Archive for the ‘Baking’ Category

LemonI am starting to see posts around blog-land about lemons coming into season. Lemon is a favorite fruit  and used in so many different ways for many people for so many reasons. Lemonade on a hot summer day. Lemon cakes. Candied lemon peels. I could go on and on and on.

For a recent cookie exchange with an herbal culinary group that I am involved in I thought long and hard about what I was going to make. Last year I had the brilliant idea to make cardamon peanut brittle, which didn’t work and it forced me to regroup and come up with something else. The day before I needed to have 12 dozen herbal cookies I fell back on a basic Mexican Wedding cookie and added the cardamon to it. They turned out great.

This year I made rosemary lemon cookies. Man-o-man were they good.

RosemaryRosemary-Lemon Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter – soft

¾ cup sugar

2 tsp snipped fresh rosemary

2 tsp finely grated lemon peel

½ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla

2 1/4 cups flour

Rosemary-Lemon cookies

Line cookie sheet with parchment.
Beat butter, sugar, rosemary, lemon, baking powder, salt and vanilla in electric mixer until completely combined.
Beat in flour, one cup at a time until it is all combined.
Shape dough into 1-inch balls.
Flatten balls with the bottom of a glass that is buttered and dipped in sugar.
Bake at 400F for approx. 8 min, or until lightly browning on edges.
Allow to cool on cookie sheet for 1 minute.
Transfer to cooling rack

Makes approx 40 cookies

You will taste the lemon right away and after a few seconds have gone by the rosemary flavor will come through ever so slightly. I loved that.

I also loved the thinness and crunch that these cookies had, and I can see myself using this cookie base for other herbs and spices like ginger and cinnamon.

Do you prefer a crunchy, crispy cookie or one that is soft?

Sincerely, Emily

You can see what else I am up to over at Sincerely, Emily. The topics are varied, as I jump around from gardening to sewing to making bread or lotion and many things in between.

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You have an official pass to eat goodies– it’s Christmastime! But in January, you have to be good. Here are some of the yummies, we’re making:


I (Xan) really just starting baking a few years ago. Baking is one of those things that one does with one’s mother, and since mine died right at the brink of my adulthood, I didn’t really feel confident in doing it. Plus, it made me sad. But when I changed my food buying habits and diet a few years ago, I had to learn to bake, or no bread. And I really did kinda figure it out. I’m slowly figuring out bread, am something of an expert now, or at least fairly fearless, at scones, and last year I taught myself to make pies (including the crust). Here is one them, and it fits in with last Tuesday’s post about baking with my mother.Pineapple apricot pie


Well, I (Sincerely, Emily) had wonderful intentions of making some cookies over the past few days….   ahhhh, that just didn’t happen.

Pecan Pie Bars 2

So, the only sweet treat you are going to see from me is in the post I did yesterday about the Pecan Pie Bars that I made. Oh, and there is the batch after batch of zucchini muffins and bread that I have been making over the past few montsh (and stashing in the freezer – and other people’s freezers too).


What sweet treats have you been baking? Comment and add a link if you posted about them.

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Baking disasters are a gift to a blogger. Instant content. But it’s a sad sad consolation prize compared to the cookies or pie or cake that never was.

I bake a lot, but I’m pretty new at it*. (See some of my more successful efforts here and here.) Although my mother was an excellent baker, and I baked with her a lot as a child, as an adult I barely baked at all until about 4 years ago (yes, during one of the employment downsizings).  There have been a lot of, um, learning experiences. The time I used polenta thinking it was cornmeal. The brittle pie crust (we’re talking before I baked it).  The non-rising baking powder. The eggplant bread. (It wasn’t bad, actually.)

On Thursday night I decided to take advantage of my uncle-in-law’s gift of homemade (from his own orchard) apricot compote and make some apricot newtons.

I’ve made fruit newtons before; they were delicious. Sadly, I did not mark or copy the recipe I used, because the one I found this time did not work. This is one of the problems with learning to bake on your own, and relying on the internet for recipes. (I couldn’t find a newton recipe in any of my books, or on any of the more reliable sites.) So if you don’t really know what you’re doing, you don’t really know when, or how, you’ve gone wrong.

