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Friday, November 26, 2004

Out of retirement

I had asked my parents to bring a platter for the turkey, as the platters I thought I had were not up to the task. But in the run-up, I rediscovered the large platter from my great-grandmother's Limoges set, bought for her for Christmas 1899:

genuine antique

(It was stored in a different place from my other platters.)

Phone call. "I have a 17" platter, that should be big enough, so don't bring one."

When Dad saw what I had, he said, "You know, I was around the last time that was used. In forty-one, forty-two. After that, the dinners were at our house." I was touched by this. (My dad wasn't much older than my nephew is now.)

So here it is, in use, after sixty years:

out of the closet

It's a jolly good platter for turkey, too, as it has juice wells, which most modern platters don't. It was obviously meant to serve Roast Something at Sunday and holiday dinners.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Happy 100th Birthday, Grandma

Today, in the midst of the Thanksgiving preparations, I took some time out to remember my grandmother Alice, on the 100th anniversary of her birth.

I always remember her during the holidays, because she loved them so much, but of course especially on Thanksgiving because of her birthday ... and the excellent pumpkin pie and rolls she made. I also seem to take after her in my love for butterfat, although I don't put half and half in my coffee. But I have especially been remembering her this year, as I am hosting Thanksgiving for the first time and doing so using a number of things I inherited from her.

She was quite a traditionalist about birthday celebrations ... we had to have cake and ice cream. My brother and I often requested "ice cream pie" for our birthdays, which are during the hot weather, and according to my mother, this took some adjusting.

So I made a special stop by the bakery counter yesterday for the Alice E. Blackmer Memorial Celebration:

100% Alice Approved

(The plate was from her formal set.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Turkey Virgin No Longer

I have never cooked a turkey before. My parents live ninety miles away and I go and eat their turkey.

But this year ... I'm hosting, and I'm cooking the bird.

(Edited later to show the glorious result:)

golden goodness

I was feeling a bit more confident about the process after taking a class sponsored by Fine Cooking at Sur La Table. I got a big tip in how to brine a turkey using two oven bags - only takes one shelf in the fridge. So I ordered a Willy Bird from the Berkeley Bowl market (if I do this again, I'm ordering it from the Andronico's near my house so I can walk there).

The brine was made with:

1 cup Diamond kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
boiled with 1 quart water

and three more quarts of water added to cool it down. This is a brine for 18-24 hours.

I opened two Reynold's turkey bags and placed them in the roasting pan. The washed turkey went in, breast down. Then I poured the brine in very carefully and tried getting most of the air out of the inner bag before closing it. Then I closed the outer bag and twist-tied it. Then it went on the bottom shelf of the fridge:

soak it up

The plan is to smoosh the brine up in the bag each time I go into the fridge, and then take it out and let the turkey air dry overnight before roasting.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

IMBB#10 - Holiday Cookies

Or should I say "holy day cookies"?

After nineteen years of attending services at Episcopal churches, I was recently confirmed. (It's not just for teenagers!) As we had been asked to provide three dozen cookies each for the Traditional Protestant Cookies and Punch in the Church Basement Reception, my preparations in the days before this momentous event consisted not of prayer and devotional reading, but by doing a lot of baking. (It was actually pretty good prep, as I can get in a meditative state when I cook.)

I volunteered to bake for the non-cooks in our party (actually the other bakers probably covered them as well, but I didn't see a lot of leftovers when I left, either). I was interested in providing cookies that were easy to make and had a wide appeal, but were a little more interesting than decorated sugar cookies or brownies. I considered making the Lemon Sugar Cookies from Lori Longbotham's fabulous book, Luscious Lemon Desserts, but recalled that they were a PITA to make. In the end I provided three of my Old Reliable recipes:

Mom's Peanut Butter Cup Cookies - my absolute mostest favorite of the cookies my mom makes
Robert's Chocolate Cookies - double chocolate cookies made with Scharffenberger chocolate
Triple Ginger Cookies - a recipe I tweaked my very own self.

Here is a picture of some of the leftovers, on the festal red paper plate:

Three for the Trinity, yeah, that's my story

I recently did a post about the peanut butter cup cookies, so will refer you to that one, otherwise this post will be very, very long. But here's a picture of peanutty goodness cooling off. You should make these cookies. They're very, very good. People will become your Best Friends Ever:

Chocolatey Peanutty Goodness

Double Chocolate Cookies, aka Robert's Chocolate Cookies

Recipe was originally in Alice Medrich's Cookies and Brownies cookbook.

Scharffenberger is a boutique chocolate, made from bean to bar in an old brick building in Berkeley, California. It is, unfortunately, difficult to find outside Northern California, but worth the effort. (And it has also gotten even pricier than usual due to the world wide supply problems.) My favorite for eating (and Cook's Illustrated agrees) is the 62% cocoa solids "semisweet" (scare quotes, as 62% exceeds a lot of bittersweet) but they make baking bars with various sugar/cocoa content.

