Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! 2007 was probably the best year I've ever had. I married the best guy in the whole world, and we moved into our cozy house with a beautiful yard. Hopefully 2008 will be a little less busy than 2007, but equally great.

I took some pictures of a project I did a few weeks ago and hadn't gotten around to posting them (I now have a backlog of things to post). For some relatives for Christmas I put together baskets of amaryllis bulbs. I had meant to do them in November so they would be close to blooming when I gave them for Christmas, but time got away from me.

The bulbs are from Park Seed. I ordered lots of daffodil bulbs from them in the fall and was really impressed with the quality. When I saw they had all kinds of varieties of amaryllis, I had to order some for gifts. I've always liked amaryllis, but the ones you can get in "kits" at the store don't always turn out so well. I ordered 4 types of amaryllis: Mambo, Liberty, Christmas Star, and Baby Star. Then I found some perfect baskets to plant them in at the Crate and Barrel outlet.

To plant the amaryllis, I consulted the instructions that came with them, and also some tips from P. Allen Smith's website. In addition, I used these instructions on the tags I made for each gift. The best trick I used was putting a coffee filter in the bottom of the nursery pots before adding the soil--that way no soil falls out. I also wrapped the pots in aluminum foil before placing them in the baskets.

For the tags, I used pictures I grabbed from the Park Seed website, and wrote a description of the bulb and instructions based on the Park Seed website description and P. Allen Smith's planting tips. Add a little scrpabooking paper and some ribbon, and voila! Gift tags!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Look what I got!

Look at what my sister gave me for Christmas:It's from the company BlueQ in Pittsfield, MA (where my sister-in-law lives). Check them out. They have terrific products (a number of which I own, like this, this, this, this, and this).

I like their products almost as much as I love Anne Taintor. My mom gave me this book for Christmas, but I already have it (I bought it for myself). Perhaps I'll give it away to one of my blog readers, that is if anyone says they want it...
I have many Anne Taintor items, and I covet just about everything in the collection. I just wish I were as clever as she is!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Wow, I really am boring!

I just took an online quiz that's supposed to tell me what kind of yarn I would be if I were yarn. guess what? I'm dishcloth cotton! I was really hoping I would be hand-dyed merino, but no, I'm not even a nice cotton sock yarn--I'm dishcloth cotton:

You are Dishcloth Cotton.You are a very hard worker, most at home when you're at home. You are thrifty and seemingly born to clean. You are considered to be a Plain Jane, but you are too practical to notice.

The good news, if you can call it that, is that 27% of the people who took the quiz are also dishcloth cotton. I will agree with some of the statements above, but born to clean I was definitely not (though when I do clean, I really go all out).

In other knitting-related news, I started a new project last night. It's a hat for D. I'm using the "hot head" pattern from Stitch 'n' Bitch, but with 2 strands of Lamb's Pride Worsted instead of the Lambs Pride Bulky which was suggested (I'm using blue flannel, blue boy, and brite blue). I cast on using a 2 needle technique taught to me by the leader of my new knitting group. The project requires 10.5 needles, so I cast on (using long-tail cast on) to 2 needles held together--my 10.5, plus a 7 dpn. The cast on edge ended up being perfect--not too tight and not too loose.

Oh, and I didn't use this last night when I changed colors on my new project (or when I knit my first row after casting on), but I love this tutorial for weaving in ends while you knit. Link Here.

There's also one for continental knitters (which I am learning). Link here.

Update: So that blue hat I was making for D? Well, I only cast on 56 stitches instead of 64 (this is what happens when I knit and watch TV at the same time). So, the hat was tiny, but it looks really cute on my 3 1/2 year old nephew Matthew!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas Cookies

In the past 2 weeks I've started making my Christmas cookies. First, I made creme de menthe brownies for a cookie swap. I don't use a recipe, I just make up a batch of fudgie brownies (my grandmother's recipe), ice them with buttercream frosting that's been tinted green and spiked with creme de menthe, and then coat them with chocolate (semi-sweet chips and some butter melted).

The second cookies I made are peanut butter balls. This is a heavily guarded recipe that originally came from my neightbor/my best friend's step-father's ex-wife. My friend Amanda makes these every year and we call them Mandy's Candies. The recipe is out there all over the place in the Internet, so I don't need to post it here and risk upsetting the balance of the universe of my old neighborhood.

Finally, I made sugar cookies. My sister is the queen of cut-out sugar cookies. She makes them for every holiday, bridal showers, etc. She's also a great pie baker. I don't have a lot of patience for rolling out dough (or a lot of time), so I made our grandmother's sugar cookie recipe, rolled it into a log, chilled it for a couple days, and then sliced and baked. They came out approximately round, and I knew that they would look great iced. Here is the recipe:

I also made up a 3/4 batch of my grandmother's christmas cookie icing. Techinically I guess it's royal icing, but I always refer to it as Christmas cookie icing. The icing gets very hard, and I love the combination of soft cookie with a coating of hard icing on top. When I was a kid, my grandmother always made sugar cookies like that. I can still picture her pink-clad santas (I have that cookie cutter now). The santas were pink because she used liquid food coloring and it takes a whole lot of liquid food coloring to dye icing red. These days I use gel food coloring and am able to get more of a red color.

