Thursday, December 27, 2007

christmas eve dessert or things that make you go Hmmm

Maybe I wasn't supposed to make dessert for Christmas eve. What with the ossu bucco and not eating til 9:30, probably a clementine and a glass of water would have sufficed. But there is Christmas day and Boxing day to think about and so dessert has to perform triple duty. I was going to make steamed persimmon pudding, but the persimmons didn't ripen and the recipe takes pains to insist that they Must Be Nearly Over-Ripe. So I decided to copy my sister and make a cranberry upside down cake, but by the 24th all the stores are sold out of all cranberries, fresh and frozen. At this point I am in the jostling, delirious and slightly nerved up crowds of shoppers in the local supermarket and wondering if this is a sign, and I should just not have dessert. How much more clear can the higher power be? Go home, ice your knee, see what Jack Bauer is up to. I think actually that was the voice of id, so I pressed on, pressed past the people wearing antlers and santa hats, even though they are shoppers and don't have to be wearing silly hats. And I decided to make apple walnut cake from Silver Pallet. My sister had written "maje fave" next the recipe so I knew it would be good. I got apples and, light headed and trying to stave off incurable crankiness, assumed I would have everything else. I couldn't have been more wrong. The recipe calls for vegetable oil and I only have olive oil. It calls for whole wheat flour which I threw out in the move. (it had sat untouched in my freezer for several years and thru one previous move.) I called my sister who transferred me to her friend Matthew who happened to be in her kitchen preparing a Beef Wellington. I felt I was in good hands. Apparently you lose some acidity if you substitute butter for oil and you also lose some liquid. We decided I could use a cup and half of butter and a third of a cup of butter milk. Matthew called back to tell me to melt the butter but be sure it was not so hot that it would cook the eggs. I decided that since I was melting the butter I might as well go on and brown it. Then I added half a cup of white flour and half a cup of wheat germ in place of the cup of ww flour.
Other than sticking to the pan and coming out in pieces, it was perfect and perfectly delicious. The cracks didn't matter, better to absorb the apple cider glaze. We had it for Christmas breakfast.

because there is more to do in a kitchen than bake

For Christmas eve dinner I made osso buccu, (it's important to pronounce this in your best Spicolli from Ridgemont High accent) Awesso Bewcco, Dude. I followed Marcella most of the way, supplemented w/ a Gourmet recipe. White wine and chicken broth, and no cheese cloth for the bouquet garni so just put herbs in loose, made the gremolata bc the woman who sold me the veal shanks said it is the best part and adds freshness etc. Marcella doesn't bother w the gremolata but she puts lemon zest in the bouqet garni. I agree w the woman who sold the veal shanks. Everyone seems to agree that the veal has to be in a single layer with the liquid only half way up the sides of the shanks. I did that and I only had a cheap pot that would accommodate all those shanks, but cheap seemed to work fine for this. Marcella says shanks should be cut no more than 1 1/2 inches thick. I went with 2 inches and they were perfectly well cooked. Served it w risotto Milanese. I am not a saffron fan, but used slightly less than called for and it was delicious and all that stirring is a good activity for company.
Now between the osso bucco and the risotto there is lots of home made chicken stock and then the veal which is rich rich rich, so the whole thing was delicious but not something you necessarily want to eat very often. I make a similar dish with turkey thighs and prefer it. Use the veal if you want to show off.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Pumpkin Flat Bread. Unintendedly So.

The other day, which happened to be my birthday, I happened to be talking to my sister on the phone while making pumpkin bread. Now this is a recipe I play pretty fast and loose with anyway. It's the basic nut bread recipe from, get this, Breads. You can do anything with it and it always comes out tasting great. Even what I did.

