Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Afternoon of a 'Lion'

The Lion in this case happens to be my 12 year old red tabby who goes by that name.  As you all know, I love my kitties and nothing in this world brings me greater pleasure than my two adorable babies.  Several weeks ago, I was walking upstairs to store some folded up laundry when I noticed a small ball of red fur at the other end of the sun-filled hallway.  I could see pointy ears sticking out and the top of Lion's fuzzy head, along with his adorable pink nose.  Not wanting to waste a moment I went back downstairs and grabbed my camera. 

What you must know is that Lion is not one who enjoys having his picture taken.  He likes privacy and will turn away or let you know he's not happy when you point a camera his way.  Lulled into a most relaxing cat nap under a warm & bright sunbeam, I found my opportunity and began photographing.  He did not budge, blink or mind in the least.  Lion was too busy catching some rays to be bothered with this type of attention.  Lucky for me! 

Most of us have cats because they provide great companionship, unconditional love, some much needed therapy when we're feeling down and because their laissez fair attitude is the source of constant amusement.  After sharing a few of these pictures with some friends, they all said that this was definitely "the life".  An afternoon nap without a care in the world.  Indeed it is a good life for my kitties.  Take a look at what my Lion enjoys doing most. 

This is what I discovered when I looked down the hallway.  Lion's small head was sticking out from the side of the stairs which lead to the attic.  He's guarding the door so that no one may enter.  Ye be warned!

As I wound my way around, this is what he was doing.  You can see him leaning against the step, sort of barring the way up the stairs and denying me access to the bedroom nearby.

Another angle of his afternoon siesta.  So wonderfully content with doing nothing.  Legs and arms are kicked out and his belly is warming up with direct sunlight.
Here's a zoom in of my cutie pie.  If he were awake right now, kitty would be walking away from me.  Lion is such a happy cat.

A bigger close up.  I can't get enough of my little baby's face.  He lets us smother him with kisses and will gladly be held for as long as we can stand it.  We get tired before he does!

I hope everyone is having a good, relaxing summer!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Martha by Mail ~ Embosser Set

Embossing is a great way to add a bit of understated luxury to a gift or letter.  Having a monogram, image or a few choice words embossed onto a label, tag, card, envelope or sticker allows one to personalize gift giving for special occasions.  A deluxe embosser set from the former Martha by Mail catalog is one that I use often throughout the year for birthdays and holidays.  If I'm putting together a box of gifts or baked goods for loved ones near & far, I always reach for a disk from this set to embellish the gift.  A kind note or letter on fine paper expressing well wishes gets embossed, as do the tags or foil labels I like adding to whatever it is I'm gifting.  It's a nice way of letting the recipient know that I took a few moments to put some thought & effort into the packaging.

Printed wedding invitations with embossed announcements and RSVP envelopes are de rigueur whenever a couple is planning such a festive occasion.  To my mind it gives a sense of sophisticated elegance to tradition without being over the top or in poor taste.  A monogram of the couple's first initials with an appropriate symbol is always nice to have for future correspondence or perhaps the home address of the newlyweds.  Bookplates for your burgeoning collection of printed books are traditional and a nice touch, to be sure, but why not emboss your initials or name onto the title page to establish provenance?  Whether you're embossing letterhead, tags, labels, stickers, envelopes or books, this type of personalization will set your item(s) apart from the every day. 

One doesn't have to own this deluxe set from Martha by Mail to enjoy embossing crisp images or text onto paper.  Many stationery stores sell the handles along with the disk inserts in your choice of designs.  Let the images below from my home & from Martha by Mail serve as a guide.  It is possible to have something similar reproduced today.     

Deluxe Embosser Set with 5 disks.

Elite handle with an embossing disk inserted ready for use.  The paper gets placed between the upper & lower disks and the handle gets pressed firmly for a crisp image. 

Martha by Mail catalog image of the deluxe set imprints with 'floral sprig'.

Embossing images from Martha by Mail.  An icon was offered along with your choice of monograms and text.
The Designs: Garden Tree, Bee, Daisy, Acorn, Floral Sprig, Lily of the Valley, Star & Snowflake.
Icon, monogram & text.
Special Use Disks: Kitchen of, Library of, Duck & Deer baby announcement, Handmade with Care by.
From my personal collection of embossers.  Foil stickers and tags made from embossed paper & mint green velum are ready to be attached to gifts.

One of my favorite embossers from Martha by Mail.  I chose a honeybee imprinted with 'It's a good thing'.  This gets used for items that have a special meaning or for those that come from the heart.  I like hearing from recipients who say their loved ones get a great big smile as soon as they see one of these labels. 

My baked goods always get embossed with another one of my favorite images.  'From David's Kitchen' promises delicious good things for those who get them.

