Friday, December 19, 2014

Homemade crackers

Possibly the most unnecessary holiday task to add to your list. Yet still kind of fun.

fig almond crackers
{fig almond crackers}

I made these for Friendsgiving and while it would have been much smarter not to give myself an extra task, I have to admit they were pretty delicious. And they actually held up well, so I could definitely have baked them a day or two ahead and stored them in a ziploc bag.

These crackers are easy (I think I put together the dough in less than 15 minutes) and they can be stored in the freezer and baked off as needed. I still have a half log that I'm looking forward to using and I'm even contemplating making another batch.

I've clearly been brainwashed by MSL.

Recipe is here - no need for edits. I used vermouth instead of port to avoid buying one more bottle of rarely used alcohol and it worked perfectly well. They are really good with creamy brie. They're more delicate than grocery store crackers, but our guests agreed that the deliciousness outweighed any inconvenience.

A word of warning - I also made the cheddar and gruyere version and I was so frustrated with them. It took a lot of cheese (that had to be finely grated by hand) and then they froze so solid that even after letting them sit out for longer than I was supposed to they still cracked into giant pieces when I tried to slice them. The final product was decent tasting, but I would never make them again.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Emily's shower!

Emily's baby shower was last weekend and it was as lovely as you might expect.

I "cohosted" with two other friends, which was amazing because we divvied up the work and I put dibs on dessert (duh) and went nuts with it. I can't claim any credit for the gorgeous decorations or flowers. I was busy enjoying myself during the party and didn't snap many pictures, but here are a few, followed by some recipe links and info.


dessert set up


sugarfina candy!

candy bags

to go boxes

Desserts: For the desserts I kept E's tastes in mind (plenty of chocolate, no nuts mixed in) and tried to choose a variety of recipes that would ensure everyone would find something to enjoy. I also wanted to include a couple of desserts that hearkened back to childhood favorites, since we were celebrating the arrival of a child.

For the standbys, I chose these reliably crowd pleasing chocolate cookies (modified to use toffee instead of nuts), rosemary butter cookies, and one of E's favorites -  white chocolate chip cookies (sorry - I just used the recipe on the bag and then threw the bag away without writing it down - bad blogger). For all of these, I made the dough a couple weeks ahead of time and froze it.

I wanted rice krispie treats, but a bit fancier, so I used this recipe for a salted caramel version and they turned out great. The only modification I made was that I used a dry caramel process instead of wet, which is just my personal preference because it's a bit faster. This is just a fancy way of saying that I left out the water the recipe calls for and just cooked the sugar until it turned a nice deep amber and then tossed in the butter, cream and salt.

Emily loves s'mores so I wanted a cookie version. I found several recipes for s'mores bars, picked one, annnnd .... it was a dismal failure. The graham cracker crust was too crumbly and couldn't be cut without falling apart completely. The chocolate layer was overly sweet and hard as a brick. It was a big bummer. I contemplated that pan for awhile and acknowledged that the sane thing to do would be to shrug my shoulders, toss it in the trash and pretend I never planned to make them. There was more than enough dessert without them. It will probably surprise exactly none of you to hear that I couldn't let the dream go and made a new batch that I cobbled together from multiple different recipes. I'm pretty proud of how they turned out and I'll share that recipe soon. Okay, soonish. I should really test them again first so I can give you the yield and everything.

I also made a chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting (used the German buttercream recipe I love and did the cream cheese modification) and decorated it all fancy. I was using this tutorial, and I accidentally made the colors way brighter than I intended and didn't have enough spare frosting to tone it down. The problem with amateur cake decorating is that it's hard to find enough occasions to practice. I'm sure I'd do better next time, but how often do I need a three layer cake? (I did finally treat myself to a cheap cake turntable and actual icing comb, and they made the decorating so much easier)

Drinks: For starting the party we wanted to have a drink option that would be equally delicious with or without alcohol. I opted for this grapefruit shrub and added a bit of lime juice and then cut it with Le Croix grapefruit flavored sparkling water. For the spiked version I added some vodka but with a light hand, since it was only noon. I didn't do exact proportions, but I think it was about 1 part shrub: 5 parts sparkling water: 1/4 part lime juice. For the spiked version, it was about 1 part shrub: 1/2 part vodka: 4 parts sparkling water: 1/4 part lime juice. Again, sorry for the horribly inexact recipe. Things got a little hectic pre-party, as they tend to do.

