Thursday, September 30, 2010

Nutty Double Chocolate Chip Cookies

The weather has been spectacular here lately. In the high 70s and low 80 degrees. Sunny, colorful autumn days. No rain except a bit as necessary to keep things hydrated. Not too much to make the shoes muddy or the spirits damp. Perfection really.

And where have I been? In the kitchen. Baking, of course. Not out in my gardens planting tulips. But I tell myself it's okay. With the lovely weather I can have the windows wide open, I don't have to feed the woodstove (hurray for that!) and I don't have to dodge rain and wind loading pies into my van. I can still enjoy the great weather from inside my kitchen.

I've also accepted the fact that this in not my year to garden or to throw pots- it is my year to bake.

With the wonderful weather the apple pickers are out in force at the farm stands. People come from the cities to wander the orchards with their baskets in hand playing country girl (0r boy) for an afternoon. On their way out they take a fresh homebaked pie from my kitchen (made right I may say, from fresh fruit and real butter!) or apple pastries or even just a cookie.

Here is a divine recipe from the Williams-Sonoma Baking Book for a cookie that is a big hit at the farm stands as well as at Expertec Automotive. It is fudgy, almost like a brownie, with crisp edges and moist centers. If you can resist eating all the dough straight out of the bowl you are a better man then I.

Beat until fluffy:
1 cup softened butter
1 1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar

Add and beat, scraping the bowl:
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted

Add and incorporate completely, scraping the bowl as necessary:
2 cups all purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Stir in:
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans

Bake at 350 degrees for 14-15 minutes.
Make four dozen cookies.

Monday, September 27, 2010

September Blooms

For years I have been trying very unsuccessfully to grow tuberous begonias.

It seemed that no matter where I planted them they would inevitably get stomped by children or dogs just as they began to make flower buds.

Last spring I again succumbed to the call of the tubers in Costco. The Call of the Tubers. Sounds like some weird Return of the Blob type movie. But they do call to me and I can't leave the store without at least one bag in my cart even though I know the odds of successful begonia growing are not in my favor.

But I got smart and planted the tubers in pots and hid them on my deck out of the path of marauding boys and stampeding dogs. The plants were slow, -very slow- to grow but eventually, when the heat of summer finally arrived around August 20, the plants had reached a mature size and started forming flower buds.

And now my patience and perseverance has paid off!

I want to guard and protect them from wagging tails and flailing feet.
And heaven forbid we get any kind of frost before November 1!!

And there is one more September bloom that takes my breath away every time I see it...

I think this is the best dahlia ever!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fruitful Harvest

I live in the fruitful Hood River Valley in the shadow of Mount Hood.

The temperate climate, the rich volcanic soil and the rain, rain, rain, combine to make a unique agricultural area. The premium crops for a hundred years have been apples and pears.

In the spring we are surrounded by fragrant blossoming orchards. It's a glorious season.

Now we are in the harvest season, the pinnacle of the agricultural year.

All over the valley there are dozens of farm stands selling fruit and the bounty of the area.

Coming from Michigan, another farming state, it took me a while to get acquainted with the different apple varieties here. The temperate climate in Oregon prevents growing certain types of apples that require cold hard winters. In the northern midwest I was used to eating Cortlands and MacIntosh apples, as well as Winesaps and Empires. I have never seen any of those varieties here.

But there are plenty of varieties to choose from that grow abundantly in this climate.

We even have some festival weekends devoted to different varieties of fruit. The Gravenstein apple weekend kicks off the season. Next weekend is the Honeycrisp harvest celebration.

There are just as many amazing pear varieties as there are apples.

It's fun to try new ones and there is always something new to try.

Along side the bins of apples and pears there are many more kinds of fruit and lots of pie potential!

There is absolutely no reason not to eat well with such abundance available.

The farm stands daily sell garden vegetables that will rival any city's farmers market.

This stand sells grass fed beef and lamb as well as fruits and vegetables.

And a few pies out of my kitchen too.

There is so much to be thankful for here.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Decadent Chocolate Cheesecake with Chocolate Walnut Crust

Last night we indulged in a decadent double chocolate cheesecake for a birthday celebration. I have been asked many times for the recipe so at long last, here it is!

I have so many recipes to keep track of that I try to keep things simple when I can. After trying several different chocolate cheesecake recipes and never remembering which one I liked best, I now use my basic cheesecake recipe and alter it for variations by adding chocolate, or lemon, or espresso powder (cappuccino cheesecake!) when I want a new flavor. So this chocolate cheesecake is very similar to the Lemon Cheesecake recipe I have on this blog. For more cheesecake tips and step by step photos, check out that lemon cheesecake post.

Decadent Chocolate Cheesecake with Chocolate Walnut Crust
Chocolate Walnut Crust:
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons good quality cocoa (or dutch processed)
3 tablespoon sugar
a pinch of salt
1/2 cup cold butter cut into pieces

Press into a ten inch spring form pan lined with parchment paper and bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees for 12 minutes. Remove from oven and cool while you mix the batter. Turn the oven to 325 degrees and place a large pan of hot water on the bottom rack of the oven.

