Thursday, October 28, 2010

Iced pumpkin cookies

Just in time for my little one's preschool Halloween party, this delicious pumpkin treat. This time, I didn't bother wrestling a pumpkin, but just used canned. I have to warn you. The dough is incredibly sticky. While dropping the spoonfuls of dough onto the cookie sheets, I ended up with little glops of dough on all my fingers and possibly my hair. The result is so very worth it with a wonderful, cakey texture. Also, be careful not to undercook. I was having issues with our convection oven's baking times and ended up with a few cookies with gooey innards.

Iced pumpkin cookies
Adapted from

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350° F. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves, and salt. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and two sugars. Add pumpkin, egg, and vanilla to butter mixture, and beat until creamy. Mix in dry ingredients. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Drop on cookie sheet by tablespoonfuls. Flatten slightly.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes in the preheated oven. Cool cookies, then drizzle glaze with fork.

To Make Glaze: Combine confectioners' sugar, milk, 1 tablespoon melted butter, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Add milk as needed, to achieve drizzling consistency.

Let cookies sit until glaze hardens.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Life with Danby marble

I was cleaning up today after breakfast and realized that our kitchen has been a working one for about a month now. Has it been that long? And the walls still aren't painted?!? Sorry. I'm getting off-track...

Forget the lemon, wine, et. al. tests I did with our marble samples. How is the Danby marble holding up after some real life use and abuse? I actually had to think about this. And go hunting for etch marks. Because the marble has been so functional and easy to take care of that I'd started taking it for granted.

I have to admit that we babied the marble the first several days. It was reserved for sandwich prep and other clean tasks. I wiped up spills right away. Then slowly, slowly, we slipped back into our old, sloppy ways. Last weekend, I used our marble counter to make a really messy pumpkin puree and left pumpkin splats on the counter for...gasp...hours!

And here's the counter...still unstained after all that abuse. It has etched. A few etch marks. The circular etches show up very clearly in the photo, but only because I took the photo at an acute angle. If you stood over the counter, you really couldn't see them at all.

Here's an etch mark in the dark veining of our Mountain White Danby marble. I know it's there, but I still had to hunt to find it for this shot.

What do you think? Remember that the photos were deliberately taken to highlight the etch marks. They're nowhere near as visible in real life. If just knowing that these marks existed would make you reach for your Brillo pad, then perhaps marble isn't the right surface for you. If you can shrug off these etches, Danby marble can be a wonderful countertop. Classic. Beautiful with such a subtle shimmer. Durable.

Now if only my soapstone counter were as problem-free...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Odds and ends and bits of fluff

That's pretty much all that's in my brain at the moment. Random, useless bits of stuff.

My husband just came home from dropping off Pretzel Boy's new-to-him (early Christmas present) Epiphone Dot at the guitar tech's place. In addition to performing bicycle contortions, Pretzel Boy has also taken up serious jazz guitar. His Saturdays are now spent doing lessons and classes and ensembles. I've become guitar mom the way other parents are soccer/hockey/baseball moms. Anyway, this guitar tech is apparently The Man for setting up jazz guitars and sets up Pat Metheny's guitars. So very cool. We're now two degrees away from Pat Metheny.

The kitchen is. That pretty much describes the state of things. Static. Not changing.

On the other hand, things outside the kitchen are changing rapidly. This is what I saw driving up my street the other day. The sunlight glinted gold through the leaves. Breathtaking. Literally. I stopped breathing for a second, just caught by the glory.

Autumn is here. The children are getting more and more keyed up as they anticipate Halloween and this year's ultimate sugar high. We crunch as we walk to and from school, our feet kicking up puffs of leaves. A gathering of pumpkins adorns our front lawn along with various bits of seasonal decor. I wanted to create a rope spiderweb for our portico, but ran out of time. Maybe next year. It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (our holiday tradition) is in our DVD player. I'm eyeing this apple peeler/corer from Williams-Sonoma and dreaming of pies.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Pumpkin custard

For tonight's festivities at our neighbor's house, I chose to make pumpkin custard. True. This involved tackling two food groups that I'd never attempted before. Custard and actual pumpkin. All for very public consumption. But when else would I make this? My husband and I really don't need to eat eight servings of pumpkin custard ourselves. After all, neither of us is dangerously underweight. Besides, this was the perfect occasion to use the adorable ramekins I'd bought years ago on sale at Williams-Sonoma and never used.

Aren't they darling?