Small details: One of my favorite ways to add a quick personal touch is with a custom stamp. I think I've mentioned this before, but it's really easy (and not that expensive) to get a stamp made. I've been using for years and I like them because they ship quickly and I can usually find a discount code. I use Illustrator for design work, but you could do this in Powerpoint or Word as well, it just might be a little more time consuming!

I used the custom stamp on simple paper bags so guests could take home candy from the Sugarfina candy bar. I smuggled out several bulging bags of candy for myself because they do gummies like no one else does. I used a gold pigment stamp pad and ended up having to emboss them because the pigment ink didn't dry well on the slightly waxed surface of the bags.

I also used the stamp (and embossed it) on bakery boxes I'd purchased so we could pawn off the leftover dessert easily. This is one of my top recommendations for parties with lots of dessert - have something ready so you can send leftovers home. You can get bakery boxes at most cake shops (this is what I did for our wedding) or online (I ordered these ones for the shower and will be using up the rest of them for years).

I always like to make labels for the food so people don't have to choose blindly. I designed these ones in Illustrator, printed them and then just attached them to bamboo skewers. I didn't manage to get any decent pictures of them so you'll have to trust me that they existed.

In order to keep the design consistent I used the same fonts for the stamp and the labels. Miss B is my favorite font person, so I searched her blog for a great handwritten font recommendation, came across Bombshell Pro, and promptly recognized it from E's blog which made it seem like a match made in heaven. I used Bebas and 5AM Gender for the bold font (these two are very similar so I sometimes mix and match them).

It was such a special day and I'm really looking forward to meeting this little girl.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Right now

:: Researching dog walkers and feeling a little heart sick over the expense. For this much money I could have a house cleaner come every week (a luxury I have long denied us, citing budget constraints). But Circe > than a clean house. D has been taking her to work since we adopted her, but he's changing jobs and that won't be an option anymore. We're already experiencing major guilt. Also, it's kind of hard to find dog walkers. How do people in apartments with full time jobs have pets?

:: Thinking I should write a post called "things I planned to make for Christmas that I'm obviously not going to have time to get around to" - homemade bitters and needlepoint embroidery would top the list. Next year.

:: Related - wishing that December didn't already feel like it was speeding away from me. I would like to lobby to make Thanksgiving a week earlier. I already feel so behind that I'm not sure it's worth putting up our tree. And I don't even do any Christmas shopping anymore! But I'd like more time for the decorating and the baking and the crafting. You know, the good parts.

:: Getting excited for all the new babies coming our way! I'm helping with three different baby showers over the next month so that's where all my crafting energy is going. I love little party details and want them all to be surprises, so I can't share anything just yet.

:: Feeling extremely uncertain about some of the plot developments in Nashville. Enjoying the love-child drama on Grey's Anatomy (deeply bored by the Callie-Arizona situation). Getting pretty into the current season of Top Chef.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Kale, sausage and sweet potato soup

Another soup that I'll be adding to the rotation.

kale, sweet potato and sausage soup

We've already managed to polish off all the turkey stock I made from our Friendsgiving turkey and I'm sad about it (but grateful for the extra freezer space). Homemade stock is like an elixir and it makes everything taste a million times better. I don't have any special method, I just use the crockpot. For a 13 lb turkey I usually need to do it in two batches. I pick as much meat as I can off the bones, then add the bones to the crockpot along with whatever I have on hand (usually a few stalks of celery, leaves and all and a couple sad carrots and some shallots and any fresh herbs I have lying around - this time it was thyme and parsley) and cover it with cold filtered water. I prefer not to add onion, because I think the flavor can be a little overpowering in stock. I let it cook on low for at least twelve hours, then strain it, refrigerate it (you can skim the fat at this point, but I find that bone broth doesn't have much to skim) and portion it into freezer bags for later. It is the best thing.

This soup is a particularly good candidate for homemade stock because it's fairly broth-y. I'm hoping it's still delicious with store bought, since I don't really want to wait a whole year to make it again.

I tweaked this a bit because I wanted to use the sweet potatoes I had on hand and because I like hot sausage.

