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Archive for September, 2009

Odds and ends

As you may have guessed the term has started and I am spending more time in my office, preparing for classes and doing other work-related things.  I am determined not to let work “interfere” with blogging too much; I almost brought my camera into work today but at the last minute I left it hanging in its usual spot at home.

I plan to get out this weekend and take some new pictures, but in the meantime here are a few of the photographs I have taken in the past couple of weeks that I haven’t found another place to post.

These incredibly-colored heirloom Roma tomatoes insisted that I buy them.  When combined with caramelized onions and fresh herbs and cooked down a bit in a saute pan they made a wonderful quick pasta sauce for Sunday dinner.

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This sign (photographed at the downtown Farmer’s Market) has been waiting to be posted for weeks.

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And these lilies are just too lovely to hide in a desktop folder any longer.

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lilies

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Baking challah

In my post about baking crackers I mentioned my love for the cookbook Baking with Julia and the fact that my copy of the book falls open at a few, often-baked, recipes.  One of the pages that the book opens to most easily is page 93 and the recipe for challah that Lauren Groveman contributed.

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In the introduction to the recipe, Julia and Lauren encourage you to think of challah as sort of an Eastern European version of brioche, a butter- and egg-enriched slightly sweet bread.  Of course, unlike brioche, challah is also the symbol of the Jewish sabbath.

I love baking this bread; it’s no more difficult than any other bread recipe and the dough is soft, smooth and golden, and smells rich even before it is baked.

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I especially like the way this dough feels when I knead it (I do most of the kneading in my KitchenAid standing mixer,

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but always do the final knead by hand because the dough is so smooth to the touch).

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I also love the way the dough rises.  The addition of sugar and milk and eggs makes the yeast very active and the dough always rises robustly each time it is shaped and left to its own devices.

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Braiding the loaves is another part of making this bread that I look forward to. Once the dough has finished its second rise,  I divide it into 6 even pieces and use three for each braid.  I have found that it is helpful to use a kitchen scale to weigh out the dough because I am not good at judging equal pieces using my eyes alone.

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The final rise takes place after the bread is braided.  Before putting them into the oven the loaves get glazed with an egg and cream mixture

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and dusted with coarse salt and, if you like, sesame seeds.

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When the bread comes out of the oven it smells irresistibly sweet and bread-y.

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I always have trouble waiting for it to get cool enough to slice.  It’s lucky the recipe makes two loaves.

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Today we decided to explore the Thirteenth Annual Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival being held at the Clackamas County Fairgrounds in Canby.  It was a perfect fall day, sunny with enough of a cool breeze to keep it from becoming too hot.

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After breakfast downtown at Mother’s Bistro we drove south to the festival; a combination fiber and craft sale,

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thickyarnatOFFF

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livestock judging,

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and workshop and demonstration site.

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Local artist, John Beard demonstrated Ravenstail weaving in one booth,

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African baskets were piled on the lawn,

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and yarn was everywhere.

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It probably won’t surprise anyone who reads this that I came away with some yarn myself

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and even started a new project in the car on the way home.

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Knitted snake scarf

Several months ago (actually, if I am honest, it must be at least a year ago) I found a pattern in a knitting store in St. Louis that I could not resist.  It was so long ago that I am not even sure that the store is still there.

The pattern was for a knitted snake scarf.  Incredibly cute, I thought, for my nephew J, who at the time must have been about five (now the truth comes out:  that was THREE years ago; please don’t tell anyone).

Anyway, it has taken me until now to finish the thing.  And it is cute.

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At least I think it is.

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The problem is that now my nephew is too old to be caught wearing a snake scarf,

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and to be honest, he was a little skittish about it even at five.

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So the question is:  who gets the snake scarf?

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Give me a good answer and it’s yours (or theirs).

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Stuffed pizza

When I was growing up in St. Louis I had a friend whose mother used to make the most wonderful, home-made pizza.  I remember looking forward to going to their house and helping to line big sheet pans with dough and topping them with fresh tomato sauce and cheese, eating the hot, chewy pizza and, best of all, getting to take some home for breakfast the next morning.

I started making my own pizza about twenty years ago when S and I were first cooking together.  At that time, I used a cookbook called simply Pizza by the prolific cookbook author and Build a Better Burger cooking contest judge James McNair.

