Friday, February 29, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge #4

This month's challenge was Julia Child's French Bread. Currently my laptop is having "technical difficulties" posting my pictures, but you can check out the recipe here and I will be back to add my french bread observations (I know you just can't wait for that!)
The recipe is quite long (9 pages printed out) with instructions on how to form the loaves, and how to steam the crust, etc, so I'll leave you to the linked recipe this time.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Nigella's Shepherd's Pie

Here's a recipe I discovered a few weeks ago when we had extra mashed potatoes. This is definitely a stick-to-your-ribs dinner on these cold winter nights.

Rudolph Pie (Christmas Shepherd's Pie)
Recipe courtesy Nigella Lawson
Show: Food Network Specials
Episode: Nigella Bites Christmas Special
Recipe Summary
Difficulty: Medium
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Yield: 14 to 16 servings
Cook's Note: This is one of those simple-hearted, down home kind of dishes that in fact is quite fiddly. Nothing's difficult, but there are quite a few steps. But that's often the way with food that you can simply reheat when you need it: you have to put more hours in earlier. Often, especially at this time of year, it's worth it. I sometimes think that 1 hour's cooking alone, calmly and in advance, is so much more preferable than 15 minutes frenetic, last-minute activity when you're tired and have a roomful of people to entertain. I say this now, as a form of defense on my behalf, but also to warn you, however encouragingly, of the labor to come.

1 3/4 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
4 onions
4 carrots
4 cloves of garlic
3 to 5 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound button mushrooms, sliced or quartered
2 1/4 pounds minced venison
2 1/4 pounds minced pork
2 tablespoons flour
2 (14-ounce) cans chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste, diluted in 1/2 cup water
1/3 cup Marsala
Worcestershire sauce, to taste
9 pounds potatoes
3 1/4 pounds parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 cup full-fat milk
1 stick butter, melted, plus extra to dot on the top
Pinch freshly ground nutmeg

Pour 2 cups of near-boiling water over the dried porcini mushrooms and leave to steep while you get on with the rest of the cooking. Peel the onions, carrots and garlic cloves and chop them; I use a food processor here, and do them in 2 batches of 2 each.

Pour the oil into a very large, thick-bottomed pan and when it's warm add the chopped onions, carrots and garlic. Cook, stirring, for about 10 minutes, sprinkling in salt if the vegetables look as though they might burn.

Drain the porcini, reserving the soaking liquid, chop them coarsely and add them to the vegetable mixture along with the button mushrooms. After about 5 minutes, when the fresh mushrooms have cooked down a bit into the mixture, transfer the vegetables to a plate so that you can start cooking the meat. Add a little more oil to the pan then add the minced meats, breaking them up with a wooden fork or spatula. Stir for about 5 minutes until the rawness has left them a bit, add salt liberally, and then return the vegetable mixture to the pan. Stir in the flour and, still stirring, pour in the mushroom-soaking liquid, tomatoes, tomato paste, Marsala and a few drops of Worcestershire sauce. Stir well, cover partly with a lid and turn down the heat so that the mixture bubbles gently with some of the liquid evaporating and the flavours intensifying, for about an hour. Even longer wouldn't do it any harm providing the heat is very low.

Once cooked, taste for seasoning then remove from heat. If it helps you can cook the base in advance (either freezing it or leaving it in the fridge for a few days), which means that when you want to serve the pie, you have only to bother with the topping. Some people are happy to make a shepherd's pie in its entirety and then leaving it to be reheated, but I think that's only OK if you don't need to refrigerate it for days (it does something funny to the texture of the potatoes). An afternoon, even a longer stretch, in a cold wintry kitchen, though, is fine. An easier alternative might be to refrigerate the cooked base and leave the mashed potatoes and parsnips in a plastic wrapped bowl in a cold place in the kitchen for however long you need, bringing the two together just before they go into the oven.

Given the amount of potatoes stipulated, I suggest you hand people a peeler if you have any around who ask if there's anything they can do to help. Or use a potato ricer, which means you don't need to peel them. Either way, boil the potatoes in a large pan of salted water until they are nearly tender and then add the parsnips which have been peeled and cut into chunks. Simmer until the potatoes and parsnips are cooked to easily mashable tenderness, but not to the point of disintegration, then drain them and let them dry slightly in the colander while you warm the milk and melt the butter in the heat of the pan that you cooked the potatoes in. Rice the potatoes and parsnips straight into this pan (or mash them) and then grate in some fresh nutmeg and add salt to taste.

Put the meat mixture into a large dish approximately 12 1/2 inches by 14 1/2 inches in size. Then dollop the potato mash on top, spreading with a spatula, taking care to seal the edges to prevent the meat below from bubbling up in the oven. Use a fork to draw lines over the top, then dot with butter and sprinkle with Worcestershire sauce. If you're cooking this straight away, in other words when everything's still warm, about 10 minutes in a 425 degree F oven should be enough to make it piping hot and golden and crisp on top. If cooking from cold, about an hour in a 375 degree F oven should do it.

