February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day

Hope everyone is having a lovely day, preferably one involving chocolate. Tomorrow Michael and I are going out for the Oaxacan hot chocolate at Ginger Elizabeth for a Valentine's treat. In the meantime, I've rounded up some valentine-themed links of sorts for your weekend. Happy browsing-
Bulgarian rose scented candle to brighten the last weeks of winter.

Sweet hearts notecards.

This has to be the most beautiful bookstore in the world . . . in a cathedral.

Latte heart art.

Love the chunky sweater look--warm and cozy.

Chocolate caramels: yes, please and thank you.

The art of the love letter.

Anthropologie always curates a fantastic selection of books--many of which I'd love to own.

Why is puppy face so irresistible?

New notebooks on my radar, in a bright array of colors.

On my wishlist: wild rose balm for winter chapped lips.

Chocolate sables for your valentine.

Magazine worthy light-filled apartments in Stockholm.

Paris in Four Months: a new blog (all about living in Paris) I've been browsing recently.

Hardy's The Darkling Thrush, appropriate in the dregs of winter.

December 22, 2012

Merry and happy

Yesterday was the first day of winter as well as the shortest day of the year, but I hardly noticed, it was rather gloomy all day with rain and dark clouds. The rain proceeded to fall heavily all through the night and is supposed to last through the weekend, but this morning I woke up to a bright and clear day. Sharp would be the right word for it. It's like the rain swept through and cleared the air, it's so refreshing. My thoughts for an afternoon walk may have just been cancelled, though, because the clouds are gathering again and a few drops are falling, despite some patches of blue on the horizon. That's a California winter for you, storms and bone-chilling rain one day, sunshine the next. Ah well, the rain is a welcome change from last year, dry all through the winter and well into the spring. Today the sun seems to be playing games with us, peeking in and out, now shining brightly, now behind a dark murky curtain. Hmm, maybe I will take a walk after all, because the sun is just now boldly showing its face again.

Anyway, I've been baking cookies over the past few days, finally, and even made my great-grandma Taylor's honey caramels, much of which I'd like to give away because that stuff's rich--a little goes a long way--and also because everyone, everyone, who's tried it loves the stuff and people make requests for it every year, but I've been wrangling with which cookie recipe to share here because each one is a winner. One is biscotti, festive and full of crystallized ginger and citrus zest, actually a rehash of a recipe I've already posted, and wow, is it good. Another, my ginger cookies, a recipe I've tweaked over the years into something of my own making, made all the more special because it only debuts at Christmas. And then finally these cardamom crescents, a delicate sable-like cookie rolled and dusted in powdered sugar, the cardamom amped up with a touch of cinnamon. They're surprisingly fragrant and, when consumed with a cup of tea, make one feel rather dignified and grown up, as though sitting in a fancy tea house in Paris of an afternoon...or something like that.

I've yet to photograph them (update: they are now photographed), but I think I'll go ahead and post because 'tis the season for sharing and also because there isn't much time left before Christmas day, and I'm sure most people want to spend the weekend relaxing with friends and family, not in a frenzy baking up a storm at the last minute. Merry Christmas to all of you, and I hope everyone has a safe and warm holiday and a happy New Year.

Cardamom crescents
Adapted from Bon Appetit, December 2011

-The cinnamon in these is barely detectable and mostly serves to boost the cardamom and overall warmth of spices. I went with walnuts rather than pecans as Bon Appetit suggests, partly because I had walnuts on hand and an extra trip to the store wasn't appealing, but mostly because I like walnuts and cardamom paired together and the pecans seemed too sweet an addition. The dough is a little crumbly but still easy to shape--just squeeze in your palm to form a log, then gently bend in the middle and pinch the ends to create a crescent shape, smoothing the surface with your fingertips while shaping.

2½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ tsp. ground cardamom
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. kosher salt
1½ cups powdered sugar, divided
1 cup walnuts
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 Tbsp. vanilla

Arrange racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat to 350° F. Line two large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk together the flour, cardamom, cinnamon, and salt in a medium bowl.  Combine ½ cup powdered sugar and walnuts in a food processor, and pulse until a coarse meal forms.

Beat butter and vanilla in a large bowl until creamy (I used a wooden spoon, but you can use an electric mixer). Add nut mixture and beat to blend. Add flour mixture and blend well. The dough will be crumbly. Gather dough into a ball, kneading a little to keep it all together.

Measure one rounded tablespoon of dough, form into a ball, then roll into a 1½-inch long log. Gently bend into a crescent shape, pinching and shaping ends to taper. Repeat with remaining dough, placing about one inch apart on prepared sheets.

