Saturday, March 26, 2011

Buttermilk Wild-Berry Cobbler

When you make your own homemade butter (and it is SO easy, so do it!), you end up with a tasty little by-product: fresh buttermilk. This is the real stuff. The buttermilk that you buy at the store is non-fat milk with lactic acid bacteria added to it, giving it a sour taste.

When I first thought of what I could do with buttermilk, I thought of biscuits. Yum... fresh buttermilk biscuits? Bring it. But then I was flipping through one of my favorite cookbooks, the infallible Hay Day Country Market Cookbook that I bought back in my Hudson Valley days, and I saw a recipe for Buttermilk Wild-Berry Cobbler. So... fresh buttermilk biscuits on TOP of delicious berries? There was no going back.

I also still had some homemade butter left over, so I used that to make the biscuit topping, as well. This was a very easy and delicious dessert, perfect for spring and summer. We've been spending a lot of time thinking about spring and summer these days.

:: :: :: :: ::

Buttermilk Wild-Berry Cobbler, from the Hay Day Country Market Cookbook by Kim Rizk

Scant 4 cups mixed fresh berries (I used some fresh and some frozen): strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries, gently rinsed and drained
2/3 cup sugar (Next time, I'd try less sugar. It was very sweet.)
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tbs fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Biscuit Topping
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tbs baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
4 tbs sugar
5 tbs unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk

1. Preheat oven to 375 F.

2. Prepare the fruit: Gently rinse and drain the berries. Hull and slice the strawberries; stem the blueberries. In a mixing bowl, toss the berries with the sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and cinnamon. Spoon into a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate or baking dish, and bake in the middle of the oven until the juices begin to bubble around the edges, about 10 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, prepare the topping: Stir and toss the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and 3 1/2 tbs of the sugar in a mixing bowl. Work the butter in with your fingertips or the tines of a fork to form a coarse meal. Then stir in the buttermilk to form a slightly soft, lumpy batter.

4. Remove the berries from the oven, and drop large spoonfuls of the batter over the fruit, approximately 1/2 inch apart (they will spread and bake together). Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 tbs sugar, and bake until the topping is nicely browned and puffed and just cooked through between the biscuits, 20-25 minutes.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Tequila Sunrise

Remember that homemade grenadine we made a few weeks ago?  Our original use for it was in Jack Rose cocktails (which are delicious by the way), but we didn’t get any photos of those.  Some really awful photos were taken of the Tequila Sunrises we enjoyed during a vaguely Mexican themed baby dinner party last week.

And then I made myself a non-alcoholic Tequila Sunrise during baby naptime yesterday and finally got some pretty pictures.
tequila sunrise 005
I was actually expecting more of a sunrise effect, but I couldn’t quite get it to look as I’d imagined.  After a few tries & failures I gave up and was happy with this very gradual gradation of pink and peach.
tequila sunrise 018
Here are the recipes.
:: :: :: :: ::

Tequila Sunrise
- 2 oz tequila
- 4 oz orange juice
- 1 oz grenadine

Pour each ingredient, in the above order, over ice in a highball glass.   Do not stir, and note that the order of ingredients is important.  The first time we tried these we did them in martini glasses with no ice.  As we poured in the grenadine, it pooled perfectly on the bottom in a solid red stripe – no gradation at all.  So watch out!

For my afternoon version of a non-alcoholic Tequila Sunrise, just remove the tequila and increase the orange juice by 2 oz to make up for it.
Non-Alcoholic Tequila Sunrise
- 6 oz orange juice
- 1 oz grenadine

tequila sunrise 029

Friday, March 18, 2011

Scottish Shortbread

The other day we took a stab at making homemade butter in the food processor. It was absolutely delicious.

So here I am with about a cup and a half of lovely fresh butter wondering how I should use it. I will say that probably the best way to really appreciate the nuances of fresh butter is just slathering it on some fresh bread. Perfection. But I wanted to choose a recipe that really celebrates butter, so I decided to make some Scottish shortbread.

Butter. Flour. Sugar. A little salt. Shortbread is as simple as a cookie can get and that is part of its charm.

I was a little worried about how the homemade butter would work in the shortbread. Because I squeezed out the buttermilk by hand, I wondered if I'd managed to get it all out, and if I hadn't, would the shortbread hold together? Would it turn into a wet bubbling mess in the pan? Fortunately, it worked out just fine.

 The recipe I used is from the Joy of Cooking, the '97 version. This was one of the first cookbooks I was given after graduating from college, and it is still my go-to resource for most dishes.

:: :: :: :: ::

Scottish Shortbread
Joy of Cooking

Preheat the oven to 300.
Have ready an 8 x 8 baking pan. (I lined my pan with parchment paper because I know how delicate shortbread can be, and I didn't want to have any trouble getting them out of the pan. This may have been unnecessary.)

Beat on medium speed until fluffy and well blended:
10 tbs unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt

Gradually sift over the top while stirring:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Lightly knead until well blended and smooth. If the dough is too dry to hold together, sprinkle a few drops of water over it, adding only enough to hold the particles together and being careful not to overmoisten. Firmly press the dough into the pan to form a smooth, even layer. Pierce the dough deeply with a fork all over in a decorative pattern. Bake until the shortbread is faintly tinged with pale gold and just slightly darker at the edges, 40-50 minutes.

