Category Archives: Baking Love

A Tale of Two Parties: Half Moon Cookies

We’re getting there, my friends.  Just two more recipes from Dave’s Graduation party and we’ll be done.

The recipe I am sharing here today is for Half Moon Cookies, or Black and White Cookies for Seinfeld fans.  I first tasted the cookies from this recipe at my bachelorette party when my two bride’s maids made them for my female guests.  The party was amazing, we had a henna artist giving everyone traditional henna tattoos, and a friend who is also a belly dancer and dance instructor gave us all a dance lesson and danced for us as well.  It was an amazing evening topped off with tastes of upstate New York, like the Half Moon Cookies of Utica fame.  Thank you Jen and Georgia for the fantastic evening (I can’t believe that was nearly 9 years ago!), and thank you Jen for the great recipe!

For Dave’s Graduation Party, he immediately thought of these cookies for a dessert, and with Little Man’s love of the moon I thought they were a great fit.  I baked and decorated the cookies the night before Dave’s party, and our home smelled of rich chocolate and sugar for hours and hours.  Warning, you’ll definitely want a nice tall glass of cold milk with these!

Cookies, cookies and more cookies...Half Moon Cookies
Ingredients
:
For the Cookies:
3 ¾ c. flour
¾ tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 c. butter, softened
¾ c. cocoa powder
¼ tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 ½ c. milk

Fudge Icing:
3 ½ oz. bittersweet chocolate
3 ½ oz. semisweet chocolate
1 tbsp. butter
4 ¼ c. powdered sugar
2 tbsp. corn syrup
1 tsp. vanilla
Pinch of salt

Vanilla Icing:
7 c. powdered sugar
1 c. butter, softened
Scant ½ c. milk
1 tbsp. vanilla
Pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. For the Cookies: In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and baking soda. Set aside. In a large bowl beat the sugar, butter, cocoa, and salt until it looks like dark, wet, chocolate sand. Add the eggs and vanilla, beating to combine. Add half of the milk and combine. Add half of the flour mixture and combine. Repeat with the remaining additions of milk and flour, blending well after each addition.

    The flour mixture.

    The chocolate cookie base.

    The chocolate cookie base.

    Little Man's curls as he "helped" me beat up the cookie batter.  He's obsessed with all things chocolate, so I had to get those eggs in there fast before he started tasting.

    Little Man’s curls as he “helped” me beat up the cookie batter. He’s obsessed with all things chocolate, so I had to get those eggs in there fast before he started tasting.

    The mixing additions begin with half of the milk.

    The mixing additions begin with half of the milk.

    Then half of the flour.

    Then half of the flour.

    After the first half of the milk and flour were mixed in.

    After the first half of the milk and flour were mixed in.

    Then the last of the milk...

    Then the last of the milk…

    Then mixing in the last of the flour...

    Then mixing in the last of the flour…

    The final batter is quite thick.  Be careful to NOT let the batter get warm.  If you kitchen is warm, keep the batter bowl in the refrigerator between baking batches of cookies.  If the batter gets too warm, it gets soupy and the cookies will melt flattly on the pan, rather than setting up nice and fluffy.

    The final batter is quite thick. Be careful to NOT let the batter get warm. If you kitchen is warm, keep the batter bowl in the refrigerator between baking batches of cookies. If the batter gets too warm, it gets soupy and the cookies will melt flattly on the pan, rather than setting up nice and fluffy.

  3. Spoon the batter onto the prepared baking sheets in 3-inch rounds about 2-inches apart. Six dollops of batter should fit on a sheet.

    Lovely dollops of batter ready for the oven.  I don't have a small scoop for the batter, but if you have one that would be fantastic.

    Lovely dollops of batter ready for the oven. I don’t have a small scoop for the batter, but if you have one that would be fantastic.

  4. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until the cookies are set, rotating the sheets halfway through the baking time. When done slide the entire parchment sheet onto a rack to cool. Use a clean sheet of parchment for further batches. Once cool remove the cookies from the parchment and set aside until you are ready to decorate them.
    One sheet down... For the number of people coming to our party I had many, many more to go.

    One sheet down… For the number of people coming to our party I had many, many more to go.

    Lots of cookies cooling on the racks.

    Lots of cookies cooling on the racks.

  5. Fudge Icing: Melt both of the chocolates and butter in a double boiler over simmering water (I used a medium-sized metal bowl over a simmering pot of water). Add the powdered sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, salt and 6 tbsp. boiling water (use the water from your double boiler). Mix until smooth, but stiff. The icing should fall in thick ribbons from your spatula. Use more boiling water to thin the icing if necessary, adding it one tbsp. at a time. Be careful to not thin it too much.
  6. Vanilla Icing: In a large bowl beat the powdered sugar, butter, milk, vanilla and salt until light and fluffy.
  7. Decorate the Cookies: Spread about 1 tbsp. of warm fudge icing on half of the flat side of each cookie. If the icing starts to seize up, just put it back over the double boiler until it loosens. Then spread about 1 tbsp. vanilla frosting over the other half of the cookie. Keep going with the rest…
    Cookie Platters 2 (3)
  8. These cookies don’t stack well, so do so at your peril. They do not store well either, so they are best eaten within a day or two of frosting them. This shouldn’t be a problem.

Click here for a printable version of the Half Moon Cookies recipe.

Cookies, cookies and more cookies...

Cookies, cookies and more cookies…

 

A Tale of Two Parties: Utica Tomato Pie

Where to begin with Utica Pie…

Utica PieMy best friend in graduate school would speak about this thing called Tomato Pie in reverent tones and I was so excited to try it when she brought me to her house for my first Easter in New York.  Then I saw this under-dressed, plain, fluffy crust with just a little sauce and cheese, and was completely underwhelmed.  Jen’s face, on the other hand, lit up and she edged a bit closer to the plate.  I took a piece, not wanting to seem rude, and took a bite of what I only expected to be relatively tasteless cheese pizza… and was immediately hooked.  The crust had great texture, crispy on the bottom and fluffy but flavorful throughout.  It only needed a little of the intense sauce and cheese to round out the flavor profile, any more and it would have been cloying.  In future trips to what I would claim as my New York home, one of the things I always looked forward to was to be sent home with extra Tomato Pie… and Roma Bacon, but that’s a different story.

I have to say that as I am posting these recipes I am faced with a trepidation that I didn’t feel when making them for our party guests.  None of the guests at our party have every been to upstate New York, so I could have served up just about anything and stated that it was from upstate and no one would have been the wiser.  Now, however, I know that some of my readers are from upstate and they know what these things are supposed to look like and taste like.  I, however, am making these from memories and partial recipes that I’m piecing together as I go.  The final dishes that result from these recipes are delicious, but it is possible that some of my tweaks in the kitchen may have pulled them away from the real deal dishes.  For my family in New York, I hope you can look past any inaccuracies and just taste the love, since they were made with memories of all the love I experienced when in your homes.  Miss you!

Utica Pie
Adapted in part from Cook’s Illustrated Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza
Ingredients: Makes 2 pies
For the Crust:
3 ¼ cups flour
½ cup cornmeal
1 ½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar
1 pkg (2 ¼ tsp.) instant yeast
1 ¼ cups water (room temperature)
7 tbsp. butter, divided
4+ tbsp. olive oil, divided

For the Sauce and Toppings:
3 tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
1 ½ cups freshly grated parmesan

The wet and dry ingredients for the crust.

The wet and dry ingredients for the crust.

Directions:
For the Crust:

  1. Melt 3 tbsp. of the butter and set it aside. Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a stand mixer with a dough hook. Add the water and melted butter, and mix on low speed until ingredients are combined. Then switch to medium speed (speed 2 on most models) and knead until smooth and glossy, about 4-6 minutes. Alternatively you can mix and knead the dough by hand.
  2. Shape the dough into a ball and roll it in a little olive oil in a large bowl so it’s coated with oil all around. Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap and a towel and set it aside to rise for 45-60 minutes.
  3. Soften the remaining 4 tbsp. butter and set aside. Turn the risen dough out onto a floured surface and shape it into a 12 x 15 inch rectangle. Using an offset spatula spread the softened butter over the dough’s surface leaving a ½ inch border free around the edges.
    Rolling the dough out into a large rectangle.

    Rolling the dough out into a large rectangle.

    Coating the top of the dough with a thin layer of softened butter will result in crispy, buttery layers of dough in the final pie.

    Coating the top of the dough with a thin layer of softened butter will result in crispy, buttery layers of dough in the final pie.

  4. Starting at a short end roll the dough up into a cylinder. Place the cylinder seam side down and roll it out into a 4 x 18 inch rectangle. Cut the rectangle in half crosswise. Set one half aside and work with one at a time.
    The dough cylinder.

    The dough cylinder.

    The long, thin cylinder, encapsulating lovely layers of butter.

