Monthly Archives: December 2010

My New Year’s Plans & Resolutions in Pictures

New Year's Provisions

Fridge stocked for new year’s: yogurt, white beans, oven pizzas, bubbly, beer, leafy greens, strawberries, giardiniera, Tim’s meat products, and a vegetarian haggis.

It’s New Year’s Eve and after a morning spent walking the dog, working out, grocery shopping, eating a fried egg sandwich and kneading dough, I’ve pretty much resigned myself to getting no work done today (such is the blessing and the curse of working freelance from home).

I’m very excited about my dorky New Year’s plans: Tim and I are going to have a Star Trek: The Next Generation marathon on New Year’s day. That, on top of the beers chilling in the fridge and a few exciting food plans, is my idea of a perfect New Year’s. It’s been a busy season, and I’m not in the mood for parties. I can’t remember the last time I treated myself to some good solid boob-tube time, and Star Trek: TNG is one of my favourite all-time TV series. Plus, we’ll be pairing our marathon with some good old fashioned TV-watching food: popcorn, pizza, oven fries, nachos – some serious junk food will be happening, and it felt really weird buying packaged food like oven pizzas, fries and corn chips at the grocery store today. Tim and I had a longish discussion about my making my own pizza from scratch (dough, sauce and all), and he finally convinced me that the day wasn’t about slaving away in the kitchen – it was about relaxing and being together.

Plus, even our packaged food is mostly natural (bottle of guilty-pleasure diet soda excluded). Say what you will about oven fries – potatoes are a whole food!

However, not one to go the whole weekend without cooking, I’m currently making some burger buns to go with some New Year’s Eve veggie burgers and bubbly. Plus, I’ve got an apple pie in the works and a loaf of bread rising for breakfast tomorrow. FYI, Waitrose’ Malted Grain Bread Flour is my new favourite bread flour – it makes delicious bread that toasts like a dream!

New Year's Provisions: Bread

I’ve also been thinking a bit about 2011. I’m not one for resolutions, but this last day of 2010 has me thinking about some things I’d like to do in the coming year.

Do a better job of keeping my plants alive

(Which means having some restraint when I start my veg garden this year.)

New Year's Resolution: Keep my plants alive

Eat out the larder

(I sense a lot of bread, beans and rice in my future.)

New Year's Resolution: Eat out the larder

Take care of my ankle

(With daily stretches and strength exercises.)

My foot vs. Arthur's

Keep up with dog training

(His and mine.)

Opening presents

Get really good at making pies

(Pastry first, filling second.)

Apple Pie

Successfully home roast coffee in the Whirley Pop

(Caff first, decaff second.)

Whirley Pop Coffee Roaster

Take another bicycle tour

(Even if I stay close to home.)

Meditation break

Wild camp somewhere beautiful

(And be able to hike there pain free.)

Wild camping

Make more money

(By working smarter, not harder.)

Home office

Christmas 2010 in Pictures

Merry Christmas from Monica and Jay Dog

I usually go home to Chicago for Christmas, but this year for various reasons (dog not withstanding) I decided to stay put in the UK. It had all the makings of a terribly homesick day – I love Christmas and my family does a great job with food, music, snow, lights thrift-store grab-bags and all the other little things I love about the holidays. But as things turned out, Christmas in the UK was bliss.

I’ve been very busy these past many months with work and travel and it was wonderful to have such a calm, peaceful day here on the farm. Tim, also away from his family in NZ, helped make the day special. We bought a real tree and Christmas stockings, and even England got in the spirit by giving us a solid dose of snow for a proper white Christmas and a beautiful Christmas morning.

P1040885

After an early morning dog walk, Tim got us off to an excellent start with an awesome breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast and hot tea.

Christmas breakfast

After breakfast, we shared a few presents from under the Christmas tree – Jay dog had a terrific time helping us unwrap:

The aftermath of Christmas morning

I got a mortar and pestle! (And a Wacom Bamboo tablet! Not shown…)

Mortar and Pestle

Like a proper Christmas, ours was adequately focused on food. Tim made a partridge, while I made a veggie loaf with tofu, mushrooms, sage, celery and a few other bits, served with cashew gravy. Here is my veggie loaf, looking a little timid next to Tim’s partridge.

Veggie loaf looks on in horror

For fixins, brussels sprouts, roasted veggies and cranberries. In other words, a pile of the least photogenic food imaginable:

Christmas meals never look terribly appetising do they?

For dessert, I made ginger ice cream and pumpkin pie. Alas, the pie did NOT go well. I bought a jar of pumpkin puree here in the UK, but after inspecting the jar I saw that the pumpkin was a “Japanese Kokkaido pumpkin” with added WATER and salt! Hello, where’s my can o’ Libby’s sweet pumpkin when I need it? I made the pie anyway, but it was a goopy mess. Oh well, at least the ice cream was a success.

Ginger ice cream

And I made up for the failed pie yesterday by baking an apple pie (something much easier to get right in England).

Apple Pie

I finish this post with a photo of something that’s truly impressive, even to a vegetarian: Tim’s Christmas roast, a collection of partridge, sausages and prunes, all wrapped in bacon, ready to be baked for 45 minutes until done:

Tim's Christmas Partridge

That much meat wrapped in meat is surely the sign of a Christmas day well done. And according to Tim, the partridge was delicious. Jay, however, prefers the gamier taste of Rudolph.