So. Actual pumpkins. Sugar pumpkins, to be precise, because I'd read that you shouldn't use jack o'lantern pumpkins for whatever reason. Probably something promulgated by the pumpkin farmers association. No matter. I was hopping whole hog on the pumpkin bandwagon.

The pumpkin (cute little organic sugar thing) sat before me on the counter. I was wielding a large knife and eyeing it warily. My internet research indicated that I should treat it like a cantaloupe. Made sense. It was the general shape of a cantaloupe. So I plunged the knife into the pumpkin.

Whereupon it stuck. And I. could. not. get. it. out. No matter how hard I tugged.

Cantaloupe, my aunt's fanny!

So it's a Halloween miracle that I managed to make this custard without losing any fingers. It was nothing like cutting up a vegetable. I imagine it was much more similar to woodworking. Chiselling pieces of pumpkin, not carving it. By the time I finished the entire (small) pumpkin, my fingers and arms were sore, and my chest hurt. Pumpkin-robics.

And here it is.

Pumpkin custard
Adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything

2 cups peeled and cubed pumpkin (or winter squash)
2 cups cream, milk, or a mixture
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 eggs plus 3 yolks
pinch salt
3/4 cup sugar

Put pumpkin in medium saucepan on rangetop. Barely cover with water. Bring to boil and cook until very tender (5-15 minutes). Let cool. Puree with some of the milk or cream in food processor or blender.

Put the rest of the milk or cream, the cinnamon, and half the nutmeg in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook just until it begins to steam, 3 to 5 minutes.

Use a whisk or an electric mixer to beat the eggs and yolks with the salt and sugar until pale yellow and fairly thick. Heat the oven to 300° F and put a kettle of water on to boil.

Gradually add the cream to the egg mixture, stirring constantly. Add the pumpkin puree to the mixture. Pour the mixture into an ovenproof dish or eight 4- to 6-ounce ramekins and sprinkle with the remaining nutmeg. Put the dish or cups in a baking pan and pour hot water into the pan to within about 1 inch of the top of the bowl or cups. Bake until the mixture is not quite set--it should wobble just a little in the middle--about 30 minutes for the cups or about 45 minutes if you're baking in a dish. Use your judgment. Cream sets faster than milk. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold, within a day.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cranberry chocolate chunk oatmeal cookies

I have a confession to make. Only a small portion of the cookies I made tonight were actually cranberry chocolate chunk. You see, we're going to a neighbor's house tomorrow for a get-together. For the grownup dessert, I planned a pumpkin custard. Thinking that my littles wouldn't be thrilled, I wanted to make a more kid-friendly sweet. Oatmeal cookies? Ooh chocolate chunk oatmeal cookies! No, no, no! Cranberry chocolate chunk oatmeal cookies! When I told my kids, you'd have thunk I'd offered to put brussels sprouts in their cookies. Fine. Whatever.

But I did make several cookies that were actually cranberry chocolate chunk oatmeal. And they were really, really delicious. Kids are missing out.

Chopped semisweet Scharffen Berger chocolate bar. And it was on special at Whole Foods so I needn't feel horribly guilty about splurging. You could use semisweet chocolate chips or chop up a different brand.

Cranberry (yes, I insist on keeping this) chocolate chunk oatmeal cookies
Adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 cups rolled oatmeal (not instant)
1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
pinch salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 bar (3 ounces) chopped semisweet chocolate
1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries

Heat the oven to 375°F. Use an electric mixer to cream together the butter and sugars. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until well blended.

Mix the flour, oats, cinnamon, salt, and baking powder together in a bowl. Alternating with the milk, add the dry ingredients to the dough a little at a time, mixing on low. Add the semisweet chocolate and cranberries. Stir in the extract.

Drop tablespoon-sized mounds of dough about 2 inches apart on parchment paper-covered cookie sheets. Bake until lightly browned. Mr. Bittman suggests 12 to 15 minutes. In my convection oven, it took about 8-10 minutes. Cool for about 2 minutes on the sheets before using a spatula to transfer the cookies to a rack to finish cooling. Store in a tightly covered container at room temperature for no more than a day or two.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Kitchen pulls and knobs in action

You've seen the pieces in their not-yet-installed state. Here they are in their functional glory. In total, I mixed three finishes (antiqued brass, painted, clear glass) and five shapes (bin pulls, drawer pulls, and three slightly different round knobs). I'd worried that the results would be haphazard. Instead, the casual mix adds to the relaxed, collected over time look.