I simply use a ziplock bag instead of a pastry bag for most of my decorating needs. It's easy and disposable--just fill with colored icing and snip a very small hole in the corner. For the holly leaves I did use a pastry bag and tip, but the disposable pastry bag split at the seams before I was finished--I had green icing all over my hands!Here's the recipe for the icing (Doris Arnold is my grandmother):
The recipes are from this cookbook:
I made it a number of years ago by covering a blank book with cut outs from magazines (and the Williams Sonoma catalog). I covered the whole thing with contact paper, and even included measurement equivalents table inside the front cover. I love this little book. It contains my favorite family recipes (banana bread, brownies, cranberry bread, cookie recipes, coffee cake, etc.) as well as some of the recipes I've cut out of magazines. I've always loved cutting and pasting!!!

Monday, December 17, 2007

O Christmas Tree

Here is a collage of some of the ornaments on my Christmas tree. Each ornament has a story. In the top row, the 2nd from the left is an Austrian girl given to be my my mother one year when I was studying Austria for a project in elementary school. The 2nd from the right in the top row is an ornament that belonged to my maternal grandmother--it's very retro! The cows are from my time in Vermont, the sled is from my kindergarten teacher. The lollipop is a craft I made at a friend's Christmas party in elementary school. The Pittsburgh Penguin hockey player belongs to D (his father is from Pittsburgh). Donder has been around as long as I can remember. My sister has Dancer. I believe the 2nd from the left on the bottom row was made by my paternal grandmother, and I'm not sure who made the clothespin doll next to it. So many memories wrapped up in these ornaments, and no doubt each new ornament I receive (or give to D) will also by laden with memory.
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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A wreath for the front door

I'm just starting my Christmas decorating, and appropriately starting it with the entry to our house--a wreath for the front door. I started by buying a $6.99 plain 12" wreath at my favorite local grocery store. I also purchased a roll of wired ribbon at HomeGoods for $2.99. Add in the floral wire I bought for $1.49 at the craft store, and I was all set for my $11.47 front door decoration!

The ribbon I bought is cream-colored with gold trim and pinecones on it. Thus, I decided to decorate my wreath with pinecones. Anina over at Twiddletails had pinecones on her wreaths and they are beautiful.On Saturday, while I was planting my daffodils on the coldest day of the year, 1 day before our first snow was expected, I picked up some pinecones in the yard and some off of the tree at the end of our driveway.

So, I gathered my materials, plus some tacky glue, wire cutters, and scissors and I was ready to start. The first thing I did was place the large pinecones around the wreath so I could get the spacing right (I had to leave a gap where the bow would go). Then, I wired each pinecone to the wreath by wrapping wire around the bottom-most part of the pinecone and wrapping that wire around the wreath. I then wrapped a piece of wire around the middle-to-top part of the pinecone, securing it to the wreath.Then, I glued 3 small pinecones together by first gluing 2 together, letting it dry enough so they stayed in place, and then gluing the third pinecone on. While I waited for them to dry I made my bow.

My mom is an expert at making bows with wired ribbon, but I wasn't able to get her help this time, so I consulted the web. I figured Martha must have instructions, but the best I could fine through her site was how to make a rossette bow using satin (non wired) ribbon. I started out this way (but didn't cut the notches).Then, I needed to add the little "knot" in the center. I made a small loop of ribbon and secured it with wire. Then I used more wire to attach it to the bow.The last step was to make the "tails". I cut a piece of ribbon, notched the ends, folded it in half, and wired it to the back of the bow. Voila! For better instructions on wired-ribbon bow making, check out this site.Here's the finished wreath with the little pinecones glued on. I stuck some single ones on randomly too, trying to make it look like they actually grew on the wreath.And here it is hung on our house!

My wedding cake

Though I'm getting better with my baking, I did not bake this cake. My gorgeous wedding cake was made by Scrumptions in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. The cake is designed after one I saw in Grace Ormonde Wedding Style (incidentally published in my hometown) in their Fall/Winter 2006 magazine. I loved the way the cake looked and knew it would be perfect for my wedding. Once I saw it, I had to have that cake and I didn't care what it would cost!

The cake in the magazine was actually covered in black rolled fondant with pink icing detail. I knew I wanted mine to be chocolate ganache finish instead--tastes much better than rolled fondant, and it matched my color scheme. I called a few bakeries in RI to see who would do the poured ganache. The bakery my sister used for her cake, Fatulli's, couldn't do it, and neither could my caterer. I had seen many advertisements for Scrumptions and figured they would be able to do it. I called and they could!

D and I met with Anna at Scrumptions in December 2006. My goal was to see what they had to offer, and the price, and then go try some cakes at other places too (because who doesn't love tasting cake). Well, after sitting down with Anna and seeing and tasting what they had to offer, I knew I didn't need to try another bakery!

