Still Life, With Cats

This content shows Simple View

Baking

Shiny

To round out our unofficial Year of Rainbows for the Baking Sisters, this month my younger sister and I decided to do something with a mirror glaze. Originally we were going to do the Walnut Whip from the GBBO finale, but make it peppermint, but we also wanted to do the glaze, and so eventually that just sort of combined into one thing that had no relation to a Walnut Whip at all. Or, for that matter, a rainbow, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves too quickly.

Anyway. We started by making a chocolate ganache, because that needed time to chill in the fridge before scooping. That’s fairly simple – just heat up some cream, stir in enough chocolate to get to the right consistency, plus a little butter for creaminess, and then set aside.

Then we made white chocolate peppermint mousse, which was also super easy – heat up some cream, stir in some white chocolate and peppermint extract, then once that’s reached room temperature, fold that into some more cream that’s been whipped to stiff peaks.

Then we remembered we’re supposed to be taking pictures, so here’s both of those.

Then I scooped the mousse into my tiny little dome molds, added a little dollop of the ganache, added a little bit more mousse to the ones I hadn’t filled quite enough, and popped those into the freezer.

Next it was time to make the cookies. We decided to go with a vanilla sable cookie, into which we stirred some crushed up peppermint candies.

While those were cooling on the counter, then it was time to do the glaze.

Mirror glaze is made of white chocolate, gelatin, and weirdly, sweetened condensed milk. We both used this recipe, which seemed pretty straight forward. Since we were both doing peppermint, we figured picking red and green and white would make total sense. Right?

So, glaze made, divided into three bowls, and food coloring assembled. So far, so good.

Next the instructions said to pour the colors together into one bowl and just barely stir, before pouring. And this is when things went horribly, laughably wrong.

“I can still see some of the white,” Richard said, wandering into the kitchen.

“Yes, because that’s where I accidentally dropped the bowl and smashed them,” I replied.

I think the problem is that we were using a recipe that is meant to make a galaxy sort of swirl, where blues and silvers and blacks would all merge together and it’d be lovely. Let’s just say that red and green weren’t the best combination to use for that particular technique. They look….well, perhaps this color combination would have been an excellent choice if I was going for zombie guts. Hmm.

It was pretty amusing, however, since there was hysterical laughing from both sides of the camera. At least with mine you can tell there were supposed to be more than one color (the white just completely disappeared). My sister’s colors just merged together automatically into a muddy brown that made them look a bit like, well, see for yourself.

To top it off, she sprinkled hers with edible glitter, to make them sparkly, but which instead had the unfortunate effect of reminding me of when the cats accidentally ate some tinsel, leading to a very sparkly litter box surprise. I think we were all just about crying from laughing so hard.

Anyway, on to the tasting part of the program. I picked the prettiest one of mine to highlight. All alone, on a plate, it doesn’t look…bad. I mean, the appearance is not remotely what I was going for, but at least it’s (mostly) dome-shaped, and the glaze is definitely shiny.

Once cut open, you can see all the distinct layers, so I’m pretty pleased about that.

As for taste, while it may look a hot mess, it’s absolutely delicious. The peppermint in the mousse was the perfect amount – just enough to be cooling in the mouth, but not enough to veer into toothpaste territory. The ganache helped cut the sweetness, and the crushed peppermint in the cookie gave a little bonus texture. Yum!

So overall, this was a nice way to end our year. We’ve definitely learned some very important lessons about what not to do with mirror glaze (do not attempt to swirl red and green – learn from our fail!), and after all, it’s the taste that matters more than the presentation (no matter what Paul and Pru might say).

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.



It’s beginning to smell a lot like…

We might not have done much decorating yet (except for the tree, the rest remains in the attic), but when it comes to holiday food, I’m all in this week.

Tuesday morning I peeled and sliced two pounds of fresh ginger (I am here to tell you that when people tell you you can just remove the peel with the edge of a spoon, they are lying, because that has never once worked for me, and also ginger has a lot of awkward corners, also what’s one more cut on my finger from the vegetable peeler, fa la la) and then after it boiled for a bit I mixed it with its own weight in sugar and cooked that until nearly all the liquid was gone, until poof, only candied ginger remained. I do this every year now because candied ginger is a delightful ingredient to keep in the freezer, ready to grab at a moment’s notice when one wants to make some scones, for example.

