Skewered Cookies

So, the company I work for, Tree Top, is sponsoring a BBQ contest in another week or so called the Skewered Apple. Yup. Apple juice. BBQ. Fits together. I’m looking forward to enjoying my VIP invitation.

A few days ago, while visiting Seattle, I stopped with my daughter Carrie at the Volunteer Park Cafe. Oh, I loved this place from the moment we drove up to it. It just had a “feel good” vibe. Kind of old, very comfy. Old time grocery store turned into a neighborhood hang out. Looked like they really thought hard about what food and coffee should both taste like and look like.

Here’s what I especially liked. They had wonderful looking home baked cookies out on a counter top. And they were on skewers to stack them. Each cookie was speared through the middle with a skewer. Ginger snaps. Chocolate chip. All sorts of GIANT cookies, kept in line with skewers so that they could be stacked high.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a kitchen like that? Oh, the joys, the joys that little boys would find when visiting! (I am thinking about Alexander and Oliver….)

Behind the scenes of a recipe contest

Tree Top (where I work) is celebrating their 50th anniversary this year with all kinds of events, including a catered lunch earlier this spring, on the date of the actual anniversary, and a Skewered Apple BBQ Contest with a large amount of prize money, next month.

Another event is a recipe contest open to the public, with the Grand Prizes (one per recipe category) a 3-day/2-night trip for 2 to New York City to attend the Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival, with the chance to meet a Food Network Star and the opportunity for the winning recipes to be showcased at the Festival.

Well, the contest deadline for submissions is past, and it’s now time to pick the winners. My understanding is that Tree Top has been working with an outside, independent firm to assist in the recipe contest. They received the submissions, and reviewed them to pick the top 15 recipes in both sweet and savory categories. Then Tree Top asked for employees who felt comfortable baking and/ or cooking to volunteer to prepare the recipes for judging by a different group of employees. Fool that I am, I volunteered to help. It sounded like something I could do and perhaps even have some fun doing.

I met with the other volunteers last Friday and chose two recipes to prepare. One sweet (maple glazed apple slices) and the other savory (a turkey salad with apples and a dressing with apple juice as an ingredient). Sounds fine. But here’s the catch. MUST FOLLOW RECIPES EXACTLY! Yes, this judging of our prepared recipes determines who the grand prize winners are, and to be totally fair to their chances, the recipe must be made as directed. I thought that sounded both reasonable and easy enough.

HA HA. I started shopping for the ingredients (to be reimbursed by Tree Top for anything I spend). Hmm. Can’t find the Pink Lady apples called for in the apple slices recipe. Pumpkin seeds? Not at our local market either. So I tried another market and was surprised to find a fellow Tree Top volunteer entering the store with a long list of ingredients needed. Her mood wasn’t quite as cheery either as when we signed up to help. But, I found everything.

Now, ready to cook! This is even the harder part. It made me realize just how often I take a recipe and readily make minor (and sometimes major) adjustments depending on my personal tastes, what’s available, and just whether it seems right or not. So I focused hard this morning on FOLLOWING THE RECIPE. If it said 3 minutes on high, that’s what I did. If it called for ¼ tsp of freshly ground nutmeg, I actually measured out that amount. Normally I would just hold my microplane grater over the dish and grate until it looked like the right amount.

But here’s what I did alter. The glazed sliced apples were ready just before I left for work. Dave looked at me and asked “can I try a little?” Yes, why not. So I spooned out a small dish and let him be the first (unofficial) judge. He said they were good. But probably not a grand winner. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see!

PS. Just went over to retrieve my skillet used for preparation of “my” dish. It was all empty and cleaned up. I noticed other recipe dishes still on the table to people to taste. Must say something about how well liked it was if it was all eaten!

Beloit College Mindset List

So, have you ever heard of it? I look forward each year to seeing what two professors at Beloit College in Wisconsin consider the “cultural touchstones cultural things that shape the lives of students entering college this fall. The creation of Beloit’s Keefer Professor of the Humanities Tom McBride and former Public Affairs Director Ron Nief, it was originally created as a reminder to faculty to be aware of dated references, and quickly became a catalog of the rapidly changing worldview of each new generation.”

Each year, I feel older and older. Well, no surprise here I guess as each year I really am older and older. With my youngest niece headed off to college in a few days, it seemed particularly relevant. Or that was my thought as I started reading this year’s list.

I quickly started laughing as I realized that many of the things discussed were exactly what I had been noticing this summer in the large gap of “ways we do things” between me and my summer intern, a returning college junior. Early in the summer, he told me that his girlfriend not only couldn’t write in cursive style, but couldn’t even read it. See #1 on the list: Few in the class know how to write in cursive At least my intern could read cursive writing (even mine!) and also wrote with it. He said it was his private high school education vs his girlfriend’s public education.

Then I noticed he didn’t wear a watch, something I consider rather essential in the lab for keeping track of experiments. Instead he’d keep pulling out his cell phone to check the time. Very interestingly, he came in one day wearing a wristwatch that also had a stopwatch built in, and used it a lot. See #28 on the list: They’ve never recognized that pointing to their wrists was a request for the time of day.