2 1/4 pounds cream cheese
2 cups sugar
1/3 cup good quality cocoa (or dutch processed)
2 teaspoons vanilla
6 whole eggs

Beat the cream cheese. Mix together the sugar and cocoa powder and gradually add to the cheese, beating well and scraping the bowl. Add the vanilla then the eggs one at a time beating well after each. Scrape the sides of the bowl to ensure that all the cream cheese is flavored with the chocolate and that there are no large lumps. Pour into the pan. Put the cheesecake on the oven rack directly above the water pan. Bake at 325 degrees for one hour.

Leaving the cheesecake in the oven, turn off the oven and prop open the door.
Let the cheesecake remain in the oven another thirty minutes. This step will help your cheesecake to cool slowly enough that it won't crack. Remove and let cool completely then cover and refrigerate for at least three hours (or overnight) before removing it from pan for serving.

P.S. This makes a large ten inch cheesecake that serves 20. I have halved the recipe and used a six inch spring form pan with good results. That size will serve 8-10

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I miss my boys!

It's not fair...

Thankfully my daughter has a blog so I can virtually visit every day.
Keep the pictures coming, Katie!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Canning Salsa

Despite our best efforts this year we are not having a good tomato crop. No one here is. The long cold spring and lack of summer heat in Oregon (yes, I know the rest of the country was sweltering this year. You must have great tomatoes!) have contributed to the latest food trend of fried green tomatoes. We are getting enough for the occasional caprese salad and grilled tomato and cheese sandwiches but the only way to have enough tomatoes for canning is to buy them at a farmers market. Which is what I did.

So the other day Samuel and I made a big pot of salsa with a box of farmers market tomatoes. We go through a lot of salsa around here and it's nice to have some homemade organic salsa on the shelf.

The recipe I use came from a good friend who is a gifted floral designer. While feeding me her zesty salsa, Annie taught me about conditioning flowers for arrangements and how to make boutonnieres and corsages.

The salsa is delicious and easy so I thought I would pass it on to you.

This recipe is for canning so start with a twenty pound box of roma tomatoes.

I used my new food processor to dice the tomatoes. After proving himself careful enough, Samuel was thrilled to get a chance to work the machine and wield the knife on the tomatoes. If I work it right I may have another good sous chef in the kitchen.
After processing the tomatoes and putting them in a large pot, I used the food processor to chop a large onion (very large) and five or six jalepeno peppers (I removed the seeds), seven or eight cloves of fresh garlic and a large bunch of fresh cilantro.

I very quickly added the mess to the pot of tomatoes and stirred them under before the fumes could scald my eyeballs.

I then added a half cup of freshly squeezed lime juice, 2 1/2 cups of white vinegar, three tablespoons of salt, three tablespoons of sugar and one tablespoon of black pepper.

Before I added the vinegar (which is necessary to have the required amount of acidity for canning but does alter the flavor of the salsa) I saved out some fresh salsa for eating with tortilla chips immediately. Delicious!

After stirring in the vinegar I heated the salsa to a boil and simmered it for two or three hours to reduce and thicken the salsa a bit.

For canning I ladeled the hot salsa into clean jars, screwed on the lids and put them in a water bath canner of hot water. After bringing the water to a boil I processed the quart jars for 35 minutes (pint jars only need 20 minutes).

Depending on whether the big boys are around, these six quarts of salsa may last us a month.

I need to buy some more tomatoes.

And just to brighten your day, take a look at my lovely dahlias! I am not always blessed with dahlias because I have trouble overwintering them and this year they almost didn't grow in the cold wet soil. This arrangement pleases me especially well!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pie Revolution

I've talked about pie quite a bit on this here little blog. For years now pie has been ubiquitous in my kitchen. It started about ten years ago actually when I entered a local pie contest. The draw was the $1000 grand prize and I really, really needed the money. I spent a week taste testing the many varieties of apples in the valley to come up with the one that had the best baking qualities and most apple flavor. I made little apple dumplings with each kind of apple and labeled them. I made a number of apple pies that my family gladly ate and the feedback always sounded something like "More cinnamon!" "Even more cinnamon!"

All the Type A obsessing paid off when I won the grand prize with my apple pie in a field of 52 other worthy apple pies. The contest was followed by lots of pie baking- for charity auctions and a local cafe. The local Community Ed asked me to teach pie making classes. The next year I judged the pie contest and got to taste many kinds of apple pies side by side which is a very educational experience. Who knew a simple apple pie could take so many different variations?

Over the years there has been more pie contests, pie selling, pie judging, pie class teaching, pie book reading and of course pie eating. I developed my method for slab pies that I use for weddings and events that require many servings of pie for a crowd. It is no exaggeration to say that in the last ten years I have baked hundreds of pies.

