Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving & Sweet Potato Pie

Even though there was only my grandmother and I celebrating Thanksgiving this year at my house, we were both really looking forward to it. Due in large part to the FOOD. But that seems to be a universal sentiment this time of year. And of course, I had so much to celebrate and be thankful for, but that's not limited to just one day. I'm grateful everyday. I hope you, too, have many reasons to feel thankful.

This year was different in that we ventured away from our usual store bought desserts and I made everything from scratch. Believe it or not, I have less than a year total baking experience. Before then, most of the things I cooked were pre-packaged, frozen and re-heated. What a difference a year can make! Most of the food you'd find in my kitchen these days are things I made myself.

I, myself don't eat any pie with egg in it, but when my grandmother requested a sweet potato pie for Thanksgiving, I was happy to oblige. If you've seen my previous posts' Here, and Here, you know I've fallen in love with pie making over the months.

I chose this one especially for its inclusion of maple syrup, which I thought sounded perfect for the Holiday.

Sweet Potato Pie
Recipes courtesy and adapted from Simply Recipes and MomsWhoThink


1/4 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoon real maple syrup
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups cooked mashed sweet potatoes
1 &1/2 teaspoon(s) vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

To Make Filling:

1. Preheat oven to 375F.

2. Poke holes in two sweet potatoes. Cover in aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour and ten minutes or until soft. When ready, continue to next step.

3. In large bowl, use an electric mixer to cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Turn speed to low and add in eggs 1 at a time.

4. Add in remaining ingredients: remove skin from sweet potatoes and measure out 1 and 1/2 cups filling, maple syrup, vanilla, cream, nutmeg and cinnamon, mix on low or stir until combined.

*See below for crust instructions.

Cover sides and top of pie crust completely with aluminum foil. Use fork to create holes in bottom of crust. Place pan with bottom crust in oven and bake for 5-7 minutes, or until bottom crust lightly browns on 375 degrees. Remove pan from oven. Carefully remove aluminum foil.

Reduce oven to 350 degrees. Pour sweet potato filling into pie crust and bake for 40 minutes, or until firm.

To Make Crust:

In standard sized food processor, or large bowl, process, or mix with hand mixer, flour, salt and sugar until combined. Add in shortening and process or mix until mixture resembles coarse sand, approximately 10 seconds. Add pieces of butter over flour mixture and process in 1 second pulses, or mix, turning hand mixer on then off, until pieces of butter are no bigger than small peas. Add 6 tablespoons ice water to mixture and, using a rubber spatula or hand mixer on low, fold in, or mix until just combined. Pinch dough with fingertips to be sure it sticks together, If not, add an additional 2 tablespoons ice water. Do not process or mix more than 30 seconds.
Turn dough onto work surface and gather into ball. Divide dough in half and flatten each into a round disk-like shape. Cover each with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour before using.

After an hour, remove one round of dough from refrigerator. Measure out and lightly flour two equal pieces of wax paper. Place dough, in center, between two pieces of wax paper, begin to flatten round of dough with rolling pin. Give wax paper square a quarter turn after each roll. Roll dough two inches larger than inverted pie plate. (Place pie plate, upside down, over dough to make sure it's big enough.) Carefully remove only top layer of wax paper. Turn remaining wax paper holding dough, so that the dough is facing down, into pie pan. Make sure dough is even in pan. Carefully remove second piece of wax paper, which should be bottom side up. Brush off excess flour. Roll hanging dough under itself to crimp or cut off excess. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Reserve both pieces of wax paper and repeat process of rolling with second dough round.

Using a cookie cutter, cut out the shape you desire using to decorate top of crust. Place shapes on lined cookie sheet, remove excess dough, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.
(I used maple leafs.)

Once pie has cooled, baked shapes in preheated 400 degree oven for about ten minutes, or until lightly browned. Allow shapes to cool and assemble over top of pie.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Vanilla, Mint & The Extract Experiment

Hi Everyone,

For those of us who celebrate Thanksgiving in the U.S., I hope you enjoyed a wonderful holiday filled with love, family, friends, delicious food and a lot to be thankful for. And for my friends around the world, I wish you all the same and a joyous holiday season ahead.

Today's post is simple and short, but something I'm really excited to share. All of us bakers, often or occasional, know how quickly we can go through vanilla extract, so when I came across the recipe for vanilla extract quite some time ago and saw how easy it was, I knew it was something I'd definitely get around to making.

Because I also use a lot of mint in homemade ice cream, I thought I'd give that one a try, too.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

You only need two ingredients:

Vanilla Beans, 3-4, split down the middle
1 Cup Vodka

And patience for one month.

For the mint, I used a handful. (But wait, we'll talk about this version in a minute.)

