Books and Cookies

Nine days until Christmas. The giftmaking is coming along swimmingly with only a little fear that I’ll be wrapping something with needles still in. Since I don’t have any photos to show, I’ve decided to share an old family cookie recipe with you.

Growing up, my family had a small celebration on Czech Saint Nicholas day, Mikuláš (pronounced “MIK-a-losh”). Grandma would often send a big box of homemade treats, including rolacky nut horns, kolacky (puff pastry with a dollop of fruit), houska (sweet yeast bread sort of like challah), nuts, and fruit. I was thinking about Grandma’s cookie boxes recently, and decided to make kolacky for my company’s cookie swap! Here’s the recipe, in case you want to try something that tastes like my childhood.

Kolacky

Great-Grandmother’s Easy Kolacky (KO-latch-key, makes about 3 dozen, depending on cookie size)
Ingredients:
1 package rapid-rise yeast
4 tbsp sour cream
1 egg yolk

2 cups flour
½ lb butter (2 sticks)
¼ tsp salt

1 can Solo fruit filling (prune or apricot are suggested. Solo fruit filling is found in the Baking Needs aisle of the grocery store, usually on the bottom shelf and possibly a little dusty. Grandma also would send poppy seed and cheese; I never liked poppy seed and didn’t remember cheese until my mom triggered my memory)

Powdered sugar for dusting

In a small bowl, mix the yeast, sour cream, and egg yolk until combined.

In the bowl of your food processor, pulse the flour, butter, and salt until combined. Alternatively, you could use a pastry cutter or a knife and chop until combined. If using a food processor, pour the butter/flour mixture into a big bowl. Add the yeast and sour cream and mix with your hands until you have a shaggy dough and all flour is incorporated. The mixture can be refrigerated for an hour if it gets sticky.

Roll dough out onto a well-floured surface to ¼ inch thick. Use a 1-2 inch glass to cut round cookies of dough and place on cookie sheet. Using your thumb or the back of a spoon, make an indent in the center of each cookie. Scoop a little fruit filling into the indent (½ to 1 tsp, depending on how big cookies you cut) and smear the filling a little.

Bake at 375 for 12 minutes; cookies will be a little golden brown on the bottom and will have poofed up a bit. Dust liberally with powdered sugar and enjoy!

Kolacky

I’ve also been reading a bunch while on the T (and getting really good at reading while standing on a moving train) and here’s my stack:

Book stack

It’s nice to have time each day to read a little bit!

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Another Sugar Block and Some Bread

I finished another sweet Sugar Block over the past few days! This one is called Sunny Days, which is an entirely appropriate title for both the block and the weather we had last weekend (but not today; today was remarkably foggy and grey). Anyway, the block!

April Sugar Block

My husband looked when he got home this morning, muzzy and goofy from working a full and very busy night, and said something about how he liked how balanced it was, how the yellow triangles direct and point the eye to the center of the block, and I thought something about how the points aren’t anywhere near matching up. But it is bright and cheery and I’ve started in on the March block, so that is forward motion.

Last weekend, husband, friend Aimee and I went to visit Emily (of Relishments fame) and her husband Brian in the Berkshires. It was a lovely weekend, full of board games and good food and lovely green rolling hills. We made Fig, Olive Oil, and Sea Salt Challah (Emily’s post) from Smitten Kitchen (recipe).  It was delicious, made the house smell like Fig Newtons, and got gobbled up rather quickly.  I’ve been thinking about challah (holla!) and combinations thereof since then.  Husband, in the car on the way home, had the idea to smear Nutella in the challah logs, instead of fruit, and I had to give it a try last night.

Nutella Challah

Nutella challah, sliced

The result?  Sadly disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, the texture and flavor of the bread is fantastic, and there’s a lovely magic about yeast doughs and the braiding thereof. But the Nutella got gritty and lost some of its flavor while cooking. Something about tempering chocolate and chemistry? Oh well, it is still pretty good, probably better when toasted and consumed with butter. But then again, what isn’t?

Linking up with WIP Wednesday!
WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced

Weekend Wonderful

Summer Picnic Remains

This Sunday was lovely, spent around a backyard picnic table at my brother and sister-in-law’s new apartment. They live on the harbor, so we got a lovely sea breeze (and near the airport, so we also could hear the planes taking off and got a whiff of jet fuel every now and again). I made a Strawberry Rhubarb Pie and I am encouraging you to do as well (given taste and inclination) because it was so delicious that I am still thinking of it.