Bake, rotating sheets halfway through baking front to back and top to bottom, until bottoms are golden 12-15 minutes. Sift remaining 1 cup powdered sugar into a shallow wide bowl. Working in batches, roll warm cookies gently in sugar to coat. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Roll or dust cooled cookies with powdered sugar. Store airtight at room temperature.

Should make about 50 cookies, although I only got 35 because I made them slightly too large.

December 12, 2012

Merry musings

I'm almost ready for the holiday cookie baking spree, with flurries of flour and sugar, spices and citrus, and all manner of tasty ingredients, to fill up those empty cookie jars sitting forlornly on the counter. I haven't quite decided what all I'd like to make yet, but the list is slowly narrowing down to some family favorites and maybe one or two new recipes. In the meantime, I've curated a list of mostly holiday themed links and some stocking stuffer ideas for your perusal. Happy browsing-

Fir candle for that freshly cut Christmas tree scent.

Love these large and modern geo posts.

A traditional panettone for Christmas morning.

Find Momo: another funny dog tumblr featuring a Border Collie.

This plaid peacoat is perfection.

Essential oil infused all-natural lip balm.

Besotted Brand, a fantastic shop full of stamps and paper goods for custom stationery.

Simple and pretty terrariums for gift giving.

In the bleak midwinter--beautiful poem, beautiful Christmas song.

Creamery Creek goat milk soap for the creamiest lather ever.

Minimal holiday Pinterest board for decor inspiration.

Theo chocolate fantasy bars.

Rue Magazine's holiday issue has lots of pretty features and design ideas.

Geen forest tea towel to gift with a tin full of cookies.

Knot&Bow for wrapping, with manila tags, kraft paper, and fancy baker's twine.

Winter foliage cards and holiday stamps for DIY Christmas greetings.

November 29, 2012

'Tis the season for pomegranate jelly

Jamming season may be over for most produce, but in California, pomegranate trees grow all over the place, both pink and red varieties, and their season has just barely ended, so if you have access to a tree and a fruit press, now's the time to make use of any leftover jars and lids from summer canning sessions. If given access to several trees, as my parents were, you can always freeze the juice for later use, like replenishing your stock of jelly in the pantry after many bread and scone baking sessions have depleted it, or, you know, for gifting over the holidays. Homemade gifts from the kitchen make for thoughtful presents.
If you're new to canning, I would advise enlisting another pair of hands to help out with the entire process. Preserving may seem daunting at first, but when you follow proper guidelines and share the workload with another person, it's well worth the effort and doesn't seem like nearly as much work. My dad and I teamed up to make several batches of jelly over the last month or two. Of course, he did all the preliminary work of pressing the pomegranates on a borrowed hand-crank press, so that when we actually did the canning, the juice was ready and waiting. Yes, canning goes much more smoothly with help.

Back in the day my mom used to make blackberry jam, for we live in an area where blackberry bushes abound as well as pomegranate trees, and, although her jamming days are over (mostly because she tired of doing it all herself), she fortunately hung on to her canner, basically a large enamel pot with lid and metal rack. She did not have a lid lifter or jar tongs, but I would consider those items very useful, even essential, as they make the job of lifting jars in and out of hot water and pulling lids and rings out of hot water flow much more smoothly than if you didn't have them. They're fairly inexpensive, too, often sold in sets with a funnel, also an essential, so it's a small investment for a really helpful payoff.
To get the pomegranates ready for pressing, slice off the flower ends and cut in half, then pile into the press and get cranking, which, as it happens, requires considerable manpower. You'll need a large jug or measuring cup with a wide mouth to catch all the juice. Then, to strain the pomegranate juice, line a sieve with cheesecloth to make sure the juice is really pure and clear. We strained the juice into quart sized plastic jars for freezing. Otherwise, use it immediately.

To get ready for the actual canning, I like to set up a work area next to the stove by lining a large, rimmed baking sheet with an old dishtowel (an old one because staining is inevitable) and placing the essentials at the ready: a ladle, funnel, jar tongues, and lid lifter. Hot jars can crack when placed on a cool counter, so using a dishtowel buffers any temperature differences. Everything needs to be ready before you start cooking because all of your attention will be on the jelly once it begins to boil. For my dad and I, we've set up a pretty good workflow by delegating tasks: I lift the sterilized jars and lids and rings out of the hot water and place them on the baking sheet one at a time, then he ladles the jelly into the jars, wipes the rims clean, and tightens the lids, and then finally I place the prepared jars back into the canner for processing. After all that, the jars need to cool undisturbed for several hours. They shouldn't be stacked when cooling--I just did that for picture taking purposes.