I love these vintage library bin pulls from eBay. They're installed on the Cooking Apple Green top drawers and down the drawer stack by the dishwasher. Six in total. I've found some bin pulls to be a bit shallow and frustrating when in a hurry. (I'm always in a hurry.) However, these bin pulls have lots of finger room and even more patinated charm.

Later, I'd love to create some cards to slip into the pulls. "Pots" and "spices" and so on. It would be really fun to type them up on an old typewriter. You know, the kind with slightly broken type. I could go totally over the top and create some Dewey Decimal numbers. Remember them?

These glass knobs from Anthropologie add a little sparkle to the glass-fronted cabinets. These are the only inset cabinets in the kitchen, and these knobs add the perfect vintage touch. You do have to be careful if you go with Anthropologie glass knobs. I noticed that quite a few of them had little nicks or chips. Once installed, these knobs haven't been dinged yet though so I don't think they're super fragile.

These antique brass knobs and pulls from Horton Brasses are beautiful to look at and to use. See those gorgeous, subtle curves? Yum. They fit my hand comfortably. So important because they're installed in the much used pots-and-pans drawers. (Ignore the gaping hole. That's for the trash pullout that hasn't been installed yet. Beware taking a DIY break. I've noticed that it tends to grow into a DIY extended vacation.) I'd worried about using two small pulls instead of one, but I've had no problems. It's probably important in that case to use good drawer glides (Blum in our case).

Finally, why don't people use painted knobs more? I have to admit that these Farrow & Ball Old White painted knobs were borne out of desperation. I'd wanted dark stained wood knobs, but couldn't decide on exactly the right color. Now? I'm so glad that I went this route. I'm not sure how durable they'll, but so far, so good. And it's a very nice, subdued look.

If you're in the throes of kitchen hardware obsession, well, I was once in your shoes. In those shoes for such a very long time that my feet ached. I scoured the internet for endless hours, poring over every hardware website I could find. Don't worry. Your choices will be beautiful. No worries.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Beef and vegetable stir-fry with ginger noodles

Was it really Thursday that I last blogged? I once imagined that with my youngest in preschool, some windows of time would open up. What was I thinking? Volunteer duties along with household chores and kids' extracurriculars are devouring every bit of my spare time. Insatiable! Then of course, there are the unexpected things that pop up. Like the consequences of my pup's carefully opening and devouring 10 mini Nestle Crunch bars.

Enough whinging. At least I'm cooking and enjoying it. Creating meals is a daily (or twice or thrice daily) task for most of us. It's pretty much unavoidable so you may as well have some fun.

Here's a really yummy adaptation of Mark Bittman's beef stir-fry with ginger noodles recipe. All of my children relished it, including Pretzel Boy a.k.a. Mr. Picky.

Stir-fried beef and vegetables with ginger noodles
Adapted from Mark Bittman's Kitchen Express

1 pound udon noodles
1 tablespoon grated ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons sesame oil

1.5 - 2 pounds flank steak, thinly sliced against the grain
half of a large onion, sliced into strips
large red bell pepper sliced into strips
half-pound of broccoli florettes, steamed
soy sauce
hoisin sauce
red curry paste

Cook udon noodles according to package directions. Drain. In a large skillet, cook ginger and garlic in sesame oil for a few minutes, until softened. Remove from heat and toss the noodles in the pan.

In some vegetable oil, stir fry the beef strips until cooked through. Remove from pan. Stir fry onion and pepper until they start to soften. Add a little soy sauce and cover the pan for 2-3 minutes. Add steamed broccoli and beef to the pan. Add about 4 tablespoons of hoisin sauce and 1-2 tablespoons of red curry paste along with soy sauce to taste. Stir together until everything is heated through and serve over noodles.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Review: Hearst Ranch grass-fed flank steaks

After reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, I shifted my food shopping habits toward locally grown produce and grass-fed beef. If you haven't read Pollan's book, put it on your must-read list. Simply put, cows are herbivores, born to eat grass. However, most cattle today are fed corn. Sadly, a corn diet turns cows' stomachs acidic and makes them sick. No problem. Just pump them full of antibiotics. It's a sad, disturbing cycle.

However, even in Austin, it wasn't easy to get grass-fed beef. I can only imagine how difficult it is to find in small towns or more rural areas. When I read about the opportunity to try Hearst Ranch's grass-fed and grass-finished flank steaks, I leaped at the chance. Hearst Ranch provides the opportunity to shop online for their beef so that anyone, whether in an urban center or tiny town, can eat in a way that's healthier for both their bodies and the environment.

Disclosure: Hearst Ranch provided its flank steaks free of charge. Whether or not I reviewed it in my blog was strictly left up to me.

