Resolutions

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I may be in the minority these days, but I actually love making New Years resolutions.  To me they are more like goals for the year instead of a list of things I will probably fail at.  Re-evaluating my goals for the year is something I actually do seasonally.  Around the beginning of each season I write out a rough list of what I would like to accomplish during that season.  So New Years goals are, for me, just my goals for the year squashed in with my goals for the winter season.

In 2014 I would like to:

– Improve my skills in Photoshop and Lightroom.  I would really like to learn compositing and improve my artistic skills in Photoshop.

– Further develop my photographic style and explore photography in new ways

– Finish documenting my family’s recipes here on my blog and create a small book as gifts for my family

– Work on my spiritual self

– Find regular exercise I enjoy

–  Grow a successful vegetable garden and preserve the harvest

–  Continue paying off our debt (I am a Dave Ramsey girl)

–  Get Gavin to sleep through the night, in his own bed

–  Teach myself to draw

–  Read more books

–  Start writing a book

–  Explore the county with my kids

–  Become more Me

This winter I would like to:

– Knit Gavin an earflap hat, a pair of mittens and some booties

– Finish a few knitting projects neglected from previous winters

– Build another garden bed

–  Add worms to the garden

–  Deep clean the entire house

– Finish painting and rearranging Brae’s room

I hope to revisit this list in a year to see how I have progressed!

What are YOUR goals for this year?

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Thankful

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This year I am thankful for

1.  The health and safety of myself, my family and my friends.

2. The incredible generosity of friends, loved ones and strangers.

3.  The amazing food that is available here in NorCal.

4.  This amazing recipe for Mashed Sweet Potatoes that saved my butt at the last minute today.

5.  The ability to help others.

6.  My daughter’s amazing school.  I absolutely adore them.

7.  The home I get to live in

8.  The falcons.  I am very thankful I get to experience working with them.

9.  The incredible ClickinMoms community.  If your a woman who loves photography and wants to learn more then check them out.

10.  The internet.  My blog.  Connecting with far away friends and family.  The online community.  The open education and sharing of knowledge.  It might seem kinda silly but, I love it all and I am so thankful we have it today.

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving.  Eat, be merry, be safe and enjoy the beginning of the Holidays!  I will be back with some news soon 🙂

Marshmallow Madness Cookbook Review

A couple months ago I received an awesome cookbook by Shauna Sever called Marshmallow Madness to review and have been having a blast looking through all the recipes.  She has a recipe for almost every kind of marshmallow you could think of.  It took me two tries, but I figured it out and made some incredible chocolate marshmallows.

My first attempt was a disaster.  Granted, candy making is not easy and sugar work can be very difficult.  Add in my inexperience around a stand mixer and you have lots of melted threads of sugar all over the kitchen floor.  But, I have not been thwarted.  The author made this whole process sound attainable and I knew it was probably my error.  I reread the recipe and discovered that I should have used a smaller pot and I should have kept the mixer running when I added the hot sugar syrup.  The second time around I corrected these mistakes and success!  Watching the mallow puff up was quite magical.  During the first five minutes I watched the mixer whip the chocolate and began to have my doubts that it would work, but then after I turned it up to med-high speed everything started happening.

I am so happy I conquered marshmallows!  Cooking them was a good mental exercise for my preggo brain.  You have to pay close attention to the sugar as it boils and as you pour so you may want to make these when the kids are in bed or at school.  I would hate to accidentally burn curious young bakers.

I can’t wait to make more of the recipes in this book.  I mean, who doesn’t want a Salted Caramel Swirl Marshmallow?  Or how about a Key Lime Pie Marshmallow covered in ground graham crackers?  Fabulous right?  I think next time I might skip those fancy ones and go straight for the Strawberry Marshmallow made with fresh strawberry puree.  Can you imagine what that must taste like?  Probably amazing.  I can’t wait to find out.