As for the jelly itself, it's a pretty, deep red color, a little sweet, a little tart, and best spread on homemade whole wheat bread warm from the oven slathered with butter. Snacking doesn't get much better than that on a rainy afternoon.

Pomegranate jelly
Adapted from pickyourown.org

-Red pomegranates make better jelly than pink because the pink are far too sweet and would require very little sugar, meaning the jelly would not set--believe me, we've tried. Since the red are more tart, you can adjust the amount of sugar to your taste. We prefer jams and jellies that aren't too sweet, so this recipe makes a sweet-tart jelly, made with a little less sugar than what is fairly typical in canning.
-If you want to make a lot, don't try to double the recipe. Jelly is best made in small batches. Otherwise, it might not set properly.
-For beginners, this step-by-step guideline on water bath canning is a good reference, as is Food In Jars.

6 cups freshly pressed and strained pomegranate juice
4½ cups granulated sugar, divided
4½ Tbsp. (1½ packets) no-sugar pectin
¼ cup lemon juice

Equipment: Canner with metal rack; 8 oz. glass canning jars, new lids, and rings; jar tongs, funnel, ladle, and lid lifter.

First, wash jars, lids, and rings in hot, soapy water, then place jars in a canner with a rack and fill with enough tap water to cover the jars by at least 2 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil for 10 minutes. Keep hot until ready to use. Place lids and rings in a small saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a simmer over medium heat; do not boil. Keep warm until ready to use.

Next, mix the pectin with ¼ cup of the sugar in a small bowl. Place pomegranate juice, lemon juice, and the pectin mixture in a large pot, and bring to a full, roiling boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon to prevent scorching. This will take several minutes. Stir in the remaining sugar, bring back to a full boil, and boil hard for one minute. Remove from heat.

Ladle jelly into hot jars, leaving ¼-inch of room at the top. Wipe rims with a damp towel, place lids on top, and screw on rings to a fingertip tightness. Place jars back in canner and bring to a boil. Process for 10 minutes. Allow jars to sit in canner for a couple of minutes after processing, then remove and place on a dishtowel-lined counter to cool completely. Once cool, tighten rings and check seals. If any have not sealed, store in the fridge. Otherwise, store sealed jars for up to a year in a cool, dark place.

Makes about 8 pint jars.

November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

It's time for pies and turkey, delicious aromas wafting from the kitchen, and good company. I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving and a happy holiday weekend, and I've rounded up some seasonal links for your perusal. Here's to a fall filled with long walks on brisk afternoons and cozy evenings by a fire with a good book.

Manger, one of the most beautiful food blogs I've seen yet, about country life in France.

Simple yet stunning business cards--the gold edge adds a nice touch.

Paris in the fall--dreaming of going back.

Now that the holiday season has arrived, a discussion on vanilla seems appropriate.

An apple picking picnic, plus recipes.

Adding another book to my "to read next list," this time on Vivian Maier.

Making the perfect pie dough.

The best gourds, squashes, and pumpkins for baking.

A book journal to record all your favorite reads.

Beautiful walnut cake stand for your holiday cakes.

An endearing letter from a grandfather to his grandson in 1915.

Move over Nutella, it's time for gianduja.

Pretty plates on which to serve Thanksgiving dessert, namely pie.

The night is darkening round me.

October 26, 2012

Happy weekend

A couple of weeks or so ago I stumbled across this quote by Friedrich Nietzsche: "Notice that Autumn is more the season of the soul than of Nature." Now, I'll have you know I'm not exactly a Nietzsche fan, as I haven't read much of his work, but that quote seemed to sum up much of what I love about the fall, about the crisp air and crunchy leaves underfoot and bouts of refreshing rain. It really is my favorite time of year, and it's so sad that the season doesn't last very long. It comes and goes that quick, and I always feel like I missed out on truly enjoying the season and everything that comes with it, like apple picking or prowling around a pumpkin patch and making batches of soup with fresh market produce and baking up lots of goodies to celebrate the first weeks of cooler weather after such a long, hot summer as we get in California. I don't think I'll ever get enough of fall.

This weekend we're celebrating my nephew's first birthday (although it was actually on Tuesday), and I'm baking him a monstrous apple spice cake for the party. It's hard to believe it's actually been a whole year since he first graced us with his presence, and, since I marked the occasion with an apple cake here on the blog, it seems appropriate, as well as seasonal, that his first birthday cake be another kind chock full of apples and spices, although this time made even better with cream cheese frosting. He's grown into quite the ham since he was born, with a rather irresistible charming smile. It'll be quite a party for the little guy, with lots of family and friends invited to partake of the cake and some ice cream. In the meantime, here are some fall-themed posts for your weekend-

Fall is beautiful even in the rain.