We showed Anna the picture from the magazine and asked her what she thought about doing it in ganache. She loved the idea. Once we had settled that she could do it, we were on to the tasting. For the tasting, she brought us a plate with 6 or 7 different kinds of cake (I remember there was vanilla, lemon, carrot, spice, chocolate, and almond), plus 6 or 7 different icings and fillings (vanilla buttercream, chocolate buttercream, cream cheese, German chocolate, lemon curd, chocolate ganache, and raspberry). D and I had a blast putting all of the different flavors together. I knew I wanted the chocolate ganache finish, so we had to narrow down our choices to fit with that. That meant vanilla, almond, or chocolate cake. And for the filling I was leaning heavily toward raspberry, which D liked too. D suggested lemon cake with raspberry filling and chocolate ganache, but Anna and I talked him out of that. We settled on vanilla cake with raspberry filling, chocolate buttercream icing, and poured chocolate ganache finish! Here's what the inside of the cake looked like after we cut our first piece!

Then we worked with Anna to figure out the size. At that point we were working with a guest list of 164, so we thought 150 servings would be the max we would need (though our budget was based on 125 guests). We could have the caterer cut and serve the top at the reception since Scrumptions bakes you a new top for your 1st anniversary (included in the price of the wedding cake). We settled on a 6" tier, and 8" tier, and a 10" tier with an extra 10" tier to be cut (but not displayed as part of the cake). I was expecting for the price to break our budget, but it wasn't that high. Yes, it was a lot for a cake, but I knew I wanted that cake so I was willing to compromise other areas to fit it in the budget.

The cake turned out beautifully and I received lots of compliments on it based on the way it look. Then people tasted it and the compliments really took off! There were no extra pieces of cake lying on tables at the end of the reception--every slice was eaten! It was so rich and delicious! And, because we only ended up with 125 guests, the caterers didn't need to cut the top of the cake afterall. We were able to enjoy some of that the day after the wedding and more when we returned from our honeymoon.

The only thing I wasn't 100% happy with about my cake was the flowers on top. Don't get me wrong, they're beautiful and my florist did a terrific job, but what I really wanted was a single peony or tuberose so it wouldn't overwhelm the design of the cake.

So, if you're looking for a bakery in Rhode Island for a wedding cake (or other special occasion cake), I very highly recommend Scrumptions. Incidentally, if you're looking for a special occasion cake in the Boston area, I recommend Party Favors in Brookline--their buttercream icing is to die for (and they decorate beautifully). Rosie's Bakery is also very good.

Photographs in this post are by Krzystyna Harber Photography. She's fabulous!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Daring Bakers: Tender Potato Bread

I bit off more than I could chew in November. First, I signed on to do a blog challenge of organizing my office. Well, that wasn't so successful (though it's much better than it was). Then we celebrated my grandmother's 90th birthday and a week later celebrated by husband's grandmother's 90th birthday. Then it was Thanksgiving! By Thanksgiving night I was totally pooped! But, I still needed to complete my November Daring Bakers challenge!

I started the recipe at about 5pm on Saturday evening (not the best time to start a yeast bread, especially when you hosted 12 people for dinner 2 days earlier). I cooked the potatoes and kind of forgot about them on the stove (I'm a space cadet), so by the time I got to them they had largely become one with the cooking water. Now, I don't have a baking scale (maybe Santa will bring me one?) so I used 3 big potatoes--perhaps that was too many. I measured my potato water and I just about had 3 cups so just added a little extra water to it.

I followed the recipe, adding yeast, all purpose flour, and wheat flour and floured by counter top (I have a beautiful board given to me by D's cousins, but I hadn't
used it yet so needed to oil it before the first use and I just didn't have time for that). The dough was extremely sticky, but I figured this was how it was supposed to be. I kept kneading in flour until I ran out of all purpose flour (I hadn't measured before I started, I just assumed I had enough). The dough was still extremely sticky, so I kneaded in some whole wheat flour--not sure how much. Then I put the dough into a bowl, covered it with a towel, and set it on the mantel of our gas fireplace to rise. Then...I fell asleep!
Yes, in the midst of my bread-making, I fell asleep on the sofa. I woke up around 10 and realized I had to finish the bread! So, back to kneading, and it was still soooo sticky. I definitely think I over kneaded though. It was sticky and I was tired, so I buttered up 2 pans and a muffin tin and threw the dough in them (it was so sticky there was no "shaping" my loaf). Then I stuck the bread in the oven and set the timer for 10 minutes. When the timer dinged I stuck the muffin tin in the oven.

When the bread was done it looked nice, but man did it feel dense! I cut open one of the "rolls" to see what it was like. Okay, but dense. I ate it with some honey.On Sunday I was re-reading the recipe and that's when I saw it: "Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 35 to 45 minutes, until puffy and almost doubled in volume." Oops! I forgot to let it rise in the pans before baking!!! So a combination of using more whole wheat flour than called for, over-kneading, and not doing the second rise made the bread very dense. But, I am pleased to report it still tasted very good. perfect with jam or honey on it, or to dunk in soup. I also made a very good "Pilgrim Sandwich" with it. Yum!

