Recipe du Jour: Homemade Potato Chips

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So, Andrew thought it would be funny if he bought 50 pounds of potatoes right before Thanksgiving. For just the two of us. Thank goodness I have a mandoline slicer, it makes coming up with ideas for how to use them a lot easier. I’ve cut some for French fries, and made shoestrings for morning hash browns. Those are in the freezer (and barely made a dent!) This post is about the attempt that I don’t have to freeze: potato chips.

Ingredients:

  • 50 lb of potatoes (don’t do it!)
  • Oil (I used olive)
  • Salt/Seasonings

Directions:

I cut the potatoes thinly (scrubbed, but not peeled because I like the skins on my potato chips). Toss with oil until well coated and lay them out flat on a cookie sheet (use parchment paper for easy cleaning). Sprinkle with desired seasonings (suggestions below). Bake in a 400 degrees F oven for about 15 minutes, or until they look crispy but not burnt. Move to paper towels to keep crisp.

Notes:  If you want crunchy chips, it’s best to let them sit out for a little bit (perhaps overnight or so). I was disappointed with the results of my first batch until the next day when we taste tested them again and they were awesome. Andrew liked them so much, he wants me to make some more as soon as I can.

What could be wrong about homemade potato chips? You know what has gone into them, you can decrease the oil and salt if you want, and you can make sure that you get the flavor you like (assuming that you don’t like “everything” flavored chips). For flavor combinations, try salt and black pepper (my favorite from Kettle chips), seasoned salt, chili powder or taco seasoning, Parmesan, garlic powder, or a fresh herb (like dill). What’s your favorite potato chip flavor?

Recipe du Jour: Makownik

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Andrew’s family is Polish, and by coincidence, so was part of mine. Thankfully, this means that we share a few holiday traditions, and there are no conflicts. Like the breaking of Oplatek before the meal. His family and mine both did that before we met.

As far as food goes, his family tries to follow the Polish Christmas Eve tradition of twelve courses, one for each disciple. Poland is predominantly Catholic, so the meal follows the Catholic tradition of no meat. The meal tends to feature fish, a mushroom or beet soup, sauerkraut, eggs, pierogis, boiled potatoes, nut rolls, poppy seed rolls, and fruit compote. Naturally, being Americans, and not wanting to necessarily cook and eat 12 courses, we make some modifications. But one thing we don’t change is the makownik.

Makownik (see the wiki for pronunciation) is an eggy yeast cake/bread, with a poppy seed filling that’s rolled into the bread. Think cinnamon raisin swirl, but less sweet and with a thicker filling. We made one for Christmas last year when the family came out here (sister-in-law couldn’t travel), and they had me make it again when we came to see them this year. For some reason, everyone is super impressed with me when I make it. This is a combination of the recipe from The Polish Heritage Cookbook. (Note: The book is written like my grandma’s old recipes. There’s not an ingredient list before the recipe. The amounts and ingredients are hidden among the directions. If you get the book, make sure to read everything carefully before you start.)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cake yeast (or 1 envelope yeast)
  • 2 tbsp sugar, separated
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm milk
  • 1 cup flour (for sponge)
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • about 3 to 4 cups flour
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 (12.5 oz) cans poppyseed filling
  • Glaze (make to your desired thickness)
  • ground walnuts, sliced almonds, finely diced candied orange rind, whole poppy seeds  or raisins for topping

Directions:

For the sponge, combine yeast with 1 tbsp sugar and dissolve in milk.  Add flour and the other tbsp sugar, mix well, cover with cloth and leave in warm place to rise.  Meanwhile, beat egg yolks with salt until smooth and lemony.  Continue beating while adding powdered sugar and beat until fluffy.  After the sponge has risen, add yolk mixture and slowly add flour, combining well, until dough is formed, but still slightly sticky.  Add butter and vanilla. Cover and let rise until doubled.

