Saturday, January 31, 2009

Pour Some Sugar on Me

I agreed to bake a batch of cookies for a gathering that I had to attend on Monday night, so I decided to give Lemon Snowdrop Cookies another try with some slight modifications.

The ingredients for the cookies are: butter, powdered sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, flour, and salt (see the link above for the exact recipe).

I put the butter in the mixer first:

Then I added the powdered sugar:

Lemon zest:

Lemon juice:

Once all of those ingredients were well combined, I added the flour and salt:

After mixing the dough just enough to incorporate the flour, I used a small tablespoon-sized scoop to make each cookie equal in size and then I made an indentation in the center of each cookie and then I put them in a 400 degree oven for about seven minutes.

While the cookies were baking, I made the lemon filling. The ingredients include: sugar, one egg, lemon zest, lemon juice, and butter.

All of the ingredients go into a saucepan over medium heat:

I cooked the filling over medium heat for about ten minutes until it thickened to the consistency of pudding and then I let it cool before adding it to the cookies.

I put filling in the center of each cookie and then dusted them with powdered sugar. Here they are, nicely arranged on a platter:

I really liked them this way better than as sandwich cookies. Everyone who tried them loved them and several people took cookies with them. These are going into the recipe file for good.

Morning Train (Nine to Five)

When I was home this summer, my grandmother gave me an Ebelskiver pan. Ebelskiver are Danish filled pancakes and I have been looking forward to making some since I got the pan. Unfortunately, since I was flying, I couldn't bring the pan back with me this summer. I made sure to pack it carefully for the drive back to New York a few weekends ago and last weekend was my first chance to try it out. I haven't had these since I was little, which was the last time Mother of Ken dusted off her Ebelskiver pan ;-) I remember really liking them--it is probably the Danish part of me that also loves Danish blue cheese and pumpernickel bread.

I used this recipe, which isn't quite traditional, but I froze some blueberries this summer and wanted to use them. I cut the recipe in half and mixed the dry ingredients in this bowl--flour, baking soda, baking powder, sugar, salt, and lemon zest:

Next, I added egg yolks:

Then the buttermilk:

I mixed the ingredients until they were well incorporated, but was careful not to overmix.

I put the egg whites in the mixer and beat them until they were stiff, but not dry:

The last step is to fold the egg whites into the batter in two batches:

This is the finished batter:

This is the Ebelskiver pan (really traditional ones are cast iron, but this one has a nonstick coating that came in handy). I put a little butter in each well and let it melt over medium heat. When the butter bubbles, it is time to add the batter.

I used the small scoop that I use for cookies (about a tablespoon) to fill each well with the same amount of batter and then I added a few blueberries:

I topped each pancake with another scoop of batter:

Then you have to carefully turn each one after about five minutes. I used a spoon and an offset spatula. This is what they look like after they have been turned:

Not so pretty on my first try, but at least they didn't fall apart.

When they were cooked through, I put them on a plate and dusted them with powdered sugar:

Of course, I served bacon on the side and Kenna was thrilled to have bacon grease on her dog food for breakfast. You should see how shiny her coat is! I really liked these and will be making them again. They are light and delicate because of the egg whites in the batter and the juiciness of the blueberries in the middle was really nice. The tiny bit of lemon zest in the batter also added a nice layer of flavor.

No soup for you!

After a busy week, I am just now getting around to blogging about some of last weekend's culinary creations. With temperatures below 20 degrees for most of the weekend and part of a loaf of French bread to use, I decided to make French onion soup using this recipe. Here are all of the ingredients: low sodium beef broth, dry white wine (I used a Spanish wine), French bread, kosher salt, pepper, Fleur de Sel for finishing, one huge onion and another medium one, and some butter. Fleur de Sel, a kind of sea salt, is apparently Something White People Like. Mother of Ken and I recently discovered the magic of really good sea salt, and if liking it makes me a white person, then so be it.

I started by melting the butter and adding the onions to my Dutch oven:

I sprinkled some sugar on the onions to help them caramelize and let them cook on medium heat for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally:

Here's what they looked like after 20 minutes or so:

Next, I added some flour and let it cook with the onions for a minute:

Then I added white wine:

When the wine had reduced by about half, I added the beef broth:

I let the whole thing simmer after adding some salt, pepper, and thyme:

In the meantime, I toasted slices of French bread and got my new soup bowl ready (Mother and Father of Ken gave me these red soup bowls with lids for Christmas). Here I have one slice of toasted bread seasoned with olive oil, salt, and pepper in the bottom of the bowl:

I filled the bowl with soup, added a sprinkle of Fleur de Sel, fresh Italian parsley, and some grated Pecorino Romano:

Finally, I topped the soup with another slice of toasted bread and made a salad to go with it:

This was really good soup, but I think it needed more salt. I had enough leftover to fill three storage containers and I added some salt to each of them before I put them in the freezer.

