Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The 29 days of Christmas and what I made

3 hats (2 adult and one infant)
1 shawl
1 toddler sweater
6 loaves of bread
a glass of eggnog with rum 
2 cranberry gingerbread upside down cakes

1 batch of Rugelach (Marg's Justifiably Famous)
1 batch of Colman cookies 
the afore-mentioned ham, brussels sprouts and spoonbread meal

a very long drive
several large messes which I sometimes left for others to clean up.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Eve and the rebirth of Golum

Well, I think I redeemed myself after the Thanksgiving Debacle. I made ham, brussels sprouts with pancetta and chestnuts (so? I like pork), and spoon bread. Bought a fully cooked ham, referred to as "semi-boned". Whatever that means. Turns out it means that it only has part of the leg bone and none of the joint. I read a number of recipes that mystified me with instructions to boil the ham for 2 hours before baking it to remove the saltiness. Isn't that the good part? the recipes called for variously - uncured ham, uncooked ham, Smithfield style ham, southern ham, cured ham, and fully cooked ham. It was too complex so I said screw it, jammed in a bunch of whole cloves and baked the thing at 350 for a few hours. Then I glazed it with a mix of equal parts marmalade, whole grain mustard and orange juice. I dumped the rest of the orange juice in the bottom of the pan and every 10 minutes I basted it and reglazed until I ran out of glaze and the spoon bread was done.

The brussels were from Nigella Lawson Feast, which I love. I swear I have never made a bad thing out of that cookbook. Spoonbread from Epicurious, found while trolling for decipherable ham recipes. A thing of joy to the world, especially Christmas morning when I cut the leftovers into slabs, fried them in butter and served them with maple syrup. But I digress.

The meal was really good, but I didn't realize how good until the next morning when A was slicing ham for an "omelette au jambon", as he refers to it. He was muttering crossly as he sliced and when I passed by on my way to seconds of maple syrup I realized he was muttering about how much ham he had sent home with our daughter the night before. "Doesn't appreciate it, took almost half, not enough, never enough" he mumbled as he weilded a large carving knife with an obsessive ferocity that put me in mind of Golum. I have stayed away from the leftovers ever since.

Monday, December 28, 2009

the "there and then" moment

We all know about the "there and then" moment in relationships.
He breaks up with you, tells you that you should go out with his friend for a while and then you all can revisit the decision in a few months, he admits to cheating on you but says that the Neil Young song, Helpless ran through his head the entire time, your first trip away together, you get in a fight and he doesn't talk to you for 3 days, not a word. For each of those, There and Then, you should have known.
Well the same applies to cooking. When the pie crust was awash in melted butter and setting off the fire alarm, there and then, I should have known. The moment I realized that I hadn't added leavening to the cobbler dough, when the dog whimpered and backed away from the Cornish game hen, when the expiration date was 3 dogs ago, half way into making gingerbread and I discovered I didn't have any ginger and convinced myself that cloves and cardamom were a perfectly acceptable substitute, 3/4 of the way into making gingerbread and I realized I had used dried mustard in place of the ground ginger.
The only time I actually recognized the there and then moment was one of my first cakes. I was at my grandmother's house and baking a cake from a box mix. The directions called for 1 1/2 cups of water. I read this as 11 and 2 and added 13 cups of water. (I was probably 8 and it was surely my the first time I solo baked.)
I showed the watery soup to my mother and explained that I had just followed the directions. She explained how to read fractions. I wanted to know how we could salvage it. Could I strain it, add 6 more boxes of mix? "No, you'll just have to pour it down the drain."
Maybe it is easier to recognize another person's There and Then.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

the 29 days of Christmas and what I made

3 bread puddings
4 pans of lasagna, one vegetarian
1 chocolate cake
2 batches chocolate chip cookies, 2 batches oatmeal cherry cookies, 5 batches fabulous chocolate chunkers, 4 batches famous rugelach
2 different types caramel sauce
1 lamb tagine
1 lamb pot pie w sweet potato crust
2 roast chickens
1 beef stir fry
scrambled eggs
1 nantucket cranberry pie
4 cranberry upside down gingerbread cakes
1 sausage and polenta casserole
3 pots of white beans w sausage
white bean and butternut squash soup
chicken tettrazini
a triple recipe of Grossmutters Punsch
the usual green and orange vegetables, not worth detailing, but don't want to give the impression that December has been nothing but a riot of white pasta, white sugar and white beans

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

holy cow eggnog

As if the chicken had nothing to do with it!
My friend, Debbie, makes eggnog as follows:
12 egg yolks, 1 qt whole milk, 2 C sugar, stir it all up until the sugar dissolves and add a fifth of rum. Then whip a qt of heavy cream and fold it in.
Nothing is heated. She says it is just important to keep it chilled. She doesn't always add the entire fifth of rum, but she says her mother does.
Her mother is from Alabama.
We thought if there were any leftovers, you could use it to make french toast on Christmas morning.
My sister is the eggnog person in the family, so perhaps she will weigh in here.

