Monday, December 22, 2014

Grandma's Sugar Cookies

Christmas is, for me, probably above all other things, a time of comfort food.

My father abandoned my mother and me when I was seven, leaving us a mountain of debt and not much else. Doing what was necessary to survive, my mother became a real estate agent. The hours were long and uncertain, and there definitely were no vacations. Luckily, my grandparents were around, so the long breaks (summer and winter) were often spent with them.

Summer generally meant exploration, tooling around the country in a Dodge van converted to a camper. Summers I expanded my horizons, saw new things, and and learned. Summer was Indian fry bread at  various pueblos, carnitas in small cafes, and Canadian pizza.

Winter was about warmth, and comfort, and family. It was a time of deep, rich, satisfying flavors, like my grandfather's exquisite prime rib roast, or roast turkey with sage stuffing (my number one comfort food). And the desserts, oh the desserts! My grandmother's desserts were amazing. Pumpkin and apple pie, homemade mincemeat pie, Christmas steamed pudding, popcorn balls in red and green, date nut porcupines. But, the number one important ritual of the season was making sugar cookies.

And what a production it was! On sugar cookie day, we made enough for ourselves, for me to take home, to give to friends, take to holiday parties, gift to carolers, and otherwise spread around. I'm pretty sure Santa got a big plate set out for him every year. One batch of dough makes 4 - 5 dozen cookies; I bet grandma made four batches.

Grandma made the dough, rolled out and cut out the  cookies, and did the baking. I had two jobs. One was decorating the cookies. We generally had a wide variety of things to work with; green and read sugar, rainbow dots, chocolate sprinkles. silver balls, and cinnamon candies, I now understand part of my  grandma's frustration, having made a batch all by myself. I tended to treat each cookie as an individual work of art, my grandmother wanted me to just mass produce a tray and get on with it.

My other job was sorting the cooled cookies by shape. Long rows of Santas, trees, stars, reindeer, wreaths, and more.

Almost all of the bonding with my grandmother was over food, and no ritual was deeper or more fulfilling than the sugar cookie marathon.

This recipe is for thin crispy sugar cookies. They are light and crunchy, a perfect accompaniment to coffee, tea, or milk.

My grandmother used a pastry cloth to roll them out on. I use my marble slab. It is important that the surface be well floured, and flour the rolling pin as well. You want them just as thin as you can get them. I roll the dough out until it is translucent, and I can just see my marble through the dough.

Sugar Cookies

3 cups AP flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup vegetable shortening
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste
1 cup sugar
3 eggs, beaten

Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream shortening. Add flour mixture a third at a time, creaming together.

While whisking eggs, slowly add sugar. Whisk until smooth, Add vanilla paste, and whisk in thoroughly.

Add egg mixture to flour mixture. Run mixer at medium speed until well combined. 

Form into a ball, and wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Pre-heat oven to 350 F.

Working with a small amount of dough at a time, roll out on a well floured surface until very thin.

Cut to desired shapes. Transfer to a lightly greased baking sheet.

Sprinkle cookies with granulated (white) sugar. Decorate as desired (colored sugar, jimmies, dots, etc.)

Bake for 5 - 8 minutes, until light brown.

Transfer to a cooling rack.

Happy Eating!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Trio of Persimmon Preserves

A friend with a very productive persimmon tree gifted me with two full grocery sacks of fruit. I'm always looking to make preserves for my tea business. It is nice to be able to offer a range of possibilities to prospective customers.

I ended up making three different preserves from them, so far. In the upper left is a straight persimmon jam, in front is a bourbon persimmon jam, and in the upper right is a lemon persimmon marmalade.

I figured the straight jam would have the best presentation of the fruit. Always good to have a simple, straightforward option.

When I tasted the persimmons, I thought bourbon would be a great match, flavorwise. Coincidentally, the spouse had just purchased a large bottle of bourbon for her own culinary purposes. She wasn't going to need all of it.

I'm always in the need for marmalade, so thought that would be a good idea. And, persimmon works well with lemon, anyway. I was a little surprised at how red it turned, but think that it is a fabulous color. The lemon peel stayed tougher than I would have liked. Have a plan to fix that in the next batch.

