Still Life, With Cats

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Jennifer

It was inevitable

Looking at the mountain of mandarin oranges and tangelos in the fridge at the beginning of the month, I figured for sure there’d be enough to make it to the end of February. But alas, there’s only a few left, and the Meyer Lemon shrub in the backyard is beckoning with its mountains of fruit, so it’s time to slip some lemon recipes into the mix.

And when one has most of a box of bran flakes sitting in the cupboard, and an abundance of lemons, one naturally thinks ‘cookies’, right? Or maybe that’s just me? Okay, moving on.

Today’s offering to the citrus gods are these Lemon Crunch Cookies. I stumbled across this recipe while trolling the internets for what the heck to do with the rest of the bran cereal, and after reading the description, I knew I had to make them.

To quote: “Sweet, tangy and refreshing, these crisp lemon cookies make a delicate summer dessert when paired with vanilla ice cream or lemon sorbet. A perfect, ladylike treat for a baby or wedding shower.”

Because everyone knows that the thing a gal wants more than anything at her special occasion is a cookie that’ll keep her regular. Ahem.

Anyway. I stirred up the cookies this morning, and let them cool throughout the day, figuring that the citrus flavor would need a little time to become more pronounced. After lunch, we gave them a try.

The lemon flavor is very subtle, but it’s there. It’s not a bad cookie, but certainly not one I’m going to be craving. But hey, it used up a couple lemons and made a dent in the box of bran flakes, so…yay?

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.



All the sun

There is a requirement when one is faced with an excessive quantity of citrus – and that is that one should most definitely make curd. I’ve made lemon curd dozens of time in the past, so this morning I decided to switch things up and make Orange Curd instead.

There’s not much exciting to say about the process – you whisk juice, zest, sugar, cornstarch, and eggs in a bowl over a hot water bath, stirring continuously to avoid getting bits of scramble egg in your curd, and once it thickens you remove from heat, stir in the butter, then press it through a strainer to remove the bits of scrambled egg that always manage to show up no matter how studiously you whisk, and poof, you end up with a bowl of yummy goodness.

And if there is curd, then there must also be a method of using it, so this morning I also made Orange Crepes. Again, I’m not sure what there is to say about crepes that hasn’t already been said, except that the first one is always going to be an ugly mess, but it’s still edible, so don’t toss it.

Breakfast this morning was orange crepes, filled with some cottage cheese and some fresh orange curd. Sunshine on a plate. Absolutely delicious.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.



The sweets that keep you regular

This year for our general Baking Sisters theme, we decided to do vintage recipes, specifically pie. There are so many weird and wonderful recipes lurking out there that were once apparently very popular, so our goal is to make a few each month and see if they’re worth reviving.

This month we picked a couple recipes from a wonderful old cookbook a friend lent to my sister – The Household Searchlight Recipe Book, published by the Household Magazine of Topeka, Kansas, in 1937. The format of the book suggests that this is a collection of recipes sent in by a whole host of readers around the country. Each recipe itself is just a list of ingredients and a few short sentences on preparation – obviously a lot was assumed common knowledge by the cook. For example, the directions for the Apple Fluff pie we made this month said to pour the mixture into ‘a pastry-lined pie tin’, with no explanation of what type of crust to use, or how to make it, and then ‘Bake in hot oven (425 F) until crust is brown and filling is firm’, with no indication of how long that might actually entail.

But I digress. This month we decided we would make Apple Fluff Pie, Bran Candy (because the instant we saw that recipe we knew we *had* to try it), and molasses squares, because we were not holding out much hope that the bran candy was going to something we wanted to eat.

First up was making the pie crust, because that needed to chill before the pie could bake. Then we moved on to the the base for the Bran Candy, which is a caramel made from brown sugar, milk, water, a tiny amount of butter, and strangely, a tiny dab of baking powder. Both of us were a bit concerned because the caramel smelled a little burnt by the time we got it to the correct temperature, but ah well.

That needed to cool, so next we moved on to the molasses squares, which again comes together like a caramel, although in this case it’s got molasses and white sugar along with the water and butter. Once that came to the correct temperature, that was poured into a pan to cool as well. We were supposed to cut it into squares before it set completely but…oops.

