Saturday, August 05, 2006

Marion County Fair

Although I have only recently learned to make pie, I decided to enter a pie in the Marion County Fair Merchant's Contest. I read about the Merchant's Contests in the newspaper, and after a little encouragement from Ken, I thought I was up to the challenge of entering an apple pie and chocolate chip cookies. So, last Thursday, among regular work responsibilities, plus the reopening of the Japanese border to U.S. beef, I managed to bake a pie and a batch of cookies. I took the cookies to the newspaper office, then came back for the pie. To get it there by the deadline, I had to take it out of the oven a few minutes early and "speed-cool" it in the refrigerator. I was so worried it was underdone! On Friday afternoon, I had a message from the newspaper office . .my cookies received third place, out of 15 entries! I heard nothing about the pie . . . all weekend I worried about the pie. I thought something was wrong with it and I second guessed my decision to enter the pie in the contest.

On Monday morning, I was getting ready to leave for a meeting at work, when Ken came home from running errands. He had a huge smile on his face and a blue ribbon in his hand, on top of my pie plate. I thought he was kidding and demanded to know where he got the blue ribbon from! He wasn't kidding - my pie won first place in the apple pie contest! I am so excited!

The pie recipe is posted on my July 9 entry. The cookie recipe follows (adapted from Cook's Illustrated):

2 cups plus 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted and cooled until barely warm
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg (large)
1 egg yolk
2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Mix flour, salt, and baking soda together in bowl; set aside.

2. With an electric mixer, mix butter and sugars until thoroughly blended. Mix in egg, yolk, and vanilla. Add dry ingredients; mix until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Refrigerate cookie dough for at least 30 minutes (or up to two days).

3. Scoop out about 1/4 cup of dough and form into a ball. Place dough onto parchment paper-lined cookie sheets (spray with non-stick cooking spray if you don't have parchment paper), 2 inches apart.

4. Bake 15-18 minutes or until cookies are light golden brown and outer edges start to set and centers will be still soft and puffy. Cool cookies on cookie sheets. Serve or store in airtight container.

Amanda's Baby Shower

Last Sunday, Amanda, Dawn and I hosted a baby shower for our friend Amanda H. She is due in September and doesn't know whether she's having a boy or girl. Since blue and pink were out, we decided on a green and orange theme for the shower. Some of our inspiration came from InStyle magazine. The baby shower menu consisted of:

Veggie tray with dips
Mini grilled-cheese sandwiches
Hamburger bites (meatballs with pineapple and orange bell pepper)
Melon (honeydew and cantalope) wrapped in prosciutto
Make your own ice cream sandwiches with shortbread cookies and lime and orange sherbet
Orange Dream drink (virgin for Amanda H., add orange and vanilla vodka for the rest of us!)

For the mini grilled cheese sandwiches, we used cocktail bread (found in the deli, cracker, or bread section of the store) and cut slices of Swiss, Cheddar, and Muenster cheese to fit in the mini-slices of bread. We buttered the outside slices of bread and baked them on a baking stone at 350 degrees until the bread was golden and the cheese had melted.

Amanda D. made the melon and prosciutto by simply wrapping thin slices of prosciutto around pre-cut melon.

Dawn made the burger bites; I'll try to get the recipe and post it here.

The orange dream drink is equal parts orange sherbet and vanilla ice cream, with a handfull of ice and one shot each of orange vodka and vanilla vodka. Mix in blender until all ice is crushed; serve immediately.

This was the first baby shower we have hosted, and we all agree - the orange and green theme and menu made it easy and fun!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

San Francisco Sourdough

A sourdough crustacean at Boudin

Before leaving town, we visited one more San Francisco culinary attraction - the Boudin Bakery, home of San Francisco's original sourdough. Located in Fisherman's Wharf, Boudin (pronounced Bo-deen) has been making sourdough for more than 150 years. We toured the bakery to see the whole sourdough process and were treated to a tasting at the end of the tour. My favorite was the cinnamon chocolate sourdough and Ken preferred the ciabatta.