Eggnog person weighing in here (and weighing more I'm sure after this eggnog season)

The one time I made eggnog from scratch it was na-stee. The recipe wanted you to separate the eggs and whip the whites. When you had the yolks, sugar, cream etc combined then you gently folded in the beaten whites and added the whiskey. Then the beaten whites separated from the rest of the liquid and floated to the surface so that by the time you served it you had decent eggnog with a 3" thick layer of raw merangue on top. Not very festive.

this recipe sounds like a fabulous alternative to Organic Valley, though generally I prefer it unsullied with alcohol. You can drink more.

the lasagne of oppression

In which lasagna is the oppressor and spiced wine punch is the liberator.
It was the bf's office party and that meant 8-12 people for dinner plus his 15-year old son and 3 friends. I volunteered to make a lasagna. All those people plus 4 15-year olds? That adds up to 2 pans of lasagna.
I make a pretty good one. I'm not famous for it, but as lasagnas go, it is my favorite. It involves a ragu made from browned ground beef and 2 types of sausage over which I dump a bottle of Rao's marinara sauce. So far, so easy. There is a white sauce, still, pretty easy. I had to grate 4 C of Parmesan so I opted for the food processor, and that was a good call, despite the extra time and space required for washing it.
Then there were the noodles.
Recently, I have decided that fresh lasagna noodles (purchased from the refrigerator section of whole foods, not made myself, which would move the lasagna beyond oppression and into the realm of abuse or even torture, serfdom, maybe) make a far superior dish. The purchasing part is easy, but they have to be boiled and then removed from the boiling water, not just dumped into a colander to drain, so another package can be boiled. Remember, 2 pans. And they are HOT. And I can't manipulate them with utensils because they tear. So I curse and burn my finger and wrestle them apart and have to drape them across the sauce and naturally they are not the size of the pan so I have to cut them and patch pieces in, all the while cursing and burning my fingers as my feelings of oppression hypertrophy. Why 2 pans? I never would have agreed to this had I known I'd need 2 pans. And what do 15-year old boys know from al dente pasta? They would be fine with no-boil noodles.
And the hour grows late and I still haven't dressed or done make-up. The dog keeps bouncing at me, and pawing me, because their dinner is now 2 hours late, and I still have to walk them and I've lost most of the skin off my finger tips.
Did I mention that I had my spider veins injected and have to wear real honest to goodness support hose for a week? If ever there was a perfect primer for feelings of oppression, it would be support hose. I now know why old women are so disagreeable. These things couldn't be more uncomfortable. So I'm wrestling with scalding hot noodles as my white sauce congeals and the dog starts to whine pitifully, all while enduring itchy, tightly compressed legs, and an excruciating binding around my hips and a near severing cinching at my waist. I think the dog would start gnawing on my ankle except he would probably break a tooth and also die from the poisonous chemicals that keep these things tighter than an iron mask day after day.
I finally have both pans assembled. The gross weight of the dirty dishes that are strewn around the kitchen I think is creating it's own little mini black hole, but I'm late so I turn my back on the disaster area and box up the pans, padding each one with plenty of brown paper bags bc I know they will slop grease all over on the way to the bf's house.
The good news is that I had made Grossmutters Punsch and as soon as I got there, I had a large glass over crushed iced and all was at least improved with the world.
Two more days of support hose.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

snow bound baking

I have carried the Cooks Illustrated recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies around for over a year and I finally settled down to make it. You brown the butter. Then there is some whisking. The whole thing can be made without a mixer. The recipe wants you to make 16 cookies and I made 24 and they were still much too large. Unless you are making ice cream sandwiches or plan to serve each one as a complete meal, make them quite small. They spread like crazy when baked.
I wasn't especially impressed. They look really supermarket bakery-ish, but once they were cooled, they were really pretty good. I gave some to my neighbor who plowed out my drive after the 2+ feet of snow.
This is day 2 of the 2+ feet of snow so I have been baking all day and also mostly housebound, so not exactly a pristine palette. Just about anything would taste OK to me right now. I wouldn't eschew a boiled Brussels sprout, nor would I devour a mille feuille.
I'd make those cookies again.
Then I made the oatmeal cookies from Baked. I've made them before and they have a lot of brown sugar which I think really picks them up. Then it is important to just about undercook them. Gave some of them away too. They are reliably good and popular. Not an oatmeal cookie to inspire the usual oatmeal cookie disappointment.
Last year I made Abby's oatmeal cookies and my massage therapist said she ate them for breakfast bc they tasted so healthy. I don't think that was a complement.

the best bread pudding

I have decided, based on very little research, that the best bread pudding is comprised of a custard made w half milk and half heavy cream and about twice as many egg yolks as eggs.
For an 8" square pan, which I really don't recommend bc unless you are feeding just one, there won't be any left overs, but anyway, 8" square and double it for a 9x13.
5 c bread cubes, 1 1/4 c milk, 1 1/4 c heavy cream, 2 eggs, 5 yolks, 1/4 c sugar and 1 1/2 tsp vanilla, bit of salt. You cook the milk to scald then whisk the rest of it together and then whisk the rest of it in w the scalded milk, pour over the bread cubes. You have to have raisins, so add them now and toss to distribute. Cover w foil and bake it in a water bath at 375 for 45-60 minutes. Should be quivery in the center.
I like it w caramel sauce and, to really guild the lilies of the field, whipped cream.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

you can't beat a roast chicken

Last night I got home at the usual hour and found a most unusual sight. My husband was in the kitchen (nothing unusual in that) but he was stuffing a chicken that he bought himself with no coaching, prodding or whining, with a mixture of quince and chopped onions, both of which he also purchased himself. He liked the idea of quince, it sounded seasonal, he was curious about it - that's why. He asked the woman at the store about it and she said, sure, she'd had quince. Quince paste. Once.

 He surrounded the stuffed bird with chopped little potatos and put the whole thing in the oven that is usually about 50 degrees low (see Thanksgiving nightmare) set at 400 and we sat down to watch a documentary about Afghanistan. an hour and a half later we paused the film, got up and helped ourselves to a completely tender and delicious bird that didn't taste a thing like quince. Some steamed zucchini (I know, out of season, not local, but what are you going to say when someone is cooking dinner for you?) and we were happy as could be.