Hearst Ranch has been raising cattle in central California since 1865. Their cattle are free-range foragers, munching native grasses on 150,000 acres. Hearst Ranch utilizes sustainable agriculture and management-intensive grazing to take care of their cattle and their land.

Their steaks arrived beautifully packaged in a styrofoam cooler with dry ice nestled in a cardboard box. At the time I received them, I didn't yet have a working kitchen. So off they went to the freezer. A few weeks later, we had a functional kitchen and dinner guests. A perfect time to try the flank steaks!

Flank steak, package #1 - steak fajitas:
For our casual dinner party, the menu was Tex-Mex, perfect for steak fajitas. We marinated the flank steak for several hours and grilled it.

The consensus? Delicious. The fajitas were moist, tender, and intensely flavorful. We and our dinner guests, including the children, devoured every single bite.

Flank steak, package #2 - stir fry:
Now, grass-fed beef tends to be leaner than corn-fed beef. It also has 10 times more beta-carotene as well as 3 times more vitamin E and healthy fats. I wondered, how would the flank steak fare in a simpler preparation, without the benefit of marinade. So for our second flank steak package, we chose to stir fry it in an adaptation of a Mark Bittman recipe. The meat was simply cut against the grain in thin strips and stir fried in vegetable oil. Later, it was combined with stir-fried fresh vegetables and a soy-hoisin-curry paste sauce.

Consensus? As my daughter yelled, "Forty-nine thumbs up!" It was somehow lean, yet tender. I gobbled up...gulp...two servings. Pure gluttony.

I'll be sharing these recipes in future blog posts. Many thanks to Hearst Ranch for two delicious meals. I plan on coming back for more.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Scenes from the Austin City Limits Music Festival

3 days
8 stages
130+ bands
75,000 festival-goers

During LCD Soundsystem's exuberant set, as I bounced happily with thousands of my new best friends and fellow music lovers, there came a moment. An emotion. Something I hadn't felt in a long, long time. Do you remember that feeling? When you were younger? Maybe when you were just falling in love. Or when you were driving a convertible with the top down, and the road wheeled away before you like infinite possibility.  Or when you lay on the grass on a sunny day studying for an exam and stopped to simply watch the clouds float past.

Love. Joy. Connectedness. Transcendence.

And that's what music gives us. What music festivals give us. A connection with others. A shared joy. Something so simple and so profound and so precious in this time of divisiveness, discord, and disconnect.

So here are some scenes from this year's Austin City Limits Music Festival. Sorry they were taken with my little camera. No toting along the big gear this year.

Early in the afternoon at Zilker Park as the crowds begin to arrive.

Self-explanatory, no?

Broken Bells, the band composed of Danger Mouse and the lead singer of The Shins, James Mercer

Crowds are growing.

A rare self-portrait. The shadow. Not the dude.

The sun sets on the second day of ACL.
Muse put on one hell of a light show...

My favorite band? The National. Matt Berninger in business suit and tie surging through a driving, emotional, beautifully balanced set. Smokin'. Maybe I should imitate Tim, the superfan from San Francisco, and give up this blogger/mom/wife gig to follow the band. They're touring Europe in the next couple of months. Bonus.

Monday, October 11, 2010


Hi again, y'all!

Where have I been?

I've spent the past few days catching up with old Austin friends and experiencing the fabulosity that is the Austin City Limits Music Festival. My blood still feels like it's thrumming to an insistent, happy beat, and I want to burst into a joyous dance. Which might look a little odd in suburban Boston. Better refrain.

Anyway, it's late. I still need to unpack and figure out what my children need for school tomorrow. More later.

I had an amazing time, but it's good to be home.

P.S. If you love live music, you must experience ACL Music Festival at least once in your life. The 2011 dates have been set, and $50 three-day passes will go on sale very soon. As you can imagine, these passes get snapped up in a blink so keep a sharp eye out if you're interested.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Step on a crack, break your mother's back

If a broken mirror brings seven years of bad luck, how many years does a cracked soapstone countertop bring?

When our countertop was first installed, I noticed fine white lines through the slab. Will told me it was nothing. Just the way soapstone is made.

A couple of weeks later, I noticed this.

Nothing, right? Just a vein?

Sadly, no. It's a crack. From the front of the slab all the way to the back. You can feel it with a nail. At its worst point, it opens up like a little chasm.

The Grand Canyon was not in my design scheme.