    The long, thin cylinder, encapsulating lovely layers of butter.

    Divide the cylinder in half crosswise.

    Divide the cylinder in half crosswise.

  5. Fold the rectangle into thirds. Then pinch the edges of the dough together forming a ball. Repeat with the second piece of dough. Place the balls back into the oiled bowl, covering them with plastic wrap and placing the bowl in the refrigerator to rise for 40-50 minutes, or until doubled in size.
    Folding the two halves into thirds.

    Folding the two halves into thirds.

    The folded dough is then rolled and pinched into a ball.

    The folded dough is then rolled and pinched into a ball.

    One dough ball ready to become a Utica Pie.

    One dough ball ready to become a Utica Pie.

  6. Coat two 9-inch pie pans with 2 tbsp. olive oil each. One at a time transfer each dough ball to your work surface and roll it out into a 13 inch circle. Move each dough circle to its respective pie tin by rolling it loosely around the rolling pin and then draping it into the pie tin. Using your fingers press the dough into the corners of the tin, forming it up the sides. At this point you can continue on making the Utica pies, or you can cover the dough thoroughly with two layers of plastic wrap and freeze them for up to four weeks.

 For the Sauce:

  1. Heat a saucepan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and garlic, sauteing until soft but not brown, about 3 minutes.

    Mmmmm.... Oil and garlic...  Who needs more?

    Mmmmm…. Oil and garlic… Who needs more?  I was making a larger batch of the sauce here, so my proportions will be much larger than your’s.  I also have a lot of this in my freezer right now.

  2. Add the tomatoes and dried herbs. Simmer until the sauce thickens, about 15-20 minutes. Be careful, this might bubble like hot lava, and if it gets on your skin it will feel like it too! Yes, this is from personal experience…

    A flavorful sauce the cooks like hot lava.  Be ware of splashes!

    A flavorful sauce the cooks like hot lava. Be ware of splashes!

  3. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Set aside to use with the crust, or refrigerate/freeze for use in the future.

Note: This sauce recipe makes more sauce than you will need for the two pies. The extra sauce can be frozen for use over the next couple of months. Try freezing it in ice cube trays so that you can defrost only the amount you need and keep the rest in the freezer.

 For the pies:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. If using frozen dough, remove the plastic wrap and bake the crusts for 15 minutes until almost cooked through, but not yet browned. Then follow the directions as for room temperature dough.

    From frozen, this crust was baked for about 15 minutes until almost cooked through, but not browned.

    From frozen, this crust was baked for about 15 minutes until almost cooked through, but not browned.

  3. From frozen/pre-baked and room temperature dough: Spread ½ cup of sauce over the dough, then sprinkle half of the cheese over top. Repeat with the second pie.
    You should still be able to see the crust peeking through the sauce.

    You should still be able to see the crust peeking through the sauce.

    A delicious coating of parmesan cheese...  I'm lucky that Little Man was sleeping or he would have stolen the cheese from my bowl.

    A delicious coating of parmesan cheese… I’m lucky that Little Man was sleeping or he would have stolen the cheese from my bowl.

  4. Bake until the crust is golden brown and the cheese melted, about 15 minutes.
    One hot, bubbly pie.

    One hot, bubbly pie.

    And another...

    And another…

  5. Remove the pies from their tins and cut into squares. Enjoy!
Pile them high on a serving platter, and then be sure to elbow your way to the front before they disappear.

Pile them high on a serving platter, and then be sure to elbow your way to the front before they disappear.

Click here for a printable version of Utica Pie.

I hope this recipe can make converts out of you too!  🙂

Baklava Cake: How to Use Leftover Phyllo

Phyllo is one of those ingredients that seems to be able to strike fear into the hearts of would-be-bakers.  Some recipes make phyllo sound as fragile as an explosive, and that you must cover up the sheets between additions or all is lost.  Forget all of that.  Phyllo is one of the most forgiving things you can ever work with.  A little butter or olive oil goes a long way and by the time you’ve baked your creation to a golden crisp, any imperfections in execution will only exist in your own mind since your finished beautiful dish won’t show them.

That said, every now and then there can be some phyllo left over that doesn’t make it into the final product, or perhaps a recipe only called for a partial box of phyllo and you didn’t quite get the box well sealed allowing the phyllo to dry out.  Do not despair.  There are a myriad of ways that you can use the sadly dried out and crumbly phyllo.

A bowl of phyllo shards.

A bowl of phyllo shards.

For just a few examples dried out phyllo can be toasted in the oven and used as any sort of crunchy topping on casseroles, in salads, on sundaes, and the list goes on.  Today, however, we are going to transform the brittle bits into a honey-soaked cake version of the famous Mediterranean baklava.

Baklava Cake
Filling Ingredients
:
1 cup combined walnuts and almonds
¼ tsp. cinnamon
1 tbsp. butter, melted
Cake Ingredients:
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup white flour
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup white sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
¼ cup plain yogurt
¾ cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 egg
Topping Ingredients:
1 heaping cup of phyllo dried bits
1 tbsp. butter, melted
Syrup Ingredients:
½ cup white sugar
½ cup honey
½ cup water
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9 x 12 inch pan.
  2. Pulse the nuts in a food processor until finely chopped. You want some texture, so don’t let it get powdery. Put the chopped nuts into a small bowl and toss with the cinnamon and butter. Set aside.
    Pulse the nuts in a food processor to chop them finely, but don't let them get powdery.

    Pulse the nuts in a food processor to chop them finely, but don’t let them get powdery.

    Add the seasoning to the chopped nuts.

    Add the seasoning to the chopped nuts.

    Toss the ingredients together to combine.

    Toss the ingredients together to combine.

  3. Whisk together all dry cake ingredients in a large bowl. In a small bowl whisk the wet cake ingredients together. Add the wet to the dry and gently incorporate. Do not over mix.
    The dry ingredients.

    The dry cake ingredients.

    The dry ingredients whisked together.  I love my flat whisk for this.

    The dry ingredients whisked together. I love my flat whisk for this.

    The wet ingredients.

    The wet cake ingredients.

    The wet ingredients combined.

    The wet ingredients combined.

    The cake batter coming together.

    The cake batter coming together.

  4. Pour half of the cake batter into the prepared pan and smooth to the edges. Sprinkle the nut filling evenly over the batter in the pan. Gently pour the remaining batter over the nut filling and then use a spatula to spread the batter over the nuts and to the edges of the pan.
    Pour half of the cake batter into the pan and spread the batter out to the corners.

    Pour half of the cake batter into the pan and spread the batter out to the corners.

    Sprinkle the nut filling evenly over the batter.

    Sprinkle the nut filling evenly over the batter.

    Carefully pour the remaining batter over the nut filling and gently spread it out to the edges of the pan.

    Carefully pour the remaining batter over the nut filling and gently spread it out to the edges of the pan.

    The final layer of cake batter.

    The final layer of cake batter.

  5. In a medium bowl toss the dried phyllo bits with the butter. Let the phyllo bits break apart into glistening shards of dough. You don’t want them to become powdery, but let them break apart a bit. Evenly sprinkle the phyllo over the cake batter in the pan.
    A bowl of sad, dried out phyllo edges.

    A bowl of sad, dried out phyllo edges.

    A little butter to pull the phyllo shards together.

    A little butter to pull the phyllo shards together.

    A bowl of phyllo shards.

    A bowl of phyllo shards.

    The phyllo shards are sprinkled over the cake and it's ready for the oven.

    The phyllo shards are sprinkled over the cake and it’s ready for the oven.

  6. Carefully place the cake pan in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Loosely place a piece of foil over the cake and bake for another 35-40 minutes. The foil should protect the phyllo from over browning. Remove the foil for the last 10 minutes of baking time.
    Cover the cake with foil for much of the baking time so that the phyllo doesn't over brown (aka burn!).

    Cover the cake with foil for much of the baking time so that the phyllo doesn’t over brown (aka burn!).

    Remove the foil from the cake for the last 10 minutes or so of the baking time.  Watch the cake like a hawk at this stage, and replace the foil if you think the phyllo is getting too dark too quickly.

    Remove the foil from the cake for the last 10 minutes or so of the baking time. Watch the cake like a hawk at this stage, and replace the foil if you think the phyllo is getting too dark too quickly.

    The cake is fully baked, but not done yet...

    The cake is fully baked, but not done yet…

  7. Meanwhile combine the white sugar, honey and water for the glaze in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Once the syrup starts to bubble remove it from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and cinnamon.  You can gently reheat the syrup if needed to make it nicely spoonable over the warm cake.
    The syrup ingredients.

    The syrup ingredients.

    Heat the syrup until it just begins to bubble and then remove it from the heat.  If you boil it too long it will turn into candy, and that's not what you are going for here.