When I reheated some of the leftover soup the next day, I added a dash of Kitchen Bouquet browning and seasoning sauce, which helped to round out the flavors and deepen the color.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Wishing (If I Had A Photograph of You)

Thanks to a very good friend of mine, I have been introduced to the Sexy People Blog. This is a blog dedicated to hilariously horrible photos of people taken between the 60s and the 90s. Should I submit this one?

I hope that you gentle readers enjoy the Sexy People blog as much as I do.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Blue Highway

Last weekend, McKenna and I packed the car and said our goodbyes to the family. McKenna was sad to leave Boomer and Piper and she was lonesome for a few days, but she has finally settled back into the role of "only dog."

We left Kansas:

And we traveled back to New York by way of St. Louis, Indianapolis, Dayton, Cleveland, Erie, and Jamestown:

Temperatures never rose above 15 degrees during the entire two day trip, but Mother of Ken provided a lovely dinner of comfort food for me to heat up at the hotel, so at least I had a warm and satisfying meal after a long day of driving.

When we arrived, we had at least a foot of snow in the yard, some deeper snow drifts in the back yard, and a lovely pile of plowed snow across the front of the driveway. After unloading the car in a record 10 minutes and 27 seconds in the freezing cold, I wanted to park it quickly in the driveway and get back inside. So, being in a hurry and not feeling up to shoveling the 12 -15 inches of snow in front of the driveway, I decided to just get a running start and try to drive over it. This resulted in me getting the car almost all of the way in before getting stuck and spending 20 minutes getting myself unstuck. I ended up having to shovel at 8:00 at night anyway. Lesson learned.

The next day, I was out in the morning and when I got back in the early afternoon, my wonderful neighbor Jeff had plowed my driveway. Naturally, I got to work on a fresh batch of chocolate chip cookies for him and as soon as they had cooled slightly, McKenna and I walked over to thank him and hand over the plate of warm cookies.

Jeff helped a lot by plowing, but I still had to shovel the front sidewalk (which was covered in snow again after about 15 minutes):

It is so cold here (like it is everywhere else) that the creek is almost completely frozen over and is covered in snow:

After a few days of unpacking, organizing, and cleaning, I think we are settled in. Oh, and it is still snowing. Three days later.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Same Old Lang Syne - San Francisco, Day 5

On the last full day that we spent in the San Francisco area, we spent a leisurely morning sleeping in and eating a big breakfast and then we set out for the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. When Sarah Winchester purchased this property in the 1800s, it was in the middle of nowhere. Today, the house is surrounded by a shopping center and a movie theater. On our first tour, we saw 130 of the 160 rooms in the house along with one of the worst tour groups known to man, including the following:

The Inquisitor, who opened every door and every cupboard and every drawer and everything that had a handle, knob, latch, or was otherwise fastened closed. He was also into touching, snooping, and drifting away from the group.

The Photographers, a group of five young international tourists who posed in every room, hallway, staircase, doorway, abutment and protrusion while someone else in their group photographed them. In addition, they brought along a small doll that looked like Furbie, which they would pose on antique furniture and photograph.

The First, a ten year old girl who insisted upon being the first one in every room, hallway, doorway, stairway, abutment, protrusion, and tunnel. This child had no compunction about pushing others out of the way in order to be the first to gain access much like George Costanza pushing old women out of the way during the birthday party fire.

Compared to the aforementioned individuals, everyone else in our group was fairly well behaved.

On our second tour of the house, which was the “behind the scenes tour,” we saw the outbuildings, basement, and other mechanical rooms. We were joined by both The Inquisitor and The First. Donning stylish hardhats, we experienced the underworld of Winchester Mystery House. Mother and Brother of Ken as well as Ken herself made every effort to get into these spaces before The First while Father of Ken kept a wary eye on The Inquisitor, who consistently lagged behind the group, wandered off into remote areas unattended, and generally conducted his own self-guided tour.

We left the Winchester House and had lunch at Consuelo’s Mexican Bistro, which was, according to Father of Ken “the most expensive, most vile, and weird tasting Mexican food I’ve ever eaten.” We made a beeline for the Ben and Jerry’s next door after leaving the restaurant.