Lessons learned:
1) Measure all ingredients before starting in case you need to run out to the market
2) When instructions are given my weight, use a scale. Don't guess
3) Don't make a new recipe when you're tired, and don't start so late that you won't finish until past your bedtime
4) Read the entire recipe and make sure you understand the instructions before you begin

Oh, and the "Mrs." apron I'm wearing? That was a gift from my wedding caterer, Fine Catering by Russell Morin. If you need a caterer in Rhode Island or Massachusetts I very highly recommend them!

Here's the recipe if anyone would like to try it:

Tender Potato Bread

From Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour & Tradition Around the World
Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

Makes 1 large tender-crumbed pan loaf and something more (I made 2 8x4 loaves and 1 dozen muffin-tin rolls).

Potatoes and potato water give this bread wonderful flavor and texture. The dough is very soft and moist and might feel a little scary if you’ve never handled soft dough before. But don’t worry: Leaving it on parchment or wax paper to proof and to bake makes it easy to handle.

Once baked, the crumb is tender and airy, with ting soft pieces of potato in it and a fine flecking of whole wheat. The loaves have a fabulous crisp texture on the outside and a slightly flat-topped shape. They make great toast and tender yet strong sliced bread for sandwiches.


4 medium to large floury (baking) potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks variety of potatoes you might want to use would include Idaho, Russet & Yukon gold

For the beginner I suggest no more than 8 ounces of potato; for the more advanced no more than 16 ounces.

4 cups water (See Note)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
6 ½ cups to 8 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 cup whole wheat flour

For Loaves and Rolls: melted butter (optional)

Put the potatoes and 4 cups water in a sauce pan and bring to boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and cook, half covered, until the potatoes are very tender.

Drain the potatoes, SAVE THE POTATO WATER, and mash the potatoes well.

Measure out 3 cups of the reserved potato water (add extra water if needed to make 3 cups). Place the water and mashed potatoes in the bowl you plan to mix the bread in and let cool to lukewarm – stir well before testing the temperature – it should feel barely warm to your hand. You should be able to submerge you hand in the mix and not be uncomfortable.

Add yeast one of two ways:

Mix & stir yeast into cooled water and mashed potatoes & water and let stand 5 minutes. Then mix in 2 cups of all-purpose flour and mix. Allow to rest several minutes.

Add yeast to 2 cups all-purpose flour and whisk. Add yeast and flour to the cooled mashed potatoes & water and mix well. Allow to rest/sit 5 minutes.

Sprinkle on the remaining 1 tablespoon salt and the softened butter; mix well. Add the 1 cup whole wheat flour, stir briefly.

Add 2 cups of the unbleached all-purpose flour and stir until all the flour has been incorporated.

At this point you have used 4 cups of the possible 8 ½ cups suggested by the recipe.

Turn the dough out onto a generously floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, incorporating flour as needed to prevent sticking. The dough will be very sticky to begin with, but as it takes up more flour from the kneading surface, it will become easier to handle; use a dough scraper to keep your surface clean. The kneaded dough will still be very soft.

As a beginner, you may be tempted to add more flour than needed. Most/many bread recipes give a range of flour needed. This is going to be a soft dough. At this point, add flour to the counter slowly, say a ¼ cup at a time. Do not feel you must use all of the suggested flour. When the dough is soft and smooth and not too sticky, it’s probably ready.

Place the dough in a large clean bowl or your rising container of choice, cover with plastic wrap or lid, and let rise about 2 hours or until doubled in volume.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead gently several minutes. It will be moist and a little sticky.

Divide the dough into 2 unequal pieces in a proportion of one-third and two-thirds (one will be twice as large as the other). Place the smaller piece to one side and cover loosely.

To shape the large loaf:

Butter a 9X5 inch loaf/bread pan.

Flatten the larger piece of dough on the floured surface to an approximate 12 x 8 inch oval, then roll it up from a narrow end to form a loaf. Pinch the seam closed and gently place seam side down in the buttered pan. The dough should come about three-quarters of the way up the sides of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 35 to 45 minutes, until puffy and almost doubled in volume.

To make a small loaf with the remainder:

Butter an 8 x 4 inch bread pan. Shape and proof the loaf the same way as the large loaf.

Dust risen loaves and rolls with a little all-purpose flour or lightly brush the tops with a little melted butter. Slash loaves crosswise two or three times with a razor blade or very sharp knife and immediately place on the stone, tiles or baking sheet in the oven. Place the rolls next to the loaf in the oven.

Bake rolls until golden, about 30 minutes.
Bake the small loaf for about 40 minutes.
Bake the large loaf for about 50 minutes.

Transfer the rolls to a rack when done to cool. When the loaf or loaves have baked for the specified time, remove from the pans and place back on the stone, tiles or baking sheet for another 5 to 10 minutes. The corners should be firm when pinched and the bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Let breads cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Rolls can be served warm or at room temperature.
Interested in being a Daring Baker? Check out the blogroll site for information on joining the group, and check out all of the other Daring Bakers' blogs!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Still no formal Daring Bakers post, but...

