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Author Archives: kelseyjaustin

Liverpool Leading Lady

I’m not as English as I once thought.

My father and I were talking about having corned beef and cabbage for Saint Patrick’s Day and I said that it would be worth the effort, “Even though there’s not an ounce of Irish blood in us,” to which my father replied, “I’m half Irish.”

Oh. Really?

Well, then we certainly should have some corned beef and cabbage and throw in a loaf Irish soda bread while we’re at it.

Now, I was perfectly justified in thinking that I was English. My great-grandparent and company were all born in Liverpool. Well, there’s a story behind that.

It just so happens that I am not the first actress in my family. My grandmother Kathleen was certainly one of the most dramatic people I knew, but her grandmother certainly takes the gold.

For many, many years being Irish was not nearly as grand as being English and my great-great grandmother thought she could do something about that. When the time came to give birth to each baby in her brood, she would go to Liverpool, have her child, and then go back to her homestead in Ireland. Doing this made her English (In her mind, of course). She did the baby act a few times and it was not easy, but the performance must have been worth it.

So, in honor of her and her wild antics, I adapted Nick Malgieri’s recipe for Irish Soda Bread Muffins. Don that green apron of yours and bake some up this weekend.

Irish Soda Bread Muffins

Makes 12 standard muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour     1 ½ teaspoons baking powder    ½ teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted    ¼ cup sugar    1 large egg    1 ¼ cups buttermilk

¾ cup raisins, currants, or cranberries tossed with 1 tablespoon flour

confectioner’s sugar    vanilla extract    half-n-half

  1. Set a rack in the middle of your oven and preheat to 350 F.
  2. Line your muffin tin with paper liners.
  3. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together the butter and sugar. Whisk in the egg and ½ of the buttermilk. Gently stir in ½ of the flour mixture and then add the remaining buttermilk.
  5. Stir in the dried fruit and then the rest of the flour mixture.
  6. Spoon the batter in to the muffin cups and bake for about 30 minutes or until the muffins have a touch of gold and are firm to the touch.
  7. Allow the muffins to cool on a wire rack.
  8. Mix together a cup of confectioner’s sugar, two tablespoons of half-n-half, and one tablespoon of vanilla. Add liquid or sugar until you get a nice consistency. Drip the icing over cooled muffins and allow the icing to harden. The muffins should look glazed.

Superhero Scones

Remind me if I’m repeating myself, but I’m super multi-tasker lady. I refrain from capitalizing the title because I am certainly not at superhero status. My multi-tasking is not always super productive and it is rarely graceful and never, ever glamorous. Just the other day I found myself ironing my clothes, putting on socks, brushing my teeth with an electric toothbrush, and spitting out the words to “The Wheels on the Bus” (along-with some toothpaste) all at the same time.

(I don’t sing “The Wheels on the Bus” for my own enjoyment, by the way.)

Possibly the worst multi-tasking idea was when I took a twelve-pound roast out of the oven with one hand while I fed my infant son with the other. Not a good idea. Everyone survived, but it was still a very bad idea.

So, this infant son grew up in to a very large infant son and began cutting teeth. And cutting teeth. And cutting teeth. His mama did not grow bigger arms but still had to pick up and hold this very large infant son, especially when it was tooth time. One day, Mama wanted to make something special, but her very large infant son needed a hold. What a dilemma.

Being the dependable, efficient person she is, Martha Stewart made a recipe for such times as this: Apple and Oat Scones with Cinnamon and Nutmeg.

With the exception of the chopping, Mama was able make Martha’s delicious, fairly healthy breakfast scones using just one hand and one arm. The chopping bit had to be a solo endeavor, though.

Apple and Oat Scones with Cinnamon and Nutmeg

  • 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • 1 1/3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats, plus more for topping
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons light-brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups diced Granny Smith apple (2 apples cut into generous 1/4-inch cubes)
  • 2/3 cup cold buttermilk, plus more for brushing
  • Raw turbinado sugar, for sprinkling

1.       Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Whisk together flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or rub it in with your fingers. Flatten the small pieces into disks. Add the apples and buttermilk and mix until it comes together.

2.       Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a 6-by-8-inch rectangle and cut into twelve squares with a floured knife. Place on parchment lined baking sheets. Brush the tops with buttermilk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes or until golden brown. Be sure to rotate the sheets half-way through the baking process. Allow to cool for 15 minutes on the pans and then place them on racks.

*From Martha Stewart Living, February 2012

The scones are especially tasty on the first day, but they’ll keep for a day or two if they’re individually wrapped in plastic.

Biscotti Bricks and Daydreaming

I used to write plays.

“Used to” sounds so final.

Perhaps I should say that I used to be in constant playwriting mode and always had a notebook with me. Today, I got the urge to write and the only thing I had to write on was a pocket-size monthly planner from the local credit union.

January’s inspirational thought was “character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries.” Ah. Very deep and strangely true.

No author mentioned, though. They didn’t even bother to write “Anonymous.” Terrible. But good quote.

I had coffee with my friend Celess, a person I find to be quite hilarious in that she doesn’t know that she’s funny, which makes her all the more funny.