That evening, we had reservations at a local Italian restaurant that was swarming with New Year’s Eve activity. Across from our table was a couple, one of whom devoured a plate of veal scaloppini while his companion complained endlessly about the lack of vegetarian choices on the menu. She reluctantly ordered a green salad and continued to whine about the menu throughout dinner. After another mediocre dinner, we returned to our apartments for the championship round of Seinfeld Scene It.

And that, gentle readers, was our trip. Many thanks to Father of Ken for additional photography and to both Father and Mother of Ken for their help composing blog entries. Most of all, thanks to Family of Ken for an awesome trip--we ate a lot, laughed a lot, and generally had a great time.

Same Old Lang Syne - San Francisco, Day 4

Following a subdued breakfast at the ungodly hour of 7:00 a.m., we piled into the classy white Impala that we rented and set out for San Simeon. Our chosen route was Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway. It was Father of Ken’s lifelong dream to cruise down the Pacific Coast Highway; however, in his dreams, he was behind the wheel of a Shelby GT500KR or a Viper, NOT a four door Impala.

For those who have not experienced this highway, it parallels the Pacific Coast with spectacular views of the ocean, cliffs, and rugged countryside uninhabited by humans. The first fifteen minutes of the trip were glamorous and exciting, and then we got stuck behind a Dodge pickup with a top speed of 40 mph. All. The. Way. There. The views really are spectacular—my pictures are real and they’re spectacular.

One of the bridges that we drove across:

A video of Father of Ken driving down the Pacific Coast Highway:

As we neared San Simeon, we started to notice large lumps of something dark on the beach. Upon closer inspection, we figured out that these were elephant seals. On the hill above us, Hearst Castle came into view.

We had to board a bus at the visitor center to take us up the winding road to the castle. Today, this ride takes about ten or fifteen minutes, but in Hearst's day, it could take between 1 and 5 hours, depending on the weather. Once we got to the top of the hill, we met our tour guide, Holly, who wore distinctive George Burns-style glasses. She politely, but firmly, reiterated the rules for touring the castle, which included no eating or chewing of gum. Father of Ken has recently admitted violating this rule by eating no less than four Mentos on each one hour tour. We are sure that he has been blacklisted for this impropriety.

On the first tour, we saw the ground floor of the main house and one of the guest houses as well as the swimming pools and gardens.
The main house:

Some views of the ocean from the courtyard in front of the main house:

A view of the mountains on the other side of the castle--Hearst owned all of the land that you can see in this photo:

The outdoor pool, which Hearst rebuilt three times until he got it the way he wanted it:

A bathroom in one of the three guest houses:

Two of the bedrooms in the guest house:

The front of the main house, which Hearst designed to look like the facade of a church:

The fountains in the courtyard in front of the main house:

The dining room in the main house was where all of the guests would dine together, even if they were sleeping in one of the guest houses:

The musician's balcony looking over the dining room:

We ended our tour at the indoor pool, which is designed to resemble a Roman bath house and includes 24k gold tiles along with the blue tiles:

The diving platform:

The tennis courts:

The second tour included Hearst’s private suite, several guest rooms, and the kitchen. Our tour guide, Jill, was very personable and informative. She told us that employees are allowed to swim in the pools once a year and that they also get to eat the fruit from the grounds.

This is one of the sitting rooms (by the way, apologies for the quality of the photography--we were not allowed to use flash at any time and were often being pushed to keep moving):

The guest library:

Hearst's private suite includes his bedroom, bath, and dressing room, a sitting room that connects his room to another bedroom suite that was used by his mistress, Marion Davies. This is her bedroom:

Hearst also had a private library across the hall from his bedroom from which he could run his publishing empire:

This is one of the most requested guest rooms because it is at the top of the house and the light pours through the windows:

There were many guest rooms in the main house, including a duplex, such as the one below. Each of these rooms has a sleeping loft and a sitting room and bathroom below--this photo shows the sleeping loft:

Toward the end of the tour, we went into the commercial kitchen:

Again, we ended our tour at the indoor pool:

Family of Ken would recommend a visit to Hearst Castle to anyone who is in the area, but we would encourage you to take one of the more detailed tours in addition to the introductory tour.

In keeping with the tradition begun by Ken and Mother of Ken in Spain last fall, the search began for food. Using our trusty GPS, Evelyn Garmin, we located the Black Cat Bistro in San Simeon. For some reason, on a Tuesday night, reservations were required, forcing us to continue our search in the next town 30 miles away after the hostess called other restaurants in San Simeon and could not find space for us anywhere. We ended up eating a mediocre dinner before driving several hours back to the bay area, arriving at our apartments around 11:00 p.m.