But, it was my two boys of 9 and 12 that actually convinced me to buy a few for "taste-testing", during this particular visit.  In the moments leading up to buying an assorted half dozen, I believe the thought, "How good can they be?", actually went through my mind!

From that pivotal moment at Pink Box Desserts when I acquiesced to the idea of lavender in my food, to me cutting and hanging lavender to dry in my cool, dry basement, I have been on the lookout for ways in which I could consume more lavender .  I have accumulated a few shortbread recipes, and most recently the above pictured Lavender Coffee Latte recipe.  Pictured with a tablespoon or so of my own dried lavender, I was excited to be able to try this recipe.

Granted, I did not get my steamed milk and honey mixture to froth as it is pictured in the book. I overlooked a step, which is definitely why the milk froth fizzled out to what you see in my cup pictured on the left.  My love for this cup of coffee does not, however, match my love for the macaron.   The floral, and almost medicinal flavor of the lavender did not hit it off for me paired with coffee. This is not to say I won't try this combination again, in fact, I didn't even like coffee the first time I tried it.  And now, we are two coffee beans in a pod...

I will be planting more lavender in the spring.   And, drying more of it, also.  If the coffee and lavender thing doesn't work out for me, cookies are next in line...

Monday, August 10, 2015

Can you handle the cuteness?

A recent family trip resulted in the acquisition of a new kitten.  Ever since meeting him, we have been enamored by his utter kitten cuteness and his friendly personality.  Currently, he has a room to himself so that our other two cats can get used to the new addition through closed doors.  Visited frequently by every member of the family for play time and cuddle time, it is a usual occurrence to find him in his little bed of sheep's wool.  And, yes, he has his own bed of sheep's wool; hand-dyed sheep's wool in this beautiful shade of fuchsia...

My muse comes to me in a variety of places; photography is one of them.  The opportunity to capture a moment or object for posterity, is one that I seek to embrace, given of course that my camera is nearby.  I'm not sure who can resist passing by a sleeping kitten (in a bed of fuchsia colored sheep's wool) without grabbing for a camera.  I surely, am not one of those people who can resist that urge.

So, just like that our "glamour shots" session began. Having tried to take pictures of him in zoom kitten mode before, I can say this experience was far more successful in that there were much less opportunities for blurred photos. Which, of course, would basically lead to deleted images.  No, for this particular instance, I truly believe he was very purposely posing.

I cannot say what it is about this kitten that gets me speaking in funny voices; it's a baby, what can I say?! In my general opinion, babies of all kinds elicit notions of excessive squeezing, along with odd speaking sounds from those particularly enamored by babies.   I will vehemently admit that this kitten has complete control of my sensibilities.  And, when my youngest son says, "I've never heard you talk like that" in regard to this kitten...I am compelled to divert the attention from me and back to the kitten with a very distinct, "But wook at the wittle kitten...he's just a wittle baby..."

I may need help dealing with this cuteness if I am to be exposed to it with such frequency.   My vocabulary may be in jeopardy.  In addition, I see a remake of the movie, A Few Good Men.  In this case, the movie is titled, A Few Good Kittens and in my version Jack Nicholson's character bellows, "You can't handle the cuteness!".  See? It's a downward spiral for me.

Although, I may have exhausted this little guy with our photo shoot, I will be hard-pressed to tire of his adorable, furry self.

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Upper Crust of Lists

Summer vacation brings on the list-making for me.  It is 8 weeks of time with my kids, time in my kitchen and in my garden, on the road traveling to visit family, and day trips to here, there and everywhere.  Not to mention home improvement projects; some of which are as simple as cleaning off my bureau, because let's face it, that would improve my bedroom immensely!

It really turns out to be too much to try and fill into an 8 week period of time.  I mean, there are always variables that are most certain to emerge; throwing off the beautiful list.  But, I will say, I have learned to be flexible.  It's like Jack Sparrow said in reference to the pirate's code, "it's more like guidelines, anyway".

So, let's consider this cookbook I picked up at the newly opened, An Unlikely Story; a bookstore in Plainville, MA, owned and operated by Jeff Kinney, author of the hugely popular "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series.  The important part about the above picture is the phrase, "mastering the art of pie in 67 recipes".  This book, is full of anecdotes involving pie, baking pie and eating pie at great pie establishments.  The author, Teeny, has worked with many pie-makers and draws her inspiration for her recipes from many places. 

And, as I have mentioned, this summer is all about the list.  Mastering the art of pie is on said list.  Or at the very least, finding a few tried and true recipes is, depending on where the variables take us, good enough for me. 

With that said, let's back up a day or two to the start of  of vacation.  I don't have to be any particular place in the morning.  I can throw caution to the wind and mess up my kitchen, only to spend the rest of the night cleaning it up.  I can pull out the rolling pin and flour and parchment paper to make a pie crust that in my 39 years, beats all crusts...and if you know me...I eat pie crust with reverence.  My mother's pie crust was hands-down, the one to beat.  And, no other pie crust ever really could hold a spot near her recipe, until now.

With strawberries and rhubarb from a local farmer's market, I went on to make the filling for this Strawberry Rhubarb Custard Pie.  Of course I made some modifications.  I always do.  I wrote down my changes in the margins of the page, though.  Making this pie again, will be a must.  Next time, though, the crust may just find its way into the oven without a's that good.