Monday, December 14, 2009

rugelach, always the ugly duckling

These are the two types of rugelach I make, ugly and must be kept for myself, and pretty enough to give as gifts.
I had decided that Rugelach will be the only cookie I make to give away this year and now I am worried that the difference between the ugly and the pretty is negligible and maybe I should reconsider. Maybe the pretty rugelach only look pretty when paired with their unsightly siblings, but on their own, or arrayed with someone else's almond sables, they are really pretty unsightly themselves. Maybe I should make oatmeal cookies.
Too late for the vet and the chiropractor though.

the sisters come together to realize a dream

It wasn't my dream.
Once upon a time, my sister had a cranberry upside down gingerbread cake. I had the same cake, well, not exactly the same cake, but from the same bakery, same cake, sent at same time of year, Christmas. And I thought it was gooey, in a sort of overly macerated way, slimey. My sister thought it was moist; damp in a wonderfully soft and luxurious way, not a dank and fetid basement way.
So she has toiled for years trying to duplicate it, and it seemed that either she got a cranberry upside down cake, or she got a gingerbread with cranberries ascended through the batter to clump near the top. There was an ascension, but she wasn't in heaven.
So my sister visited me, and in between dog walks where we had to pull the dogs off the half grown fawn, literally, (see Venison pie) we worked on her dream.
We started with Dori Greenspan's recipe for cranberry upside downer. And we didn't chop the cranberries, although, I think we should have and Laurie Colwin does for her Nantucket Cranberry pie. We used the spice blend from Laurie Colwin's gingerbread, my sister loves that gingerbread. And we thought that a gingerbread needed molasses. I believe there is an entire post devoted to that question. So we cut back on the milk and added 2 TB of regular molasses. That one was insipid. For the next one, we kept everything the same but added an extra TB of black strap molasses. On that one we glazed half of the finished cake with melted black current jam. It was supposed to be red current jelly, but this was what we had.
At first my sister was overjoyed. The cranberries stayed on the bottom and when the cake was turned out of the pan, it looked just like a cranberry upside down gingerbread cake. She danced around the kitchen, took pictures and sent them to her husband. I thought we had done it.
And I thought it tasted great. She was pleased at first, but as she worked her way through the 3 small pieces, the insipid one, and 2 better ones, one w the glaze and one w/o, she grew dissatisfied. It needed more sugar, maybe more ginger, maybe more molasses, different molasses. I thought the cranberries should be chopped. Other than that, I was pretty happy.
We decided that gingerbread might be like pumpkin cake for me, I just don't like it enough to be a really discerning judge. If it tastes pretty much ok, well, that's about the best you can expect from gingerbread. Pass the whipped cream.
My sister will continue to pursue her dream. I'll probably just make the cranberry pie with exactly the right amount of almond extract.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

pie crust or roofing shingles, humiliation AND dissapointment

I've made this crust before. Many times, bc it was such a success the first time, probably the first decent pie crust I've ever made. I attributed this to the way the water is added. You FOLD it in w a spatula, pressing and smearing, and you get a very flaky, crispy but tender crust. Also it is the crust that is given w my all time favorite pecan pie recipe, from cooks illustrated, (is there a conclusion to be drawn about people who are overly reliant on Christopher Kimball?) This time I doubled the recipe bc I was making two pies, one for me and one for my bf and his family. And I usually cut the butter into the flour with a pastry cutter and it is usually just fine. I am lazy and don't like having to wash the food processor; it seems so large and cumbersome and takes up the entire drying rack and I just have an aversion to it.
So I cut the butter with the pastry cutter, added the water with egg white, added a little extra water, but I usually do, so I'm still thinking it will be ok. I wrap it and chill it and roll it out and press it into the pan, and my mother flutes the edge bc I am incapable of doing that, it always looks as if my dog tried to wrestle the pie away from me.
The first clue was the smoke, thick, dark smoke seeping out from the edges of the oven door. I opened the door, knowing full well that the ridiculously placed smoke detector, the one directly above the oven, would go off, but I wanted to see what exactly had happened. The smoke detector started screeching, my mother and I flew around and opened doors and windows trying to create a cross draft. I tried to remember my password to stop the alarm, then I tried to remember where I had left the sheet with my password helpfully written on it. The alarm company called and I was still trying to find the cheat sheet and I could barely hear the man on the other end of the line as he asked me for my password and kept saying, "no, that's not it," "no, that's not it," as I ran through my elementary school teachers, the names of each band member from The Talking Heads, then The Gourds. Finally they said they were going to have to send the fire department.
Really? Someone has broken into my house, set it on fire and stayed around to answer the phone, even though she doesn't know the stupid password? It's not the burglar alarm that was going off.
Finally I found the cheat sheet, it's always the last place you look, silenced the alarm, and reassured the alarm company personnel.
Now I only had the voluminously smoking pie crust to deal with. Actually, it was the butter that had dripped onto the oven floor that was smoking. When I took the crust out to remove the pie weights, there were great puddles of melted butter washing back and forth in the pan. This seriously alarmed my mother. And in hind sight, that was the there-and-then moment. I should have started over, dirtied the food processor and done it correctly. But I still believed that it would be OK. I've done this before.
We blotted up the melted butter and put the crust back in the smoky oven. The alarm went off again, the alarm company called again, I left it for my mother to answer as I went to the basement to get a fan so we could direct the smoke away from the smoke detector.
The filling went beautifully, the pie looked lovely, thanks to my mother's fluting.
I left one for my bf who was having his whole family over for Thanksgiving dinner. Apparently his family, just in trying to cut it, never mind eat it, said, "Oh, now we know why she didn't come to dinner."
And it was awful. Like cardboard, only tougher. Like plywood, plywood that has been tempered in a grease fire. My mother thought I had mismeasured. She was really disturbed by the failure, even though it was my failure, or maybe because it was my failure. At one point she said, "Think of all the people who don't even cook, and they can make a better pie crust than that." I know she was just trying to deal with her own feelings about the experience, but how was I supposed to take that?
The lesson is (why do there always have to be lessons, why can't we just wallow in ignorance and still have a tender crust?) use the food processor and then fold the water in after. Yes, then you end up with both a food processor and a bowl to wash, but at least your bf's entire family doesn't make joke after joke at your expense.
And pecan pie is my favorite pie, so there was also the whole dashed expectations thing to deal with.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Rest of the Story, or Disaster 2009

As previously mentioned the turkey that was supposed to come out of the oven at 5:30 was done at 2:30.

