Friday, October 31, 2008


HAPPY HALLOWEEN, everybody! I trust that everyone is having a spook-tacular day...har, har, har. Halloween is my favorite holiday, but I'm celebrating on the DL this year. It seems wrong to do anything too Halloween-y with Cyd still being in Minnesota. :-( Plus, after having the walking pneumonia throughout the month of September, I only managed to stay well for 2-3 weeks before catching another annoying cold. So there were no decorations this year, nor even a costume to speak of. But I have managed to bake a couple of goodies lately featuring that seasonal globe that is ribbed for our pleasure, the mighty pumpkin.

First, I made some yummy pumpkin chocolate chip cookies from King Arthur. Pumpkin and chocolate together has always sounded a little off-putting to me, but they were delicious! The pumpkin made the cookies incredibly moist, and the chocolate played nicely with the spices. And so easy to make, too! These are definitely winners. A note about the photo: I took this picture a couple of days after baking the cookies, and they were so moist from the pumpkin in the dough that the icing had softened and nearly dissolved on top. But initially, the glaze set up very nicely so that you could even stack the cookies on top of each other. They still taste great, though, and they keep for quite a long time, again, due to the pumpkin making them soft and moist.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
King Arthur Flour)

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
grated zest of 1 orange, optional (I left this out)
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts

1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the cookies: Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spray baking sheets with cooking spray or line with parchment paper (or Silpats). Set aside.

1. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, soda, salt and spices in a medium bowl. Set aside.
2. With an electric mixer set on medium speed, cream together the butter and sugars. Scrape down the sides of the bowl,
3. Then add the pumpkin, eggs, vanilla and orange zest, beating well to blend.
4. Slowly add the dry ingredients, beating well to blend. Stir in the chocolate chips and walnuts.
5. Using a tablespoon scoop, drop the dough onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake on the middle oven rack for about 18 minutes, until edges are lightly browned. Let cool on the baking sheets 5 minutes before transferring to racks to cool.
6. While the cookies are still warm, press two chocolate chips into the cookie to make eyes for the pumpkin.

For the glaze: Stir together the sugar, milk and vanilla until the glaze is smooth. Dip the tops of the cookies in the glaze and put back on the racks to set, or drizzle in a pumpkin or jack-o-lantern pattern.

The cookies were for my colleagues at work, but I also decided to try baking some experimental pumpkin bread for myself at home. You see, I was goaded into doing so by the weekly email that I get from my darling baker boys, John and Keith, in my beloved homeland of Oregon. They bake bread for customers every Sunday in their ginormous wood-fired outdoor brick oven, and recently, they have added a pumpkin walnut sourdough to their menu. I became sick with jealousy that I couldn't sample their wares all the way out here on the other coast, so my only option was to bake some for myself. But darned if I could find a recipe on these interwebs. All I could find was (spiced) pumpkin quick breads.

Thus, I decided to go my own way and see if I could devise a workable recipe of my own. My first attempt turned out reasonably well, but I'd still call it a work in progress. I overhydrated my dough, so I didn't get a great rise. And next time, I'll split this amount of dough into two boules or baguettes, rather than one big blob of bread. And the taste was good, but VERRRY tangy. I think it would be nicely balanced with some sweetness, like from the addition of craisins, or perhaps I'll play around with bringing some Grade B maple to the party next time*. Still, this initial experiment yielded some tasty bread that was especially yummy when toasted and buttered for breakfast! One other caveat: I expected orange bread, but it was just yellowish on the outside and almost a purple-grey on the inside! I think the oil from the walnuts turned it that color. So I either need to switch nuts (pecans or perhaps sunflowers seeds?), or maybe I could try kneading the walnuts in before the last rise. I said, it's a work in progress!

*Follow-up: My suspicions were confirmed when I made some terrific French toast with this bread. The tangy, nutty slices, coated with custard, browned, buttered, and drenched in maple syrup was a decadent and heavenly marriage of flavors!