Napa Valley, Cont.

On Sunday, we continued our journey through Napa Valley. We drove from Santa Rosa to Calistoga. First stop - Sterling Vineyards ( As part of our tour, we rode the gondola up to the tour area, tasting room and shop (see view above).
We continued to St. Helena, where we had lunch at Pizzeria Tra Vigne ( We created our own pizza with mushrooms and pancetta - it was wonderful! After checking out some of St. Helena's great little shops, I convinced Ken to take me to the Culinary Institute of America ( CIA's California branch is in the historic Greystone building (see website for info). Their Spice Islands Marketplace had every cooking tool you could imagine! We just missed a cooking demonstration featuring lemon pudding cake, but I bought the Luscious Lemon Desserts cookbook so I can try it at home! I also bought an apron as a souvenir of my (very short) time spent at the CIA!
Next we visited Yountville, another culinary heaven and home of Thomas Keller's The French Laundry and Bouchon. We visited the shops inside Vintage 1870, then stopped for a snack at Bouchon Bakery - by far the best baked goods I've ever tasted ( I had a chocolate bouchon and Ken tried an apple tart - although the small treats were quite pricey, they were worth every penny! If I could ever make something half as good, I would be thrilled!
We ended the evening with dinner at John Ash & Co. at the Vinter's Inn in Santa Rosa ( This time, Ken had pork loin and I had a filet. My filet came with asparagus wrapped in fresh mozzarella and prosciutto and polenta fries. Ken's pork had an avocado topping. For dessert, we shared an "ice cream sandwich" made of a delicate sugar cookie and strawberry gelato. I also purchased a cookbook - "Cooking One on One" by John Ash. It is a beautiful book and has great recipes for many basics such as vinaigrettes, salsas, pestos, sauces, etc. It explains techniques in-depth and really is like having cooking lessons within the pages of the book.

San Francisco, Part 2

More photos of the marketplace (above). While Ken scouted out the meat market, I visited Miette Bakery ( (see two pictures above). Everything was picture-perfect! I purchased a small bag of bite-sized peanut butter cookies and two mini scones, one orange-chocolate and one cream fraiche. By the time I tried the scones the following day, they were slightly hard, but the cookies kept well and served as great snacks when we were stranded in the Denver airport two nights later!

The marketplace was a culinary heaven, with ingredients, gear, and foods to satisfy even the most particular foodies. San Francisco cooks are lucky to have such a great marketplace! If you're ever in the San Francisco area, it is worth your time to stop at the Ferry Building, even if you're not a cook!

In addition to Miette, favorite merchants included:
Scharffen Berger Chocolates
Ferry Plaza Wine Merchants
Cowgirl Creamery

We finished our Ferry Building tour in time to catch part of a San Francisco Giants baseball game at AT&T Park. It is a relatively new stadium built right on the bay - our upper level seats came with a fantastic view!

San Francisco

On Saturday, we visited San Francisco. Our first stop was Fisherman's Wharf, a tourist area. After a quick sandwich, we shared a chocolate-chip cookie sundae at the Ghiradelli flagship store in Ghiradelli square. A few years ago, my friend Amanda and I shared one of these treats at a Ghiradelli store in Nashville, TN. I believe the store has since closed, but the memory of that wonderful sundae remains. I wish I could have brought one home from San Francisco for her!
Next we went to the Ferry Building, home of another great farmer's market and gourmet stores. Most things sold in the Farmer's Market, and many inside the marketplace, were organic. The photos above were taken at the Ferry Building ( (More photos in following post)

Culinary Journey through California, Part 2

After browsing the Chef's Market, we had reservations at Ristorante Allegria in Napa (conveniently located at the end of the Chef's Market on First Street). I'm a little hesitant about taking pictures of my food in restaurants, so you'll have to visit Ristorante Allegria's website to see pictures of the restaurant (
We first ordered Funghi Portobello Mushroom. It came on a bed of herb polenta, with crumbled blue cheese, marinara sauce & balsamic reduction. Ken tried the special - a bacon wrapped sirloin. I had grilled pork loin. It was marinated with garlic, rosemary, mustard, served on potatoes, pancetta, and topped with whole grain mustard-merlot wine reduction. Our food was wonderful - no room for dessert!
After dinner, we wandered back through the Chef's Market and bought a mini cinnamon swirl tea cake to share for breakfast from the Artisan Baker stand (