Christopher Kimball of Cooks Illustrated (you know, the people who cook something 50 different ways to determine the BEST way to make it?)  has a recipe in The Cooks Bible that has you cook a 13# turkey upside down at 350 for an hour, then 200 for two hours, then flip it breast side up for another 2.75 hours, and finish at 400 to brown the bugger. Seemed like a good idea, and he should know right?

Well, since our oven has seemed to run about 50 degrees cool since we moved in last spring, I adjusted for this and roasted away. I even gave up stuffing the bird to be sure it got cooked properly at this low temp. Ha! When I flipped the bird at hour 3, she seemed pretty done and the instant read thermometer confirmed my fears. Done. 3 hours early.

Fifteen minutes on hold to reach a Home Economist at the Butterball Hotline, and she told me in no uncertain terms to put it back in the oven at 150 degrees and hold it there 'til time to eat. She swore it wouldn't over cook. Since I'd been cooking it at 200 (or so I believed) this seemed unlikely and I put it in the refrigerator. Being the older sister I never learned to take good advice.

While the turkey was in the fridge, I  ran the pan drippings through my wonderful fat separator and put them back in the pan along with the turkey stock that my sister shamed me into making from the giblets and neck.

Out of the fridge at 4:30 and into the oven to reheat and brown the top, which didn't get brown the first time around bc of being upside down. 5 PM not getting brown, instant read thermometer says 120 degrees, lets just turn the heat up. To 450. And lets go sit in the living room and have a glass of prosecco while we wait. Or 2.

The smell of the sumptuous blend of pan drippings and turkey stock carbonizing to the pan brought a volley of pirate language that would have made our grandmother turn in her grave. Or crack up.

So we had turkey as tough as shoe leather with no gravy to grease it down. Fortunately there was lots of stuffing and it was Guh-ood.

The bugger is in the soup pot now, and I'm determined it'll be tender this time around. And while it's cooking, I'm going to test the oven temperature for real.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Turkey Trauma

How did it happen so fast? It's 3PM and the Turkey has been done for half an hour. The Guests don't arrive until 6PM and the wait time on the Butterball Hotline is 5-25 minutes. I guess it depends on the complexity of the questions the Home Economists have to answer.

Now what? How am I going to keep it from either overcooking or poisoning all who partake? WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH IT FOR THE NEXT 3 HOURS????

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What the hell do you do with this?

Those tan things in front of the carrots are fresh ginger. Really fresh ginger from the Japanese farmer at the farmers market who grows all the crazy squashes. The skin is thin and soft like a young carrot and they are firm like a potato. They were so beautiful that I bought them not knowing what they would actually become. A friend told me that her acupuncturist told her that fall is a very good time to eat ginger, very healthy for you in fall.

Okay then, carrot ginger soup it will be. Chopped up about 1/4 c of the fresh ginger, which seemed like an awful lot of ginger, but I took courage from the acupuncturist's words.  I sauteed it with an onion (chopped also) in some olive oil, added carrots, probably about 8 or so. Then added chicken broth, probably about 4 cups and simmered the whole thing until the carrots were soft, and pureed with an immersion blender. It smelled great, it was the color of your best Halloween pumpkin dream, but it tasted about as exciting as boiled oatmeal. Lesson learned - really fresh young ginger doesn't have the flavor depth of older, wiser ginger.

Added dried ginger and some Lyle's golden syrup bc the carrots weren't very sweet, and then it was good.

Now what to do with the rest of the fresh young ginger?

Monday, October 26, 2009

steamed pudding--isn't it really cake?

I'm thinking that I should rate my desserts by how much whipped cream is required to make them edible, well, not just edible but good enough to eat. Sublime requires no whipped cream, v good can use a spoonful, but doesn't need it, good requires several spoonfuls, but then it's really good, and tolerable really is just a vehicle for the whipped cream.
I followed the recipe the first time. Ginger steamed pudding from a Chris Idone book. Laurie Colwin was right, molasses is too much for the ginger. Mostly tasted like a somewhat too sweet molasses cake. Tolerable and then I ran out of whipped cream.
Next I read about steamed puddings. The older recipes (Mrs. Beeton) call for fine dry bread crumbs, treacle and suet. By the time we get to Fanny Farmer, some of the recipes call for suet and bread crumbs and some go with flour and butter. I read Martha, she likes flour and butter. I tried to make a spread sheet tallying the amounts of dry, fat, liquid, eggs, but are eggs a liquid? Cranberries add moisture, but probably not as much as a grated apple. And then I looked at some cake recipes and wondered if I could just steam a cake (I still think I can) but does a recipe with 2 C of flour fit both my 2 qt pudding mold and my much larger looking bundt pan? The one thing I don't want is pudding exploding all over my kitchen. I'm not the methodical, analytical sister, and none of it was adding up to dessert for me.
Armed with my bewilderment and my Sunday afternoon craving for cake, I tried again. I was done with ginger and went right onto Pumpkin. Martha has a recipe for persimmon pudding which I loosely followed, but I substituted about a cup of pumpkin and added fresh cranberries and pecans. It also had a stick of butter and a cup of heavy cream, which seems unnecessary. It was very good if a little subtly flavored (bland). I am going to try it with milk instead of cream, some fresh grated ginger, more cranberries and an extra half cup of sugar, maybe brown this time.
OK, I tried again. And it went like this:
2 C flour, 1 tsp soda, 1/2 tsp powder, 2 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp allspice, 1/2 tsp mace, mix together, set aside. Put 1 and 1/4 C pumpkin in a bowl, mix in 4 eggs, then 1 C milk, then 3/4 C white sugar and 1/2 C brn sugar, then 2 TB bourbon, then 1 stick melted butter. Once all that is well combined, add the dry, then fold in 1 1/2 C fresh cranberries and a generous C of chopped pecans. Put it in your buttered pudding mold and steam for 90 minutes.
This one was better, but I prefer the texture of the original ginger pudding and I thought it still lacked a little flavor. Next time, I'll increase the brown sugar to 3/4 C, I'll increase all the spices, maybe add some chopped ginger and I won't add the baking powder in hopes of getting a denser, less cakey crumb.
According to my rating system this is somewhere between good and very good, depending on how much you like this sort of thing.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Stood Up Spice Cake