Nom

Click here for more Christmas 2010 photos on Flickr.

Gingerbread for grown-ups

Gingersnaps

Since the weather’s gone wintry, I’ve been in the mood to bake. Not just bread, but cookies, cakes, and pies – sweet and savory (I’ve got a leek and gruyere quiche in the oven at this very moment). This being the holidays, gingerbread was high on the agenda. But as much as I love the look of gingerbread christmas tree ornaments, I wanted something for grownups – something with intense flavors and strong spices, something too tasty to leave on the Christmas tree.

Enter Alice Water’s gingersnaps. Ms. Water’s is a “chef, restaurateur, activist, and humanitarian”. She is also owner of Chez Panisse, the world-renowned restaurant in Berkeley. Her book, The Art of Simple Food, includes a recipe for gingersnaps that David Lebovitz (also an alum of Chez Panisse) generously shared on his blog in 2007. The recipe came to my attention when it was recently noted on The Kitchn’s Christmas Cookie Roundup. And so, I went out and bought some butter.

These gingersnaps were my first exposure to the concept of “refrigerator cookies”, which basically means you make a log of dough that you can store in the fridge or freezer from which you can slice and bake cookies as you need them. I must say, it feels really good knowing I have a blob of dough in my fridge that I can quickly turn into fresh-baked cookies whenever the mood strikes (I think the mood is striking right now). You can also roll the dough out and cut it into shapes, a little more challenging but way more festive.

Gingersnaps

A word of advice: the thickness of the cookie will have a dramatic effect on their taste experience. Thinner cookies will be crispy all the way through, while thicker cookies (about 1cm, as David Lebovitz suggests) are crispy on the outside with a nice bit of chew on the inside – that’s my preference, too.

Gingersnaps

From The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters, discovered on David Lebovitz’s blog. David also suggests revving up the spices by adding 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom, cloves, nutmeg or allspice to suit your taste. I definitely plan to add more ginger next time, and perhaps cut the sugar just a tad so that the ginger really comes through. But I’m a spice fiend.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (280 g) flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 11 tablespoons (150 g) butter, salted or unsalted, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup (130 g) sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup (80 g) mild-flavored molasses (I’ve struggled to find molasses in the UK, so used half honey, half dark treacle)
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • optional: coarse sugar crystals for coating the cookies

Method

  1. Stir together the dry ingredients.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, or by hand, beat the butter just until soft and fluffy. Add the sugar and continue to beat until smooth, stopping the mixer to scrape down any butter clinging to the sides of the bowl.
  3. Stir in the vanilla, molasses and egg.
  4. Mix in the dry ingredients gradually until the dough is smooth.
  5. Divide the dough in two equal portions and roll each on a lightly-floured surface until each is about 2-inches (5cm) around. Don’t worry if they’re not perfect; you can neaten them up in a second.
  6. Wrap each in plastic wrap then roll them lightly on the counter to smooth them out. Refrigerate, or better yet, freeze the cookie logs until firm.
  7. To bake, preheat the oven to 350F (180C) and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
  8. Slice cookie dough into 1/4-inch (a scant 1 cm) rounds with a sharp knife. Dip one side and press firmly in a bowl of coarse sugar if you want (you can also use granulated sugar instead), and place sugar-side up on baking sheet, evenly-spaced apart. Leave a couple of inches, about 5 cm, between cookies since they’ll spread while baking.
  9. Bake for 10-14 minutes, rotating the baking sheets midway during baking, until deep-golden brown. The cookies will puff up a bit while baking, then settle down when they’re done. Bake on the lower end of the range for softer cookies, and more for snappier ones, depending on your oven.
  10. Let the cookies cool two minutes, then remove them with a spatula and transfer them to a cooling rack.

Storage: The dough can be refrigerated for up to five days, or frozen for up to three months. Once baked, the cookies can be kept in an air-tight container for a couple of days but like anything made with butter, of course they’re best the day they’re baked.

Gingersnaps

Back in time for Christmas

It made it!
Me with massive food and wine haul from Italy

I have a really bad habit of disappearing without saying where I’m going. With my last post being a recipe for roasted root vegetable salad, it might have appeared that I overdosed on butternut squash and have spent the last few weeks in a food coma.

No, in fact, I’ve been travelling, both abroad and close to home. My sister came to visit over Thanksgiving, and since I won’t be home for Christmas, we had an early Christmas party here on the farm. Pumpkin pie, presents, even a real Christmas tree – we went the distance, and it ruled.

Perfect pumpkin pie except...

With this first Christmas party behind me (and a Thanksgiving party shortly thereafter), it all making this coming Christmas feel somewhat surreal (even more surreal than having a Christmas party before Thanksgiving). But it also feels insanely cool – TWO Christmases, which is great if you’re like me and love the holidays.

(Side question: does any foodie NOT like the holidays? I’m honestly curious!)

In addition to Christmas, we also went to Italy for 8 days (which was supposed to be 7, but we got snowed in on our last day – oh darn). The trip really deserves a post in it’s own right. For a food lover, this was perhaps one of the best trips I’ve ever taken. I’ll leave it at that for now and save the gushing for another post.

Breakfast at Bosco del Fracasso Agriturismo

Anyway, I’ve returned, just in time for the holidays, and with a sudden urge to bake bake bake. Recipes to follow. It’s good to be back.