Pumpkin Walnut Sourdough

1/2 cup (refreshed) sourdough starter
generous 1/2 cup water (start with 9 tablespoons and increase as needed)
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
3 1/2 cups bread flour (all-purpose can be substituted)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped (or whole sunflower seeds)
1 cup dried cranberries, optional (but highly recommended!)

pepitas, optional

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or by hand, if you prefer), blend the refreshed sourdough starter with the water and the pumpkin puree until smooth. Add the flour and salt, and "knead" with the dough hook for about five minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Add more water a tablespoon at a time if need be. (You don't want a thick batter or even a terribly sticky dough, but a soft ball.) When the dough has come together, place into a large, greased bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place until doubled (at least four hours, I should think).

When doubled, turn out the dough onto a lightly-floured surface, knead in the walnuts and craisins, and let rest for about a half hour. When the dough has rested, shape it into two boules or baguettes, cover loosely with sprayed plastic wrap, and let rise until puffy and nearly doubled (as much as four more hours*). When risen, uncover carefully, spritz the loaves with water (and sprinkle some pepitas/toasted pumpkin seeds on top, if you like), and bake in a very hot (450-degree) oven for about 20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

*You can certainly make this bread in stages. If you have to go to work or to sleep, just chuck it in the fridge (if you don't have a very cold house like mine!), and slow down the rise until you're ready to proceed.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Apples to Apples (and Lasagna, Too!)

WHOA! You blink, and it's two weeks later! Forgive me, friends. Midterm chaos has kept me from my blogging duties. But I have a little break today between seeing High School Musical 3 with my seven-year-old friend, K (but it was MY birthday wish!) and going to the new Thai food place in town for dinner with friends who wish to celebrate my agedness. Sidebar: for any Plattsburghers who have not yet tried Sawatdee, you are missing out! It is FABULOUS! It is also quite healthy, has many options for your vegetarian friends, and is inexpensive to boot. You MUST check it out. I myself am trying hard to refrain from eating there more than twice a week! ;-)

Anyway, I never finished reporting on my Columbus Day weekend adventures, so let me catch up on that. After my travels through the southern cantons of Quebec, I stopped at the big grocery store in Ormstown to pick up some things to make a lasagna. I had been watching a new show on Food Network called "Ask Aida," and she made a sausage and three-cheese version that looked wonderful. And she made it with those no-boil noodles, which I have always been afraid to try. But Aida says that the way to avoid a sloppy, slip-sliding lasagna is to use the no-boil noodles which wick up excess moisture. (By the way, why does everyone on Food Network have to look like a bobble-head, stick-figure supermodel these days? Oh well, at least this Aida person is authentically Italian, kinda like Giada. But that's about all I have to say that's positive about the gimmicky, internet-infused show.) Anyway, I found everything I needed in the Canadian IGA, but MAN, was it expensive! My blogger pal, Randi, who lives in Ontario has often complained about the cost of many food items, especially certain dairy products like cream cheese, and she wasn't kidding! They didn't even have ricotta in the regular dairy section, and the store employees seemed perplexed when I asked about it. I finally found it in the "gourmet" cheese section of the deli, and at a premium price. Ditto with the parmesan. But I figured I'd spend more in gas money to go all the way over to the Champlain (NY) Price Chopper, so I just sucked it up.