    Heat the syrup until it just begins to bubble and then remove it from the heat. If you boil it too long it will turn into candy, and that’s not what you are going for here.

  8. Test the cake to be sure it is cooked through. Once done remove the cake to a rack to cool. Place a piece of aluminum foil under the rack and carefully spoon the syrup over the cake. Some of the syrup will spill off of the cake, so the foil below the rack should keep your counters from becoming a tasty, but sticky mess. Try to get as even a coating as you can, and don’t forget the edges.

    The cake gets a gorgeous sheen from the honey syrup as it sticks to the phyllo, but also soaks into the cake.

    The cake gets a gorgeous sheen from the honey syrup as it sticks to the phyllo, but also soaks into the cake.

  9. Cool the cake for 15 minutes. Cut, serve and enjoy!

Click here for a printable version of the Baklava Cake recipe.

Eat

Using Frozen Pizza Dough

It came to my attention that while I have briefly talked about how to use frozen pizza dough for flat bread, I’ve never actually given the process it’s own center stage.  Frozen pizza dough is like gold in your freezer, and it is incredibly easy to thaw quickly in the microwave.  There is no need to wait for a solid hour or more for it to thaw out on the counter top.  So I wanted to share that information here in it’s own post and it’s own recipe.  Hopefully this will help make it more accessible and also take a bit of the fear factor out of using the dough from frozen.

This all started with a blog post about stocking your pantry with easy to make foods, that can be made cheaply, made in bulk, and frozen for storage and easy retrieval later on.  For me, the most versatile thing that I make in my kitchen is Whole Wheat Pizza Dough, and unless something terrible happens (like our freezer being such a mess that we can’t possibly see a frozen ball of delicious dough… which has happened…) I always have it in my freezer.

What I do not always have is the hour or more that it can take to allow the dough to leisurely thaw out and come up to room temperature while lounging (the dough, not me) on the kitchen counter.  This is especially true in the cold weather months.  Instead, we have been graced with the microwave.  If, like some of my dear friends, you have no use for the microwave then please by all means use this same recipe to make and freeze the dough.  You need to be more organized than I am in order to remember when to pull the dough out to thaw, but judging on the organizational skills of my friends who choose to not use the microwave that isn’t a problem.

But back to our task at hand…  Using frozen pizza dough.  This is going to be important, since the next post I do will have an amazing Turkish inspired baked tomato and egg dish.  You are going to want to make that dish, and you are going to want this easy flat bread to go with it.  Trust me.  🙂

Pizza Dough Flat Bread Using Frozen From Scratch Pizza Dough

Ingredients:
One portion of premade frozen Whole Wheat Pizza Dough (white dough works well for this too!)

Directions:
If you have lots of time…

  • Remove the frozen portion of pizza dough from your freezer and place it on the counter or someplace warm to sit for about an hour to thaw. Once the dough feels slightly chilled, but no longer frozen, use it as described below.
    Frozen pizza dough lounging on the counter

    Frozen pizza dough lounging on the counter

    If you don’t have an hour to thaw your dough…

  • Remove the frozen portion of pizza dough from your freezer and remove any plastic or other coverings you had it protected in.

    Frozen dough ready to be defrosted.

    Frozen dough ready to be defrosted.

  • Place the frozen dough on a small, microwave safe plate and “heat” the dough on regular power for 30 seconds.

    Pizza dough that has been defrosted in the microwave and rested.

    Pizza dough that has been defrosted in the microwave and rested.

  • Let the dough rest in the microwave undisturbed for about 5 minutes. After the dough has rested give it a gentle poke with your finger in the center to see if it has thawed all the way through. If it still has a large frozen portion in the middle, then heat it again for 30 seconds and let it rest for 5 minutes. Continue doing this until the dough is completely thawed. Be careful since if you heat the dough too much in the microwave the edges will start to cook all the way through. You can still use your dough if this happens, but just know that those edges may get extra firm when you bake the dough.

To Bake Your Dough:

  • Roll or stretch your dough to the desired shape and thinness for whatever purpose you desire.
    Ready to roll...

    Ready to roll…

    Hand stretched dough seasoned with a little olive oil, salt, and dried thyme.

    Hand stretched dough seasoned with a little olive oil, salt, and dried thyme.

  • If you want to be sure that you don’t get too many bubbles forming in the middle of your dough, dock it at this point with a rolling docker or simply poke it all over with the tines of a fork.
  • If you want the dough to be used as a flat bread or similar preparation, season the dough with a little olive oil, salt and your favorite dried herb blend and then bake it in a preheated 425 degree oven, checking it after about 10 minutes to ensure that it isn’t browning too quickly. To give it a nice burnishing on the top, switch your oven to broil for the last minute, but watch it like a hawk so that it doesn’t char.
  • If you want to use the dough for pizza, simply follow the pizza recipe you have at hand, or check out some of the options here at thesheepareout.com.
  • Enjoy!

Click here for a printable version of the Whole Wheat Pizza Dough recipe.

Click here for a printable version of the Using Frozen Pizza Dough recipe.

Pizza Dough Flat Bread

 

 

More Thoughts on Hummus

Like I mentioned in my last post, hummus is one of those versatile recipes that can be used a dozen different ways.  When I made the batch for the Request for Hummus post, I wanted to use the hummus for more than just a meze (a Turkish or Greek… why does it make me nervous to type both of those names back to back… dip or snack food), but as a part of a larger meal.  What came to mind was a sandwich that I’d fiddled with before, but hadn’t yet perfected.  What it needed was a silky layer of hummus to really pull all the flavors together, and voila, the Mediterranean Tuna and Hummus Sandwich was created.  You’re really going to like this one.

Mediterranean Style Tuna and Hummus Open Face SandwichThe sandwich has three main components, the flat bread, the hummus and a Mediterranean-style Tuna Salad.  The flat bread could be bought from your local store, or substituted out for a nice crusty roll, OR you could use some of the fantastic Whole Wheat Pizza Dough that I wrote about for stocking your pantry.  As I’ll describe below (or click here for a “how to” recipe for Using Frozen Pizza Dough), you simply roll out the dough, season it with whatever dried herb mixture you prefer, and bake it until crispy.  It’s delicious!  The hummus, while you could buy it from the store, is so easy to make at home that once you get this recipe (Marie’s Hummus) down you’ll never look at the pasty stuff from the grocery store in the same way again.  The last part, the Mediterranean-style Tuna Salad, is included here.  If you’re not a big fan of the traditional mayonnaise-based tuna salad, this one is for you.

While I actually am a fan of a good, rich, mayonnaise-based tuna salad sandwich (in fact I think that’s what we’re having for dinner tonight) there are times when I want something a bit different, and that’s when I use this Mediterranean-style Tuna Salad recipe.  It has a nice, briney bite from kalamata olives, a little feta cheese gives it a creamy-richness, and there’s plenty of crunch from vegetables like onion and celery.  In fact, you’ll be surprised by how much salad one little can of tuna can create since it is well supported by a crunchy cast of characters.  The salad is a cinch to toss together, the flavors get better if they have a chance to hang out for a bit, and it’s great to serve over lettuce for a large salad, or you can serve it with crackers for a snack or appetizer, OR even better you can serve it as a part of a great, layered open face sandwich like the one shown here.

Mediterranean-Style Tuna Salad

Ingredients:
3 eggs, hard boiled and separated
1 can tuna in water, drained
2 sticks of celery, finely diced
¼ cup feta, crumbled
¼ cup kalamata olives, pitted and diced
1 cup English or hot house cucumber, diced
½ small onion, diced
¼ cup olive oil
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. herbs de Provence, or other dry herb blend
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Separate the egg whites from the yolk, and discard two yolks. That is where most of the fat and cholesterol reside. Use them if you want, the salad will be even more delicious. I discard them here to lighten the salad. Finely dice the remaining yolk and whites. Add them to a large bowl.
  2. Add the tuna, celery, feta, olives, cucumber and onions to the bowl and toss to combine.
    The salad ingredients

    The salad ingredients.

    Tossed to combine

    Tossed to combine

  3. Whisk the olive oil, lemon juice, herbs, salt and pepper in a small bowl to combine.
  4. Toss the salad with the dressing and enjoy!

Click here for a printable Mediterranean Tuna Salad recipe.

Mediterranean-Style Tuna and Hummus Sandwich

Ingredients:

One portion Whole Wheat Pizza Dough
1 cup Marie’s Hummus
1 batch Mediterranean Tuna Salad
1 tsp. Herbs de Provence blend
1 cup salad greens or arugula
Olive oil to taste

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350º.
  2. Roll out the dough into a wide oval, about ¼ inch thick. With a fork (or docking tool) poke holes all over the surface of the dough. This will keep it from bubbling up and distorting. Brush the dough lightly with about 1 tsp. of olive oil. Sprinkle a pinch of salt and the Herbs de Provence over the dough. Either slide the dough directly onto a pizza stone in your hot oven, or place it on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and then into the hot oven. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until just browned in spots. Remove the crust to your work area.
    The prepared dough for flat bread.

