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Valentine’s Day has always been a somewhat strange holiday for Tom and I. He used to sell roses years ago so the whole holiday has a different taste for us. The holiday is quite a manufactured money maker and we have tried to instill in our boys that fact. There are 364 other days of the year to show the one you love how much you care and how special they are to you.
For years, we used to go out as a group and probably one of our best Valentine’s Day stories has nothing to do with us, per se. We had made reservations with a few other couples to go down to the Ironbound section of Newark for Portuguese food. Turns out that one of the couples had to cancel. While we were standing in the lobby of an extremely crowded restaurant waiting (we only had to wait 1/2 hour since we had reservations – weren’t we lucky?) a young couple came in and the guy walked up to the maitre d and politely asked for a table for 2. At least they were kind enough not to laugh in his face when he said he didn’t have a reservation, instead they told him that he could be seated at 11:30 (yes, that’s p.m.) mind you, this was around 7 ish. Turns out, we happened to have an extra two seats, so we went up to them and asked if they’d like, they could sit at the end of our table (and we promised to leave them by themselves as much as possible considering we were all sitting at the same table). Turns out, they agreed. We bought them each a Valentine’s Day drink, wound up laughing and talking together for a good part of the evening. It was a very nice Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day has morphed through our relationship from the initial over-advertised guilt ridden day created by a card company with the expensive flowers and traditional dinner in a restaurant that was over crowded and overbooked through those days of group Valentine dinners with friends, to the occasional missed Valentine’s Day altogether when it managed to coincide with Tom’s snowmobile treks, to the take out Chinese dinner eaten in front of the fire on the floor. Tonight, the plan was that our youngest son and his girlfriend were cooking us dinner. They were going to then watch a movie and we were going to watch a show by the fire. Plans however, still change. A couple hours ago, I got a call from my oldest that he and a group of friends were driving down from school to go snowboarding and obviously to have dinner at home. While Tim and his girlfriend are still cooking us dinner, I am cooking sushi for the boys that are descending upon us any time now. It will be a different kind of Valentine’s Day once again — but a good one anytime you are surrounded by the ones that you love and who love you back.
One thing that has not changed through the years, the constant tradition, is the chocolate covered strawberries. Every year for as long as I can remember, I have made chocolate covered strawberries for all my men.
However you choose to celebrate or if you even celebrate at all…..Happy Valentine’s Day!
Today I made some ciabatta bread and rolls. Although the bread I usually make is a sourdough ciabatta recipe, this is a traditional ciabatta using a biga. This is the first time that I used a biga, since my other recipe just uses sourdough starter and no biga. I made the biga last night and let it sit as directed overnight. Mixed the dough this morning and decided to try both a loaf and rolls from the recipe which calls for either two loaves or 16 rolls.
Here is the recipe adapted from The Kitchn.com.
- 4 ounce (1/2 cup) water
- 1/2 teaspoon active-dry yeast
- 5 ounce (1 cup) all-purpose flour
Dissolve yeast in water. Add the flour and stir to form a thick, gloppy paste. Stir approximately 50 times to activate gluten. Cover and let sit at room temperature eight hours or overnight.
- 2 cups + 2 tablespoons water
- 1 t. yeast
- 4 cups all-purpose flour (I added 4 1/2 cups since my dough was not binding together as indicated below)
- 2 t. kosher salt
Dissolve the yeast in the water in the bowl of a standing mixer. Add biga and stir to break up the large glob it has become.
Add the flour and the salt. Stir and let this rest for 10-20 minutes.
Using a dough hook, knead at medium speed for 15-18 minutes. Keep a close eye on your mixer as it has a tendency to “walk” on the counter at this speed.
The dough will
The dough will start off sticking to the bottom and sides of the bowl. Around halfway through the mixing time, the dough should slightly pull away from the sides of the bowl, and regularly slap the sides of the bowl. If it doesn’t, turn the mixer speed up a notch. (This is where I noticed that it was still real soupy and not binding together at all and I added another 1/2 cup of flour a little at a time. The dough is still very wet compared to bread dough you might be used to — this is okay and what it is supposed to be doing.
Cover the bowl and let the dough rise in a warm spot until tripled in bulk.