Thursday night I turned 16 lemons from our extremely prolific Meyer lemon tree into candied lemon peel. Pro tip – do not start this at 8pm on a weeknight, because not only does it take 3 separate boilings to prep the rinds, but then the actual candying process takes up to three *hours* and also if one happens to doze off waiting for the stupid lemon peel to finish candying, then one ends up having scrub a LOT of lemon-scented caramel off the stovetop the next morning when the pot inevitably boils over. Ahem.

And then today I made Ginger Spice cookies, because it just so happens I have this giant bag of candied ginger in my freezer and why not.

And also I made some Peanut Butter Fudge, because ’tis the season and all that.

Most of it’s going to go to other people (because even if we can’t all be together, I can still share the baked good joy), but there’s still enough left for nibbles here and there, and the house smells wonderful, and that will have to be enough.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.



Comfort and joy

Two short things for today.

First, if you need a smile, then this video is definitely for you.

Timmie loves the foster kittens, and there are big gaps under some of our doors because it’s an old house. Put those two things together and you get scenes like this. There are two separate foster kittens reaching their adorable little feet under the door at Timmie.

Second, because today is apparently National Pastry Day (or something like that), this evening I whipped up these Hand Pies, except instead of blueberries, I used leftover cranberry curd in the middle.

They turned out delicious. Yum!

Holidailies.



First of the season

I had a lot of things to try to get done today, least of which was to finally deal with the remains of the 20 lb box of apples sitting on the kitchen counter (half of which had already been turned into pies and apple butter). But instead I remembered that I’d bought a bag of cranberries for Thanksgiving, intending to turn them into a cranberry curd tart, but that never happened.

So I put the cranberries in a pan with the juice of an orange (which I zested first because one should never pass up the opportunity for some citrus zest), simmered them until they popped, then strained them and put the resulting pulp into a pan with some butter, eggs, egg yolks, and sugar. That was then cooked down into a lovely purple curd.

Next I pulled out the little dome molds my sister and I bought a year or so ago, and painted the insides with some melted white chocolate. Then I baked up a dozen sable cookies, with the orange zest included, and made a batch of marshmallow with the egg whites left over from making the curd. And finally, I scooped a little marshmallow into the white chocolate shells, dolloped in a tiny scoop of cranberry curd, and then topped them all with a cookie.

An interior shot, so you can see the layers.

The idea for these was inspired by the Walnut Whirls from the GBBO finale, but I started thinking about all different kinds of flavor combinations besides walnut and chocolate, plus the cranberries were just sitting there, waiting to be dealt with, so…why not?

Verdict – they’re not the prettiest of cookies – I could certainly work on my chocolate technique – but overall I’m pretty pleased. Admittedly if you took a bite with your eyes closed you would never guess that cranberry is involved (or orange, for that matter), but there is a decided ‘citrus’ feel to them, and the tartness of the cranberries in the curd tempers the sweetness of the marshmallow quite nicely.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.



When in doubt, loaf

(For those of you who might be new to this site, my younger sister and I both love to bake, and try new things (she’s got actual training in it; I just muddle through as an amateur). However, she lives two states away, so once a month for the past couple years, we’ve gotten together via video chat to do a bake-along. More recently, for this year’s season of Great British Bake Off, we decided to also pick one recipe per week from what the contestants had to make, and give it a try ourselves.)

This month, for our Baking Sisters video bake-along, in honor of the recent food-related holiday, my sister and I decided to make Leftover Loaf. Technically, we’re supposed to be doing rainbow-themed things this year, but it’s nearing the end of the year and we’re getting a little tired of rainbow things, so we decided layers was good enough.

If you go online you can find all manner of lovely recipes for a Leftover Loaf, but I will save you the effort. Basically you are assembling a terrine, which is a layered dish packed tightly into a container, chilled, and then sliced and served so that you see all of the lovely layers.

First you pick a thing to use as the liner. My sister used stuffing, but I used mashed potatoes because I wasn’t sure the stuffing would hold. Then you just start adding in layers – I put in turkey, stuffing, and the leftovers of this amazing Roasted Vegetable Crumble that we make every year (minus the crust because it doesn’t really add anything except hassle). Finally I covered it up with the rest of the mashed potatoes, covered it with plastic wrap, and set it in the fridge to chill.

Here is the Leftover Loaf in all its wonderful glory.

Mmm, doesn’t that look appetizing.

Here’s the view of the layers.

Pretty, yes?

This was actually pretty tasty. Granted, Richard and I are both fine with having our foods mingled (and it helps that all the herbs and spices involved are quite complementary), but as weird experiments go, this one was a success.

But speaking of layers, we aren’t done yet! Friday night was the finale of the Great British Bake Off (in the US), and my sister and I couldn’t choose between either the Custard Slice or the Walnut Whirls, so we decided to do both – one this week and one the next.