The dough was supposed to be rollable, but it wasn’t. It was just cookie texture.

An experienced baker would be able to say– this is a drop cookie. An experienced baker would recognize the combination of ingredients and know what kind of dough that is likely to create. An experienced baker would know better than to try a one-off recipe found on the intarwebs. An experienced baker wouldn’t smash the *&$#(*%^ dough onto the floor and then have to clean it up.  (I deny that I did this. My floor is now very clean.) She would have said, hmmm I can turn these into apricot thumbprint cookies, before she consigned the whole mess into the trash.

The goal is to get excellent at this by the time any as-yet-mythical grandchildren are old enough to bake with me. Meantime, I’ll continue to see how well baking disasters can be used as floor polish.

And by the way, if you’ve got a good recipe for fruit newtons, I’ve still got tons of apricot compote left.

*I am a very good cook. It’s the baking thing that stumps me. 😉

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Baking with Tété

I’ve always done a lot of cooking, but I never baked much after my mother died. When my kids were little I seldom baked with them. Homemade dessert items, let alone bread, were a rarity.

As a child, I baked a lot, because my mother baked. We mostly ate homemade bread; the crazy woman used to make her own filo, because it wasn’t available in our midwest town.

Three years ago when I cut preservatives out of my diet I had to start baking, because I have a terrible sweet tooth and I really couldn’t live without dessert. I haven’t mastered the candy thing yet, but I’ve become a decent baker. This is partially because, having baked, and observed baking, so much as a child, I actually had the “feel” that you need, to know whether the batter is the right consistency, and how elastic the pie crust should be.

Which makes me feel somewhat guilty on my kids behalf, because if they ever decide to start baking, they won’t have that deep childhood memory of these things.

Last Saturday I borrowed a friend’s child, and we made muffins. I gave her the option of applesauce muffins or chocolate muffins. Guess which ones she chose. She knew all about chemical reactions (what baking soda is for, how vinegar reacts with milk and that honey is actually acidic). We learned how to measure 3/4 cup when you only have 1/2 cup and 1/4 cup measuring cups, and how to crack an egg with one hand.

Tete is 8, what you can’t see here is that she is using a very sharp paring knife to cut up fresh strawberries, which we used because I didn’t have any chocolate chips. She assured me that she was proficient with knives; according to her mother this was a bald-faced lie. She did fine however. No fingers lost.

Best muffins I ever made. Recipe here. We substituted the sugar with 1/2 cup of honey, and increased the baking soda to 2 teaspoons to compensate for the more acidic honey.

I am very much looking forward to being Granny Xanny and having grandchildren to bake with (should my children ever decide to get on the stick and come up with some!)

Who do you bake with?

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The Dark Days are really upon us in earnest, despite the extended mild weather in parts of our region (with apologies to the Plains, still digging out of the pre-holiday storm. The real Upper Midwest seems to have gotten hit, but here in the central midwest the mild weather extended into the new year. It can’t last though; now that the holidays are done we’re digging into the larder to stay on course!


A lot of our Upper Midwesterners have had it fairly easy–in many parts of the region we’re experiencing the warmest early winter in decades. I (Xan) am still harvesting fresh, new chard from the protected corners of my garden, and my asparagus actually sprouted.  I picked spinach 3 days after Christmas and the parsley is going strong under its plastic “greenhouse” (an upended storage box).

I loved that my group included some non-recipe posts about shopping, books, gifts, family, and wine!

Backyard Farms (whom I missed in the earlier round up) started out by discovering that while spaghetti squash stores well, she’s not crazy about the taste. Like many, she moved on to beef with better success. She’s got some tips for Ontarians in this entry. Aagaard Farms went all out and made cheese from local goat’s milk (and looks like there’s a home-grown goat in the offing!). Squashblossom Farm did a “Solstmas” feast ( I LOVE that), and like many of us was harvesting kale in January.  Rubus-Raspberry has short ribs, roast chicken, and a fantastic and eclectic list of recommended books!