Deeply Chocolate Marshmallows

Recipe from Marshmallow Madness by Shauna Sever

The Bloom

  • 5 tsp unflavored powdered gelatin
  • 1/2 cup cold water

The Chocolate Syrup

  • 3 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3/4 tsp instant espresso powder
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup

The Sugar Syrup

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 tsp salt

The Mallowing

  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
Sugar Coating
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder 
Equipment
  • stand mixer
  • candy thermometer
  • medium saucepan
  • 8×8 cake pan
  • heatproof spatula
  • a fine sieve or sifter
  • measuring cups and spoons

Directions

1.  Gather and measure ingredients before starting.  Lightly coat a 8×8 inch cake pan with cooking spray.  Make the sugar coating by mixing all sugar coating ingredients together, sifting if necessary.  Set aside.

2.  Make the Bloom: Whisk together the water and gelatin in a small microwave safe bowl and set aside to bloom for 5-10 minutes.

3.  Make the chocolate syrup:  In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together the cocoa powder, espresso powder and hot water until smooth.  Pour in corn syrup and whisk until well blended.

4.  Make the sugar syrup:  Stir together the sugar, remaining corn syrup, water and salt in a medium saucepan over high heat.  Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pot and have it submerged in the sugar mixture but not touching the bottom of the pan.  Boil stirring occasionally until it reaches 248-250 degrees F.  Meanwhile, microwave the gelatin mixture for 30 seconds or until completely dissolved.  Pour into the chocolate syrup and set your mixer on low (#2 on my KitchenAid).  Let it run while you attend to the sugar syrup.

5.  When the syrup reaches 245-250 F, slowly and carefully pour it into the running stand mixer with the chocolate syrup.  Increase the speed to medium (#5 or 6) and whip for 5 minutes.  Increase to med-high speed (#8) for another 5 minutes.  Increase to high speed (#10) and beat for another 3-5 minutes or until the mallow holds a soft shape when you stop the mixer and pull up the whisk.  The finished marshmallow will have tripled in volume.

6.  Pour into prepared pan and smooth with an offset spatula or knife. Sift a thick layer of sugar coating over the top and leave in a cool dry place, like a counter, uncovered for at least 6 hours.

7.  When set, use a butter knife to loosen the edges of the marshmallow from the pan.  Sift a thick layer of sugar coating over a piece of parchment paper and carefully flip the marshmallow onto coating covered parchment.  Using a large knife, cut the marshmallows into squares and coat all sides with more sugar coating.

8.  Store in a single layer in a covered container with the lid vented to avoid building moisture.  Dust on more coating if it gets absorbed.

Makes 30-40 marshmallows

Valentine’s Day Recap

I hope you all had a wonderful Valentine’s Day!  Tom and I had a great night.  I made T-bone steaks, golden mashed potatoes and roasted asparagus for dinner with homemade chocolate chip cookies for dessert.

While cooking I had one of those, “we gotta blog this” moments that I have to tell you all about.  I hope you find it as funny as I did.

I rarely cook steak.  It’s pretty expensive so I only cook it on special occasions.  It’s also because steak is just not that good for you (but don’t tell Tom that is one of the reasons okay!)  I decided to broil the steaks, which besides almost ruining my favorite cookie sheet, made lots of smoke from the fat burning off.  Every time I opened the oven clouds of smoke would pour out.  The steaks looked great though so I went with it.  By the third time of opening the door the fire alarms started screaming.  Brae started screaming and dancing around the room excitedly while Tom opened the doors and windows then grabbed the gigantic 2.5 ft x 1.5 ft Valentines day card he bought me and began fanning the fire alarm with it.  Brae thought this was a great idea and drug a chair and her giant card over to the alarm too.  Within a minute the alarm turned off and a thin layer of smoke was slowly flowing out the doors and into the night.

That is until I opened the oven again.  When the alarms started screaming Tom yelled, “Man your battle stations!” and bounced around the room fanning the alarm like a wild monkey.  Brae giggled delightedly, leaped on the chair and started vigorously fanning the alarm from her perch.  All this was happening as I peaked my head around the corner and caught a glimpse of this whole hysterical scene.  I am still wondering if the neighbors heard our crazy commotion.

The steaks turned out great, my favorite pan is not ruined, and the rest of the night was fun and fire free.  I hope yours was too.

