Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Christmas - 2016

 We keep it pretty simple, really. No tree in the living room; no gifts beneath. We simply get together on Christmas, have lunch at the Waffle House and come home, play cards and eat some more.

Mom (91) and Bob (60) 

Bill (67) and Tom (60) 

Mom playing Michigan Rummy 

Bob dealing 

Tom (probably disgusted that I'm taking another picture) 

I'm scorekeeper - honest if nothing else 

Another snack: dark chocolate brownies, chocolate chip bioche
Homemade pimento cheese ball with pecans and three varieties of wheat crackers

Great day, begun about 11 am, finished at 5 pm. Thus Christmas 2016 becomes but a fond memory.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Soft Cinnamon Swirl Bread

 I was ready to bake bread again and had a hunger for a decent homemade cinnamon bread. I searched through Mom's cookbooks for something interesting and came up with nothing. The net, too, mostly pointed to various cinnamon breads, but few with the old-fashioned swirl.
 That's when I found a recipe at The Comfort of Cooking which seemed to fill my requirements.

 The top swirl of cinnamon separated from the rest of the loaf and left a gap. See the text below for a possible explanation. The taste? Oooey, gooie, delicious!

 The recipe is straightforward and easy. Here is everything mixed and ready for the flour:

I always "proof" the yeast (top left) before adding it to the other ingredients. I added some of the sugar to warm water and added the two packages of yeast. In 5 - 10 minutes it is foaming like crazy.

 I used 5.5 cups of flour and ended up with dough that wasn't too sticky and easily workable. I kneaded it for about eight minutes. That's what I ended up with above.

 Then, an hour in a slightly warmed oven while the dough rises. It's easily doubled its original volume. It becomes a bit sticky and must be floured lightly to work with.

Now the hard part ... rolling the dough out to an 18" x 8" piece. You can see that I folded over both edges to get the short direction right.

 And then I sliced the dough into two equal (well, almost) sections of 18 X 4". They fit nicely into 9 x 5" loaf pans. They are rolled from the narrow side, the cinnamon swirled inside. I had quite a time sealing the ends (actually, I'd say I pretty much failed) but I figured it couldn't much matter. Many cinnamon breads have the cinnamon/sugar mixture on the outside.
 Before I sprinkled the cinnamon on the dough, I put down a layer of melted butter. That's not part of the recipe and I think that was the cause for the top layer of swirl separating. Next time: no butter!

 Here are the two loaves after an hour's rise. They've come well above the top of the pans and almost fill the pans end-to-end.

 I baked them for just 30 minutes as Mom prefers bread less dry. Now, time to cool and then we'll slice one loaf in half (Bob and Nancy get one half; Tom gets the other half). The other loaf? Ours, of course!

 Right out of the oven, we buttered the top to give it a shine. While it's still hot, the thin layer of butter melts into the crust and makes it more tender, too.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Season's First Snow

 It's a little late - and maybe even a little unexpected - but it's been snowing since about 8 am and we've got 4" on the ground. For a while, mostly around 11 am, the flakes were falling at a fast clip and they were large ones, often several bonded together and falling like small balls of cotton.

 At 10 am there was very little snow. At noon there was a couple of inches. Now, at nearly 3 pm, I just measured between three and four inches (3 on concrete; 4 on grass).

 Looking south along Clayton Road from my second floor bedroom window, the road has melted and remains open. Snow plows are passing the house regularly.

 Looking north from Mom's second floor bedroom window, the wood pile is covered with a thick layer of snow.

 Here's a view (about 2 pm) from our security webcam. I haven't been out since early this morning so the snow is undisturbed. After I saved this frame, I went outside and shoveled a path to the garage.

 And I took a measuring stick into the yard and found 4" had fallen (1-2" was forecast). On concrete surfaces (back porch, driveway apron) I measured just 3", probably due to melting. It is still 32° at 3 pm.

 After the mail came, I shoveled a single path to the mailbox. Then I turned back and looked at the house. Cold weather ahead ... mid-single digits. It may be beautiful, but when it gets that cold, it can also be dangerous.

So, a late snow to begin the winter season.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Basic French Bread

 I'm always looking for new bread recipes and one in the current issue (December 2016 - January 2017) of Mother Earth News caught my attention: their Basic French Bread Recipe on page 37. So full credit goes to them for the recipe.