When I got home, I started the sauce, using my own home-canned whole tomatoes (one quart), plus one pint of seasoned tomato sauce, also homemade. This was mistake #1, as I really needed to use at least two quarts of tomatoes. Also, I had to use a combination of sweet Italian sausage and ground beef, because I didn't have any ground pork, and I was NOT going back (to another country) to the store! But that was okay--it was excellent with the combination of meats. Then I let the sauce simmer for more than an hour while I did some other things, and worked on layering the lasagna. That was mistake #2, because the sauce should be quite thin so that the no-boil noodles have plenty of liquid in which to cook. As I assembled the lasagna, I knew that I did not have enough sauce for all the layers, particularly for the top. Then, not having worked with the no-boil noodles before, I was frustrated that they didn't cover the whole 9x13 pan, so I took some scissors and tried to sort of cut and paste to fill in the gaps. That was mistake #3, as the no-boil noodles will expand as they cook (duh, Gina!). Mistake #4 was somewhat by choice. Aida says that she and her mom argue about how much ricotta to use. Aida says 24 oz. while her mom opts for just 16 oz. I would have preferred to use the greater amount, but given how expensive the ricotta was in the Canadian grocery, I bought some strange metric amount that looked to be about a pound. Then, when my back was turned in the kitchen for a split-second, Grady the PBGV, reached up to the counter, knocked down the ricotta container, and had gulped down a tablespoon or two before I could stop him (mistake #5)! So I ended up with quite a bit less ricotta than would have been ideal. Boo hiss.

Now I knew that this dish was really to be made for a crowd, or else I'd be eating it for a week (or two!) by myself. So I emailed by dear friend, June, who was hosting a friend and former colleague for the weekend, and I said if there were board games to be played, I would bring a lasagna and an apple pie (since I still have a TON of apples left over from my last canning class). She agreed, and a plan came together. My vision was the make the lasagna the night before, and then bake it off right before heading off for the dinner party. This may have been the one thing that I did right with this recipe! Making it ahead of time gives the no-boil noodles extra time to soften up. Still, that night, I was awake, tossing and turning, worrying that the dish would be dry and chewy or chalky or pasty due to the lack of sauce, the scant amount of ricotta, and the extra noodles. So the next morning, I proceeded to do some delicate surgery on my perfectly constructed lasagna, gently lifting up each quadrant of the top layer and spooning on another pint of homemade seasoned tomato sauce. I also spooned some down the sides and on each end. At this point, Cyd dubbed it the Franken-lasagna, but I was still hoping it would turn out. And guess what? It did! It really was delicious, and it held together beautifully without being either too dry or too sloppy with sauce. And I thought it had the perfect level of spiciness, too, as I added a couple of golden cayenne peppers from my garden to kick up the heat a bit. June's husband, Tom, a notoriously finicky eater, even requested that I leave some leftovers behind for him to lunch on. High praise indeed, from that curmudgeon! ;-)

After dinner, we enjoyed a homemade apple pie for dessert. It was quite beautiful (if I do say so myself!) and tasty, too, but sadly, I overbaked it and the apples were kind of mushy--oh well (sigh). Then we played a fun board game called Apples to Apples, so the Columbus Day weekend apple theme continued. Despite the nerve-racking lasagna and the mushy pie, it was a nice, cozy evening with friends, which is the best way to spend a day off, in my humble opinion.

Sweet Sausage and Three-Cheese Lasagna
(Source: "Ask Aida," Food Network)

For the sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)

2 cayenne peppers, finely chopped, optional (I added these to kick up the spice!)
4 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings and crumbled
1/2 pound lean ground pork (I used ground beef here)
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 (28-ounce) containers crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 medium dried bay leaves

For the lasagna:
1 (9-ounce) box no-boil lasagna noodles (I used Barilla brand)
24 ounces ricotta cheese (I only used 16 oz., but I would advise using the full amount)
1 pound mozzarella cheese, low-moisture or fresh, thinly sliced (I used shredded)
2 cups finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 2 ounces)

For the meat sauce:

Heat oil in a Dutch oven or a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add onion 9and peppers, if using) and garlic, season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook until just softened. Add sausage and ground pork (or beef) and stir to break up meat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until meat starts to color, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add wine and cook, scraping bottom of pan to incorporate browned bits, until the alcohol smell is cooked off. Add tomatoes, one tablespoon salt, basil, oregano, bay leaf, and season well with freshly ground black pepper. Stir until well mixed and tomatoes start to simmer. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until flavors meld, at least 10 minutes and up to one hour. (Don't reduce it too much--you want it on the thin side so the no-boil noodles will have something to suck up!)