Remove the pan to a rack and let cool until barely warm. Cut almost through the dough to form bars. Let stand until completely cool. Retrace the cuts, and separate into bars.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

March Toddler Picnic {Kid-Friendly Food}

Over the past few months we’ve been experimenting with throwing little dinner parties for our toddlers.  At first it seemed like a terrifying idea:  you know, herding cat-like toddlers, trying to get them to sit down at the same time, eat their food instead of throwing it at each other, etc, etc. 
The good news is we are well on our way to coming up with some ideas to make a toddler dinner party something that is fun for everyone involved.  I’d actually call it more of a toddler picnic rather than a dinner party because no formal gowns were involved but trucks, dirt, and dogs did find their way into the event…
set-up for a toddler picnic
It was a beautiful perfect sunny spring day in Colorado – 70 degrees!  We knew we had to eat outside & watch the sun set behind the mountains. 
view from our picnic table
The setting sun only burned our retinas for a few minutes:
setting sun at toddler picnic
In the way of food we had lots of little bowls of finger friendly foods.  Strawberries, cheese cubes, hummus, and clementines are always a hit.  Assemble-your-own deviled eggs were on the menu as well; I made these mostly for the moms but we all shared bites with our toddlers.  Actually that’s not completely true – I tried to share bites with my baby but he craned his neck and looked as far away from me and my egg as possible every time I made an attempt.  So I ate lots of eggs all by myself, and they were delicious.
food served at toddler picnic
We made a few more exotic toddler dishes as well.  Such as firm tofu marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, garlic, ginger, and a little honey.  It was so good…and two out of the three toddlers ate it.  I consider that a success!
food for toddlers: tofu and clementines
We also cubed and roasted some winter squash, then drizzled it with a sweet balsamic fig reduction.  The babies seemed to appreciate the small brightly colored squares, and the balsamic reduction was sweet and tangy which lured them in even more. I am currently hoarding the leftovers to use in a salad with french lentils, arugula, goat cheese, and figs. 
kid friendly food: roasted squash cubes
Another key to having fun at a toddler picnic was to let them roam around a bit.  Isaac enjoyed perching on this little rock ledge and nibbling cheese cubes.  Then playing with trucks and dirt for a while before returning to load up with more cheese.
Toddler eating at picnic
Meanwhile, the moms hung out at the picnic table eating, chatting, and keeping an eye on the babies. 
kid friendly food: cheese, strawberries, and tofu
Babies returned to the table frequently to test out their sophisticated manners and sit with us like little adults.
happy scene from a toddler picnic
Mmmm, strawberries!
toddler eating strawberry
But the sophisticated manners only extend so far…as you can see by the half-eaten strawberry thrown down on the tablecloth.  Which reminds me of another key to our success – we didn’t really use plates or utensils.  We had them available but they didn’t get used.  The finger foods plus roaming while eating made them basically obsolete which worked out well in the end because of its simplicity.
set up at picnic for toddlers
The friendly dog was visited, and possibly slipped some snacks.
Sylvie & dog
And then the three little toddler friends rewarded us by being SO EXTREMELY CUTE our heads almost exploded. 
Happy 18 month olds at picnic
The picnic was so much fun, we can’t wait to keep this up all summer long!
sun set at picnic in March

Monday, March 14, 2011

Homemade Butter

I love butter. I've always been a whole milk, full-fat kinda girl, and I have no interest in replacing butter with other, supposedly less sinful, ingredients. You couldn't pay me to ingest margarine. Trying my hand at making it from scratch just made sense. Sarah informed me that it is actually really easy.
first step to making butter - heavy cream
"Didn't you ever make it in elementary school?" She asked. "Everyone in the class took a turn shaking a jar of cream until they got tired, and then they just passed it to the next person."
Wow, well that does sound easy, but I am sure that Sarah and I combined do not have the jar-shaking strength of a classroom of eight year olds. Brilliantly, you can make butter in a food processor. Or a blender. Or a stand mixer. Basically, whatever you have that can beat the bejeezus out of cream will do the job for you, and it doesn't take long at all.
pouring cream into food processor
I bought two pints of organic heavy whipping cream and poured that on into the food processor. (That is four cups.) The only other ingredient you need is salt to taste.
Go ahead and start processing. After a while, the cream turns into (no surprise here) whipped cream. Keep on going.
whipped cream
A minute or so later, the cream looks almost a bit grainy. But still delicious.
next, whipped cream becomes grainy
After a minute or so more it starts to get really curdled looking and then finally, this is the exciting part, the buttermilk starts to separate from the butter. Yup, I said it, butter!
suddenly the butter separates from buttermilk!
Let it go a bit more to be sure the cream has completely separated. Then it is time to strain the buttermilk off of the butter. We put a strainer over a large bowl and dumped it all in there. The buttermilk goes into the bowl (and we saved it for use in future recipes.)
butter in strainer to remove buttermilk
Pick up your mass of butter and knead it a bit to squeeze the rest of the buttermilk out. It is surprising how much is still in there even though it seems rather firm.
knead the butter ball to remove more liquid
Now that you've squeezed the excess liquid out, you can mix in the salt, if you like. We kept half of ours unsalted, and then added about 1/4 tsp of kosher salt to the rest. We probably got about two or two and a half cups of butter out of the four cups of cream. Cover it and store it for up to two weeks.
freshly churned butter on toast