    The prepared dough for flat bread.

    Note that the shape of the dough changed significantly.  :)  This is what makes it "rustic"... When things don't go as planned just call them "rustic" and they'll still taste as good.

    Note that the shape of the dough changed significantly. 🙂 This is what makes it “rustic”… When things don’t go as planned just call them “rustic” and they’ll still taste as good.

  3. Spread the hummus in a thin layer over most of your crust, leaving a 1 inch border around the edges.

    Leave a thin border around the edges for a good place to hold onto your open faced sandwich.

    Leave a thin border around the edges for a good place to hold onto your open faced sandwich.

  4. Mound the Mediterranean Tuna Salad on top of the hummus, leaving a narrow border around the edges so that the hummus is visible.

    Each added "layer" should leave a little of the previous layer visible so you can see a bit of everything.

    Each added “layer” should leave a little of the previous layer visible so you can see a bit of everything.

  5. Mound your salad greens or arugula on top of the tuna salad and drizzle it lightly with olive oil.

    I used hearts of romaine here for the last layer, but my favorite is arugula.  Water cress would be great too!

    I used hearts of romaine here for the last layer, but my favorite is arugula. Water cress would be great too!

  6. Cut into “slices” and serve. Enjoy!

Click here for a printable Mediterranean Style Tuna and Hummus Sandwich recipe.

If you want to find an easy “recipe” for using your frozen from scratch pizza dough, click here: Using Frozen Pizza Dough.

 

One delicious open face sandwich.  You can make smaller sized ones for individual portions if you want to be fancy, or make one large one like this and cut it into quarters or long slices to serve family style.

One delicious open face sandwich. You can make smaller sized ones for individual portions if you want to be fancy, or make one large one like this and cut it into quarters or long slices to serve family style.

Stocking the Pantry 2: The Bread Edition

After publishing his seminal work entitled An Eater’s Manifesto in which he lays out many concerns over the modern production of food, Michael Pollan found himself deluged with questions regarding what was actually safe (or good) to eat.  His response was In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto where he writes that we should “eat food, not too much, and mostly greens.”  Sounds simple enough, except for the fact that what many of us consider to be “food” are actually highly processed, food-like products. To specify what he meant by “food,” Pollan wrote that it should be recognizable by our grandmothers (or great-grandmothers) as  “food,” even when we read the ingredient list.  In short, you shouldn’t need a Ph.D. in Nutritional Science to understand the contents of what you are going to eat.  Pollan’s iconic example of this is the ingredient list from a brand name “bread” product that had an astounding 20 ingredients when bread truly only needs four; flour, yeast, water and salt.

It was through readings such as Pollan’s that I realized I really didn’t know how a lot of the basic foodstuffs were made.  Don’t get me wrong I knew what was in some of these things, but I didn’t know how to go about making them for myself.  I had the theory, but not the practice.  Much of my cooking before that time had been focused on either making really fancy food or really quick food.  There were the fancy meals for friends where I tried out new ideas and tastes that until that time I’d only read about, and then there were the weeknight meals as a young married couple trying to balance graduate school and life. The basic foodstuffs, the types of things that I liked to keep in my pantry like spaghetti sauce, pizza dough, even muffins, were things that I only bought in packaged form and hadn’t really thought about making them at home.

Around the same time of Little Man’s arrival I had started teaching anthropology of food courses at the university where I taught.  The research I was doing for my courses, as well as our desire to feed our family well, led me to start tinkering with making some of these basics, like pizza dough and soup stock.  Now these things are so basic for me to make that it irks me if I run out and have to buy them from the store.  The basic food that I’ve recently added to my repertoire to make at home is whole wheat bread.

Now before you get nervous and start mentally listing off all the ways that you live a super busy life and can’t possibly fit making your own bread into an already crazy schedule, don’t panic.  Take a deep breath.  This recipe is a fun Saturday afternoon project and makes enough dough for you to make three loaves of bread, two of which can hang out in the freezer until you are ready to eat them.  That is the beauty of stocking your pantry; you make things periodically in bulk, freeze them, and then use them as you want them over the following weeks or months.  You can choose what types of staples you would like to have at hand, and make them at home.  And for all of these basic foods, like pizza dough, bread, tomato sauce, etc., there is something immensely satisfying knowing that not only do you know the entire ingredient list, but you actually made these things.  They weren’t made in a factory by extruders and people garbed in sci-fi plastic clothing, but these foods were made by you, with your own hands (and your kids’ hands), and that makes it all taste that much better.  Have fun!

IMG_9825Whole Wheat Oat Bread

Adapted from: Girl Versus Dough

Ingredients:
2 cups water
2 cups milk
4 ½ tsp. (2 packets) active dry yeast
3 tbsp. agave
4 cups whole wheat flour
5 cups whole wheat bread flour
2 cup rolled oats (not instant)
½ cup olive oil
2 tbsp. salt

Directions:

  1. Combine half of the milk and water in a microwave safe bowl and heat for 45 seconds or until very warm (not more than 115ºF).  Pour this into the bowl of a stand mixer (or mixing bowl) and add half of the yeast and agave.  Stir to combine and let rest for 10 minutes or until foamy.
    Adding the yeast to the milk mixture in the stand mixer.

    Adding the yeast to the milk mixture in the stand mixer.

    The yeast starting to proof and get foamy.

    The yeast starting to proof and get foamy.

    The rest of the dry ingredients.

    The rest of the dry ingredients.

  2. Add half of the flours, oats, olive oil and salt to the bowl and mix/stir to combine.  Once the ingredients are incorporated, mix at Speed 2 on your stand mixer for 6 minutes.  If kneading by hand, dump ingredients out onto a lightly floured board and knead until smooth and elastic (about 15 minutes).
    The mixture just getting fully incorporated and starting to pull away from the sides of the bowl.

    The mixture just getting fully incorporated and starting to pull away from the sides of the bowl.

    The cohesive dough has been "kneaded" by the machine and is ready to proof.

    The cohesive dough has been “kneaded” by the machine and is ready to proof.

  3. Oil a large bowl for the dough to rise in.  Place the dough into the bowl, cover loosely with plastic wrap and set aside.

    The first batch of dough resting in a proofing bowl.

    The first batch of dough resting in a proofing bowl.

  4. Repeat the previous instructions with the remaining ingredients.  Once the second batch of dough is completed, add it to the first.  Roll the dough quickly in the oiled bowl so that all sides are slicked.  Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap and then with a towel.  Place the dough in a warm place to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
    The second batch of dough has been added to the first and set in the bowl to rest.

    The second batch of dough has been added to the first and set in the bowl to rest.

    Covering the dough with plastic wrap.

    Covering the dough with plastic wrap.

    Tucking the dough in with a towel.

    Tucking the dough in with a towel.

    A big, beautiful bowl of proofed dough.

    A big, beautiful bowl of proofed dough.

  5. Gently press down on the dough to release some of the gases.  Let it sit for 10 minutes.

    There's no need to brutalize your dough by "punching" it down.  Just give it a nice press to release some of the gasses, then let it rest for a bit before proceeding.

    There’s no need to brutalize your dough by “punching” it down. Just give it a nice press to release some of the gasses, then let it rest for a bit before proceeding.

  6. Divide the dough into three pieces.  On a lightly floured board shape one piece of dough into a roughly 8×6 inch rectangle.  Tightly roll the rectangle into a long cylinder, tucking the ends in as you go.  Seal the cylinder along its base so that no seams are visible.  Set the cylinder aside and repeat this step with the remaining two pieces of dough.
    Form the individual pieces of dough into rough rectangles.

    Form the individual pieces of dough into rough rectangles.

    Then roll the rectangles into tight cylinders, tucking in the edges as you go.

    Then roll the rectangles into tight cylinders, tucking in the edges as you go.

  7. To bake immediately: Place each piece of dough into its own oiled loaf pan.  Cover the pan(s) loosely with plastic wrap and a towel.  Set the pan(s) aside to let the dough rise for about 45 minutes.  The dough should be more or less the shape of the finished loaf.  Proceed to baking instructions.
    If you want to bake a loaf immediately, place the formed cylinder into a well oiled bread pan.

    If you want to bake a loaf immediately, place the formed cylinder into a well oiled bread pan.

    Cover the prepared dough with plastic wrap and its towel, then set it aside to proof again.

    Cover the prepared dough with plastic wrap and its towel, then set it aside to proof again.

    This dough is proofed and ready for the oven.

    This dough is proofed and ready for the oven.

  8. To freeze for future use: Place each piece of dough into its own large, resealable plastic bag.  Seal the bag and place it in the freezer.  The dough can be frozen for 2-3 months.  Remove the dough from the freezer and thaw in a well-buttered loaf pan, then proceed to baking instructions.