Back to the bran candy. Once at room temperature we were then supposed to stir in the bran (it didn’t specify what form of bran, so I used bran cereal flakes because that’s what Richard found at the store), and then whip that until it reached a kneadable consistency. However, it was immediately obvious that I had cooked my caramel a little too long, as I had to pretty much chisel it out of the pan with a bench scraper, and it nearly glued my kitchen aid attachment to the bowl. I ended up stretching it by hand, more like a taffy, which did eventually allow me to incorporate all the bran cereal.

Trust me when I say that you do not want to see what this looked like *before* I did my taffy pull technique.

This was then cut into chunks, which were rolled in powdered sugar to keep them from sticking together.

Don’t those look appetizing!

Once the bran candy was done, then it was finally time to make the Apple Fluff Pie. This pie intrigued us because the ingredients are applesauce, lemon juice, cornstarch, and eggs, and it just sounded…very odd.

The eggs are separated, then all other ingredients plus the yolks are cooked together over a hot water bath ‘until smooth and thickened’. Neither of us could figure out exactly what was meant by ‘thickened’ since the mixture never got any thicker no matter how long we stirred.

Then you beat the egg whites, and fold in the egg whites, and then that goes into the oven to bake. It took all our willpower but we both resisted adding anything else, like actual flavor (cinnamon, for example) to the pie. That gets popped into the oven and then it’s baked ‘until set’. That took quite a while.

So how did all these weird and wacky recipes taste?

The bran candy has an underlying ‘cereal’ taste – I’m not sure how else to describe it except that if you have ever eaten a flaked breakfast cereal you probably can picture exactly what I am talking about. Otherwise I doubt you’d know that there’s actual bran in there. The cereal adds a bit of texture to the candy, but that’s about it. Otherwise it was better than we were anticipating, which isn’t saying much since we weren’t anticipating it to be any good at all! Fun to make, but not worth the effort of repeating.

I had expected the molasses squares to be more like a molasses caramel but they’re instead a hard molasses candy. We both thought they were pretty tasty.

And finally, the apple fluff pie.

I was hoping this would be reminiscent of an apple pie but….it’s basically like eating applesauce. Applesauce in a crust. I sprinkled my slice with a little cinnamon after the first bite, which did improve the overall experience, but then it was just cinnamon applesauce in a pie crust.

So…final verdict: a resounding ‘don’t bother’ for all three of them. They were super fun to make, even if I am going to have to clean out my pans with a chisel due to the hardness of the caramel, but let’s just say that if these were considered tasty treats back when this book was published, I’m super glad I’m not a 1930s housewife.

As for my Thingadailies challenge, well, there was lemon juice in the apple fluff pie, so I’m calling it good.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.



Pop-do-overs

Today for breakfast I made popovers.

Or rather, I should say that I *tried* to make popovers. It was not…entirely successful.

I found this recipe, which sounded interesting. I made half a recipe, which was good because I have no popover pans, and so instead used a muffin tin, which meant that they were significantly smaller than they should have been. As a result, even though I tried to adjust the baking times accordingly, by the time I pulled them out, it was clear they were a little over done.

The signature characteristic of a popover is that it is supposed to puff up over the edge of its container, and then when you prick it with a toothpick, it should deflate in on itself (sort of the same concept as a souffle). These….did not deflate. At all.

Thankfully, however, the inside looked fine, and they actually taste pretty good.

Not sure it’s worth purchasing pans specifically for popovers, but maybe with a little extra adjustment in times to account for the smaller size, I could make them look and act a bit more like a popover is supposed to. Hmm.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.



A bit of bright

I never got around to making an orange thing yesterday, mainly because I just didn’t feel like it. So this morning I made Orange Walnuts. The story behind them was bittersweet, and I was intrigued by the idea.

The recipe itself is fairly simple – you start with a caramel made with sugar and orange juice, and then you stir in orange zest, butter, and walnuts. Then you pour the resulting concoction onto some parchment and when it’s cooled, break it into pieces.

I wasn’t sure what to expect – something more like traditional candied nuts, perhaps – but while this might look closer to brittle, it’s more like a chewy nut bar. The orange flavor isn’t pronounced, but it’s definitely there – a hint of brightness amid the nuts and caramel.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.