In any case, it makes me happy to create something edible that others will enjoy.  And, it brings me great satisfaction to work through recipes I haven't tried before.

Even better than that, perhaps, is the feeling of striking something from my list.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sugar Today, Honey Tomorrow

Here I am, deciding to experiment with my most prized chocolate chip cookie recipe by replacing the sugar with honey, and this is what I have going through my head: "Sugar, Sugar", by The Archies.  If you haven't heard it, it begins a little something like this: 

Sugar, oh, honey, honey
You are my candy girl
And you got me wanting you
Honey, oh, sugar, sugar
You are my candy girl
And you got me wanting you

The original music video from 1969 can be found here, if you want to hear it for yourself.  As for the video itself, it's taken from an animated show from the 60's. Enough said. 

With a song in my head and honey, honey in my measuring cup, I put my trusty Kitchen-Aid mixer to work churning up everything, but the sugar, sugar.  To be more specific, I omitted the granulated white sugar, not the brown sugar.  The brown sugar is no less refined, but I figured I would keep it in the recipe this time around.  It just may be that I will need to remove both types of sugar in an experiment for another day.  This recipe historically yields a cookie that looks very much like what can be seen in the picture above.  The cookie is lightly crispy on the edges and chewy in the middle, which is exactly why I love this recipe.

Much to my chagrin, however, the cookies that emerged from the oven were very flat. This, for me, ruins the aesthetics of the perfect chocolate chip cookie.  And, because of the honey, the cookie is prone to browning much darker in the same amount of time than if it had it's granulated counterpart. As for taste, I would say they are enjoyable.  The honey doesn't overpower the cookie; the presence of it is very inconspicuous.  Of course, being thinner means that once cooled, they turned out very crispy.

On the off chance that anyone is wondering why I would choose to try and reinvent a perfectly good cookie recipe, I can explain.  I have been reading more and more about "clean" eating.  In a nutshell, this means that eating processed foods are out, and if eating/using anything packaged, it should have five ingredients or less.  White granulated sugar, as I use in all of my baked goods, really does go through the wringer to become the product we use on such a daily basis.  Honey, on the other hand, isn't refined from hive to table.  It really is a "clean" product.

In any case, my experiment wasn't a complete bust.   After about 4 dozen cookies were made, I put the rest of the cookie dough in a 13"x 9" pan and tried making them into bars instead.  I was slightly happier with this outcome due to the fact that the bars stayed soft and chewy.

The quest continues, though, for more ways to bake with honey. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Tea, for me, goes like this...

Please humor me as I acknowledge the simple discovery of a winning combination. A trifecta of ingredients that makes for the perfect cup of tea.  Traditionally, I enjoy tea with honey.  Leaning towards the chai teas and other "spicier" blends, I generally enjoy a cup now and then throughout the winter.  In most cases, I start brewing the tea when I feel a cold coming on, as I know the honey has certain antiseptic properties. 

However, a fateful moment during a recent trip to the grocery store has changed my entire outlook on tea consumption.  In the moment that I reached for the box of Bigelow Chocolate Chai, a woman passed me by.  I, returning to my flat-footed position from standing on tip-toe to reach the top shelf, stood there in the middle of the aisle attempting to discover if Chocolate Chai smelled as delicious as I felt the name implied.  The aforementioned woman, with four simple words: "That tea is excellent", has since brought comfort to my soul.

It didn't happen all at once, I tried the tea with honey as I normally prepare my tea, and I enjoyed it. The chocolate is certainly not a dominant flavor, I'm not sure I can really pinpoint its inclusion exactly. In general, it is simply a very smooth, sweet tasting chai that is not overpowered by cinnamon.  Although, I never drink tea with milk, I did decide to try adding some coconut milk only yesterday.  And just like that, a spoonful of honey, a tablespoon of coconut milk and I have a "perfecto" cup of tea. A spot of tea in a mug, that I hold with two hands in order to embrace the warmth, while absorbing the aromatic steam in through my nose. 

The only thing missing, really, is a plate of yummy tea sandwiches.  I would be quite satisfied with butter sandwiched between graham crackers, but I will exercise self control and avoid that, this time.  I will, however, have a second cup of tea...

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Good use of an illusion...

Oops, I did it again.  I played with their hearts...or rather their palates.  On this rainy summer Saturday, I thought some "apple"-berry crisp would be an appropriate after-dinner dessert.  Looking at the image pictured below, one might say they were looking at a bowl of cut apples and raspberries.  Go ahead, really look at it.  I'll wait....  

Fortunately, I did just buy some Granny Smith apples.  But, my garden is producing an abundance of zucchini...and, with a recipe for Zucchini "Apple" Crisp, I couldn't resist the opportunity to be a master of illusion. Now, here is how I play the game. Feed first, tell later...although, my husband had full disclosure before trying the dessert, my children did not.  

I mean, why mention the "Z" word if it isn't necessary?  With that, I served up the "apple"-berry crisp just as I normally would; with ice cream and a little caramel sauce.

The verdict?  They liked it.   However, both of my boys said that they could tell there was something different about the "apples".  My oldest thought I used peaches.  My youngest actually wasn't a fan of the raspberries.  As a rule, he normally finds raspberries too "tart" in baked goods.  In any case, they were good sports...

I even have permission to make it again.