Up first, Custard Slice, which is a layer of thick custard sandwiched between extremely thin slices of puff pastry. It isn’t really a thing here in the US (at least that we’ve seen). The closest might be mille feuille, which is cream and other things between flattened puff pastry, but those tend to be much fussier, whereas I get the sense that Custard Slice is more of a common sort of dessert.

We both decided to make a recipe made by one of the GBBO contestants – Dave’s Caramel Latte Slices – because we thought it looked absolutely amazing. Also we forgot to set timers so we have no idea how long it actually took for us to make, which is good, because my first two puff pastry attempts were epic fail (my homemade one crumbled to bits while rolling and then I tried with some leftover puff pastry in the freezer but that basically burnt up in the oven, and then Richard very nicely went to the store and bought me some more, and that finally did what was expected, phew).

Anyway, you make the pastry (or in my case you send your husband out to the store for the pastry, oops), and then you make the custard, which gets a little gelatin added to make sure it sets up firm. Both of us topped our Custard Slices with a little leftover caramel instead of what the recipe called for because when one has caramel in the fridge, one should use it at all moments possible.

So after a yummy dinner of Leftover Loaf, dessert was this delightful Caramel Latte custard slice.

Verdict – even more delicious than it looked on the show. The coffee flavor comes through nicely, the custard was delightfully rich and creamy, and the salted caramel added just the right amount of contrast to the sweet. I would happily make this again (and store bought puff pastry worked *just* fine!).

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.



Bite

This morning I woke up and made pizza dough and ate some leftover orange pancakes and pondered the day ahead of me. The house needed cleaning and there was a meeting to go to, and friends coming over in the evening, and I was feeling very uninspired as to what to do for the the day’s citrus thing. But then I remembered I’d seen a recipe for Lemon Crinkle Cookies, and I figured, hey, why not give those a try.

They only use one lemon, which didn’t seem like much, but which turns out to be exactly enough. The cookies may not be much to look at, but they are a delightful bite of sweet and tart. The lemon flavor is present, but not overpowering, and it helps cut through the sugar. This recipe is definitely a keeper.

Citrus used so far: 7 lemons, 8 tangelos, 2 mandarins

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.



A light crumb

What do you do when you pick the first three mandarin oranges of the season off your tree?

Well if you’re me, you turn a few of them into scones.

I like scones – they’re pretty simple to make and I’ve done them in a variety of flavors over the years. In fact, I made lemon scones last year (which were pretty tasty, even if the bulk of the lemon flavor ended up in the glaze on the top). But these will not be my favorite.

Here’s the thing with citrus. The only one I don’t mind eating is grapefruit, and even then I have to be in the mood, because most citrus comes with lots of pith and stringy, chewy bits that I find very off-putting. Yes, I am the sort of person who will strain orange juice before eating it, even the stuff that claims to be pulp free (spoilers – it isn’t), because I find pulpy juice absolutely revolting. I thought maybe these scones would be fine, because the mandarins were chopped up fairly small, but nope, getting a chunk of orange in my mouth just killed it for me.

Luckily Richard absolutely loved them, so he’ll be eating the rest for breakfast the next couple days, and I shall just stick to leftover orange pancakes, where nary a bit of pulp is to be found.

Citrus used so far: 6 lemons, 8 tangelos, 2 mandarins

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.



A whole new world

When we bought our house, back in 2007, it had a huge second-story deck off the back that was in really bad shape (massive dry rot in some places, wobbly railings, etc.). Over the years, it slowly went from bad to worse (railings broke off, stairs collapsed), but we left it alone because there were more pressing projects to address inside. We blocked off the door to the deck so no one could even go out there, and figured we’d deal with it some day.

Eventually though, the whole thing started to sag, to the point where we realized if we left it much further, it was going to come down on its own, and take part of the wall with it. So a couple months ago we finally bit the bullet and had it redone.

The next step, of course, was to turn half of it into a catio, because we do not believe in spoiling our cats around here, nope, not at all.

So here it is, in all its finished glory. I freely admit we’ve already been having our coffee out here since the frame and doors were put in place, and the cats have been able to start investigating.

These are views from the kitchen door. The screening above the railing is all chicken wire, and there’s screening over the top, so they can’t sneak out that way (and nothing can sneak in). We had the benches added because 1) the space is huge and this way there’s plenty of seating for when we have people over, and 2) it’s a way to give the less agile cats (cough, Nutmeg, cough) a way to get up to the higher levels.