Berkeley's finest

Instead of the bar of unsweetened chocolate, because I don't like the taste of the chunks even in small bits, I used a bar of Scharffenberger 70% Bittersweet and adjusted the sugar down (gently rounded cup). You could also use the unsweetened for the batter, and chunk up a smaller bar of bittersweet or semisweet (or buy the Can O' Chocolate Chunks that we can find around here in better baking sections).

These cookies have been known to elicit an "Oh my Gaawwwwwwd" reaction. So share these with people when you want to bring them closer to the Divine.

1/3 cup all purpose flour (measured via spoon-in and level off)
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

9.7 oz (1 box) Scharffenberger 99% unsweetened chocolate
Divide out 6 oz and break remainder into small chunks

1/4 cup unsalted butter (2 oz)
2 large eggs, room temp
1 1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons finely ground coffee (I left this out, as a lot of kids would be present)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup walnut pieces (optional)

Mix flour, salt, and BP together in a small bowl.

Melt butter and 6 oz chocolate together. Stir till smooth. Remove from heat.

Beat eggs and sugar together with electric mixer. Add coffee and vanilla. Beat for ten minutes until the mixture is thick.

Turn mixer down to low and add warm butter and chocolate mixture. Mix till just incorporated (scrape down the bowl as needed).

Add the dry ingredients (and walnuts) and chocolate chunks and mix by hand until incorporated.

Chill the dough a couple of hours or overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 F.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop the dough in the size you want on it. I like teaspoons as these are rich, intense cookies (esp. if you put the coffee in!) but you could do larger. Bake 8-12 minutes, depending on size.

Slide the parchment onto a cooling rack and allow the cookies to set up on the paper and cool thoroughly.

Triple Ginger Cookies

I also call these "Ginger Blasts". I was casting about for recipes last year after I got a huge bag of incredibly potent ground ginger from our local halal shop. I had previously been referred to a recipe for triple ginger cookies and been underwhelmed, but it had potential. Here is what I came up with:

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened (6 oz., 1 1/2 cubes)
1 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 large egg
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour (12 oz - measured via dip-and-scoop)
4 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp baking soda (less for more "droppy" cookies)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 TBS fresh ginger, finely minced and/or crushed
4-6 oz crystallized ginger (small dice - under 3/8 inch - use "baker's cut" if you can get it)

Cream butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl (with electric mixer, or by hand), add the molasses, and the egg until mixed well. Add the fresh ginger and mix until dispersed more or less evenly.

Combine remaining ingredients (except for crystallized ginger) in a small bowl and gradually fold them into the moist ingredients. Fold the crystallized ginger in by hand with a spatula. Batter will be fairly moist. Cover bowl and refrigerate 2 hrs-overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spoon batter out in tablespoonfuls on a parchment-lined cooky sheet. Be sure to space them at least 2" apart (they spread). Bake for about 12 minutes, or until lightly browned. Allow to cool on the parchment sheets on the rack.

Oh yeah, here is a picture of me looking pretty happy on the Cathedral steps, and not just because I'm heading for the basement and all those cookies, either:

One happy camper

I didn't get a chance to sample the other offerings, as I was standing in line to get my prayer book signed and I was a bit cookied out temporarily, but I am pleased to report that the Bishop was seen to have one of the peanut butter cup cookies on the signing table.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Thanksgiving First Timer

Well, I am doing it; hosting Thanksgiving for the very first time (including cooking a turkey for the first time). It's been starting to hit me, especially since my weekends have been busy and no cleaning to speak of has been happening. At least I have next week off.

I had the presence of mind to sign myself up for a class that Fine Cooking is putting on with Sur La Table, called "New Classic Thanksgiving".

I was exhausted at work (actually from my weekend, with the combination breast lump scare and confirmation) and almost blew it off; I was so glad I didn't. Not only did I get fed some incredibly delicious food (hot artichoke dip; leek-parsnip soup; turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, and sauteed green beans; and pumpkin pie), I got some important do-ahead tips (the mashed taters can hold for no more than 2 hours, freeing up burner space) and some CONFIDENCE.

I just hope my turkey fits in my smallish roasting pan. But I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

In the meantime I have instituted a moratorium on buying food that is not for Thanksgiving, unless it's to help me finish what's in the fridge. Must. Clean. Fridge.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

In the ongoing series of recipes from the recipe book that my mother made up for me, I cannot fail to mention my Absolute Mostest Favorite cookie recipe, the Peanut Butter Cup Cookies.

Chocolatey Peanutty Goodness

These are mini-PB cups pressed into a "tart shell" of peanut-butter cookie dough. And they are addictive. We usually use mini-Reese's, but I note that Safeway has a house brand mini PB cup that is pretty good.

I have started making them myself (rather than just begging when I went home) and have started some other people on this path. At least now I don't have to hoard the cookies in the freezer.