I feel really guilty that I haven't posted yet. They'll probably kick me out for being a slacker. I will say this, I had a turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce sandwich on my "tender potato bread" for lunch and it was pretty awesome. The thing is, my "tender potato bread" isn't so tender because I ran out of all purpose flour and had to use whole wheat for all of the kneading. I also didn't read the recipe carefully enough and so I didn't let it rise in the pans before baking! I'm going to do the next challenge earlier in the month for sure!

In the meantime, check the blogroll for others experiences:

The Daring Bakers Blogroll

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Daring Bakers November Challenge Coming Soon!

I haven't had a chance to post about my November Daring Bakers experience yet since work has gotten busy, but I'll post about it very soon. This month wasn't as successful as last month due to poor planning and being tired after hosting Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving Centerpieces

Most of what I know about hosting a family gathering or party I learned from my mom, who learned from my grandmother. Sure, there are tips and tricks from Martha Stewart, Better Homes and Gardens, Real Simple, and more recently the blogs I read thrown in, but the way I learn best (as most of us do) is through experience. In addition to cooking, my mother taught me how to arrange flowers. Now, I'm not nearly as good at is as she is, but I've found I'm pretty good at taking $25 of flowers from the supermarket and making it look like much, much more.

So, on Tuesday I went to Stop and Shop and picked up a bunch of bunches of their "3 for $12" flowers. The selection of flowers in fall colors was largely limited to mums which aren't a favorite of mine, but they do say "fall". I bought 1 bunch of big orange mums, i bunch of little yellow button mums, and some medium-sized red mums. In addition, I picked up a bunch of red hypericum berries, some yellow alstromeria (Peruvian lillies), and a bunch of yellow carnations (one of my absolute least favorite flowers). I also bought 2 blocks of oasis floral foam. The grand total of my purchase: $29.00. The flowers don't look very impressive when popped into a vase for storage (I cut the ends off each one and places them in a vase with floral preservative). But they will look good in the finished arrangements.The key to many flower arrangements is having lots of greens. The greens you find at the supermarket are extremely disappointing, and even at a florist they can be pretty disappointing, but I have a secret place to get greens--my backyard! Even in November there are still lots of green leaves--and not just pines! I took my pruners and went for a walk around the yard where I cut leafy branches off of my rhododendron, azalea, forsythia, and euonymous. I also cut some bare branches off of other bushes, some budding branches from the dogwood tree, a bunch of the spiky leaves from my summer container gardens, and a ton of vinca leaves that grows under my dogwood tree. Armed with the greens, I was ready to start my flower arrangements.

The first step is to soak the floral foam in a big pot of water so it's fully saturated. Then, select containers. I selected a white footed salad bowl from Williams Sonoma that my sister-in-law had given to me. It's pretty low, and it's elliptical shape is great for a centerpiece. I wasn't sure what to use for the 2nd container, but I decided on a basket that my friend Wendy had packaged my shower gift in. I found a bowl that fit into the basket just perfectly so it could hold water. Once the floral foam was saturated, I cut it to fit into the bowl and basket. I kept most of it in 2 big blocks, but cut a little off the ends and wedged it into the empty spots in my bowls.

Now comes the trick, cover the entire block of foam with greens before you place any flowers. I started by putting rhododendron leaves all around the edge.Then I added in some azalea, also near the edges, and filled most of the top with vinca. I added some other leaves here and there for interest and color (the azalea was a pretty reddish color while the forsythia was a chartreuse green).Once the whole block of foam was covered with greens, I added my biggest flowers to anchor the arrangement. I put 3 big mums in an arch across the top of the white bowl, and a big mum on either side of the basket. Next I filled in with all of the other flowers, cutting then to length as I went and re-cutting them if they ended up being too tall. I tried to use half of the flowers in each arrangement.
Once all of the flowers were in, I went back and filled any gaps with remaining leaves. As the final touch, I added some spiky branches and grasses.

Here are the 2 final products:
And here they are on the Thanksgiving tables:I was pretty impressed with my centerpieces. They weren't professional, but I think they look pretty good, especially for the grand total of $29.00 that I spent!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Gravy, Stock, and a Science Lesson

So, now that I've covered the turkey and the stuffing, it's time to get into the gravy. My husband says his family is more of a cranberry sauce family, but my family is all about gravy! Gravy can be messy to make, and it has to be done on the stove top after the turkey comes out of the oven, so I decided to make mine in advance. I made it on Sunday and pulled it out of the freezer this morning to thaw for tomorrow. Here's the approximate recipe. Again, like with stuffing you don't need to be too precise.