And this is the view from the far corner. There’s a set of double doors, so we can open it out onto the rest of the deck.

Action shot (with Sherman and Timmie)

It’s exactly what we were hoping for, and so far the cats seem to be just as happy. At some point we’ll get another light put in, and possibly an electric outlet so maybe I can bring my work laptop out there every once in a while, but for now, it’s done.

As for the citrus things, today’s was Tuscan Lemon Muffins, made with ricotta.

Pretty tasty. I’d definitely make these again. We enjoyed them with our coffee this morning in the catio, while watching the cats enjoying the outside world.

Citrus used so far: 6 lemons, 5 tangelos.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.



Last minute

This morning we went into the kitten room and watched the once-sickly kitten racing around, eyes all wild, tail all puffed, acting just about like any other kitten his age would act. He now has, in fact, more energy than before the crash, which seems to confirm (at least for me) that this was just a relapse of whatever it was that took him down the first time. He’s not thrilled to still be getting medicine, but I don’t mind the occasional glare from a small floof – it’s not the first time and it certainly won’t be the last, and whether he likes it or not, he has to finish up these doses so we can make sure this thing is gone for good.

As for today’s citrus-related thing, I didn’t think about what to make all day, until after dinner when I remembered, oops, I hadn’t made any citrus things yet. So I hastily whipped up a batch of Lemon Ginger Shortbread, using some of the candied ginger I make and stash in the freezer for this sort of thing.

They don’t look like much, especially since we didn’t have any powdered sugar, so I couldn’t make the glaze, but they’re tasty. The lemon flavor is subtle, and you probably wouldn’t know there’s any ginger in there at all, except for the slight heat that follows at the end of a bite. It will be interesting to see if the ginger flavor gets a little more pronounced after they’ve had time to sit for a day or so.

Citrus used so far: 5 lemons, 3 tangelos

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.



The dark of night

This has been one hell of a week. There have been multiple visits to hospitals (both people and animal variety) for various emergencies, several expensive repairs (plumbing, electrical, and automotive), and the discovery that our credit card had been hacked so a lengthy process of figuring out which charges were / were not fraud. The house is a disaster zone – there are dust bunnies large enough to gain sentience gathering in corners and suspicious spots on the floors, and every surface is cluttered with stuff that needs to be sorted, or thrown out, or put away, but with everything else going on, tidying has been last on the priority list. It has been the sort of week that culminated in standing in front of the freezer, eating ice cream directly out of the carton at nearly midnight, because that’s the best I could do.

Today is the first day of February, which means it’s also the first day of Thingadailies. Last year I did lemon related things every day, due to our extremely prolific Meyer lemon tree in the backyard. This year I decided to expand that a bit, to just encompass anything citrus, since we still have a pile of tangelos in the fridge, and there are a bazillion mandarins on the tree in the front yard, still waiting to be picked.

I have been looking forward to this, because things have been pretty dark around here lately (politically), and citrus is the sort of flavor that makes you think of spring and hope and new beginnings. So today, in between trips to the emergency vet, and nervous monitoring of a very sick little kitten, and a power outage (where I grimly knit by literal candlelight because my phone was nearly dead and there was nothing else I *could* do) and trying to keep on top of the suspicious hairball stains on the floors, I decided that the best way to kick off the month would be with pie – Lemon Chess Pie, to be exact. I’ve seen recipes for Chess Pie over the years but have never made one (or even tasted one, for that matter), and the concept sounded intriguing. It’s supposed to be a thick, sweet concoction, sort of (I assumed) like a custard or a cheesecake. The filling includes cornmeal, which seems odd to me, but all the recipes I found have it, so sure, why not. Cornmeal it is.

Pie is supposed to comfort food, tucked into a tasty shell, and I desperately needed some of that this evening, coming home at nearly midnight from the second trip today to the emergency vet, where I dropped the sick kitten off to spend the night. But this wasn’t. The cornmeal in the filling gave it an unexpected (not in a good way) gritty texture. The lemon was too sharp, and not bright and soothing at all. The crust was perfectly done but I have no idea if the middle was set to where it was supposed to be, since it seemed a bit looser than I was anticipating, or even if it tasted like a chess pie should. I took a few bites of my piece and then pushed it away, disappointed, and with an unpleasant taste in my mouth.

Sometimes ice cream straight from the carton is the only suitable option, if only to clear the palate of an extremely unpleasant experience. Here’s hoping next week brings healthier family, healthier foster kittens, zero nasty financial surprises, and much better news.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.




top