Simply fill a clean jar with 1 cup vodka and 3-4 vanilla beans split down the middle. Cover tightly, shake well and store in a cool dark place. You'll keep the jar stored in a cool, dark place for 1 month, continuing to give the jar a hearty shake once or twice a week...

After one month, you'll be left with an all natural, old-fashioned, full-bodied delicious vanilla that will easily take the place of anything you could buy in the store. I just can't stress enough how much I LOVE this vanilla. I've already made a second jar in preparation for the holiday season. Only this time, I mixed Tahitian and Bourbon Madagascar beans, where the first time I only used Tahitian.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the mint extract. The principle is the same; Store in a cool, dark place, shake, wait a month...
After a week the mint started to turn brown and the vodka took on notes of the dying herb (imagine cut flowers that have been left to die in a vase). Curious, I tasted it and it is very minty, but stale nonetheless. Alas, that extract will be thrown out.

My grandmother said this homemade vanilla ice cream reminds her of her childhood. I'd say that's a ringing endorsement for making your own extract.

Monday, November 22, 2010

North End & The New England Aquarium

After returning from Maine, my body, in what was obviously a sign of disapproval, responded to me leaving that gorgeous town by getting sick. After a week and 2 days stuck at home, most of which were spent in bed, I was glad to be feeling better and eager to get out and enjoy the time I had left with Daph.

We searched and searched for restaurants worthy of a try before giving into the glowing reviews about the awesome food at Giacamo's in The North End of Boston.
If you live or have ever visited Boston and are familiar with Hanover St., you know you can't trip without falling into an Italian restaurant, bakery or eatery of some kind. Much to my gluttonous delight!

No special treatment here! You wait on line outside and are seated according to how many people are in your party and how many chairs they have available.
Being only two, Daph and I got seats pretty quickly overlooking the kitchen.

Giacamo's is a tiny space where our waitress, Jenny, encouraged us to "crowd in and get close like family."
They don't bother with menus either. Which I liked. You peer over to the left wall where the entire menu and daily specials are listed in colorful chalk on a large chalkboard.

I started with a small fried calamari served with the house red sauce for dipping. This was my first calamari experience and I loved them.

Daph ordered the caprese salad. This was standard, but he really enjoyed it.

For the main course, I went with something else new to me, pumpkin tortellini, with sage and marscipone sauce. It was creamy and sweeter than you might expect. I thought the flavor was great, but after a few bites grew tired of the sweetness and wished I'd ordered something more savory.

Daph ordered the fettucini with salmon in traditional red sauce. We both thought this was delicious. He was kind enough to share, so we ate from his plate together.
(I'll post a red sauce recipe you can make at home that rivals Giacamo's soon!)

We loved our overall experience. We read reviews about rude waitresses/waiters, but saw none of that. Jenny, our waitress, couldn't have been anymore charming and welcoming. Giacamo's only takes cash.

As the restaurant is so small, no dessert is served. For dessert we walked up a block to Mike's Pastries for cannoli's. After pushing our way through the ravenous crowd (which you're encouraged to do), I called out my order from what I gathered they might have. Mike's is so crowded you can't see the cases, and you have to order quickly.

We came home with Pistachio, chocolate chip, and lobster claw cannoli's (the latter is filled with traditional lobster claw filling, not ricotta), a whoopi pie, a piece of Boston creme pie (which is actually custard filled cake) and an eclair for my grandmother.
The pistachio cannoli's were our favorite!

Later in the week we used the free passes I got from the Boston Public Library to visit the New England Aquarium. If you have a library card in Boston, free passes are available at the library to most of the Museums and other attractions in the city. You just have to call to request a day and pick them up!

I hadn't been to the aquarium in years and didn't remember it being so small (the outside is misleading), but it was. The things we did see were beautiful, but unfortunately, we saw no sharks in the ascending spiral tank! That's what we were really looking forward to. And the penguins. No fear, the adorable penguins still greet you upon entrance into the aquarium.

The month Daph was here was magical for the both of us. I couldn't imagine it was possible, but I fell in love with him all over again, deeper than ever before. He arrived the man I planned to spend the rest of my life with, and left...(after eloping November 5th), My Husband. And the man I always will.

I'm so happy I could share that month with all of you, My Blogger Friends.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

So Good & Honey Oatmeal Wheat Bread

When I sent pictures of this bread to my husband, he asked which I liked best, the Honey Oatmeal Wheat, or the Harvest Squash Bread I made a couple of months back. Without hesitation, I answered: "They're both so good, there's just no choosing."
The Honey Wheat for its soft, chewy, ever so slightly sweet, perfect for sandwiches and toasting ability. And the Harvest Squash Bread for its rustic, overnight developed, hearty, earthy, perfect alongside or dipped into soups quality. I haven't been working with yeast very long, but I can tell you if you haven't yet, it's addictive. There's something primitively satisfying about pulling a loaf or two of bread you nurtured, developed and worked with your own two hands out of the oven, and confirming with each bite thereafter. If I haven't convinced you already, don't deprive yourself of that magic any longer.

