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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Apple-Stuffed Biscuits

I don't know what it is about this time of year. Maybe it is just that I love the citrus fruits more, oh yes I do have favorites. The apples know it too, they become unruly and out of control. Not only that, they start multiplying. Then, in one last effort for my attention they start making a run for it, launching themselves from their apple basket and making a dash for the edge of the counter where they will throw themselves to the floor demanding my immediate attention before they become bruised and inedible. It is sad to be an apple in January in this house. Since our apples show up two or three, here and there, I never have all the same kind of apples at one time. I believe I used Braeburn, Gala, and Winesap for this recipe. The biggest secret I have learned in making anything with apples is that using different types of apples is the way to go. I actually can't think of anything that doesn't benefit from using more than one variety. By using different apples you get more depth of flavor and variety of texture. The next time you are making apple pie, pick of one of every variety of apple you can find at your local market. You will never go back to single variety apple pie again.
This recipe could be a little more challenging, depending on the size of your apples. You only need about 1 1/2 cups of finely chopped apples. If your apples are huge, this could be one apple. Luckily, I had a few super small apples, so it worked out perfectly.
Ok, enough about apples already. These biscuits were amazing. They are basically a cinnamon roll in a much quicker form. You still have all the rolling of the dough, but no rise time. I managed to make these in just over an hour. These days I rarely post a recipe without testing it a few times. I don't even think about getting the camera out until I have made the recipe twice. These biscuits were so good I wanted to share them with you immediately. So, after breakfast on Sunday there was some beautiful bright light shining through the window. I decided to grab my camera and go for it. I love everything about these biscuits, their texture, the gooey filling, the little bits of apple. My favorite part is the crackly, hardened bits of sugar along the edges. If I ever had a bakery of my own, there is no question that these would be on the menu. I'm sure they will be making a regular appearance in my kitchen and hopefully we won't have quite so many apples rolling around the counter top.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Creamy Cauliflower Soup (Photo Challenge)

To be honest, I don't really put a lot of time into styling the photos I shoot for this site. I usually think a little about it while I am baking, or cooking and start gathering my props and placing them by the window. I usually think more about color and the mood I am going for. Then I'll gather up a couple of tea towels and whatever else is handy. I'm sure David would tell you I take an elaborate amount of time, but really the whole process including taking the photos is about 20 minutes. Yes, 20 minutes is a long time when you are waiting to eat the food. This is why I rarely post dinner type foods. Still, I certainly don't plan everything out weeks in advance like I did for this post.
One day I was going through a stack of old magazine, trying to decide which to keep and it grabbed me how beautiful the Donna Hay covers were. It would be awesome to do a photo challenge with the covers of Donna Hay magazines. I thought about starting my own group, but the more I thought about it I knew I just didn't have the time to host one. There is nothing worse than a flaky host when you are participating in an online blog challenge. So, I pretty much let the idea rest. Then, somehow I stumble across the site Jungle Frog Cooking at the beginning of this month and it turns out Simone has been hosting Donna Hay Photography Challenges for the last five months. Maybe I didn't have the time to host one, but I could certainly find the time to participate. So, that is how we ended up here. Let me say that I am using this as a way to better my food photography and get a feel for a different way of looking at things. I know there is a lot of question about copying others work. So, for each of these challenges I want to fully credit the original photographer and stylist whenever possible. The below left photo was the original that I was trying to re-create. The original  was taken by Ben Dearnly and styled by Justin Poole.  The photo appeared in Donna Hay Magazine Issue #51 along with the recipe for Creamy Cauliflower Soup. 
One of the things I first noticed in this photo was the reflection on the left side of the bowl along with the sharp shadow on the left of the photo. I knew I would have to grab some of the first morning light if I was going to get this photo the way I wanted it. That isn't hard in Fairbanks this time of year since the sun doesn't rise until 9:00 in the morning. I actually found myself coffee in hand with my props all styled and ready to go, just waiting for the sun to come up. The first thing I realize when I set my scene was that my piece of plywood was not going to be long enough to get the right angle on the shot. I purchase a 2x2 piece and painted it a color called wrought iron. I was very please with the color. I also thought I had done a pretty good job with the paint markings until I realized I was going to have to move the whole thing down in order to accomodate the angle. Still, I didn't quite capture it. In the end, that was where I struggled the most. It is hard to get everything at the right angle and in the exact placement. If I was not trying to replicate another photo, it wouldn't have mattered. If it was my own photo, I certainly wouldn't have wound that ribbon around that spoon three times trying to get it to look right. The photo above right was the very first photo I shot that morning and I feel it was the best of the group. I think it most captured the feel of the original, even if the placement was a little off. I think the focus is more on the spoon than the soup. This soup feels a little flat compared to later photos when I added a little texture by dragging a paper towel across the top. I liked that I was able to capture all the elements in this photo, including the paint splatters.
The photo at the bottom of this page was my favorite of all the ones I took. I love the reflection of the sunrise on the bowl, you can also see the tops of the spruce trees across our driveway. I also like that the soup has a little more texture on the top, although I am not crazy about the fact that it looks a bit messy along the edge. I didn't particularly care for the way the fabric was draped in this photo. If I had it to do over again, I would have the ribbon part of the spoon less in focus. I probably could have done a better job if I had a DSLR. In the end I was pretty happy with my final product using a point and shoot camera. I think the photo at the bottom has more of a Fairbanks feel and a little more personality. Yet, the first one really is a better fit to the original.