Nothing like a good grilled cheese when the air turns crisp.

Growing up reading L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, I've always wanted to visit Prince Edward Island, and this post definitely inspires more daydreaming.

Studs in shades of autumn.

I've linked to this shop of illustrated quotes before, but new editions have been added since then.

The Impossible Instant Lab can turn your iPhone shots into polaroids.

On my reading list: E. B. White's Here is New York.

Simple yet pretty packaging.

Orange Pippin, an impressive resource for apple varieties and orchards--the site also features a section on vintage looking apple crate labels.

To continue with the apple theme, Frost's After Apple-Picking.

The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee was just published October 9--finally, a thorough and beautiful book for coffee lovers from a true expert.

Another pretty horse print.

Now that it's apple season, what better reason do you need to make homemade caramel?

Extraordinary words.

October 3, 2012

All I want is yogurt cake

Yogurt cake, yogurt cake, there's always room for yogurt cake. The ingredients needed are conveniently readily available, too, in just about any grocery store, excepting perhaps the Greek yogurt. It's the traditional snack cake of choice in many a French household, has been for a long time (I don't know how long exactly), and apparently so because of the ease of preparation. All I can say is: thank you to the French for creating something that I never tire of baking or eating.

The most labor intensive part is zesting a lemon. Then, you need to mash that zest into a cup of sugar to release the oils and all that lemony goodness. This method ensures a really tasty loaf, full of that bright lemon flavor. I find it a crucial step for any recipe involving citrus zest. After that, it's just stirring in some yogurt, oil, eggs, and vanilla until well mixed, whisking together the dry ingredients and carefully folding that in, scraping it all into a smallish loaf pan, and then baking for about fifty minutes or so. I think the hardest part is waiting for the golden loaf to cool completely, because it must, it must cool completely, or else you'll miss out on the best flavor. Some things are meant to be eaten warm out of the oven, like scones, but others need that cooling time for the flavor to fully develop and meld together. After that, it's happy snacking.

Although it is technically a snack cake, it's also excellent for breakfast, so you may want to consider making it at night to enjoy in the morning, because the flavor will only get better by then, and it keeps wrapped in plastic for at least a few days. Any longer than that I wouldn't know because it has never lasted beyond a few days. This recipe is great because it doesn't seem too much like dessert since a glaze or syrup isn't involved like other yogurt cakes I've made before and also because it's baked in a loaf pan rather than a cake pan, so the shape makes for a more humble appearance. Something in the shape of a loaf hardly ever gets mistaken for dessert, unless it's pound cake, which in that case would be dessert. Of course, because of that, it also seems to disappear much more quickly than something that looks like dessert. I don't know why that is. Maybe it appears more "healthy" because it's shaped like banana bread or something. Have you ever noticed how pound cake from a loaf pan goes faster than pound cake from a bundt pan? Or am I imagining things?

Anyway, regardless of my cake-vs.-loaf-shape-ranting, this is my favorite version of a French yogurt cake so far, so much so that I've baked it numerous times after reading about it in the May issue of Bon Appetit, this year's travel issue. Safe to say I love it.

French yogurt cake
Adapted from Bon Appetit, May 2012

-My oven browns rather quickly and I suspect may run a bit hot, so it was done before the 50 minutes were up. I would start checking at least at the 45 minute mark.

-Also, I prefer to use sunflower or safflower oil over other vegetables oils when baking--they're both neutral tasting and have high smoke points, perfect for the oven. I found this chart very useful for comparing different oils.

-Finally, Greek yogurt is called for here, and I highly recommend using it if you can because it creates a really creamy texture that I didn't notice when I used regular yogurt, although regular yogurt will work fine, too, if that's all you can find.

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. kosher salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. finely grated lemon zest
¾ cup whole-milk Greek yogurt
½ cup sunflower oil
2 large eggs
½ tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350° F. Coat an 8½ x 4¼-inch loaf pan with vegetable spray, dust with flour, and tap out the excess. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, using your fingers or a wooden spoon rub the lemon zest into the sugar until moist and the sugar is infused with lemon oil. Add the yogurt, oil, eggs, and vanilla, whisking to blend and dissolve any yogurt lumps. Fold in the dry ingredients gently, just to blend.

Pour batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until top of cake is golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 50-55 minutes.

Let cake cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Invert cake onto rack, and allow to cool completely. Slice and eat.