Dust your work surface heavily with flour. Prepare two baking sheets each with a sheet of parchment. Scrape the dough out on the floured surface and dust the top with more flour. Use a pastry cutter to divide the dough into two if you are making loaves or 16 pieces if you are making rolls. I did half and half — did one loaf and 8 rolls.
Brush your hands with flour. Working gently but swiftly, scoop the the loaves (or the rolls) one at a time from the work surface to the parchment. Press your fingertips about halfway into the dough to dimple the surface and slightly flatten. Let the loaves (or rolls) rise, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes. When ready to bake, they should look pillowy with many big bubbles just beneath the surface.
Preheat the oven to 475°F while the loaves are rising. If you have a baking stone, put it in the oven now.
When ready to bake, slide the loaves, still on the parchment, onto a pizza stone if you have one. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until puffed and golden brown. Rolls will most likely cook faster than the loaves if you made both like I did. Slip the parchment out from under the loaves or flip them over and cool completely before eating.
Ciabatta rolls just before they went in the oven.
Finished ciabatta rolls — fresh from the oven.
Tonight, we were supposed to be going out for dinner. However, the wood stove was too warm and comfortable and the company was good. We were cozy and Mother Nature wasn’t making leaving the nest too desirable even for an anticipated night out. Not having planned on making dinner tonight, this was a throw-together. Sometimes, honestly, I think the “open the pantry and empty the fridge” meals somehow turn out to be the best meals of all.
The ingredients on hand:
- leftover boiled chicken breast
- fresh basil
- broccoli crowns
- red bell pepper
- chili garlic sauce
- olive oil
- potato gnocchi
I sauteed the vegetables together, added the shredded chicken and a very little olive oil (the special one that Tim brought back from Spain) seasoned it with a little kosher salt and a teaspoon of chili-garlic sauce. Added the gnocchi when it was cooked (which didn’t take long at all) and topped it with a couple grinds of shredded asiago cheese. Served it with some warm homemade bread. We enjoyed it by the fire with some great music playing in the background. Very delicious, indeed.
The other day I found this recipe for chocolate banana bread. I tried it, it was a hit at our house, even among those that didn’t like banana bread.
Personally, I think the chocolate did the trick. How can anyone not like chocolate?
If you’re interested here is the link to the recipe, which can be found at www.cookinglight.com
Dear friends and family,
When you come to visit and you think that I cook a lot while you are here, please realize that it is not really that unusual. I cook a lot more often than not. My boys routinely invite their friends over and that usually involves cooking…especially around their birthdays. I believe that for TJ’s and Tyler’s birthdays I made platters of sushi and boneless buffalo wings. There have been 12 layer birthday cakes and 12 pounds of ravioli which enabled me to use the bowl specifically reserved for our friend Lou’s cooking when he visits.
Tonight, we hosted the physics class for baked ziti, meatballs, homemade bread and chocolate croissants. Before you get too excited and have some type of breakdown (as I did when I was first asked to host the entire physics class for a pre-exam study session), the class is small, only about 8 kids, so it is by far not as monumental as it sounds.
Easily when my oldest invites “some” friends over, it could be at least twice that many. I love to cook and I love to see people enjoy the food, so it’s all good…..and it’s great to have all their friends come and visit.
There are still a plethora of tomatoes in the garden. I have roasted a lot of them. Now I am making crushed tomatoes with them that I am freezing to use later in tomato sauce, stews, soups and the like.
It’s a fairly simple process (which would be a lot simpler if I didn’t have to peel the tomatoes first)
1. Cut an x shaped slit into the bottom of each tomato with a sharp knife.
2. Drop the tomatoes into a pot of boiling water for 1-2 minutes.
3. Remove from water and the skins should peel off with little effort.
You now have a naked tomato.
4. Then quarter the skinned tomatoes and place into food processor.
5. Blend to desired consistency. At this point you can place it in a pot to make sauce as you would with canned crushed tomatoes
Or put in a container to freeze.
Probably my biggest challenge this week will be to make the type of birthday cake that my oldest requested for his birthday. It’s something that I have not made previously. It’s really not so much the difficulty but rather with the method of execution. He wants molten chocolate or lava cake for his birthday. This requires not one big cake, but rather, individual cakes. Again, not the end of the world except that we will have a company, an extra five people, maybe six, which means that I have to make 10 cakes. Now, you see my challenge. For anyone that is not familiar, lava or molten chocolate cake is a chocolate cake with a creamy or melted center. Not something that you can really make earlier in the day and serve later. It requires a from-the-oven service, not easy to accomplish times 10.
