Still Life, With Cats

This content shows Simple View

Kitchen Adventures

You had me at ‘bacon’

Day 2 of Thingadailies, and it’s time for more soup, mainly because we fell behind and needed to catch up if we were going to stay on track with the one new recipe a week plan.

Tonight’s soup was Chicken Bacon Chowder. While yesterday’s soup was light and chock full of veggies, this soup swings in complete the opposite direction, combining chicken, onion, leeks, mushrooms, and of course bacon, in a crockpot and cooking it all day so that the entire house smells amazing by dinner time.

A crockpot full of delicious chowder

Unlike yesterday’s soup, we were definitely not hungry after eating a bowl of this chowder. I think next time we make it I’ll cut back on the salt, and maybe do a couple healthier tweaks (subbing in coconut milk instead of the cream, for example, or using only half the bacon), but it was exactly the thing for a cold night when it’s been a long day at work and all you want is food that doesn’t require any effort (because all the effort happened 8 hours before).

We did, by the way, eat more of the cauliflower soup for lunch, although this time we paired it with grilled cheese sandwiches made on the Sourdough Sandwich Bread I baked this morning. Yum.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

Healthy start

Oh look, it’s February again, which means another year of Thingadailies. In prior years I’ve had some kind of plan for a theme of what I’ll be making but this year I just haven’t come up with anything so…we’re going to play it by ear. And thus, today, I made Curried Cauliflower Soup.

Last year, I started thinking about the fact that we like soup, but we don’t actually have that many recipes that we make, and wouldn’t it be fun to expand our soup repertoire. So I went back through all the bookmarks in my Recipes to Try folder, and polled my family and friends, and made a list of a bunch of recipes, and then we set ourselves a goal of making one new-to-us soup recipe every week for the entire year (or a total of 52 different types of soup). Obviously not all of them will end up in our favorites list, but at least we’d have tried lots of new stuff and hopefully added a few more to the recipe box.

This recipe is pretty simple. You cook up some onion and some garlic in a little bit of oil, then add vegetable broth and a massive pile of cauliflower, plus a bunch of spices (although weirdly curry was not actually one of them) and simmer that until everything is soft. Break out the stick blender and blend it until smooth, then stir in some coconut milk to add a bit more depth and richness to the flavor.

The recipe suggested serving it with some roasted cashews sprinkled on top, but we skipped that, and instead had it with slices of Granola Bread on the side.

Verdict – it’s definitely tasty and we’d be perfectly happy to make it again, but we were both absolutely starving about an hour later, so this soup would be better as a side dish instead of as the main course.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

Baking Sisters: The Christmas Edition

This month, instead of doing our baking date through virtual means, we decided we would actually do it in person. It was my year to host, so my entire family was here (you would not think we could cram eleven full grown adults into our tiny living room but somehow it always works out), and my sister and I figured we could sneak in some baking time then.

We’ve really enjoyed this season of Great British Bake Off – the new host is much better; the format was back to what it used to be; nearly every week my sister and I wanted to bake at least one of the recipes (unlike in years past when we’ve been uninspired), and sometimes we have even struggled with *which* recipe to make because we wanted to make them all.

So for Christmas we decided we wanted to make a plaited bread. Christmas morning I mixed up the dough for another lardy cake (since my sister hadn’t yet made that one), while she mixed up the dough for a basic white bread. Then once that was ready, we rolled it out super thin and brushed it with garlic herb butter. Once that was rolled up, we then had a discussion of how many strands to do in our plait. The contestants had to do a minimum of 5, but we decided to do six. My sister started cutting the long roll, and then as she finished we realized she’d actually cut it into eight pieces instead. Oops.

Ah well. We roped my niece into helping while my mom took pictures, and we rolled each piece out into a long, thing rope. Then we got to plaiting. My sister wanted to find a video, but I was pretty sure I had an idea of what to do.

Things got a little silly.

Three women laughing, heads back, while forming bread.

Okay, we probably should have watched a video, but once we got started, we got the hang of it.

Two women plaiting a loaf of bread. Picture shows just their hands and the bread in progress.