A single 'D' embossed onto a piece of mint green paper. 
Simple & elegant.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sour Cherry Pie

Fresh sour cherries provide us with a small window of opportunity to enjoy them, so we must take full advantage of these scrumptious fruits when they're ripe & available at our local farmer's markets.  I can't think of a better way of doing so than with a pie baked from scratch using a handful of high quality ingredients.  The pie crust should be made with good, unsalted butter and care must be taken when rolling it out, filling it and crimping it.  The filling, however, takes center stage in my opinion.  Sour cherries need only a few enhancements to complement their natural flavor and nothing should mask their inimitable essence. 

With only a 2 to 3 week season (at most!) at the end of June, it is imperative that we keep our eyes opened for these ruby red beauties.  As soon as you spot them at your farmer's market, do not hesitate to buy a few quarts to enjoy at home.  Don't think you can put off buying some the following week, because they will not be there.  Baking this pie is as easy as 1-2-3.  Let me show you how.   

Fresh sour cherries from the market.

Sour Cherry Pie

A delicious wedge of summertime goodness.

The Ingredients
  • 6 cups (2lbs. or 1 1/2 quarts) {about 1 kilogram} sour cherries, stemmed & pitted
  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons {225 grams} granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons tapioca starch (or cornstarch)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon strained lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 recipe pie crust 
Yield: One 9" {23 cm} pie.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out 1 disk of pie crust (I take out my chilled crust and let it sit on the counter for about 10 minutes) to about 3" {7.6 cm} in diameter wider than the pie pan.  Make sure the pie crust does not crack or stick to the surface as you roll it out.  Keep the bottom lightly floured to prevent this and keep the rolling pin lightly floured as well.  Any excess flour can be brushed off with a wide pastry brush. 

You can use a glass, ceramic, aluminum or porcelain pie dish for this recipe.  The one above is a porcelain one by Apilco.

Gently lift the pie crust or wrap it around the rolling pin and center it over the pie dish.  Begin to tuck the pastry into the entire inner surface of the pie plate.  Smooth out any folds and patch up any cracks.   Use a sharp paring knife to trim any excess pastry hanging over.  Set the pie dish aside.

Repeat  the rolling out process (the same diameter) on the same flour board with the 2nd disk of pie crust.  Let it sit there while you get the filling ready.

In a large bowl, add the pitted cherries (make sure you wash and pit them before you begin rolling out the pie crusts), sugar, tapioca starch, cinnamon, nutmeg, saltvanilla extract & lemon juice.  Stir to combine evenly.  Add this fruit mixture into the pie shell making sure you scrape out every last bit of juice.  Dot the 2 tablespoons of butter over the fruit.

With a pastry wheel or sharp knife, cut 1 1/2" {3.8 cm} wide strips from the remaining pastry and begin weaving them over the pie filling.  You will be able to do 3 strips one way and 3 strips crosswise.  The photo above shows you how the weaving process is done.  You do over & under for one strip and under & over for the adjacent strip.

Once the lattice is done, trim the excess pastry with a paring knife so that the crust is flush with the edge of the pie plate.  With the tines of a fork, seal & crimp the edges all the way around. 

The pie must now chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Position oven racks in the lower third.
Preheat the oven to 425° F (218° C)
Remove the pie from the refrigerator (make sure the oven has reached the desired temperature) and place it on a parchment-lined or silpat-lined rimmed baking sheet.  You must put the pie on a rimmed baking sheet because the juices will bubble over, which you do not want all over the oven floor. 

Note: if you wish to give your pie a glossy sheen, apply an egg wash.  Whisk an egg in a bowl and brush it over the entire crust; you won't use all of the egg of course.  This step is a nice one, but it's entirely optional.

Place the pie on the lower third of the oven.  

Bake at 425° F (218° C) for 20 minutes.

  Lower the temperature to 375° F (190° C) 
and continue baking for 45-50 minutes

The juices must be bubbling in the center before the pie is actually done.  If the juices are not bubbling, you may need to add several more minutes.  Be vigilant about this.

The pie is well browned, the juices have bubbled and it is fully baked.

Note: halfway through baking, I noticed that the edges of my crust were browning excessively.  To combat this, I immediately, but carefully, removed the pie from the oven and placed 3 large strips of aluminum foil (shiny side up) around the rim of the crust.  The pie was returned to the oven and the edges were saved from burning.  Remember this tip if you ever encounter the problem when baking any type of pie.

Let the pie cool down completely before you slice into it.  This can take several hours.  I know you're going to be tempted to dig into it, but resist.

At serving time, bring it to the table and have plenty of dishes ready.  Slice the pie into generous wedges and either serve it plain, a la mode or with some freshly whipped cream.  I like to use deep plates or bowls because this pie is very juicy and I want every last drop.

Any leftovers can be kept under a cake dome at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Sour Cherry Pie is delicious!