I got stood up by my friend Travis today bc he forgot his mother was coming to town. Yes, I do believe that. So rather than walking our dogs in the rain on this Sunday afternoon, I am home baking and he is at the airport, I guess.

A phone conversation with my sister led to the idea of a spice cake. Okay, it led to a spice cake recipe, and then the contents or lack thereof of my cupboards led to this specific spice cake. Stood Up Spice Cake,I'm calling it.

1.5 c unsalted butter - let come to room temperature while you talk on the phone with your sister
1.5 c sugar
3 eggs, also room temp so the batter doesn't curdle in that weird way that happens when the soft butter hits the cold eggs
2 1/3 c flour
2 t freshly grated nutmeg
2 t cinnamon
1 t cloves
1 t ground ginger
1/2 t allspice
1/2 t salt
3 eggs
1 c milk
1 c dried cranberries
as much crystalized ginger as is left in the bag, chopped
1 c pecans, chopped

(leave out baking powder and other leavening bc you are busy thinking about your conversation with your sister. Don't worry, it will be fine.) edited the next day to add that it actually will not be fine. Put them in.

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the milk and the dry ingredients alternately, about 3 rounds. Mix in cranberries, pecans and ginger and put in buttered bundt pan. Bake at 350 for one hour.

Next time I will try using brown sugar and 1/2 whole wheat flour, just to see.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Hi Punkin

Fall is for pumpkins. On the porch, at the farmers market, smashed by the side of the road, and especially, on the table.

Last week I went on a binge. It was brought on by the first pumpkin pie at the store, a cute little palm sized, $7 nugget. Bought it but than had to share it with my husband, so rather than satisfying it only aggravated the craving.

A whole pie followed, made with one of Martha's recipes. The squash pie section in Martha Stewart's Pies and Tarts is covered with many fall's worth of notes, most penned by my husband who is both a fan of pumpkin pie and the designated Thanksgiving pie-maker. However, it needs to be noted that he is not a pie-maker by habit, so some of the less-than-complimentary notes might be attributed not to Martha's recipe but some small oversight on the part of the baker.

Anyway, I know the brown sugar pumpkin pie recipe is solid. I often skip the crust entirely and just make the filling in individual ramekins. I confess to a preference for filling over crust and a somewhat lazy streak. But this time I made it crust and all, and we didn't eat it all in one sitting. It took about 6 hours.

Next up, pumpkin cookies. This is a recipe given to me by a friend in 1986, according to the note on the card. It's got a lot of notes on it too. The original recipe called for chocolate chips and M&Ms, no spices, no nuts, no raisins. Yuck. I add a mess of typical pumpkin pie spices, crystalized ginger, raisins, walnuts and leave out anything chocolate. A vast improvement. They lasted longer than 6 hours.

Fall is good. And I have a pumpkin on the porch.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The best failed apple cake

This is my kvetch about some cookbooks. They are written as if by God and and as if no reader would question any step in the recipe. Emily Luchetti of Stars Desserts is such a writer. I was looking for an apple cake because I had a lot of apples and wanted to make a cake. My sister is partial to the chunky apple walnut cake in Silver Palette and I'm OK with that one. I think it appeared in some previous entry. But I didn't have any vegetable oil that wasn't rancid and I wanted to use butter because I prefer a butter cake. So there is Emily Luchetti with her morning apple cake.
5 apples, butter, sugar, eggs, ww and white flour. I substituted some brown sugar for the white. It was stiff. I hadn't even added all the flour and it was extremely stiff. Seemed more like a cookie recipe. No where in the recipe does it say, "the batter will be very stiff." So I panicked and added some sour cream. Actually, by the time you have folded in all the chopped apples (she wanted them "shredded, grated," I opted for a medium fine chop in the miniprep. Less work, less to clean) it would not have been too stiff. I greased and floured the bundt pan as directed, but I really think from now on, if I can't use parchment, I'm going to use Pam. It isn't worth it.
So the cake fell apart and even after an extra 20 minutes of baking, it still wasn't done, but I took it out anyway.
So I had a cake that was in pieces and really undercooked, nary an air bubble or crumb to be found, and it is still the best apple cake I've made. I plan to make it again, without the sour cream and with the Pam and cool it in the pan as directed.
Back to the kvetch. I wish she had reassured me that the batter would be stiff and also made a bigger deal about the cool in pan part so I would have noticed it.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Chinese Tonic

Take one or two organic chickens, depending on the size of your crock pot. Mine holds two. Put them in the crock pot, add vegetables that will be healthy and not lend a strong flavor. Add 3 TB apple cider vinegar per bird. Add water to cover. Cook for 24 hours, at least 12 on high. It is done when the bones disintegrate at the slightest pressure. This was for my dog who has a tumor and is dying. He stopped eating and the vet gave me this recipe. The dying dog wouldn't touch it. He will only eat friskees canned cat food. But the other dogs were in orbit.
A word of caution. If you have a dog that is prone to gas, you will be in for a few interesting days.