Maroon Soup

I have been tremendously negligent in my farm share use lately. First, I was on the other side of the country. Then I had friends visiting and we didn’t cook much. That meant that several weeks of vegetables piled up. I am making strides to cook and use the veg but there is still more. Thankfully, here in New England we’re moving into the season of vegetables that will keep for longer periods of time. I am thankful for this.

Untitled

I’ve also been keeping an eye out for recipes I can use with what I have. The other day, while reading my blogs, I read through Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for pancetta, white bean and Swiss chard pot pies. I had most of the ingredients in my fridge from recent farm shares. And really, by most of the ingredients, I mean that I had Swiss chard and quasi-adequate substitutions.

I had normal carrots, but what’s the fun in that? Instead, I used these lovely purple carrots, and one orange carrot.

It is carrot chopping time.

And instead of an onion, I used a leek and a handful of scallions. I had normal celery, so that went into the pot as well.

Carrots, leek, scallions, and celery in the pan

Doesn’t that have lovely color? I sauteed for a bit in EVOO and then added the colored stems from the Swiss chard.

Now with 100% more swiss chard!

Yeah! Now it is even more colorful! Really colorful, in fact! Look at all those reds and purples! I let things get a bit tender and and bright and then move on to making the sauce. Now, the original Smitten Kitchen recipe is for individual pot pies. I figured that I’d soupify this by reducing the roux into a stew (Restaurant name! Roux to Stew! Serving only pot pies and soups! Coming soon to the metro-Boston area!) and not making the pastry topping.

So I melted 2x the amount of butter called for in the recipe in another pan and began to whisk in the flour. I added flour and whisked and repeated this process for about six tablespoons of flour. And whisked, and whisked, and whisked.

Gravy.  Not what I was aiming for.

Really, it was quite thick. It was thicker than gravy, more like pudding. Unfortunately, I wasn’t going for either gravy or pudding. So I began to dilute with stock. The first couple cups didn’t seem to do much; the roux would get chunky but then stay pretty thick, just with a larger volume. But the more stock I added, the thinner the roux got. In total, I added about six cups of stock and the stew is still pretty thick. But that’s good.

Then I stirred in the vegetable mixture. And the stew promptly turned a lovely maroon. Those purple carrots were to blame. And because I didn’t have any white beans on hand, I added black beans. Which made the soup even darker.

Black beans!
Sidenote: I love rinsing black beans in my colander. I like how they bounce around.

After a night in the fridge, some of the color from the carrots turned patches of stew even brighter maroon. They say brightly (and naturally) colored food is good for you, right? Guess we’ll see if that’s true!

Linking up here with What’s in the Box #49 at In Her Chucks – check out the other links for more recipe ideas!

Bounteous

I have a confession to make. I got a bag of CSA veg last week and DIDN’T DO A THING WITH IT. Sacre bleu! In my defense, it was another week of activity! and fun! and summer! and not cooking! but nonetheless. Veggies had to be Dealt With. So this week, I came up with a Plan. Because in addition to last week’s share, this is this week’s share:

Bounteous! : Lucymade

Granted, that has been split between the four of us but still. Way bounteous. This week’s share included three large turnips with their greens, a big bag of snap peas, <3 Swiss chard <3, three summer squashes, five broccolis, four bags of salad greens, one giant head of lettuce, a big handful of garlic scapes, a bunch of purple basil, and a bunch of dill.  Now divide all that four ways and add in another fourth from last week.  A and I ate the turnip greens and made turnip chips for dinner last night and then I went home and processed up the rest.

First, I made arugula pesto from last week’s big bag o’ arugula.  I used this recipe by Michael Chiarello as a guideline, but really, it was a more free-form pesto.  Here’s what I did:

First, I went through my arugula.  I removed wilty leaves, dubious leaves, bits of grit.  My CSA pre-washes everything and so my greens are usually really clean.  Then I stuffed the remaining arugula into my food processor with the choppy blade on.  There were probably 3 good cups of arugula in there to begin with.  To this I added:

  • some spinach leaves
  • the purple basil from this week’s share
  • a chopped garlic scape
  • a big ol’ sprinkle of Parmesan cheese
  • several cranks of salt and pepper from my grinders
  • a big squirt of lemon juice,
  • probably about a tablespoon each of non-toasted pine nuts and pecans
  • moderate handful of sun-dried tomatoes

Really, I went through my kitchen and thought to myself “this would be good chopped with arugula.”  My CSA’s arugula is really spicy, so I tried to moderate that with the brightness of lemon and tomato and punch it up with salt and pepper.  I added a good spoosh of EVOO, put the lid on my food processor, and hit the pulse button until everything was finely chopped.  And voila!  Easy pesto!  At this point, I tasted the mixture to make sure that the salt/pepper/lemon balance was good (I added more salt).  I then took the ice cubes out of my ice cube tray and froze the pesto so it will keep for the long term.