Monday, February 25, 2008

He's Handsome, Too

I am blessed. All you have to do is scroll through my blog and look at my pictures and hear the stories of our children growing before our eyes and taste our recipes, to realize how blessed I am. But every now and then, I am simply overwhelmed by God’s grace and goodness. Today I am struck by the fact that I am married to the only man who was perfectly made for me. My Tim. I am so thankful for him everyday. He is everything I ever prayed for in a husband. Yesterday as I was listening to him speak from his heart before the men of the church, it stuck me like lightning how much I love and respect him. I respect him for working so hard to provide for our family, for aspiring for serving in the church, for his service in our Bible study, his desire to be debt-free and to begin his own business, for his devotion to me, for leading us so faithfully in family worship and for being such an amazing and doting father to our brood. We’ll be married 5 years in April and he’s come such a long way as a husband and a father. I love him for being teachable and for being willing to change when he’s convicted by God’s Word. The Lord accomplished so much through Tim and has blessed him through his service and ministry and love towards me and the kids. I know he will continue to be blessed and I’m glad I’m on his team.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Notice anything about this picture?

(No, not the calculator~ he tries to be just like Daddy)

He's left-handed!

Cold, Slow February

I agree with Caitlin~ February seems to be absolutely dragging on forever. And we have another full week until March. It’s been mostly cold and windy here~ with a conspicuous lack of snow. I feel that if the average high is going to be less than freezing, we might as well have some snow on the ground. Around here, we’ve been mostly hanging out and keeping busy inside. Dabney’s been practicing handwriting and David has been keeping busy by helping Mommy, so that he is occupied with good things and not left to his own mischief. His favorite thing these days is to “Bacuum” and sometimes we even let him push it himself when time permits (it takes a while).

In other news, David is progressing quite well in the potty training realm. He’s been wearing his big boy underwear and he likes them a lot. It seems they inspire and remind him to use the potty. If I remind him ever 45 minutes or so, we can go quite a while without an accident. It encourages me a great deal to be able to see a light at the end of the diaper tunnel.

I’ve been organizing the basement and the outgrown/ yet-to-grow-into children’s clothes. I love it when people give us clothes for the children, but sorting them by color, washing them, sorting them again by size, folding them, and storing them in their respective bins, is no half hour task! We are so thankful for the generosity of others. God surely supplies all of our needs.

The big news around town is that Costco has opened. I must say, I did run over opening day and join their club and so far we are happy. It is quite a bit closer to our house than Sam’s, and I’m enjoying the thought of running over and the trip not taking 2 hours. I emerged from our first trip with lots of good prices (I love that they have coupons) and all the popcorn we could ever eat. My only complaint is that they did not have unsalted butter. Maybe this is not a big deal, but nevertheless, the thought nags at me. As a baker, I rely on the butter being unsalted so that I can regulate the amount myself in my breads and cakes and cookies. For now I’ll have to adjust, but I really hope they will carry unsalted butter in the future.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Thanks for our Valentines!

Thank you Gwamma, Pop Pop, Auntie Cait and Uncle James!

"David, can you show me your card?"

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Happy Birthday, Baby Girl!

My dear Dabney,

I can't believe it's been 4 years since God safely delivered you into our arms. Daddy and I couldn't hardly wait to meet our first sweet baby. We waited and prayed for 9 long months. Then, one snowy afternoon in February, 4 years ago today, you arrived and we've been praising God for you ever since. We are thrilled and so blessed to be your parents! We are so thankful for your loving and generous heart, your outrageous personality, your hilarious sense of humor, your unique creativity, the manners you are acquiring, and your improving respect for others and obedience, but most of all we are thankful for what Jesus has done in your life. You love Him and that love comes only from Him. Daddy and I love your tender spirit, your eagerness to ask forgiveness when you've done wrong and your love and kindness toward and your brothers. Sweetheart, you are so much more than I ever dreamed a daughter could be! We cannot tell you how much we love you and only God loves you more than we do. We treasure you and we will continue to thank God for you and pray that you will continue to grow in His grace.

With so much love,
your Mama

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Great Combination

Red tweed, orange stripes, polka dots, pink crocs

Definitely Recommended

Recently, I picked up Barefoot Contessa at Home, which makes it the 3rd Ina Garten cookbook I own. I love Ina's foods because it is so down to earth and homey and with so many cookbooks on the market these days, a lot of the food has gotten sort of hoity-toity, but not so with Ina. She makes fresh simple food delicious and welcoming. Her pictures are gorgeous and she shares, especially in this newest book, how she makes her home in East Hampton lovely and tips on planning menus and entertaining. With the possible exception of the Summer Borscht (I'm not a fan of beets), I look forward to making every recipe in the book (and how many books can you say that about?), especially the Seared Tuna with Mango Chutney, the Summer Fruit Crostada, Shrimp Bisque, Mustard Roasted Potatoes, Pesto Pea Salad, Couscous with Pine Nuts, Blue Cheese Burgers...
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