    Any dough that you want to save can be tightly wrapped in plastic and then sealed in a plastic bag and frozen.  This dough will last in the freezer for 2-3 months.

    Any dough that you want to save can be tightly wrapped in plastic and then sealed in a plastic bag and frozen. This dough will last in the freezer for 2-3 months.

  9. Baking Instructions: Preheat your oven to 400ºF.  Bake the bread for 40-50 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking.  The bread is done when dark brown on top and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, or has reached an internal temperature of 190ºF.  Cool on wire racks and enjoy!IMG_9824
 Recipe Icon Whole Wheat Oatmeal Bread
http://www.thesheepareout.com
adapted from: Girl Versus Dough
Ingredients:
2 cups water
2 cups milk4 ½ tsp. (2 packets) active dry yeast
3 tbsp. agave
4 cups whole wheat flour
5 cups whole wheat bread flour
2 cup rolled oats (not instant)
½ cup olive oil
2 tbsp. salt
Directions:

  1. Combine half of the milk and water in a microwave safe bowl and heat for 45 seconds or until very warm (not more than 115ºF).  Pour this into the bowl of a stand mixer (or mixing bowl) and add half of the yeast and agave.  Stir to combine and let rest for 10 minutes or until foamy.
  2. Add half of the flours, oats, olive oil and salt to the bowl and mix/stir to combine.  Once the ingredients are incorporated, mix at Speed 2 on your stand mixer for 6 minutes.  If kneading by hand, dump ingredients out onto a lightly floured board and knead until smooth and elastic (about 15 minutes).
  3. Oil a large bowl for the dough to rise in.  Place the dough into the bowl, cover loosely with plastic wrap and set aside.
  4. Repeat the previous instructions with the remaining ingredients.  Once the second batch of dough is completed, add it to the first, and shape the dough into a tight ball.  Roll the dough quickly in the oiled bowl so that all sides are slicked.  Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap and then with a towel.  Place the dough in a warm place to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
  5. Gently press down on the dough to release some of the gases.  Let it sit for 10 minutes.
  6. Divide the dough into three pieces.  On a lightly floured board shape one piece of dough into a roughly 8×6 inch rectangle.  Tightly roll the rectangle into a long cylinder, tucking the ends in as you go.  Seal the cylinder along its base so that no seams are visible.  Set the cylinder aside and repeat this step with the remaining two pieces of dough.
  7. To bake immediately: Place each piece of dough into its own oiled loaf pan.  Cover the pan(s) loosely with plastic wrap and a towel.  Set the pan(s) aside to let the dough rise for about 45 minutes.  The dough should be more or less the shape of the finished loaf.  Proceed to baking instructions.
  8. To freeze for future use: Place each piece of dough into its own large, resealable plastic bag.  Seal the bag and place it in the freezer.  The dough can be frozen for 2-3 months.  Remove the dough from the freezer and thaw in a well-buttered loaf pan, then proceed to baking instructions.
  9. Baking Instructions: Preheat your oven to 400ºF.  Bake the bread for 40-50 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking.  The bread is done when dark brown on top and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, or has reached an internal temperature of 190ºF.  Cool on wire racks and enjoy!

Click here for a printable version of the Whole Wheat Oat Bread recipe.

IMG_9825

Stocking the Pantry

I am always drawn to the food television shows or magazine articles about stocking your pantry with things that you have made yourself, or how to make fast and delicious meals on the fly from whatever is in your pantry.  Yet it seems that no matter how many of these shows I watch or magazines I read, the pantry staples focused on are never the same ones that I always have stashed away.  I’ve come to the conclusion that our pantries are often as individual to us as our fingerprints are; shaped by our own backgrounds, be this cultural, economic, geographic, etc.  So I am not going to make the assumption that any of you have the same pantry staples as me.  But if I might make one suggestion… you really should have some pizza dough in your freezer at all times.  This is free advice, and therefore worth as much as you pay for it.  Do with it as you will.  In my opinion, good quality pizza dough is worth its weight in gold in terms of quick meal preparation.

You can use the pizza dough, of course, to make your own pizza, but that is just the beginning of the world of things that you can make with your own dough stashed away in the freezer.  I use it to make flat breads to serve with homemade hummus and other meze (small plate dishes from Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines), a knock-off version of naan (a delicious Indian flatbread), bread sticks, garlic knots, calzone, flatbreads topped with oven roasted vegetables, and the possibilities continue.  In fact, if you have any suggestions for how to use pizza dough to create other dishes, please share!  I would love to hear your ideas and to expand my own possibilities.

If you do want to use the dough for its namesake and make your own pizza you won’t be disappointed.  It is infinitely cheaper to make your own pizza than to order out, and you would be surprised by how a little bit of food goes a long way to top your creation.  Let me warn you, however, that once you realize how few toppings your local pizza place is actually giving you compared to what they charge, you might be a bit perturbed.

The best part of all of this (except for eating your creation, of course) is that if you make a large batch of pizza dough you can freeze it in individual portions for up to a couple of months.  I like to make a large batch of dough that creates roughly six portions.  I freeze these individually in plastic bags, defrost them as needed, and when my supply gets low I whip up another batch when I can.  Then when I find that I am in need of a dinner idea but don’t have much on hand, one of my first thoughts always goes to pizza with either a white or red sauce (and yes, I have used jarred marinara here in a pinch… no haters, please), and any number of combinations of the few food items I might have on hand.  You will see some of my pizza creations appearing here over the next few months.  After all, I did just stock my freezer with some dough…  To get your feet wet, try the Harvest Moon Pizza posted recently (Pebble Beaches and Pizza).  I hope you love it as much as my family does.

Harvest Moon Pizza on my Whole Wheat Pizza Dough.

Harvest Moon Pizza on my Whole Wheat Pizza Dough.

Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

Ingredients

3 c. water

1 tbsp. honey

2 packets active dry yeast (or 4 ½ tsp.)

4 c. whole wheat flour

2 c. bread flour (preferably whole wheat)

2 c. all purpose flour

3 tsp. salt

Olive oil, for oiling the proofing bowl

Directions

Pour the water into a microwave safe measuring cup and microwave for 1 minute or until hot to the touch.  Don’t burn yourself, but the water should be very warm (around 100 degrees F or just over).  Add the honey and the yeast to the water and stir to combine.  Set the measuring cup aside for 10 minutes to let the yeast proof… aka get foamy.  If you yeast doesn’t foam up, then try reheating the whole thing for a few seconds in the microwave.  If it still doesn’t foam, then you may have had a bad batch of yeast and you’ll need to start again.

Getting the yeast ready to proof... aka get foamy.

Getting the yeast ready to proof… aka get foamy.

Nicely proofed yeast.  A little bit of honey or sugar goes a long way to give the yeast cells a nice snack.

Nicely proofed yeast. A little bit of honey or sugar goes a long way to give the yeast cells a nice snack.

Method 1: Electric Stand Mixer

Combine the flours and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.  Once the yeast has proofed, pour it into the bowl with the flours and the salt.  Starting at the lowest speed, combine the ingredients and then let the machine “knead” the dough at the speed recommended by the manufacturer (mine suggests not going beyond speed 2 for doughs) for 6 minutes.

The dry ingredients in the mixer bowl.  Be sure to mix the salt into the flour before adding the yeast.  Salt can slow yeast down, so I don't want the yeast to get a big mouthful of salt all on its own.

The dry ingredients in the mixer bowl. Be sure to mix the salt into the flour before adding the yeast. Salt can slow yeast down, so I don’t want the yeast to get a big mouthful of salt all on its own.

Getting everything mixed together.

Getting everything mixed together.

The dough starts to incorporate into a ball.

The dough starts to incorporate into a ball.

Oh, how I love my stand mixer...  6 minutes later and you have the perfect dough ready to rise.

Oh, how I love my stand mixer… 6 minutes later and you have the perfect dough ready to rise.

Method 2: By Hand

I have done this by hand many times, and there is something immensely satisfying about hand kneading your dough.  However, it does take a bit more time and counter space than the stand mixer method.  To do this by hand, simply combine the flours and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Once the yeast has proofed, stir it into the flours until relatively well combined.  Then turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead by hand, adding as little flour as possible, for about 15 minutes.  The dough should be elastic and only a little tacky to the touch.

Both methods come together here…

Once the dough is kneaded, whether by hand or machine, get a large bowl to allow the dough to proof or rise.  Drizzle a little olive oil around the bowl’s walls.  Form the dough into a large ball, place it in the oiled bowl and then flip it over so that the dough is oiled on all sides.  This will keep it moist during the rising process.  Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap and then cover that with a clean dish towel.  Set the bowl aside in a warm place to rise for about one hour or until doubled in size.

Getting the dough ready to proof.

