Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Spelling Bee

Happy New Year!  And let me start by saying I have never understood the big deal about celebrating another year.  So, the calendar changed.  Not earth shattering news.  But that is just me, I guess.

Anyway, looking back at 2018 there were several things I did not blog about.  Life intervenes.  So, here is one topic I will share with you.

Many long time readers know that I do the New York Times crossword Monday through Saturday (I no longer spend time on Sunday).  This year a new puzzle was introduced called 'Spelling Bee'.  I am sure that many of you have played a variation of this where you are given letters and told to find as many words as you can.  I think I have played this at many a bridal shower.

The NYT version has seven letters.  Words need to be at least four letters, letters can be used more than once, but all words must contain the letter shown in the middle of the circle with the other six letters around it.  Today's letters are aihtry plus m as the required letter.  There are several levels you can reach, with 'Genius' being the top level.  There is always one pangram, but you can reach the genius level without finding it - I know from experience.  I did make it today with 22 words including the pangram.  Give it a try.

My complaint with this puzzle is that it is not up to NYT standards in my opinion.  I sent them an email way back when telling them to buy a dictionary.  It hasn't gotten any better; they just decide what words they accept.

If you do today's puzzle, do not bother with the word 'amah'.  It is not accepted in their list.  Everyday I will find at least one word that they say is not in their list.  It is like playing Monopoly with someone who makes up their own rules as they go along.  A couple of weeks ago I typed in the word "fritillary".  The message popped up that it was not in their list.  I was really miffed as you can see this is a pangram using seven different letters.  Somehow I expect better from the New York Times.

I enjoy puzzles, especially Sudoku which is a logic puzzle, not a numbers puzzle.  I still play Scrabble on the Kindle, but only against the computer.  I hated waiting for someone to make a word if playing against a real person.

I've decided that there are many things I enjoy doing and what is life for but to enjoy?  I learned years ago that life is short; too short for some.  So, while I do not make resolutions for the new year, I do hope that you look at your life ahead and decide what is really important in the greater scheme of things.  Family and just enjoying life do it for me.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Just 'Popover' for a Visit

Back in December of 2008 I attended a culinary class titled "Old English Holiday Feast".  I think that perhaps this was a feast in some very wealthy home as it started out with lobster bisque.  Yummy.  We then had a roasted prime rib with horseradish and mushroom sauce and those recipes are what I used for my Christmas dinner this year.  Along with that, we had popovers. 

When I was planning this dinner, one of my sons suggested we try popovers.  I had never made them myself.  I did not even own a popover pan.  We looked up several recipes online and they were all over the place.  The recipe from my class called for half and half and heavy cream, something not in any other recipe.  It also had a relatively short cooking time compared to some online which took almost 45 minutes to bake.

So, in deciding to give it a try, I made four popovers in a muffin tin.  They were just okay and a little too eggy for me.  I sent an email to a blogging buddy, Jo, and asked for suggestions.  She had never heard of using cream or olive oil.  She also asked if I had let the batter sit before baking, which I had not done.  None of the recipes we found mentioned that. 

Undaunted, I went ahead and ordered a popover pan.  I made a chart of all the recipes I found online and they were all over the map.  No consistency in the egg, liquid, flour ratio.  No consistency in baking times and temps except for the instruction not to open the oven.  Not wanting to practice making popovers all week before Christmas, I took my recipe from class, changed it up a little, followed Jo's suggestions, and went ahead on Christmas Day.

The result was like a new sporting event.  When the popovers went in the oven, we turned the oven light on and stood in front of the glass door watching them 'pop'.  I personally would have left them in a little longer, but everyone was saying 'take them out'.  They were good, but unfortunately a little deflated by the time we got them to the table and started passing the food.  (Actually, there is another story here about the green bean mishap that I will save for another post.)

Here is the pic again from Christmas Day:
And here is the recipe for the Yorkshire puddings I made.  If you are making them without a roast, use butter in the pan instead of the drippings.  My thanks to Jo for her suggestions, and to Chef Marcus Haight for the original recipe, which I modified (heavy cream?  really?).

Makes 12

2 cups half and half, at room temperature
1 cup plus 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
4 large eggs, at room temperature
salt and white pepper
roast drippings

It is very important that the ingredients be at room temperature.  You can warm the half and half in the microwave if need be and if the eggs have not been sitting out long enough, place them in a container of warm water.  The batter should be made ahead and allowed to sit for at least one hour. 

In a medium sized bowl, whip the half and half and flour together till smooth.  Add the eggs and whip until well-combined.  Add salt and pepper (I never measure just sprinkle some in).  Mix well till a little frothy.  Strain the batter into a container with a lip for pouring (you will have about three cups of batter) and let sit at room temperature.

When the roast is done, take the fat drippings from the roast and strain well.  Add one teaspoon of fat to each of the wells in the popover pan.  Spray the tins with baking spray to facilitate removal.

Set your oven at 400 F in the convection mode.  (If your oven automatically adjusts for convection baking, you may need to set it at 425.  Just make sure it is 400 and the fan is running.)  

Once the temperature is reached, place the pan with the drippings or butter in the oven for two minutes.  Remove the pan and fill each well with about 2 ounces of batter, about 3/4 full.

Place in oven for 15 minutes without opening the door.  I personally would have let mine go a little longer - five minutes more?  Just don't let them burn!

As for our dessert at the holiday meal, we had hot raspberry souffle with chocolate sauce.  I may just have to try making that next.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

A Throwback Cookie Recipe

I did not do my usual dozens upon dozens of  cookies this year.  I made the snickerdoodles and chewy molasses cookies from previous years, but I made two I had not made for Christmas before.  Yesterday I posted the recipe for the cherry oatmeal and today I am posting a recipe for Jam Thumbprints.  My mother made these cookies at holiday time, but I do not remember ever making them myself.

I saved lots of old recipes and I found this recipe in a small insert of Christmas cookies from the Ladies Home Journal in 1980.  I only made half the recipe as I no longer give cookie trays away and I do not need to eat cookies for breakfast, even if they do have fruit in them.  Here is a picture with the cookies on the top and the recipe.

Raspberry Thumbprints
Adapted from the Ladies Home Journal
December, 1980

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup raspberry preserves

1.  Cream butter and sugar in large bowl of electric mixer (or use hand mixer) until light and fluffy.
2.  Beat in egg yolks and vanilla.
3.  Gradually add flour and salt on low speed until well-blended.  Refrigerate dough for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 350 F if baking on same day.

Work with only 1/4 dough at a time, keeping the remaining refrigerated.  Use a small scoop to make 1-inch balls.  Place on a parchment lined cookie sheet two inches apart.  Using the end of a wooden spoon, make a small indentation in each cookie.  NOTE:  At this point the cookies may be frozen on the tray and then placed in a freezer bag for baking at a later time. 

Keep cookies on trays refrigerated while preparing the rest of the dough, or bake each tray as you complete it, baking only one tray at a time.

Bake cookies for ten minutes.  Remove from oven and make depression with spoon or thumb again.  Fill each depression with 1/4 tsp of jam or preserves.  Return to oven and bake for another 5-7 minutes.  Do not over bake or brown.  Remove from oven and sprinkle with confectioners' sugar.  Cool on rack and sprinkle with sugar again once cooled.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.  The recipe is easily cut in half.