Friday, December 2, 2016

Baking Springerles

 Each year, just before Christmas, Mom and I start thinking about springerles. They're a traditional German holiday cookie, anise-flavored, crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle. In years past, my aunt and uncle, Mae and Charles Boyer, would pick us up a dozen at a Belmont bakery. They've been gone a couple of years so we've had to fend for ourselves for recent Christmas's. Two years ago, that meant ordering a couple of dozen online. They're really prohibitively expensive, though.

 Farther back, we used to buy them from Woody's bakery in West Carrollton. No doubt, those were the best of all ... small white pillows. heavily spiced with licorice.

 This year I decided to give baking them a try. Many years ago I tried the old-fashioned method, using hartshorn. Just finding the stuff is a challenge. And I've wondered whether it's actually necessary.

 I found a recipe on for a Traditional Springerle. It didn't look too difficult. I decided to try it.

 They turned out fine. Rather than use anise seeds (which Mom would have preferred, but seeing as how I was the baker ...) I used anise flavoring, a clear bottled liquid available in Kroger's spice isle. But how much? I opted for half a teaspoon with this recipe. Mom called that "just right" though I might go with a full teaspoon next time. It's the overpowering licorice taste you want. Be brave!

 Never one to follow directions, I first melted the margarine and added the sugar and eggs. I stirred this quite well with a whisk (I did not want to bother with an electric mixer). I then added the baking powder, vanilla extract and anise flavoring. Again, I made sure this mixture was whisked thoroughly. It produces a creamy, yellow, thick liquid.
 Finally, I added the flour, a little at a time and stirred it with a large spoon.
 Then, as shown above, I took handfuls of the dough, sprinkled them a bit with flour to keep them from sticking, and rolled it to about 1/2" thickness with a plain roller. Finally I rolled with a springerle roller which has the images etched into the wood. I pressed hard enough so that the image was clear and reduced the thickness of the dough to about 1/4".

 At this point it's just a matter of slicing the individual cookies. I carried each (balanced two at a time on the knife) to parchment paper where they were left to dry overnight. I covered them with a light cotton cloth.
 I did not use any powdered sugar to coat the roller or the dough. That seems to me simply a no-stick option and flour works as well. I doubt the sugar affects the taste and seemed an unnecessary complication to me. I've never eaten a spingerle with a powdered sugar coating.
 This drying stage is absolutely necessary. The tops will dry out a bit while the insides will remain somewhat damp. When they bake, the insides will rise - but not the top. They gain the appearance of little white pillows.

 I baked a pan of 20 for 24 minutes at 250°. I tested with a toothpick to make sure they were done. You want the insides the stay a bit chewy, but certainly not dried out. This recipe made 52 cookies.

 Bottom line: quite good! They're certainly the taste and texture of traditional springerles. I prefer Woody's (which was long ago closed) larger size but I was limited by the size of impression my rolling pin makes. So I have smaller cookies but with the wonderful licorice taste. They're just the same, only smaller.

 All in all, they're not at all hard to make. So this will be a cookie we make every year. No more ordering from bakeries or online. We can do almost as well and at a fraction of the price.

 And hartshorn? Forget it. Baking powder works just fine.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Thanksgiving - 2016

 Late in October I called Rob's Restaurant in Brookville to make reservations for Thanksgiving. Already there wasn't much choice. Mom would have preferred 11 am (too early for many of us) but only 12:30 pm was available ... or later times.

 Turns out we'll have to call even earlier next year and try for the earlier time. The crowds were excessive and Rob's allowed for walk-in's to cover cancellations. I saw people waiting when we arrived and still waiting almost an hour later when we left. That's a testament to the quality of Rob's food.

 This year the price was $9.99 (seniors, I suspect). The newspaper said the price was $10.99. All-you-can-eat, of course.

Mom and I

Bill and Tom

Bob and Nancy

 After we ate, we came home and played cards (Michigan Rummy). No one was interested in eating more. Tom, Bob and I had a couple of glasses of Listermann beer in their new Chickow! flavor.  Very interesting a very potent! Tom picked up a growler yesterday and also brought Mom four bottles of Nutcase, her favorite.

Mom playing cards 

Tom's waiting for his turn 

Bob's checking out his hard 

Nancy is a ruthless player. She's there to win!

 In the foreground is my glass of Chickow! beer. It's dark - even bitter - and very strong. Listermann makes it in two flavors: Coconut and Cinnamon Roll. I have no idea which flavor we had as it was very subtle. We also had a bowl of mixed nuts with dried cherries but no one was very hungry. Mom suggested popcorn but that was vetoes. We were all stuffed.
 A great day with family. It was  50° early in the day, dropping into the lower 40's as the afternoon progressed. It was also a cloudy, dark and dismal day. But with a group like this, who cared?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Basic White Bread

 You'd think I was baking bread for Thanksgiving since it's tomorrow. But, no, I'm baking bread because we need it. Plus I love homemade.