Scour the farmer's markets for sour cherries and ask your local purveyors if and when they plan on offering these amazing fruits.  Establishing a rapport with local farmers & vendors is one of the best ways to plan your baking with the freshest ingredients of the season.  If you do come across sour cherries in the next few days, buy some and bake this delicious pie I've just shown you.  Cherry purists and aficionados are going to love the bright flavor of the fruit coupled with the buttery pie crust that is truly superb.  A generous slice of warm cherry pie served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or some freshly whipped cream can't get any more delicious.  From my home to yours, make a sour cherry pie this season.  You're going to love it!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pie Crust

What is your idea of a good pie crust?  For some it is one which is so flaky and tender that it shatters into numerous shards of delicate pastry when you cut into it.  Others may say that a good pie crust must have the unmistakable flavor of butter in order to be delicious.  For me, a good tart or pie crust must possess all of these essential qualities in order to meet with my approval for baking.  Over the years I have used Martha's perfect pie crust because it has always given me consistent results which are truly tasty.  In my opinion it's a recipe we all should master.

However, I have been meaning to come up with my very own version of a delicious pie crust, because I feel it is an important step in my baking endeavors.  I've long been fascinated with pie crust recipes calling for the addition of vinegar, so I scoured & searched as many as I could find, and I tested.  I then decided to enhance the recipe with the addition of an egg for taste as well as richness.  What I did not want to add to this recipe was vegetable shortening (or lard), because I never stock it in my home.  I realize many people enjoy the flakiness that lard or shortening can bring to a pie crust, but if you work with cold butter and make the pastry quickly in a food processor, your pies & tarts will be just as flaky.  An all-butter pie crust is simply the best for any pie.  The technique is simple and the results are delicious. 

Pie crust being prepped.

  • 2 sticks (16 tablespoons), {226 grams} unsalted butter, cubed & chilled
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar, chilled
  • 1 large egg, chilled
  • 4-5 tablespoons cold water
  • 2 3/4 cups {350 grams} all-purpose flour, chilled
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt, chilled
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar, chilled
Yield: 1 1/2 lbs. of pie crust {700 grams};
 Two 10" pie crusts, enough for 1 double crust pie or 2 single crust pies or tarts.
Measure out your ingredients and chill them in the refrigerator until you are ready to make this recipe.  Thoroughly chilling the flour, salt, sugar, egg, vinegar and butter will give you the results you desire in a perfect pie crust.  I know many bakers who even chill the bowl & blade of the food processor (a good tip if your kitchen is warm). 
In the bowl of your food processor fitted with the metal blade, add the flour, salt & sugar.  Pulse 2-3 times to combine them thoroughly.

Add the cubed butter and scatter it evenly into the work bowl.  I always cube my butter ahead of time and chill it completely before making pastry rather than adding whole sticks into the dry ingredients.  Doing this will allow the butter to disperse into small bits quickly, without warming up the ingredients.

Pulse the butter a few times (DO NOT let the machine run) until the butter begins to break up.

At this point, you want your pastry to be coarse and seem sandy; you should still be able to see bits of butter.  In a small bowl, whisk the egg and cider vinegar together and slowly drizzle it into the feed tube of the machine, pulsing as you go.  This should take about 3-4 quick pulses.

Have your ice cold water ready and slowly pour it into the feed tube, pulsing in short bursts as you go.  Pay very close attention to what's going on in the food processor bowl.  When you begin to notice the pastry changing texture and resembling wet sand, stop the machine and check.

Grab a bit of pastry and squeeze it in the palm of your hand.  Does it clump together and resemble this?  If so, you're done.  You may not need all of the water.  When making pastry, a lot will depend on the conditions of your kitchen.  If it's humid, the pastry may only need 4 tablespoons of water. 

A good pie dough will clump together when squeezed, but will still be crumbly.  You do not want a sticky dough that feels tacky and wet. 
Quickly divide the dough in half among overlapping pieces of plastic wrap.  Gather the ends of the wrap and draw them into the center, pushing down into the pastry.  You want to form a disk rather than a ball of dough.

This is what you want to end up with.  Two perfectly formed pieces of pastry ready to get placed into the refrigerator before being rolled out.  The dough can chill in the refrigerator for up to one day, but can be frozen for up to one month (place these wrapped pieces of pie crust into a larger zip top freezer bag for protection against freezer burn; thaw overnight in the refrigerator).

Freshly made pie crust and all pastry must be chilled completely for at least one hour before being rolled out.
As I said, this will make approximately 1 1/2 lbs. or 700 grams of pastry.  I like to weigh each half to make sure my crusts are even.

When you roll out this dough you'll notice that it doesn't tear.  It's a good pie crust.