I ordered a cappuccino–skim, no sweetener–and biscotti. Biscotti is near and dear to my heart. Some way, some how, I have fallen for making regular batches of biscotti and ordering biscotti from whichever coffeshop I find myself in. I’ve become a biscotti analyst without having a drop of Italian in me.

The overall flavor was acceptable, but the texture…there was no texture. These biscotti were closer to little bricks than little cookies. And the little bricks needed a good two minute soaking before any bites were possible. Had I bit down without dunking, I surely would have chipped a tooth. I understand that the cookie needs to be twice-baked in order to call itself biscotti, but is the dental damage really necessary?

The biscotti made me think of my biscotti (which I really love), which made me think of Maddy Lu, which made me think of this blog. This post is experimental in nature. It is recipe-less. Thoughts? Reactions? Comments?

Instead of baking, I’d like you to spend some time day-dreaming.

When I think of myself cooking or baking, roughly the same image comes to mind. I’m at my island, wearing my tangerine paisley apron, mixing flour and whatever else in a big bowl with a large wooden spoon.

Cookies?

No, I also have a peppercorn grinder.

Hm. Gingerbread?

I don’t know. There’s a red sauce simmering in a small saucepan on the stovetop.

A raspberry compote?

I don’t think so. I just added Tabasco to it. What am I making? Can anyone tell me?

Now, it’s your turn. When you imagine yourself cooking or baking, what are you making? Write in with your dish.

Maybe it’s something normal like chocolate chip cookies or a stir fry, but I really want to know if someone else sees a simmering red sauce.

Bars it is

Bars are as good as it gets these days. And probably will be as good as it gets for a few more months. It could be worse, of course. What if I left it all entirely? So, bars it is. Bars are as far as my brain can go.

I should have done lemon bars. Ha. That’s quite a way of beginning an entry. I made a coconutty-type of bar, but while they baked I thought of how terribly refreshing lemon bars would be and the winter seems like the time to be dehydrated and not know it. When else do you eat iceberg lettuce? Why does it taste so good in the winter? You’re dehydrated.

No, I shouldn’t write these blog posts late at night.

I’ll keep this brief.

So, when you are in the throes of everyday life, think of the humble goodness of the bar. Today, we’re featuring Jim Fobel’s Coconut Bars from the cookbook Jim Fobel’s Old-Fashioned Baking Book.  Dress up the recipe by drizzling the bars with chocolate ganache. There’s a good idea for you.

Coconut Bars

Bottom Layer

1 stick of butter, softened

1 cup all-purpose flour                                  1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar

Top Layer

2 large eggs                                                           1 cup slivered almonds

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup lightly packed sweetened shredded coconut

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder                                     1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 325 F and butter an 8-inch square pan.

2. In a medium bowl, combine butter, flour, and brown sugar and mix well with a spoon. Turn the dough over into the pan and spread it out evenly. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.

3. Meanwhile, beat together the eggs, vanilla, and brown sugar for 1 to 2 minutes. With a spoon, stir in the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, almonds and coconut.

4. Spread coconut mixture over the bottom layer once it has baked. Return the pan to the oven for about 30 minutes more.

5. Cool on a wire rack before cutting into bars.

In a Sequined Christmas Blouse

We took down our trees today. I know it’s a bit late, but we were waiting for snow. The snow came down early this morning…

and the trees followed.

While we tried to not be nostalgic, I couldn’t help but think of the season when the most delightful part of each day will be choosing from the manor’s menu–boiled ham sandwich or beef goulash.

The holidays will arrive and my children will draw from a hat to see who will feed me and the unlucky grand-kids will cry, “Do we have to?!”

I will sit in the manor lobby in my sequined Christmas blouse and wait. I imagine I’ll wait for at least forty-five minutes before I see an angry-looking relative.

All year long I’ve been looking forward to a festive dinner and I’m given an hour or so to choke down my rations while no one even attempts to talk to me. I don’t even get a peek at the Christmas tree.

I’m back in my room again before I know it and it’s time to choose breakfast–honey bun or runny eggs. Neither. Thanks.

To lighten the mood, I went with something terribly easy for someone in such a mental state–chocolate chip bars. And chocolate can be so comforting.

The recipe comes from Jim Fobel’s Old-Fashioned Baking Book. These chocolate chip bars are just right.

Jim Fobel’s Chocolate Chip Bars

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour                                            1 large egg

1/2 teaspoon baking soda                                                 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt                                                1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened                     6 ounces of chocolate chips

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter and flour an 11 3/4-by-7 1/2-inch pan.

2. Stir together the flour, baking soda, and salt.

3. Beat together the butter, sugars, egg, and vanilla.

4. Combine the wet with the dry and fold in the chips and nuts ( I omitted the nuts).

5. Spoon the mix in to the pan and spread it out evenly.

6. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes (I baked for 18).

7. Place the hot pan on a wire rack and allow to cool to room temperature.

8. Cut the bars and eat them.

Happy Winter. Enjoy the soft centers and the chewy edges.

Stress

I’ve noticed a trend. When I become stressed I often do one of two things: I cut my hair or I bake.