For the lasagna:
Heat oven to 375 degrees F and arrange rack in middle. Spread two cups sauce in a thin layer over the bottom of a 13 by 9-inch baking dish. Layer four noodles over sauce, top with two cups sauce and spread it evenly over the noodles. Evenly dollop 1/4 of the ricotta across the sauce, top with 1/4 of the mozzarella, and sprinkle evenly with 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Cover with foil and bake until liquids are bubbling and noodles are beginning to soften, about 40 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking until top is golden brown and noodles are completely tender, about 20 minutes more. Allow to rest 20 minutes before cutting.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Fall Break: The View from Route 202

Last weekend, we had a four-day Columbus Day/Fall Break from school (also, Happy Thanksgiving to our Canadian friends!). Since I knew I’d be going to a dog show the following weekend, I didn’t have any grand plans for the break. But I did get a lot of nagging chores and errands accomplished, caught up on my sleep a bit, and even managed to squeeze in a few special events. Friday night, I took a glorious drive through the Adirondacks up to Saranac Lake to see Cheryl Wheeler in concert. My dear friend, John, has always been her biggest fan, and I can see why. Not only is she a gifted songwriter and singer, but she is a delightful performer—an engaging storyteller and wickedly funny to boot!

On Saturday, I was supposed to go to Montreal with my next-door neighbor, Ken, to see a movie and go out to dinner. But he wasn’t feeling well that day, so I was on my own.

I decided, instead of going into the city proper, that I would take a lovely drive from Hemmingford, QC west on the Covey Hill Road (Route 202) to Franklin and stop at some of the beautiful orchards and see what kinds of fall activities that they had going on.

One of my favorite places is Blair’s, where they have live Quebecois music and country dancing under a big outdoor pavilion.

They also serve the best thing in the world—known in these parts as a “beaver tail”—but you may know it as an elephant ear or just plain old fried dough. But plain it is NOT, especially if you get it slathered with real maple cream as I did. YUM!

As I was enjoying my treat, I looked up and saw this. Her name, I learned, was Axelle, and though she was previously munching on a freshly-picked apple, I guess it paled in comparison to my beaver tail. But I told her in no uncertain terms that it was MINE and to go away! (Just kidding…I offered her some of mine, but her mom assured me that they would get her one of her own.)

At Blair’s and also at another place up the road called Arthur’s in Rockburn, they had petting zoos, so besides new human friends, I made some animal pals as well.

This sassy boy, though technically not part of the petting zoo, was my favorite.

I ended my autumnal tour at Huntingdon, a lovely place with a river dam in the middle of town, and home to some of the best poutine in the province.

Behold, friends, the national dish of Quebec! Fresh-cut fries with brown gravy and melty cheese curds—so gluttonously good, it should come with a side of Lipitor. Nevertheless, it is some good Frenchie eats!

After Huntingdon, I headed up to Ormstown to the IGA to procure provisions for the next night’s dinner, inspired, as usual on the weekends, by a show on the Food Network. But that’s another story for another post. In the meantime, dear readers, I urge you to get out there and have some breathtaking fall adventures of your own. I’m not sure what the conditions are like where you live, but this is my eighth autumn in the North Country, and it is the most amazing color season that I have ever seen. And it’s so fleeting (leading into the six dreadful months of winter that we endure here—that’s our trade-off), that we must make haste to go out into the glory of it and soak it all in before it’s gone.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Wilkommen zum Oktoberfest!

So, naturally, I needed a hearty, autumnal soup to go alongside my meatloaf sandwiches, and I found the perfect recipe for Beer, Brat and Cheese Soup. I adapted it from the blog, Culinary in the Country (and the author, in turn, adapted it from Penzey's Spices), and man, is it delicious...and easy! And now that the weather has turned nippy, it will definitely warm you up as it fills you up. Plus, with beer as a central ingredient, it couldn't be more perfect for an Oktoberfest celebration, especially if you serve it with some tasty beer bread. JA, JA!

