December 17, 2014

Make Magic Happen

I don't enjoy coffee or any other caffeinated drinks but I love a nice hot cup of cocoa. At first I thought of drinking hot chocolate as something of a guilty pleasure but then I decided to embrace it and drink it often, especially in the long cold winter. I usually make it at home on the stove using an easy favorite recipe. A good cup of cocoa needs no embellishment though a dollop of whipped cream is always welcome and this time of year I often think of marshmallows. Once a year, usually around the holidays, I get an irresistible urge to make them.

Marshmallows require ingredients that I almost never use in anything else. Though they are probably harmless, I avoid recipes that call for gelatin or corn syrup. Homemade marshmallows are actually very tasty but I think the real reason I like making them is that these odd ingredients come together to make magic happen in a bowl. It always seems impossible that this sticky syrup and gelatin can be transformed into little puffs that bob around and melt slowly into a cup of cocoa. I always feel a bit nervous about whether it will work, but the recipe is actually quite foolproof. When it comes down to it, its just really fun to make marshmallows.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen and The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila.
It turns out that you can use light or dark corn syrup to make these (I used dark since I forgot to specify when Ray went to the store, it worked fine). The marshmallows will be off-white not white if you use dark corn syrup and have a hint of molasses. You can also add other flavors besides vanilla if you like that sort of thing. 

3 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract or 1 teaspoon of other flavoring such as peppermint, almond, orange

Grease a 9 inch square pan with a neutral oil or butter.

In a mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, pour 2/3 cup of water and sprinkle in the gelatin. Let that sit while you combine 1/2 cup water in a sauce pan with the sugar, corn syrup, salt and vanilla bean seeds, if using (if you are using extract you will add it later). Cook over medium high heat for 10-15 minutes until a candy thermometer reads 240 degrees F. Remove from heat. Begin beating the gelatin on low speed and pour in the hot sugar and syrup. Add the vanilla or other extract if you are using it. Increase the speed to high and beat for 10 to 15 minutes until the mixture becomes thick, white, and shiny.  

Pour the liquid marshmallow into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Let cool at room temperature for at least 12 hours. Cut into squares or rectangles of your desired size. Store in an airtight container for up to three weeks. 

December 8, 2014

Canning for This Year

Most years I have posted a list of the things I have canned for the year. I have never posted it this late before, but I finished my canning right before Thanksgiving. I wasn't very ambitious this year, but I can't do without my salsa and I had a chance to do a few other small canning projects, too.

22 pints salsa, 6 quarts apple sauce, 3 pints pickled beets, 4 half pints blueberry jam, 6 half pints apple, thyme and black pepper jam, 6 half pints cranberry aigre-doux (a sweet and sour preserve with vanilla and star anise from this book).

Previous years: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013

December 4, 2014

Things to Make and Share


This year, we are planning to focus more on spending time with the people we love and care about rather then spending money on things to give them. But, for me, it hardly feels like Christmas if I don't have things to make and share. I've compromised on a scaled back, short list of things I will share with people that I see, rather than sending lots of packages. For me, making things is a huge part of the joy that goes along with the music, twinkley lights, and sharing good cheer.

I avoid most of the busy and stressful parts of the holidays but I often think that making some things yourself could be a good antidote to all of that. Of course if adding one more to-do will make you feel like the Grinch, then you should make yourself a cup of cocoa and take some time to relax. But, if you're like me, a small project and some good podcasts (or Christmas music, if you prefer) is the perfect way to feel the truly joyful and generous spirit of this time of year. Here of some my favorites from the archives and elsewhere.

Edible Gifts:
Hot Cocoa Mix
Chai Concentrate
Chocolate Peppermint BonBons 
Lemon Curd
Homemade Mustard

Favorite Amazing Body Products You Can Make (and people will love!):
Thanks to Ashley English/Small Measure for these recipes which I make and use all the time.
Homemade Lip Balm
Homemade Body Scrub
Homemade Body Butter

Gifts You Can Sew:
Potholder Tutorial (this would go perfectly with some edible gifts or ingredients)
Reusable Fabric Bag (excellent for wrapping)
Relaxing Eye Pillow (goes well with some homemade body products)

I just put up my festive garland which I am always tempted to leave up year round, but I like the surprise of seeing it each December.

Happy making and making merry!

November 30, 2014

Shop Update

I printed postcards of some of my recent stitched collages which were inspired by a few of my favorite recipes. They are for sale in my shop as sets of six different postcards. I am also offering a free postcard set with any purchase from my shop through December 8. I'm excited to share some of this two dimensional work and to do more as time goes on (hopefully the calendar will be back next year!).

The shop will be open until December 21 and then I will close it for the foreseeable future. Thanks for supporting my creative work!

To go right to the shop, click here.

November 28, 2014

Time to be still

I took these photos a few weeks ago. Now everything is covered with snow and we've left the time of year when the leaves are gone, the light is weak and the world is in shades of gray. I love this in between season because it is still and muted, waiting but not hurried. Then the snow arrives brightening everything, laying it's cozy, festive blanket over the ragged brown grass and scattered leaves.

In this part of the world we are just on the edge of winter and I haven't yet gotten tired of the short days and the cold. I like the stillness of the woods where to do lists and obligations can be forgotten. The barren feeling that is already being eclipsed by holiday preparations, gatherings and cheer. In the midst of this season which can get way too busy, find time to be still, to appreciate, to observe.

November 24, 2014

Baking, Eating, Judging

There's been a lot of pie on this blog over the years. I probably share them here as often as I make them which is usually once in the summer and again around Thanksgiving. Over the weekend, we held our fourth annual pie contest. Usually there are two pies in the competition, one by Ray and one by me. This year we decided that eating lots of pie a few days before Thanksgiving sounded like a great idea, so we invited friends and family to join us in baking, eating, and judging.

