Baking

Baking, Locally Made

3 Locally Made Picnic Baskets

It's that time of year again, that time to go enjoy the outdoors.  Living in a city, most of us are desperate to get out onto some grassy knolls and away from the hoards of people. Even in Brooklyn where our apartments are right next to each other. We have a great community but sometimes space is nice.  We have many events in the city to celebrate the warm weather. Some of them even call for some fancy dressing and picnicking.  Picnic baskets can be incredibly utilitarian and you can buy a beautiful, quality made one here in the US that is made locally.  Yes made local can be more expensive but think of why. It is supporting someone's job, cost of living in America and the cost of materials. It's important we keep supporting our community whenever possible.  It may be a few dollars more but don't you want people to continue to have jobs? 

Materials used are mainly Appalachian Ash. A strong wood sourced from the Appalachian Mountain Region that includes 11 states in the Eastside of the U.S. The Peterboro Basket Company based in New Hampshire may have my favorite, the Picnic on the Green Deluxe Basket. This is such a fantastic wedding or anniversary gift and it can be personalized.  All of their baskets come lined or unlined. 

Peterboro Picnic Basket on the Green $89.00

The basket has a split lid so you can store beverages in the back and leave open to serve yourself.  When the lid is open it acts as a table for serving. How convenient is that!  There is a dowel to keep your goods from moving around making a noisy journey. The closed section also has a removable tray. Check out the photo above, pie anyone?  And if you feel the classic honey color is too "old timey" there are 4 colors to choose from. Although I tend to gravitate towards the classic, this way I know I won't tire of it in 10 years. One more thing that makes it a great way to celebrate an occasion, you can get it personalised.  Also I don't receive any compensation for my postings. I just did some research on locally made baskets the ones listed are the ones I believe to be nice quality.

Peterboro Picnic Basket on the Green 

Prairie Empty Picnic Basket, another made of Appalachian Ash, woven wood and brass hardware is an open top, classic style.  Many companies sell this style that comes from the Picnic Family Brand who have been around since 1982; Wayfair, Macys, Hayneedle and Houzz to name a few.  The Prairie style is made in the USA.

The Prairie also comes in a lined version. 

Prairie Picnic Lined Basket

The last basket is the 2 Pie Basket. Is that not a great name?! Because of course it will hold two pies. I found this one on Nortons USA. After doing a little digging, I learned that this 2 pie and the 3 pie basket is made by none other than Peterboro Basket Company in New Hampshire.  I am still going to tell you about it because it's such a great alternative. And if you are a baker like myself and are in charge of the desserts you will love this basket. It's smaller than the average picnic basket because it is built to hold the desserts.  It's a simple flip lid and has a tray inside that comes out to act as a table.

You can get this at NortonsUSA.com where they sell exclusively American Made Products! yay! 

So do you have a favorite? Do you know of any American Made baskets that I didn't mention or find?  Next up is what to put in that basket. 

Enjoy!

Tracey

Baking, In the Kitchen

The Best Granola

FRESH GRANOLA

I know there are numerous recipes out there for granola. And a zillion choices to buy at the store but there is something special about making your own.  First it's super easy, two it's not that expensive to do, three you can do it with kids, four you know what you are putting into it, five filling your kitchen with a sweet and toasted seed smell is the best.

I've been experimenting with different recipes and this one I think may be the best. And coincidentally it is called the Best Granola. I think the secret ingredient which is not so secret, is the salt.  I also like the fact that you can mix it up and use what you have on hand.  Or don't have. 

The Kitchn has quite a number of granola recipes.  But this is my favorite. Click here to visit their website. 

Makes about 6 cups granola

 

Ingredients

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 to 2 1/2 cups your choice of nuts and seeds*
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 cup oil, such as olive oil
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon liquid sweetener, such as honey or maple syrup
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cups dried fruits, chopped

Note: Nuts that are already roasted should go in at the end after the granola is baked so as not to burn.

