Trick or Treat…

Wishing everyone a Happy Halloween with Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal Cookies!

1 c. pumpkin

1/2 c. margarine, softened

 1 c. brown sugar

 3/4 c. sugar

1 egg

 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

 1/4 tsp. nutmeg

 1 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

 1 1/2 tsp. salt

 tsp. vanilla

1 tsp. baking powder

 1/4 tsp. baking soda

 1 1/4 c. flour

3/4 c. quick-cook oatmeal

1/4 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips for melting

In a large bowl combine pumpkin, margarine, sugar, egg, spices and vanilla.  With electric mixer beat until mixed well.  Add flour, oats, baking powder, and soda.  Mix until all ingredients are combined.

Drop onto  lightly greased cookie sheets.  Bake for about 12-15 minutes.  Cool slightly on cookie sheet before removing.  Transfer to cooling rack.  Melt chocolate for 1 minute, or longer if necessary, in microwave.  Drizzle on top of each cookie.

Recipe adapted from Southern Living 1979 Annual Recipes.  I omitted nuts, chocolate chips, and raisins, and added a tsp. of vanilla.  *** Note – after the cookies sat overnight in an airtight container they got extremely moist, so moist they are hard to handle.  I think  I’ll  increase the flour a bit  when  I make them again.  They are very flavorful – a nice spicy cookie.


Do you see it?

I belong to a search and rescue team in my area.   Recently, our team was out in a large forest on state land conducting a mock search.  During our training exercise we  came to a stand still.  The human scent dog was hot on the trail of our “lost hunter” and we were waiting for word to advance.  It was a beautiful fall day, and I  had  taken my camera along to get some pictures of our team in action.  While I was standing there in the woods I kept seeing a slight movement out of the corner of my eye, after careful observation, I finally got a good look at what was making the movements.

This chipmunk came out of his house to see what all the noise was about.  He watched me with caution, and before we left the area I pointed him out to my husband, who in turn, left him some nuts for disturbing his sanctuary. 

Do you have an organization you volunteer with?  I’d love to hear about it.

Apple Cider Doughnuts, a Daring Baker’s Challenge

Well, I  took the plunge and signed up with The Daring Kitchen.  It isn’t like I don’t have enough to do already but I figured one post out of the month was manageable and it would help stimulate me a bit.  I opted for the role as a  daring baker since baking is my cup of tea.  Lori of Butter Me Up  hosted this months challenge.  And at her request we all made homemade doughnuts.

Before I get into the actual doughnut making, I’ve got to tell you that I’ve ate a lot of doughnuts in my lifetime but I have never made them.   It’s one of those things that I’ve always wanted to do but just never did.  This seemed like perfect timing to me.

There isn’t much that makes me nervous in the kitchen.  I’ve work with lye when I’ve made my homemade soaps,  and I’ve deep-fried foods before, but I have to admit I was a wee bit worried about  deep-frying these doughnuts.  Not because I had to work with the hot oil, but because I was afraid I would over cook the doughnuts.   Or worse yet,  I was afraid my cooking oil would  lose it’s required temperature and my doughnuts would turn out oil soaked and soggy.  There is nothing worse than an over cooked or under cooked doughnut.

Part of the reason I fretted over this?   While making the doughnuts I had a horrible time with my thermometer.  It wouldn’t stay clipped to the side of the pot I used to deep-fry the doughnuts in.  I dropped the thermometer in the hooil at least three times during the frying process.  What a nightmare.   While I was deep-frying my doughnuts thermometer  I vowed that I would never make doughnuts again.  But….

The recipe I used to make these doughnuts was provided by Lori.  It was posted by Ed Levine on Serious Eats, and is a Nancy Silverton  Buttermilk Cake Doughnut recipe. I tweaked it a bit to accommodate my original plan which was to make apple cider doughnuts.  The three things I did to alter the recipe?  First, I used 1 tsp. of pumpking pie spice in place of the 1 1/2 tsp. of nutmeg the recipe called for.   Secondly, I used 3/4 c. plus 2 tablespoons of apple cider in lieu of the buttermilk. And lastly, I added grated apple from one small apple to the batter.  I finished the doughnuts off by shaking them in a bag filled with cinnamon and sugar.

