Monthly Archives: December 2008

Biscotti – Harder than they look

I have been using the holidays as an excuse to do more than my normal amount of baking.  This year I decided that since money was a bit tight, I would bake everyone’s Christmas presents.  I started with larger batches of strawberry marmalade and salsa as the core of my gift giving and then went from there.  I made Christmas cookies, challah, and granola.  Then there was a request from one of my sisters, M, for biscotti as part of her Christmas present.  I have made biscotti in the past and have had some success with it.  So I went to my trusty pile o’ papers of recipes and hunted for a lemon walnut biscotti that I remembered making in the past.

I had just broken down and bought a microplane from Williams Sonoma (which is wonderful!!! so much easier to zest than with just a regular cheese grater.  I highly recommend it!) and so my lemon zesting was super nice and easy. I mixed all the ingredients together divided the dough up into three balls and then proceeded to smush them down into rectangular pieces to do the first baking.  I put them in the fridge for three hours and then suck them in the oven to bake.  This is where it gets tricky.  Two of the logs, as the recipe refers to them as, baked perfectly, but one didn’t.  It was slightly burnt on the bottom and hard to cut up into pieces.  Oh well, I thought, more for me to snack on with my coffee.

The next day Alex was on a coding spree for his wonderful new language called Nil and I thinking of things that I needed to do to keep myself occupied.  I started counting the biscotti and realized that I didn’t have quite enough to give out.  I started feeling creative. I liked the lemon walnut recipe, what if I were to replace the lemon parts with some chocolate chips, almonds and a bit of almond extract?  Then I would have a lovely chocolate biscotti addition too.  So into the kitchen I went.  By this time Alex was ready for a break so he helped me chop up the almonds and chocolate chips.

It is generally pretty simple to mess with a cooking recipe because there is very little chemistry involved in it.  Not so true with a baking recipe.  So I wanted to make sure that I kept the liquid to dry goods ratio the same and that I didn’t mess with any of the other ingredients too much.  So I took the recipe and subtracted out about 1/4 of cup of  flour to account for the missing lemon juice.  Then added in about 2 teaspoons of almond extract and another 2 teaspoons of vanilla to create  a good background flavor for the chocolate chips and almonds.  Then I split up the batter and smushed them into logs and stuck them into the oven.

50 minutes later out they came.  This time there was one log that was perfect and the other two were too crisp and not what I wanted.  So Alex and I further inspected the logs to see why one had done so well and the others not so much.  It appears that the thicker I made the logs, the better they did.  It also seems that the recipe isn’t really enough to split it up into three logs, so perhaps next time I made this recipe, I will only split it up into two logs.  I think also it would be advised to take out at least another 1/4 cup of flour for the chocolate almond biscotti.  We will see how the family likes them at Christmas.  Let me know if any of you make the recipe with any of the further additions and have more tweaks to it.  Thanks!

First Freeze

This morning I woke up to find frost on the ground.  In years past this wouldn’t have been of any particular note.  It would have just meant a couple more layers on my way out the door, but this year I have a garden.  Since this is California, I was under the impression that I could have it growing all year long.  Evidently not so much.

Before we moved out to the Bay Area, my husband, Jake, looked up the weather to see what it would be like.  According to Wikipedia, it was a mediterranean climate.  This had me picturing warm breezes all year round.  However, as the year has progressed and the temperature has sunk lower and lower, it appears that it gets cold in California too.  The last couple of weeks, it has gotten even chillier.  Jake found an alert on the weather channel that would text me if it was going to freeze that night so that I could tuck in my garden.  Two days ago, I got just such a text.  So I went hunting for old sheet and pillow cases and cleverly used clothespins to attach the sheet over parts of my garden.  I woke up the next morning and there might have been a wee bit of frost, but nothing too bad.  Yesterday, I got no such text, so I figured that my plants were fine.  However, this morning proved otherwise.  I think this is a lesson to me that weather forecasts are only so accurate and if it is cold outside, perhaps I should just cover the plants anyway.

