Monday, December 20, 2010

Holiday Sweets

Too much to do for a real blog post, but I did want to make note of the baking (and sweet-making) so far this year:

  • Just finished my third batch of spicy pumpkin seed-cranberry bark (substitute dried cranberries for cherries, add a half teaspoon each of cinnamon and chili powder if you like). This one's for us; the others have been (mostly) given away.
  • Spice cookies. Three batches, I think. Nick made the last ones, and they are fantastic. Even better with a few chocolate chips on top and warmed briefly in the microwave.
  • Whole-wheat chocolate chip cookies. I make them small and I got almost 6 dozen out of the recipe.
  • Cranberry thumbprint cookies. These are, sadly, almost gone. Maybe I can make more.
  • Speculatius. This recipe isn't online; I'll try to post it before too long. If I get ambitious, it might be below. They are delicious--and, again, the recipe makes lots.
  • Double chocolate cookies. I didn't chill them twice, though--I mixed the white chocolate chips right in and then chilled them once. It worked out fine.
  • Chocolate-macadamia shortbread cookies. I didn't have salted macadamias so I upped teh salt in the dough a little and they were amazing. Note past tense, alas.
  • Amaretti. And there are three egg yolks leftover from them, so probably by New Year's there will be mocha butter balls as well.
OK, here's the recipe for speculatius, adapted from the Joy of Cooking (1953)

Cream until well blended:
1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar

Mix together in another bowl
3 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

Beat these ingredients into the butter mixture alternately with:
4 TBS sour cream.

Beat in 1 cup broken nut meats. (I use walnuts).

Shape the dough into a roll with floured hands. Wrap the shaped roll in waxed paper and chill for 2 hours or more. Once it's firm, cut it into thin slices. Bake them on a greased cookie sheet (or use parchment paper) in a 375F oven for about 10-12 minutes, or until done.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A discovery

This year, as I've already mentioned, we joined a CSA. And the vegetables were great. We discovered that we love beets, we ate kale and chard as often as we could get it, and salad turnips were a revelation. During the heat of midsummer we had as many tomatoes, and as much basil, as we could handle, and there were always melons. It was wonderful.

In the fall it became clear that the drought over the summer had done a number on some of the crops. The earliest sign was that there were no zucchini--this was astonishing, as anyone who's ever had to sneak zucchini onto a neighbor's back porch knows. There were no fall beets, and the potato and carrot crops weren't what they might have been. Still there was kale, lovely kale, and there were some winter squash, and those delicious turnips.

And rutabaga. Even the name puts me off a bit. Looking at them, you wonder how anyone ever decided to eat one: they are purple and white, knobbly and hairy, and altogether unbeautiful. My first attempts at cooking them didn't go over too well, either: I peeled and chopped and roasted one along with our potatoes and sweet potatoes, and Nick carefully pushed each offending chunk to the side. I could hardly blame him. It had a bitterness that was somehow sharper, less welcoming, than the bitterness of my beloved fall greens.

So the rutabagas sat in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator, passed over for turnips and squash, potatoes and sweet potatoes.

The CSA ended just before Thanksgiving, almost a month ago. We have finished the kale, the salad greens are long gone, and last week I used up the last two carrots. There are still a few salad turnips left. And the rutabagas. What to do with them?

Then Lisa, from our CSA, linked to a post about rutabagas. I was unconvinced about the first two recipes (though I will no doubt try them before the winter is over), but the third looked promising. I have a history, after all, of putting vegetables into baked goods. So I tried the cake.

Of course, I was well into the recipe before I noticed that the finely chopped apple that's called for is actually dried apple, and I didn't have any. I had, however, recently bought some chopped dates for baking, so I substituted those. And I was loath to waste good maple syrup on something we might not like, so I used some leftover apple cider syrup that I'd made to go with pumpkin waffles a while back. It was good, sort of like a ginger cake, but Nick was still skeptical.

So this morning I tried again. And I now present to you my reworked recipe for rutabaga-ginger muffins, just as I made them this morning. (Note: I'm not sure I expect you to go out and buy a rutabaga if you don't already like them, just to try this recipe. I bet you could also use grated winter squash, or maybe sweet potato, instead. But if you've got a rutabaga lying around, you might give this a try.)

Rutabaga Ginger Muffins & Bread

1-1/2 cups milk
2 tbl. ground flax seeds
1/2 cup melted butter
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup molasses

3 cups flour (I used one of whole wheat and two of unbleached all purpose)
4 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. sea salt

2 cups grated rutabaga
1 cup chopped dates for baking

2 tbl. maple syrup or apple cider syrup (scroll down)

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Whisk together the flax seeds and the milk and put aside to thicken for about ten minutes. Melt the butter if you haven't already. With a hand mixer, beat the milk and flax seeds for a bit, then add in the melted butter, molasses, and honey.

Stir in the dry ingredients, sifting them beforehand if you're concerned about lumps (I'm not). Stir the grated rutabaga and the dates into the batter. It will be thick.

I used this amount to make 9 muffins, baking them for about 20 minutes in greased muffin cups, and one loaf of quick bread, which took about 35-40 minutes. (Half this recipe would make one 9" by 9" cake.) Bake until the sides pull away from the edges and the tops are browned. If you have it, drizzle some syrup (maple or other) over the hot muffins or cake or bread; it will soak in and add a bit of sticky sweetness.

*Note: this recipe is easily made dairy-free by substituting vegetable oil for the butter and non-dairy milk for the milk. It is also gluten-free in its original incarnation. I have never tried it either gluten- or dairy-free so can't vouch for those options.

Monday, December 13, 2010

With a little help from my friends...

...I got my grading done. Or mostly, anyway. Here's the update at IHE.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Not much to say

This time of year is so in-between: classes are over, but there's still plenty to do. Holiday stuff is ramping up, but I'm not quite ready to do it. Here's what I posted over at IHE today:
Classes are over, so I’m breathing a sigh of relief, right? Well, in a word, no. Now we hold all the meetings that could wait until the end of the semester. Now we clean up the mess in the office made by being too busy to do so all semester. Now we grade. Now we get sick (not on my to-do list, but my son spent two days at home last week with a nasty cold, and I fear it may not be far off for me, either). Now people call with questions that have been answered three times already, but not recently. Now it’s time to send out reminders for next semester. Now there’s holiday baking (or knitting, or shopping — or, in my case, all three). You get the idea.

I love this time of year, really I do. There’s a snap in the (very cold for Virginia) air today, and I feel energized by it. Later in the winter it will bring on the desire to hibernate, but it’s early yet. And I like the variety of having different things to do. While my classes this semester were truly a pleasure, it also felt good to wake up this weekend and know that I didn’t have to prepare for them. I wrote a book review instead, fulfilling an obligation that I took on back in September when it seemed as if November wouldn’t be all that busy. I guessed wrong about my workload, but got the work done in the end.

Shifting gears keeps things fresh. One of the reasons I love academe is that it’s rarely the same from day to day or season to season. Classes have their own personalities and rhythms, requiring new approaches even to what might seem familiar material. Next semester I’m teaching a brand-new class. I’ve taught all the material in it before, but never in quite this configuration, and I find myself looking forward to seeing what it says to me when paired up differently.

But first there’s this semester to finish up. The papers will come in soon and the grading will start and blogging may be sparser as first the grading, and then the holidays, consume my attention. I wish you all the variety you can stand, as the seasons shift around us.