I've been looking through various recipes, both in Mom's cookbooks and online, and I decided to try one from a very old Betty Crocker cookbook called "Perfect White Bread". So the credit for this recipe goes to them. The instructions are mine.

White Bread

5-3/4 to 6-1/4 cups bread flour (I used 5-4/3 cups)
1 package active dry yeast
2-1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon margarine
2 teaspoons salt

 I began by activating the dry yeast in the milk (warmed) and the sugar. I allowed it to proof for about five minutes while I worked with the dry ingredients.
 I poured 5-3/4 cups of flower into a large bowl, added the salt and melted margarine. When the yeast was foaming I added the liquid to the flour and stirred it with a large spoon. I then dumped it onto a lightly floured pastry cloth and kneaded it by hand for 10 minutes. The small amount of flour I used to dust the cloth was in addition to what I used in the recipe.
 Here's what the dough looks like at this point.

 I then placed the dough back in the bowl (washed) which I first rubbed with vegetable oil. I turned the dough once so that both sides were lightly coated with oil. The first rise takes about an hour and, because our kitchen is cold, I turn the oven on and then back off ... just enough to warm it. I let the first rise happen in the oven. I covered the bowl with a damp cloth (shown).
 After an hour, the picture above shows how the dough has doubled in size.

 I knock the dough down, knead it again for a few minutes, then divide it in half and form it into two oblong loaves. I've lightly oiled each pan since the dough will be baked in them after rising for another hour.
 The picture above is after an hour's rise. Because I'm heating the oven I can't use it for the second rise so I've placed both pans on top of our Eden Pure heater. The top doesn't get warm but the area around the heater (which is on, of course) is much warmer than the rest of the kitchen.
 Then, when the dough looks as pictured it goes into a 375° oven for 45 minutes. I add a pan of boiling water to the oven (on a rack beneath the bread) to keep the crust soft while it further rises.

 Time's up. Here's how the loaves look right out of the oven ... hot and yeasty good.

 After a few minutes I knocked both loaves out of their pans to cool. Since the pan was oiled, the loaves fall right out.

 Here's Mom making a first slice and testing the bread. Excellent!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Focaccia Bread

 Whenever we're shopping at Meijer's, Mom heads straight for the bakery to see if they have focaccia bread. A few months ago they told us it was discontinued but recently we've been able to find it again. She prefers a focaccia with herbs and cheese on the top.

 I decided I would try to make it. I couldn't find the recipe Meijer's uses but I found a basic focaccia recipe that I thought could be easily modified. This Easiest Focaccia Recipe was my jumping off point.

 I have to admit that what sparked my interest this week was a program I watched on PBS's "Create" channel. Lidia Bastianich is certainly one of my favorite TV chefs and I usually lust after her easy Italian recipes. So I also made use of the techniques Lidia showed, though not her recipe.

 A few hours later I took a lovely pan of a herb focaccia out of the oven that exceeded my wildest hopes. "That's the best thing you ever made," Mom said.

Focaccia Bread with Parmesan Cheese

 The bread is straightforward and simple but it takes some time due to two rises of the dough. There are only six ingredients (plus herbs and cheese):

1 teaspoon white sugar
1 package active dry yeast (0.25 ounce)
1/3 cup warm water
2 cups bread flour (all-purpose flour should be fine)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (olive oil is traditional)
1/4 teaspoon salt

 The yeast is proofed by adding it to the 1/3 cup of warm water into which a teaspoon of white sugar has been dissolved. Set it aside and in 5-10 minutes it should be foaming. At that point it's ready to add to the dry ingredients.

 In a large bowl combine the yeast mixture with herbs. I used 1/2 teaspoon each of parsley (home-grown), sage and thyme. I used a whole teaspoon of rosemary and this is a traditional focacchia ingredient and one of Mom's favorites.
 Add additional water gradually until the dough is workable but still a bit sticky.

 I mixed this with a large spoon and then turned the sticky dough out onto a floured pastry cloth for kneading. After a minute or two of working the dough, it looked like the above picture.
 I washed the same bowl I made the dough in, thoroughly oiled it and placed the dough ball into it. I turned the dough over so both sides were liberally covered with oil. [Focaccia bread is often called Olive Oil Bread]
 I covered the bowl with a dam cloth and placed it in a warm spot for an hour.

  After an hour of rising, this is what the dough looked like. It spread out and doubled in size.
 I punched the dough down and kneaded it again and the placed it on an oiled (non-stick) cookie sheet. Our cookie sheet measures 12 x 15.5".