Ta da!

Two women holding a large plaited loaf of bread

It was a lot of fun to make, and it was nice to be able to bake together in the same place for a change. And bonus, it was absolutely delicious!


Every year for the past umpteen years some friends and I do a cookie exchange in December. This year I decided that instead of cookies I’d make white chocolate citrus truffles instead.

I’ve made this recipe before, a year or so ago back when I was doing my annual ‘how to use up the bazillion citrus fruit from our trees’ self challenges, and they were such a hit that I have hung onto the recipe to make again. The smooth, creamy ganache in the center has just enough citrus flavor to make these a refreshing bite.

Truffles are actually a fairly simple thing to make, as long as you’ve got space in your freezer for all the chilling steps. First you steep your heavy cream with your flavoring for twenty minutes – in this case, the zest of a lemon and an orange (I used zest I froze in a tiny bit of cream from last year’s citrus crop, since our fruit isn’t quite ripe yet). Then you pour the cream (strained, if you’re using something like zest) over a bowl of chocolate, stir that all together until it melts, and then chill it until firm (this will likely take a couple hours.

Once the ganache is completely chilled, next you scoop it out into individual truffle centers, lined up on a cookie sheet. I use a small cookie scoop to form my truffles, because this allows me to have them as uniform as possible. Pop that back into the freezer for another couple hours, then take them out and roll each one into a ball, before stashing them back into the freezer for a bit longer.

Finally, you melt whatever chocolate you’re using for dipping, plus a little bit of vegetable oil or shortening to help loosen it a bit, and start dipping (I used a fondue fork, but they do make special dipping forks if you want to get all fancy). You’ll want to do this in stages, as you don’t want all your truffle centers to thaw and start to get lumpy during the process. Carefully slide your dipped truffle onto the cookie sheet, where if you’ve done this all correctly, the outer coating of chocolate should set up almost immediately. You might have to do a little patching on the bottoms once they’re set, but otherwise, ta da, you’ve got truffles!

White chocolate citrus truffles

Currently pondering tackling a couple other flavors (peppermint, or espresso, or even salted caramel), because even more sweets is *exactly* what we need this time of year, but ha, when did *that* ever stop me?

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Lardy, (not) lardy

This year, once again, my little sister and I watched the Great British Bake Off together (Great British Baking Show in the US), and did our version of a bake-along. Every week we picked one of the challenges and attempted to bake it, within the time constraints that the challengers were given.

Yesterday was the finale, and while we were very sad that our two favorite contestants (Tasha and Saku) didn’t actually make it to the finale, we were both quite happy with the person who won.

Options for the finale included eclairs, which was, eh, mainly because we’ve both made choux pastry a bazillion times in the past so it wasn’t going to be any sort of challenge, and a three-layer fancy cake, which neither of us wanted to make because that’s a lot of cake when there’s only two people in the house. The third option, however, was something neither of us (or the contestants, for that matter) had heard of: Lardy Cake.

Lardy Cake is a yeast-based dough that is laminated with a mixture of butter and lard. The recipe the contestants were given, however, sounded absolutely revolting, as it included (yes you guessed it) lard, as well as a bunch of dried fruit. On a whim, though, I started poking around on the internets, and lo, the internets graced me with recipes for lardy cake that not only did not include lard, but also did not include dried fruit. Specifically, this recipe.

Normally I would have been timing myself, but because we veered significantly from the GBBO approved recipe, I didn’t bother setting a timer. So this morning, after the usual round of cat-related chores (filling feeders, scooping litter boxes, giving the diaper-clad incontinent cat a butt bath, why yes, my life is super glamourous, why do you ask?), I set up the dough. An hour later, I rolled it out and spread two thirds of it with a mix of softened butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Lardy cake dough, rolled out into a rectangle, with spiced, sweetened butter.

Then I did the first of 5 envelope folds, which are how you get the layers in laminated dough. You fold one third of the dough to the middle, then the other outer third over the first third, and let it rest. Turn the dough, gently roll it out into a rectangle again, and then repeat the envelope fold a couple more times. This helps spread the flavored butter out between ever thinner layers of the dough.

