Wednesday, November 23

Usual - {Cranberry and Orange Shortbread}

Too short, too weak, too uncertain and too eager.

That's me, a decade ago, at Grandma's side in the kitchen.

Grandma, composed and efficient, effortlessly invented tasks to occupy my boundless supply of Squirt-fueled energy. She, perhaps wisely afraid to pass me a chopping knife, did most of the prep herself; dicing onions, celery and carrots like nobody's business. I, none too eager to grasp the handle myself, busied myself with simple tasks; stirring pots, rinsing dishes and snacking on crudités - as directed.

As usual.

The meal made its way to the table slowly. Gradually, it appeared as a mosaic; each perfectly-executed classic hand-delivered by my grandma, myself, or another relative. I can't imagine now, considering how proud I felt with just the small amount of help I offered, how pleased and accomplished Grandma must have felt as she sat down to eat (though, that was never for long! She was always back in the kitchen for something - drink refills, softened butter, an extra serving spoon... I'm sure your Grandma does the same). Though I sat at the kid's table, I certainly felt as if I'd been an integral part of making the meal something truly special.

As such, I've continued to help as I've aged. I've not yet reached the point that I host Thanksgiving on my own (and I'm sure I've got years until that's the case!), but I really find a lot of joy in helping with whatever I can whenever I can.

So, since mom's running the show at her house this year, I guess that means I'll be stirring pots and rinsing dishes at her direction - as usual.

And with welcome contributions from the respective kitchens of my grandmother and myself, this Thanksgiving is sure to be a treat - as usual.

Happy Thanksgiving, lovely readers!

For those who are interested...

This Year's Menu
Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes
Mashed Potatoes
Balsamic Roasted Vegetables
Butternut Squash Risotto
Mom's Sausage Dressing
Cabbage Slaw
Grandma's Water Chestnut Dressing
Cranberry Sauce
Three-Bean Salad
Green Bean Casserole
Cornbread Casserole

Sugar Cookie Bars
Pumpkin Cobbler
Apple Crumb Pie

What are you having this year? I can't wait to eat a whole plate of stuffing :P What dish are you looking forward to the most?

Cranberry and Orange Shortbread via Honey and Jam
This is a simple recipe for a simply delicious cookie. If you're looking for a quick treat for guests, these are sure to please! Oh! And remember: amazing butter makes for amazing shortbread!

Makes about 4 dozen.
Printable Recipe

2 c (284 g) flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1 c (237 g) butter, room temp
3/4 c (117 grams) confectioners' sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 Tbls orange zest
1/2 c (62 g) chopped dried cranberries

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Beat the butter on medium speed until smooth. Gradually add the confectioners' sugar and beat until fully incorporated. Add the extracts.

Add the flour to the butter mixture and mix just until combined. Fold in the orange zest and cranberries.

Divide the dough in half and make two logs, each about 1 1/2" in diameter. Wrap well in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about one hour*. To help them keep their round shape, I like to freeze the logs on a halved cardboard tube from a paper towel roll.

When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350. Slice into 1/4" thick rounds and set about 1" apart on lined baking sheets. Bake 12-15 minutes, taking them out of the oven just as they begin to brown. Allow to cool completely on the pans, then store in an airtight container for up to one week.

*These cookies freeze beautifully. Just double wrap the dough after forming into logs. Allow to set at room temperature for about 10 minutes before slicing, then bake as directed.

Tuesday, November 15

Home - {Apple Caramel Cupcakes}

There was a smile in her kind eyes, but they were too sparkly to be conveying simple happiness. The fleeting tears that had so quickly and thinly veiled themselves in each eye were subtle hints as to how she was really internalizing our exchange.

"Isn't this home?" she asked, curiously incredulous but understanding in the same breath. I'd just told mom, after a night's visit, that I was heading out - bags packed - ready to go home.

It was a terrible thing to do, I realize now, but I'd had no cruel intentions. It was just a simple fact; I'd gone about the semester calling my dorm home because that's what it came to be. Each day, after class, I would go home - for lunch. After parting ways with my friends, I would go home - to sleep. After loading up my trunk with groceries, I would alert my roommate that I was "heading home" - just to be there. Whether there was an act associated with it or not, that itty-bitty-cruel-excuse-for-a-living-space WAS home for me and for K. It was where we slept, where we studied, where we pondered thoughts of the universe, where we discussed boys - all normal life activities.

I'm not sure there's an easy way to break something like this to your mom.

Home has changed a lot lately. The old-but-lovable apartment S and I shared last year was our home. The apartment in Ohio I lived in with five other girls over the summer was too. And now, back at MSU, I share a home with my roommate C.

When I moved out, home changed fast, but I guess I knew that would be the case. Before my high school graduation, I remember being on AIM with my friend, A, who had recently started his freshman year at college. He'd only been gone a few months, but he mentioned experiencing the strange realization that his dorm was his home. Annoying roommate and all. He lived there, and that was his place.