Equipment

Mixing bowls
Measuring cups and spoons
Spatula
Parchment
Half-sheet pan or baking shee

Instructions

1. Set out your ingredients: For this particular run of granola we are using: 3 cups old-fashioned oats, 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, 1/2 cup sesame seeds, 1/2 cup almonds, 1/2 cup wide-flake, unsweetened coconut (added near the end of baking), 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon cardamom, 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon maple syrup, 3/4 cup dried cherries, chopped (added at the end), 1 cup roasted pistachios, chopped (added at the end)

2. Preheat oven and mix dry ingredients: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Mix the oats and any untoasted nuts or seeds together in a large bowl. Stir to combine.

3. Mix in the spices: Add salt, cinnamon, and cardamom and stir thoroughly to combine.

4. Stir in the liquids: Stir in the oil, sweetener, and vanilla.

5. Bake the granola: Turn the granola out onto a parchment-lined half-sheet pan and bake for about 40 minutes, or until the mixture is light brown and toasty.

6. Stir the granola: Stir every 15 minutes or so for an even color and to make sure the granola is cooking evenly. (If using coconut, add in the last 15 minutes of baking.)

7. Prepare any late-addition ingredients: Roughly chop any dried fruits and roasted nuts being added after baking.

8. Stir in late-addition ingredients: Remove from the oven and add the chopped dried fruits and any roasted nuts at this time. Stir to combine.

9. Let the granola cool: Let cool before enjoying. The granola will continue cooking just a bit in the cooling process — it will firm up/dry out, so if it seems a little too wet don't worry.

10. Store the granola: Store in an airtight container and it should stay fresh for 7 to 10 days. For longer shelf life, store in the refrigerator.

Additional Notes:

1. Want Clumpy Granola? The key to getting chunkier granola is not to mix the granola as it's baking. Pat the wet mixture down into the baking sheet with the back of a spatula and don't mix it or disturb it while baking. Then, after cooking, you can remove it from the pan in granola chunks and store as indicated above.

2. Nuts and Fruits: I love working with sliced almonds, pecans, walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts and sesame seeds. As for fruits, dried cranberries, cherries, apricots, raisins and currents are all great choices. Experiment with different combinations to find your favorite!

3. Consider Your Oats: Make sure to use old-fashioned oats for your granola, not quick-cooking oats. quick-cooking oats are less substantial and will cook differently and result in an almost dusty granola texture.

4. Bulk Spices: When buying spices for your granola, buy in bulk! It's almost always the freshest.

5. Mixing Techniques: While granola is absolutely a one-bowl affair, you want to mix all of your dry ingredients together before adding your wet ingredients so as to avoid clumping of salts and spices.

6. Don't Fear the Salt! Salt enhances the flavor of your granola — most people don't use enough of it! Use it.

7. Experiment with Savory Additions: I use olive oil for my granola which gives it a special toastiness. I also love using cacao nibs and a little extra salt, all of which result in an almost savory granola. Explore that savory edge!

I copied and pasted their recipe.  However the photos are all mine.  I have made this many times and make it different each time.  Enjoy! 

granola recipe
best granola ingredients
parfait

My favorite way to eat granola, fruit and yogurt combo!

Easy to take on the go using a mason jar. 

Baking

The Easiest Pumpkin Cookie

art by my 3 year old.  Love this!

art by my 3 year old.  Love this!

