Friday, October 31, 2008

Gingerbread Bears



A friend of mine was looking for a cute but inexpensive item to give as favors at a baby shower she was helping with. Of course, working at Mimi's has me thinking all things baked and we came up with this idea...gingerbread bears decorated with pink icing, appropriately tied with great "baby-girl" ribbons. The finished bears were adorable and delicious, but we got lucky - very lucky! I used two recipes, both from the Martha Stewart website and both needed some major adjusting after I was already in the process of making them. The recipe for the gingerbread called for refrigerating the disks of dough overnight and then rolling it out. The dough was so soft it was unworkable, so I ended up kneading in at least a whole cup of flour after rolling one disk out. I had a moment of panic there, especially since these had to be made THAT day, but fortunately it worked! I made the recipe for Royal Icing as written and it was so thick that it was obviously wrong as well. Can I never trust Martha's recipes again? I added at least 1/2 cup of water to the 1/4 cup called for in the recipe and probably even more before it was thin enough to pipe. I have looked at other recipes, even others on Martha's site, and think that maybe the merigue powder amount should have been 5 tsp and not 5 TBSP? It just goes to show that every baking project is a learning experience and you just have to roll with it and keep on baking!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Mint Brownies


Who can resist chocolate paired with mint? We made these delectable brownies yesterday to celebrate Morgan's 10th birthday since they are one of her favorites. I've made this recipe several times and it never fails to please. And, if you have the ingredients on hand, they are just as easy to make as those from a box! Needless to say, they are all gone this morning. The recipe came from epicurious.com, but I've changed the directions slightly to make them more clear (after making the same mistake more than once!) Let me know if you try this recipe!

Mint Brownies
adapted from epicurious.com

For the brownies:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp peppermint extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the toppings:
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
2 T unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 T milk
1/4 tsp peppermint extract
green food coloring, optional

4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped, or chocolate chips
2 T unsalted butter

Brownies:
Preheat oven to 350. Lightly butter an 8x8 or 9x9-inch metal baking pan. Melt the butter and chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat until smooth. Set aside. Using an electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add chocolate mixture, flour and salt, and peppermint and vanilla extracts; stir until just blended. Transfer batter to prepared pan. Bake 25 minutes for 8x8 pan and a little less for 9x9 pan. Cool slightly.

Toppings:
Beat powdered sugar, 2 T butter, milk, peppermint extract, and one drop of green food coloring, if using, in a bowl until creamy. Spread over brownies and chill until set, about one hour.

Melt chocolate and 2T butter in a small saucepan over low heat until smooth. Cool slightly. Pour over mint topping, spreading evenly. Cover and chill until set, about one hour. Makes 20 small brownies.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

1st Annual Pie Contest

This year, Mark's mom planned a pie baking contest to celebrate the summer and to pay tribute to the "lost art of pie-making". It was a fun excuse to gather friends and family.


Ellen baked her very first pie. It was an apple pie with cut-out pastry leaves decorating the top. It was delicious! She was the youngest contestant. The pies I made were pumpkin pie (left) and raspberry/blackberry pie with a lattice crust (right).

The pies filled at least 5 long tables.

The judging was difficult. These were two of the most experienced judges - they took their job very seriously!

Annie trying to sneak a piece of chocolate mousse pie.

Here are the winners! Congratulations!

The Making of Apple Cider

While my kids loved the hay tunnels and corn stalk maze and the hay ride around the orchard, my favorite part of visiting Soergel's this year was the cider press demonstration.

First, they use a forklift to bring in a huge bin full of different varieties of apples and dump them into a holding area at the start of a conveyor belt.


The apples are fed into the machine which rinses them and carries them up the ladder to be ground up by a very loud "food processor". I had always envisioned whole apples being pressed, but now this makes much more sense!

The apple "mush" is then pumped into trays lined with canvas. When each tray is filled, the canvas is wrapped around the apples and another tray of apple mush is made on top until they have about a dozen trays of apple mush all stacked on top of one another. The trays are then pressed between the "floor" and "ceiling" of the machine and all of the liquid is captured in the tray around the "floor" of the press. The liquid is then pumped through tubes into a large holding tank where it is pasteurized and then bottled. One batch of trays will make about 300 gallons of cider (I think that's what they said). The pulp/fiber left over is as dry as cardboard and they use it as mulch which eventually returns the organic matter to the soil. Pretty cool, huh?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

And the winner is...



The tomato harvest was good this year. Above is only a fraction of our harvest. I probably didn't water them as much as I should have when we endured a fairly long period of drought. We lost some to blossom-end rot. The tomato hornworms tried their best to foil me. But we had no aphids and the pests generally left the plants alone, going for the tender cucumber plants instead. So we waited...and waited...and waited until finally the tomatoes ripened starting in late August-the longest I've ever waited for tomatoes!

I planted about 8 different varieties, and THE WINNER IS (drum roll please)... a variety called CARO RICH. They are the orange tomatoes in the picture above. I think the seeds were a packet of freebies I got from Seeds of Change when I ordered the other varieties. These plants almost didn't make it into the ground as they were the spindliest seedlings, but I'm sure glad I gave them a shot! They are a larger, meaty tomato perfect for slicing onto a juicy burger or tomato sandwich or BLT. They were the best tasting of the bunch - if only I'd watered them a bit more I may have gotten a few more. I'm sad to see the last of the tomatoes being harvested, but I've canned and frozen quite a few to enjoy in sauces throughout the year until we start all over again - and I'll be sure to include the Caro Rich in my order next year.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Butternut Squash Soup

The star of our garden this year was something I didn't even intend to grow! I noticed some type of squash seedling popping up here and there - in the raspberry patch and in the center of one of the new raised beds. I decided to leave them to grow and see what we would get. I never imagined they would be the most successful plants in the garden. Last week we harvested about a dozen or so big, beautiful butternut squash! I peeled, diced and roasted most of them to freeze for use in the winter and I made up a big batch of my favorite butternut squash soup. There are not too many ingredients...

...here's the squash, carrots, and onions sauteeing in butter.

Add thyme and saute until the vegetables are mostly tender. Add chicken stock and simmer until everything is very tender. Puree in a blender, add some seasonings and garnish with fresh chives. Serve the soup with hearty toasted sourdough or multigrain bread. The result is wholesome and delicious!



Butternut Squash Soup
adapted from Bon Appetit

1/4 cup butter
5 1/2 pounds butternut squash (10 cups diced)
3 cups chopped onions
3 medium carrots, thinly sliced
5 tsp fresh thyme
1/8 to 1/4 tsp ground red pepper
7 cups or more chicken stock
1/4 tsp nutmeg (optional)
1/4 cup heavy cream or half and half
fresh chives for garnish (optional)

Melt the butter in a large pot. Add the squash, carrots, onions, thyme, ground red pepper, and salt and pepper to taste. Saute until the squash begins to soften and brown. Add broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 30 minutes. Cool slightly. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender until smooth (or use an immersion blender right in the pot). Add nutmeg and heavy cream, and adjust seasonings. Sprinkle with chives when serving. If reheating, add more broth or water to thin to desired consistency.

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