Steve’s Creamy Pinto Beans

After my dad passed away in 2005 my mind was full of all the things I would miss.  His laugh, his advice, his silly nicknames.  It wasn’t until about a year later when I realized I also never learned how he made his famous pinto beans and I LOVE his pinto beans.  They were always super creamy and very flavorful with a hint of spice.  Dad was also always looking for ways to save money.  During the holidays he would use the bone from ham dinner and would make a big batch of beans specifically for freezing about 100 bean and cheese burritos for lunch at work.  If he didn’t have a ham bone he would substitute ham hocks.

For the past couple years I have racked my brain for hints to his recipe.  At first I couldn’t remember anything except that he used ham hocks or bones.  Ham hock was one of his silly nicknames for me and I never knew what a ham hock was until he made a pot of beans one day and added three ham hocks to the pot.  For some reason that stuck with me.

After talking with my mom and doing a little bit of research & experimentation I came up with a recipe I am happy with.  It’s probably not exactly like his, but comes close enough.

Steve’s Creamy Pinto Beans

  • 2 lbs dried pinto beans
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of ham or bacon fat
  • 2-3 cups of leftover cooked ham roast, big chunks are fine
  • 1 leftover ham shank bone or 3-4 ham hocks
  • 1 dried Guajillo chili, stemmed, seeded and ground (or a couple canned jalapenoes)
  • 12 cups of cold unsalted water, divided
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • salt and pepper, to taste

1. The night before put 2 pounds of pinto beans in a large stockpot full of water. Let them soak overnight.

2.  When you are ready to cook the beans drain them and set aside in a large bowl.  Chop up 1 onion and 6 cloves of garlic.  Heat the large stockpot on medium heat and melt about 2 tablespoons of ham or bacon fat in the bottom.  Add the onion and garlic to the pot and stir.  Let it cook for a minute.  Turn the heat up to med-high and wait about a minute for the pan to heat up then add 2-3 cups of roughly chopped leftover ham shank roast plus the bone from the roast (I froze my Christmas ham bone and used it for this recipe).  Let this brown on all sides by letting it brown a bit on the bottom before stirring the meat or turning the bone.  Browning is great, burning is bad.  Let this cook for about 10 minutes.  Turn the temp down a little if it seems to be browning too fast.

3.  While the ham bone browns, remove the stem and seeds from 1 dried Guajillo chili.  Grind the chili in a food processor until coarsely ground.  Dump into bottom of cooking pot with the onions.  Stir and allow chili to roast for 1 minute.  Alternatively you could chop up a couple canned jalapeno chilies.  That is what my dad used.

4.  Deglaze the pot by adding 1 cup of water and stirring with a wooden spoon while gently scraping all the yummy brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  When the bottom is clear of brown bits add 11 more cups of unsalted cold water and 1 tablespoon of butter.  Add the beans and stir.

5.  Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil.  After it reaches a boil turn the heat down to low and simmer until the beans are mushy, about 2 hours.  Stir occasionally, scraping the bottom so nothing burns.

6.  When the beans are cooked remove the ham bone, scrape off any extra chunks of ham and add them back to the pot.  Mash the cooked beans and ham with a potato masher until creamy.  If you would like to you can add some oil, butter or lard to the finished beans for additional creaminess.  If the beans are thin then let them simmer on low, stirring occasionally, until they are the desired consistency.  Season with salt and pepper when they are done.

We add lots of cheese to our beans and use them in burritos, quesadillas, bean dip or just a big cozy bowlful by itself.  They freeze very well in freezer bags or as individually wrapped and frozen bean and cheese burritos.

Cookie Month: Caramel, Walnut and Chocolate Thumbprints

I woke early.  The morning was unusually quiet.  Fog enshrouded our hill and the valleys beyond it dampening any sound.  I put the kettle on the stove, made a fire and then sat on the couch for a while just staring at the landscape, the fog, the apple trees.  Suddenly I was overcome by a desire to walk amongst it all.  To be there in it.  I headed back to the bedroom to change, wrote a note to Tom and headed down the road.  I eventually ended up in a big apple orchard near my house.  It was beautiful.  The leaves were yellow and occasionally the lightest breeze would shake one loose and it would twirl silently through the fog to rest on the ground.