Honey Oatmeal Wheat Bread
Recipe courtesy and adapted from The Fresh Loaf And


2 Cup boiled water
1 Cup rolled oats
2 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 Cup honey or molasses
1/3 Cup warm water
2 packets active dry yeast
3 Cups white bread flour
2 Cups whole wheat flour
Plus Additional bread flour for kneading, up to 1 cup. If using all white flour, you may need more. If using whole wheat flour, you should need less.
2 tablespoons honey, warmed slightly. 2 tablespoons oats. (Optional)


In medium saucepan boil 2 cups water. Remove from heat (turn stove off), add oats, honey and butter. Allow to soak for 20 minutes. After the oats have soaked for 10 minutes, begin preparing remaining ingredients.

2. In large bowl, sprinkle yeast over 1/3 cup warm water. Let stand 5-10 minutes. While yeast is soaking, in separate bowl, measure out flour and stir salt into flour with fork. Once the oats have soaked 20 minutes and have cooled some, add soaked oats into bowl with yeast. Stir and let stand 5 minutes or until foamy.

3. Add flour, 1 cup at a time, into bowl with foamy yeast. With wooden spoon, stir ingredients to incorporate. (A lot of the flour will remain after mixing, this will be fully incorporated after kneading.) Turn ingredients out from bowl onto clean surface or countertop. Form into mound with hands. Incorporate ingredients and begin to knead. If dough is too sticky, add in additional flour 1 teaspoon at a time. (I needed an additional 2 teaspoons). Continue kneading dough for approximately 15 minutes, or until dough becomes smooth, soft and feels lighter.

4. Clean and thoroughly dry large bowl. Use canola or vegetable oil to lightly oil bowl. Place dough in bowl and turn to coat with oil. Use plastic wrap to cover bowl and allow dough to rise in warm place until doubled in size, approximately 1 hour.

5. Once dough has risen, punch dough down to remove air and turn out onto clean surface. Cut dough in half and form into 2 loaves, big enough to fit bread pans. Lightly oil two bread pans and add 1 formed loaf of dough to each pan. Cover and let double in size in warm place, for approximately 40 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Once loaves have risen, use serrated knife to make slits if desired and baste each loaf of dough with melted butter or beaten egg.

6. Turn oven up to 375. Bake bread for 30 minutes or until tops have turned golden brown and, when tapped with fingertip, bottom of bread sounds hollow. Remove loaves from pans and transfer to cooling rack. Brush top of each loaf with slightly warmed honey and sprinkle with oats, if desired.

Just out of the oven, still warm and covered in honey, this bread glistens and begs to be eaten.

Toasted or plain, spread with Homemade Raspberry Jam, this bread really shone.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Real Deal & Raspberry Jam

Just around the corner from my house is a great little fruit and vegetable store that sells most of their fruits, vegetables and herbs for $ 1. 50 or less. I usually bring my beloved "granny cart" and walk out with a big haul--cart filled to the brim for less than 20 bucks. I can't even look at produce in traditional grocery stores anymore without feeling like I'm being robbed. Charging four times the price! Ugh. Going to that jewel around the corner, especially in the summer, for peaches and berries, lemons and limes, melons and lettuce, et al., has got to be one of my single most treasured joys in life. And one of the greatest things about living just outside of Boston Proper, in the real Boston; The true heartbeat of the city. Sans the pomp, circumstance and ungodly prices. Whether they're in-season or not, I can't pass up berries at 1 dollar a box, so when I came home with 5 boxes a few weeks ago, I thought it the perfect time to try my hand at jam making. The end result is something more vibrant, magical and lovely than even the best jam you can buy in the store. And a great way to reinvigorate out-of-season fruit.

Old-Fashioned Raspberry Jam
Recipe courtesy and Adapted from Epicurious


4 cups (1 liter) granulated sugar
4 cups (1 liter) raspberries

1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Add sugar to shallow pan and place in preheated oven for 15 minutes. This step really helped the sugar to dissolve better.
2. Clean and dry large stainless steel or enamel pan. Add berries to pan. Allow berries to come to complete boil on high heat. Use potato masher to mash berries while they're heating, if desired. My berries fell apart on their own. Stir constantly as berries as berries come to a hard boil for 1 minute.

My notes: The original recipe advices against not reducing amount of sugar or changing cook time, Two things I did. After adding 3 cups of sugar, I tasted and found the berries very sweet, so I didn't add the 4th cup. As a precaution, I cooked the berries longer to help ensure they would gel properly.