When all was said and done the doughnuts tasted great.  I thought they were a bit heavy; probably due to the grated apple.  If I make them again I will cut the amount of the grated apple in half.  One thing that struck me odd with this recipe, it called for yeast.  Most of the other cake doughnut recipes I looked at didn’t call for yeast.  I’d like to try a recipe without the yeast  to compare the two, and I’d like to make some raised yeast doughnuts also.

So, what do you do with over a dozen doughnuts?  You share them.  I delivered fresh doughnuts to some friends of ours who  have four little girls.  You should have seen the girls eyes light up when they saw the freshly made doughnuts.  Watching the girls devour my doughnuts helped erase most of the bad memories I had concerning the deep-frying thermometer incident.    I’m up to making homemade doughnuts again, but the next time I do, I’ll be a whole lot wiser!

Finger Lakes Cork & Fork, an Event to Remember

I was raised in a rural part of New York State where agriculture has been a primary source of income for many people, for many years. Aside from having a small garden, a few berry bushes, raising small flocks of free range chickens and ducks for their eggs,  and maple sugaring in the spring,  my personal hands-on experience in agriculture has been minimal.

My first experience in agriculture came at an early age when a friend of mine, whose parents owned a potato farm, offered me a job picking potatoes one weekend.  Eager to make money, I spent my entire day on my hands and knees, in the dirt, pulling potatoes out of acres of cultivated rows.  Needless to say, it was then, that I realized my fortunes wouldn’t be made working as farm laborer.  My experience picking grapes was slightly more enjoyable than potato picking, but not a lot.  The downside to grape picking, spending entire days out in cold, rainy weather, and having to contend with bees on the nice weather days.

I probably didn’t know it then, but those experiences  helped shape my views on the agriculture today.  I’ve come to realize that without our local farms, and  workers willing to put in the long hours and endure the unpleasant elements nature hands out, each our lives would be significantly different. 

This past weekend I decided to pay homage to New York State agriculture.  I was fortunate enough to attend the first annual Finger Lakes Cork & Fork event held in the Seneca County.   The concept of the Cork & Fork, to create a farm to feast event to promote  fresh, locally grown, raised, or farm made products and wine.  The products then make their way into the hands of some of the area’s best know chefs.  The chefs job; to prepare a epicurean adventure.  And that, they did. 

The friday night Partners & Pairings event featured a variety of tapas.  And of course, they were paired with some of the best wines from the Finger Lakes, and the excellent jazz tunes from the Johnny Russo Trio.

Chef Deb Whiting of Red Newt Bistro   offered a taste of her Apple Sausage Meatballs in a Creamy Apple Cider Sauce.  The meatballs were made with pork sausage from Autumn’s Harvest Farm , and cider from Red Jacket Orchards .  The meatballs were paired with a 2007 reserve Riesling from Red Newt Cellars.  If these didn’t bring  your taste buds alive, I’m not sure what would. 

Chef Sean Congdon of Greenside Grill prepared a Tea Scented Pork Belly with Brussel sprouts, Jerusalem Artichoke & Quince.  This dish was delicious, and was paired with a Riesling Ale from Three Brothers Wineries & Estates.

Chef William Cornelius offered a dish prepared just special for this event.  He named it Cheriyaki Chicken.  The chicken came from Perrine Farms of Lyons, NY, and the sauce, a creation by Chef Cornelius, made for Brick Village Gourmet.  This dish was calling me back for seconds.  It was paired with Barn Raisin’ Red from Americana Vineyards, one of my favorite local red wines.

One of the most tasteful dishes of the evening was one prepared by Chef Sean Agate of the Divine Kitchen & Bar at Hotel Clarence.  As Sean reminded us, it was a very popular dish in the 70’s.  Here’s to his Finger Lakes fondue, and to the 70’s!  The cheese used in the fondue came from Muranda Cheese Company, and was paired with yet another great  Riesling from Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars.