I am amazed by the bounty of life in this place.  Maybe it’s because I was raised in the desert where life is harsh and brutal.  Out there you are more likely to come across a pile of bones than a live animal.  Northern CA is very different.  I found late blackberries still growing on vines near my road.  Mushrooms everywhere.  Those red ones were gigantic and were growing right next to our mailbox.  I found tracks for a small herd of deer, but not the deer themselves.  Starlings have flocked to the vineyards by the hundreds gobbling up everything the pickers have left behind.  With them came extra hawks and turkey vultures looking for the slowest birds of the flock.  Plus we have been on the lookout for raccoons, opossums, and foxes breaking into our bird house.

Its been fascinating to watch the transformation of the vineyards.  The brilliant colors were completely unexpected.  I thought grape leaves just turned brown and fell because that’s what the grapevines back home did, but here is different.  Its been a pleasure to drive past them each morning and watch as the leaves transform from green to yellow to russet and then suddenly vanish overnight in the crazy windstorm we had.  Now the vines are beautiful in their stark barrenness.  Perfect rows of empty brown vines reaching for the sky.  Bright green grass blanketing the paths between and eventually disappearing into the low fog that hugs the foothills beyond.

All this beautiful winter weather really put me into the Christmas spirit.  I started by joining in on the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap.  You can check out all 500+ cookie recipes through that link.  The cookies I received were awesome and I cant wait to participate next year.

When I was 6 my new step-father moved into our house bringing with him a passion for Christmas cookies that he could trace all the way back to his Ohio born great grandmother.  I have many happy memories of deciphering her 100 year old recipes,  mixing the dough, freezing dough, sneaking bites of dough, and making more cookies than anyone would ever want to make in a weekend.  We would send these cookies out to every person my stepfather had ever met and then sink down with exhaustion and swear not to make another cookie until next Christmas.  Of course, that never lasts.

I asked my stepdad if I could share some of his family’s recipes and got a resounding NO!  Instead I am testing out new recipes for my old favorites starting with caramel, shortbread and nuts.  Any combo of these ingredients and I am in love.  This year I came across an awful recipe for Caramel Walnut Thumbprint Cookies.  I wont say which recipe it was, just know it involved a lot of premade ingredients!  What does matter is that I completely reworked the recipe and came out with something I really liked.  The chocolate cookie base is Alice Waters Pate Sucree recipe I have used before with a little chocolate powder thrown in.  The caramel sauce recipe belongs to David Lebovitz.  His helpful instructions on making caramel were vital to my success.  Hope you enjoy them!

Caramel, Walnut & Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies

For the cookies

  • 8 tbsp butter (1 stick), softened at room temp for 15 minutes
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg yolk, room temp
  • 1 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp chocolate powder
  • 1 cup of crushed walnuts

1.  Preheat the oven to 350F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.  In a small bowl stir together the flour and chocolate powder and set aside.

2.  In a medium sized bowl beat the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until smooth & creamy.

3.  Add the salt, vanilla and egg yolk and mix until completely combined.

3.  Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix with a wooden spoon until until there are no dry patches.  Form into a disk and wrap with plastic wrap.  Chill for 4 hours in the fridge.

4.  When firm let the dough soften on the counter for 15 minutes then break off pieces of dough and roll into 1 inch balls.  Roll the balls in the crushed walnuts.  You may need to press the nuts into the ball slightly.  Place on a parchment lined baking sheet about 1 inch apart.  Press your thumb into the center of each ball making a crater like depression.

5.  Bake in a preheated oven for 12 minutes.  Remove from the oven and fill the depressions with warmed caramel sauce.  Bake cookies for another 3-5 minutes or until the caramel smooths out.  Let them cool completely before serving.

For the Caramel Sauce

This is David Lebovitz’s recipe found via The Purple Foodie.

He sure to read David’s Caramel Help Page before attempting to make caramel.