It takes two

Today I decided to make scones, because it’s been a while since I made scones, and also scones are stupid easy to make, and also this recipe uses both lemons and orange, both of which I happen to have in massive abundance. Yay scones!

The key to a good scone is that you mix all the dry ingredients together first, then you add in the (cold) butter and you mix it together by hand, until the butter is well incorporated (the mixture should look a bit like sand, and you’ll still see some larger, pea-sized lumps of butter). Only once that part is done do you add in the wet ingredients (in this case, some cream), and once you add the wet, you only mix the dough until it’s *just* incorporated. You’re aiming for a delicate crumb, and overmixing will active the gluten in the flour and give you a more bready product instead of a crumbly biscuit sort of affair.

One other step that most scone recipes don’t mention is that if you want your scones to hold their shape, you should pop the whole pan into the freezer for maybe ten to fifteen minutes to chill up the dough after it’s been mixed and shaped and cut. I probably should have done that, except that I got a late start on these (because I was too busy playing with adorable foster kittens) and needed to toss them into the oven before running downstairs to get to work.

Anyway. I’ve been doing half recipes of a lot of the things I’ve made so far this month, but for this one I did the full batch. Here they are, fresh from the oven, and drizzled with the orange glaze.

And here is a single scone, gently extracted from the herd, and ready to be consumed.

Verdict: absolutely delicious, as expected. There’s a brightness from the lemon, while the glaze on top adds just the right amount of sweetness. Yum! This recipe is definitely a keeper.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.



Here there be dragons

I realized the other day that half the month is gone and I haven’t yet made any cookies. Also I realized it had been a really long time since I fed my sourdough starter (which lives in the fridge and gets fed every month or three, when I remember. Luckily it’s a hardy entity and thrives on neglect). So into Google those terms went, and out popped these Sourdough Almond Orange cookies. Yes, there really *is* a recipe for pretty much anything out there.

I actually put the dough together yesterday, since it needed to sit for a while and I knew I wouldn’t have very much time today to be messing with it.

This is another recipe where you use the whole orange or if you want to get technical, this one uses the pulp, plus the zest. Since I was only making half the recipe, I just used one large Mandarin, and hoped that would be sufficient. That gets ground up (hooray for the stick blender) with some butter and sugar, and then you stir in almond flour and whole wheat flour until it all just comes together. Then that gets put into the fridge for a few hours (or in my case, overnight).

This morning I rolled out the dough to bake the cookies. I asked Richard to get me a cookie cutter in keeping with the season, and he handed me a dragon, which is why these are all Sourdough Orange Almond Dragons.

Interestingly, the recipe did not actually specify the length of time they should be baked, so I just kept peeking in to check. So if you should be inspired to make your own Sourdough Orange Almond Dragons, start with about 12 minutes, and then adjust from there.

These were an interesting sort of cookie. The predominant flavor is actually the whole wheat, which disappointed me a bit since I would have expected the almond or the orange to take center stage. They’re not a bad cookie, but they’re tasty in an earnest ‘you are eating a healthy cookie’ sort of way, instead of in a ‘I am indulging in something decadent’ feeling. Perhaps if I were to ever make them again (although the chances of that are pretty much nil), I’d use all-purpose flour, so as to let the other flavors shine. An orange juice glaze might also help too.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.



Cheese, please

Since today is Valentine’s Day, I decided I should do up something fancy for the occasion. So this morning I whipped up a an Orange Cheese Danish.

That sounds way more impressive if you don’t realize that I started with store-bought puff pastry, doesn’t it?

Anyway, it’s pretty simple. Mix up some ricotta (or in our case, cottage) cheese, sugar, an egg, a little flour, and some orange zest, and blend it really well together. Then lay out the puff pastry on a baking sheet, slice the edges, spread the filling down the middle, and fold the cut edge pieces inward to make a pretty pattern. Then that goes into the oven, and when it’s baked, then it gets brushed with an orange juice and powdered sugar glaze, then sprinkled with chopped nuts.

I only made one of these (instead of the two the recipe calls for), since there’s only two of us, and things made with puff pastry tend to lose their signature crispness after sitting for a while.