 It doesn't seem possible that the dough ball can be worked into such a large size. But I worked the dough into a rectangle while still on the pastry cloth. I merely used my hands and fingers. No rolling pin needed. When I had it about half the needed size, I transferred the rectangle to the cookie sheet and worked it out to its full size.
 Note: the cookie sheet needs to be liberally oiled. I used a non-stick pan so the focaccia wouldn't have stuck anyway but the oil is necessary for a true crispy focaccia crust.
 If it's a little resistant to stretching that far, give it a few minutes to rest.I just pulled, prodded and pressed it into the full size of the cookie sheet.
 Liberally coat the top of the dough with oil. It should shine if you've added enough. Just use your fingers or a pastry brush (I don't have one).
 Then, poke holes in the dough with a finger. Some recipes call for the holes to go the whole way through the dough; others suggest just deep dimples. I did a little of both, depending on how thick the dough was. The holes give the focaccia its traditional look and also allow gas to escape while it bakes.
 Sprinkle the salt on the top. I used a large crystal "pretzel" salt and just pinched some and distributed it by hand.
 Now allow this to rise a second time briefly. It's suggested to cover it with plastic wrap but I didn't. How can it dry out if oiled? I probably waited no more than 15-20 minutes.

 I baked it at 475° for 20 minutes. I turned the pan around half-way through the baking (our oven bakes hotter at the back). Also, about five minutes before it was finished, I took it out and added shredded Parmesan to the top. I might have been able to add this at the start but I was afraid it would burn. In the last five minutes, the Parmesan melted and spread across the top.

  The recipe says to bake only 10 minutes for a "moist and fluffy" focaccia, 20 minutes for the more traditional crispy crust. I do not think mine would have been done in ten minutes.

 Allow the bread to cool a bit before cutting.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Crosley Field Redux

 I've had only one brush with Crosley Field - the real, original Crosley Field - and that was in 1966 when I attended a Beatles concert there. That field is long gone but Tom was telling me that a Crosley Field Red-Creation was constructed in Blue Ash, Ohio ... so yesterday we went to see it.

 Re-constructed in 1988, the "new" Crosley Field is located on Grooms Road. It's part of the Blue Ash Sports Center.

 My first impression was that is wasn't as big as the original Crosley Field but I can't find anything which notes its scale. Maybe I simply remember Crosley Field being larger? Certainly some of the expansive bleachers at the original ball field are not here and that alone would make it seem smaller.

 The scoreboard and some of the seats are from the original park.

 A new story about where various items from the original field are located was published here.

 This plaque is fixed to one of the original ticket booths from the original Crosley Field.

 Of course for most Crosley Field was the home of the Cincinnati Reds from 1884 to 1970 It was called Redland Filed before 1970). But for me, it was home to the Beatles, if only or half an hour.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Watermelon that Could

 Back on Memorial Day weekend, Tom and I cooked out. He brought a fresh watermelon that we sliced and ate on the edge of the porch, spitting seeds into the grass. That's late in the season (05/28) to be planting melons but I kept a few of the seeds, planted them in the garden and marked them with a small flag.

 On July 2, this is what I found  ...

 The melon Tom brought was certainly low in seeds and I expected it was some sort of hybrid where the seeds wouldn't sprout, and if they did, who knew what they'd turn into to. But by the first of July there was not only a vine, but the first melon set.

 I took a picture of the leaves to make sure we had a watermelon and not something strange. Yep, looks like a watermelon.

 On July 8, the tiny melon was already expanding and showing a few green stripes.

 By July 13 - my birthday - things were really changing. I was watering the garden regularly

 By 9/7 I saw another small melon beginning.

 The original melon, by 9/25, was about a foot long.

 On October 4, I found a second large melon as the leaves began to fade.

 The first melon to set was quite large and appeared ready-to-eat on 10/4. But, was it?

 Yesterday (10/22) Tom and I picked the three melons. This is the original. It felt solid and ready for the plate.

 Tom has a unique cutting device that slices a whole watermelon at one time. You have to cut each end off so the melon sits flat and then you push the cutter down through it. We took it to the sink to make the initial end cuts. As Tom carried the melon outside to use the cutting device, the melon split. I suppose it was due to water pressure from the recent rains (we had 1.88" late last week).
 Most importantly, we could see that the melon was ripe.

 And here it is after the cutter dropped down through it. Each slice is thin enough to hold and eat. But we cut the melon from the rind and placed the slices in a container for easy storage.

 Here's the result. Beautiful, sweet red flesh ... perfectly ripe. It took less than three months to go from seed to this. We've been lucky that there has been no frost and the melon has been able to stay in the garden this late in the season. I've covered the vine with a sheet twice but neither time did we have frost.

We'll have to try this again.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Obergefell Speaks on Landmark Case

 Yesterday (10/15) Tom and I attended an "author talk" by Jim Obergefell at the 2016 Books by the Banks event at the Duke Energy Convention Center in Cincinnati.

 The talk was moderated by John Faherty, Executive Director of The Mercantile Library.

John Faherty (l) and Jim Obergefell

Obergefell was instrumental in making same sex marriage legal in the United states. The case - Obergefell v. Hodges - concluded that "the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples". See the Wikipedia entry by clicking here.

The case was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 25, 2015.

Tom bought Obergefell's book (Love Wins) and had it signed when it was first released. Obergefell also met with readers at a table at Books by the Banks.

 The hour long talk allowed for questions from the audience.

Jim Obergefell

 While at the event Tom met with illustrator/author Loren Long, too.