Sunday, December 30, 2012

Cracker Update

My family just gobbled up the whole batch of homemade crackers in less than 10 minutes so you might want to make at least two batches.

Homemade Crackers

Impress your New Year's Eve party guests by serving these homemade crackers.

They are studded with sea salt, fresh rosemary and crushed black pepper and cost under a dollar to make.

Fancy store bought crackers can cost between $5 and $10 a box and don't taste as good as these.

Feel free to experiment by adding other herbs and seasonings to the recipe. Parmesan cheese and sesame would be a nice combination. 

Homemade Crackers
(makes 24 to 30)
 1 cup flour
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter (cut into bits)
1/3 cup milk
Sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, salt and rosemary. With the processor running, add the butter and keep the machine running until it is evenly distributed.
Finally, with the machine running, slowly pour in the milk and process until a ball of dough forms.

Transfer the dough to a floured board and roll it into a large rectangle that is 1/8 of an inch thick. Be sure to use enough flour so that the dough doesn't stick.
Don't be afraid to use a lot of flour on your board. You don't want the dough to stick.

Evenly sprinkle on some sea salt and black pepper and use your rolling pin to press it into the dough.
Use your rolling pin to press fresh ground black pepper and sea salt into the dough.

With a knife or pizza cutter, cut the dough into 2-inch pieces. Don't fret about getting the crackers perfectly shaped - imperfection is part of their charm.

Transfer the crackers onto two sheetpans that are lined with parchment paper. With a fork, prick each cracker two to three times.

Bake the crackers for 12 minutes and then reduce the temperature to 200 degrees and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Let the crackers cool completely on a cooling rack. They will crisp up as they cool.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Short Baking Break

I'm taking a short break from baking today so that I can add a protective coating to my butcher block counter tops.

It's also a good opportunity for me to clear, clean and organize my kitchen for the New Year.

The product I use is called Emmet's Elixir and I highly recommend it because it's easy to apply, non-toxic and smells like lavender and rosemary.

I bought my bottle at Crosscut Hardwoods here in Portland but you can also find it online at Amazon.

I also use the elixir on all my wood cutting boards and have even put it on my wood garage door - hey it waterproofs it so the rain just beads off.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Savory Pies

Savory pies are crowd pleasing and offer a nice respite from the holiday onslaught of sweet treats.

To make them all you need is a good pie crust recipe (see recipe below) and the savory filling of your choice.

I recently made a chicken pot pie and a beef shepherd's pie but you could keep the filling vegetarian or even go the Irish route and use lamb.

When I use chicken, I like to buy breasts on the bone and boil them in seasoned water until they are tender and falling off the bone. Then all you have to do is pull the meat off the bone and it's ready to add to your filling.

When I use beef, I buy a lean cut of steak like sirloin or top round and cut it into small 1/2 inch pieces. Season the meat liberally with salt and coarse black pepper and saute it olive oil over high heat until it is well-browned. Pour in some red wine or beef stock to deglaze the pan and continue cooking on low heat until the meat is very tender. Then, you can add your vegetables.

The vegetables I like to use are onion, garlic, celery, carrot, potato and peas. Once you have your meat and vegetables cooked together and seasoned (you can't go wrong with a little sage, rosemary and thyme), dissolve a heaping tablespoon of cornstarch in two cups of broth and add it to your filling. Bring this to a boil, stirring constantly until the liquid becomes a creamy sauce. Remove the filling from the heat and let it cool to room temperature before putting it in the pie crust.

Chicken pot pie filling.
Beef filling for a shepherd's pie.

Now for the crust:
You can make a double crust pot pie or you can make a traditional shepherd's pie by skipping the top crust and topping it with mashed potatoes.
If you make the full pie crust recipe below, you'll have enough dough for an extra big bottom crust if you make shepherd's pie. For Christmas Eve, I rolled the pie dough into a large enough rectangle to fill a  9x13 baking dish.

My finished Christmas Eve shepherd's pie.

Bake the savory pies in a 350 degree oven for 40 to 55 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the juices are bubbling. It's a good idea to bake the pies on a sheetpan covered with parchment paper or aluminum foil to keep the juices from spilling into your oven.