Culinary Journey through California, Part 1

After business meetings in Reno, Ken and I headed through Lake Tahoe (it is beautiful!) and into the Napa Valley area. We arrived in Napa Friday afternoon, and as luck would have it, were just in time for the Chef's Market. Napa's First Street (a dining and shopping area) was blocked off for food and wine vendors. It was a gourmet farmer's market with fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers, baked goods, oils, honey . . . . and all kinds of foods and beverages. It was the perfect beginning to our trip through Napa Valley - if only we could have brought back some of the fruits and veggies. . .

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Birthday Pie

There's nothing like apple pie to celebrate 25 years. Why apple pie? The pie is a significant representation of the past year of my life. I learned to make pie while I was home for Christmas. Before then, I thought pie crust was too hard to make. However, with a quick lesson from my dad and the help of a pastry blender, I figured out why people say "easy as pie." The apple pie pictured above is a variation of the first pie I made - which my mom said was "the best apple pie I've ever had," which is quite a compliment, considering how many awesome pies my grandma has made throughout the years. Since then, I have discovered how much I enjoy baking pies, and pastries in general.

Over Memorial Day weekend, I made shortcakes to go with the abundant fresh strawberries. I've been working on the perfection of a scone recipe (they've all turned out just fine, but I have yet to replicate the exact flavor and texture of my favorite orange cranberry scones at the Upper Crust in Columbia, Mo.).

My 25th birthday was somewhat a celebration of the cooking accomplishments throughout the past year. My mom got me "Apple Pie Perfect," a cookbook dedicated entirely to apple pies by Ken Haedrich (I also have his cookbook, "Pie" which is awesome, I'll include a recipe I made today from it). My mother-in-law got me a new pie dish. Neither one of them knew ahead of time I was making an apple pie for my birthday dinner!

Menu for a birthday dinner

Appetizers: bruschetta and Pear-Brie Turnovers
Wine: Stoneleigh 2004 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand)

Pork Loin
Apple Pie


Pear-Brie Turnovers (adapted from Ken Haedrich's "Pie")
1 recipe cream cheese pastry, divided and refrigerated
2 tsp. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. granulated sugar
4 tsp. raspberry preserves (I used seedless)
1 large pear, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
Approx. 1/3 lb. Brie (I used baby Brie)
Milk or light cream
Granulated sugar

1. Make pastry dough; divide into 4 balls of equal size. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate (at least one hour). Lightly grease (or use silpat) one large baking sheet.
2. Mix flour and sugar together in a small bowl. Using a floured rolling pin, roll one ball of dough into an 8" circle on a sheet of wax paper or a pastry mat (I love my Pampered Chef pastry mat). Spread 1 tsp. raspberry preserves in center of dough (leave at least 1" border); lightly sprinkle with flour-sugar mixture. Arrange a single layer, overlapping, of pear slices on half of the dough, within the 1" border. Sprinkle with a little more flour-sugar mixture. Cover pear slices with slices of Brie. Moisten the edge of the pastry (with a pastry brush or fingers), then fold the empty half of the pastry over the filling. Pinch edges together, forming a rope-like edge. Place on prepared baking sheet. Refrigerate while you make the remaining three turnovers, adding each to the sheet in the fridge as it is finished. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
3. Remove sheet from refrigerator and brush each pastry with milk (or cream, or half-and-half, whatever you have on hand). Poke surface 2-3 times with fork to vent. (Optional - sprinkle with granulated sugar after brushing with milk). Place sheet on center rack in oven and bake 10 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 375 degrees an bake an additional 25 minutes, or until golden brown. It may help to rotate your sheet a couple of times during baking.
4. Transfer turnovers to a wire rack to cool.