Transfer to a board, divide in 2 and roll into 1/4 inch thick rectangles.  Spread half of the poppyseed filling on each rectangle, leaving 1-inch around the edges.  Roll each up tightly, jelly-roll style, pinch ends shut and fold them under.  Wrap in parchment paper leaving the ends open and set seam-side down on a cookie sheet, side by side.  Let rise until doubled.  The rolled-parchment method causes the dough to expand out the open sides, forming long, elegant rolls.  Bake in parchment in pre-heated 350 degree F oven for about 45 minutes.  When fully cooled, glaze and sprinkle with desired topping.

Notes: This is best made a few days ahead. When it comes out of the oven, it tends to be crisp, like most artisan breads. But let it have a few days in a sealed container after you’ve glazed it, and it will be soft and delicious. I haven’t made the filling from scratch yet (still working through a big stash of the canned filling because we were worried I’d have to make multiple attempts). If you can’t find canned filling, or would like to try making it all from scratch, I’ve included the directions for the filling below. You will need bulk poppy seeds. Do not look in the spice aisle for a dinky little jar of poppy seeds. This is for a filling, not a garnish.

Homemade Filling:

  • 2 cups cleaned poppyseeds
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 4 tbsp honey
  • 1/2 to 1 cup soaked and drained raisins
  • 1/2 cup ground walnuts
  • 1 tbsp finely diced candied orange rind (optional)
  • 3 to 4 almond oil
  • 2 eggs

Place poppyseeds in pot, scald with boiling water which should cover poppyseeds by 2 inches and heat on very low.  Simmer very gently 30 minutes, drain, and grain 3 times through fine strainer (or use a special poppyseed grinder).  In clean pot, combine butter, poppyseeds, sugar, honey, raisins, walnuts, and candied orange rind.  Heat mixture on low flame about 10 minutes, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and cool.  Add almond oil and eggs and mix ingredients well.

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For both the canned poppy seed filling and bulk poppy seeds, I recommend Amazon Grocery. Good prices, quick shipping, and great for obscure ingredients that your local stores may not have. (Seriously, there is not a large Polish community in Oklahoma.)

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Need last minute Christmas gifts? Try music from some unique bands.

The past few weeks, I’ve been focusing on my music collection, organizing it, making new playlists. I even got a new mp3 player (mainly because I hate the way iTunes works and the fact that Apple makes it so that you have to use it to use any of their products). So I went Apple-free and got myself a Samsung Galaxy Player. There was some frustration, as one of the reasons that Apple works so well is because of that set system. They know exactly what hardware and software their devices will have and use that advantage to make it easy for things to talk to each other. For other operating systems, it’s harder, because you can’t know exactly what sort of device or computer your end-user will own. It took me the better part of two weeks to work out all the kinks with my device, but now that I’ve figured it all out, I’m very glad that I switched.

In any case, I thought I should share some of the music that I’m wild about lately.

First, I’m a nerd. Or a geek. I can never remember the difference between the two. My point is, I love video games, and I love video game music. Near the end of November, Andrew and I discovered that a favorite band of ours released a new album, and I’ve been listening to it (almost) non-stop since then. (Gotta save some airplay for Christmas music too!) The band is The Megas, and you can find their website here.

Their most well-known album is “Get Equipped”, based on the soundtrack to Megaman 2, the NES game. Andrew and I like them for their natural lyrics, baritone lead singer, and their ability to rock. Seriously, they took a snippet from the game that couldn’t have been more than a couple seconds long and expanded it into a full blown song!

The new album is “History Repeating: Blue” and is part of a two album set based on Megaman 3. Fans have been waiting a while for this one, but it was well worth waiting for. The band makes great use of some synth here (not too much), as well as editing to get great overlaying of the various vocal and guitar lines. Where “Get Equipped” had a lot more focus on the individual enemy robots, “History Repeating” has more focus on Megaman, and the enemy robots are more defined by their reactions to him than by their actual powers. The songs are a little darker in character over all, with a somber undertone throughout the album of our discouraged and tired hero. In fact, all the repeat characters seem to express a desire to get outside the roles they are traditionally cast in. I can’t wait to hear Protoman’s side in “History Repeating: Red”!