making things better, whipped cream, sauteed squash

First whipped cream- whipped cream is the cure all, or the cure most, for desserts. A mediocre cobbler? Pile on the whipped cream! A lackluster fruit pie, pass the whipped cream. Some people, such as my bf, like whipped cream fraiche. I think it has an off, slightly fermented taste, which it does, that's what differentiates it from the real stuff, and consequently, I don't like it. I make whipped cream, organic heavy whipping cream, no stabilizers! If you are lucky enough to have any left over, save it for tomorrow. That mediocre cobbler is not improving with 24 hours on the counter. Or just add it to your morning coffee. But as for making it better, I think I have discovered why at times, I whip it up and the next day it is still holding together and holding firm peaks and sometimes I whip it up and mere hours later, it has separated and is altogether too runny to be any good to anyone and needs to be rewhipped. It has to do with the temperature of the cream when originally whipped. Cook books always try to instill fear of the unwhippable warm cream and insist on a chilled bowl and chilled beaters and heavily chilled cream, and this will make your cream whip up faster. However, it will not last. If you go with regular cream and a bowl directly from the cupboard and beaters right out of the drawer, it might take a little longer to whip, but it will retain its whipped-ness on into the next day and longer. I am guessing it has to do with the consistency of the fat in the cream at the different temperatures. But that's for the scientist. I haven't done a side by side yet on this, but I make plenty of disappointing desserts so there will be ample opportunity to test this out.

Sauteed squash- I made a squash and tomato gratin (BORING!) and because there was so much squash to slice, I hauled out the food processor. In general, unless the time saved with the food processor is at least twice as much as the time it takes to wash the wretched thing, I don't bother with it. But this was a big job, so I sliced an onion and then lots of squash, 2 mm slicing disc. I had squash and onion left over and sauteed them up in olive oil with some salt. WOW! I make a lot of sauteed squash in the summer, one of my most favorite things, and this was far and away the best I have ever had, not just made, but had. I will always use the food processor for this from now on.

Monday, August 17, 2009

raspberry chiffon and all that that implies

I have been eying a raspberry chiffon pie recipe all summer. First I saw the pie on the cover of Cooks Illustrated Entertaining magazine. Then I saw it again. Then I subscribed to Cooks Illustrated Entertaining Magazine, and a few weeks later got my first issue. Summer Entertaining with that raspberry chiffon pie on the cover. I read the recipe. OK, so it calls for Sure Jell and Raspberry Jello. But that picture! I had a friend coming to dinner, one friend on a Monday night. It seemed perfect.
The crust is a "press-in-the-pan" crust and even if you have never in your life greased a pie pan, in this case, when it says to spray the pan with cooking spray, don't scoff, just do it. The crust wasn't bad. You get to mix it in a mixer and then just press it in the pan. Sort of a short bready crust. The raspberry layer is where the sure-jell comes in and it might have had an odd flavor but since there are 2 cups of sugar for 12 oz of rasberries, my throat hurt too much from all the sweetness to really notice any flavor. The chiffon layer had raspberry jello and cream cheese and whipped cream and some fruit purree and really, I love that sort of thing. Chill the beast and top with sweetened whipped cream.
It was pretty good, all in all, for a Monday night and one friend. Next time I'll try using 1 cup of sugar, tasting and then ading a little more if it needs it. Also maybe cut down on the sugar in the whipped cream topping. It was all just overly sweet. But such a pretty color.
And now that picture no longer has me under its spell.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

beware cake recipes that list nutritional info

I wanted to make a peach upside down cake and I wanted it to be easy and not involve a springform pan because all the good gooey stuff leaks out of those pans, and even if you have wrapped the pan in foil, you still have lost a good portion of gooey stuff. So I found a recipe in Epicurious and it included "carmelized" and "cake" in the title, so without further investigation, ahead I plunged. A closer reading would have revealed the utter lack of any fat in the recipe, no butter, no oil, just some eggs, some flour, a little sugar and some pureed peaches. And that tell tale nutritional info!
So Not Good! I served it with lots of sweetened whipped cream, which helped, but a real failure and disappointment all the way around.
Moral of the day: If there's no butter in your cake recipe, you may as well opt for ice cream.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

yearning for coconut cake

It was my step daughter's birthday and she very graciously agreed to let me bake the cake for her party. She doesn't like chocolate and when I suggested coconut she said she loves coconut. Back to the vanilla bean coconut cupcake recipe. Most cake recipes that make 2 9" layers call for 2 C of flour and this recipe calls for 2 C of flour so I thought I was in the ball park. I asked my sister how many layers, 2 or 3 and what size. She said definitely 10 inches and therefore 3 layers so it looks proportional. I doubled the recipe. I did everything the same as for the cupcakes. Reducing the coconut milk takes nearly an hour and you have to watch it or it will really boil over and make a mess and also you'll lose valuable coconut milk. This time I used vanilla extract and vanilla bean. Then I baked the 3 layers for about 35 minutes which was perfect.
I used half butter and half cream cheese in the frosting, way more confectioners sugar than called for and then also both vanilla extract and vanilla bean. This was also perfect. The cream cheese adds a bit of tartness to the frosting, that just makes it balanced. I finished it by pressing toasted coconut to the outsides. It was outstanding.
The guests said, "It's so big!" "It's delicious!" and "No one bakes from scratch any more, the boxes are so easy." The host asked me how I got started baking growing up in NY? I told him I had grown up in CT, and he said, "That's even worse."
My only regret is that I didn't get to bring any home with me bc I would like to have some right now!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

