Friday, October 19, 2012

Health in a Bowl

Dear Marg,

That's what Erin called it when she gave me the recipe, health in a bowl. I was suspicious. You know how I feel about fruit in salad. Weird. Odd textures and different degrees of sweet and tart that get all jumbled up and end up arguing with each other about whether they are dinner or dessert. Oddly this never bothers me with sweet potatoes. Especially not with that recipe that calls for apples sauteed in butter and brown sugar which you'd think if there ever was to be an argument it'd be right there at the Thanksgiving table.

But Erin is a good cook so I was willing to give the salad some slack. I didn't rush right out and make it but I didn't delete the email either. Opportunity arrived in the form of an invitation to bring salad to Sara's birthday party. Sara just turned 17. Common sense told me that a raw kale salad was not the thing to bring to a teenager's birthday party but curiosity prevailed. This is a common theme in both romance novels and kitchen disasters, the triumph of curiosity over common sense.

I thought it was delicious. Elizabeth asked for the recipe for the dressing. One teenager whose parents obviously subscribe to the try some of everything school of dinners out put some on her plate. The others didn't touch it. I didn't care. More health for me.

Erin’s Kale Salad

Serves 6

1 cup raw cashews
Zest and juice from one orange
1 to 2 T honey
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup water
1 T. Dijon mustard

Put all of this in a blender and whir until perfectly creamy.  Set aside.

Salad Base
1 bunch curly kale, chopped
2 firm apples, chopped
3 stalks celery, sliced
1 cup red grapes (I skipped the grapes. One fruit too many for me.)
1/2 c pumpkin seeds
1/2 c raisins or cranberries or figs or a combination
1 orange, peeled and sliced with membranes removed

Mix all in a serving bowl.  Add dressing and toss.  You probably won't need all the dressing.

Top salad with extra seeds or grapes just to make it pretty.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The last of the tomatoes

Dear Marg,

It seems to weird to writing a post called the Last of the Tomatoes on October 16th, but that's Seattle for you. I pulled the plants last weekend and salvaged the few remaining cherry toms. I grew Sweet 100 and Sun Gold so had red and orange, and quite a few green. The flavor wasn't as good as in the summer, a little weak and simpering, so I knew I had to do something to perk them up.

I considered roasting but was too hungry to wait that long so I sauteed them in olive oil which I heated with some garlic slices, which I removed the slices when they got fragrant but before they began to crisp. I used 1 clove of garlic but it was HUGE. I think I planted it last year and forgot to harvest it.

 Delicious, and very simple. It would be good with store bought cherry toms too.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Odetha Miette

The community picnic rolled around and I wanted to make a cake, as per usual. I contemplated a sheet cake, reconsidered because everyone I asked recommended a hand-held dessert,  such as a cookie or brownie. Then you gave me that Fabulous cookbook Miette, Recipes from San Francisco’s most charming pastry shop, and I thought, What the Heck, bake a cake, provide plates and forks.
I decided to make the Tom Boy cake. This is the picture of the Tomboy cake. 

Who doesn’t want to make the Tomboy cake? What the picture doesn’t show is that the Tomboy cake is a six inch cake. All the cakes in Miette are six inch cakes except a few where they really go wild and make a seven inch cake.  Miette says, “Scale, in particular, is central to the Miette philosophy.” They go on to say that when they see a nine inch cake in another bakery, they find it “alarmingly big.”  This must make their boyfriends very happy.

I can’t serve a six inch cake at a community picnic in rural Virginia. I don’t have six inch pans anyway. I made a nine inch cake. They want you to make your cake in a six by three inch pan and then slice it into three layers. That seems like a make-work scenario, so I used three nine by two inch pans.

Maybe the pans were the problem, or maybe there is a curse on my kitchen or Mercury had just gone into retrograde. At any rate, the cakes didn’t really rise and they developed a flimsy crust, the kind that often forms on brownies.
Then again, maybe the problem was me. Miette says, “Don’t peek! You spent a lot of time and care getting just the right amount of air into the cake. Opening the oven door may cause the temperature to drop, causing the cake to collapse. Resist!” I didn’t resist. I peeked. At the same time, I hadn’t put that much time or care into the whole right amount of air thing. Not only do they want you to mix in the dry ingredients very gently and by hand, then you are supposed to pass the batter through a medium mesh strainer, into yet another bowl before transferring it to the pan(s). I mixed by hand and rolled my eyes at that whole strainer step.

Wherever the blame lies, the result was that as the cakes cooled in the pans, they sunk terribly in the middle. They were little Florida cakes, sink holes abounded.

When I turned them out of the pan, they crumbled and cracked. This might suggest that they were dry. They were not dry. They were fragile, nearly the consistency of a brownie, a moist, fragile, sunken brownie.
At this point, I abandoned the raspberry buttercream intention. I don’t like buttercream, it takes a lot of work, and clearly I was no longer making the Tomboy cake. I made my usual buttercream with confectioners’ sugar, butter, heavy cream and vanilla.  The cake was so very fragile that frosting it was a little like trying to brush the dog hair off the car seat after you have just put lotion on your hands.

Miette says, “A revolving cake stand is completely essential.”  And about the also essential crumb coat, “the goal is to set down a foundation for perfectly straight sides, a flat top and a beautiful final coat.” And several times, “transfer the cake from the refrigerator back to the revolving cake stand.”

I managed to frost it, fill it and glue it together without ever once refrigerating it. And to be honest, I don’t think a crumb coat would have helped. I think layer after layer of moist, sunken crumbs would have peeled away from the sides of the cake and  mixed in the with the frosting until I had a cake version of a Blizzard ™.

I experienced a moment of weakness and wondered if perhaps I was, or should be, too embarrassed to serve it. But I knew it would taste good, so again I went with, What the Heck.

It was good. It was especially popular with the children. Actually, I think the children and I were the only ones to risk it. These are the same children who played with Kima with an enthusiasm and endurance that nearly matched hers. I think I’ve found customers for Magenta Arborvitae. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

What to eat after gum surgery

Dear Marg,

My recovery from gum surgery has been an opportunity to indulge in soft food. And since it's hard to buy soft food that's not icky I've been cooking. 

Fagioli a la Toscana with kale

Roasted tomato soup
Roasted tomatoes over polenta with a side of spinach

Spinach soup from Mark Bittman
Braised pork shoulder with polenta

There's also been oatmeal, pasta with cheese, and of course ice cream. I'm planning creamed spinach because if gum surgery isn't a reason to eat a vegetable that is equal parts cream, butter and green matter I don't know what is.


Thursday, October 4, 2012

In my book...

You show me yours, I'll show you mine. Notice that Mom has written "good" by the Dump Frosting and I wrote "very" above that. That's Elaine's handwriting above the Brandy Apple Spice Cake recipe (haven't made it yet). And you can see that I took your recommendation on the pound cake. This book even has Gram's writing in it - "AD says very good", and things like that. Collaborative cooking runs in the family.

In the spirit of collaboration I made you a chocolate birthday cake.  It's the Super Chocolate Pound Cake, but only one recipe of frosting. If I'd only seen your post earlier.

Love, Elise

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A history of MORE as applied to baking

This is a page from California Heritage, specifically the Chocolate Dump Cake page. A well used page, as indicated by  the smears, the spots, the suggestions with exclamation points indicating past failures. But note also the emphasis on MORE. See the recommendation for more chocolate in the dump cake. Before it was blurred , that note read, "could add more chocolate." A universally applicable proposition, a rule to live by.  And then there is the suggestion that every frosting recipe be doubled. Or, if you are going to be mingy about it, "at least x 1.5."