So there I was, phone in one hand, whisk in the other, working and chatting like I knew what I was doing. I was adding crystalized ginger to the recipe and doubling the spices and using WW flour instead of white, throwing in some molasses bc it amused me, you know, stuff like that. Came time the batter was ready to go in the oven and it didn't look right. It hadn't taken all the flour it was supposed too, and it was still kinda stiff. I asked the sister on the phone what she thought. This is not the sister that cooks. This is the sister that races bikes. She can eat pumpkin bread as good as the next bike racer, but she didn't have any suggestions as to why the batter looked so... odd.

When the timer rang and I checked the bread, I knew why it looked so weird.


Monday, October 29, 2007

more spice cake

After the blackberry jam debacle cake, I tried a spice cake bundt cake. Started w an M. Stewart recipe, but she wanted cake flour and I only had all purpose. You can substitute bleached flour and some corn starch, but I didn't have bleached flour. Apparently the bleaching is important as it makes the whole thing more acidic. I just used all purpose flour and hoped for the best. I also couldn't be bothered to separate the eggs and beat the egg whites and fold them in at the end. Just added whole eggs. Also doubled or tripled the spices. It worked well. Tasted good, moist enough. I topped it with the penuche icing, which was runnier than before and not a good complement. Whipped cream would have been better.
Then I made an oatmeal cake, also with spices. Topped with a brown sugar, butter, coconut and pecan topping that you put on the warm cake and then place under a broiler until it bubbles. Over time the topping sort of seeps down and permeates the body of the cake. Worth waiting a day before devouring it. Now that is a good and popular cake.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

blackberry jam cake

I too, have been baking. I have always wanted to make blackberry jam cake. It sounds so odd, and I was curious just what it would be. Well, it's a spice cake with jam added for, take your pick,
-a sweet/tart thing
I've read the recipe in Gourmet many times and thought I would just make that one. (the lazy sister)
I read over the recipe again and again, but the levener is hard to find. You don't add the baking soda with the dry ingredients, you premix it with butter milk and then add that alternating with the dry. Well, at first pass I couldn't find any levener. I assumed there was a mistake in the recipe and I would need to find something else. I went on line and found several recipes for blackberry jam cake. They all look more or less the same, just different sizes. By this time I had located the levener in the original recipe, so I went ahead with that.
I usually think food is too bland, so I pretty much doubled the called for spices. I also did this all sort of last minute, and ended up with the only seedless blackberry jam I could find at my local market. This was some country brand from KY, probably very authentic, but way too sweet as it turned out. Next time I'll hunt up some jam with a better sweet tart balance and/or add some lemon juice. I'll also bake at 350, not the 325 the recipe called for. The cake was a little hard and dry around the edges which I blame on the 75 minutes in the oven.
Finally I made the caramel icing, (brown sugar, butter and evaporated milk.) To this, I added about 3/4 tsp of salt. This was very good, even though you need a candy thermometer. I actually have one of those. There are dire warnings about over cooking and how rapidly it will "set up" as if you were working with some sort of quick dry cement. It didn't really set up until the next day, but I don't have that sort of patience when it comes to cake, so I poured it over while still runny. ("a bit runnier than you like it." "Oh no, I like it runny.") The icing, while delicious, ended up mostly puddled in the dish around the cake and I was forced to eat lots of it just with a spoon.
So next time, I'll bake at 350, use better quality jam, add the baking soda with the dry (just to see what happens) and make the icing while the cake is baking so both can cool together.
Naturally, next time the frosting will set up right away and I'll be faced with a week of chipping penuche out of a pot and eating it plain.
As for the blackberry jam-- didn't add color, not sure about moisture, no tartness. But there is that novelty, and you get to say, "Oh, its a blackberry jam cake."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

does gingerbread need molasses?