After the final fold, I pressed it into a greased springform pan. I did smoosh it into a circle but during the rising process it kind of, well, unsmooshed itself. Ah well.

Lardy cake batter, brushed with egg wash and ready for baking.

Half an hour in the oven and here’s my finished Lardy Cake. It isn’t very exciting to look at, I realize.

Fully baked lardy cake

But look at what’s inside!

A slice of lardy cake, showing off the interior layers. And yes, that ant is part of the plate – it’s Calamityware!

I am super pleased with all those layers.

The cake itself is more like a sweet bread, and is actually very reminiscent of a croissant in that the outer layers were flakey and buttery, and the inner layers are soft and lightly sweet. Cake or bread or whatever you want to call it, however, this thing is absolutely delicious. And except for about half an hour of folding and resting, it doesn’t take all that much effort to put together. It’s certainly not a fast bake, as there were two hour-long rises before it even went into the oven, but oh, it’s definitely worth it.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Sweet and light

I had plans to make something different today but it’s been a long week and we were tired, so instead we ordered pizza and I made these lemon cookies, which are basically a lemon crinkle cookie in appearance.

They were quick to throw together while we were waiting for the pizza to be delivered (and yes, I do realize that I could have just as easily made the originally planned shrimp dish in the time it took, except neither of us was in the mood for it).

The cookies are soft, slightly sweet, and have a pleasing scent of lemon, although I didn’t actually taste it. I did feel as if they could have benefited from the addition of just a bit of salt, and perhaps twice as much zest to bring out more flavor, but in general, they were a perfectly acceptable cookie.

Citrus used: 1 lemon

Total citrus used so far: 9 mandarin orange, 17 tangelos, 13 lemons

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

Pucker up

I really like orange chicken – you know, the stuff you get from places like Panda Express, that has a hint of tart and a hint of sweet, with the chicken coated in a lovely sauce. So when I found this recipe, I was excited to give it a try, especially since it calls for two entire cups of juice and one is trying to use up a plethora of fruit.

The chicken is fairly simple to make; it’s just cubed and tossed in some flour, then pan fried, and then you bring all the sauce ingredients together and simmer them until slightly thickened.

It looks like orange chicken, doesn’t it? However…shudder. I took one bite, shuddered, and then went and made myself a sandwich instead. I’m not sure what exactly was the problem, but there’s an extremely unpleasant bitter note to the entire dish, that lingered unpleasantly on the tongue for quite some time.

Richard didn’t mind it, however, so at least we’ve got his lunch sorted for the next few days, but it’s safe to say I won’t ever be making this recipe again.

Citrus used: 7 tangelos, 7 mandarins

Total citrus used so far: 9 mandarin orange, 17 tangelos, 12 lemons

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

A use for my kitchen torch

Happy Valentine’s Day!

In honor of the occasion, I made Lemon crème brulee.

Crème brulee is one of those deceptively simple desserts that looks much harder than it actually is. It’s basically just a rich custard, baked in a water bath, then chilled, and topped with sugar that gets torched for that characteristic hard topping right before serving. In this instance, lemon zest is added to the mixture to add a little bit of citrus flavor, although it was pretty subtle.

I might have let it bake a hair too long, but it was still pretty tasty. We enjoyed it after a dinner of the leftovers of the salmon and risotto from Friday.

Oh and by the way, that weird potato salad from Sunday might not be the best sandwich filling, but it actually works fantastic as a breakfast when warmed up and topped with a sunny side up egg. We’ve had that for breakfast the last two days and I suspect it will be breakfast for the rest of the week.

Citrus used: 1 lemon

Total citrus used so far: 2 mandarin orange, 10 tangelos, 12 lemons

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

Early valentine

Because tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, which is usually marked with chocolates, I decided to make truffles. White Chocolate Citrus Truffles, to be exact.

I actually made these yesterday, because a work day is not exactly conducive to making chocolates (due to the multiple steps involved), but they were meant for today, and this is my own challenge, so I say it counts.