Recipes

Persimmon Jam

6 cups diced persimmon ( peeled and cored)
1/2 cup lemon juice
7 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 pouch liquid pectin

Combine persimmon and lemon juice in a stock pot over medium low heat. Bring to a simmer. Let simmer until persimmon is soft. Use an immersion blender to process smooth. Force persimmon mixture through a sieve to remove any peel, seeds, or fibrous material. Return liquid to pan. Add sugar and salt. Bring to a rolling boil. Add pectin, bring back to a rolling boil. Cook three minutes. Remove from heat. Transfer to sterilized hot jars. Seal, process in a water bath for 15 minutes.

Bourbon Persimmon Jam

6 cups diced persimmon ( peeled and cored)
1 cup bourbon whiskey
6 cups sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 pouch liquid pectin

Combine persimmon and bourbon in a stock pot over medium low heat. Bring to a simmer. Let simmer until persimmon is soft. Use an immersion blender to process smooth. Force persimmon mixture through a sieve to remove any peel, seeds, or fibrous material. Return liquid to pan. Add lemon juice, sugar, and salt. Bring to a rolling boil. Add pectin, bring back to a rolling boil. Cook three minutes. Remove from heat. Transfer to sterilized hot jars. Seal, process in a water bath for 15 minutes.

Lemon Persimmon Marmalade

6 cups diced persimmon ( peeled and cored)
1 1/2 cups lemon juice
7 cups sugar
peel of 4 small lemons, all pith removed, cut in fine julienne
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 pouch liquid pectin

Combine persimmon and lemon juice in a stock pot over medium low heat. Bring to a simmer. Let simmer until persimmon is soft. Use an immersion blender to process smooth. Force persimmon mixture through a sieve to remove any peel, seeds, or fibrous material. Return liquid to pan. Add sugar,, peel and salt. Bring to a low simmer. Let simmer until mixture has thickened, and lemon peel is translucent. Bring to a rolling boil.  Add pectin, bring back to a rolling boil. Cook three minutes. Remove from heat. Transfer to sterilized hot jars. Seal, process in a water bath for 15 minutes.

Happy Eating!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Sugar Class: Sweet Treats

Most of what we are doing in sugar class is decorative pieces. Yesterday, we had the one day where we made things you actually want to eat. We made lollipops, pillow candies, and making marshmallows. We then practiced making hard caramel decorations.

Lollipops are fairly easy. You cook sugar to hard crack stage. then add color and flavor. We used metal spring molds. You grease them lightly, then clip in the stick, and place it on a silicon baking sheet. Fill the molds with the hot sugar.









Pillow candy  is made by heating sugar to hard crack stage. Add flavor. Pour half on to a silicon pad, then  add color to the other half. At it cools, roll it up, and stretch it to add air and it becomes shiny. Roll out each color, and stick together. Stretch and fold to produce stripes. Stretch and twist, and cut into inch long pieces. Let harden on non-stick surface.







Marshmallows are fairly simple. Sugar is cooked to soft ball stage. Then place in a stand mixer with gelatin. Whip until fluffy and cooled to just warmer than room temperature. Add color and flavor, whip to incorporate. Transfer to an eight by eight pan that is lined with greased plastic wrap. Dust with a mixture of equal parts powdered sugar and corn starch. Press into pan. Let set, turn onto a cutting board and cut into squares. Toss with more powdered sugar and corn starch.




Recipes

Lollipops

7 oz. by wt. sugar
3 3/4 oz. by wt. corn syrup
4 oz. by vol. water
1 tsp. flavor extract
1 tsp. water
1/4 tsp. citric acid
artificial color

Combine 1 tsp. water, flavor extract, citric acid, and artificial color. Set aside.

Combine sugar, corn syrup, and water in a small pot over medium low heat. Cook, swirling occasionally, to 300 F. Remove from heat, add flavor mixture. Swirl to combine. Pour into prepared molds, allow to solidify before unmolding.

Ribbon Candy

14 oz. by wt. sugar
6 oz. by vol. water
3 oz. by wt. corn syrup
1 tsp. water
1/2 tsp. citric acid
1 tsp. flavor extract

Dissolve citric acid in 1 tsp. water. Add flavor extract. Set aside.

Combine sugar, corn syrup, and water in a small pot over medium low heat. Cook, swirling occasionally, to 300 F. Remove from heat, add citric acid mixture. Swirl to combine. 