To serve as an appetizer, let cool 30 minutes and slice into strips.
To serve as a dessert, dust with confectioners' sugar and serve 15-30 minutes after removal from the oven.

Bruschetta (from my mom)
1. Toast thin slices of baguette or French bread in oven.
2. Brush with olive oil.
3. Top with Salami, provolone cheese, one slice of tomato and one sprig of lettuce.
4. Serve immediately.

Apple Pie (adapted from Better Homes and Gardens)
Single pie crust (I'll post my pie crust recipe later)
5 cups thinly-sliced, peeled Granny Smith apples (2 lbs.)
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
Crunch topping (to follow)
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Combine apples, sugar, 2 tbsp. flour, cinnamon, and 1/4 tsp. salt in a large bowl. Spoon into pastry-lined pie plate; spoon crunch topping over top. Cover pie edges with aluminum foil; bake pie for 40 minutes. Remove foil. Bake another 20 minutes, or until crust is golden brown, topping is golden, and fruit is tender. Cool on a wire rack. Serve or cover and chill within 2 hours. Serves 8.
Crunch topping:
In a medium bowl, stir together 3/4 cup sugar, 3/4 cup flour, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in 1/3 cup butter until mixture is crumbly.

The topping really makes the pie - and it's much easier than doing a double crust!

I will post the pie crust, pork loin, and asparagus recipes later!

The wine is purchased from St. Petersburg Mercantile, a great shop in downtown Hannibal, Missouri. I've heard the the nice people who own St. Petersburg Mercantile found it while visiting one of their children on a study abroad program in New Zealand. It has a lot of character for a Sauvignon Blanc - everyone who tries it loves it!

Looking forward to another year of cooking adventures
I learned to make pie, biscuits, etc. during the past year, so what culinary challenges lie ahead during the next year?

Here are a few of my goals for the next year:
to perfect my orange cranberry scone recipe
to learn to make bread (challah in particular)
to make more entrees, or at least more non-pastry recipes

Maybe by the time I celebrate 26, I'll be baking more bread and making more meals (and less pies and scones!).
My mom and my mother-in-law both felt guilty because I cooked my own birthday dinner, but I thought it was fun! My parents are probably the reason I enjoy cooking so much, so it was nice to share my progress with them, even it took my birthday to get them all together to sample my recipes!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Grilled Pineapple

A spectacular finale to your Independence Day meal - grilled pineapple!

When you fire up the grill this summer, don't forget dessert! Grilled pineapple, topped with ice cream and caramel sauce, makes a great summer treat! It is super simple, too. Here are the instructions:
1. Slice rings of fresh pineapple (not more than 1 inch thick)
2. If using outdoor grill, place on grill over medium coals or medium gas heat; grill each side approximately 5 minutes, or until grill marks develop. If using a grill pan on the stove, heat pan to medium; grill approximately 5 minutes on each side, or until grill marks develop.

3. Remove from grill, let cool 2-3 minutes (I didn't do this, but added the step because I should have - my ice cream melted way too quickly on the hot pineapple!).
4.Top with vanilla ice cream (and topping of your choice) and serve immediately.

I used a quick, homemade rum-caramel sauce (equal parts butter and brown sugar, with a splash of Bacardi Gold, heated in a saucepan). Other options for toppings:
Chocolate sauce or syrup
Chopped nuts

Happy grilling and happy Independence Day!

Monday, July 03, 2006

The Beginning

Ken has always wanted me to write a blog. He likes the sound of the word "blogger." The only problem? I had no idea what to write a blog about! Politics? No, too controversial. Agriculture? No, we talk about that enough already. Cooking? Perfect - I love cooking, especially baking! More than that, I love all things related to cooking . . . grocery shopping, scouring cookbooks, sharing recipes, and trying new kitchen gadgets. I have no professional cooking experience, I just like to cook and want to share my recipes and experiences in the kitchen with family and friends.