Don’t worry, there were plenty more excellent dishes and wines to be sampled, and they made for a room full  of very happy tasters.  And dessert?  Lucienne’s Chocolate offered a Port Infused Finger Lakes Black Currant Biscotti with Dark Chocolate & Sea Salt.  Out of this world…  It was paired with Finger Lakes Ruby Port from Knapp Winery.   Life’s So Sweet Chocolates offered Chocolate Chili Truffles paired with Gewürztraminer Ice Wine from Standing Stone Vineyards.  Not only did I eat my truffle, I ate my hubbies too.  Don’t tell anyone…  And lastly, Cayuga Lake Creamery offered their Homemade Black Raspberry, and Vanilla ice cream,  drizzled with Moonglorius from Eleven Lakes Winery.  A perfect ending to a great evening of tastings and pairing.

The second day of the event included cooking demonstrations offered by some of the same local chefs who prepared the dishes the evening before.   There was also more local food and wine to be sampled, and purchased.  It was nice to be able to chat with owners of the businesses, or their representatives.  I asked quite a few questions, and learned a lot.

Chef Sam Izzo of Simply Red Bistro of Sheldrake Point

As I wandered through the large barn that housed all of the vendors I realized there were  a lot of products that I wasn’t familiar with.  To name just a few,  Tom’s Bootleg BBQ Sauce, Finger Lakes Farmstead Cheese, Sunflower Oil by Stolor Organics, Stony Brook Squash Seed Oils, and wines made by Kings Garden Vineyard, among several others.  In all, there were 65 exhibitors representing  wineries, restaurants, foods & farms, specialty items and education. 

This was a great event.  A foodie, and wine lovers paradise.  It gave recognition to those who work  hard in the food and wine industry everyday, and I have to say, it left me with an even stronger appreciation for my life in the Finger Lakes.  If you didn’t attend this years Cork & Fork, you will want to catch next years, it can only get better.

The Ghirardelli Chocolate Samples

When  I recently received three small bars of Ghirardelli chocolate to sample as part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program I was a happy girl.  I have a sweet tooth, especially when it comes to chocolate.  Do you know a girl that doesn’t?

I decided these fine chocolates would best be devoured  enjoyed after dinner on separate nights. I opted to try my favorite flavor first.  I know this sounds crazy.  Usually you save the best for last – right?  Well, I had a feeling it wouldn’t matter which order I ate these chocolates in, and I was right.  They were all equally delicious.

The first chocolate I tried was the almond bar (typically my favorite flavor).   I’ve always been a fan of  the almond and chocolate combo.  I loved the texture of the finely chopped roasted almonds mixed with the creamy chocolate.  No disappointments here, this bar was sumptuous.  The second chocolate I devoured sampled was the hazelnut bar.  This one caught me by surprise.  I actually think it tied for first place with the almond bar.  I seriously don’t think I can discriminate between the two.   The last one I devoured reviewed was the milk chocolate bar.  This too, was amazing.  Although I like nuts in my chocolate I would never turn down one of these milk chocolate bars.  While I was eating the milk chocolate bar I had an epiphany.  This chocolate would really add a level of sophistication to s’mores .  I can’t even begin to imagine how many  s’mores I’d eat if they were made with Ghirardelli’s Chocolate.  A lot – is probably be a safe assumption!

A gift idea – treats worth sharing

I just picked up Foodgifts magazine, this is a magazine published by Better Homes and Gardens that  focuses on preparing food, and giving it as holiday gifts (you know the holidays aren’t that far away).  The magazine has some clever, food gift wrapping ideas, and  shows you how to replicate each package they’ve photographed.  For a magazine, it was a bit pricey, but I’ve been eyeing it for a while.  Actually, more than eyeing it, every time I went into  the hardware store I’d grab it to look at while  hubby was looking at guy stuff.    I know I’ll  put the magazine to good use, it’ s  packed with lots of great recipes, and the decorating style it right up my alley.

I’m a big fan of giving food as gifts to those who don’t, won’t, or can’t cook, or bake for themselves.  A little over ten years ago I decided rather than waste my time scouring the mall for that perfect Christmas present (that I was never going to find for some of my family members), my time would be better spent grocery shopping, and spending a day cooking and baking gifts in my kitchen.   No crowds, just me and my Christmas tunes.  This has become a tradition, and every Christmas everyone makes sure there is room in their freezer for their highly anticipated packages. 

The entrée’s and side dishes I prepare can be heated, or re-heated with ease.   I also make homemade quick breads, dinner rolls, snack mixes, and desserts to go in everyone’s goody box.   Many of  these can be prepared ahead of time and frozen.  This leaves  time to actually enjoy the holiday festivities.