Turkey Gravy

Pan drippings from a turkey cooked on the bottom of the pan (not on a rack)
flour--about 3 tablespoons
chicken or turkey stock--about 2 cups
water--about a cup or so
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
skin from the turkey you just cooked
herbs and bacon from under the skin of the turkey you just cooked

Start by putting the roasting pan containing the drippings on the stove over low heat. Skim off some of the fat so you have maybe 3 tablespoons left (no need to be precise). Add flour a tablespoon at a time as if you were making a roux (which is what you're doing, only with turkey fat instead of butter). Stir the turkey fat, browned bits from the bottom of the an, and flour together until smooth. Turn the heat to medium and add the chicken stock. Stir until smooth and there are no lumps of flour/roux. Add some water to thin it out a little. Add some skin from the turkey for more flavor (remember the turkey skin was covered with bacon grease and salt and pepper). Scrape the herbs and diced bacon off of the turkey and add that too. Simmer until very fragrant and of a good gravy consistency. If it gets too thick, add some water. Strain the gravy through a sieve into a container or gravy boat. Enjoy!!!

Gravy is one of the major reasons people gain an average of 7 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Years!!!

After I made the gravy on Sunday, D and I sat down to a great lunch of turkey, corn muffin stuffin', gravy, and cranberry sauce. He came in from raking the leaves and was really happy to have a hot home cooked meal--a great pre-cursor to Thanksgiving dinner!

Oh, but I wasn't done yet. After making the turkey breast, stuffing, and gravy, there was still more to do! I had a beautiful turkey carcass just screaming to be made into stock. In my opinion, the slow cooker was invented for making stock! I picked all of the bits of meat off of the turkey and put them into a bowl in the fridge for later. Then, I broke the carcass apart and loaded the whole thing into the slow cooker along with a very coarsely chopped onion, about 1/2 a heart of celery (including leaves), the 10 or so baby carrots I had in the fridge, 2 cloves of garlic I peeled but didn't use for the turkey, and enough water to cover the whole thing. Then I set the slow cooker on low for the next 12 hours (and had it automatically switch to "keep warm" at 4am until 8 when I got up). Then, in the morning, I strained it all into a tupperware container. When I strain it, I like to pull out the veggies first and use the back of a spoon to smush them through the sieve. Then I pour the rest of the liquid through and strain out all of the bones.

Today I'm working from home, so for lunch I pulled out the turkey stock and leftover turkey bits for some soup. I used a spoon to remove the layer of fat from the top of the broth. Then I spooned the broth into a bowl. Well, more accurately I spooned the "turkey jell-o" into my bowl. I know that gelatin comes from animal bones and so this wasn't that surprising, but it was funny to see.

Turkey "Jell-o" with turkey on top (after I microwaved it, it turned into delicious trukey soup!)

Since I'm home, I just pulled out one of my favorite books about cooking "On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen" by Harold McGee to find out more about the gelatinization process. Here's what he says:

"Collagen is the major structural component of the simplest of many-celled animals, the sponges, and accounts for some 30% of the protein in the human body. It is found in the skin and tendons as well as in between muscle cells and muscles, and it is a large part of the matrix in young bones that is later filled with hard minerals. The name comes from the Greek for "glue producing," referring to the fact that when it is heated in water, insoluble collagen is transformed into gelatin, a soluble, gummy solution that can be used for glue as well as a thickener for soups and desserts."

Pretty cool stuff. If you don't have this book and you like to cook (or like science and eating), I highly recommend buying it or getting it out of the local library. It was recommended to me by Rich Herzfeld of Chef's Table in Westport, CT. I took my very first "real" cooking class from him and learned a tremendous amount (including adding brown sugar to food that is too spicy, making large amounts of roux and freezing it in small portions, and wilting cabbage leaves by sticking them in the freezer).

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Scarborough Fair Stuffing and Corn Muffin Stuffin'

In addition to cooking a turkey breast on Sunday, I also made my stuffing. My family has always been a white bread and Bell's Seasoning stuffing family and while I mostly wanted to stick to tradition, I also wanted to do something a little different. Last week I happened upon the blog "The Pioneer Woman Cooks!," where Ree had posted beautiful step-by-step instructions for her corn bread stuffing. She made it look so incredibly good (and her commentary is great) that I just had to try it!

I made some modifications to her recipe including making my corn bread using a mix (horrors---I never used bread or brownie mixes until I discovered the ones at Trader Joe's), and using vegetable broth instead of chicken (I'm serving 2 vegetarians and 2 non-poultry eaters on Thursday). Also, I tend not to really measure anything--just eyeball it. This is stuffing after all--it doesn't need to be precise. Another modification I made came from a phone call with my mom while I was busy cooking on Sunday. We were talking about Thanksgiving and she mentioned that she had been watching the Food Network all week for new Thanksgiving ideas. One that she particularly liked was from Rachel Ray who made individual stuffing portions using muffin tins. I thought this was a fun idea, and so I did this with my cornbread stuffing--hence I named it Corn Muffin Stuffin'.

Here's the ingredient list for the stuffings I made (this makes LOTS of stuffing--a baking dish full of regular bread stuffing and 16 corn muffin stuffin's).

