Home - is where I want to be / But I guess I'm already there /I come home -
she lifted up her wings /
Guess that this must be the place...
- Talking Heads, "Naive Melody"

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Milk Chocolate Chip Gingersnaps

As is right and proper, the day after Thanksgiving I started the holiday baking. Just a sort of warm-up round, with much more to come. This is a recipe I got from the Cooking Light bulletin board last year. This particular batch didn't turn out perfectly--I had less molasses than I thought I did, and wasn't willing to go out and get some more at the last minute--but they are entirely snackable and yummy.

2 1/4 c all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
3/4 c unsalted butter
1 c packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1/4 c molasses
1 1/2 c milk chocolate chips
1/4 c granulated sugar

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Mix dry ingredients in a medium bowl.
  3. In a mixer, cream the butter and brown sugar for about a minute.
  4. Add the egg and molasses, mix until blended.
  5. At low speed, mix in the dry ingredients.
  6. Mix in chips.
  7. Form dough into balls, roll in granulated sugar, and place on cookie sheets about 2" apart.
  8. Bake for about 14 minutes. Cool on sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to rack.
Is it possible that this is the first cookie recipe I've blogged? I haven't used the label before....

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Dinner, 2008

My mind keeps drifting back to last year, which I kept dead simple because I was eight months pregnant at the time. Turkey, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, a couple of do-ahead nibbles, and my mother-in-law's pie made for a nearly stress-free meal for a change.

This year, of course, I tried to do a bit more, but not much more, since we have a newly-toddling little boy underfoot and I spent much of the month or so leading up to the holiday with my brain occupied by our potential house purchase. The actual menu came together shockingly late (for me), and I didn't get around to writing up my plan until the day before (an old catering trick, I think I got it from Ina Garten--make a detailed list of what has to get done, when, working backwards from when the meal is to be served, so that you don't forget to put the stuffing in the oven or something like that). This is what I came up with:
  • Prosciutto and Gruy√®re Pastry Pinwheels--An old friend in the appetizer world, because you can do all the prep ahead of time, and then just slice and bake. They disappear very quickly because they taste fabulous.
  • Arugula Salad with Goat Cheese, Bacon, and Balsamic-Fig Dressing--I am salad-impaired; Thanksgiving is the only time I make stuff like this, going for the bag-of-greens-and-bottled-dressing approach the rest of the year. The dressing for this is wonderfully sweet-tart and divine with the goat cheese. I had to use romaine because my grocery store has no arugula, despite the presidential election.
  • Cranberry Relish with Apple Cider--This one had two changes. The first was accidental, because I bought pomegranate-flavored cider instead of normal (I thought they'd just changed the label somehow). I tasted it and thought it would do all right. Then I actually read the recipe, instead of just the ingredient list, and thought, Hm, that's a rather weird preparation. I think I'll cook it all together and see what happens. What happened was really good, so score one for being willing to go off the rails once in a while.
  • Mashed potatoes. In one of Nigella Lawson's books she mentions that she's not daft enough to think that you actually need a recipe for mashed potatoes, but then goes on to include one anyway. I've always liked that bit.
  • Brussels Sprout Hash with Caramelized Shallots--An unexpected hit last year, so I made them again. Might become... tradition!
  • Apple and Sausage Stuffing--With added chestnuts. This turned out okay, but I think I should have toasted the bread, as it didn't hold up as well as I would have liked. Not bad otherwise, though.
  • Salted Roast Turkey with Herbs and Shallot-Dijon Gravy--Another one where I cheated. I always buy a kosher turkey, so I didn't do the salting bit. I did mix a bunch of the herbs into the butter and slathered it under the skin. My probe thermometer chose an incredibly bad time to go on the fritz, but the white meat was done and delicious, and the gravy was fantastic. I'd make this one again any time, and if I had a standard turkey I'd certainly give the salting thing a try.
The cranberries, salad dressing, and appetizer were all put together the night before. The morning of, JJ helped by only getting up once in the night and then sleeping until 7:30. People started arriving around 10:30.

My sister-in-law brought some bread, and her mother the pumpkin and apple pies tradition demands. My husband's family are not big drinkers, and I'm still nursing the baby, so the wine list was minimal: a Beringer merlot my in-laws brought, and Domaine St. Michelle sparkling wine. I cooked, people lent a hand where needed and played with the kids when not. JJ and his grandfather both took a nap. Due to the long drive some people had ahead of them, we sat down to eat at around 3:30, ate a lot, sat around talking, did some cleaning up, called distant relatives say hello, ate some more, talked some more. The only time the TV was on all day was while L watched a library video after lunch--not a football to be seen! We have just enough leftovers to enjoy a reprise some time soon.

It was a very nice day. Good to see family, and spend a day not worrying about much of anything except whether the turkey is done enough.

Monday, November 24, 2008

White Velvet Butter Cake

Another week, another co-worker birthday; they're thick this time of year.

And another awesome Cake Bible cake. When the first thing anyone says is "Mmm," you can be pretty sure you've got a winner!

PS - We did not buy the house. Too much work to be done, too quickly, too costly. We'll start looking again next year.

White Velvet Butter Cake

4 1/2 large egg white (4 oz)
1 c milk
2 1/4 tsp vanilla
3 c sifted cake flour
1 1/2 c sugar
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
12 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened

Preheat oven to 350. Prepare 2 9-inch cake pans; greased, bottoms lined with parchment paper, greased again, and floured. This is a PITA but does mean your cakes never stick.