Basic Pie Crust
3 cups flour
1 cup Crisco
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup ice water

In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and sugar. Add Crisco and using your fingers, break it into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs with some large pieces remaining.

Add the water, just a few tablespoons at a time until the dough is moist enough to pull together into a ball. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Buttermilk Cinnamon Rolls

It's a tradition in our family to have these cinnamon rolls every Christmas morning.

Granted, I have to head to the kitchen around 4:30 a.m. to have them ready for everyone when they wake up but this recipe is one of those that's worth it.

The recipe makes 24 giant rolls so three years ago my husband and I decided we should share them. So now we hop in the car as soon as they're out of the oven and deliver them warm to our friends in the neighborhood. It's fun for us and our friends don't seem to mind.
My cinnamon roll delivery partner.
I always make one pan of the rolls with raisins and one pan without.

Buttermilk Cinnamon Rolls
(makes 24 giant cinnamon rolls)
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 1/3 cups canola oil
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoons salt
4 cups buttermilk, scalded and cooled
12 to 14 cups flour

Dissolve the yeast in the water and set aside. In a large bowl, mix together the oil, sugar, eggs and salt. Add the buttermilk and yeast mixture. Finally, add the flour, a cup at a time until a soft dough forms. Knead the dough on a floured surface for 5 to 7 minutes or until the dough becomes smooth. Place the dough in a large clean bowl and cover with a towel or plastic wrap.  Let the dough rise until is is double in bulk, about 1 hour.

Punch the dough down and divide it in half. Let the dough rest for a few minutes before rolling each half into a 12 x 17 inch rectangle.

1/3 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Optional: 1 1/2 cups raisins for the whole batch or 3/4 of a cup for half the batch

In a bowl, combine the sugars, cinnamon and raisins if desired.
Spread half of the butter evenly on each rectangle of dough and sprinkle with the sugar mixture covering the dough evenly and leaving a 1/2 inch line of uncovered dough at the top.

Roll the rectangle up tightly into a cylinder starting at the bottom. Pinch the edge to seal the cylinder closed.

Slice the cylinder into 12 rolls and place them evenly spaced on a greased or parchment lined baking sheet.

Repeat with the other rectangle of dough.

Cover the rolls loosely with plastic wrap and let them rise until the spaces between the rolls begin to fill in, about 30 to 40 minutes.

Bake both sheetpans of rolls at the same time in a 375 degree oven for 16 to 20 minutes, switching the pans between the top and bottom racks midway through to ensure even baking.

Let the rolls cool slightly before icing.

1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Whip the cream cheese until smooth. Add the powdered sugar and whip again. Finally add the milk and vanilla.

With a table knife or offset spatula, evenly ice the tops of the rolls before serving.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Russian Teacakes

Russian Teacakes were one of the cookies we put in our holiday treat boxes to benefit the Wednesday Community Meal.

Okay, Christmas is just a few days away but you still have time to bake some holiday cookies.

Especially if you make these Russian Teacakes - they are festive and nothing could be easier.  No wonder they are universally loved and known by other names like Snowballs, Mexican Wedding Cakes and Swedish Teacakes.

These are my daughter Eleanor's all-time favorite cookie and believe me, she's tried a lot of cookies.

When I asked her why she likes them so much, this is what she had to say: "I just like the way they melt in my mouth and I like the powdered sugar."

I also like that the dough can be used to create other cookies. We wanted to get two cookies out of the dough for our holiday treat boxes so we created Walnut and Chocolate Logs by rolling the Russian Teacake dough into 2-inch logs, baking them and dipping the ends into melted dark chocolate and crushed walnuts.

My friend Anne bought a box of the cookies and told me that the Walnut and Chocolate Logs were her favorite. You could also substitute other nuts for the walnuts - don't be afraid to experiment. This is a tried and true recipe that is very forgiving.

The Walnut and Chocolate Logs.

Russian Teacakes are easy to make and a good choice if you want to make a big batch of holiday cookies.


Russian Teacakes
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/4 teaspoon salt
Extra powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Whip the butter until smooth and creamy, add the vanilla, salt and powdered sugar and whip again. Stir in the flour and the nuts until mixed thoroughly and the dough holds together.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. I like to use a cookie scoop to get even sizes and then roll it with my hands to form a nice ball. Place the cookies 1-inch apart on a greased or parchment lined baking sheet.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until set but not brown. Let the cookies cool until they are still slightly warm and roll in powdered sugar.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Last Community Meal Of 2012

Santa Claus? Or is it longtime volunteer Dan? Whoever it is, he worked very hard serving coffee, tea and hot chocolate and made our guests smile.

