Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Biscuits for canine and human

We've revved up the Granola Factory for our gratitude gifts to those adults who have a positive impact on my intense (code word for pain-in-the-butt) kids. The granola we gave last year was so warmly received that I decided it'll be our holiday tradition and that also means that I don't have to fret about what to give people. With the rest of the stresses in my life, going on automatic granola pilot is a welcome relief. This year we are making an apricot almond variation.

In addition to the granola, we are also making homemade dog treats. One of Ian's teachers who has been really incredible with him and made this school year a good one also trains dogs for the sport of flyball. When I mentioned to my psychologist sister that a person who can train a dog to run an obstacle course can also train my son to conform to expected standards of behavior for 7 year olds, she said that a major book of (human) behavioralism is titled Don't Shoot the Dog! I checked it out of the library and it is a testament that a positive experience in pet ownership is a good sign that you can take being a teacher or parent. Often I think maybe I should have had one more dog to practice on before being allowed to train these small humans...
We made some peanut butter biscuits this weekend and tried them out on various friends' dogs (you know, to make sure we don't kill the teacher's dogs...) and they were consumed by both picky-eater dogs and dogs who would happily eat cardboard.

There's something about making a tooth shattering biscuit for dogs that got me craving biscotti. I don't plan to shatter any of my teeth since I dunk them in my latte, but I forgot to tell Brian that dunking was a necessity so he endangered his dental health when he first tried them.

I made two batches of Almond Orange Biscotti. The first batch was based on a recipe from a friend which was a bit like this recipe and the second batch was based on this recipe (both from Joy of The main differences in the two recipes are how the eggs are handled and where the sugar goes. In the first recipe, the sugar goes into the dry ingredients and in the second it gets beaten for 5 minutes with the eggs. I found the second dough much easier to work with--the sugar had been dissolved into the eggs and thus the dough stuck together more easily. The first recipe tasted fine, but was a pain to form into a log and didn't cut so neatly.
Batch #2 after its first baking
and after slicing and its second baking.

Biscotti are also a welcome culinary break from all the richness of Christmas baking--there's no butter, they aren't very sweet and the copious quantity of almonds makes them a a good blood sugar stabilizer in the early afternoon when I usually start to droop.

Almond Orange Biscotti
adapted from Joy of Baking’s recipe for Pistachio Cranberry Biscotti

2/3 cup white sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup, raw almonds (skins on—-not blanched) toasted and chopped coarsly
Zest of 2 oranges, about 1 1/2 T

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and place the oven rack in the center of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

In the bowl of your electric mixer beat the sugar and eggs on high speed until thick and pale, about 5 minutes. The mixture will form slow ribbons when you lift the beater. Beat in the vanilla extract.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and orange zest. Add to the egg mixture and beat until combined. Fold in the chopped almonds.

Transfer the dough to your parchment lined baking sheet and form into a log, about 12 inches long and 3 1/2 inches wide. Use a dampened silicone or rubber spatula to nudge the dough into the log shape—-the dough is very sticky.

Bake for 25 minutes, or until firm to the touch. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes. Transfer the log to a cutting board and cut into 3/4 inch slices. Place the biscotti, cut side down, on the baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes, turn slices over, and bake for another 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool. Store in an airtight container.

Makes about 16 - 20 biscotti.

Peanut Butter Puppy Biscuits
adapted from this recipe

1/2 C Safflower oil -- no substitutes
2 Eggs
3 T Natural Peanut butter
2 C Whole wheat flour
3/4 C Unbleached white flour
1/2 C Cornmeal
1/2 C Rolled oats
Additional flour

Mix water, oil, eggs, peanut butter, and vanilla with a wire whisk. Add flours, cornmeal, and oats.
Combine with a mixer. Take one-third of the dough and place on a floured surface. Flour top of dough and gently knead, adding more flour as necessary to form a pliable dough (This will require a substantial amount of flour).

Roll out to 1/2 - 3/4 inch thickness and cut shapes using cookie cutters.

Place on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake 400 F, 20-25 minutes, depending on thickness of biscuits . Leave in oven 20 minutes after turning oven off to crisp.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

What 2-buck-chuck was made for

Mulled Wine!

I'm not the biggest fan of egg nog. Once in a while a little bit of it amply fortified with whiskey tastes good, but most of the time egg nog is too rich for me. I feel like I'm drinking creme anglaise and while I like creme anglaise in its proper place (that is to say, accompanying a dessert), I don't choose it as a beverage. Mulled wine is much more my kind of holiday beverage and it also serves to scent the whole house with its spicy bouquet. The Williams Sonoma stuff is a good lazy-person's alternative to digging around in the spice cupboard to locate the appropriate items, but it is pretty darn simple to assemble your own. Some cinnamon sticks, allspice berries, cloves, ginger slices and a star anise or two if you are feeling exotic combined with the wine, some sugar and citrus peel can be combined in about 5 minutes. Some people also add brandy, but since I like to sip mugs of this stuff all day long (on the weekend--I try to stay sober when weekday responsibilities are involved) I leave the brandy out or else I'd be, as the Brits like to say, blotto.

Yesterday, while on my third (or fourth?) mug of wine I sat down and finally finished sewing this totebag as a Christmas gift for my dear sister:
On the front are three of Fiona's little alien drawings that I embroidered. From left to right they are Momo, Mi and Fomi. Mi is my favorite. And inside is a soft doty flannel lining:
I'm going to send it to her with some chocolates, nice lavender soap, orange and almond biscotti (recipe to come soon) and homemade peanut butter dog biscuits for her darling Basenji, Theo (another recipe to come soon).

Mulled wine

One bottle of cheap dry red wine
1/3 C sugar
2 T of spices--lots of whole cinnamon sticks and whole allspice, some whole cloves (not too many--those little buggers are strong), slices of fresh ginger, a star anise or two if you are feeling exotic
strips of lemon and orange peel
1/2 C of brandy (optional)

Put the spices in a large tea-ball or tie loosely in cheese cloth. Heat up the red wine, sugar, spices and peel until steaming. Let spices steep for at least 20 minutes--remove spices and peel after about an hour (it'll get
really strong if you forget and leave the spices in, in which case you can dilute it down with another bottle of wine and some more sugar). If you don't plan on sipping this all day long and want it to pack more of a punch, or if you want a more intense day-long buzz, then add the brandy too.