Thursday, March 24, 2016

This week's (and last week's) recipe - Dream Bars and Coconut Custard Pie

Two week's worth of recipe review! Both recipes came from the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion Cookbook (a huge title for a huge book).

The Dream Bars (chosen by Chris) were a bit of a flop. Super duper extremely sweet. Which should have come as no surprise as there is a pound of dark brown sugar in the filling. Plus more dark brown sugar in the crust. Basically I found them one dimensional - all I could taste was the molasses flavor of the sugar. Chris thought they were good enough to freeze as itty-bitty snacks (I'd have chucked them). Suggestions to improve the recipe if I'm ever insane enough to try it again? Light brown sugar in the filling; add chocolate chips, double the coconut, and toast the pecans.

Now the Coconut Custard Pie from the same cookbook? Stellar. Not only was the pie simple to make, I even learned a new trick for keeping the crust from getting soggy. Blind bake the crust for 10 minutes, remove from oven and brush bottom and sides with beaten egg yolk, bake for 5 more minutes before pouring in custard filling. I'm going to use this trick for my quiches too. Worked great! I did make one change to the recipe (bad Christin, bad) - I doubled the amount of coconut. But only because I didn't have any coconut flavoring (so very bad). Actually, I think I liked it better this way. Nice textural impact from the extra coconut yet not overpowering in the flavor department. Plus I so often find those flavorings "fake" tasting.

Next week's recipes will be a triple play. We're doing a dinner party and I'm trying three new recipes from two different cookbooks. Brave? Nah - the whole family loves to cook. If they don't work, we'll easily punt and make something else.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Mudroom Reveal

The mudroom is finished enough to finally show it off a bit. There are still things to be done - like putting the upper cabinets on the storage units - but I decided I couldn't wait any longer.

At 7' x 11.5' the mudroom is good sized. It's been nothing but an open space with hooks on the walls since we moved in though so storage was, well, awful. Everything constantly ended up strewn over the floor and we'd be stepping over gear, boots, and coats all winter. 

Not any longer!

The small unit is 11 inches deep by 3.5 feet wide with a 16 inch deep bench attached to the front. We didn't put drawers under the bench on this one because we wanted room for tall boots. Hooks on the doors mean it's easy to get to our coats (I really hate digging around in a closet for my coat - make it quick! The dog needs out!).

The small unit
My muck boots fit!
Inside the unit are shelves for, well, whatever we need to store in there. At the moment it's got a bunch of scarves, purses, and dog stuff but that'll all get better organized as I add boxes and trays. What's really neat is the open area just under the bottom shelf. We purposely left that big gap so that I could store tall stuff like my yoga mat and pool cue in there. They just slide right in, stay upright, and no longer get wedged into various corners and tripped over.
Lots of storage shelves
The 1970s gold bins are temporary (and ugly). I just needed something to corral hats and gloves until I could get something nice put in place. Although they do give me an idea of size and function needs.

We put open shelving on the side of the unit. We keep the camera, dog treats (yes, I use a crystal biscuit jar for my dog treats), GPS, and what-not on there. I'll gradually add decorative items too. It's all looking a bit lonely right now.

Side shelves too
The large unit on the other wall is deeper at 20 inches and wider at 5.5 feet. To accommodate the extra closet depth we made the bench seat only 12 inches deep. Other than that the design is basically the same.
The big unit
Oh, except the interior for this one is for hanging storage, not shelves. It amazes me just how many coats we own. We've got coats for hiking on property (the ugly orange ones), coats for working in the woods, coats for dress up, coats for rainy days, and so on. The closet interior is mainly for seasonal storage of all those coats plus permanent storage of rarely used items.

Lots of room inside too
I shopped the house to find the woven canvas bins on the top shelf.  They've been hiding in the hall closet and I think they look much nicer out here.
Have GOT to replace those yellow bins
I even got cute and made hang-tags. They hold gear, gloves, and hats; because in addition to an inordinate quantity of winter coats, we have an incredible number of hand and head warmers.
I might like the tags a bit too much
We put drawers on this boot bench. They contain our everyday gloves/mittens/hats. Quicker to grab than pulling down a bin.
Gorgeous (and convenient) maple drawers
So, still to do: the upper cabinets, paint touch up, decorating the walls and shelves, and coming up with a floor covering.  We've got a runner down right now but it doesn't fill the space appropriately. So there are still lots of finishing touches needed. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

This week's recipe - oxtail barley soup

Oxtail Barley Soup - doesn't that sound yummy? 