Today was our last Wednesday Community Meal of 2012.
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral will be closed the Wednesday after Christmas so the next service will be on January 2, 2013.

It's been a busy year at the Wednesday Community Meal. Every month we've seen the number of meals we serve continue to rise. We've also increased our gleaning to help fight the increase in food costs. Without the support of organizations and businesses like The Oregon Food Bank, Good Samaritian Hospital, Pizza Schmizza, Starbucks, Baker & Spice, Spring Hill Organic Farm, Phil's Meat Market and Grand Central Bakery, we couldn't feed our guests with our limited budget. The gleaning has been a real blessing to our program.

When we started the Wednesday Lunch in 2004, there were just two of us handing out peanut butter sandwiches and if we served 50 we thought that was huge.

In the Spring of 2008 we served our first full-service indoor meal and our numbers were hardly ever over 150 for that first year.

Now, four years later, we regularly serve between 250 and 320 meals each Wednesday. Guest come for the food but I believe they return because of the hospitality. Everyone is welcome and treated with kindness.

Thanks to our wonderful hardworking volunteers, we served 289 meals today.

We had numerous meal changes today. One of the most popular was roasted pork with gravy, asparagus and a baked potato.
With school out for Winter Break, we had extra help from some young volunteers today. Here is high school student Zane stirring a pan of teriyaki chicken.

The meal couldn't go on without our hardworking dishwashers. Longtime volunteer Bill even smiles as he works.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Savory Rolls

These Savory Rolls make a simple meal of soup and salad special.

They are rolled just like a cinnamon roll but filled with savory ingredients instead of sugar and cinnamon.

I chose to use shredded Parmesan cheese but you could use any kind of cheese you like and/or pesto, olives, herbs, sundried tomatoes—experiment and have fun. You really can't go wrong.

Savory Rolls
(makes 16)
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 package active dry yeast
5 cups flour
1 cup shredded cheese and/or the savory filling of your choice.

In a saucepan, combine the buttermilk, sugar and butter. Heat it over medium heat until the butter is melted. The buttermilk will curdle but that is okay. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and let it cool until it is lukewarm.
As you can see the buttermilk curdles when it is heated but that's okay.

In another bowl combine 2 cups of the flour with the salt and yeast.

When the buttermilk mixture is lukewarm add the flour mixture and mix until smooth. Add the eggs and mix again. Add the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time until a soft dough forms. You might not need all of the flour.
After adding 2 cups of flour to the cooled buttermilk mixture, add two eggs and mix well.

Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic and set it aside to rise for 1 hour or until it is double in bulk.
Cover the dough and let it rise until it doubles in bulk.

Punch down the dough and divide it in half. Roll each half into a rectangle that is about 14 inches long and 12 inches wide. 
Roll half of the dough into a rectangle.

Sprinkle the dough with cheese or the savory ingredients of your choice leaving one inch at the top uncovered. Starting at the bottom, roll the dough up tightly and pinch the edge to seal it closed. Cut the dough into 8 pieces and set them on a greased or parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat with the other half of the dough.
Sprinkle with your filling choice leaving an uncovered border at the top.

Tightly roll up the dough starting at the bottom. Once rolled, pinch the edge to seal it.

Cut the roll into eight pieces. I like to score the roll before cutting to make sure the pieces are evenly sized.

Place the rolls on a greased or parchment lined baking sheet. Let them rise another 30 to 40 minutes before baking.

Let the rolls rise for another 30 to 40 minutes before baking in a 375 degree oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Cookies, Cookies, Cookies x 1,000

As of this afternoon, the baking and assembling of the cookie boxes to benefit the Wednesday Community Meal at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral is officially over.

And now more than three thousand cookies later we are tired...but happy with the results and anxious to sell every one of them and raise some money for a great cause. The boxes cost $25.

The secret to being able to complete such a large task was organization and pre-making the dough before the big baking session on Friday. The most tender cookies come from chilled dough so there is no harm in making the dough early and letting it chill for a few days.