Brat, Beer and Cheese Soup
(Source: adapted from Penzey's Spices via Culinary in the Country)

1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups carrots, peeled and sliced
1 cup celery, finely chopped
1 cup onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled and diced
6 cups chicken broth
12 ounces beer
1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder (I substituted 1/2 teaspoon chili powder and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne)
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon vegetable season salt (or kosher salt)
1 1/2 tablespoons dried parsley (or fresh, if you have it)
3/4 cup half-and-half (or milk)
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
12 ounces shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
3 cooked bratwursts, sliced (I used two large smoked sausages instead)

In a stock pot, heat oil over medium. Stir in carrot, celery and onion - cook until very tender, stirring often, about 12 to 15 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in flour and cook for one minute.

Add potatoes, broth and beer - bring mixture to a boil and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Season with mustard powder and chipotle (or chili/cayenne) powder, along with salt, freshly ground black pepper, and parsley.

Stir half-and-half and Worcestershire sauce into the soup. Remove from the heat and gradually stir in the cheese until melted and smooth. Stir in cooked bratwurst - heat until the soup has warmed through, about 5 more minutes.

Makes about 8 servings.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Confusing times...

No, no...I do refer to the economic crisis (though I made the mistake of looking at my quarterly retirement statement yesterday--bad idea). I refer to the strange seasonal shifts. On the one hand, I look out my office window and see this:

On the other hand, I went out to my garden two days ago (October 7th!), and harvested all of THESE:

Furthermore, this week, I have been dining on chicken caesar salads made from the crispiest iceberg lettuce acquired at a local farm stand (Shield's on Rt. 22), and the best corn on the cob I've had all season, also local (from Rulf's in Peru). Though the farmers' markets are all but done, we are lucky to still have fresh produce trickling out of our home gardens and from local farmers. But the handwriting is on the wall, my friends. I finally pulled the AC unit out of my bedroom window earlier this week because my head was getting too cold at night. Though I haven't switched to flannel sheets yet, I did throw a heavy sleeping bag on top of my down comforter. And though I vow not to turn on the heat until November, I have already plugged in my electric mattress pad to warm up the sheets before I get in bed. To top it all off, I would SWEAR that I saw flecks of snow mixed in with a drizzle of rain on my windshield as I drove home last night!

Thus, I think it is right and good, as the seasons transition, to begin to embrace cozier cuisines. I feel some rib-sticking soups and stews coming on, but in the meantime, I have been craving meatloaf. I blame those Neeleys. As I was gathering stuff up to take for my canning class last Saturday, I had the Food Network on in the background, as I usually do on the weekends. And they were making a barbecue turkey meatloaf which sounded awesome. However, I didn't have any ground turkey on hand, so I made a regular beef version, and I created my own recipe that highlighted those barbecue flavors. It turned out really well--moist and tender, but still holding together, and flavorful without being overpowering. And most importantly, it made a damn fine sandwich, which is the main reason for making meatloaf in the first place! The perfect meatloaf sandwich for me begins with very soft, squishy bread slathered in mayo and perhaps tinted with mustard, loaded with homemade dill pickle slices, and topped with a thick slab of meatloaf that has been just warmed (warm, not hot!). MMM-MMM! Heaven! Give this one a try...

Gina's (but not Gina Neely's) BBQ Meatloaf

2 lbs. ground beef (feel free to swap out some ground pork if you like)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 teaspoon granulated garlic (or better yet, a few cloves, minced)
2 tablespoons barbecue spice rub, your favorite
1/2 cup barbecue sauce, plus more for basting (I have fallen in love with Sweet Baby Ray's sauce!)
1 tablespoon hot pepper sauce
2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup quick oats
1 egg

Mix all ingredients (gently--don't overwork the meat), then place into a large loaf pan. Bake at 350 for about 40-45 minutes, then remove from the oven, drain off the fat, and brush on more BBQ sauce to glaze the top. Return to the oven and bake an additional 15 minutes or so.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Last Canning Class, but Not the Last of the Canning!