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I experimented with many of the recipes in the book, and have gone on to add many more pizza cookbooks to my bookshelf, but S still claims that his favorite pizza of all time is McNair’s Stuffed Pizza, made with a cornmeal crust.

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S often complains that I don’t make this particular pizza often enough so this year for his birthday one of the presents I gave him was a “coupon” for a stuffed pizza.   He handed it over on Sunday and I got to work.

Stuffed pizza has three main components:  crust, filling, and topping.  The crust is a simple pizza dough made with the addition of cornmeal (I substitute cornmeal for about 1/4 to 1/3 of the flour in a traditional pizza dough recipe).

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The filling is made with spinach (I often use frozen but this week I had fresh organic spinach from the Farmer’s Market) sauteed with onions and garlic, and then mixed with grated mozarella cheese.

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The topping is made with sauteed tomatoes, garlic and basil.

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Assembly is easy:  I roll out about half of the dough and use it to line a springform baking pan.  I then pile the spinach and cheese filling mixture into the pan, roll out the rest of the dough and place it over the filling in the pan.  I trim the dough so that it just fits into the pan, and gently pinch the upper and lower crusts together to make a good seal.  After cutting a few slits in the top crust to let steam escape, I bake the pizza for about 20 minutes at 450 degrees.

Once the top crust has begun to turn a nice golden brown, I spread the tomato topping on it and sprinkle the whole thing liberally with grated parmesan cheese.  The pizza goes back into the oven for another 15 minutes to finish baking.  I recommend letting the finished pizza cool a bit before trying to slice it.

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Baking with Julia

I guess everyone has to do some kind of Julia Child homage sometime.  I haven’t seen the movie Julie and Julia yet but I have read Julie Powell’s book by the same name (I liked it) as well as My Life in France, the book Julia wrote with Alex Prud’homme about learning to cook and living in France (which I loved).

S and I own (and have watched) the complete collection (on DVD) of The French Chef; we also own copies of both volumes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  With all of that, though, my most-used Julia Child cookbook has to be Baking with Julia, the volume that accompanied the PBS television series of the same name.

bakingwithjuliacover

My copy is tattered and a little floury, and opens readily to the two recipes I use most often: the  Challah recipe Julia baked with Lauren Groveman and the Buttermilk scone recipe she made with Marion Cunningham.  Both make regular appearances on our table.

Today, though, I needed crackers to go with the cheese we were planning to serve some friends.  After a little bit of research in other baking books (I have quite a collection of those, too) I turned (wondering why I hadn’t started there) to Baking with Julia and found this recipe for Savory Wheat Crackers

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contributed by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.

I got to work and after a quick whirl in my food processor and only three ingredients (whole wheat flour, salt and water) produced a smooth, supple cracker dough.

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Thirty minutes later (the dough had to rest) I began rolling, cutting, sprinkling and baking the crackers.

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The crackers needed watching, but when done they were crisp, toasty and had just the right amount of salty seeds on the top.

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Thanks Julia, they were a big hit.  I’ll make these again.

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A celebration of garlic

It’s Saturday again and, despite the rain, we made our weekly visit to the Farmer’s Market.  We made it back, quite damp and rumpled, with bags filled with organic apples, corn, grapes, roasted peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, eggs, spinach and more.

The rain, unfortunately, meant I decided to leave my camera in the car, so today’s pictures come from what happened next.

On the way home a distinctive sign placed on top of a car caught our attention.  One word was enough to draw us in:  GARLIC.

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Susanville garlic

We pulled over to the side of the street, parked and made our way into a garage set up with tables displaying five varieties of organic garlic.  Of course, we had to buy some of each.

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Joyce's, Simonetti and Susanville garlic (bottom to top)

Three varieties are pictured below (from left to right) Inchelium Red, Italian Purple and one named for the woman who grew the garlic, Joyce Mills of Mills Organic Farm in Newberg, OR:  Joyce’s garlic.

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The picture below includes Joyce’s garlic (on the left) and two other varieties:  Simonetti and Susanville.

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According to Joyce, each variety has a different taste and some last longer in storage than others.  We’ll be experimenting with all of them over the next few weeks.

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Italian Purple and Joyce's garlic (left to right)

Italian Purple garlic

Italian Purple garlic

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Simonetti garlic

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