I decided since I bought the magazine I might as well do a practice run.  You know, check out some of the recipes.   If  I like them, they might go on the “to make this year for Christmas”  list.  I started with a  simple recipe called Pretzel Snack Mix, and made a few adaptations. 

I liked this recipe, and recommend giving this mix as a gift.  A definite add to this years list.  It makes a large batch, tastes delicious, the ingredients are reasonably priced, and the recipe is simple.   Actually,  I netted everything I needed for this project for about five bucks at Wal-Mart.  This would be a great treat to package, and give, with a nice bottle of wine.  I opted to make little fall treat bags on this trial run.  Won’t a few people be surprised when I deliver these?

Whole Wheat Bread

My mother will never know this because unfortunately she’s no longer with us but she really taught me the art of baking.  She was an excellent baker, as well as an excellent cook.  Me, I’ve always steered more toward baking than cooking.  From a young age I was whipping up cake batters, cookies, and strawberry shortcakes.

I truly can’t remember one thing that mom baked that didn’t turn out perfect.  She made making pies look like the easiest thing on earth, never having to piece together a crust like I’ve had to do on more than one occasion.   Her sugar cookies were the sweetest and softest I’ve ever brought to my lips.  Sweet enough to risk getting caught stealing them out of the freezer where she kept them for “safe keeping” before Christmas. I will never make rice pudding like she did, even following her recipe.

The other day I decided that with the cold weather setting in I’d make a couple of loaves of  whole wheat bread.  I love the fall for this reason.  Everything seems to slow down a bit and I can focus more on cooking and baking.   While I was making the bread I wondered what mom would think if she were sitting at my counter watching me. I decided she’d probably be very glad that I enjoy baking like I do, maybe she would give me some helpful tips, but she would probably wonder why I couldn’t make bread without making my kitchen such a mess.  It doesn’t matter how careful I am not to get flour all over the place, it still happens and sometimes I swear the more careful I am, the bigger mess I make.

This recipe for the whole wheat bread came from one of my favorite Williams-Sonoma cookbooks called Baking.  The recipe gave me the option of mixing by hand, or with a mixer and a dough hook.  I opted for the dough hook, so out came the mixer

I have never used the mixer to make bread before. I’ve always made my bread by hand or cheated and used my bread maker.  I have to say it was nice letting the mixer do the work for me.  It was also nice getting more than one loaf of bread, not an option when I use the bread maker.

The recipe is as follows, with a few adaptations.

In a bowl, whisk the whole wheat flour and 2 1/2 cups of bread flour (I used all-purpose flour in place of the bread flour). In a large bowl, or bowl of  the electric mixer, combine 2 cups of the flour mixture, salt, and yeast. In a saucepan over low heat, combine 1 cup of water, the milk, molasses, and butter. Heat to lukewarm (110 degrees). Stir this liquid mixture into the yeast mixture and beat until hard and smooth. Add the remaining flour, mix and knead. If  kneading by hand, knead for about 10 minutes. If using a mixer with dough hook  the dough should pull cleanly from the sides of your bowl (about 6-7 minutes.) *Note the dough will be heavy.

Place the dough into a greased bowl and cover with a greased piece of plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until the dough is doubled. ( About 1 -1 1/2 hours).

Grease two loaf pans. Turn the dough onto lightly floured surface and cut in half. (The recipe tells you to roll flat, and then roll up tightly and pinch the seams to seal.) I formed each half into an oval loaf, and place in the greased pans. Cover the pans with a clean towel, and let rise until doubled. (About 45-60 minutes).

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush the loaves with egg yolk (I skipped this stage, and brushed the loaf with butter when it came out of the oven for a softer crust.) Bake until golden brown, and the loaves sound hollow when you tap them. (About 30-40 minutes).  Transfer to a wire rack and cool. When the pans are cool enough to touch take the bread out of them.

I figure if my mom was here to taste my bread she would have overlooked the mess I made of my kitchen and said it was all worth it in the end.  The bread sure tastes good toasted with the homemade peach jam I made this summer.

Do you prefer to bake, or cook?  Did someone teach you the art?  If so, who was it?