Just a few of the cookies we made.
Packed boxes ready to be sold.

We also decided to slice off most of our all- butter cookies instead of rolling the dough and using cutters. The slicing method is much more efficient. You just form a log with the dough and then slice off the cookies before baking.

And, thanks to the advice of Cheryl who is the most organized baking partner in the world, we simplified things by making large batches of doughs and changing them to get different kinds of cookies.

 For example, the vanilla shortbread recipe was used to make three different cookies.

The first way was to coat the edges with egg white and roll it in sugar for a pretty edge.

The second way was to add dried cranberries to the dough.

And, the third way was to decorate the tops of the baked cookies with dark chocolate and crushed candy cane.

This plan was so smart and made our large task manageable.

Here are few snapshots from our busy week:
My sweet niece Maya helped me pack my car for the big baking session at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.
Just a few more cookies.
Anne cutting Rugelach.

Martha setting out the boxes for packing.

The bottom layer of cookies in the boxes. Clockwise from top left: Russian Teacakes, Cranberry Noels, Magic Cookie Bars, Ginger Crisps, Dark Chocolate Shortbread with White Chocolate, Vanilla Shortbread with Dark Chocolate and Candy Cane, Walnut and Chocolate Logs and Rugelach.

The top layer: Ginger Crisps, Linzer Cookies, Sugar Cookies, Vanilla Shortbread and Cranberry Noels.

Leah tying the decorated gingerbread snowflakes on the boxes.

Boxes that will be sold tomorrow. In the end we made 91 boxes and each one has three dozen cookies!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Pretty Potatoes

Purple potatoes, red potatoes and thin skinned yellow potatoes.

The colorful potatoes we served at the Wednesday Community Meal today were as pretty as they were delicious.

Volunteer Kate who has a large garden and is so generous, brought us organic purple potatoes and creamy thin skinned yellow potatoes that she said were closely related to the Yukon Gold. We also had some red potatoes from the Oregon Food Bank.

We seasoned all of the potatoes by simply tossing them with vegetable oil, fresh rosemary, black pepper, garlic and salt and cooked them in a 400 degree oven until they were golden brown.

We served 331 meals today and the first 30 or so guests got a real treat - roasted lamb chops, the colorful potatoes and maple glazed carrots.

For the lamb, we immersed it in a lemon, garlic and rosemary marinade and then cooked it in a very hot 425 degree oven for the first 15 minutes and then reduced the temperature to 325 and cooked it until was tender and falling from the bone.

A lamb chop with roasted potatoes and maple glazed carrots.
Maple glazed carrots.

For the remaining guests we served barbecued chicken thighs and wings, turkey, breaded fish, ribs and chicken breasts. And of course everyone was also offered soup, salad and dessert.

Wrapped And Ready

I just thought I'd share these pictures of my gingerbread snowflakes wrapped and ready to grace the front of our cookie boxes. Making them was a lot of work so it feels great to see them completed.

I used food safe and self-sealing cellophane bags to wrap them. Look for the bags at craft stores like Michael's or online. I buy mine online from Paper Mart.

More Cookies

Yesterday I baked and decorated just under 300 sugar cookies for our cookie boxes to benefit the Wednesday Community Meal. 

Because I needed to make so many, I chose a simple design that came together fast.

I also used a plain round cookie cutter. When you need to work in bulk there's no time for fussy cutters. You want clean edged and open cutters that allow you to cut the dough with one press and then pop it right out.

Another tip is that a circle is easier to outline and fill with royal icing than a square. With squares you have to stress more about straight lines and easing the icing into 90-degree corners.

I also didn't want to wait for the basecoat of icing to dry before adding detail so I used the wet on wet method. That way I only had to wait once for the cookies to dry.

The plain open cutter that I used.
After flooding, add red lines around the cookie.
Use a skewer to draw through the lines starting on the outside and working towards the center.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Still Decorating

Wow, it's been a really long day. I'm still decorating gingerbread snowflake cookies but can now see the end in sight and I want these cookies perfect since they'll decorate the outside of the cookie boxes we are selling.

After a good night's rest,  I'll hopefully be ready to tackle another cookie tomorrow.