Sanborn Sanctuary learned how to make veggie stock. In Week 3 the recipe was chicken, but her big score was an amazing list of groceries, including lots of local, humane meat, for a hundred bucks. In Week 4, her opener says it all “Geez, what else could I put in the meatloaf?  BACON!!!”. (And bison. Of course. What ELSE would you make meatloaf with?) Week 6 featured elk sausage. I’m guessing they’ve got a lot of game around there.)  I’ll be right over. WooHoo Tofu was making leftovers and memories, including a luscious-looking chicken pot pie, something I’ve been wanting to try since I seem to have figured out pastry crust. She also has a thoughtful piece on “kid’s food, “ a fraught and brave topic to take on within our poisonous food culture, where kids are somehow expected to eat differently than adults.

Our Happy Acres made a gorgeous pizza from oven-roasted tomatoes and homemade sourdough pita (protip–never buy pita, it’s dead easy to make), and also a “non-traditional” chicken minestrone and whole wheat focaccia (hey, we’re making our own traditions). Taking on another fraught subject, MN Locavore has a great no-guilt step by step about dealing with dairy. She’s also got a list of Upper Midwest wineries (what about distilleries?), then finished off the old year with a scheduling panic, props to good friends, and a nice soothing carrot soup.


It’s finally feeling like Winter up here in the Pacific Northwest. My Houstonian husband is getting his first taste of ‘real’ Oregon rain, and he hasn’t moved back to Texas yet, so we’re in good shape! I’m still struggling trying to find any local produce during the ‘farmer’s market free zone,’ and am looking forward to the 14th when our Winter market will open up. In the meantime I’ll be using more local beef, frozen veggies and fruits i put up in Summer and our dog is getting acclimated to all raw with a diet sourced from local farms and butchers. My blogging neighbors have…

Miranda’s bloggers/neighbors:

Nico and her Tiny Kitchen continue to amaze me with their stunning photos and creatively delicious meals. This week she cooked up some beans and wheat – and no, it does not look bland. I want to be invited over for this meal! Don’t miss her Christmas Eve post, either. Her recipe reminded her of “Baked Potato Soup” which just absolutely sounds amazing to me.

The Reluctant Blogger mixed up some holiday waffles, sampled assorted local ciders, and even “dug up” some oysters from a local seafood company! If her holidays weren’t full enough, she also managed to set aside some time to make some homemade tortellini with homegrown nettles and homemade ricotta cheese. Wowee! The Luscious Domestic worked on warming her belly and soul with some panade that looks very interesting. These Dark Days aren’t just for cooking: Bee Creative is spending her recent dark days with some mending along with making some homemade cereal bars.


Over here in Midwest group, the meals are looking as gorgeous as ever.  I covered some of these recipes on a post last week at my blog, Unearthing this Life, but they’re so good that they’re worth mentioning here as well.

Dog Hill Kitchen has me wowed with not just one weekly SOLE meal, but an entire day’s worth! She shares her super simple recipe of Pumpkin Hash with Chorizo. It doesn’t take much to impress me with chorizo – and it seems my group love it as much as I do as I’ve had a recipe including the spicy sausage almost every week! The beautiful pumpkin for the hash was actually leftover from a previous detox soup – a savory juniper berry flavored Pumpkin Soup. The Local Cook baked up a tasty meatloaf made with venison, beef, and pork and served it with delicata squash and collard greens. I think my own husband would agree with hers:  that bacon makes everything better!

Emily, from Tanglewood Farms, made a recipe right out of one of my own books. She used up the last of her 2011 carrots to make my favorite soup: Potato Leek with Bacon and Carrots. Even better is that her husband attended the soup, diligently stirring it every 20 minutes while she worked with the horses all afternoon. I was floored when I found out Kirsten, from Small Wonder Farm, made a completely local Christmas meal. Roast leg of lamb, carrots glazed with cider molasses (boiled cider) and her own potatoes made for a full holiday meal. To feed her gluten-free household this past week, she prepared a meal right of the Organic Gardening magazine: Butternut, Apple, and Cranberry Gratin. Another fellow Michigander, Cynthia of Mother’s Kitchen, brewed up a tasty cocktail made with cherries, sugar and brandy – The Wolverine. Like me, she’s using up some of her canned items to supplement her meals. Doesn’t this cranberry mustard sound amazing?