Several of the recipes that I have found (which are all pretty much the same ingredients) indicate that the cakes can be made ahead of time and simply cooked at the time that you are ready to eat. Sounds easy, right? Well, not for me. Make ahead and then cook or partially prepare and cook later is the kiss of death. The bagels I made the first time promised a do-ahead recipe, which turned into the ugliest looking flat bagels that anyone has ever witnessed. Another time, I tried to pre-make something it was also a disaster. Not something that I want to experience with a houseful of hungry kids dying for cake and certainly not something that I want to blow for one of my boys’ birthdays – after all they only come once a year.
for the other shoe to drop. Sunday night and yesterday, oldest son was sick with a fever and horrific cough. He is better today – no fever – so he will be off to school. We never have just one of us get sick (I guess that is the beauty of family – we share in the misery equally) so it’s just a matter of time waiting to see who is next. I am willing to bet money that I get it just in time for the back to back dinners we have this weekend. For Friday’s Pasta Dinner I have to make two trays of ziti and a tray of meatballs as well as a dessert. For Saturday’s dinner, there’s dessert again.
There’s only a handful of us cooking for the fundraising dinner on Friday, so no opportunities to back out. I have to guard against getting this for Friday. Look for me, I’ll be packing the Lysol in a double holster.
Watch out Uncle Billy and Uncle Lou – there’a new kid on the block. This morning, out of nowhere, our oldest TJ announced his desire to make crepes. You see, my not-so-little-anymore son who is taking a course on cooking and taking French has found there is this wonderful room in our house from which all sorts of good things can come – the kitchen. Last week, he baked 100% from scratch, an angel food cake glazed in chocolate for one of his friends who was having a birthday (when I say from scratch, I mean he had to wrestle the eggs from the chickens at 8 o’clock at night since he was short a couple). This morning, he stated that he had to cook something French for French class and since he loves crepes, that was his pick. He tried to lure me into this but I steadfastly repeated that it seems to only be the men in our life that have a way with crepes and, having tried my hand at it before, had no desire to even be the lovely assistant on this one. With admonishments to make sure that the kitchen didn’t look like a bomb went off in it when he was done, he set off.
He pulled up the computer and a recipe from it and set out. While I do admit that our dog was sitting with bated breath on every flip, the kid didn’t do a bad job. His brother and his friend gobbled them up. I ventured back into the kitchen armed with a camera to record the event for posterity.
Tonight’s dessert was made by Tim. This is a recipe that he learned at summer camp while he was assisting in a cooking class. These are Mexican fritters and quite tasty.
Ingredients – Bunuelos
- 2 c. flour
- 1 T. sugar
- 1/2 t baking powder
- 1 t. salt
- 1 egg
- 1/4 and 1/8 c. milk (3 oz)
- 1/8 c. melted butter
Ingredients – Topping
- 2/3 c. sugar
- 1 T plus 1 t. cinnamon
Whisk together first 4 ingredients in large bowl. Beat together egg and milk in small bowl, stir into flour mixture, add butter and mix well.
Knead on floured surface until smooth. Divide into 9-12 pieces, shape into balls and cover with cloth. Let rest 20 minutes then roll into 4 inch rounds.
Heat 2 inches of oil in deep skillet over medium high heat. Fry until puffed and golden.
Drain on paper towel. Roll in cinnamon sugar.
18 pints and 12 half-pint jars or 4 gallons. That’s how much honey we processed and we were hardly neat with it, being our first foray into honey processing. We harvested the hive Saturday since the new bees were arriving. Saturday Tom spent the afternoon spinning and then Sunday we were sieving and filtering and yesterday, we jarred. Amazing how few people use honey, we tried giving a jar here and there to some friends and neighbors and a lot of people said “no thanks, we don’t use honey”. The bees will be devastated. More for us, I guess. I am psyched that I found a “Cooking with Honey” cookbook in the bookcase which “came with the house” and I might be able to put it to good use with all this honey.
We have the beeswax out by the hive getting cleaned by the bees so that I can use it to try my hand at beeswax candles. I feel so “Little House on the Prairie” but this is really cool!