European Pecan Cookies

Blog Note:  I know I’ve been away for a while.  A long while.  I have no excuses.  But I do enjoy blogging, so I will work to get back into the swing of things.  You can also check out my Instagram (linked in the margin) where I’ll try to post little tastes of my daily life that don’t merit whole posts.  On to the recipe!

Blog Note 2: Apparently, I had posted this recipe to the blog years ago. This version has more detailed directions, so I decided to post it anyway. 
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I’ve been working on digitizing some of my recipe cards, because I often find myself searching my online recipe stash instead of thumbing through cookbooks or cards.  I figured I would also share them with you.  This one I got from my grandma, though she just called them “Refrigerator Cookies”.  I renamed them to European Pecan Cookies.  It’s a funny name, because pecans are natural to North America.  But I feel like the cookies have a more European sensitivity to the taste: they are not too sweet and they go great with coffee and tea.

Like many of my grandmother’s recipes, there are quirky notes in places that don’t make sense to me.  For example, her notes say that the flour is “not sifted”.  I never sift my flour unless a recipe says to.  However, she doesn’t give any guidance on how thick to slice them, which seems especially crucial. Don’t fear though, I took notes the last time I made them so that if you attempt them, you won’t have to experiment too much.

I recommend using the pecan “bits” or tiny chopped pecans that you can find in the store.  I find that if I chop them myself, they’re irregular and there’s a lot of pecan dust.  I haven’t found it hurts the cookies too much, it just feels messy and time consuming when I could just spend a little bit more to make it easy.

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Ingredients

  • 0.5 lb (2 sticks) butter
  • 0.5 cup packed brown sugar
  • 0.5 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 0.5 tsp baking soda
  • 0.25 tsp salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • 0.5 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Directions:

  1. Cream butter and sugars together.  Add in the egg.  Then add baking soda, salt, and flour.  Then gently stir in the vanilla and pecans.
  2. Roll into 2 even rolls in wax paper. (I use a couple cheap silicone cookie sheet liners.)  Chill in the fridge for at least 8 hours or overnight.
  3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. Pull one roll from the fridge.  Slice into 1/4″ slices and place on a cookie sheet about 1.5 inches apart.  Return the roll to the fridge while baking.
  5. Bake for about 10 minutes or until the cookies are light tan with a slighter darker color around the edges.  Cool on the pan for minute or two before moving to a rack to cool completely.
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Adventures in Jelly making

You know grape jelly? That essential ingredient of childhood sandwiches and also the flavor of childhood medicine?  It has a very distinctive flavor that until recently I referred to as “fake grape” or “purple flavored”.  Despite purple being my favorite color, I hated that too strong taste.  And the actual grapes I had encountered in real life never tasted like that.  That’s probably true for a lot of people I think.  So imagine my surprise when I got grapes in my CSA basket.

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Aside from the fact that grapes aren’t commonly grown in Oklahoma, these were fragrant.  They filled up the kitchen with their scent once I got them home.  And you know what they smelled like?  Grape jelly!  Seriously!  I had true concord grapes sitting in my kitchen.

The first batch I took to a friend’s house to eat as a snack.  And they tasted all right, but they had these annoying little seeds in them.  Now I understand why they are typically made into jelly.

These were my first attempt at jelly making.  I normally prefer jams because you don’t have to worry about pectin and such generally.  I followed the recipe for Concord Grape Jelly with Green Apples from Canning for a New Generation.  The photos here are from my second, much smaller attempt.  The first attempt, I might have overcooked the jelly.  I won’t be sure until I open the jars.  This second batch I did not can; it went straight into the fridge when it was done.

Definitely put on your aprons for this one, and I wore gloves while cleaning and squeezing the grapes.

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One of the neat things about this recipe is that it uses green apples to boost the pectin content for the jelly.  I love this, because it feels more natural to me than buying a packet of instant pectin.  However, I have so little experience with jellies, that I’m not sure how it’s supposed to behave.  Jams seem a lot more straightforward by comparison.

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We tried this on toast the following weekend.  I might have also overcooked this one? The texture is strange compared to store-bought jellies.  It’s very spreadable and soft, and Andrew and I prefer it to the clumpy nature you usually see.

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Left: store bought cherry “spread” Right: homemade grape jelly

If anyone has experience making jellies, I’d love to know. I tried googling, but it seemed that for most people overcooked jelly went to hard candy mode and I didn’t see a lot of photos of the finished product being used.

Returning to Blogging

It’s been almost a year since I last posted to this blog.  In my last reboot, I gave the site a makeover, and thought I was going to move in a more food blog direction.  But, even though most of my projects are kitchen projects, very few of them were my own idea.  It was mostly me trying somebody else’s recipe.  I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, but generally, I want to contribute something new when I post stuff to the internet.  This makes me a lurker on a lot of the communities I frequent (including Facebook).

So that is  part of the reason I haven’t been posting.  I’ve been thinking carefully about whether or not to come back, and what kind of things I want to post if I do come back.  I’m not sure I have an answer.  I like posting to my blog. I feel like it offers a more long-form venue than Facebook or Twitter.  But I want to feel like I’m writing something interesting to other people, and not just echoing other people.  I’m not an activist, and I’m the first to admit that I’m not the most creative person.  So what then does someone like me write about?

I’m not quite sure yet. I spend a lot of my time on the internet, reading blogs, collecting projects and recipes.  I check out library books.  I work long hours during the week, and my weekend projects tend to be food related.  Lately, I’ve been focusing on exercising, eating well, and meditation.  I’m getting to a place where I feel really on top of my life right now.  So I want to add blogging again.  And NaBloPoMo (like NaNoWriMo, but for blogs) seems like good timing.  I hope you’ll find my new posts interesting enough to keep following.