3. Carefully add in warmed sugar (Again, I only used 3 cups). Stir. Return berries and sugar to boil. Boil sugar and berry mixture until gel begins to form, approximately 5 minutes. To test mixture for doneness, quickly insert then remove metal spoon into jam, flip spoon upside down; In the beginning, mixture will run down spoon thin and syrupy. A minute or two later, mixture will be thicker. Jam is ready when same test yields two thick drops more slowly running down spoon and coming together before falling off.

BE CAREFUL! Sugar gets very hot.

4. Carefully ladle jam into sterilized jars. Leave 1/4 inch between jam and top of jar.

To Sterilize Jars:

Add amount of jars needed for canning (In the case of this recipe, I used 4 half pint (8 oz.) jars), to large pot, cover jars with boiled water. Boil over high heat for 10 minutes. Add jar tops to smaller pot and bring to a gently boil for 7 minutes. Drain water and use very clean utensils or canning kit jar remover and magnet to remove jars and tops from water. When safe to handle, empty to dry jars. If you have a dishwasher with a "sterilize" setting, this can also be used to sterilize jars.

5. After ladling jam into sterilized jars, clean any jam from outside of jars and rim. Cover jars by placing center round on first. Push down middle of center round while screwing on the cover ring. Add jars of jam to large pot of boiling water; One large enough to hold jars and cover them with 2 inches of water. Boil for 6-7 minutes. Placing a small round cake rack in the bottom of pan before adding jars of jam stops them from rattling.

6. Use jar lifter to remove jars from water and allow to cool overnight in a place with no drafts. Once the jars have cooled, make sure the lids have sealed by pushing the center top of cover. If you hear a "popping" noise, jars have not sealed. If you refrigerate jar right away, it's still eatable, but do not store this jar outside of refrigerator. Properly sealed jars should store and remain fresh for several months.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Lee's Cranberries & Cranberry Walnut Vanilla Coffee Cake

In my last post I mentioned my Uncle taking Daph and I to meet and say goodbye to the lovely Lee who, along with her husband Roger, own Blue Water Inn. While we were there I noticed sitting on her kitchen counter two very large zip loc bags filled with the plumpest, most beautiful cranberries I'd ever seen. I was not shy about asking if I could have some for baking. Thinking she would transfer a couple of cups into a smaller bag, I was surprised and so grateful when she flashed a big smile and happily handed over one of the two bags. "They're yours," she said. She went on to explain that a friend gathered them fresh that morning from one of his cranberry bogs in Maine. I didn't even know Maine produced their own cranberries, and such beautiful ones at that. You hear lots about Maine blueberries in New England, of which they're famous for, but never cranberries. We generally think of Cape Cod when talking cranberries. These particular berries were perfect for baking; Cooking down more than any I've worked with before. And sweeter. I've never really been much of a coffee cake person, but everyone in my house agreed, this one was really good.

Cranberry Walnut Vanilla Coffee Cake
Recipe courtesy and Adapted from Gourmet via Epicurious


1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 cups fresh or thawed frozen cranberries (6 ounces)
1/2 teasponn lemon zest (Optional)
2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened, divided
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (Optional)

Garnish: Dust with confectioners sugar


Place rack in middle of oven, close door and Preheat to 375 degrees F. Butter 8-by 2-inch rounded cake pan generously. Cut parchment paper into round to fit bottom of pan. Line pan with parchment and butter again generously. (It never calls for this, but I also make strips to line around buttered sides of pan with parchment then butter again, as well.)

To food processor, add sugar. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean pod and add to sugar in food processor. Pulse to combine. Add sugar to small bowl. Reserve bowl. In food processor, pulse cranberries with 1/2 cup of the vanilla sugar from reserved bowl just until chopped finely but NOT puréed.

In separate smaller bowl, add 2 cups flour, baking powder, salt and whisk until combined.

In medium bowl, add 1 stick butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1 cup vanilla sugar from reserved bowl of vanilla sugar (1/4 cup vanilla sugar and 1 tablespoon butter should be remaining). On medium-high speed, beat until light, fluffy and pale in color. Add in eggs one by one, beating to combine after each addition. Scrape down sides of bowl. While mixing on low speed, alternately add in flour mixture and milk, starting and finishing with flour mixture, just until combined. Gently fold in chopped walnuts to batter, if using.

Add half of the batter to lined cake pan and spread evenly. Just before adding cranberries to cake, mix in lemon zest if using. Leaving 1/2 (one half) inch border around edge of batter, spoon cranberries over-top of batter. Completely top with remaining batter, using knife or back of spoon to smooth.

Add tablespoon butter to remaining 1/4 cup sugar and use fingertips to blend. Sprinkle crumbled mixture over the top of cake.

Cake should be baked when sides begin to pull away from sides of pan and tester inserted into cake (not cranberry filling) comes out clean, approximately 45 to 50 minutes. Allow to cool in pan for 30 minutes before removing. Allow to cool completely on cooling rack, crumb side up.
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