This past Thanksgiving I made the easiest and tastiest pumpkin cookies.  I love to bake and things were so busy last week I didn't get a chance to make a treat for Thanksgiving. However I woke up Thanksgiving morning and was trolling thru instagram and came upon the most delicious cookies from Food52. 

photo from Food52

What of course caught my attention was the phrase they used, soft as cake.  I was visiting my parents so I needed to go out and buy some of the ingredients but it was quite doable although some stores were closed for the day. (kuddos to those companies!) I am not a professional pastry chef. I spent a few summers on Martha's Vineyard at the Black Dog Bakery baking cookies and tea breads.  I have considered going to school to be a pastry chef.  As of now it is a passion and hobby. I do have some tools that I really like.  For example, the Kitchen Aid Standing Mixer, it makes me feel like a professional!  So while at my parent's house I had to mix the pumpkin cookie batter by hand, "old school",  and it was doable.  Not bad at all.  I survived.  My point being, you don't need many supplies and I was not in my comfort zone, my own kitchen.

pumpkin cookie batter

The next best ingredient, Giardelli 60% cacao chocolate. I debated between adding the chips or melting them and dipping the cookies into them. I took a poll, my sister and nieces voted for either.  As they said, either is going to taste really good. They were right! 

One little side note, I used Turbinado Sugar which you can see in the photo below.  I loved the texture it gave the cookie!

 

food52 pumpkin cookie

If you are interested in trying these the recipe is right here. 

Enjoy and Happy holidays! 

Tracey

 

Baking

New Year Inspirations

I don't know if it is the weather or the psychological effects of a new year but I really start to get in the mood for cooking comforting stews and soups.  When the sun sets around 5 pm cooking inside from scratch is one way to enjoy these early evenings.  One of my favorite go to websites is Food52.  I have been on a tear lately.  I have made Minestrone soup,  One Pan Pasta which is adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe, Slow Cooker Chicken Noodle Soup, Lasagna soup (possibly my husband's and my neighbor's fave) and Super Easy Brown Butter Cornbread to go with the Best Ever Turkey Chili.  When only cooking for a family of 3, one of those being a 2 year old, I usually share the meal with our upstairs neighbors.  

And how do I finish off one of these hearty meals? Another recipe I found on food52.com  the Salted Chocolate Chip Cookie.  This is my first time using Maldon Salt and just a teeny pinch goes a long way.  It's that tasty combo of warm chocolate chunks and crunchy salt while I knit away in front of the fireplace.  

What's your favorite cold weather meal?

Tracey

Baking

Lemon Chess Pie

Lemon Chess Pie  - my version

Lemon Chess Pie  - my version

I received a fantastic book for Christmas from one of my favorite bakeries, Four and Twenty Blackbirds in Gowanus Brooklyn.  Their pie is so delicious, luscious and flavorful.   I just close my eyes when I eat it and savor the taste.  I visit the bakery maybe once a month and it is always a difficult decision on what slice to have.  The bakery is a lovely, cozy little spot on the corner of 3rd ave and 8th street. Two sisters from South Dakota own the bakery, Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen.  Their fist book came out in 2013.  

photo from http://www.birdsblack.com

photo from http://www.birdsblack.com

photo from The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book

photo from The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book

The photos are beautiful, the layout of the book is enjoyable and I already have learned a few things just by making one of the recipes, lemon chess pie.  A side note is that I do like to bake and I did work in a bakery during my summers in college, the Black Dog Bakery on Marthas Vineyard.  My time spent there was baking cookies and tea breads.  I never reached the pie baker level.  However, I did work in the kitchen with the pie baker. Another bakery with unbelievable pies, my favorite, Peach Raspberry Crumble.

Both of these bakers have a thing in common, sourcing local ingredients.  The Black Dog has been around since the 70's,  always were using local.  Now it is a trend, hopefully to stay.  Local ingredients make the product taste better and support the community, a win win situation. 

The book is divided into seasonal sections. Using products and ingredients that are in season and easy to find at the market.   I decided to make the Lemon Chess Pie.  The pastry crust was the most challenging part.  I have made pies before and also have made crusts.  However this crust was a tad different.  It needed to be pre-baked.  There were 3 steps before the pre-baking.  I started late in the day so the pie was not finished being baked until around 10 pm.  Then it is to chill for 3 to 4 hours.  I started at 4:30 in the afternoon.  Lesson learned, start the crust in the morning or the day before.  The crust needs plenty of time to settle.  It is well worth it because the crust was quite tasty.