Getting the dough ready to proof.

Tucking it in...  For this batch I brought the dough downstairs where our wood burning stove was cranking out some heat.  It was toasty warm down there, rather than the cool kitchen upstairs.

Tucking it in… For this batch I brought the dough downstairs where our wood burning stove was cranking out some heat. It was toasty warm down there, rather than the cool kitchen upstairs.

The plastic wrap helped keep my massive bowl of dough from completely overflowing.

The plastic wrap helped keep my massive bowl of dough from completely overflowing.

Once the dough has proofed, gently press it down to deflate or degas the dough.  Let it rest for about 5 minutes and then form it into individual portions.  This batch should make 6 regular-sized pizzas, or you can use different portion sizes to create larger or smaller pizzas.  Divide the dough up evenly, form each portion into a ball, and unless you are using the dough immediately place them into individual freezer bags.

At this point the dough can be frozen for 1-2 months and used as needed.  From frozen, simply remove one of the portions the night before you want to use it and let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight.  If like me you forget to do this step, do not fear.  Simply remove the frozen dough from its plastic bag and place it on a microwave safe plate.  Then microwave the dough for 1 minute, and let it sit in the microwave oven for 5 minutes.  Then check to see how it is doing.  If the center is still frozen, give it another 30 seconds in the microwave followed by another couple of minutes to rest.  Then use the dough as desired.

Once the dough is thawed, or if you use it right after proofing, simply place your portion on a lightly floured work surface and roll it out or hand stretch it to your desired shape and size.  Then proceed with any pizza or flat bread recipe of your choice.  Enjoy!

Click here for a printable version of the Whole Wheat Pizza Dough recipe.

The pizza as it is just slid into the oven on my pizza stone.

Lumberjack and Lumberjane

A continuance of Poking a Wood Fire (see earlier post).

First year wedding anniversary, and just back from a field season in Turkey.

First year wedding anniversary, and just back from a field season in Turkey.

The other day I stumbled across some pictures of our first wedding anniversary when Dave and I were camping at the much missed Highpoint State Park in New Jersey (best campsites ever… and a really good winery call Westfall Winery nearby too).  The weather was so miserable that most of the other reserved sites were vacant and the park rangers looked pityingly at us whenever they drove by.  We, however, were having an amazing time and didn’t even notice the bad weather.  Dave and I had just come back from a field season in Turkey, had both lost ridiculous amounts of weight from a combination of hard work and dysentery, and were simply reveling in being on vacation… for our anniversary… in weather that was not topping 140º Fahrenheit.  After the sizzling, dry plains; the wet, dripping woodlands seemed miraculous.

Dave proudly standing by his tent; the one dry spot of our campsite.

Dave proudly standing by his tent; the one dry spot of our campsite.

What also seemed miraculous was Dave’s ability to start a fire in that wet pond of a fire pit.  While looking at the pictures from this trip and with fire-starting on my mind, I remembered that Dave had made a sort of Jenga-like construction of kindling, had filled it full of newspaper, then lit it.  Once that initial fire was established, he put logs around it and the resulting fire was amazing.  I’ve since used a variation of that as my “new” fire method, and so far so good.

If I look at it hard enough, it will burst into flame and warm me.

If I look at it hard enough, it will burst into flame and warm me.

Fire pit or bog?

Fire pit or bog?

Back on Vancouver Island and on the road to fire mastery, I turned my sight to our non-existent wood pile.  It is daunting to think how much wood goes into keeping a fire going, especially when you try to extrapolate that out to cover the unknown quantity of our winter.  For weeks I have been watching industrious neighbors and friends gather and split immense piles of fire wood, filling sheds from stem to stern with neat stacks.  Now I was also noticing how BIG these sheds are, and I was starting to think that we could be on the brink of trouble.  This woodchuck needed to start chucking wood, and fast.

Luckily our Farmer-Landlord was thinking similar thoughts, and approached Dave about heading up to The Mountain to gather firewood.  I don’t know which mountain.  I don’t know where this mountain is.  But you can hear the capitalization when people speak of it.  Farmer-Landlord sent Dave off to buy a wood gathering permit, and $20 later they had plans in place for the following weekend to drive to The Mountain to get wood.  Whatever that meant.

We weren’t really sure what to expect from Dave’s wood-finding mission, or how to prepare him for it.  What was it going to be like?  What equipment beyond closed toe shoes and gloves did he need to bring?  What exactly did one “do” to gather enough wood for an entire winter season?  My anthropologist friends will understand this, but the expedition was also starting to have a bit of a “hunter-gatherer” feeling to it.  Dave was leaving our home site to hunt and bring home wood, while I was staying around the home to gather… I don’t know… something fabulous I’m sure.

Then the day for the wood hunting expedition came; cold and misty.  Dave left with Farmer-Landlord in a beat-up old pickup truck with trailer attached.  On the way up The Mountain an elk sauntered across the road in front of them, the first sighting of such a beastie by either one.  Then they came to the timber yard, and it was like nothing either one of us had expected.  Dave’s cell phone photography showed a place that looked oddly like the messy playroom of a giant toddler.  Massive tangled mounds of the better parts of trees were piled around the clearing.  Dave and Farmer-Landlord started pulling logs out of the piles, chain sawing them into smaller pieces (ranging from ready for the fireplace to person-sized) and filling up the truck bed and trailer.  Once both truck and trailer were filled, they headed back down The Mountain, getting back to the farm midafternoon after a long day of hard labor.

Massive piles of the better parts of trees available for harvesting with a permit.

Massive piles of the better parts of trees available for harvesting with a permit.

A closer look at the timber pile.

A closer look at the timber pile.

This will keep us warm all winter... right?

This will keep us warm all winter… right?

In the meantime, back on the ranch… or in our case farm… Little Man and I had our own travails.  My lovely little toddler boy was stung in the face by a yellow jacket, initiating what I’m sure is the first of many medical panics of my parenting life.  That is a story for another time, but when Dave and Farmer-Landlord pulled into the yard I had just gotten my swollen-faced angel baby to sleep for his nap.  I was a mess.

Arriving like triumphant hunters, Dave and Farmer-Landlord dismounted from their trusty steed and posed in front of their bounty.  I was impressed, but still distracted by the sting and hadn’t had a chance to tell Dave of what happened since The Mountain was well out of cell range.  Farmer-Landlord misinterpreted my lack of praise and chastised me for not being more glorifying of my MAN.  He had hunted.  He had brought back fire wood.  I was not being as adoring as befitted a gatherer.  I stuttered out something not quite as idolising as Farmer-Landlord thought appropriate, applauding them both on the success of their hunt.  Farmer-Landlord rolled his eyes and looked pityingly at Dave who was finding all of this quite amusing.

The next few minutes were filled with me explaining what happened to Little Man, and then there was a flurry of logs being tossed through the air into piles bordering our property.  I pitched in as much as my bright pink gardening gloves would let me, and surprisingly missed being drilled in the head with the flying pieces of wood.  We now had enough fire wood to (hopefully) last us the winter… we just needed to chain saw most of it into smaller pieces and then split it all.  This was going to take some time…

The saga of the wood splitting will have to wait for another post, but in the meantime I knew that we would need snacks.  Power for the muscles, and comfort for the hunter-gatherer-wood splitter soul.  These Zucchini Oat Muffins have been a huge hit with Little Man’s buddies at play dates.  The last play date when I served these muffins at snack time, one of his little friends informed me that these were delicious and much better than the previous ones I had made, which happened to be quinoa muffins.  With the toddler vote strongly in my pocket, and with Dave attempting to snatch these muffins off of the cooling rack, these are some seriously delicious muffins.

Zucchini Oat Muffins

I am often trying to make baked goods a bit healthier so that I can feel better about feeding them to my toddler… and to myself, of course.  That is how I came up with these muffins in the first place, since most green things are on Little Man’s “persona non grata” list.  These, however, he gobbles up, and will try to snag from his friends’ plates if they are not vigilant.  The batch photographed here was made with the last summer zucchini from the farmers’ market (sigh…).  I had been told by someone wise (my brother) that you could freeze grated zucchini to use in future baked goods, so I gave that a shot here.  I grated the whole zucchini, put half into the batter and half into a plastic baggie in the freezer.  I haven’t used my frozen zucchini booty yet, but will let you know how the experiment works.

Ingredients

1 c. flour

1c. whole wheat flour

1 c. rolled oats (not instant)

½ c. brown sugar, packed

1 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. ground ginger

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

3 large eggs

¼ c. canola oil

½ c. plain yogurt (fat free is fine, just use good quality)

¼ c. milk (same as for yogurt)

2 c. grated zucchini

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350º F.  Prepare a muffin pan with papers, or you can grease the pan.
  2. In a large bowl combine the flours, oats, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
Dry ingredients

Dry ingredients

With the oats

With the oats

3.   In a small bowl whisk together the eggs, oil, yogurt and milk.

Dry and wet ingredients before being combined.