We’ve been having some gloriously beautiful days here in my part of the Southwest (Sage), but I’ve been laid out flat with a head cold since Christmas Eve! This means that Farmer Rick has been doing most of the cooking, and an admirable job at that. We discovered a lot of our lettuce reseeded itself and enjoyed a fresh homegrown salad last night.

Lynda, over at Cortina Creek Farms, made a pork roast dinner from pork raised by her grandson as his 4-H project, corn purchased at the farmers market in October that she canned, Italian parsley which is still growing like crazy in her garden along with some freshly dug fingerling potatoes and carrots.  She also grew the garlic and used Himalayan Pink salt and some fresh ground pepper.

Teresa at Not From a Box decided to try her hand at cooking from her German roots by making spinach latkes with applesauce and cabbage stuffed with mushrooms. She was able to buy nearly all the ingredients at the farmers’ market. She says the Challenge has made her think a lot about local foods. “For the challenges, I know why we have to do that: to get us to understand how to get by with what we have within our foodshed. It brings both an appreciation for the local food we have, as well as foods that we must get from further away.” She also made a monochomatic Christmas dinner, and to balance it out came up with a lovely dandelion salad. She got the idea from Saveur which said the dressing had been used by Germans on dandelion greens.

Becky from My Kitchen Solo had the opportunity to bring a braised lamb with curry and cardamom over to a friend’s birthday party. Way to go, sharing the SOLE! Following a French recipe, she was surprised to see the addition of honey, apples and figs to a stew like this, but admits the pairing made the meal–in fact, she got rave reviews from people in the Napa wine industry, so you know it was delicious.


The days soon after the holidays always seem extra dark for me, even though they’re getting longer. The light and love of gathered family may have left our homes for a while, but we can continue to light up our dinner tables and kitchens with nourishing and beautiful meals that are good for our bodies,

souls and the environment in which we inhabit.

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We had our friends Steve and Gayle over for the holidays last week (here’s the meal we made). Our grown daughter and their two grown sons (one of whom played Simon Birch just as an aside!) were over too, and we told them about a New Year’s Eve in about 1979 or 1980, when, as the poet says “it snowed and it snowed.”

Steve and Gayle had arranged a New Year’s Eve party. And then a blizzard hit, and then the temperature dropped to well below zero (we’re talking Fahrenheit here). We decided it was just too awful out, so we stayed home. About 11 they called us and told us we had to come, as they had food for 70 and no one was there yet.

So we relented, got on the L (it only costs a penny on New Year’s Eve in Chicago, to this day), and trekked to their place.

You have to know a little about Chicago apartments to appreciate what happened next. Many old Chicago apartment buildings are 3  to 5 story U-shaped structures around an open central courtyard. About 2 a.m. the 20 or so intrepid souls who had come headed outside where we built a huge snow dragon the size of the whole courtyard (the picture is the actual building).

As we were celebrating this amazing artistic feat, a neighbor leaned out his window (it must have been close to 4 a.m. by this time), yelling,  “I’m going to come down there and show you what I think about you!”

Now, this worried us, but we waited for him. And what he thought about us was that we needed a bottle of pink champagne and some whisky. We poured the champagne into the dragon’s eyes to turn them pink, and drank the whisky.

My daughter’s response to this story: “Today I learned that my parents are human beings, and were once young and did crazy young people stuff.”

Good Times.

Here’s a traditional Greek New Year’s bread which I try to make every year:

This recipe is from Adventures in Greek Cookery by Kapulos and Jones.


1 cup milk
2 yeast cakes if you can find them (or equivalent dry yeast)
3/4 cup + 2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup melted butter
3 eggs, well-beaten
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon mahlepe
1/3 cup lukewarm water
6 cups all-purpose flour
1 or 2 clean coins

for topping:
3 tablespoons light cream
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/3 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup sesame seeds

Scald the milk and set aside to cool. Crumble the yeast in a small bowl, sprinkle with 2 teaspoons sugar, and set aside for 10 minutes, or prepare dry yeast per packet directions. Don’t put the dry yeast straight into the mixture, however careful you are with temps. It doesn’t work as well. *

When milk is cool (I cooled mine in the fridge, to about 100F/38C, or just warm to the touch) combine it with remaining sugar, and the next 5 ingredients (through the mahlepe) in a large bowl. Beat with electric beater for 5 minutes. If using fresh/cake yeast, add the lukewarm water to the yeast, blend until smooth, then stir into the mixture. For dry yeast, simply stir the foamy, activated yeast into the bread. Add the flour and knead the dough until soft and pliable. Place on a floured board and continue kneading for 10 minutes. Thoroughly grease the sides and bottom of a large bowl. Turn the dough into it and rotate until all sides are greased. Cover with a heavy cloth and put in a warm place to rise for two hours. It should at least double in size.