The other band that I’m always happy to find a new album from is Abney Park. You can find their website here. Abney Park started off as a goth/industrial band, and transitioned to Steampunk, which is where I discovered them. I’ve been trying to get every album of theirs since Lost Horizons. In fact, I have two albums that the band signed for me when I got to meet them at some conventions. They’re super nice in person, and very energetic.

I can’t list all their albums here, but since they changed genres to Steampunk, they’ve been identified as THE quintessential steampunk band. One of the nice things about their sound is that there is no aggressive drum set. They incorporate “weird” instruments like violin and accordion, even on stage! And they cover almost every type of steampunk with at least one song. Dieselpunk? Check! Clockpunk? Check! Airship pirate? Check! Mad scientist doctor? Check! You can definitely find a theme song somewhere among their discography. And they just recently released a Christmas album.

Speaking of discography, both of these are small bands. They’re not signed with big record labels. They work out of their homes and garages. That’s why I try to support bands like this by actually buying as much of their stuff as I can. And both bands exist very comfortably in the digital era. Abney Park offers a flat fee for access to download every track they’ve ever released, and they offer free listens of certain tracks from their website. Their albums average about $15, unless you want extras like autographs. The Megas offer a free listen of their albums on Bandcamp, so you can try before you buy and if you purchase their albums (about $10 each), they come with a free digital download so you can start listening right away.

Please support bands like these! The music industry tends to churn out the same old stuff, with new younger faces attached to market it. The old days of a garage band making it big are gone. If you have a friend who likes video games, or steampunk, or even just likes rocking out, please consider buying an album (or two) to keep cool music alive.

Packing Baked Goods for Giving

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Not every friend that we want to give home baked goodies to lives within walking, or even driving distance. Sometimes, if you really want to give them that package full of love in the form of sugar and spice, you have to brave the postal system. Here are my tips for making sure your package gets there in decent shape.

  1.  Start with an airtight container. I personally am fond of Christmas tins because they’re sturdy, they’re festive, and they’re reusable. The person can either send them back (what my uncle did with his annual fudge tin), or re-gift them to someone else next year.
  2. Line your chosen container with plastic wrap. I do this so that the container is easier to clean, it adds another layer of airtightness, and an extra layer of padding.
  3. Start filling your container with goodies. Here, I follow the bento principle: Pack things in tight, and don’t leave gaps. Gaps will cause things to shift, which will cause damage to your goodies. If packing something like fudge, where you’ll afraid it might melt or squish together into a giant blob, separate layers with wax paper or more plastic wrap.
  4. Don’t send things that are temperature sensitive! Fudge is normally ok because it tends to be solid and only a little soft at room temp. But something like a cheesecake is out of the question.
  5. Pack the box you are shipping in tightly. Just like the container with the goodies, you don’t want too much sliding around. I do a quick “shake test” before I seal the box, holding it closed and shaking it in all directions. If you hear it slide or move a lot, you need to add more padding.

Here’s hoping your goodies make it there safely.

Recipe du Jour: Sugar Plum Drops

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It’s the holiday season. You’ve been invited to a couple of holiday parties, there’s the huge holiday dinners coming up, and you’ve been so busy you haven’t had time to work out. You’d like to make something healthy so you don’t gain too many pounds, but you know the relatives would throw a fit. Sound like you?

Sounds like me. Except I have this recipe up my sleeve. These sugar plum drops sound like they came straight out of the Nutcracker, and they’re so tasty nobody would guess that they’re (mostly) healthy. Rolled in sugar, nobody would be the wiser. And they’re a flash to make!

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup raisins
  • ½ cup chopped dates
  • ½ cup dried apricots
  • ¾ cup dried cranberries
  • ¾ cup pecans
  • 1 cup blanched almonds
  • ¼ cup orange juice, no pulp
  • ½ cup sugar (granulated or confectioners’)

Directions:

Combine the dried fruit and nuts in a food processor and pulse until you get a coarse mixture, about 1 minute. Add the orange juice and pulse again until the mixture sticks together, about 15 seconds. Shape into 1-inch balls, then roll them in sugar for a sweet coating. Refrigerate. Makes about 2½ dozen.