A few behind the scenes pointers:
  • I put a false bottom in my bowl by placing a yogurt lid that fit snugly about half way up. This stopped my cauliflower croutons from sinking.
  • I looked for the most beat up piece of plywood I could find for added texture. 
  • The white piece of fabric is actually quilting interfacing, not parchment paper as it appears. It holds its shape a lot better and is more flexible.
  • I added a thin layer of translucent black paint on the left side of the board to enhance the shadow effect.
I really enjoyed challenging myself in this way. Feel free to leave any questions in the comments section if you would like to know more.  If you are interested in finding out more about this challenge or seeing how others did, you can find the post over at Jungle Frog Cooking Creamy cauliflower soup – DHSPC #5.  You can find the recipe for the soup there as well. It is really tasty. I'm actually eating it for lunch right now while I finish up this post.
I'm already looking forward to seeing what next months challenge will be. Thanks Simone for hosting this great challenge.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Jammy Almond Thumbprint Cookies

It's all about the jam with these cookies. These cookies are only so very subtly sweet, so a sweet jam is a good choice. I used apricot and plum, but found myself wishing I had some raspberry which is a little sweeter. It is important not to think of these as traditional cookies. If you are looking for a double chocolate chip, these aren't going to cut it. If you are looking for a little something to go with tea, now these are your cookies. They are also great to toss in a ziploc bag and take to work for a little mid-day snack. Just enough sweetness to brighten your day, but not so much sugar that you end up crashing at 3:00 in the afternoon. The original recipe called for raw almonds, but I only had toasted in the house. I thought they turned out great with them. Also, be sure and let them cool completely before eating them. That jammy middle part is super hot straight out of the oven. Kind of the equivalent of boiling hot jam straight out of the pot. Not that I have ever put my tongue to either because that would just be plain stupid. 
One last thing, this dough is incredibly crumbly and a little frustrating if you don't tell it who is boss right from the beginning. It took me a few tries and a lot of muttering, but toward the end I was pressing the holes in the cookies and adding jam at record speed. It took a little practice though. In the end it was worth it, because I just love cookies filled with delicious jam and a cup of hot tea. This time of year it is especially nice while sitting by a warm wood stove.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Maple Oat Breakfast Pie

This is breakfast? Really? I read over the recipe three times, then I packed my bags and moved to Vermont. Except it is really cold in this part of Vermont, 45 below zero. So cold it is hard to get the syrup to pour out of the container. Ok, I'm not really in Vermont. When I read that this pie was standard breakfast fare in Vermont, moving sounded like a really good idea. Since I did walk almost 7 miles in 45 below zero temperatures on Saturday, I figured I deserved a pie like this for breakfast. David wasn't buying my story, but I still made the pie anyway, and we ate it for breakfast. I have to admit that this pie was a little much for breakfast. I'm pretty sure the oats are an afterthought to make this sound more like breakfast, but really you don't even notice they are in there. That doesn't mean this isn't one good pie. It has a wonderfully deep maple flavor due to the maple sugar, syrup, and extract. Since I am the kind of person who sees nothing wrong with eating pie for breakfast, I would probably just call this Maple Oat Pie and serve it as a dessert and then have the leftover for breakfast the next day. If you are the kind of person who just can't take that kind of indulgence, I will call it breakfast pie just for you. See, no guilt if you call it breakfast! It does have some oats and barley flour too, so it must be healthy. Right?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Meyer Lemon Butter Cookies

