Thursday, December 31, 2009

Taking (most of) the day off

I'm tired. Tired of working, tired of cleaning, tired of driving all over, tired of stressing. I really enjoyed spending time with family over the holiday, but I'm even tired of all the commotion involved with that.

Sitting pouring myself another cup from my new teapot, I have decided that after I finish a few basic tasks, I'm going to try to take it easy today. So far my plan for the day involves taking Abbey to the farmers' market, and teaching Emma how to make spaghetti. Not just noodles and a jar of sauce, but from scratch. It's easy enough, and she loves spaghetti. She's shown a lot of interest in learning how to cook, and we've started with stuff that she likes that is easy. I've noticed she's been more willing to try new foods the last few months, which is really encouraging. I think seeing how it's made and helping make food has helped that a lot.

Christmas really was lovely. We spent lots of time with both my family and Bobby's, and time with friends. Had visits from family we hadn't seen in much too long, and even met family we had never met before. Went to see Avatar together (great movie - a tad predictable, but beautiful and very entertaining. we all enjoyed it very much, and Emma left the theater wishing she had an avatar).

Instead of a big Christmas dinner, we had a big Christmas brunch: Belgian buttermilk waffles with whipped cream, bacon, sausage, eggs scrambled with mushrooms & leeks, chorizo & eggs. And I made my grandmother's Pecan Rolls.

Pecan Rolls
Can takes up to 5-1/2 - 6 hours when you have a stand mixer doing the kneading for you.

1/2 cup hot mashed potatoes
1/2 cup warm water from boiling the potatoes
1/2 cup scalded milk
1/2 cup flour
1 pkg. or 2-1/4 tsp. yeast

Mix the mashed potatoes, potato water, milk, and flour. When temperature drops to between 100 and 110 degrees, stir in yeast. Let rise 45 min - 1 hour.

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 tsp. salt
2 eggs
Approximately 3-1/2 cups flour

Cream the butter and sugar until smooth. Add salt, and beat in eggs, then starter. Add flour in 1/2 cupfuls until a good doughy consistency. Knead by hand or with dough hook until dough is smooth. Place in a greased bowl, cover, and let rise at least 1 hour.

Melted Butter (1/2 stick or so)
Brown Sugar (1/2 lb. or so)
Cinnamon (just sprinkle it around)

Flour your working space, and roll out the dough into a large rectangle, so that it is only 1/4" thick. Brush entire rectangle with a generous amount of butter. Spread with a layer of brown sugar - not a thin layer, it should be a solid layer so that you can't see the dough underneath. Sprinkle with cinnamon and raisins to taste. Roll up dough and pinch edges. Slice roll into slices approximately 1" thick.

Butter (1/2 stick or so)
Brown Sugar (1 to 1-1/2 cups or so)
Raisins (1 to 1-1/2 cups or so)
Pecans (1/2 lb. or so)
Cinnamon (a sprinkling)

Combine topping ingredients and mix well. Grease two 8"x8" or 9"x9" pans with butter and spread topping around bottom of the pans. (If you try to use a larger pan, you'll wind up with a center that isn't cooked through and edges that are too browned.) Arrange roll slices among pans - they will swell quite a bit when they rise, so give them plenty of wiggle room. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise 1 hour.

Bake at 375 degrees until they brown on top and look cooked through in the center. These rolls leak, especially when crowded in the pan, so you probably want to put a large sheet pan underneath to catch dripping brown sugar/butter. Start checking after 20 minutes. When finished, remove from oven and immediately turn out onto foil. Wrap up in foil until ready to eat.

Best eaten when still warm from the oven - the edges toughen a little when reheated (reheats much better in the oven or toaster oven than in the microwave). They will stay warm longer if you put them in a long flat basket lined with a kitchen towel and cover with another kitchen towel. And if your rolls don't swell enough to catch all the topping, there will be people picking the leftover topping directly out of the foil.

I'm sure we received too much stuff altogether, and I only wish we could have given as much as we received. We got a Wii, and a Wii Fit Plus, which I'm really excited about, but my guilty pleasure the last few evenings has been Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga. I think I'm about 20% finished with the game already.

When my mom's family got together for Christmas in early December, we did what we often do - everyone brought a dish that my grandmother used to make often. Some people have one recipe, other people have others. But they are scattered. I brought Pecan Rolls, Lisa made lasagna, Kevin made coleslaw, etc. We decided that we needed to assemble the recipes and distribute them so that we all had a copy. Jessica decided that would be her Christmas present to the family - she would assemble family recipes, not just Gma's but as many as we could send her, and make binders for everyone with them inside.

As we were emailing recipes around, I confessed that I'm looking for the perfect Mac & Cheese recipe. My favorite mac & cheese is the creamy kind, not the baked. I hate to say it, because I'm really trying to eat less processed foods, but my guilty pleasure is in those blue boxes. Lucille's has an excellent mac & cheese, and I really want to figure out how to make something like that from scratch, using real ingredients. Keith recommended I try the recipe in Cook's Illustrated The Best New Recipe, but it turns out his older edition has a much different recipe than my version. He's a little too far away for me to swing by and borrow it, but he did send me pictures of the pages.

But before I could try that one out, I was watching Jamie at Home on the Food Network, and at the end of this segment, I had to make this pasta right away.

Of course, I had to make crème fraîche first, and that took awhile by itself. But I finally got around to it, and oh-my-goodness it was delicious. I'm now eager to try it using cheddar and fontina. Cannot wait.

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