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 6 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp sea salt

1.  Spread the sugar evenly over the bottom of a light-colored heavy pot.  I like using my white enameled cast iron pot.  Heat the sugar over medium heat without stirring very much until the sugar is completely melted and has turned a rich amber brown.  Gently swirl the pot or push the sugar toward the middle of the pot if it looks like it is darkening too quickly.

2.  When the color resembles the top photo on David’s help page, a rich amber brown, very carefully take the pot off the heat and carefully add the butter & cream.  Expect foaming and bubbling so stand back and let it go for a few seconds.  When the steam has cleared stir everything until smooth.  Stir in the salt.  Let cool.

Store in a bell jar in the fridge.  It will last for weeks.  Eat from the jar with spoons or put on ice cream, or cookies, or on top of my Chocolate Tart.

Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2011: Pistachio Shortbread Rounds

As soon as I heard about the Food Blogger Cookie Swap hosted by Lindsay and Taylor of Love and Olive Oil and Julie from The Little Kitchen I was all over it.  I signed up just in time too!  The cookies we have been getting this week have been phenomenal and I want to send a big THANK YOU out to

Liz from lizdarby.blogspot.com who sent me wonderful Chocolate Hazelnut Shortbread sandwich cookies that we gobbled up by the end of the evening.  I want this recipe.

Kristi from cookinlove.livejournal.com sent me some delicious snowflake cookies with homemade jam in the middle.  Very intimidating, because they tasted so amazing and looked hard to make.  Tom polished these off pretty fast.

And Christy from misplacedsouthernbelle.com, those chocolate chip cookies were just what I needed the day they got here!

The bad part is that we ate all your cookies so fast that I never got any pics of them.  So, if you want the recipes or photos of the cookies I got to try check out those great blogs!

I also want to send a shout out to those bloggers that I sent cookies to.  I hope you all enjoyed them!

Marcy from justacrumb.com

Megan from mlbailey.blogspot.com

Nancy from rivertreekitchen.com

It took me forever to decide on a recipe.  Many of my favorites do not ship well.  After days of going back and forth on several recipes I finally decided on one of my favorites, Pistachio Shortbread.  I kept thinking they were too simple, but perhaps that is what you will need.  A simple, but versatile cookie recipe to help you meet that cookie quota.  These are very easy to make, easy to roll out and bake up fast.  Their subtle pistachio flavor pairs great with ice cream or Nutella.  The recipe comes from The Good Cookie by Tish Boyle.

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2011

Pistachio Shortbread Cookies

Makes about 46 cookies

  • 1/2 cup shelled unsalted pistachio nuts
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg yolk

– a 2 inch fluted or round cookie cutter, or if all your cookie cutters are still lost in a moving box like mine use the top ring of a small canning jelly jar.

1.  Preheat oven to 325 F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2.  In a food processor grind the pistachios with 1/4 cup of sugar until fine, or about 30 seconds.  Pour in a medium-sized bowl and add the flour, cornstarch and salt.  Mix until blended and set aside.

3.  With an electric mixer beat the butter and remaining 1/2 cup of sugar at med-high speed until light, about 2 minutes.  Add the egg yolk and mix until blended, scraping the sides as needed.  Add the dry ingredients and mix until well combined.  The dough may be crumbly at this point.

4.  Scrape dough onto your work surface and knead it a few times until it comes together and forms a smooth dough.  Divide in half and shape into a disk.  Set one disk aside.

5.  Using a rolling pin roll one disk out between two sheets of parchment paper.  Roll to a thickness of 1/8 inch.  Carefully remove top sheet of parchment and loosely replace then flip the dough over.  Remove 2nd piece of parchment and set aside.  Cut cookies using cookie cutter and transfer to prepared cookie sheet placing them 1/2 inch apart.  I used a very thin metal spatula to transfer the cookies without damaging them.  Re-roll the scraps and cut new cookies.  Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, for 13-16 minutes or until lightly browned on the edges.  Turn the oven light on and watch them through the window during the last minutes because they can go from perfect to overdone in 30-45 seconds.  When done remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Repeat with the rest of the dough.