apps, not passed

Had a cocktail party. In an effort to reciprocate 2 years worth of invitations, I had a cocktail party for my neighbors.
3 weeks out- what a grand idea, I wonder what I'll make? Maybe pigs in a blanket, maybe sliders, maybe Rumaki, maybe congealed salad. I'm sensing a theme.
2 weeks out- I wonder if I should make mojitos? I wonder where I can buy organic, humanely raised mini cocktail franks? I didn't realize Rumaki had chicken livers in it!
1 week out- It's too hot for pigs in a blanket. Everyone likes lemonade and vodka. My hummus is usually popular and I've wanted to make that greek salad salsa for years.
After some consultation with Elise, who instructed that I not mix up regions, (no hummus and guacamole at the same party!) I ended up with Hummus, Greek salad salsa and little balls of mozzerella and cherry tomatoes on a tooth pick. The hummus is from Cooks Illustrated and having made it a number of times now, I would say- easy on the cayenne, easy on the garlic, bold with the cumin and the lemon.
The Greek salad salsa is from San Francisco flavors and was just OK. Basically, feta and olives are very strongly flavored and there wasn't much there to balance them.
I put a little basil leaf on the tooth pick with the cherry tomat and the mozz and everyone left them behind as if they were just a garnish!
The home made lemonade is amazing. 1 C lemon juice, 1 C sugar, 5-6 C water. Mix up another cup of lemon juice and cup of sugar and have them ready to go when you run out of the first batch. With vodka, can me great.
One guest told me that he always carries a picture of his wife in his pocket and periodically takes it out to look at it. "When she starts to look good, it's time to go home!" There are a few ways to take that.

God Bless America

I made a FLAG CAKE! I followed Barefoot Contessa pretty closely but used a vanilla bean for the frosting rather than vanilla extract and also added way more confectioners sugar than called for bc I felt recipe, as is, resulted in greasy frosting.
When I was buying the ingredients, which include several pints of berries, the man behind me in line asked if I was making smoothies. I said, No, a flag cake. The woman checking me out then told me that she had intended to make a flag cake but ended up just chunking up the angel food cake (!) and putting it in a bowl, layering on some berries and cool whip and then repeating with more cake, more berries and more cool whip. All her guests raved.
After I made the flag cake and was busy bragging to all my friends about it, one friend asked me if I made the recipe with the cool whip icing or the colored stuff in tubes.
I guess its a very American recipe.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

White Trash Cookin'

We actually made roast chicken with a can of beer up its butt. Too hot to use the oven, wanted roast chicken, seemed like a good solution.

1 12 oz can of PBR
1 roasting chicken
pile of herbs

Chop the herbs and garlic and mash with the butter. Smear this under the bird's skin. Salt and pepper liberally. Cut the top of the can of beer and leave it about 3/4 full. Set the bird down on the can while limiting the number of crude jokes about the bird's anatomy.

Put it in a gas grill big enough so it can stand tall and roast at 400 or so until done. Took about an hour.

And you know what? It was really good.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Made Tuna Noodle Casserole from the cookbook of a famous chef who in the interest of charity will remain nameless and it was extremely mediocre. If such a thing is possible. Do you think I shouldn't have used unsalted tunafish?


"Mrs. Bentley never sifts." This has been mantra in our house since my sister and I were old enough to read Mrs. Bentley's cookbooks. Virginia Bentley was a childhood friend of our grandmother's and her books were treated like the oracle of Delphi in our kitchen.

Well, Mrs. Bentley would have sifted if she had encountered the box of cocoa that I tried to make into brownies. The recipe is for Supremely Fudgy Brownies from Chocolate Chocolate by Lisa Yockelson. As an aside, this book rocks your chocolate world. Ask Margaret about the OMG Brownies.

All went well until the part where you add the dry ingredients. All the dry ingredients but the cocoa went in smoothly. The cocoa stayed in lumps, unwilling to associate with those lesser dry ingredients, the flour and baking powder, let alone with the eggs, butter and sugar. I had to taste the batter many times to ensure that this was not going to cause a problem, and eventually dtermined that it would be all right.

After I baked them up the lumps still showed on the surface. After I ate them up - no more lumps. Maybe that's how Mrs. B. dealt with them.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

enough with all the baking, how about an easy dinner?

Made a soup. First you put 2 cans of chick peas, a can of coconut milk, half a can of tomatoes, a large handful of cilantro and a splash of apple juice in the blender and puree it. Put it in a pot, add 2 tsp garam masala and a 1 tsp of ground ginger, heat it through. I then added salt and some sugar. It takes garnishes well, avocado, sauted bananas, raisins, yogurt, green onions, more cilantro. Very healthy, quick, easy. What's not to like!

Monday, April 13, 2009

what is it w all the coconut?

It was Easter and I had been resisting the urge to make cupcakes for several weeks. I missed the friend's birthday window of opportunity and was waiting for an Occasion. Easter was just me, so not sure it counted as an Occasion but I had all the ingredients, a few hours, and Pandora tuned to Krishna Das with Aria as variation (why is Trance music so suited to baking?) The recipe I have been reading daily for nearly a month is from Bon Apetite. Coconut vanilla bean cupcakes.
First you have to reduce the coconut milk. This requires a high sided pot b/c the coconut milk boils up and over. The recipe said that it would and it did. Then it took nearly half an hour to reduce by half and then it had to cool, in a bowl. Unlike my sister, I'm not a clean as you go person, so I just grabbed the first clean bowl I saw on the counter to hold the reduced coconut while it cooled. After the bowl was filled and waiting in the fridge, I realized/remembered that the bowl was clean b/c I had eaten my lunch out of it and then put it on the floor for the dogs to lick clean. Hmmm. It just smelled like coconut milk, and my dogs are healthy. So I left it alone.
The cake is a butter, sugar, eggs, seeds scraped from a vanilla bean cake. Only baking powder for leavening and dry is added in 2 parts alternating w the reduced coconut milk, all mixed just until combined. Don't overfill your litttle cupcake liners.
The frosting is butter, conf sugar, more seeds scraped from another vanilla bean and the rest of the reduced cocnut milk. The consistency was wallpaper paste and the taste was insipid and sweet. I added some lemon juice to soften the consistency and brighten the flavor. I then waited 24 hours bc after all that frosting tasting, I just didn't want cupcakes any more.
Really really good. I might try sour cream or cream cheese in the frosting next time. The lemon overwhelms the coconut flavor. I also want to try it as a cake, but it is quite moist and dense, so it may be too much as a whole cake. But I want to make it for a friend's birthday, to serve with Moroccan Chicken pie. And cupcakes some how seem like a party cop out.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