I want every baker to try this recipe because it is one you will hopefully turn to again and again.  Suitable for fruit pies, custard pies, hand pies, tarts & quiches, my pie crust will give you success in the kitchen and will make you a fan of homemade pie crusts.  Never again will you turn to the refrigerated section of your supermarket & buy those packages of premade crusts or those frozen shells meant to be filled and baked.  With a bit of preparation and planning, several crusts can be made quickly and easily at home, and get frozen until needed.  Bake a pie soon and partake of delicious, flaky pastry made from my home to yours.  Enjoy!       

Monday, June 18, 2012

Buttermilk Pancakes

Buttermilk pancakes hot off the griddle with a pat of sweet butter and a generous drizzle of pure maple syrup are one of life's delicious pleasures.  My fluffy pancakes are enhanced with malted milk powder and a bit of vanilla sugar which sets them apart from most standard recipes.  The batter is so easy to make because there is no need to bring any of the ingredients to room temperature or have the batter sit around for a few hours.  The eggs and buttermilk can be added cold and the pancakes can be dropped onto a hot griddle in a matter of minutes.

Such a treat to have on the weekends when everyone is puttering around the house or waking up late, buttermilk pancakes will certainly help everyone start their day off on a good note.  Bring a platter of my pancakes along with some eggs and bacon if you're in the mood for savory extras and have plenty of maple syrup on hand.  All you need now to complete this enticing breakfast is some freshly squeezed orange juice or a cold glass of milk and some of your favorite coffee.  Everyone is going to love these pancakes!  

Buttermilk Pancakes

  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups {370 ml.} buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons {30 grams} unsalted butter, melted & cooled
  • 1 1/2 cups  {200 grams} all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup {25 grams} plain malted milk powder (such as Ovaltine)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla sugar (or 2 tablespoons granulated sugar + 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract)
Yield: One dozen 5" pancakes.

In a liquid measuring cup, measure the buttermilk and add the eggs; whisk to combine.  Add the melted, cooled butter and mix well (if you're using extract instead of vanilla sugar, add it to the wet ingredients now).  In a medium-sized bowl, add the all-purpose flour, sugar, salt & malted milk powder.  With a fine mesh strainer, sift the baking soda & baking powder to remove any lumps in the leaveners; whisk the dry ingredients to combine thoroughly.

 With a wooden spoon, make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients.

Begin stirring the batter until it's mixed.  The batter should be lumpy and you should not try to smooth it out.  The photo above shows you exactly what good pancake batter should look like. 

Heat a griddle, cast iron skillet or nonstick pan over medium heat until it is quite hot.  If you drop a few sprinkles of water onto the surface and the droplets bounce wildly, the griddle is ready. 

Add about 1/2 teaspoon of softened butter or vegetable oil to the griddle with a small basting brush and grease the surface.  Wipe off any excess with a paper towel. 

Using a 1/4 cup measuring scoop, drop the batter onto the griddle to form each pancake.  If your griddle is large you may be able to fit several at a time.  I always use a small spatula to scrape out the batter from the measuring cup.

Using the same small spatula, spread the batter gently around the edges to make round pancakes.

After about 2 minutes of cooking, you will begin to notice bubbles forming and popping onto the surface of the hotcakes.  This indicates that they're ready to flip over.  Another clue will be edges that seem to be drying out. 

Using a wide, thin spatula, begin to release the pancake from the surface and take a quick peek underneath.  Is the pancake golden?  If so, gently flip the pancake over, but do it quickly & decisively.

Golden perfection.  Don't be alarmed if your first few pancakes aren't quite golden or smooth, because the first 1 or 2 are bound to be that way.  They will still be delicious. 

Let the pancakes cook for about 1 more minute on the flip side.  Continue cooking the rest of the batter in the same way & grease the griddle lightly if it seems dried out or as needed.  I keep a platter nearby to stack my pancakes as they finish cooking and set them into a warm 200° F (93° C) until they're all done and everyone is seated at the table.

Depending on how hungry your loved ones are, I generally find 2-3 pancakes a good serving.  For those that want it, a pat of butter on top of each individual stack is always nice.  Everyone can pour their maple syrup to taste. 

Upon slicing the first wedge, you will notice how tender and fragrant these pancakes are.  The insides are perfectly cooked and after the first bite, you will be smiling.

Buttermilk Pancakes are a good thing for breakfast.

Please feel free to tailor the pancakes to suit your tastes.  A few blueberries, raspberries or strawberries can be added onto the hotcakes as they cook on the griddle for a burst of summertime flavor.  Additional berries can be served alongside.  Perhaps your family loves chocolate chip pancakes and would like to have them shaped in special molds.  In this case my advice to you would be to add the best chocolate chips available from your supermarket; mini ones are really good.  I've been known to eat my pancakes with local honey from time to time, so if you would like to have them this way, by all means do.  I hope you enjoy making and devouring my buttermilk pancakes for breakfast very soon and please, let me know what you think.  Bon Appetit!