2 loaves of Pane Rustica (chewy crusty white bread from Trader Joe's)
1 8" square pan of baked corn bread (I used Trader Joe's mix)
1 large (softball sized) yellow onion
1 1/2 celery hearts
3/4 cup salted butter
3 cups vegetable broth (or use chicken if you don't have a dad who is allergic to it)
Fresh parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme chopped (that's the Scarborough Fair part)
(I used about 1/4 cup parsley, 2 teaspoons thyme, a tablespoon or so of sage, and 2 teaspoons or so of rosemary--no need to be precise)
sea salt
freshly ground pepper

You can follow Ree's instructions with pictures here, or follow my instructions below which aren't as decorative.

Cut bread and cornbread into approx. 1"x 1" pieces and spread out on rimmed baking sheets. Bake at 200 degrees for about 1/2 hour--until it's dry (but not hard). Transfer about 3/4 of the white bread to a large bowl. Transfer 1/4 of the white bread and all of the corn bread to a second bowl. In a large skillet, melt butter. Add to it diced onion and diced celery. Let the onion and celery cook in the butter, stirring occasionally, until they are translucent and the bits stirred up from the bottom are starting to turn brown. Add stock. Simmer until hot. Add the herbs, plus salt and pepper to taste. Ladle 1/2 of the mixture over the bowl of white bread. Toss to coat. Pour into a buttered baking dish. And set aside. Ladle/pour the other half of the mixture over the white/cornbread mix. Toss to coat, and spoon into buttered muffin tins. Press the stuffing in (not too hard, you want it to stay in there, but you don't want it as hard as a rock), and mound a little on top so it looks like a muffin.

At this point, I covered the baking dish and the muffin tins in aluminum foil and stuck them in the freezer to bake and serve on Thursday. Of course, I had plenty and so I cooked some in a 350 oven for about 20-30 minutes and D and I ate it for lunch along with turkey and gravy. D loved the stuffing, as did I! Hope you do too!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Cats in Sweaters!

One of my very favorite bloggers Crazy Aunt Purl just posted a Flickr set from her cat sweater contest. Mercury is featured on the first page (but she's not wearing a sweater). These pictures are so funny!

Thanksgiving Prep--Turkey recipe

D and I are hosting thanksgiving for the first time this year. We will have 12 people in total including 2 90-year old women named Ruth and 2 dads who don't eat poultry! It will be the first time both of our families have been together since our wedding 6 months ago (6 months today!! Happy Anniversary D!). Luckily, D and I both have family members who like to cook so we've divvied up most of the meal for others to bring, and I decided to get as much as I could of my part of the meal done in advance. So that meant the liquor store and Trader Joe's on Saturday and cooking on Sunday!

I happened to be home sick last Wednesday with a killer cold (now on antibiotics for a sinus infection) and I watched Martha. Emeril was on and they made a turkey breast that looked so delicious! I used that recipe yesterday to cook a turkey breast so that I could make my Thanksgiving gravy in advance. I'm going to use the same recipe on Thursday when I cook my actual turkey. Here's the basic recipe as I followed it (and you can click here for the original on Martha's site).

Bacon and Herb Roasted Turkey Breast

5.67 lb fresh hotel style turkey breast (bone-in)
5 strips of bacon
3 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp chopped fresh sage
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp chopped fresh oregano (I used some regular oregano and some Greek)
2 Tbsp sea salt
1 tsp fresh ground pepper

Preheat oven to 375. Rinse turkey breast and pat dry. Cook bacon in a skillet and reserve the grease. Soften the butter and add crumbled bacon, garlic, herbs, 1 tsp of the salt, and the pepper. Cream butter mixture to make a paste. Loosen the skin of the turkey with your hands and rub the meat with the butter mixture--make sure there is butter mixture between the skin and the meat all over the breast of the bird. Sprinkle salt and pepper inside the carcass. Baste the outside of the skin with the reserved bacon grease, and then generously cover with the remaining salt. Place the turkey, breast side up, in a roasting pan. If you want to make gravy, do not use a rack in the pan. Cook in a 375 over for about 1 hour 20 minutes until a thermometer reads 165 degrees (note: on my breast the timer didn't pop up when it reached 165. I think if I had cooked it until the timer popped up it would have been dry). Remove the bird from the oven and move to a platter or cutting board. Cover with foil and let rest for 20 minutes or so before slicing.

The skin on this turkey was unbelievably good--crispy and salty! I had to eat some right away! I'll post later today on the rest of the prep I did on Sunday. Stay tuned for recipes for gravy and stuffing!
Here's a picture of all of the fresh herbs I used for the turkey and stuffing. The the pots of herbs on my deck are still going strong despite heavy frost. I plan to use up just about all of the herbs on Thursday. One good trick for fresh herbs that I learned somewhere is to rinse them in cold water and then spin them in the salad spinner!
Oh, and it wouldn't be me if there wasn't a little mishap involved in this cooking. Sunday's casualty was a scorched oven mitt. I moved the skillet with the bacon in it off of the burner, but forgot to turn the burner off. I was chopping herbs and grooving along to James Taylor singing Shower the People (from his new album, played on Sunday Morning Over Easy, my favorite radio show), when suddenly I smelled something dreadful. Burning polyester smells awful, but I was so stuffed up that I didn't smell it until it was really smoking! Good thing it was a nice day (though 40 degrees) so I could open all of the windows!