Kale, sweet potato and sausage soup (makes 6 servings, slightly modified from here)

14 oz hot pork sausage (I got it without casings)
8 cups kale (or more), stems removed, leaves sliced
1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
9 cups chicken or turkey stock
2 medium sweet potatoes, diced into 1/4" pieces
Salt and pepper to taste

:: In a large stock pot, saute the sausage over medium high heat until browned. Remove and set aside (can drain on paper towels if you like). You can also cook whole sausages and slice them, as the original recipe suggests.

:: Add olive oil to the pan and saute the onions and carrots until soft (5 - 10 minutes). Add in the garlic and saute another 1 - 2 minutes.

:: Add broth, bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Add sausage and potatoes, cover and cook until potatoes are just starting to get tender (about 5 - 10 minutes, depending on your dice).

:: Add kale, cover and return to a simmer. Cook until the kale is tender and the potatoes are done, about 5 more minutes.

:: Season to taste with salt and pepper. This will depend on your stock (my homemade stuff has zero salt, so the soup needed a bit more than you would with boxed stock).

The sweet potatoes and sausage make this sweet and savory and I feel good about the fact that it gives you a substantial serving of greenery. I crammed two small bunches of kale in there, which I think was more than the eight cups it called for, but who wants to waste time measuring out cups of kale?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Pizza (over and over again)!

There is always room to improve, when it comes to pizza. I love my weeknight pizza dough recipe, especially if I'm short on time, but for the last year I've been almost exclusively making this recipe from Nancy Silverton.

pizza dough

First of all, yes, that recipe has 24 steps, which is a little terrifying when you print it out. Never fear, it's actually very, very easy and you can modify it if you need to. I don't make enough bread anymore to justify keeping several different types of flour on hand so I just use bread flour. I also give it an (at least) overnight rise in the fridge because that's more convenient for my schedule, given that I'm rarely at home all day. I find it tastes best after at least 24 hours and the time I left it three days was particularly good. 

I've been playing around with it for over a year, and I'm finally ready to transfer my notes from the scribbles all over the recipe printout I've been using. If you want to try it as written, please go to the original recipe. I think it's well worth reading. 

How many pizzas does it make? If you like a very thin crust pizza, make six portions, as recommended in the original recipe. If you like a very thick crust, make three. Four is the sweet spot for me. Regardless, the finished pizzas will be about 12" across.

We don't generally eat four pizzas at once, but I'll make a full batch of dough anyways. There are a couple options here and both of them are good. To make my own frozen pizza I parbake the crusts until they are just barely golden in patches on the bottom, pull them out and let them cool. Once they're room temp, I'll dress them, place them on a cookie sheet and freeze them, toppings and all. After they fully freeze I wrap them in saran and then foil and store them so we have our own frozen pizzas. Does this save you money? Probably, although frozen pizzas aren't very expensive. It definitely does not save time. I can't justify it very well except to tell you that it's incredibly satisfying to have homemade pizza even though you had a long day and got home at 9 pm.

If you don't want to go the whole way, you can also just pop the extra dough balls into ziploc bags and then freeze them. Pull them out the day before you want to use them and stick them in the fridge to defrost.

And here is my current version of this recipe. For more detailed instructions, which I'm sure will make it even more delicious, see the original.

resting dough

Overnight pizza dough - bastardized from Nancy Silverton's recipe


22 oz warm tap water (2 cups, 6 oz)
1 heaping teaspoon active dry yeast
27 oz bread flour + a bit more flour for shaping
1 1/2 teaspoons mild-flavored honey
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Olive oil for greasing the bowl


Make the sponge: put 15 oz of warm water and the yeast in the bowl of a standing mixer and let it sit for a few minutes to proof (make sure you get some bubbles so you know your yeast is working!). Add 14 oz of the bread flour and mix at low speed to combine. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature (ideally 68 - 70 F) for about 1 1/2 hours. In the winter I'll do this on the windowsill if there's sun, to help bring the warmth up. If you're heading out the door it's totally fine to leave your sponge to rise for a couple hours longer.