Pour half of sugar mix onto a silicone mat. Add color to remaining half, swirl to combine. Pour onto a separate location on the mat.

As they cool, roll up. When cool enough, stretch until shiny and opaque. Roll into 12" rolls, stick together, fold and stretch to form stripes. Stretch and twist. Snip into one inch lengths. Let cool on a non-stick surface.

Marshmallows

Mix together equal parts cornstarch and powdered sugar. Set aside.

3/10 oz. by wt. powdered gelatin
2 oz. by vol. water

Combine water and gelatin. Let stand at least ten minutes.

6 oz. by wt. sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
3 oz. by vol. water
1 tsp. flavor extract
1/8 tsp. salt

Line an 8" by 8" with plastic wrap. Lightly grease, set aside.

Combine sugar, corn syrup, and water in a small pot over medium low heat. Cook, swirling occasionally, to 238 F. Move to the bowl of a stand mixer. Add gelatin. Whip on high speed until fluffy and cooled to just warmer than room temperature. Add flavoring, salt, and color. Whip until well combined. Transfer to pan. Dust with cornstarch mixture. Press into pan to level.

When cool, dust a cutting board with cornstarch mixture. Turn marshmallow onto board. Cut into squares. Toss with more cornstarch mixture.


Happy eating!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Fruit and Vegetable Carving Class: First Week

In my fruit and vegetable carving class, we got right into carving from the first day. On the first day, we learned to make basic carrot flowers. It is a fairly simple process. You want to use the biggest carrots you can find. You square up the carrot. You next sharpen it like a pencil, cutting along the sharp edges to form a point in the center. Then, you cut along the four corners down to the center to form the petals. When you cut the last petal, you slide the tip of the knife inside the flower to cut it away from the carrot.

We then used half an onion as a base, and created a bouquet from them. We arranged them with the largest in the middle, then worked outward with smaller and smaller flowers. The spaces between the flowers are filled in with parsley to hide any visible toothpicks.


On the second day, we did a lot more practice with basic techniques. We made more elaborate carrot
flowers, by first incising lines on the faces of the carrots before cutting the flowers from the squared carrots.

We also made more elaborate bases, by cutting steps in a turnip and a potato.With the turnip, we just cut broad gradated platforms. On the potato, we cut small, spiralling staircases.

We then made some simple characters. We made a fish from a lemon, and frogs from limes.

For the fish, we cut a simple mouth, took off thin slices to form eyes. We used slices of black olive for the pupils. We cut for the gills, and  used carrots to make fins and the tail. We cut strips of cucumber skin to make seaweed. The fish was mounted on the turnip, then some of the carrot flowers and some parsley was added to finish the scene.

For the frogs, large mouths were cut, and small patches removed to make the eyes. Again, slices of black olive were used to make the pupils. the skin of the section removed for the mouth was used to make the feet. A bit of radish skin was used for the tongues. We used carrot to make hats. I made a top hat and a winged helmet for my frogs. The frogs were mounted on the potato, and additional decoration of carrot flowers added.

This is turning out to be a fascinating class. I am curious to see where this takes me.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Renaissance Marmalade

As most of you know, I belong to a group that does medieval/renaissance re-creation. One of the rituals common in it is the passing of gifts between landed nobles. It can be particularly difficult for the King and Queen, as they may need to give gifts to a large number of people over the course of a reign. 

So, a call was made for artisans to provide a dozen items each that their Majesties could use for largesse. It can be difficult as a cook to help with these things. Most food items have a limited shelf life. Canning was invented in the Napoleonic era, well after the renaissance. Right at the end of the renaissance, we see recipes for marmalades that are recognizable as similar to modern ones. They were not canned, but rather stored in boxes. As a highly concentrated paste of sugar and pectin, they should probably be sterile, as long as they don't get wet.

For the challenge, I decided to make a set of jars of marmalade from a period recipe. I looked at several, then decided on the one by Hugh Platt, published in 1602. I did alter it based on other recipes from around the same time, and in line with modern practice. I did can it with a modern water bath method, for food safety reasons.

It is a supremely simple recipe, with only three ingredients: oranges, sugar, and apples. I used juice oranges, as they were cheaper, and since I wanted to maximize juice/pulp, rather than having pretty supremes. I used granny smith apples, because I wanted the tartness, but next time I will probably try it with a mealier apple, as the apples are supposed to disintegrate, and the granny smiths never did, even after 3 1/2 hours of simmering.