Saturday was my last in a series of three canning classes, this one covering jam and applesauce/apple butter. Unfortunately, I thought we were going to go out with a sad whimper rather than a big bang. I had a terrible morning trying to get everything ready to haul into town, and I realized at the last minute that I was out of dry pectin. So even though I was already running late, I had to squeeze in a stop at Aubuchon Hardware to buy the very last box of pectin on the shelf (whew!). Then when I got to school, someone in his or her infinite wisdom had unplugged the refrigerator! So the first student to arrive found me stomping around and using highly inappropriate language. But the thing that nearly reduced me to tears was getting the whole tomato/apple press set up only to realize that I left the crank handle at home! Mind you, I live a half hour away, so running to Sciota and back was out of the question. But I had to do something, as I didn't even bring peelers or a masher to do the apples "old school." So I left poor Cindy from Continuing Ed. to hold down the fort, and I raced back down the hill, back to the hardware store to buy some emergency supplies. As I passed the subdivision known as Cliff Haven, I spied my friends Jen and Angela's house and had a flash of brilliance. Angela makes homemade applesauce every year--surely she would have a food mill or at least a peeler and a masher that I could borrow? And indeed, I was able to nab a pristine Foley food mill, and my class was saved!

We made applesauce with a hint of cinnamon, as well as the legendary blueberry-lime jam. I also took them each a jar of apple butter, since we didn't have time to cook it down in class. I used the wonderful recipe from last year, but I made two changes. One, I cut back on some of the sugars and swapped out some Grade B maple syrup, making it Maple Apple Butter. YUM! And instead of reducing it on the stove top and having to deal with all those painful and messy volcanic eruptions, I used my crock pot instead. I started with it on low and the lid vented, but after leaving it to do its thing overnight and it had barely changed by morning, I took the lid off and cranked it up to high until I got home that evening. Despite the fact that I had covered all surrounding surfaces with towels just in case, there was no spattering at all! That is an excellent tip for all you apple butter fans out there. In fact, I may have to make another batch or two, as one of the nice ladies from class brought us each a bushel of apples from her own trees! I am now up to my eyebrows in apples! Ah...the blessings of excess in the North Country. (Am I making anyone jealous from non-apple-bearing regions? Tee hee.)

Anyway...while our jars were processing, we sampled the maple apple butter that I brought and the little bit of leftover blueberry jam from the pot that wasn't enough to make another full jar. Of course, we needed something yummy to spread the preserves on, so that morning before class, I made some excellent scones from the Joy of Baking's website. I made them plain, so that we could really taste the jam and the apple butter, but I already have a vision of a lemon poppy seed version using this recipe as a base:

Cream Scones
Joy of Baking)

2 cups (280 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated white sugar
2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup (76 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy cream

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) and place the rack in the middle of the oven. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper (or use a Silpat).

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut the butter into small pieces and blend into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or two knives. The mixture should look like coarse crumbs. In a small measuring cup combine the cream, beaten egg and vanilla. Add this mixture to the flour mixture. Stir just until combined. Do not over mix.

Knead dough gently on a lightly floured surface. Roll or pat the dough into a circle that is about 7 inches (18 cm) round. Then, you may either cut the circle diagonally four times to make eight wedges, or using a 2 1/2 inch (6.5 cm) round cookie cutter, cut the dough into rounds. Place the scones on the prepared cookie sheet, spacing a few inches apart. Brush the tops of the scones with a little egg wash (an egg beaten with a little cream). This helps to brown the tops of the scones during baking. You may also wish to sprinkle the tops with a little sugar for some sparkle and crunch.

Bake for about 15 - 18 minutes or until nicely browned and a toothpick inserted into the center of a scone comes out clean. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool. Serve with Devon cream or softly whipped cream and your favorite jam.

