Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas Donuts

I know that I am a lucky gal to have a husband who loves to bake.  A few weeks ago (I've been waiting until it was closer to Christmas and thus more appropriate) Brett cracked open his trusty Taste of Home Baking Book and found a recipe for no-fry donuts.  Brett loves donuts.  He comes from the land of Dunkin' Donuts (which I think means anywhere other than Southern California) and always looks forward to visiting Chicago so he can get his fill of them.  I can appreciate a good donut, but for some reason they always make me sick to my stomach so I tend to stay away.  Anyway, I watched TV almost the entire time Brett was in the kitchen working.  Hey, sometimes I just don't feel like cooking!

As many of you know, Brett is the yeast specialist in our household so, not surprisingly, these were yeast donuts.  He made the dough, let it rise, rolled it out, and instead of going for a traditional donut shape, he used cookie cutters to make snowmen and Christmas trees.

The shapes had to rise again and then were finally ready to bake- not fry.

After baking, they smelled amazing, but they were not quite done yet.  This is where I got interested because my nose was telling me it was almost time to eat.  I watched as Brett made the glaze and used tongs to dunk the tops of the donuts.  (The suggestion of using tongs was my only contribution to this project.)  He used plain glaze for the snowmen and then dyed it green for the trees.  His hope was that the glaze would dry white on the snowmen, but he was disappointed to find out that it did not.  When it came time to do the trees the glaze kept stiffening so he kept adding water.  That is why some of the trees are a lighter green than others.  

Finally!  Time to eat!  While these donuts were not as light as those of Dunkin', they were still delicious.  They were not cake-like either so I'll put them somewhere in between.  The best parts were that they had a hint of nutmeg which is one of my favorite Christmas flavors, and they did not give me a stomachache.

By the time they were finished it was quite late, so I limited myself to three and just crossed my fingers that they would still be tasty the next day.  (We always seem to have issues with storing our yeast products.)  However, the next day I put one in the microwave for about 10 seconds and it was just as delicious as the first day.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Elva Lena's Sugar Cookies

Throughout my childhood, my family would receive a very special package near Christmastime.  Inside the package there were always four wrapped coffee cans with homemade sugar cookies inside.  Each of us would get our own personal can of cookies!  This always brought everyone who received the cookies lots of Christmas joy.  Elva Lena, a good friend of my grandma's, was the mastermind behind this simple but ingenious idea.  Everyone loved her sugar cookies and looked forward to their can every year.

Although Elva Lena is no longer with us, her legacy lives on.  My cousin Paul has become the new giver of cookies and for the past few years has come down to San Diego to bake them with me.

The first year we did it I tried to actually sift 4 cups of flour, baking soda, salt, and cream of tartar together all in one go and ended up getting more on the counter than in the bowl, so now I know to sift it little by little.  Paul has also learned from his past mistakes and now has some cooking clothes that are ok to get messy.  We are practically seasoned veterans now.

I do the dry ingredients, while Paul does the wet ones.  We combine the two and Paul pretty much does the rest.  The dough chills (and so do we.)  For the baking, Paul forms the perfect little balls and I mash them down with the bottom of a glass covered in sugar.  They bake and turn out beautifully.  They are delicate, crumbly, and delicious- almost as good as Elva Lena's but not quite.

There are great perks to being the baker's assistant; I always get a few extra cookies before they get wrapped up.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Homemade Salsa

We went out for Mexican food recently with Brett's parents who were in town visiting.  The conversation predictably turned to my love of chips and salsa, and then on to my severe salsa craving while we were on our road trip this past summer, and then Brett's mom asked, "Have you ever made your own salsa?"  Of all the things we've made, salsa has never been one of them.  Since then I have been determined to make my own.

As luck would have it, when I was up at my parent's house, my grandma was making homemade salsa, so I watched.  I took mental notes of all the ingredients and watched her method carefully (put everything in the blender.)  My grandma was not pleased with the way it turned out, but I thought it was pretty good.  It just needed some extra oooomph.  It was too tomatoey.  Needless to say, her salsa was gone in a matter of days.

So last night I got out my trusty mini food processor and set to making my own salsa.  It felt strange to start making something without a recipe and with only a general idea of what I'm doing, but I managed.  I started with pureeing a big can of whole peeled tomatoes and then I pureed some garlic, green onions, and a red jalapeno (can you believe the store was out of regular jalapenos?)  I chopped up some fresh cilantro sprinkled some garlic salt and stirred everything together in a large bowl.  At my first taste it was too tomatoey.  For someone who does not like tomatoes, this is bad.

My remedy was to add more of everything else.  More garlic, more jalapeno, some regular white onion.  I was getting closer, but my palette is not sophisticated enough to know exactly what I needed.  I went with more garlic, onion and salt.  By this point I could tell I was close and had Brett in there tasting and giving his two cents.  He thought it needed to be spicier but I was out of jalapeno so I did a couple of shakes of Tapatio and called it quits.  It is not the perfect salsa (in fact I may have gone overboard on the onions and garlic) but I like it.

This experiment made me realize that I need to cook by instinct rather than recipes every once in a while.  I need to develop my palette and learn when I need more salt (I hate when the recipe says "season to taste," I can't tell!)  I know I have a long way to go in the culinary world, but I think taking this step out of the (recipe) box was a good exercise for me, and I look forward to more cooking by taste experiences.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Pie Lady

Happy Belated Thanksgiving Everyone!

Brett and I went up to stay with my parents for Thanksgiving and visited with grandparents, cousins, and of course my immediate family.  We had a great time and Thanksgiving dinner was wonderful as usual.  My dad handles the turkey out on the grill, my grandma makes the cornbread dressing and giblet gravy and my mom makes the strawberry salad, green beans, and sweet potato casserole (I'm probably forgetting something else.)  My duty is the pumpkin pie.

I have been making the Thanksgiving pumpkin pie since I was probably 9 or 10 years old.  It has just always been my job.  I will say that I think my pumpkin pie is the best in the world because whenever I get it at a restaurant I am disappointed.  I would love to say that my recipe has all kinds of secret ingredients and a method that I've been perfecting for more than 15 years, but quite frankly, my recipe is anything but secret; you'll find it on the back of the can of Libby's pumpkin puree.  Those people at Libby's know what they're doing.  It is absolutely delicious!

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving I had the honor of making a pecan pie for my grandpa's 80th birthday celebration.  He still has a few days to go before he is actually 80, but we always like to celebrate together.  Happy Birthday Doc!  My mom actually suggested going to buy a pie and since I am on a big "why buy it if you can make it at home" kick I quickly volunteered to do the baking.  Pecan pie is extremely easy (and oooey gooey delicious) so I highly recommend making it.  Here is my grandma's recipe:

Pecan Pie
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup melted butter
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup white Karo corn syrup
3 eggs, well beaten
1 unbaked pie crust

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine sugar, butter, and syrup.  Add beaten eggs and pecans.  Mix thoroughly.  Pour into pie crust.  Bake at 375 degrees for 40-50 minutes.  Cool.

I guess the next step in the pie lady's career is making her own crusts... I'll get there eventually.