I've been through panic. And anger. And anxiety. Now I'm stuck in wait mode for our installer to come back and deliver his verdict. I don't want a brittle countertop that needs to be babied. I don't want a countertop that will crumble in a year or so. I chose soapstone after lots of research because it was considered almost impervious to damage. Yes, it was softer than granite and could be dinged, but I thought I avoided that by choosing a harder variety.

So this is a warning for those of you who're considering soapstone. Our soapstone distributor (now) tells us that harder varieties of soapstone (like Beleza) are particularly prone to cracking. Something about a thin rivulets of softer stone running throughout. A kind soul on the Gardenweb kitchen forum had this advice. When considering a slab, have it pulled. Wet it entirely with water and squeegee it. Watch it as it dries. If the cracks remain wet, there may be a problem. It's too late for me, but I hope this helps someone still in the planning stage.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Spicy shredded pork

It's definitely fall. We're wearing boots and heavy jackets. Football is on the tube. Pumpkins and enormous pots of mums decorate stoops. Leaves are turning brilliant shades of red and yellow and orange. By the way, I'm still completely wide-eyed at the fall colors here. I wonder if I'll ever grow jaded.

For me, fall signals a food change. An end to fresh, juicy summer tomatoes and stone fruits and crisp salads. The start of savory, soothing root vegetables and apples and squashes of all sorts. And for some odd reason, fall means pork (shades of the ole pigskin, football?) and pumpkins.

So to celebrate fall, I'm looking for recipes porcine and pumpkin. To begin, I came across this pork recipe on The Pioneer Woman. Her recipe originally hails from Austin, TX. Love the serendipity.

This is delicious served as soft tacos: corn tortillas, avocados, shredded cheese, salsa or pico de gallo, etc. However, it's out-of-this-world yummy served as a stacked enchilada. Layer the shredded pork and some shredded Mexican blend cheese between two corn tortillas. Add some green chile sauce (if you've got some...canned enchilada sauce will do) and a runny fried egg on top. Lightly salt the egg. It's that fried egg that makes your taste buds do the rumba. Yum.

Spicy shredded pork
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman

* 4 pounds pork butt
* 1 teaspoon dried oregano
* 1 teaspoon ground cumin
* 1 teaspoon chili powder
* 1 tablespoon salt
* pepper to taste
* 4 cloves garlic
* 2 tablespoons olive oil
* 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
* ¼ cups brown sugar
* 1 whole onion

Rinse and pat dry the pork butt.

Cut onion into quarters. Throw the onion quarters, dried oregano, cumin, chili powder, salt, black pepper, garlic, olive oil, white wine vinegar and brown sugar into a blender. Blend mixture until totally combined and then pour it over the pork butt.

Now rub it into every nook and cranny of the meat. Place the pork into a roasting pan or Dutch oven and add a couple of cups of water. Cover tightly and roast pork at 300ยบ for 4-5 hours, turning once every hour. When it's done, let it rest for 15 minutes before shredding. Shred the pork butt (two forks work well). When it's shredded, pour the juices over the meat.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Cabinet love

Recently, a blog reader emailed me to ask who'd built my cabinets. It hit me then. I'd forgotten to mention my cabinetmakers! The wonderful folks responsible for my custom Cooking Apple Green and Old White cabinets are Country Craftsmen in Uxbridge, MA.

Patty and Billy executed a detailed plan flawlessly from inset uppers to custom-height drawers. Their prices were very reasonable. They measured carefully and correctly. (Those of you who've heard horror stories of too big or too small cabinets know how important this is.) They completed the cabinets exactly on schedule. Billy even came back to adjust the inset hinges after our general contractor installed the cabinets.

We chose their dovetailed wood drawers with Blum full-extension, soft-close hardware. The insides of these drawers feel like lustrous silk. Country Craftsmen also offers Blum tandembox.

For our blind corner cabinet, they installed Hafele's Magic Corner I. The blind corner was the only cabinet configuration that gave us both the large sink and the trash pullout that we wanted.

Furniture feet detail gave the Farrow & Ball Old White cabinets an unfitted look. Yes, you can put furniture feet on frameless cabinets. Their sprayed paint finish was exquisite. Silken smooth. Their wood finishes that we saw were equally well done.

I couldn't decide what color our hood should be so I'm waiting until all the other elements are in place. We asked that the hood be primed only, not painted. Billy used reclaimed white oak that matches our flooring to trim out the hood.

Many thanks to you, Patty and Billy, for my beautiful cabinetry. I smile every single day when I use my kitchen. It still feels like a dream to be in a functional kitchen with smoothly gliding drawers and tons of storage. A very happy dream.