Category Archives: recipies

Setting the Stage for the Interview Dinner

 

evewith-fireplace-and-cats-copy

Our geology department has faculty job candidates coming through and to hold down costs, candidates will not be put up in hotels but in faculty guest accommodations. The advantages? Casual discussions over coffee in the morning and with that a far better sense of what living and working here is like.

As I used to crack when I was involved in interviews for Resident Administrator positions, Attila the Hun could be charming for a twenty minute interview. One wants a lot more than an interview before we invite someone in to our geology family. The increased exposure, thus, is all good.

I’ve offered our house and food for interview dinners, as I have in some past job searches, so each candidate will come and share our home for one evening. Anyone familiar with the whirlwind of interviews knows what it is like to have a dinner interview in a public restaurant. Too-loud, inappropriate music that you have to shout over, polite and necessary but utterly derailing wait staff interruptions, problems with logistics and how to get everyone who shows up at the event a chair close enough to hear and be heard. Cross-chat inevitably ensues, the decibel level rises. The only really useful thing is if the candidate is rude to the wait staff, because if that happens, you know this is not a person you want in the family.

Home dinners can offer quieter conversations and reflection, plus time to observe the candidate when he or she or they are tired and have most guards down. This can be a chance to see personality. After nearly sixty years of meeting and greeting and talking, I would hire on character, not accomplishments. You can still make a mistake, there is no perfect method, but you’re less likely to end up lying awake in bed wondering when the knife will slide into your back. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Now for the good stuff. Food. You bet there will be no caterer. I must make up a set of menus, not too repetitive, because many of the department participants will be coming to most if not all of these dinners. Five dinners, with leeway for the vegetarians among us. Only one candidate is a vegetarian, as if so happens, but I am well-aware that while most of the department are omnivores, some prefer to eat low on the food chain.

Color this picture with an oak fire in the fireplace and everyone sitting casually about in comfy chairs. Quiet light, no need for music or wait staff, for I always do these events buffet style. Anyone who leaves hungry has only him her or their self to blame!

So I’m thinking a North African meal, a vegetarian/pescavorian meal, a Middle Eastern meal derived in part from the Ottolenghi cookbooks, an Italian meal– polenta and mushrooms and then, perhaps a Thai dinner. Always enough vegetarian options so that no vegetarian may go hungry!

In the next few days I will share some specific menus, and perhaps even if you don’t want to make a batch of interview meals you may want to try one of these options for home and family.

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Cinnamon Cookies

Making dinner for the interview candidate and members of the department, I wanted something to go with my little custards in their old-fashioned pots. I had in mind a crisp cookie, strong on the cinnamon, a nice contrast to the creamy texture and quiet profile of the custard. Looking through cookbooks, I simply could not find what I wanted so this is what I made:

cinnamon-snaps

They were better than the custards. Hands kept returning to the bowl long after dessert was supposedly finished, to extract another and another and another. So here is the recipe.

R’s Cinnamon Crisps

1 cup butter

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons white sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 large egg

2 to 4 drops cinnamon oil depending on how you feel about cinnamon

2 cups flour

2 heaping teaspoons of psyllium husk, ground (optional)

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

grated nutmeg to taste

——————————————————————

Cream butter and sugar, add and beat in egg and cinnamon oil. Add sifted combined dry ingredients remaining, about 1/4 cup at a go, until all is combined. Shape into 1/2″ high by about 2″ flattened logs, recangular in cross-section, about 10″ long. Wrap and chill about 3 hours, then slice 1/4″ thick and arrange on bakinf sheets. Bake in preheated oven (375 F) about ten minutes, but watch them because they burn quickly! Makes about 40 cookies to 50. If you like them un-crisp you can just barely bake them through. That works too.

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Cookie Press Instructions and Recipe

Like so many of the rest of us, I don’t remember year to year exactly how the Williams – Sonoma cookie press works. Thus, when I haul it out, I try twisting different parts to get it clean and ready to press cookies. My Williams and Sonoma model came without instructions (as apparently is the norm) and I have found none on line. I am also aware of the cries of frustration from other owners. So let me share some illustrations and pointers about how mine works, now that I have embarked upon the rediscovery of its aspects, and let me share with you also my version of a good Spritz cookie dough for the machine, one that is more tender and flavorful than the old recipe I found in a cookbook. Perhaps most importantly – it extrudes well!