After two hours, turn the dough out on a floured board and knead lightly. Divide into two parts and put a clean coin in the center of each, or for one loaf leave dough in one piece and use one coin. Then knead until the coins are well hidden. Shape the dough to fit into two greased 9 inch round cake pans or one 12-inch round pan. Combine the cream, sugar and cinnamon, brush over the tops of the loaves and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Cover with a cloth and put in a warm place to rise for two hours. It will double or more in size again.

Bake at 350F/175C for 50 minutes (check at 45) for 9-inch loaves, or 1 hour for 12-inch loaf. Remove from pan immediately and cool.

The first slice is for the lord (or the goddess, depending on how you roll). The second is for St. Basil, patron saint of Greece. Dole out the remaining slices from the youngest person at the table to the oldest. A coin in either of the first two slices means good luck for the entire household; if an individual gets the coin, they get the good luck all to themselves.

What are your New Year’s tales and traditions?

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Eager to Learn

Mr Chiots and I were talking about our three favorite things to do the other evening. Along with hiking and gardening, reading and learning new things was also on my list. I’m an avid reader, always have been. As a little girl I read through all the books in the house and then discovered the local library. When we lived in South America there was no library, so I read through the Childcraft: The How and Why Library (15 Volume Set) (Childcraft, 1 – 15) many times and through a lot of those Reader’s Digest condensed books. I also read the bindings off my copies of the Little House on the Prairie Series and the Chronicles of Narnia Series.

I’m still an avid reader. You’ll always find stacks and stacks of books on my coffee table. Often you’ll find 4-5 books about one topic, whatever I’m researching and trying to learn more about at the moment. I’ve heard that reading and learning new things keeps our brain young and functioning well into old age. It helps prevent cognitive decline and memory problems. I’m not old or nearing old age, but keeping myself learning now will help me continue this well into old age. The more open and willing we are to learn new things when we’re younger, the more open we will be when we’re older. Keeping us from uttering the words “Oh, I’m too old to learn new things…..”

Of course, I don’t just continue reading & learning to keep my mind active. I do it because I’m curious and love to learn how to do new things and helps improve the skills that I’m already proficient at. I find that studying a topic in depth provides months of learning and gives me something valuable to do with any spare time that I have. It also gives me a lot of knowledge in different areas that comes in handy in social situations. Sometimes learning new skills or honing our current skills in certain areas can turn into a career change or a possible back-up career should the need arise.

My current area of fascination is sourdough bread, traditional long fermented wood fired hearth loaves. I’ve been making sourdough bread for a long time and I’m pretty proficient at it. That doesn’t mean I know all there is to know. I certainly want to learn more about how it was done back in the old days with especially with freshly ground flour and long fermentation times. I have a lot to learn when it comes to making bread with freshly milled flour, especially rye. Now that I have a source for a variety of local wheat and rye, I want to learn how to consistently make beautiful sourdough loaves with it. I also want to learn about baking in a wood fired oven. As a result of my current fascination my coffee table contains: The Bread Builders: Hearth Loaves and Masonry Ovens and Classic Sourdoughs: A Home Baker’s Handbook. If you want an in depth look on classic sourdough read the first book, if you’re more of a quick skim the topic person the second will be perfect for you. I’m hoping that next spring I’ll even be able to build my own wood fired oven in my back yard (of course you’ll hear all about it if I do).

What new things are you learning now? Any great ideas for future learning? 

I can also be found at Chiot’s Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, maple sugaring, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Ethel Gloves, Simple, Green, Frugal, Co-op, and you can follow me on Twitter.

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