Friday, December 18, 2009

Sleigh bells ring, are you listenin'?

A big thank you to Rebecca over at one of my very favorite blogs Chow and Chatter, who so very kindly allowed me to guest-post on her site. I've been a great fan of hers since I started my blog and I hope that everyone takes the time to stop by and check out all her wonderful recipes and advice. One hint: if you're looking for authentic Indian recipes you are in for a real treat.

Today is also a great day because The Kitchen of Queen La La has now officially turned 1. So, happy birthday to my blog and thanks to all the people who read, follow, comment, and generally make this an absolute joy to do.

Today, I have steak marinating in Harp with some parsley and rosemary to be turned into steak pie for lunch. I'll keep you posted.

Again, many thanks to all of you.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

I believe in Father Christmas

I have been making nut brittle during the holidays for several years now and have always relied on Gale Gand's version, which is easy, tasty, and offers something different than the usual cookies. This year I decided to try Nigella's brittle from her Christmas book, recently released in the States, but which I ordered last year from Amazon UK. What I found appealing was the use of golden syrup, an ingredient I became slightly addicted to once I started using Rachel Allen's books. Sweet, sticky, with an almost caramel-vanilla flavor, it is quite different than light corn syrup. I don't know if it is interchangeable with corn syrup; a bit of research I've done online has some people saying go for it with others not having quite as good a result. Please note that the recipe link above for Nigella mentions the American version of the brittle (using corn syrup), which I have not tried.

Anyway, I decided to make two batches; the very shiny top one came out exactly the way I like it: very crunchy with beautiful sharp edges when broken into chunks. I made that one with Brazil nuts and I think they finally may get the respect they so deserve.

The bottom batch I made with walnuts and a pinch of cinnamon; I also mistakenly added two tablespoons of butter to the mix at the end instead of one. This resulted in a very soft, rather toffee-ish texture, chewy, but really tasty. To me, walnuts and cinnamon have a natural affinity for each other and definitely belong in holiday baking.

The only other change I made to the recipe was the omission of vanilla at the end. I have found that adding vanilla to anything using golden syrup often renders the finished product a bit cloying. So I left it out and don't believe the recipe suffered.

I'm taking both batches to a cookie swap today. I'm looking forward to hearing what other people think. We shall see.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Good King Wenceslas

I present to you The Cookies in all their glory. I really do wish you could taste them. Needless to say, I am over the moon with the way they turned out.

I highly recommend the color gel pastes from Williams Sonoma. They come in tiny little bottles but I used a very, very small amount to get the true Xmas-sy red and green you see here. The sugar pearls came from Wilton and, although I'm not the biggest fan of their texture, I love they way they look on baked goods.

And no, I didn't let the chittlins help with this batch. I love them to bits but there are times that I want to play all by myself. :-)

(I realize that today is actually the 13th and my photos say the 10th. I've given up caring what day my HP camera wants it to be. Feh.)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Baby, it's cold outside

Did you ever make something that you either made yourself often when you were a kid or someone made it for you? And you ate it, and it was good, but it didn't wing you back to your childhood and you weren't quite sure why? You followed the recipe exactly, maybe even including the little tweaks written in the margin or on a piece of paper tucked between pages. So you just accept that it'll do and that maybe, some day, you'll get that wave of nostalgia and know that this was exactly what you were looking for.

I made a batch of sugar cookie dough today, from The New Good Housekeeping Cookbook, copyright 1963, which my mom received as a wedding shower gift. Just for fun, here's a picture:

Neat, huh?

Anyway, we made the sugar cookies every Xmas, the full batch, rolled them, cut them, and we lived dangerously and sprinkled them with colored sugar and jimmies *before* we put them in the oven so the decorations would be all sticky and melted and look nothing like they should but taste divine.

I've been making these same cookies for many years now; I stopped when I first got married because I was just too lazy but started up again about 10 years ago because they're fun and I like them. But something always was missing and I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I didn't use the sugar or jimmies because I didn't always feel like it but that wasn't it. It was the cookie itself that was mocking me.

Until today. I decided this morning that I wanted to make cookies and pulled out all my supplies after I came home with the boys from school. The original recipe calls for shortening; however, we never used that, it was always butter. So I pulled that out. The recipe also called for cake flour but I've lost my taste for that over the years. I use unbleached flour exclusively and the cake flour always tastes tinny to me so I don't use it. I refilled my 10lb jar with a fresh batch of King Arthur and started the dough. We never softened the butter so into the mixing bowl went fresh-from-the-fridge chunks. In short, I made two subs to the original recipe: butter for shortening and AP flour for cake. Added the rest of the ingredients, blended, etc., then licked the beater.

Oh my heavenly Nigella. I'm back in the big kitchen on Duncannon Avenue with my mom, my grandmom's rolling pin, and my dad watching football and doing crosswords in the living room. I ate a massive blob and had to stop myself from consuming the rest. Finally, I had the cookies I had been waiting for.

It was all in the subs. And then I remembered. We kept Swan's Down cake flour in the house and my mom used it only for her jelly rolls, never for cookies or anything else. And--the kicker--SALTED butter. Unsalted was not readily available from the grocery store back then; we'd usually buy it by the pound from the Amish farm market on Saturdays but that was for toast and pancakes and eating, not cooking or baking. For other uses, it was always--always--Land o' Lakes salted. And that's what I use today for eating but I've been buying the unsalted for as long as I can remember for my baking because I admit to being slightly brainwashed by the chef types who swear that it's better.

Well, I do believe I've proven them wrong. I've got the dough chilling now and, although I don't have any jimmies in the house, I know for a fact that finally I've got the recipe right. And this pleases me greatly.