In the midst of packing craziness and needing something to take my mind off the mountain of boxes that has taken over the apartment and the even more upsetting mountain of small, oddly shaped, random things that don't pack easily but rather reside in slumping piles.

Dinner tonight - skirt steak marinated in lemon juice, olive oil and garlic. Cold artichokes. Leftover mashed sweet potatoes. And wine. Possibly lots.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

vegetables are good for you, right?

I've been sick a lot this winter so am turning my attention to things that putatively increase health. Fruit, kumbuchu, cruciferous (that always makes me think of a brocoli stalk splayed out on a cross) vegetables and ginger tea.

When a friend introduced me to the blog Orangette the first thing I latched onto was a recipe for Sweet Potato Pound Cake. Have your cake and eat your vegetables too. The sweet potatoes at WFs have been super good, so I baked a few and banged out the cake pretty quickly. The directions were a bit odd. It's a basic cream the butter and sugar together, add the eggs one at at time, beating well after each addition kinda cake, but when you got to the part where you were alternating the dry ingredients with the milk, she only wants you to mix until just combined. I should have followed my instinct and beaten well, cuz the texture is a little odd. Not a great crumb.

If i'm feeling generous, I say it's good, but a bit sweet. Next time I'd use 1/2 c less sugar and make it all dk brown to increase the brown sugar taste. If i'm not feeling generous, I'd say that it's not really heavy enough to be a pound cake. And no matter which way I'm feeling I'll definitely have a piece after dinner. Gotta eat my vegetables.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A little more about What I baked

OK, Wyatt got lost the night before New Year's Eve, so if I baked anything, it has been blotted out with the rest of that dreadful 16 hours, the way a person can't remember the time leading up to or after a severe head trauma. I probably made more brownies, just "to keep ma strenth up."
We had the eight days of Chris. Chris is training in earnest and only wants protein and vegetables. I wanted a coconut cake. His party was party por deux. Martha Stewart has a very involved and well reviewed coconut cake. It involves, a coconut custard filling-- corn starch based, and a simple syrup and 3 layers that are each sliced in half for a six layer cake. There is a cream cheese frosting and toasted coconut. It is a show stopper as well as a time suck extraordinaire. Elise said, Its a lot of time to put in and then be disappointed. I thought that was sound advice and went with the cake bible all butter cake and cream cheese frosting and mounds of sweetened shredded coconut between the 3 layers. I made 1 1/2 times the recipe for 3 9" layers. I added some coconut flavor to the cake and the frosting. It was a little crumbly but definitely improved with age and also, too was a perfect balance of cake and frosting, not always easy to achieve.
Then, we had a dinner party and I made the Cake Bible dense flourless chocolate cake. Only bittersweet chocolate, butter and eggs. Baked for 20 minutes in a water bath. The baking was dodgy but it was actually done, although who knew from how it looked and only 20 minutes. The raspberry sauce overflowed the measuring cup in the microwave and I was forced to reduce it on the stove which Rose LB warms will impart and off flavor and she was right. Essentially a butt load of work for a strangely flavored raspberry sauce. Again, whipped cream is a cover for a multitude of off flavors, time and temp misjudgments and ill advised "experiments." Cake was actually good that night, although maybe it was the vodka combined with all the adrenaline that had flooded my system in response to the roast that refused to stop mooing. It was not good the next day.
As a consolation, I baked a winter spice cake with caramelized apples. Apples cooked and then put in pan, caramel sauce made (one cavil is that caramel sauce is better with just sugar and cream, the addition of butter to the caramelizing sugar, makes the whole thing greasy, but I was brave about it) dribbled over apples, spice cake baked on top of that, whole turned out for an upside down apple topped cake. And it was just right.
Now we are on to super bowl-- ham, chili, biscuits, and probably more OMG brownies.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Christmas, New Years, The 8 days of Chris, and What I Baked

Christmas eve dinner and we needed something red. I have made the Nantucket cranberry Pie a few times, even once with tons of ginger, to gingery was my feeling. This time I had Sister Abigail to help so actually chopped the cranberries. For all of Laurie Colwin's Whateverishness, she wants you to chop cranberries and they go all over and it turns out a raw cranberry is the one thing Spaniel Duquam will not eat. But since Ab was here, she chopped them and we did it in batches in a mini prep. Turns out if you chop the cranberries, the whole thing looks a lot less like cranberry vomit. Ab doesn't like almond so she skimped on the almond extract. I think almond is something of which a person wants the exact right amunt and i could have gone wit a 1/4 tsp more. But lots of whipped cream and what's not to like?
Because Ab was visit I also made OMG brownies, forsted brownies that are just stunningly good, no matter how many times I have them, the first bite is always earth moving. And because it was Christmas and I baked for "gifts" I made Rugelah, Loro Brody's Rugelach. These are also a revelation, that something can be so consistently GOOD! Chris wanted some and I said, OK, but I'm giving them as presents, so just eat the unnatractive ones. He said, They are all unattractive.