I'd had my warning, and so had mom. However, for me it was a step to the future, and for her it was a stab in her poor motherly heart.

To make matters worse, I'm fairly certain my stupid freshman self tried to be cool and play it off.

"Yeah, Mom. Home." Just that with no emotion or explanation. Who's got two thumbs and wins the crappy daughter of the year award? This guy!

I swear I'm not really that mean. My aforementioned stupid "I'm a freshman and I moved away from home so I'm cool" ego kinda got the best of me in that instance... And a few others. Maybe you can relate? Maybe you just hate me now? In either case, we all make mistakes. Sometimes I'm an awesome daughter who makes dinner and/or brings home the most delicious chips and salsa from the shadiest Mexican place I know, and sometimes (which is too frequently, I realize) I suck and make my mom sad.

But I'm here to apologize to the dear woman, and maybe make some stuff right. You see, it occurred to me rather recently that the term isn't quite so resolute. Since evolving into a more understanding 20-year-old junior from an 18-year-old idiot freshman, I truly believe that I've thwarted that evil ego and become a more compassionate human being. Which is why I feel compelled to share this:

I've realized that I have been telling my friends for quite a few days that I am excited to be heading home, back to where I grew up, for the holidays.

And it's home because - as cheesy as it sounds - home will always be where your family is.... Even if you happen to have what you consider to be your own home somewhere else in the world.

Apple Caramel Cupcakes

Apple Cake adapted from Bravetart
I love this recipe because it's so unique. In one week, I made it once as a layer cake when my Grandparents came to visit, and again as cupcakes the next day because it's really just THAT good. This recipe will make about a dozen little lovelies, and they'd be perfect for any kind of fall celebration... *hint hint*

Printable Recipe

12 oz (340 g) apples
3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp (113 g) flour, sifted
3/4 tsp soda
3/8 tsp baking powder
3/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3/8 tsp ginger
1 egg
1/2 c (99 g) sugar
1/3 c (50 g) brown sugar
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
4 Tbsp safflower oil
2 Tbsp butter, melted

Prepare a cupcake tin with liners and set aside. Preheat oven to 350F.

Grate the apples onto cheesecloth, a clean, thin dishtowel or three layers of paper towel. Gather up edges and squeeze firmly over a bowl, collecting juices. Squeeze until you've got about 1/3 of a cup and set the juice aside to use in the caramel. Reserve the pressed apple.

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, soda, powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, beat together the egg and sugars until lightened and fluffy, about five minutes. With the mixer running, slowly drizzle in the vanilla, melted butter and oil, then beat to combine. Dump in the dry ingredients all at once and beat just to incorporate.

Fold in the reserved pressed apple gratings.

Portion the batter into the prepared cupcake tin and bake until cakes spring back when pressed lightly, 15-20 minutes. Cool briefly in tins on cooling racks, then remove the cupcakes from the tins and allow to cool completely on the rack.

Apple Caramel via Bravetart

7 Tbsp cream
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped (alternately, 1 1/2 tsp vanilla)
1/2 cup (99 g) sugar
1/3 cup (85 ml) freshly-squeezed apple juice
1/8 tsp salt
2 Tbsp butter

In a small pan, bring the cream and the scraped vanilla bean (reserve pulp) to a simmer. Turn off the heat and let steep for one hour (alternately, add the vanilla extract where directed).

Pour the sugar in an even layer over the bottom of a tall and thick-bottomed pan. Set over medium heat and allow to caramelize, swirling the pan occasionally to even out any hot spots that may develop. Stella describes the process in more detail here. When the sugar becomes a nice amber color, drizzle in a little of the cream and stir to incorporate, being careful of the bubbling that will occur. After it's combined, add in more cream and continue mixing, repeating until all cream has been added. Pour in the apple juice and stir to combine. Remove the pan from heat and add the salt, butter, vanilla bean scrapings and vanilla extract, if using. Pour into a small heatproof container to cool completely.

Apple Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Please click here for a step-by-step guide to making Swiss Meringue Buttercream and troubleshooting tips!

5 egg whites
1 c (200 g) sugar
1 c (226 g) butter, room temp
Apple Caramel, cooled to room temp (above)

Cook the egg whites and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the sugar is completely dissolved (test by rubbing some between your fingers. If it's completely smooth, it's done). Pour into another bowl (a stand mixer is preferable) and whip on high speed until room temp. Then, on a medium-slow speed, add the butter, waiting until each piece is completely incorporated before adding the next. After all the butter has been added, turn the mixer back to high speed and whip until it has come together, about five minutes. Add the apple caramel, beat to incorporate and use.