Dry and wet ingredients before being combined.

4.   Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and stir to combine.  Add the zucchini to the mix and combine gently.  Do not over mix the batter or you will toughen your muffins.  Not good.

Combining the two

Combining the dry and wet ingredients.

Adding the zucchini into the batter

Adding the zucchini into the batter

The final Zucchini Oat Muffin batter

The final Zucchini Oat Muffin batter

5.   Scoop the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown on top.  Test your muffins with a tooth pick to make sure they are cooked through.  If the tooth pick comes out wet, give them another couple of minutes in the oven.  Let the muffins cool in the pan on a rack for about 5 minutes, then remove them from the pan to the rack and cool.  They can be served warm.  Enjoy!

Zucchini Oat Muffin batter ready for the oven.

Zucchini Oat Muffin batter ready for the oven.

If you can believe it, I was so focused on getting the muffins out for Little Man’s buddies at the play date… I forgot to take pictures of the final product.  I’ll be making them again soon, though, and will update the post with the final glorious picture of golden brown deliciousness.  Until then… just use your imagination.  🙂

Click here for a printable version of Zucchini Oat Muffins.

A hiking trail behind our campsite at High Point State Park, New Jersey.

A hiking trail behind our campsite at High Point State Park, New Jersey.

Taking Things a Bit Too Far…

OK, so I might have taken things a wee bit too far the other morning.  Just a smidge.

We were struggling, as usual, to get the momentum moving in our ever-so-halting quest to start our day.  The plan was to leave the house in about a half hour so that Little Man and I could drop Dave off at work and then we would head to a friend’s house for a play date.  That’s when it happened…  I remembered that I hadn’t made muffins or scones to bring for a snack.  Now, in hindsight my response could have been “ah well, next time I’ll do it.”  Then I would have simply grabbed a couple of extra handfuls of the healthy portable snacks we have around so that there would be extra to share with his buddies.  That would have been reasonable.  That would have been a good use of time.  That also would have been a wise choice leading to marital accord and to not freak out your spouse who is chronically stressed about being late to work (or maybe he’s just stressed about my ability to find things that “must” be done before we leave the house, like unpacking one box just to say that I’d done my quota for the day, or transplanting a seedling of kale to Little Man’s garden spot, or moving the pillows before they get destroyed by cats, the list goes on…).   As you might have guessed, my response to this situation was not the rational one.

Instead, I grabbed my Ipad and started to flip desperately through recipes to see what ingredients we had on hand so that I could whip something up.  I couldn’t do the Blackberry Oatmeal Muffins the batter has to rest for 20 minutes before baking and we didn’t have that kind of time.  No, not the Cheddar Chive Scones; I wanted sweet not savory. And not the Banana Chocolate Muffins; I wanted their appearance to be a bit more wholesome since I was taking them to someone else’s house… and there would be fewer chocolatey hand prints to clean up this way also.  So I decided to wing a new batch of scones that I hadn’t tried yet: Blueberry Cinnamon Scones.  Now set on this path, nothing could sway me, much to my spouse’s dismay.  Little Man, however, was in complete support of my harebrained plan and was singing his scone song in the background.

I start tossing ingredients into the food processor, whirring up oats into oat flour, adding the other flours, brown sugar, etc.  Then when I got to the part of the recipe where I needed to cube up the butter, I glanced into the refrigerator and realized my fatal error.  I was out of eggs.  For my plan of world domination to succeed I needed one egg.  I could have stopped at this point, dumped the flour mixture into a resealable bag, tossed it in the refrigerator and finished them at another time.  No big deal.  Instead, I grabbed my egg collecting basket and booked it out the front door. Oy…  Isn’t that what the normal person would do in the morning?  If you’re out of eggs, what other option but to run through your backyard like a crazed banshee, across the farm lot and to the hen house.  The sun was up, but just, and it was peeking over the cedars behind the barn.  I had a moment to admire the gilded edges of the sunflowers that ring the garden before I was at the hen house door.

I was already dressed to go to my friend’s house, so now I was carefully stepping around chicken poo in my low-top Converse to get to the laying boxes.  The chickens were not happy to see me, primarily since an industrious farmer’s daughter had already been up to visit the birds in order to harvest their plenty.  Having previously been disturbed and robbed, the chickens did not look kindly on me as I prepared to loot their nests again.  Then their looks of dismay turned to scorn as we all realized that where there are normally dozens of eggs, now there were only two single eggs to be found.  I grabbed my booty and headed for the door before their derision turned to outright chicken hostility.

Outside the sheep berated me for not filling their troughs, the pigs tried to get my attention asking why I hadn’t brought out the slop bucket, and as I dodged a particularly large dragon fly, it was all I could do to not break out in hysterical giggles. Who would have thought that my going back to graduate school (where I met Dave and started our crazy adventure) would have led to this.

Once back inside the house I quickly finished the dough and got the scones in the oven.  Dave was still getting ready, trying to convince Little Man to change out of his pjs, and casting me rather bemused glances.  Little Man was dancing around playing hockey, signing, and generally ignoring whatever his parents wanted him to do.  And I had succeeded in destroying our kitchen before even making my own cereal.  Let the games begin…

As it all ended up, the scones were great even though they needed a little extra baking time because of the frozen blueberries.  I was able to get Dave to work almost on time, and Little Man and I had a wonderful time playing with friends.  The only glitch was during the play date when Little Man came up beside me on the couch at our friends’ house with a mouth bulging with blueberry scone and a mischievous smile on his face.  He had already finished his own scone, and seeing his friend leave the table to play with a truck, Little Man struck with viper-like speed.  Then he came to me, not having an ounce of subterfuge in his heart (yet), smiled his blueberry grin, and proudly stated “took scone.”  Little Man is definitely his father’s son.  Just ask his Auntie Jen about the pilfered cherry tomato when we were in graduate school.  She learned quickly to not leave spare tasty bits around like that.  While Little Man managed to stuff quite a lot of the pilfered scone into his mouth, there was still a bit left and I don’t think his friend minded.  I’ll just bring a few extra to leave behind next time.  And perhaps I’ll plan a little bit in advance before I find myself wondering if I have time to go find a cow to milk for my tea.

Blueberry Cinnamon Scones

Blueberry Cinnamon Scones

Blueberry Cinnamon Scones

Ingredients

½ cup oats

½ cup whole wheat flour

¾ cup white flour

2 ½ tsp. baking powder

1 tblsp. sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

¼ tsp. salt

1 ½ cup blueberries, frozen

6 tblsp. butter, ½ in. cubes

1 large egg

1/4 cup yogurt, plain

3-4 tblsp. milk

1 tbsp. cinnamon sugar

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
2. In a food processor blitz the oats to a coarse meal.  Add the other flours, baking powder, sugar, cinnamon and salt, and then process to combine.  Add the butter and pulse to blend.  The butter should be in roughly pea-sized bits.

Oats in the food processor with the blade attachment in place.

Oats in the food processor with the blade attachment in place.

Coarsely ground oat flour after just a few pulses in the processor.

Coarsely ground oat flour after just a few pulses in the processor.

The dry ingredients.

The dry ingredients.

The dry ingredients with the butter processed into the flour mixture.

The dry ingredients with the butter processed into the flour mixture.

3. Pour the flour mixture into a large bowl.  Add the blueberries and toss to coat.  Set aside.

Lovely frozen blueberries harvested from a local farm with a friend.

Lovely frozen blueberries harvested from a local farm with a friend.

The blue berries get tossed in the flour mixture before adding the wet ingredients.

The blue berries get tossed in the flour mixture before adding the wet ingredients.

4. In a small bowl beat together the egg, yogurt and milk.  Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and mix until the dough just comes together.  If it is too dry and powdery to hold its shape, then add more milk a scant tablespoon at the time.  It should look quite dry (see picture), and will not actually come together until dumped out and kneaded.

Yogurt is an unusual ingredient for scones, but I find it works great with the blueberries here.

Yogurt is an unusual ingredient for scones, but I find it works great with the blueberries here.

The dough will look quite crumbly when it is all mixed together.  This is your moment of faith.   If there is unmixed flour at the bottom of your bowl, add a little more milk and mix again.  If not, dump it onto the board and prepare to be amazed.

The dough will look quite crumbly when it is all mixed together. This is your moment of faith. If there is unmixed flour at the bottom of your bowl, add a little more milk and mix again. If not, dump it onto the board and prepare to be amazed.

5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and  knead it 4-5 times.  This is not like kneading bread dough, but is more of a gentle fold over.  The goal is to not handle the dough too much, since that warms up the butter.  The colder your butter, the flakier your scones.  Once the dough is together and kneaded, pat it into a 8-inch round and cut it into eight wedges.