If you don't have a mini-muffin pan, aka a mini-cupcake pan (where the cups are about 2" apart), you will need to get one or more for this recipe. Target has a 24 cup non-stick one for a reasonable price. Buy non-stick if you are getting one.

This works fine with margarine (if you are trying to save money) and store brand peanut butter. If you use natural style PB and it has seperated, a tip I gakked from one of my mags was to put the jar on the counter for a while, upside down; the oil will start reintegrating.

It does take a bit of planning for the timing, as the cookies do need to set up in their pan for at least an hour, and half day/all day is better. Do not rush this part of the process. Fortunately they don't take long to actually bake, so I will do a batch before I go to work (and let it set up all day), and then before I go to bed (and let it set overnight).

I measure the PB after using the half cup measure for flour, and/or line the cup with saran wrap.

n.b. Title edited, in case this gets passed around ...

Charlotte's Peanut Butter Cup Cookies


1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup softened margarine or butter

and beat till light and fluffy, whether by hand or in an electric mixer.


1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (you can use chunky at a pinch)
1 large egg (room temp)
1 teaspoon vanilla

blend for several minutes.

Add dry ingredients:

1 1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch salt, more if PB is unsalted

and fold in. Batter will be fairly loose. Chill some hours or overnight. Put the bags of PB cups in the fridge too.

To bake: Preheat oven to 350 F.

Bring dough out at the same time you start the oven preheating. I sometimes use this time to unwrap the PB cups (which I put back in the fridge ... this is the one thing you want cold). I use my trusty 1" scoop to portion it out. Try for a scant fill (around half the scoop) as that means that you will get more cookies. Seriously, it doesn't need a lot, and the baking soda will make it puff out.

After all the cups of the pan are filled (or water put in the empties!) I wash my hands and poke my index fingers in the center of each dough ball (a la thumbprint cookies). This will help it cook better, but by all means, don't worry about making little tart shells.

Bake for six or seven minutes, or until it is starting to get browner on the edges.

While the cookies are baking, make sure all the candy is unwrapped. If the candy is cold, I can easily unwrap 24 in seven minutes. It takes longer if the candy is warm.

When the timer goes off, remove the pans from the oven. The cookies will have puffed. Using the pads of your thumb or fingers, firmly place a peanut butter cup in the middle of each cookie "pillow". Cookie edges should be even with or above the candy, as much as possible.

Place back in the oven for 45 seconds to one minute. No longer. Remove and cool on racks for some time until the chocolate has set back up again. This will take at least an hour. Do not rush this part.

Makes 4-7 dozen depending on how skimpy you scoop the peanut butter cookies. Be sure to get at least two bags of mini-PB cups. I highly recommend refrigerating or freezing; in warm environments, the chocolate will start melting again.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Last of the Red Hot Tomatoes

I recently got gifted with several pounds of THE LAST real tomatoes this season.

Since I couldn't eat them all fresh, I decided to try something that I had seen on Too Many Chefs. Meg's Roast Tomato and Onion Soup sounded like something to try; a non-fan of Cream of Tomato soup liked it.

Now I am one of those weirdoes who never liked cream of tomato in a can; my Mom Comfort Food from Campbell's was Chicken Noodle. (And cheddar cheese sandwiches any time!) I don't much like ketchup, either. I think I don't like what happens to tomatoes when they get really processed. I absolutely adore fresh ones (or minimally cooked) though. Oddly enough my mom, who loves Cream of Tomato (her attitude towards my dislike was "more for me"; it's not like I was a picky eater), is not much of a raw tomato fan.

But this soup had promise, and I have a spiffy new roasting pan, and had a whackload of tomatoes. So onward I forged. I preheated my oven to 400 F.

I had tomatoes of all sizes, so decided to fill my pan up (rather than count out twelve medium). I used my apple corer to take the stem ends off and lined them up in the pan, which I had lightly drizzled with oil.

Tomatoey Goodness

Then I put about five unpeeled cloves of garlic in. Some thyme would have been nice if I had had it, but I didn't, so I salted and peppered it.

In a much smaller pan, I put about six peeled shallots, and a couple more cloves of garlic. This was also oiled/salted/peppered. The reasoning behind seperate pans is that the tomatoes would otherwise boil the shallots. Good, but not roasted!

Then I put the pans in the oven. Since I had big tomatoes, they were in for about 1 1/4 hours (till they looked fairly liquid). The shallots really should come out after an hour.

Fish the garlic out and tip the rest into a soup pot. I peeled the tomatoes as much as possible (much easier after roasting) but did not seed them. Squeeze the garlic into the soup pot. Puree with your handy stick blender and heat through.

I had it the first night with goat cheese toasts and a little oregano sprinkled on it, but it was also very good with croutons (Meg had mentioned "gazpacho like", so I made the same kind of croutons I do with gazpacho).

Soup's On!

It was as good as it looks. The fresh tomato taste really came through.

This is probably real doable with questionable winter romas, although they will not generate as much juice, and a spoonful of sugar as roasting may punch it up.