boxes-of-ready-cookies

So as you will see I make boxes of cookies and then assemble many plates for giving to family and friends. Someone asked me last week if I participated in a cookie exchange. No, I’m sorry, I can imagine nothing that would better take the fun out of getting the chance to guiltlessly make every sort of cookie I feel like making! And I have a suite of favorite recipes. I think it’s a rare year that I make fewer than twelve types.

ws-cookie-press-disassembled1

So here is a photo of my press with all the parts that are supposed to disassemble, separated for cleaning. Next, a series showing how to put the item together.

detail-of-notches-in-holder

The ring at the application end has a series of notches that you must align with the protrusions on the metal barrel before you pull off the plastic base ring. Lefty-loosey, righty tighty.

depress-key-to-pull-out-serrated-plunger

You will want to depress the ‘key’ at the top of the barrel in order to release the plunger to withdraw it to the top of its settings. Now– pack the dough into the cylindrical barrel with your fingers. Use gloves — nitrile gloves are great for this purpose. When the cylinder is well-packed, select your metal pattern and set it on the dough.

assembling-better

Push the ring on to the barrel trapping the metal pattern in place against the dough and screw the ring a half turn on to secure it to the barrel..

When pressing the cookies onto the pan make sure the pan is cool, and not greasy. Either of these issues will make the cookie adhere more to the press than to the cookie sheet! Also, relax, pump the trigger once and wait for a count of three. The first cookie is likely not to be perfect, and you may find that more dough comes out at each pump as you go on, probably due to a slight warming of the cylinder in your hands. Remember that you can give a pump and a half, if you want a bit more dough but you don’t want as much as two pumps would give. It’s an art form!

placing-cookies-on-sheet

I like dusting these cookies with colored sparkling sugars before baking. Sometimes as many as three hues per cookie– this seems to give a very cheerful effect.

cookies-on-pan-and-rack

Here’s the recipe itself– modified substantially from the old one I used to follow, to give a shorter dough and a more tender and fragrant crumb. Makes about six dozen.

SPRITZ                                                                                                                                                              (all ingredients room temperature and oven at 375 Farenheit)

2 cups unsalted butter creamed with 1 1/3 cups sugar. Add one egg and beat until fluffy. Add 1 tablespoon milk, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon almond extract. First sift together, then add by the quarter cup, 4 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder and a 1/4 teaspoon salt.

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Haste to the Wedding Cake

 

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…and don’t forget the mushrooms. Here is my first draft, at approximately one third or one quarter size, of the ‘woodsy’ wedding cake I will make for two friends who will marry this January. Raspberry filling, golden wedding cake recipe from Rose Berenbaum’s Cake Bible, a sour cream and milk chocolate ganache to frost and then hold on the black chocolate bark elements, and a cream cheese white frosting dribbled for the cut trunk surfaces. I made some fast punted white chocolate mushrooms, but will do better next time. I scraped a little white chocolate over the bark to brighten the details then dusted the mushrooms and ‘wood’surfaces with cocoa powder, then the bark with confectioner’s sugar. Now my friends will arrive in a few minutes and get to taste. We will discuss what we want to change. I have a LOT of ideas on that…. But it’s a first draft after all!

P1000825

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Fresh Fruit Cake

Now is the season for too much– and too many. I am swamped with plumcots, those speckled crosses between apricots and plums, the garnet hue shocking under the frosted skin. I have a few in a basket here mixed with a few of my Harrold Red apples, and as you see I have polished up a few so you can see the difference.

Harrolds and Plumcots1

Here is possibly my favorite use for such fruit. It’s an adaptable simple recipe that tolerates haste and imperfection but still tastes both fresh and happy in the mouth. Not a pretty cake but full of flavor, using the whole wheat to give a nuttiness that showcases the fruit.

Robin’s Rude Fresh Fruit Cake 

Rude in the sense of rough, but perfectly well-mannered enough for any company.(Apple, Pineapple, Pear, Peach, Plumcot, any of these or more will work.)

Sift if you insist, or otherwise simply mix in a 9″ x 13″ deep sided baking pan, no need to grease it:

1 1/2 cups standard white flour

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 heaping tablespoon psyllium husk (optional)

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp fresh grated nutmeg

Throw together in a bowl:

3/4 cup vegetable oil (canola or grape seed work well)

3 eggs slightly beaten

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/2 cup of golden raisins (optional– I often forget this.)