The dough before being kneaded looks quite dry.

The dough before being kneaded looks quite dry.

After gentle kneading/folding the dough comes together and can be patted into a large disk.

After gentle kneading/folding the dough comes together and can be patted into a large disk.

Here the dough has been cut into 8 wedges and wrapped in one layer of plastic wrap.  I recommend two layers of wrap to keep it safe in the freezer.

Here the dough has been cut into 8 wedges and wrapped in one layer of plastic wrap. I recommend two layers of wrap to keep it safe in the freezer.

6. At this point you can bake your scones immediately, or you can freeze the dough to use in the near future.  If you choose to freeze your scones, wrap them well in plastic wrap and put them in the freezer on some form of plate or sheet tray.  Once they are completely frozen you can remove the plate and keep them frozen for 1-2 weeks.

7. When you are ready to bake your scones, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F, and space the scones evenly on the prepared baking sheet.  Brush the scones with milk and sprinkle them with the cinnamon sugar.
8. Bake until golden brown, about 12-15 minutes if the dough was used immediately or closer to 25 minutes if the dough was frozen.  To check if the dough is baked completely, just give a scone a little touch on top while still on the baking rack.  If the scone seems gooey in the center you will feel it, and that means it needs more time.  If the scone is mostly firm to the touch, then it is done and can be cooled.  If they need more time, bake for an additional 3-5 minutes and check them again.  Cool on a wire rack and serve.

I baked these scones from the frozen dough two days after mixing them together.

I baked these scones from the frozen dough two days after mixing them together.

Click here for a printable version of the Blueberry Cinnamon Scones recipe.

scones 2

The Importance of Snacks

We are finally getting to the point where we feel a bit more settled in Nanaimo, and this has nothing to do with the number of boxes that have been (or have not been) unpacked.  The basement still looms large with boxes and piles of who-knows-what, but we are getting there.  Little Man calls our house his “Canada Home,” but is also finding new places to be his favorites.  One of these favorites is Oliver Woods Park.

Oliver Woods Park surrounded by forest.

Oliver Woods Park surrounded by forest.

 The park itself is carved (literally) out of the surrounding woodlands.  For someone who has lived in the flat, flat plains (which have their own beauty, don’t get me wrong) for the last few years this park looks magical with its cape of fir and cedar.  It also reminds me a bit of one of the parks from back in Pella, the West Market Park, with its wooden castle and bridges.  Maybe that is one of the reasons that Little Man calls Oliver Woods “his” park.

park1

 The playground is dominated by its large castle-like climbing toy, but that isn’t actually the area that Little Man likes most.  Just beyond the castle is a slightly smaller area that is designed more for the 2-3 year olds.  The slides are shorter, there are no rock walls to climb, but there is a cool pirate ladder of beams suspended on chains that hang just above a solid wooden gangway.  Little Man and most of the other little ones step over the beams onto the gangway below.  He loves it.

 At the back of the playground is a small exercise circuit designed for anyone over 13 years of age.  Little ones run around and play there too, but most of them tend to lose interest quickly as nothing is designed for them and the coolness of the circuit is lost on those who can’t read the instructions.

The "Enchanted Forest" that surrounds the park.

The “Enchanted Forest” that surrounds the park.

 The entire playground and exercise circuit area are surrounded by forest, hence the “Woods.”  For Little Man, this is the Enchanted Forest.  Just behind and to the right of the castle is a little gate that leads out into the Enchanted Forest and a series of nature trails.  We haven’t explored many of these yet, except for the trail on the right.  This is a short downward trail, perfect for little legs and for parent legs that are exhausted after chasing little legs around the playground, that ends at a little dock and the duck pond.

The duck pond at Oliver Woods Park.

The duck pond at Oliver Woods Park.

 Little Man loves the ducks… and their food.  If you are interested, you can get a bag of duck food from the reception desk inside the Community Center.  The last time we were at the park we were making new friends and stayed a little bit later than I had intended to.  That meant that Little Man was late for lunch and apparently quite munchy even after his snacks.  One of his new friends let him take a handful of duck food to feed the already stuffed ducks.  The birds must get quite the feast from all the little kids, and none of them were moving too quickly that day.  Little Man, however, was feeling rather peckish.  So peckish, in fact, that he took his little handful of duck food and like lightning stuffed them into his hungry mouth.  I was not as fast, but managed to fish most of the pellets out of his mouth before he’d swallowed them.  I didn’t want to immediately quash his ability to play with the ducks, so I let him feed the ducks a little bit more.  This was fine for a handful or two, until he grabbed a fistful and stuffed them in his mouth again.  I guess duck food can’t taste as bad as I would have imagined.  More fishing of slimy duck pellets out of Little Man’s mouth ensued.  The very nice woman at the reception desk ensured me that the duck food was an all natural product from a local store with a great reputation, and luckily there were no adverse reactions to Little Man’s ducky snack.  But Mommy has definitely learned that a hungry toddler should not be given access to “snacks” that he’s not allowed to eat.  The ducks still look at him askance when he comes close.  I think they’re wondering if he’s going to make off with their lunch.

Here ducky, ducky...

Here ducky, ducky…

 Now I plan in advance to have a few more snacks at hand when we might be out closer to lunch time, and closer to the duck pond.  I think that this week I’ll make him the same scones that we had a couple of weeks ago when his Tia came out to visit.  The best part of living on the island is that every couple of weeks we get to visit with family, a luxury that Little Man has never experienced before.  When his Tia came over we had a little tea party, with tuna sandwiches, hummus and cucumber sandwiches, and cheddar chive scones.  These scones are great since the dough can be made, portioned and then frozen before baking them.  The dough should last a couple of weeks in the freezer.  Then when you are ready to eat them you simply break them apart, put them on a parchment lined backing sheet, and shortly thereafter you have delicious scones.

done2

 Cheddar Chive Scones

Ingredients

½ cup cheddar cheese, sharp

¼ cup chives, chopped finely

½ cup oats

½ cup whole wheat flour

¾ cup white flour

2 ½ tsp. baking powder

1 Tblsp. sugar

¼ tsp. salt

6 Tblsp. unsalted butter, cut into ½ in. cubes and COLD

1 large egg

4-5 Tblsp. milk (any kind)

 Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

 In a food processor fitted with the shredding blade, shred the cheese.  Put the shredded cheese in a large bowl, add the chives and set aside.  Do not wash out the processor.  Replace the shredding disk and lid with the standard blade and lid.

Cheddar cheese and chives for the scones.

Cheddar cheese and chives for the scones.

 In your emptied (but still a bit cheesy) food processor, put the oats and blitz until forming a coarse meal (oat flour).  Add the other flours, baking powder, sugar and salt.  Process to just combine.  Add the butter and process in pulses until it resembles a coarse meal with some pea sized bits of butter.  Dump the flour mixture into the bowl with the cheese and chives, then toss to coat.

Preparing the oats for blitzing.

Preparing the oats for blitzing.

Cheesy oat flour.

Cheesy oat flour.

The dry mixture with cheese and chives.

The dry mixture with cheese and chives.

In a small bowl beat the egg and 4 tablespoons of milk with a fork.  Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and mix until the dough just comes together.  In the bowl it will look like it won’t hold its shape.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.  Fold the dough in half and “knead” it no more than four times.  It should hold together and form a solid mass when you pat it into a 1-inch thick 6-inch round.  Cut the circle into eight equally sized wedges.

The dough combined and messy.

The dough combined and messy.

The dough dumped out onto the floured surface.

The dough dumped out onto the floured surface.

The dough shaped into a round.

The dough shaped into a round.

kneaded 2

Keep the dough relatively thin. Too thick and it doesn’t bake well in the center, too thin and the scones get hard.

 At this point you can wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and freeze it, or you can bake it immediately.  Cooling down the dough (in the refrigerator or freezer) can make for a lighter, more flaky (and more awesome) scone, as this creates more flaky layers in the pastry.  However, they are also flaky, cheesy, and downright irresistible even if baked right away.

The dough round portioned into eight scones.

The dough round portioned into eight scones.

The scones ready for the oven.

The scones ready for the oven.

 Space the scones evenly on the prepared backing sheet.  Add a splash of milk to the empty milk and egg bowl.  Brush this mixture over the top of the scones.  Bake until golden brown, about 12-15 minutes.  Cool on a wire wrack and serve.

The scones are golden brown and ready for snack time.

The scones are golden brown and ready for snack time.

 Note: If baking the scones after freezing them, unwrap them from the plastic wrap and proceed with everything as normal.  One note is that you may need to bake them for little longer.  Just give them a little touch when they “look” done.  If it feels mushy in the center, then give them another couple of minutes.  If they feel firm to the touch, then they are done.

Click on this link to open a ready to print recipe card for the CheddarChiveScones.

Ready for tea...

Ready for tea…