If you have any ideas for content you’d like to see, please leave a comment or use the contact form on the side.

Yard Project: Gardening Corner

So, this is our big project from this summer.  We have a corner of our yard that is next to the house and surrounded by fence.  It doesn’t get a lot of sunlight and the grass wasn’t growing, so it was pretty eroded.  The previous owners seemed to have been using it as a compost heap.  Combine that with the fact that our back porch was crowded by my gardening supplies, our grill, and our potted plants, and we needed a solution.  I will admit my husband did most of the planning on this.  He was itching to get his hands dirty on a big project.

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We skipped a few steps before the first photo.  Prior to this, we dug out the area and leveled it as best we could.  It was pretty sloped, and on the right side of the photo, we were hitting the edge of the foundation.  You can kind of see how far it had eroded, compared to the grass at the edge of the photo.  So in addition to creating a place for my gardening tools, we were hoping it would stop more erosion from happening.  We did have a lot of extra dirt from the leveling, hence the bucket.  We added that to our flower beds.

The first set of bricks went down, and we tried to really focus on getting them stable.

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After the first layer of bricks, we put down landscape fabric.  This is supposed to help keep the stones and gravel from travelling away from the pit.  In addition, it should keep it from getting too muddy underneath the stones.  Note how we tried to keep an edge of the fabric on top of the bricks.  When we put down the second layer of bricks, the landscape fabric will be caught between the layers, making it even more stable.

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Second layer of bricks.  The white stuff is adhesive.  We might not have needed it, but again, anything to make it more stable.

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The first layer of stone.  This is just regular drainage stone.  Supposedly it will also help keep the smaller gravel from traveling.

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The rest of the pit is filled with pea gravel.  At this point, it’s ready.  We did have a couple of extra bricks.  We got paranoid that we wouldn’t have enough and so bought some more that we ended up not needing.  We might use them in another project, but for now they’re stacked on the edge.

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The final results.  My trunk/bench back there is filled with my gardening hand tools, extra pots, and various fertilizers.  As you can see, we also had several bags of garden soil and a big bag of peat moss.  Our porch opened up so much once we got all that stuff off of it.  And next spring, replanting all my pots should be a breeze, with this nice little corner to work in.

Passing Conversations – November 11, 2014

I started this feature before the blog went on hiatus, so while I’m trying to build up a buffer, I thought I’d post some of the things I’ve been reading/watching lately.

  • CGP Grey – A Youtuber who produces content on different interesting topics.  Even though the election is over, check out his series on voting in the animal kingdom.  It’s a nicely abstracted explanation of different aspects of voting and representative government.
  • Highlighting and Contouring on Various Face Shapes – maskCara has a great guide to different face shapes here.  For some reason I wasn’t getting updates from her blog since last year, which is a shame, because obviously she’s been putting out some good content.
  • Brows Held High – Another web video series.  The host here talks about art films, and I’ve found the series both entertaining and educational, especially since I haven’t been exposed to a lot of film critique from that perspective.

Hopefully those will keep you busy until the next round.

Butternut Squash Lasagna

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Fall.  Autumn.  Whatever you want to call it, it’s quickly becoming my favorite season.  Summer fruits are great, and spring has the wonderful warming feeling.  (I’ll admit I don’t like winter except for the holidays.)  But autumn has the perfect weather, and starts reintroducing us to our favorite comfort foods.  I got the first basket of my fall CSA last week, and we’re starting to drown in squashes.

I picked up this recipe from a cooking class, featuring the owners from one of my favorite local restaurants.  So, I’m just going to include an outline for the recipe, rather than the details, but it’s pretty flexible.

Ingredients

  • diced butternut squash (my lasagna was made in a 9×9 inch square pan and used about two pounds)
  • lasagna noodles (whichever kind you prefer)
  • shredded mozzarella cheese
  • grated parmesan cheese
  • herbs or spices (such as sage, cinnamon, nutmeg)
  • bechamel sauce (basic recipe below)

Method

  1. Saute the  butternut squash with some olive oil and spices.  When softened, transfer to a food processor, and process until smooth.
  2. Make your bechamel sauce and cook any other fillings you might want.  I added Italian sausage, and I’ve had a version with pecans that was really good.  I think the next version I try will have cremini mushrooms.
  3. Build your lasagna:  a layer of bechamel sauce, then noodles, then butternut (and your other chosen filling) then mozzarella, and repeat.  Top with a final layer of mozzarella and the grated parmesan.
  4. Cover and bake about 40 minutes in a 350 degree oven.  Uncover for another 15 minutes until the top is bubbly and brown.  Let rest 15 minutes before serving.

Bechamel Sauce

Bechamel sauce is a basic white sauce and one of the French “mother” sauces, and it’s not that hard to make.  I was making it before I knew what it was.  Three ingredients is all you need.

  • Butter
  • Flour (equal amount to the Butter)
  • Whole Milk or Heavy Cream
  1. Melt the butter in a sauce pan until it bubbles, but isn’t brown.  Add the flour and whisk until it forms a paste, about 1 minute.
  2. Add the milk slowly, whisking constantly.  Reduce the heat to prevent scorching (especially if using cream), and whisk until thickened to a consistency you like.

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Late post today, so just a quick photo of our Halloween/Fall decorations.  I carved the one on the left and my husband did the one on the right.  Sadly, we carved the pumpkins too early and they didn’t actually make it to Halloween.  So, for next year’s Halloween, carving will happen the day before or the day of.  I’ll have a longer post for tomorrow.