Arugula pesto : Lucymade

Next up: dealing with summer squash! I usually eat summer squash and zucchini as zucchini pancakes. I made up a method last summer, only to Google it and find out that they are part of Korean cuisine (hobak jeon is one name I found). Awesome! So after I dumped the pesto out of the bowl, I put it back on my food processor and put on the shredder attachment. I shredded the squash and added:

  • a big sprinkle of Parmesan
  • a chopped garlic scape (are you sensing a theme here?)
  • some salt and pepper
Shredded summer squash : Lucymade

Mmm, shredded squash!

I stuck this mixture in a freezer bag and stuck it in the freezer next to the pesto. When the time comes and I’m hungreh for squash pancakes, I’ll let the mixture thaw, add some flour and an egg to the mixture, and then fry it in a skillet until it is brown and crispy. Yum!

Last up: lunches for the week! This one is the easiest. I shred up the lettuce into individual containers, add some broccoli, nuts, or sun-dried tomatoes (basically, whatever’s on hand) and a sprinkle of lemon juice and salt and pepper. This time around, I topped the salads with leftover pork loin from dinner last night. And then in the morning, I just grab one before running out the door!

CSA Salad : Lucymade

I ate the one on the left for lunch today and dudes: it was delicious.  I do love salad.

And this is how I deal with veg bounty: by dedicating one or two nights to prepping, freezing, or cooking so that the rest of the week/month/summer can be about eating.  When friends drop in unexpectedly, I’ll have things already prepped so I just have to heat and serve.  And this means more time with friends and less time with a hot stove!

How do you deal with summer’s bounty?

Edited to add that I’m linking up to What’s in the Box, a weekly CSA blog party at In Her Chucks.  Lots of good stuff out there, check it out

Tradition

One of my favorite new traditions is building a gingerbread house with my best friend on Christmas Eve.  The tradition started last year.  She wanted to build a gingerbread house, so we got a kit from Jo-Ann Fabrics.  The kit came with pre-cut pieces, royal icing mix, and little bags of candies to decorate.  It was super cute.    It was also your basic gingerbread house.

This year, we decided to try something a bit more…  ambitious.  And perhaps Harry Potter-oriented.  We started planning early.  In January, I sent her pictures of a Burrow (the home of the Weasleys) made out of gingerbread.  From there, we thought about making Hogwarts, but at last we landed on Hagrid’s Cottage.  We decided to make our own gingerbread dough and cut out pattern pieces and go from there.

Cut to December 22nd.  I made the dough following the Simply Recipes recipe, which I refrigerated overnight.

The next afternoon, as Steph figured out how to build the house and cut pattern pieces, I rolled out half of it on my countertop.  Hagrid’s cottage has six sides and a sloped roof.  Steph made a template for the walls and two sizes of triangles for the roof.  Once the pattern templates were ready, I cut out the pieces – six rectangles for the walls, and six each of two sizes of triangle for the roof.  I also cut four skinny rectangles for the chimney and another rectangle for the porch roof.  (Let me know if you want my pattern!  I’ll post templates after Christmas)

We also cut holes for windows in two of the walls.  I stuck some crushed Jolly Ranchers in the holes, which melted into translucent window panes.  I also made the royal icing according to the recipe above and colored it light brown with food coloring.

Putting the house together took a while.  The icing wasn’t as sticky or thick as last year’s, although it was a lot easier to pipe.  That meant that we had to wait for it to dry before moving on to the next step.  The roof also took some ingenuity to build – we ended up putting cardboard and a mason jar ring lid (!) under it for support.  And used my hairdryer to speed the drying process.  The pathway is made from rolled-out caramels cut with a bottle cap, the forest is mint leaves, and the door is frosted on.  The porch supports are Tootsie Rolls sourced from my boss.

When we do this next year and if I use the same recipe, I think I would half it.  I have enough leftover dough chilling in my freezer  to make a whole ‘nother Hagrid’s Hut.  The royal icing recipe was good for Hagrid’s Hut but if I was to make something bigger, I’d probably want to double it and add some cream of tartar or another thickening agent.

It may not be as professional as some of the houses online, but we’re very happy with the results!  And I feel extra awesome for making everything from scratch!

Disclaimer: I don’t own Harry Potter or the design inspiration for Hagrid’s Hut.