 The sidebar says this recipe was first published in 1708.


4 cups white flour (I used King Arthur Bread Flour)
1-1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
3 eggs
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup warm milk
2 tablespoons butter (I used margarine)
2-1/4 teaspoon yeast
[I added: 1/2 cup unsalted sunflower seeds]

 As usual, I didn't bother with the directions. I warmed the cup of milk and added the sugar and yeast so the yeast could get busy fermenting while I assembled the rest.
I melted the margarine in a bowl, added the eggs,salt and sunflower seeds and stirred well.
Then I added the fermenting yeast mixture to this.
All that's left to do is add the flour to the liquid and stir.
I poured the dough onto a lightly-floured pastry cloth and I kneaded it for about ten minutes.

The recipe does not call for kneading but it says the result will have "a cakey texture". I wanted something closer to the American yeast breads I love.

 This is how the dough looks after ten minutes of kneading. I then placed it in a greased bowl, covered it with a damp cloth, set it in a warm spot and let it rise for an hour. It should double in size.

 Here it is after an hour's rise. Initially it was a ball set in the middle and it has expanded edge to edge and doubled in volume.

 Now, pour it back out onto the pastry cloth and knead slightly again. Form into a rectangle and place in a greased loaf pan (standard size: 10" 4.25" x 3"). Again cover with a damp cloth and allow to double in size. I allowed about 45 minutes for this second rise.

 Bake at 350° for 40 minutes. This is what you'll get:

 As soon as you can handle it, knock it out of the pan and allow to cool a couple of hours before cutting and serving.
 I scored the top with a knife for artistic effect (just before baking) but it's not necessary and probably would be better left alone. This isn't an artisan bread, after all.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Visit to Tipp City

 Tom and I both remember the same thing when we think of Tipp City: Spring Hill Nurseries. As a child we both went there with our parents, he coming south from Findlay, me north from Miamisburg. Perhaps we passed one another on one of these outings?

 Our first stop, for that reason, was Spring Hill Nurseries. I tried to find it from memory - unsuccessfully. I thought it was south of Main Street; Tom remembered it being north. I pulled over to the side of the road and plugged it into Google Maps. Turns out I was close, just a few streets to the east of where I was driving.

 In the winter, at least, it isn't the usual nursery operation we remember. The outside greenhouses are empty, many in tatters. The main building houses some discount operation. About the only thing we found plant-related were bags of hyacinth bulbs.

 So after a disappointing stop, we headed back to town. I turned left on Main Street thinking downtown was closer to I-75. Tom thought it was east. Tom was right this time.

 We found the city much improved from our last visit, decades ago. It's steeped in antique shops, reminiscent of Waynesville. It really is a nice, clean, pleasant small town. On shop owner estimated the population at about 20,000. [It was actually 9809 in 2013]

 Due to a church bazaar in full swing, and Christmas shoppers, parking was at a premium. We found a spot a couple of blocks south of Main Street on Third Street and walked the short distance. It was a cloudy, chilly (39°) day but at least it was calm.

 Many storefronts promise antiques. They were everywhere and are probably the overall theme of the town.

 In one shop I marveled at this "bottle tree". I can't help but think of Farmersville's own Winter Zero Swartzel when I see something like this. He operated what is known at the "Bottle Farm" west of the village, and placed bottles atop fence posts throughout his property. Readers of Pinehaven are familiar with the story.

 "Ghost signs" are prominent, and still quite visible on the sides of various downtown buildings. I enjoy looking for these in Cincinnati but Tipp City seems to have more in a smaller area. Battle Ax Plug tobacco was an important 19th century item. Here's another "ghost", though not nearly so clear.

 Gem City Ice Cream, too, was a Miami Valley favorite.

 We spent a couple of hours walking the town, enjoying many antique shops. Tom showed no sign of slowing down (he's seven years younger than I) but I have trouble standing that long. My bladder can't handle the long stretches, either. Thank goodness for the Tipp City Public Library, conveniently located on Main Street, and replete with rest room.

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 5-3/4 cups)
1 package active dry yeast
2-1/4 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!