If the buttercream seems soupy after all of the butter is added and does not come together after whipping, refrigerate for 5 to 7 minutes and continue whipping until it becomes fluffy and workable.

Sunday, November 6

Friday - {Gingerdoodle Sandwiches}

Friday night dinners were kind of a big deal in my family. I'm not sure if it was the same for those who did the cooking, but, from a kid's view, the get-togethers were relaxed and casual. At the end of the week - without fail - my aunt, uncle and cousins came over for dinner.

It was awesome.

I always looked forward to those nights. Most people are happier, I think, on Fridays, but my Friday high was elevated by the promise of a delicious dinner and lots of time to spend with my cousins. Not that my parents didn't feed and entertain us during the week - Fridays were just something special. The coming together of all of us, so unfortunately detached for those long in-between days, to connect over dinner (and maybe a couple of beers for the grown-ups) was just awesome. It was a kid's dream.

I guess that, at the time, the food wasn't something I was particularly interested in. I'm trying hard to remember dishes that frequently found a home on the dining room table, but the only things coming to mind are my mom's bean dip in her itty-bitty-crockpot and a few Coors Light "empties" dying in the bottom of the sink. For me, those Fridays weren't about the food, they were about hanging out with my super cool family, make-believing with my cousins and staying up way past my bedtime.

The Friday tradition stayed strong for years. There was a short hiatus, I think, following my parents' divorce, but even afterward the tradition found its way back into being.

Eventually, however, there were bumps.

My older brother, D, started working and going to school a few towns over. His time, consumed by obligations, became more precious; alone time and sleeping time, understandably, became his priorities.

N and J, my cousins, left their little girl selves behind. Fridays were hosts to parties and outings with school friends, and - key in hand - N would load up her Dad's Durango and drive off to meet them.

And, of course, there was me. I moved. And I moved again. I live about an hour away from home now, and heading that way every Friday just isn't feasible. The nice thing with family is that we'll always have a bond - we'll never stop caring for one another - but I can't help but feel that I've let everyone down by being so absent.

It's not a good feeling.

But at the same time, I'm hopeful. I see that the weekly meetups were really between my Aunt and my Dad - a sister and a brother. The rest of us followed as welcome and wanted accessories, building the gathering into something really cool. And I know now, seeing all the changes and hearing stories of both my Dad and my Aunt's childhood, that this will all come full-circle. Someday.

For now, Fridays are between my dad, my aunt, my uncle, a couple of neighbors and maybe a cousin if they're not busy with friends. They make some food, throw back a couple beers, listen to classic rock, sit around the bonfire, and just enjoy existing.

I know that someday; when N, J, D and I are all "grown-ups;" we'll have that same tradition. We'll meet up at someone's house on a Friday with all of our future accessories, and everything will be just as it should.

Ice cream sandwiches combining soft snickerdoodles with spicy ginger ice cream. Super tasty, but not for the casual ginger lover. Makes 12 sandwiches.
Printable Recipe

Snickerdoodles via Martha Stewart
Makes about 2 dozen cookies. This is my favorite snickerdoodle recipe!

1 3/8 c flour
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
4 Tbsp butter
1/4 c shortening
3/4 c + 1/8 c sugar, plus more if needed
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon, plus more if needed
1 egg

Preheat your oven to 400F. Line two baking sheets with parchment and set aside.

Sift together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter, shortening, and 3/4 cups of sugar. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the egg. Beat well to combine. Add the dry ingredients all at once and mix until just combined.

In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and cinnamon. Use a small (1 1/4-ounce) ice-cream scoop to form balls of the dough, and roll in cinnamon sugar. Place rolled cookies about 2 inches apart (these really spread) on the prepared baking sheets. Bake until the cookies are set in center and begin to crack (they will not brown), about 10 minutes, rotating the baking sheets after 5 minutes. Transfer the sheets to a wire rack to cool about 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to the rack.

Store in an airtight container up to 1 week.

Ginger Ice Cream via Epicurious
Makes about 1 quart of spicy gingery goodness.

4 egg yolks
1/2 c sugar
1/4 c coarsely grated peeled fresh gingerroot
2 Tbsp water
2 c half-and-half
1 c heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla

In a large bowl, whisk the yolks and set aside. Combine the sugar, ginger and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for five minutes. Add the half-and-half and bring to a simmer.

Use the hot half-and-half mixture to temper the yolks. Pour about half of it into the yolks, whisking constantly to combine, then pour the yolks into the pan with the rest of the half-and-half. Cook custard over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until it reaches 170F.

Pour the cooked custard through a sieve into a clean bowl and stir in cream and vanilla. Place a sheet of plastic wrap directly over the surface and put the bowl in the fridge to cool overnight.

Once cooled, churn the custard in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions. Scoop a generous portion of the ice cream onto the bottom of one cookie, then top with another. Freeze until solid and serve!