Uncover the bowl and add the remaining 7 oz of water, the remaining 13 oz of bread flour and the honey. Using a dough hook (if you don't have one, just use your regular mixer blade and scrape it more often) mix the dough on low speed for about 2 minutes. Add the salt and mix on medium speed for about 10 minutes, scraping as necessary to keep the dough from creeping up the hook. At this point, the dough should be starting to pull away from the sides of the bowl. It won't clean the bowl completely, but it will start to look more cohesive and it will sort of bundle up around the hook. If the dough is very sticky and wet you can toss in an extra handful of flour, but I've never found this to be necessary.

Turn the dough out of the mixer and into a lightly oiled bowl that has enough space for the dough to double in size. Cover with plastic wrap, set it aside at room temperature for 45 minutes.

Dust your work surface lightly with flour and turn the dough out onto it. Acting as if the round has four sides, fold the edges of the dough toward the center to form a nice ball. Turn the dough over and return it, folded side down, to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap again and set it aside for another 45 minutes. At this point, I go ahead and stick it in the refrigerator overnight or for a couple days.

When you're ready to make your pizza, dust a work surface generously with flour and turn the dough out onto it. Divide the dough into equal segments. I've found that you get somewhere between 42 and 48 ounces of dough. Nancy recommends dividing into six segments (~ 7 oz each) but I usually do four segments (~ 11 oz each). I find my kitchen scale really helpful here, but you can always eyeball it. Form into rounds, cover with the plastic wrap from the top of the bowl and let them rest for at least an hour. Don't shortcut this, particularly if you refrigerated the dough. It's much easier to work with once it's properly rested.

Place your pizza stones in then oven and turn it on as high as it will go (500 for mine). Leave them to heat while your dough rests.

Get all your toppings ready, then stretch out your pizza crusts. There are different methods for this (see Nancy's detailed description in the original recipe but you'll probably develop your own). Pick up a ball, (do not knead it!) flatten it a bit with your hand and then start stretching it out.  I'm not coordinated enough to do any fancy pizza restaurant flips, but I do a modified version of that, resting the stretched circle of dough over the backs of my hands and then spinning it a bit. This video is almost exactly what I do, if you need a visual. I think the hand stretching works better than rolling with a pin, but it also runs the risk of ripping the dough. If you rip the dough you'll need to knead it back into a ball and then set it aside to rest again. I find dough that has just been kneaded is too springy to stretch out well. It will relax as it rests and it will be much easier to work with.

I do not fuss with a pizza peel but there are great instructions in the original recipe if you want to try it. When I'm ready, I just pull a pizza stone out of the oven, place the stretched dough on it as evenly as I can (you can also adjust a little right after you put it down), dress it with toppings and pop it back in the oven. It's not the pro way to do it, but I've never had success transferring a topped pizza to the stone in the oven.

Bake the pizza until crisp and golden brown. The time is completely dependent on your oven and how thick you rolled the dough. I always check starting at 8 minutes. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

I love Thanksgiving, but D and I have had a hectic few months (year?) at work and when we realized we might not have another chance to take a vacation, we decided to take advantage of the long weekend. We waited so long to organize everything that there were hardly any campsites left but we found a spot in Big Bear, did no planning, threw everything we could think of in the car and took off Thursday morning.

on the way up

backseat set up

little tent

thanksgiving dinner



post water

fire starter




bertha peak

We had sandwiches for Thanksgiving lunch, hot dogs and s'mores for dinner. Circe saw her first large body of water and waded for 45 minutes. We had to keep her on the leash the whole time because there were coyotes everywhere. While we were on that lakeside walk we turned around and found a whole pack creeping along behind us. I'd never been so close to one in daylight! On Friday we went on a 7 mile hike and Circe decided to boycott so we had to carry her the whole time. Cross training?  But she was a wonderful little camper otherwise, snuggling in at night and eagerly exploring the area. I'm very thankful for how unflappable she is about almost everything.

It was a really wonderful, refreshing weekend, and I'm so grateful we were able to make it happen. Of course, we realized we either didn't own or had forgotten: camp chairs (didn't own, purchased while we were there), a propane stove (don't own, decided to live without), headlamps (left at home, gah), towels (drying yourself off with a dish towel in 30 degree weather is not something I'd recommend to anyone), etc, etc.

We're making it a goal to get out more often and our first step is to corral all our camping equipment into a single bin so that it's easier to go on a whim. The second step is figuring out where to store it.