I also noticed that I would e-mail documents or instructions to him, and he always said that he just never thought about checking his e-mail. See #2: Email is just too slow, and they seldom if ever use snail mail. I had to teach him that part of working for a corporation is that they probably will employ a bunch of “us old people” who use e-mail for a lot of their communication (and think we’re very modern at that!)

Grilled Naan

My sister Becky pointed us to way to a recipe for buttery seeded naan, an Indian flatbread, on the King Arthur Flour website. If you haven’t figured this out by now, I love this site. Love it, love it, love it. If I lived nearer Vermont, I’d be applying for any jobs they have open so I could work there. But, I really like living in the Pacific NW, so unless King Arthur Flour starts up a west coast place, I’m out of luck and will just have to keep making apple juice.

But this recipe kept creeping into my mind. I wanted to make it, but it’s hot. I mean hot, like blazing hot, desert scorching hot. I don’t want to heat up my oven to bake some naan and end up heating up our house also. So, this just stayed dormant until I suddenly realized that you could probably make naan on the grill! I did a little internet sleuthing and found many agreed with me. SO, I proceeded, as usual not quite following the recipe. Knead by hand. No, not me when my bread machine will step in. I added the ingredients during my lunch break to my bread machine, placing the egg, milk and yogurt at the bottom, covering it with the flour, then adding the yeast, baking powder and other ingredients. Pushed a few buttons so that it would start up mid-afternoon, with hopes of bread dough ready to handle when I got home from work. And – it worked! I rolled out the dough as the recipe said, heated up my little grill, and WOW, here’s freshly grilled naan.

Ok, so it doesn’t look like the naan on the King Arthur Flour recipe, but it really did taste good. All I need…. add some grilled chicken and salad and it’s a meal.

The Recipe Police

“The recipe police have left the room.”

This is a quote from a King Arthur Flour blog I was reading about Peach Cobbler. It’s a good blog. Really, all the blogs on this site are great. I had started out reading the one about Naan bread that my sister Becky had recommended earlier this week, and as often happens on the internet, ended up reading some other blogs, including one about Peach Cobblers. Fresh peaches are showing up in the stores this week at great prices finally, so anything with peaches is catching my eye. The recipe highlighted using bread cubes drenched in a sugar/egg type mixture over sweetened cut up peaches, and argued that while it wasn’t traditional, but it worked.

Hmm. It sounded much like the lasagna I had just finished assembling for baking later in the day. It wasn’t from a recipe, but just “cobbled” together (oh look – this is my tie in – how I go from peach cobblers to lasagna) from assorted recipes. My starting point was a recipe for a bechamel sauce made using olive oil recently featured in the New York Times. The author also had included a recipe for asparagus lasagna that was very different than what I usually make. Lasagna noodles, olive oil bechamel sauce, asparagus, parmesan cheese. No mozzerella cheese. No ricotta cheese with an egg mixed in. It sounded good, though, and much lighter for a summer dinner. But, I didn’t have any asparagus. I did have some already grilled yellow summer squash and grilled corn on the cob. And I had lots of fresh herbs growing just outside my kitchen. So I chopped up the vegetables and herbs and – kind of – proceeded with the recipe. I made a few other changes also.

We’ll see tonight how it actually tastes. And decide from there whether the recipe police should return to my kitchen!

Measure once, Eat twice

One of the perks of my job is access, at times, to good fruit. I can almost always find good apples. But sometimes projects involve other kinds of fruit, and we try our best to procure enough fruit for the project plus some extra. Well, if something doesn’t work right, you’ll need to try again using the extra fruit. And if it does work, well, then so much the better as we can always find things to do with the leftovers.

We had been making marionberry “not from concentrate” juice in the pilot plant. Marionberries, if you’re not familiar with them, are a type of blackberry grown heavily in Oregon.

They are very flavorful and yummy. As hoped, we had some frozen berries left over when we got done making marionberry juice, so we decided to make a pie filling out of them for a lunchtime picnic. We’d written down a basic recipe at some point in time for “berry filling” and had taped it to the inside of a cupboard door. So I got out a large pan, measured out a bunch of frozen marionberries, added water, sugar, and cornstarch and cooked it up. Before lunch, I added the filling to a pie crust I had baked earlier at home. But there was more filling than could fit inside the pie shell, so I put the leftovers into a ziplock bag and brought it home with me.

That’s where the “measure once, eat twice” comes in. In carpentry, I have learned to “measure twice, cut once” as you can’t easily repair your mistakes. But in baking, it’s really not a problem if you have made too much. Just find something else to use it in….

I was cleaning out the refrigerator this morning and discovered the leftover pie filling. It didn’t look like quite enough for a pie, so I made some tart shells. I am not sure I’ve ever made little pie shells, but it seemed like it would work to make regular pie dough, and cut it into large circles, and shape them in a muffin tin.

Looks kind of weird at this stage, but I went ahead and baked them (400 degrees, 10 or 15 minutes). When I took them out of the oven, and removed them from the muffin pan, they looked fine. I added a big spoonful of marionberry filling to each, and decided I should be celebrating something as they looked so pretty!

Happy August 1st!