Finally Organizing!

On Thursday I went back to the Crate and Barrel Outlet and picked up my book shelf. As it turns out, my back seat does fold down--I just didn't know it. I've had my 2001 Honda Accord for 4 years (I believe in pre-owned, especially because I tend to "bump into things"), but assumed that it was like my old car and only had a pass-through. So, in any case, I picked up the book shelf and brought it home.

D and I assembled the shelf and I started arranging my stuff on it. By the end of Thursday night, it looked like this:

Then, on Saturday morning after taking the cat to the vet for her vaccinations, I added a few more things to the shelf and labeled the boxes. It's very handy having boxes that are actually labeled--it means you know what's in them without having to open them (novel concept, isn't it?)

In all of this organizing, I found a bag of refrigerator magnets from my old apartment, so I stuck them all to the ugly filing cabinet, because, why not?! This corner of the room still doesn't look great, but it's better than this. While D was out buying a snowblower (we had our first flakes this morning), I pulled out the trusty drill/screwdriver and installed a shoebag in the closet to hold our hats, gloves, and scarves. Much better than the cardboard box!
And, I found some old plant hooks in my toolbox (leftover from 4 or 5 apartments ago) and hung them on the window. you'll notice they are upside down--this is on purpose because the hangers wouldn't stay on if they were upside right. Incidentally, the spider plants are descended from a plant my friend Wendy had in her very first apartment in Cambridge 10 years ago. I love plants with a story!
So, that's where I ended up at the end of the weekend as far as the organizing. Not bad. It definitely looks better than before. Oh, and while D was buying a snowblower at Harvard Outdoor Power and I was organizing, Mercury was enjoying the propane fireplace. She loves it (we all do in fact).

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

17 Day Organizational Challenge

I only have 17 more days for the Organizational Challenge from, and I need all the time I can get because I haven't started yet. I've thought about it, but haven't had a chunk of time to actually start. Today I thought I had made a move in that direction, but I was thwarted by the limitations of my car.

I went to the Crate and Barrel Outlet at lunch and picked out a book shelf with adjustable shelves that I thought would be perfect for my office/craft room. Perfect for holding books and supplies...and I found cute fabric covered boxes to go with! unfortunately the bookcase didn't fit in my car. Hoping I can pick it up tomorrow--not sure how just yet!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Pay It Forward (Blog Style)

I've just read on The Knit Girl about a blog challenge (okay, not really a challenge, more like a game) of Paying It Forward. Here's how it works:

"I will send a handmade gift to the first 3 people who leave a comment on my blog requesting to join this PIF exchange. I don’t know what that gift will be yet and you may not receive it tomorrow or next week, but you will receive it within 365 days, which is my promise! The only thing you have to do in return is pay it forward by making the same promise on your blog."

So, leave me a comment if you'd like me to Pay It Forward. I will try my very best to send you something before Christmas.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Fall Swap!

I recently completed my first blog swap! I've recently rediscovered just how much I enjoy crafting and the Fall Swap was a great way to really get back into the swing of things. I was paired with a woman from Maine who sent me this:A quilted scarf, a knitting needle case embroidered with little knots to match the ribbon, and some cat grass for Mercury. The scarf is adorable and it's been the perfect weather for wearing it--cool and dry. I really like how it looks with my old jean jacket. I'll have to take a picture of me wearing it. The knitting needle case is so cute and a great place to stash my needles (especially the long ones that don't fit in the pencil box I currently use to hold my needles). I think I will make some little tags with needle sizes on them that I can pin to the pockets in the needle case. I'm thinking of stamping the numbers onto little pieces of ribbon and attaching them with tiny brass safety pins so I don't ruin the overall look of the needle case (and I can switch them around).

So, what did Jess get in return for this awesome swap package?
I made a knitted bunny for her son--I used the same pattern from Knitting Daily that I used for the knitty kitties, but I used a super soft yarn called Bernat Bamboo. This yarn is incredibly soft, but it had a tendency to fall apart a little as I was knitting because the fibers aren't very long. The other thing is that I didn't do a gauge swatch and so my gauge was a little loose and so you can see the stuffing through the knitting. I should have used smaller needles. Live and learn I guess. Still, I think it came out really cute.
I also made some notecards from my photographs of flowers and other things in nature (many of the photos are on this blog). The photo of the apples was taken last fall in Western Mass when we went apple picking with D's sisters, bro-in-laws, and nephews. I really like this photo. I mounted all of the photos when I was at the newcomers scarpbooking night a few weeks ago.
In addition to these, I sent Jess some honey I bought at Idylwilde Farms and a flour sack dish towel that I stamped using a carved wooden block I bought in Coolidge Corner. When I was doing the dish towel, I also did some onesies that came out really cute (I just gave one to my friend Chelsea's daughter on Monday). These block printing things came out so well that I went back to Brookline and bought 2 more stamps. I've also found an online source for buying onesies, etc. in bulk, so I may just start an Etsy store one of these days!