We ended up with seven pies and ten adults. There were pumpkin pies, apple crumble, key lime, and both chocolate and banana cream. Everyone voted for their favorites in best crust, best filling, best non-traditional, and best over all. The competition was close and I am sure that every pie got at least a few votes. After announcing the winners for each category, it was clear that with so many pies and such full bellies we all won.

I will say that the recipe I am about to share did not win best overall but it tied for best crust and best non-traditional. After working at a bakery over two Thanksgiving seasons, I am really comfortable making a classic butter crust, so I decided to go out on a limb and dreamed up the chai spiced pumpkin pie with chocolate crust and coconut cream. I wanted to make the pie gluten and dairy free but I wasn't sure if I could make it from an idea to a finished pie. The number one rule of our pie contest was that no disclaimers or other discussion of your pie were allowed before judging happened. You know, Julia Child's rule that you never apologize if your food doesn't turn out well? It is so tempting to explain what went wrong before sharing something that you make, though usually no one else notices. We all, mostly, held our tongues about the possible short-comings of our creations and instead filled our mouths with pie.

Chai Spiced Pumpkin Pie with Chocolate Crust and Coconut Cream

This pie is gluten and dairy free (not vegan because it uses eggs). I adapted the crust from this recipe, substituting coconut oil for butter and almond flour for flour. I was inspired to try the spices in this filling recipe, but I used coconut milk instead of creme fraiche or cream. This recipe could be made with regular flour, butter, and milk but it was fun to make something a little different that some our friends who couldn't eat gluten or dairy would also enjoy. Either way you make it, you will have a dense chocolatey crust and a thick, creamy filling.

Chocolate Crust
1 cup almond flour
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
4 ounces coconut oil
1 egg
4 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350'  

Lightly grease a 9 inch tart pan with coconut oil. Combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, salt and spices. Add coconut oil and beat with a mixer on medium speed until the coconut oil is mostly incorporated. Add the egg and beat until it forms a soft dough. Refrigerate for 20 minutes (for easier pressing) or press the dough into a tart pan without refrigerating. Make sure the dough is pressed evenly on the bottom and sides of the pan. Prick the tart dough on the bottom in a few places with a fork. Place a piece of parchment paper over the tart pan and fill the inside of the tart with dry beans, uncooked rice, or pie weights. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove the parchment and weights and bake for another 3-5 minutes until the crust seems mostly dry. Once the crust is out of the oven, sprinkle the chocolate chips over the bottom of the tart crust. Let them sit for a few minutes and then spread the melted chocolate evenly over the bottom of the tart. Set aside to cool.

While the tart crust is baking or cooling, make the filling.

Chai Spiced Pumpkin Filling
15 ounces pumpkin or butternut squash (canned, or baked and then pureed until smooth)
8 ounces coconut milk
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 eggs

If you are using canned pumpkin you can skip the step of cooking the pumpkin and just combine the ingredients in a bowl. If you are using baked pumpkin (not from a can) then combine it with the coconut milk, cornstarch, spices, sugars, maple syrup, and salt in a sauce pan. Stir over medium heat until the pumpkin is shiny and slightly thicker about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat, scrape into a bowl, and let cool for 5 minutes. Add the three eggs to the pumpkin and whisk until everything is completely smooth and combined. 

Pour the pumpkin into the cooled tart shell and bake for 30 minutes or until the pie is set in the middle. Let it cool for several hours and refrigerate overnight if you are not serving it until the next day. Garnish with coconut cream.

Coconut Cream
1 can of full fat coconut milk that has sat long enough to separate the thick coconut milk from the thinner coconut water
1 tablespoon of powdered sugar

Carefully open the can of coconut milk and scoop out the thick coconut milk into a bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the sugar and beat on medium high until the coconut milk has thickened to a whipped cream consistency. 

November 20, 2014

Pumpkin Ginger Cookies

pumpkin ginger cookies

One of the delights of living in Maine again is that we are lucky enough to live near many of our good friends. Not just any good friends, but friends we can invite for dinner at the last minute. If you ask me, this might be the best kind of get together. The kind that happens with some spontaneity, not too much worry, and leaves your plates scraped clean and filled with gratitude for this unexpected gathering.

We are entering a time of year full of gatherings, most of which require planning a few days or weeks ahead. It is, of course, a busy time on top of the busy times that happen every other day of the year. Maybe it is because schedules don't often align without a lot of planning that it feels magical to share a good meal on a Tuesday or Sunday evening. We pull the kitchen table out from the wall and squeeze a few extra chairs around it or sit on the living room floor and make trips back into the kitchen for seconds. Its not too different from our usual weeknight family dinners but sharing food with friends makes it special.

Sometimes I like to throw together a quick dessert and these pumpkin ginger cookies are just right this time of year. I created the recipe when I wanted a ginger cookie but didn't have any molasses in my cupboard.

Pumpkin Ginger Cookies
For a bit more "pumpkin spice" you could also add a 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg and cloves.

2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
4 ounces/1 stick unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 cup cooked pumpkin or butternut squash
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

Preheat the oven the 350. Combine flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a small bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until combined. Add the egg, pumpkin, and ginger and beat until everything is incorporated. Add the flour and mix to form a smooth, stiff dough. Roll 2 tablespoons of dough into a ball and place on a baking sheet, repeating until all the dough is used. Bake for 12-15 minutes.

Makes about 24 cookies.

P.S. Pumpkin Cake with Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting, Pumpkin Chocolate Tart, Pumpkin Ice Cream.