In a medium bowl, lightly combine the egg whites, 1/4 cup of milk, and vanilla.

In a large mixing bowl combine the dry ingredients, and mix on low speed for 30 seconds to blend.

Add the butter and remaining milk to the dry ingredients, and mix on low speed until moistened. Increase to medium and beat for 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape down the sides.

Gradually add the egg mixture in three batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pans and smooth with a spatula. Bake 25-35 minutes or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center. Let the cakes cool in the pans on racks for 10 minutes. Loosen the sides with a small metal spatula and invert onto greased wire racks. To prevent splitting, reinvert and allow to cool completely.

White Chocolate Cream Cheese Buttercream

9 oz high-quality white chocolate
12 oz cream cheese, softened
3/4 c unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice

Melt the chocolate, using either a double boiler or the microwave (stir every 15 seconds), and allow to cool.

In a mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth and creamy. Gradually beat in the cooled chocolate until smooth. Beat in the butter and lemon juice.

Can be stored 1 day at room temp, 2 weeks refrigerated, 3 months frozen. If chilled, rebeat at room temperature before frosting. Beating when chilled may cause curdling.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Cat Returns

Even if I don't have much time to cook lately, I should be using this blog for something. Last night, in between fretting over what to do about the house, I made a pizza (and remembered to put the salt in the dough, something I'd forgotten about last time) and we watched The Cat Returns, an affable little movie from Studio Ghibli. I've yet to see something of theirs I didn't like, and while this isn't up to their highest standards, it was likable, beautiful, safe to watch with a small child, and on occasion made me laugh. Although criticism of the shallow characterization is fair, it didn't take itself seriously, and had more than a touch of the surrealism that makes Totoro such a delight.

I recommend it.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

House Update

Yesterday we did the inspection. It was educational, to say the least, and unfortunately included the news that the heating and hot water system are on their last legs. We might be able to nurse it along through this winter, if we're willing to put up with the risk of it going out on us at some point. Noting that the temperature next week is supposed to dip into the 20s, that does not seem like a good idea. So if we're going to buy the place, we're going to have to come up with another five or ten thousand dollars to replace the boiler and hot water heater, and fix about a dozen more minor plumbing problems.

Apparently the fun just never ends with this process. And unfortunately, we don't have very much time to make up our minds.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Check is in the Mail

Last night we did the P&S on the house we're trying to buy. The inspection is tomorrow. I can't quite believe this is happening!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Where I've Been

Buying a house, I hope! So it's been insane, and quite busy, around our household, and meals have been a little haphazard. I did make a cake for a coworker's birthday last week, which I will be reviewing the recipe for ASAP.

Monday, November 3, 2008

November Supper Club: Massachusetts-y Foods

For this iteration of the "host picks the theme" plan, our host settled on "foods from Massachusetts" or reasonable facsimiles thereof. It was a later than usual gathering since she has to work on Sundays, and in the newly dark evening we trekked up the Driveway of Doom (she has the steepest one I've ever seen) and settled to... a lot of cranberries. :)
Next month we'll be going out for dinner and doing our traditional cookie swap. Not sure where yet, but given the budget constraints we're all under, probably nothing too exciting. I'm actually a little bit worried that we're in a rut, that we've stopped challenging ourselves. But then again, maybe that's not what everyone else wants out of the group, and it's okay to just be a bunch of people getting together for dinner; it doesn't have to be an event.

The best thing about the evening? I went three hours and didn't even think once about the election.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

"Star Change" Campaign Post Mortem

The Star Change is a D&D play-by-email campaign I started in early 2001, using the Spelljammer universe. It is now late 2008, and we have started the wrap-up. During the course of the campaign we ported to the D20 3.0 system, and stuck with it when 3.5 and then 4.0 were released. We kept three of the original six players until very nearly the end, and a fourth who joined early on and stuck with it ever since, which is pretty damn good for this medium. If memory serves, five players have dropped out along the way.

We made it about 2/3 of the way through what I had initially thought of as "the campaign." I decided to move the ending up a bit as things threatened to drag out beyond the ability of the players and myself to stay involved--it would probably take another three or four years to get through the remainder.

As my first (and so far, only) extended GMing tenure, it's been a great learning experience. I have some thoughts as far as what went well and what went badly, but I'd like to hear from the players and any observers.

Things I think I need to work on:
  • Follow-though. Setting things up is easy; getting the conclusion to come off properly... hard. A related problem is impatience--there were moments when I should have, or would have liked to have, taken more time with something but cut it short for one reason or another. A lot of groundwork was laid and never used for one reason or another (including planning lapses on the part of yours truly).
  • Record-keeping. It's tedious, but I should pay more attention to it.
  • Pacing. Too often things lagged because I got distracted, or I didn't pester people or just move on without them when that might have been the better thing to do. It is crucial in PbEM that players be able to expect a certain level of posting frequency; if it drops, they find other ways to fill the time, and it's very difficult to get back up. Of course you have to take into account players' differing natural inclinations in this regard, too; some tend to be terser than others.
  • Managing expectations. It wasn't always clear to the players what was expected of them. The fact that a lot of the time I didn't actually have a preference on what they did was a big problem at some points, leading to a sense of aimlessness.
Other thoughts? What went well, what went badly, what would you like to see again, what should never come up again?

Thank you all. I am extremely grateful that you have given me so much of your time and thoughts and talents over the past seven years.