Granola

My mother has made granola for as long as I can remember.  We never ate store bought cereal unless it was our birthday and then it was a special treat.  By the time I left for college, I swore that I would never eat granola again.  I had had my limit and besides it was definitely not “cool.”  Much time has passed since I left for college and about six months ago, I decided that I would make granola again.  I rationalized it as a cost saving measure since store bought cereal cost so much for so little.  I pulled out a big baking dish and dumped in oats, wheat germ, dry milk, a bunch of nuts, honey, brown sugar, safflower oil and anything else I could find that looked like it might be good in granola. Then I dug my hands in and mixed it all together and stuck it in the oven for about 30 minutes.  I had mixed feelings about eating it.  But the next morning, my husband, Jake,  mixed it into his yogurt and fruit and it seemed to be quite good.  Then a couple of weeks later, a friend, Jane, came over and I gave her some and she loved it too.  Over the last couple of months my granola has become quite a hit which amuses me considering how much I tried to not eat it for so long!

So that is the background to my granola, the reason for this post is that I have stumbled across a tweak to the recipe that I thought I would share.  Last time I made it, I didn’t have enough brown sugar, so I added in extra honey.  The extra honey made the granola clump together and much crunchier which is how I like it.  I admit to grabbing a couple of clusters for a snack from time to time, so more crunchier clusters means more fun snacking.  Oh boy, now I sound like a cereal commercial!  Anyway, here is the recipe for your pleasure updated with the extra honey and less brown sugar update.

5 cups rolled oats (not instant)
1 cup wheat germ
1 cup sunflower or pumpkin seeds
1 cup slivered almonds
1 cup pecans
1 cup dry milk
3/4 cup honey
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup of safflower oil

I tend to switch out what I use for the nuts and sometimes I add sunflower seeds and sometimes I don’t.  Currently Costco sells a big jug of mixed nuts that I am loving.  It is also really good when you add raisins or dates to it after it is cooked.  Mix it all together and put it in a large pan and put it in the oven to cook at 325 for 30 minutes.  Then turn off the oven, stir the granola and just leave it in overnight to crispen up.

Happy Baking! 🙂

An invitation to stretch and meditate

Today in yoga we started a couple week series of adding on a few minutes of meditation to the end of each class.  I have done some meditation before, but I have a very hard time calming my mind down enough to really just be in the moment.  The class was structured around waking up the body and opening it up so that we could be comfortable to meditate at the end.  This involved a lot of stretches that I am simply not good at even getting into the beginning phases of them.  For whatever the reason, my muscles are very tight.  So there I was crossed legged and attempting to go forward to get a stretch in my hips.  I was frustrated because yet again, I could barely sit up straight much less go further forward.   I could hear my yoga teacher’s voice in the background.

“Check in with your body.  See how it is feeling today.  View this as an invitation into the pose.  See if you can make your practice into a meditation today.”

An invitation?  I had heard teachers say this before, but it didn’t really ever make sense to me.  My muscles generally did not go anywhere without a lot of prodding and work.  It didn’t seem to matter how much I attempted to get them to relax into whatever I was doing, they were not budging and they frequently told me so. But this time, something clicked.  I closed my eyes and began to concentrate on my breathing.

“Let go of your expectations.  You don’t want to have expectations when you meditate.  You want to be open to the experience and whatever you are experiencing at that moment.”

No expectations.  Hmmmm….ok, maybe just for this moment I can let go.  I felt myself sink a bit further into the meditation and a sense of relief wash over me.  Lo and behold, I felt my hips open a bit and I began to go further.  Not much, but just a bit, which was just lovely.

Cooking – Family Style

One of my favorite things about baking and cooking is the warm cozy feeling inside that it brings me.  At that moment all the negativity in life is brushed away and everything just feels so right and good.  My mother used to always say that she baked love into the dish and I agree that there is always a bit something extra in the food when you eat a home cooked meal.  There is such a feeling of satisfaction when I completely destroy the kitchen and then pull something warm and fragrant out of the oven.

Cooking with someone else can be even more lovely and warm.  However, it can also deteriorate quickly into a down and dirty argument about exactly how you should chop something.  It gets so vicious because cooking technique is so unique to each person.  In my family growing up we always had a one person in the kitchen at a time rule.  If there were two people, one person tended to be the head cook of sorts and the other took instructions.  I generally followed this rule.  I tended to be the head cook and I could very easily delegate to others to get a meal going.  I had a very good friend come to visit a couple of weeks ago and we had a very intense menu planned out for her birthday dinner.  At first I got really tense about making sure everything go done, but then I realized that I was being silly and I just needed to let go of certain parts of the dinner that she was working on and that everything would turn out just fine.  I could help if she needed it, but otherwise I should just assume everything would turn out wonderfully.  And you know what?  It did.  It was a wonderful meal that I got to share with close friends and that made me so warm and content that I was quite sure what to do with myself.