Here’s an interior view, of the filling and all those crispy, crunchy layers. Laminated dough is a magical thing.

It went together pretty quickly, which was convenient, since the Boskone panels started at 7am (it’s an East Coast convention). And it wasn’t….bad. It just didn’t have much flavor. I think it just needs significantly more filling, or else about twice the amount of zest, or *something*.

The good news is that I do have another package of puff pastry so I could try something similar later on. And orange curd is on the list of recipes to make this month, so….we shall see.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.



Gloop

This weekend Richard and I have been attending Boskone through the magic of the internet, since it went entirely virtual. This isn’t the first virtual convention we’ve done since the pandemic took over last year, and the way things are going, it certainly won’t be the last.

It’s a different experience, attending via computer versus being there in person. On the one hand, it’s sad to miss out on all the interactions with fellow SciFi/Fantasy fans, getting to see all the awesome costumes, chatting with fellow nerds in the halls, and so on. But I have to admit that virtual cons have one major bonus going for them that I am going to miss SO MUCH when we all can gather in person once again. Because all the attendees are automatically muted, that means that we all can focus on the presenters! There aren’t people holding conversations in the back of the room where they think no one can hear them (but we can, annoying people. WE CAN!).There isn’t any way for any of the audience members to interrupt with their ‘this isn’t really a question’ speeches. Any related (or unrelated) chatter happens silently, in the Chat box. Any questions being asked are visible to everyone present, so we’re not wondering what the heck the presenters are responding to when they answer someone with a quiet voice who only they can hear. It’s been so delightfully refreshing! Plus attending cons from home means I can sit in my pjs with cats and knitting and occasionally refill my coffee or go bake something on the break, and the food is significantly better than what’s usually available.

Well. Usually it is, unless you happen to be doing something like making an orange thing a day and you find what appears to be a promising recipe, except it fails to deliver on all counts. Sigh.

Today’s recipe was this Honey Orange Firecracker Shrimp. On paper it sounded really promising – a sweet and spicy sauce on top of breaded shrimp. How could this go wrong?

Well, for starters I had a bag of salad shrimp in the freezer instead of ‘regular sized’ shrimp, and I thought that would be fine, but when I added them to the pan, they all just kind of clumped into one giant blob.

I added some broccoli to the pan, and cooked that, but then I added the sauce, and things just went….gloopy.

Mmm, doesn’t this look appetizing.

It might have been okay, except that it had almost no flavor. For something marked as ‘Firecracker’, I would have expected a bit of heat, but…nothing. No orange. No spice. Just…gloop. Gloop and rice.

Ah well, they can’t all be winners. Adding this one to the pile of nope and moving on.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.



All the butter

When one thinks of orange, one naturally thinks of biscuits, right?

Yeah, me neither, but when I saw this recipe I knew I had to try it. So today’s orange thing was these Orange Biscuits.

They come together like any other biscuit recipe, in that you work all the dry ingredients together with the butter until it resembles coarse sand, and then you stir in the liquid (in this case milk and orange juice) until just moistened, being super careful not to overwork the dough, and then you roll them, cut them, and bake them.

These had an extra step of an orange butter sauce (which is literally orange juice mixed with melted butter, reduced on the stove) which was brushed on top of the biscuits prior to baking. Here’s where I admit I wasn’t paying enough attention to the steps so I popped the biscuits into the oven and then made the butter sauce instead of the other way around, so I pulled them out about five minutes from the end, basted them with the orange butter sauce, and finished them back in the oven.

Of course, once one has a small bowl of orange butter sauce, one has to come up with something to do with all the rest of it. So I looked at the pan of chicken and broccoli I was putting together for dinner, pondered the fact that orange would go nicely with both of those, and just dumped the remaining orange butter sauce directly into the pan. That, plus some leftover rice from the fridge, turned into a delicious dinner. Also, how many more times can I use the words ‘orange butter sauce’ in this blog post?

While I would happily use orange butter sauce for chicken, broccoli, and rice again, I’m not sure the biscuits are worth a repeat. They’re perfectly fine biscuits, but a plain, non-orange biscuit would have worked just as well.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.




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