Notes: I like to roll mine in granulated sugar. It makes them more festive to me. I also like to keep them chilled until serving, so that they don’t fall apart. Another advantage is that they’re gluten-free, so you can feel good giving them to those hard-to-bake-for friends.

Recipe du Jour: European Pecan Cookies

Blog note: I’ve posted an updated version of this recipe.  You can find it here.
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HOLIDAY BAKING SEASON IS UPON US!!!

Sorry to shout, but I love the holidays. I don’t like the weather, but the lights, how everything gets decorated, and the general feeling of happiness that seems to happen in December can’t help but make me smile. And one of my family’s traditions was holiday baking. When I was younger, we gave our neighbors a collection of baked goods: cookies, homemade fudge, mini quick breads. Nowadays, since I don’t really know my neighbors (a side effect of living in an apartment complex), I do the holiday baking as part of my gifts to friends. I have a lot of friends, and not enough cash to buy them all nice gifts, so I bake nice gifts instead.

Last year, I shared my favorite Christmas music. This year, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite holiday treat recipes (especially since my blog appears to be turning into a mostly food blog). 🙂 The first one is a great one to take to parties (assuming that nobody has a nut allergy). The cookie is not super sweet, with a rich buttery flavor punctuated by the nuts. The recipe breaks into steps, since you have to wait on the dough to chill, which is great if you have a few busy weeknights where you can’t afford to mix and bake the cookies all at once.

Ingredients:

  • ½ lb butter
  • ½ cup brown sugar, packed
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 2 cups flour (not sifted)
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt (I leave this out if I’m using salted butter)
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Directions:

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg, flour, and soda. Add vanilla and pecans. Form into 2 or 3 rolls, using wax paper to shape them. I normally make mine about 1½ to 2 inches in diameter. Keep them rolled in the wax paper and chill overnight. Slice and bake on greased cookie sheet for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F or until light tan. Cool on rack.

Notes:

Watch out on the baking time! These are easy to get too dark, especially depending on how thick you cut them. You want them barely brown at the edges. The last time I took these to a holiday party, all the international participants loved these. I was told that most American baking is so sweet it hurts, so something this mild was much appreciated. I personally like two of them with a cup of tea or wassail after a heavy dinner, when I’m not in the mood for an equally heavy dessert.

Recipe du Jour: Pumpkin Scones

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So, I’ve already posted how to make your own pumpkin puree, now for a recipe that you can use it in (besides pumpkin pie, of course). My first attempt at pumpkin scones involved a different recipe that called for ¼ cup of ground ginger, and a ¼ cup of cinnamon. I didn’t trust my baking instincts when I saw that. So, take that as a warning, dear readers. If something seems off in a recipe, it probably is.

These were my second attempt. This recipe comes from a magazine called TeaTime. It’s really quite lovely, especially if you like tea or tea parties. The magazine has ideas for decorations for your party, and often includes 2 to 3 full tea party menus, with tea suggestions. You can find the link to the original recipe here.

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp gr. Cinnamon
  • ½ tsp gr. Allspice
  • ½ tsp gr. Nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp cold unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside. In a large bowl, sift together 2 ¼ cups flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and spices. Using a pastry blender or fork, cut the butter into the flour mixture until mixture resembles course meal. Add the egg and pumpkin and stir until just combined. Add additional flour, if necessary, until the mixture forms a loose dough

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll to ¾ inch thickness. Cut into 12 (2 ¼ inch) rounds. Place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly golden. Transfer to wire racks to cool slightly.

Notes:

These are a great basic scone recipe, if you haven’t made them before. The dough comes together quickly, and the finished product has a subtle pumpkin and spice flavor. I also made the Maple Butter (follow the link above to the original recipe for that), and it was really great, but I’m sure these would be fantastic with normal butter or even cream cheese. Watch out though, the butter recipe makes a lot.