Maybe three things. I’ve been eating a lot of frozen gingerbread lately.

There’s not much more chopping that can be done to my hair (I did my last “trim” using a fingernail clipper), so I turned the oven to 375.

The spring semester is beginning next week, so I made raisin bread, a large pan of sandwich bread, and some whole-grain apple walnut bread thinking that I would freeze it so we wouldn’t starve before commencement in May. But we ate all of that before I could take any pictures and…I don’t know. I didn’t feel like making a post about it. Maybe I don’t have a good attitude. Maybe it’s all of that gingerbread getting back at me or maybe I need more vitamin D. Maybe I need to get more sleep.

I’ve decided to share a cookie experiment with you. I’m calling it an experiment because I like the results, but I wonder if something else could be done to it. Dip it in chocolate? Make it a thumbprint cookie and add a caramel center?

Well, I’ll tell you what I did. I think it makes a nice cookie. My taster said that it tastes old fashioned and modern. He said that he doesn’t really have a grid for it.

Praline Nut Cookies

1 1/2 cups of pecans

1/4 cup walnuts or almonds

1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar, plus more for sprinkling

8 tablespoons of butter, softened

1 egg

2 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla

1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 375. Take a couple of cookie sheets and line them with parchment. Throw the nuts in a food processor and pulse until you get nut crumbs, but not nut powder. Combine the nuts, sugar, butter, and egg in a mixer and beat for a minute. With the mixer on low, slowly add the flour to the mixture. When the mixture is fully combined, use a small ice cream scoop to spoon out the dough and roll into small spheres. Place the spheres on the sheets and lightly press them down. Sprinkle the dough lightly with brown sugar. Bake the cookies for 12 minutes.

What do you think?

Caramel and Crumbs

Soft bites and chewy edging. Perfection. Butter meets caramel meets powdery crumb topping. The flavor expanded and spread over every taste bud and then I was hit, mentally, by a shot of satisfaction and I smiled.

I meant to save some of these edges for Josh. I’m not sure what happened.

Rewind, rewind, rewind.

She’s gotten too smart for me. No more holding my breath while putting her down for a nap, to exhale upon my feet hitting the cold kitchen floor. After she graduated from naps, I used to try to bake while she painted or set up her princess figurines, but she couldn’t go at it for very long before needing me to squirt more paint or change Tiana’s dress.

(I did let her refill her palate once. Notice I said once.)

I would level off a measuring cup or separate an egg, run to Sophie, change the dress, run back and before I could find my place in the recipe, I would be summoned once again.

No good.

I gave it up. But I found that I couldn’t give up on baking. So we work together. Note the shower caps. She likes us to wear “hats.” Oh and don’t note the dishes. I did get to those. Eventually.

I wear the orange apron and she wears the green one. I weigh and measure the ingredients and she throws them in. We may lose a touch of flour this way, but mother and daughter are not losing their minds. If the recipe is complicated, she runs off after a few steps and I finish up on my own. We’re both happy with this set-up. I get to bake and she gets to make. Yes, I said make. “Can I make with you?” Sophie asks. And she’s right. It’s never just baking or cooking, It’s a lot more.

Today we made Caramel Crumb Bars from Nick Malgieri’s The Modern Baker. This book is just right. I love what it features—pies, tarts, cakes, cookies, bars, pastry, and even savory tarts, pies, and breads. The photography is complimentary and I have faith that each recipe will give me a delightful product.

I chose this recipe because 1) I have the ingredients and 2) I was able to make it with a three year old. (Don’t attempt puff pastry with a toddler as your sous chef.)

We were happy with the results. And the recipe was fairly simple. And I like the idea of cookie bars. They’re rustic and pleasing and almost always appropriate. And a baker can be somewhat experimental with bars. Experimenting with different nuts and fillings and crumbs and toppings can be exhilarating. Trust me.

Caramel Crumb Bars

Dough

2 sticks of butter    1/2 cup sugar    1/4 teaspoon salt    1 teaspoon vanilla

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Filling

4 tablespoons unsalted butter    1 tablespoon light corn syrup

1/4 cup dark brown sugar    1 (14-ounce) can sweetened, condensed milk

Directions

1. Butter and line a 9 x 13 x 2-inch pan with buttered parchment paper.

2. Preheat the oven to 350.

3. Beat the butter with the sugar and salt at medium speed for 3 minutes.

4. Beat in 2 1/4 cup flour at the lowest speed. Scrape down the bowl a few times in the process.

5. Take 1/4 of the dough and press it into the pan. Chill the pan.

6. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of flour into the rest of the dough and make crumbs by rubbing the dough with the flour between your fingers.

7. Make the filling by simmering the butter, corn syrup, brown sugar, and condensed milk in a medium saucepan. Stir often and cook for about 10 minutes. Pour mixture into a stainless-steel bowl and allow it to cool for 5 minutes.

8. Remove the pan from the refrigerator and pour the filling on top, spreading it evenly with a small spatula. Sprinkle the crumbs over the top.

9. Bake for about 30 minutes.

10. Place the pan on a rack and allow it to cool for 15 minutes. Cut it into bars before it cools completely.