Monday, November 23, 2009

Brown Sugar Shortbread

Often it's the simple things in life that provide the greatest pleasure. For me, a plate of brown sugar shortbread is definitely one of those humble delights. There's nothing fancy about this cookie: just butter, sugar and eggs. But the addition of a Tahitian vanilla bean transforms these unassuming little cookies into the sublime. The vanilla infused raw sugar on top is a delicious crunchy contrast to the crumbly melt in your mouth cookie. For a real treat, pair these cookies with a glass of Port. Simple and delicious.

Okay, I was totally channeling Barbara Stanwyck in Christmas In Connecticut when I wrote that. That has to be one of my all time favorite movies. Barbara plays Elisabeth Lane 'America's Favorite Housewife' who writes a popular food column in a ladies magazine. She supposedly lives on a farm with her husband and baby where she makes delicious food all day long. The reality is that she's single, living in New York and can't cook to save her life. It's a wonderfully charming movie that I watch year 'round.

But here's the real reason that I wrote that description of the cookies: Marx Foods, a super cool specialty foods shop had a contest where they'd send you vanilla beans so you could cook with them and photograph the finished product. Or you could just photograph the beans. I got the beans on Friday afternoon with a deadline of Saturday midnight to send in my photo. So I whipped up a batch of shortbread, created a still life and snapped a few shots. Now, I've never entered a photography contest in my life because my photo skills are moderate at best. But I can bake a pretty darn good cookie if I do say so myself.

Anyway, the contest runs until Wednesday November 25th and I am BEGGING anyone who reads this blog to please, please, pretty please vote for my photo. I know that I will not win, but for goodness sakes, I don't want to look like a complete doofus with only one vote!!! The truly pitiful thing is that I totally voted for myself (excuse me while I go to the mirror to check my forehead for a giant L for loser). Another point of embarrassment is that all of the other photos are all foodie/artsy and mine looks...well.... sort of quaint. Kind of like paint-by-number in a room of Van Goghs. Or a chicken pot pie on a table of sushi. So help me out here folks....have mercy and vote for my silly little photo PLEASE!!!!! Let's show the world of fine foods that quaint is cool!!! That knitters don't mind a little fuzz in their cookies!!! (the fuzz thing was in reference to the felted pumpkins in my photo by the way...).

Here's the link. Vote for Pam!!!!!

I thank you from the bottom of my heart....

Oh, here's the recipe for all you cookie bakers out there:

Brown Sugar Shortbread

1/2 cup raw sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup butter
1/2 tsp. salt (if you've used unsalted butter, otherwise omit)
1 tahitian vanilla bean (marx foods vanilla beans really are fabulous)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract (I use Penzey's double strength vanilla)
2 cups flour

Cream the butter, sugar and salt until smooth. Slice open vanilla bean and scrape out the flesh and seeds. Add to butter/sugar mixture. Add flour, mix until dough forms. Divide dough in half and roll each into a log about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap in waxed paper and refrigerate for several hours. Slice dough into rounds and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes. While still warm, dip the top in vanilla sugar.

I make my vanilla sugar like this:

1 cup of raw sugar plus the insides of one vanilla bean (again, Marx Foods vanilla beans are terrific). I blend it in a food processor and store it in a glass container along with the skins of the vanilla bean. It lasts forever and tastes fabulous in baked goods or stirred into tea.

And don't forget to vote for Pam!!!!!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Autumn Joy

What started out as a lazy Sunday morning of coffee, music and newspapers turned into a day of outdoor fun. Our backyard was a sea of golden maple leaves in dire need of raking so we decided to end our lazy morning at second breakfast instead of cruising our way through elevenses in our pajamas. While Adrian hauled our first load of leaves to the composting site near our house, I took advantage of the nice weather and took some pictures. This past month I took a break from the sweater that I'm knitting to whip up a patch of knitted and felted pumpkins. They are from a pattern by Marie Mayhew, a local knitter who has some of the cutest knitting/felting patterns ever. The pumpkins range in size from about 7 to 3 inches. They're knit with worsted weight wool yarn and felted in the washing machine. I tweaked around with the pattern a bit to get the different sizes and shapes. I used several different brands of yarn and they all worked great. The brands of yarn all felt up a bit differently which also made for a wide variety of sizes.
My crocheted acorns are an ongoing project that I still work on when the mood strikes. They are as addicting as potato chips and I've made handfuls of them. This fall I've collected a pile of acorn caps for the future because it's kind of hard to scout for acorn caps in the dead of winter with a foot of snow on the ground. The yarn is mostly odd bits of sock yarn lovingly donated to me by my favorite knitting sister Brenda, who has a really excellent knitting podcast called Cast On. You should listen to it, it's terrific. It never ceases to amaze me that the delightful person on the podcast is the same bossy older sister who used to tickle me as a child until I peed my pants.After a long day of raking leaves, Adrian and I treated ourselves to a lovely little bonfire. We settled into our log swing, sipped on Apfelcorn and relaxed in the golden light of the late afternoon sun.