Here's the question. Many gingerbread recipes have molasses in them, but do they benefit from it? or do they end up really molasses cookies, with a little ginger flavor? I made gingerbread, and it's delicious, don't get me wrong. But when my DD tasted it her first response was, huh. Now this is not what a baker is hoping will come out of the first bite for her afternoon's labors. Then she said, "is this gingerbread? Cuz I was just wondering". Again, not the desired response. Probing and patience revealed that she did like it - she ate two pieces - but that she had been confused about what it was. Apparently it tasted like, you guessed it, molasses. DH said that it is good but he prefers the "other gingerbread".*

So, why the confusion? There's a fascinating history of gingerbread here. Essentially, gingerbread in its many iterations from flat and crispy to cakey and soft, has been baked in Europe for centuries. When immigrants arrived in America they brought their recipes with them, but adapted them to local ingredients. Since sugar was rare and expensive in the early colonies, cooks substituted other sweeteners. In Northern New England, it was made with maple syrup as sweetener, and in the south with sorghum molasses. For some reason, those southern cooks seem to have been more convincing than the Vermonters, and molasses as a component of gingerbread stuck.

The interesting thing about this is the freedom it gives you to experiment. Try brown sugar, or honey, or if you are feeling flush, maple syrup. Ironic that what was once an inexpensive substitute for sugar is now the exact opposite.

I think tomorrow I will try making it more gingery - maybe some fresh ginger grated in, and maybe some crystallized ginger too. and a new bottle of ground ginger to replace the antique from the box where the baking goods are STILL stored.

*translation - the one without molasses

Saturday, October 6, 2007

extremely bad mood delicata squash soup

First you have to develop an extremely bad mood. I find that moving into a new home and then realizing that between oddly paranoid neighbors and gout stricken and disagreeable farmers, there is no where to walk your dogs, can create a significant trapped feeling, and lead to some anguish, despair and bitter self recriminations. But you probably have your own recipe for a bad mood.
Once you are alternately crying and thinking about hurling plates onto the paved driveway, slice the squash, 3 of them, and put them in a pan. Dot too much butter in the cavities, pour a half inch of boiling water around them, and put them in a 300 oven. Be sure not to cover them. This is important. When not covered, they will never really soften and you'll need this time.
Decide that perhaps you will feel better if you install your new blinds in your bathroom. You'll have a sense of accomplishment, and you'll be able to shower with the lights on, a win win. After two badly bent screws, skinned knuckles, more tears, write a sarcastic e-mail to Smith and Noble about their "easy to install" blinds, cover the still hard squash and go take a shower in the dark.
Back in the kitchen, take the squash out of the oven, but leave covered. Chop an onion, and saute it in still more butter with several sprigs of thyme. After a while, scoop the now somewhat soft squash out of their shells and add to the onion. Add 3 cups of broth and a cup of cream, simmer for a while.
This next step is important. Be sure that you lose the top to the blender in the move. This way, when you puree the mixture, (after only simmering for 10 minutes b/c by now you are starving and impatient) despite the tin foil cover you craft, soup will dribble all over the blender and remain largely lumpy. The short simmering time will ensure that it is bland and ultimately disappointing, proving you really can't do anything well and it's a mystery why you bother.
Eat it anyway and follow with an extremely large bowl of ice cream.

Premature Baking - Elise

The kitchen is not near finished. However, it has a stove with an oven and that seemed, at the outset, to be enough. I set out to bake chocolate chip cookies, the first in many months, considering that the remodel began in July, and May and June were too hot for baking.

Trouble is, the stove and sink constitute the full extent of the items available, but not of those required. Everything else is, or rather was, in boxes. The mixer was on the floor, behind the extra bike tires. The spatula was in the former sauna/currently suitcase and toiletry storage. Suitcases and toiletries go together, don't they? Hot pads? Under the washing machine to keep it level to it doesn't spiral off its rocker and walk across the cellar floor and out the door.

The baking soda was missing so I used baking powder in the name of innovation. Instead of 1t. soda, I used 1 and 1/2 t. powder. The cookies don't spread out much, which means the centers stay nice and soft, but there is an odd thin crust encircling each one. Sort of like the rings of Saturn if you cut the planet off just below them. Or a fried egg.

While it's really exciting to have a stove and a sink, I think I need to wait a while before getting too wild with the whole baking thing.