mmm...fresh homemade butter!
We were really salivating over our butter while we took the photos, and could not wait to sample it on some toast. It was a big payoff. So delicious! It is hard to put into words how much tastier it is than non-homemade butter. It really just tastes so... fresh.

fresh homemade butter on toast

Friday, March 11, 2011

Whole Wheat & Cheddar Crackers

Dulcie and I each have an under-two toddler.  If you don’t have a toddler of your own you might not realize this, but OMG THEY LOVE CRACKERS.
These are the homemade healthy version of little cheesy crackers.  They are made with 100% whole wheat, sharp cheddar, a little butter, and not much else.  Their texture is pretty amazing if I do say so myself: crispy, crunchy, and flaky.  They’re rich and buttery from all the cheese. 
Crackers made with whole wheat & cheddar
We’ve been buying plenty of Annie’s bunnies and crackers of that ilk.  They have a fairly natural/healthy ingredient list but they only come in bunny shapes.  If you make them at home you can do any shape you want.  You know, like stars and little ducks and kitties.  Deb over at Smitten Kitchen, who was this inspiration for this recipe, did little goldfish.
Also, the real reason I am excited about these crackers is that deep down (OK maybe not that deep down) I am a cheapskate.  Making these crackers warmed the cockles of my cheap little heart. 
whole wheat & cheddar cheese crackers
Today I brought these as a snack to this gigantic weekly play group thing (think 50 kids under 4 running around like crazy people in a huge gymnasium full of toys).  Every time I got out the bag I was instantly surrounded by random children saying in plaintive little voices: More? More? More? 
Crackers and little kids, man.  I don’t get it!
homemade whole wheat crackers for toddlers
I do have some words of advice when you make these.  The main thing is to make sure you use a fairly hard oily cheddar cheese that you like the taste of.  If the cheese is too soft, the crackers won’t have the right crispy texture.  And if you don’t like the taste of the cheese very much, you won’t like the crackers because the cheese flavor is very prominent.
healthy homemade crackers for kids
OK?  Ready?  Here’s the recipe:
:: :: :: :: ::
Whole Wheat & Cheddar Crackers
  • 12 oz grated sharp cheddar (make sure you like how it tastes!)
  • 8 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350.  Dump all the ingredients in your food processor and run for 1-2 minutes or until everything forms a big dough ball.  EASY!!!
Pull out the dough ball, wrap it in plastic, and let it sit in the fridge for 30 minutes to cool off.  This will make it much easier to roll out.
Roll the dough out to about 1/8” thick on a floured surface (I also sprinkled flour on the top side of the dough to prevent it from sticking to the rolling pin).  Cut out shapes with 1-2” cookie cutters and transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet.  If you don’t want to bother with cutting out shapes you can just get out a pizza cutter and cut the dough into small 1.5” squares – this is what I plan to do next time.
Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown around the edges. 
healthy homemade crackers for kids
Thanks again to Smitten Kitchen for this recipe inspiration!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

March Dinner Party {monthly menu}

This month was our first attempt at capturing one of our get-togethers on film (er, pixels?), and it was no surprise that the process was a bit bumpy. Still, we got all of the food on the table, kept the toddlers entertained (props to the husbands on that account), and shot a few nice photos as well.

March Dinner Party Menu

Braised Fennel in White Wine
Cocktail: Gin and Ginger from design*sponge

Parties with toddlers start early in the day, but not too early for some alcoholic beverages. This cocktail was very tasty, and it was fun to try a different liqueur: Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur. 

Gin & Ginger
1 ½ oz gin
1 oz canton ginger liquor
4 oz ginger ale
juice of ½ lime

Mix all ingredients together with ice and enjoy.

The Gin & Ginger was a zesty complement to what turned out to be a very homey (and beige!) meal. The tortellini gratinata was delicious, but how could it not be when it was almost entirely cheese, butter, and pasta? The fennel was mildly sweet and tasted a bit of the white wine it was braised in. 

Pretty, but pretty beige too. Next time we'll be incorporating a bit more color!

Our dessert was where things went a bit awry. Like the follower that I am, I went blindly along with the Bon Appetit recipe. Either my oven is way way too hot, or the times provided are way way too long. My pears were definitely on the charred side of "roasted." The recipe also asked me to make a lifetime supply of lavender sugar for no apparent reason. At least the lavender sugar is good (and was already incorporated into my pancakes this morning!)

If we did this recipe again, I'd certainly keep closer watch on my pears. I'd also skip the ricotta, and use fresh whipped cream sweetened with the lavender sugar.

We listened to:

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