It is that time of year again. The Lemon Ladies are sending out their beautiful lemons and I received my first box of the season a few weeks ago. I know I go on and on about these lemons every year, but they really do make a difference to me during these cold, dark winter months. Some people in Fairbanks buy Happy Lights, I buy lemons. As long as Karen has been shipping me these lemons, I have been making these Lemon Butter Cookies. These cookies and lemon bars are always the first thing I want each season. I actually have a little confession to make, these have already been a post on this blog. Way back in the beginning before most of you were here. I thought it was sad that a cookie as lovely as this one was buried back in the archives with crappy photos and little praise. This cookie really does deserve a second chance on the blog, and so I decided to bring it back. I hadn't planned on posting two recipes in two weeks with "Meyer Lemon Butter" in the title, but sometimes things just work out that way. I really recommend you get yourself some Meyer Lemons and give these cookies a try. They are just a simple little cookie, good with a cup of coffee for a late morning snack. There isn't much to them, so the Meyer Lemon flavor really gets to shine. Just what you needed for a cold winter day. Speaking of cold, they are saying it might get down to 50 below tomorrow. Keep warm Fairbanks.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Winter Wild Rice Salad

This salad is fairly easy to put together. It has a long cooking time because of the wild rice, but it doesn't require a lot of attention. I'll tell you it takes even less time if you turn on the correct burner on the stove. As I was making this for the second time it seemed like it was taking an awful long time to cook. After 40 minutes there wasn't much progress at all. I had actually been about a tablespoon short of rice and wondered if that could possibly be why so much of the liquid wasn't absorbing. It just seemed odd, so I decided to remove the lid and turn up the heat. It was then that I discovered the burner wasn't on. Things went pretty smooth once I turned the heat on and it didn't make a difference in the final product, thank goodness.
I originally made this dish for our Christmas eve neighborhood potluck. There was so much good food that night that I didn't really get a chance to enjoy much more than a bite of this salad. It makes enough to serve at least eight people and I thought it would be great to make up a batch as a side for Sunday dinner and then have the leftovers for lunch throughout the week. I love the variety of flavors and textures, it really does make for a filling meal all on its own.
Feel free to play around with the ingredients adding your favorite dried fruits or nuts. I'm sure this would be good with dried cherries, walnuts, or chopped hazelnuts. I was also thinking some chopped fresh grapes or a bit of citrus might even work. Give it a little bit of whatever you keep stocked in your pantry for a cold winter day.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Gooey Meyer Lemon Butter Cake

I had hesitations when it came to making this cake. I have made St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake in the past and wasn't a huge fan. Mostly I found the flavor kind of dull. I loved the idea of a gooey butter cake, but the execution seemed all wrong. I still had hopes of finding one I liked, so when I stumbled across a lemon cake that had similar qualities I decided to give it a try. As I mixed up the cake batter I made the mistake of taking a taste, blech. There is no sugar in the cake batter (there is in the filling however). Could that be right? I looked the recipe over twice, debated adding sugar, then decided against it. About half way  through the baking process an amazing smell started to fill my kitchen. The recipe called for chilling the cake before serving, but I knew there was no way I was going to be able to wait. I waited as long as I could (about 45 minutes) and finally cut a very small piece out of the cake. Five minutes later another...and then...another. I had to stop myself as I still needed to photograph the cake! You see that photo below? I'm not just being creative with the lemon placement, I seriously ate almost that much of the cake, minus the slice in the photo above. Good thing I didn't make any New Year's resolutions about dieting or anything. After photographing, I quickly wrapped the cake in plastic and threw it in the fridge and tried to forget about it. A few hours later, once it had completely chilled I pulled it back out to see how it tasted. I must admit I was disappointed, the cake had really dried out in a very short amount of time (3 hours). If you make this cake, be sure to have a few friends around to help you eat it soon after it comes out of the oven, it is much better that way. Plus, it might be good idea so you don't eat the entire thing by yourself!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Coconut Oil Granola

Three years ago I switched to a new granola recipe and have been making it ever since. Lately, I noticed that I haven't been making granola as much as I used to. I think I have become more bored with making it than eating it. Not that it is hard to change things up when it comes to granola. It's pretty much mix up a bunch of nuts and grains that you like in a bowl and throw it in the oven kind of thing. I see new recipes on occasion, but for the most part they are just another version of the same old granola. Although this recipe isn't that different from others, there was one ingredient that caught my eye, coconut oil. At $12.00 a bottle, it won't be replacing my  regular granola anytime soon, but it will be nice to change things up every now and again. I love the added coconut flavor the oil adds to the granola. If only they would start selling Liberté coconut yogurt in the United States, I would be all set for a super coconut breakfast. I always adjust my granola recipes so they make just enough to fit in my large granola jar. Feel free to adjust ingredients and amounts to suit your taste. I prefer fresh berries on my granola, so you rarely find dried fruit in my granola. Cherries would be a nice addition with these flavors. If you decided to add chocolate chips, I wouldn't tell. What are your favorite additions when making homemade granola?
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