This week's recipe is from The Wooden Spoon cookbook. All different soups and stews. This is the first time I've cooked from it and I was pleased as punch that it actually had a recipe that would use up my oxtails. Which, by the way, are really weird looking. The center is sort of...squishy.

Yum, oxtails!
It's a simple recipe and it came out great.  More a vegetable soup flavor than a beef one though so I had to adjust my expectations once it was done. Regardless, it used a few simple ingredients and turned out a soup that had good flavor and enough quantity to feed us three meals. Not bad for the wag end of a cow. 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Boca Bistro in Saratoga Springs

My brother and I were in Saratoga the other day and decided to go to Boca Bistro for lunch. It's a Spanish Tapas bar that I've been meaning to try.

Nice ambiance and good decorating. We were seated in the little wine cellar alcove and it was pleasant and fairly quiet despite the very large party seated in the main area. The service was quick, pleasant, and appropriately attentive.

They started us with a hospitality bowl of mixed olives (excellent) and sliced bread (a bit stale).  The menu was varied and interesting though prices seemed a bit high; more Saratoga in summer than winter rates.

They had a good wine and beer selection and the server was kind enough to bring us a sample of a local brew they had on tap. A coffee stout that I expected to love but didn't so very glad to have the opportunity to try it first.  I ended up with a Malbec that had a great description, but was a bit lacking in spicy notes (maybe it was just a bad alcohol day for me). Not bad by any means, but not what I normally expect from a Malbec. Matt had the beer (surprising both of us as he's not typically a stout drinker).

The special of the day was a filet mignon sandwich that sounded wonderful and we added calamari and sweet potato fries to round out the meal and give us enough to share. The calamari was excellent - barely coated in batter and very tender. The aioli was a bit lacking in depth, but they brought some freshly made cocktail sauce (extra spicy) when requested. The sweet potato fries were wedges not those stringy things you usually get, again perfectly cooked, and had a thyme honey sauce (honey from their own hives) that was stellar. And the sandwich - whew! Excellent. With a spicy coleslaw on the bun to add texture and crunch to the buttery soft steak.

So, I'd say a winner even with the slightly elevated cost. It ended up being about $35 each including tip and drinks. Certainly not bad, but more than I usually spend on a lunch with no leftovers.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Topsy Turvy weather

The weather continues to astound with it's variability. We had a hard freeze with all the streams inches thick with ice. Then we had a full day of hard rain and suddenly everything let loose.

The green is a layer of ice under the water
Way wider than usual
Matt's stream
Water and ice
Walking through the woods was tough. Ice lay just under the surface and it was easy to slip over the wet leaves. Our land isn't exactly flat either so getting up and down hills was an adventure. Cooper had to engage four-paw drive just to maintain progress. We even had trouble despite the crampons on our boots. Great fun to slip and slide and toss ice balls. Plus it's great when you get home to hot coffee, fresh cinnamon bread toast, and a roaring wood stove. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

This week's recipe: Toaster Pastries

This week's recipe is again from the KAF Baker's Companion cookbook - toaster pastries. Chris picked this one and it looked fun. You make up the dough the night before, chill overnight, then finish them for breakfast. 

Assembly on these takes a bit of time, so be sure to leave enough lead-time in the AM.

The dough is very sweet. In fact, it's now going to be my go-to sugar cookie dough. Very yummy.

Extremely hard dough
Took a bit of effort but I got the dough divided into four segments, rolled it out, filled it with the jam mixture, sealed them, and cooked them up. In fact, it took nearly an hour to do all that.
Homemade strawberry and some purchased grape jams for filling
 You can have one batch baking while you're mucking about with the next.
At first I considered this recipe a C at best. It was a bit of a pain to make. Took a good bit of time, including planning ahead for the chill factor. Tasted very sweet. But then we popped a couple in the toaster for a late afternoon snack and I realized that the results would be enjoyed for days. These really did reheat well in the toaster (I didn't put the frosting on them - one, I thought they were already sweet enough, two, I could easily envision toaster fires) and we enjoyed them immensely. 

I am leaning toward simply cutting and baking them as flats then toasting and spreading fresh jam on them as we eat them. I think they'd be just as good, much faster, and I wouldn't have to worry about the jam leaking into the toaster (not that it has yet, but it's a concern). So it's now been upgraded to a B on my recipe grading scale.