First, you zest one lemon and one orange (I used Meyer lemon and Mandarin orange, since that’s what’s on our trees) and you simmer that zest in the cream for a bit until it takes on the flavor. Then you strain out the zest, stir the infused cream into some melted white chocolate chips, and mix that together until smooth. That goes into the fridge to chill for a couple hours.

Once the ganache is chilled, that gets scooped into balls (shout out to cookie scoops, which are perhaps on of the best things I have ever gotten for my baking adventures), and the balls go into the freezer to set firm.

Once the balls are firm, then each one is rolled so that it’s smooth. Back into the freezer for another hour or so to chill again, and finally they then get dipped into yet more melted white chocolate, which if you have tempered it correctly, should set almost immediately on the cold pan.

I had intended to top them with pieces of candied peel, but during the process of boiling the peels, I lost track of time and managed to scorch the peels to the bottom of the pan, and by that time it was getting late in the evening and I didn’t want to start that whole lengthy process again, so….naked truffles are what we’ve got!

I am extremely pleased with how these turned out. The ganache inside is perfectly creamy and soft, while the white chocolate coating was just the right thickness to hold it all in place. There is a nice tartness from the infused cream that helps keep them from being too overly sweet, and overall, it is a lovely bite.

I took them to rehearsal with me (which is why I wanted to have them for today) and they were hit. This is a recipe I will definitely be making again.

Citrus used: 1 lemon, 1 mandarin orange

Total citrus used so far: 2 mandarin orange, 10 tangelos, 11 lemons

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

One potato, two

Today was Baking Sisters, and since we’re still meandering our way alphabetically through the states, this month it was time for Idaho. Or rather, this month it was time for all things potato.

The official pie of the state is Huckleberry pie, but as berries are Not Food (and also huckleberries are both not in season, and nowhere to be found around here anyway), we skipped that one. However, the official cookie of Idaho is the Potato Chip Cookie, and the official sandwich is the Potato Salad Sandwich (no I am not making that up), so clearly we had to give both of those a try.

Oh and also because of my need to use up citrus, plus my recent acquisition of a madeleine pan, we also made Lemon Madeleines.

So this morning shortly after I got up, I zested and juiced some lemons, and then mixed together the madeleine batter and got that into the fridge to chill. Then, once we started our video call, and after we got the potatoes into the pot to boil for the potato salad, I filled my madeleine pan and put that back into the fridge to chill some more.

The recipe for the potato salad includes carrots and eggs (which get boiled in the same pan as the potatoes), and also chopped celery and cubed cooked ham. The dressing was just mayo, salt and pepper, and seemed on first glance that this was going to end up pretty bland, but we pressed on, deciding to follow the recipe exactly. Neither of us thought to halve the recipe because it didn’t seem like it was going to make all that much….at least until we started mixing everything together and realizing that no, this makes a TON. Hmm, guess what we’ll both be eating now for days!

Technically we should have used white bread, but instead Richard and I put a scoop of the salad on some leftover Lemon Buns from yesterday for lunch. It was…okay, although my sister and I were correct in that it is extremely bland and is in desperate need of *something* (she stirred in some pickle relish, and I am thinking that a large dollop of mustard might be needed for mine, but we’ll see). I feel like this whole concept might have potential, but possibly not as a sandwich, or at least not without a whole lot of additional help.

As for the potato chip cookies, it’s basically an oatmeal cookie with crushed potato chips mixed in. They’re a perfectly acceptable cookie, I suppose, and there’s that same aftertaste that you get from potato chips (slightly greasy, slightly salty, a hint of something fried), but this isn’t a recipe I’m ever going to be wanting to make again.

And moving on to the madeleines – well, they puffed up perfectly, they all had the requisite hump, and they tasted fine….but they got a little too brown (they should be a pale golden brown, oops).

They were fun to make, however (despite the multiple chill times), and since I have this pan, I will definitely be making madeleines again, although perhaps I’ll try a different recipe .

Citrus used: 2 lemon

Total citrus used so far: 1 mandarin orange, 10 tangelos, 10 lemons

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.