You might think after three straight weekends of canning classes that I would be OVER any preserving projects for awhile, but you would be quite mistaken. In fact, being around enthusiastic canners only fans the flames of my desire to put up more little jars of deliciousness. And despite our crisp weather, there hasn't been a hard freeze yet (knock wood), and my garden continues to bear. On Sunday, I went out and harvested a few pounds of summer squashes from which I made the most delicious squash chutney! The recipe was actually not all that different from the beloved zucchini relish, but this has an Asian flair with the addition of crystallized ginger. Like all pickle recipes, it will not reach its full flavor for another month or two, but the tidbits that I tasted as I went along were outstanding! I followed the recipe pretty carefully, as you must when canning, but I did amp up the heat quite a bit, and added some garlic and extra spices (cutting back by one carrot to compensate for the addition of low-acid ingredients). Oh, and most importantly, I processed the final product in a hot water bath for ten minutes as a safety precaution. (NO OPEN KETTLE! I don't care if your grandma never did kill anyone--it's just not safe!) If you still have squash coming out of your garden, this is an excellent and savory way to use them up.

Squash Chutney
(Source: Preserving by Oded Schwartz, DK Publishing, 1996)

2 pounds summer squash, peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch cubes (I used a mix of zucchini and yellow crookneck)
2 tablespoons canning salt
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
about 5 carrots, grated (cut back by one carrot if you add the garlic and extra peppers)
3 1/2 ounces crystallized ginger, coarsely chopped
1-2 fresh red chilies, finely chopped (I used one red cayenne and a few super chilies!)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced, optional
2 tablespoons mustard seed
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon celery seed, optional
1 tablespoon coriander, optional
1 teaspoon black pepper, optional
3 cups cider vinegar
1 cup sugar (I used half white and half brown sugar)

Put the squash in a colander and sprinkle with half the salt. Let stand for one hour. Rinse and dry. Put in a non-corrosive saucepan with all the ingredients, except the sugar and remaining salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 25 minutes, or until the vegetables are just soft.

Add the sugar and salt and simmer for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, until most of the liquid evaporates and the chutney is thick. Ladle into hot jars, then process in a boiling water bath (10 minutes for half-pints, 15 minutes for pints). It will be ready in one to two months.

Makes about 3 pints

Even after cranking out nine jars of chutney, I still had the energy and drive to make myself a special treat. Of course, by that point, I was looking for something fairly easy, and I found a scrumptious-looking toffee bar recipe made with sweetened condensed milk on Eagle Brand's website. The resulting cookies taste a lot like seven-layer or magic cookie bars but without the coconut that offends me. The only change I made to the recipe was to add a little salt to counter the sweetness, and to reverse the nut-to-chocolate chip ratio in favor of more nuts (as is my way). These are really excellent, but unless you're baking for a crowd, you might want to halve the recipe and use an 8x8 pan. I made the mistake of preparing a full batch in a 9x13 pan, and that just yields TOO many, as each piece is very rich and filling. But no problem--I will take most of them to my friends Tom and June's house tonight to enjoy as we watch the second round of presidential debates. I'm sure they will be consumed readily and happily as we root for Mr. Obama! ("Yes, we can! Yes, we can!")

Chocolate Chip Toffee Bars
Eagle Brand's website)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
good pinch of salt, optional (I think all the sweetness needs a little salt for balance)
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter
1 egg, slightly beaten
2 cups (12 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided (I reduced this to 1 1/2 cups total)
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts (I increased this to 1 1/2 cups)
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk)
1 3/4 cups (10 ounces) toffee bits, divided

Preheat oven to 350°F. In large bowl, stir together flour and sugar. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add egg; mix well.

Stir in 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips and nuts. Reserve 1 1/2 cups mixture. Press remaining crumb mixture onto bottom of 13x9-inch greased (or sprayed) baking pan. Bake ten minutes.

Pour sweetened condensed milk evenly over crust; top with 1 1/2 cups toffee bits. Sprinkle reserved crumb mixture and remaining 1/2 cup chocolate chips over top. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup toffee bits. Cool completely. Cut into bars. Store leftovers covered.