Last year I was asked to give a speech about pie to a group holding a convention in a local hotel. I served them my pie and gave a short tutorial on pie making. In my speech (which I blogged about here) I tried to convey my understanding of what pie means in America. I truly believe that pie is the iconic American dessert and holds a long history in many American families.

So why, why is it now so difficult to find a good piece of pie in small town America? Or big city America?

Seriously. There is a LOT of bad pie out there! What is wrong? I understand that a two crust pie can be a daunting dessert for someone who hasn't learned the techniques. I have been there and made plenty of bad pie and trashed many kitchens in the process of trying to flute two crusts filled with fruit. But I'm especially peeved at the businesses who sell baked goods and chose to hawk flavorless, gooey, stale, tough pastries that they label "pie." Apparently the money brought in by taking advantage of people's quest for a taste of Americana is more important then the quality of that tradition. Factory made crusts and canned flavorless filling make an imitation pie-shaped product that can be produced quickly and sold cheaply.

I live in the fruitful Hood River Valley and we are now in the harvest season where every kind of orchard fruit is available at every turn of the road. I know of at least one farm stand that sells cheap pies that are made from apple fillings that come in five gallon buckets. The apples that go into those fillings are imported from China. To the fruitful Hood River Valley!


At the farmer's market a few weeks ago I purchased a little pie from a pie company. They were selling stacks of these little pies and I thought I'd taste their product. It was terrible! Not one whit better then a frozen supermarket pie. It was obvious that they did not make their own fillings and the crust was bland and tough. But people were snatching them up at the market (like I did) looking for that taste of Americana.

But maybe it's just me? Maybe the general public thinks that bland, gooey and stale is the way pie is supposed to taste?

So I've had fleeting ideas about taking my pie to the farmer's market. The problem is there are no eight day weeks or thirty hour days which is what I really need right now to add that iron into the fire.

But...I did some experimentation with some little pies and there is another local farm stand that wants to sell them.

I started out like this with a little two crust pie but found it was too time consuming to make. If I am going to make any quantity of pie without a factory conveyor belt assembly line I need to figure out how my two hands can make these little guys quickly.

I decided to follow the model of that farmer's market mini pie but with a quality butter crust and freshly peeled orchard fruit.

By not taking the time to attach the top crust I could assemble the pies faster and make them look cute too. My right hand girl, Alyssa, is becoming very adept at rolling crust and making her own pies. With her I can have four hands at this mini pie business.

I think I may be on to something.

I took about a dozen and a half of these to the farm stand and they sold them all as well as a few regular sized pies (which sold as they were being unloaded from the car!)

So I am doing my part in my own wee corner of the world to bring real old-fashioned homemade pie back to America.
We need a pie revolution. No more flavorless, gooey, stale pie-shaped, food substances masquerading as American pie!

Cup cake wedding

This was the last big wedding on my schedule for awhile. I have a couple little elopements and later in the fall a couple big weddings for friends (big ones!) but otherwise, the wedding season is officially winding down. I'm ready!

Lemon poppyseed cupcakes with lemon curd filling and chocolate fudge cupcakes with chocolate cream icing.

Vanilla cupcakes with pink rose petals and coconut cupcakes with lime curd filling.
The strange lighting is because this set up was done in the cold fruit packing house to keep the desserts cold until presentation time in the reception hall at the orchard.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Pink Ladies

These are the apples the farm stand gave me to make their Ginger Apple Crisp dessert for this weekend's Desserts Galore sale. Have you ever seen apples with pink or red flesh?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

If You Dream It...

All this week Sam has been telling me how he is going to drive his very own truck for bringing in hay. I just nodded and smiled thinking that he was describing his and his brother's latest play scenario in their new vehicular acquisition. You know, that truck that they've been living in out in the driveway.

But today his pronouncement came true. The ten year old got to drive his own truck. With the keys and everything.

He had to press his belly against the steering wheel to reach the gas pedal.

And since the truck is half Peter's, he got his chance behind the wheel too.

They didn't have to memorize the driver's handbook or learn about traffic patterns.
But they did have to figure out the gear shift with the broken indicator arrow and wind shield wipers that wouldn't turn off.

I would like to take this opportunity to announce a first for me also. I drove their truck for the first time today too.
And for the first time in three and a half decades of driving.....I backed a trailer!

How have I gotten away with never backing a trailer in thirty five years?
I have always been surrounded by male drivers more competent then me and if a trailer situation ever came up I've always been able to whine myself out of it.

I have attempted to back trailers in the past but I have never, ever successfully backed a trailer into a specific spot. Please notice in the above photo that both support poles are still standing and intact. Untouched. And that the trailer is parked straight. And that there is no damage to the barn wall. And I only had a ten year old assisting me.

Can I get a High Five?

So we may not live on a million acre cattle ranch with massive equipment, trucks and trailers...

...but those Drummond kids don't have anything on my farm boys.
Who own their own truck.