3 to 6 cups of coarsely chopped (about 1″ chunks but don’t get obsessive– both smaller and bigger will work) cored fruit, skins included. I like about 6 cups but have been rumored to exceed even that. If you go overboard the cake becomes more and more like a pudding!

last bit of plucot cake

Mix the wet and dry ingredients casually together– use your fingers if you like, in the baking dish until there are no big areas of the dry stuff and place in a preheated 375 degree oven. Bake for about 45 minutes and test with a toothpick for doneness. Try not to overbake. You want the batter cooked, nicely set to a crumb, but not hard. If you overbake it and it seems too dry, douse with a half cup of cider or the like while still hot, concentrating on the edges of the pan.

Note— if you want this to be more like an upside down cake you could place half or more of the fruit on the bottom of the pan, mixing the rest into the batter before topping it.

plumcot cake

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All For Pie–The Sequel

concords in ratproof

We have been harvesting the concord grapes and my little rat proofs have worked. If you try it, I have a couple of observations.

One, simply having these strange objects in the vines will decrease rat activity. It won’t stop the little brats, but there will be less damage. Two, a trick I learned over the past week is that if some bunches ripen and you take then out, re-use the rat proof, and the moving about of these containers will also dismay the rats. Every day that I made such changes, the activity of rats decreased markedly the following night, and then increased again the night after. Last of all, we were right to say that some grapes might ‘cook’ in the plastic containers– but this only affected grape clusters out in the full sun. All of this said– we have four baskets of grapes and I plan to initiate processing tomorrow to freeze up the makings for a passel of grape pies for fall and winter!

basket of concords

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All For Pie!

Grape pie and Porthos teapot

I am done with these rats. Traps do not suffice, poison feels unethical and gives a horrible death, the tricks of radios and deterrents are fantasies. Plus, I refuse to have an outdoors cat because of traffic, coyotes, parasites, and the mass slaughter of birds and my delightful lizards. But these rats are eating my Concord grapes– even before they ripen….

Of course I must backtrack and say that if you have been reading this blog for recipes, you will have seen my post about the wonders of Concord grape pie, complete with instructions. We love that pie. Consider therefore, our dismay this spring when I reached for two of my frozen Concord grape pie fillings and could only find one bag. I could have sworn I had at least another couple stashed in the big chest freezer. Our dismay inspired a defrost– it was time anyway, but still after a complete clean-out, only one little pie’s worth of grape filling remained in hand.

So these are desperate times, and despite our drought I have had it in mind that this year’s harvest of Concords will be carefully husbanded for future grape pies.

Now, enter the rats. No not the ones you are thinking of, these are our lovely little Neotoma fuscipes, the dusky footed woodrat. also known as the Trade Rat, Roof Rat, or Pack rat. A charming elegant creature fond of climbing in trees, indeed, with some habits that might make you think of tree squirrels. This is the fellow who is known for filching treasures from campers and, in the old days prospectors and miners, leaving treasures in apparent exchange. (Thus ‘trade’ rat.) They have a fondness for bright, shiny, or odd things– in fact I may have already mentioned that I found a nest in my studio that contained many pink, white and blue plastic beads, a cheap wristwatch, a number of nuts and pebbles, plus forty three (yes, I counted them,) clear-head plastic push pins. The mere idea of the rat carrying these in his or her mouth makes my lips hurt.

But the bad news is that Neotoma likes fruit. Thus I have the little fellows gracefully scampering through my orange trees and hollowing out the sweetest fruit, and they even eat my tomatoes. No gardener is going to take that without a struggle. The tomatoes put me into the red zone, so to speak, and I started trapping. But Nature is infinite and hates a vacuum, so you can trap rats all you like, yet in a drought year the sources for new ones are infinite.

I bring you to the morning I step out, brimming steaming coffee cup in hand, to see the tell-tale signs of knocked-down grapes on my side patio by the kitchen garden.

Rage. Council of war with my spouse who is possibly even more fond of grape pie than I … maybe. Possibly not.

drilling

If you cannot take out the enemy, take away access. Cheap plastic food containers, drilled to accommodate the stem,

snipping the box

cut so that you can open and slide the stem in,

 

setting the box 1

 

setting the box

then cap with the tight fitting lid.

lidding the box

Try not to have these hang too much in the sun because you don’t want pre-cooked grapes.

final image

 

Triumph. A solution for the pie hungry family!

 

 

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