One redactor I read suggested the apples were there to stretch the expensive oranges. That is a possibility, but I think there is a more practical reason: pectin. While the cooks of the day didn't know of the existence of pectin, they did know that certain fruits, cooked down with sugar, would form a thick paste. Quince was known to do this by the Romans, and I'm sure that similar properties were noted with other high pectin fruits like apples and pears.

The original recipe was: TAke ten lemmons or orenges & boyle them with half a dozē pippins, & ſo draw them through a ſtrainer, then take ſo much ſugar as the pulp doth wey, & boyle it as you doe Marmalade of Quinces, and then box it vp. 

Don Avenel's Renaissance Marmalade

12 juicing oranges
approximately 4 3/4 lbs. sugar
6 granny smith apples

Using a vegetable peeler, remove the skin from the oranges, being careful to not get any of the white pith underneath the skin. Fine julienne the peel. Set aside.

Using a sharp knife, remove the white pith from the oranges, and cut out the sections, being careful not to get any of the inner membranes. Remove any seeds. Squeeze all the juice you can from the core, then dispose of the core. Set aside juice and segments.

Peel, core, and slice apples.

Combine orange peel, segments, juice, and apple slices. Weigh mixture. Mine came out to 4 3/4 lbs. In a large stock pot, combine mixture with the same weight of sugar. Stir to dampen sugar. Place over medium low heat. Bring to a simmer. Simmer gently until sugar is dissolved, and peel and apple slices are soft, about 3 1/2 hours. 

Can marmalade using water bath method. Process jars for 10 minutes. Makes 12 half pint jars.

Happy Eating!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Start of Summer Classes

I am taking two classes this summer. I am taking Sugar Work, and Fruit, Vegetable, and Ice Carving. I have already had the first two days of Sugar. We had a short lab yesterday, preparing colored isomalt for future projects. It was interesting.

Today I start my carving class. I have already ordered my carving kit. It will be an intense 6 weeks.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Spring Semester Grades

I already mentioned I got an A in my sanitation class. I checked the grades on my other two classes.

For my Cooking for Healthy Lifestyles class, we had to do a group practical final. We had to produce a healthy three course meal.

We decided on a Mediterranean style meal, with a pan-Middle Eastern style.I think it worked well. We did a good job working together as a team to produce both the menu and the final project.





For our appetizer, we made hummus, and served it with a variety of crudites.

This hummus was flavored with cilantro and a little jalapeno to give it a kick.

To be healthier, instead of using pita bread, we served it with celery, carrots, and yellow bell pepper. This also gave a lot of color to the plate.





For our main dish, we had a bed of couscous with peas and raisins. On top of that was Lebanese Orange Chicken.

To accompany the meal is a Greek salad with marinated onions and cucumbers, kalamata olives, tomatoes, and julienned carrots.

Also with the dish are spicy Moroccan style vegetables with sweet potato, leek, onion, and zucchini.


For our dessert, we made a coconut milk panna cotta with fresh strawberries.

To make it more vegan friendly, it was made with agar agar instead of gelatin. It is garnished with a little toasted coconut.

We can't complain. We got an a on the final, and with that and 100% on my written final, I secured a solid A for that class.




For my cake decorating class, our final project was to make a dummy wedding cake. The core of the cake was Styrofoam, as the object of this exam was testing decorating skill, not cake baking.

My partner and I chose to make an Indian inspired cake. We used the peacock, lotus blossoms, and henna patterns in the design of the cake.

The cake is covered in a light ivory fondant. We wanted a blank canvas for the elaborate decorations we had planned.

The body of the peacock is made of colored fondant.

The tail is piped royal frosting.

The lotus blossoms are made from wafer paper. They were cut out, air brushed, then assembled.

on the other side are some fondant ropes framing piped henna patterns in purple and gold.

I'm really proud of this cake. I think it came out quite nice. We scored a 9.4 out of ten on it.

I managed an A+ in this class, which was a better grade than I thought I would get. I was expecting a B or at best a B+.

This was a relatively unstressful semester, though I did occasionally get stressed out over my lack of piping skills.


Next up for summer: Sugar work, and fruit carving.