Friday, November 30, 2012

Happy Accident



Elise,
                Perhaps apocryphal, but the story is that chocolate chip cookies were the result of an accident. Not a “fell in the toaster and burnt up dead” accident, but an unintended consequence, a failed experiment.
                Maybe there is something to this, or maybe, as you have suggested, anything made with butter, sugar and chocolate chips is going to be good.
                Last night, I set out to make the oatmeal cookies from Baked. Happily puttering along, wondering if I would chill the batter as directed or just bake them then, I came to the “add the rolled oats” step. No rolled oats. I usually have a big bag of them, so I hadn’t checked and now that I couldn’t find any I remembered thinking, -those things get stale, I’ll wait until I am actually going to use them before I buy another bag.
                The lesson here? Don’t be a sensible shopper.
                The batter looked very like chocolate chip cookie batter, so I tossed in some chocolate chips, some toasted pecans and some dried cherries.  I baked them on parchment in a 350 oven. When I peeked in the oven they had turned into little melted puddles. Real chocolate chip cookies have 2 or more cups of flour. This recipe has 1 ½ cups. I hadn’t focused on that and now it seemed the entire batch really was ruined.
                But I had nothing for dessert so I went ahead and baked the rest of them, let them cool and Wow! They were good.
                By today, they are even better. Very like David’s cookies. Remember David’s cookies? I think only available in Boston sometime in the 80’s. Barely baked, lots of chocolate, sweet, oily and addictive.  These aren’t as greasy or as crumbly as David’s but they have that same soft, dense texture, nary an air bubble in there.
                I know you are spending 21 days without sugar and I feel a little like an oenophile waxing rhapsodic on some vintage to her alcoholic sister with 4 days sobriety.  Sorry about that. They weren’t really that good. Not nearly as good as a pear or a nice bowl of unsweetened applesauce. 
                Love, Margaret




Sunday, November 25, 2012

Baked Sunday Mornings Pumpkin Almond Cake




Elise,
                The Baked recipe this week was for Pumpkin Almond Cake. I was reluctant to make this. I waited until after Thanksgiving so I was both sated and sick of cooking. It has almond butter in the frosting and I don’t like almond butter. A few years ago some cruel person told me about the carcinogenic mold in all peanut butter, and I switched to almond butter. I spent the next two years like a heroin addict in a methadone program. Last summer I went back to peanut butter and it has been bliss. I figure lots of things can kill me, and to badly paraphrase Clement Freud on healthy living, “you don’t actually live longer; it just seems longer.”
                But this whole Baked Sunday Mornings has the feeling of assignments and that, embarrassingly, brings out the apple-polisher in me, so I commenced baking.

                The recipe wants flour and almond flour. I actually had some almond flour, though I can’t remember why. I baked it in my cheesecake pan which worked a trick. The frosting calls for almond milk, and I substituted half and half. It also has a fair bit of salt, which helped.

               I can’t really criticize this cake. As a cake, it is wonderful, moist without being heavy, flavorful and not too sweet. It came out perfectly for me, so it must be a very forgiving recipe. The frosting is a good complement. The problem is me. I like raisins and nuts in my pumpkin cake and there is the aforementioned aversion to almond butter.


               The bf loved it and took it home. 


                 Love, Margaret

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Cheesy Grits for Baked Sunday Mornings



Elise,
                As you know, I recently found Baked Sunday Mornings. I have two of the Baked cookbooks and have enjoyed reading them, gazing at the pictures and even baking a recipe or two. Their oatmeal cookie is my go-to oatmeal cookie recipe. So Baked Sunday Mornings has been a fun discovery.
                This week’s assignment is for Baked Cheesy Grits. That seemed pretty straight forward. All you have to do is stir. I can be a pot stirrer.
                Turns out, you also have to start with the right grits. I’m not sure I managed that. I went with Bob Red Mill’s Corn Grits, Also Known as Polenta. The recipe specifies stone ground, but the stone ground ones were just called coarse polenta. And both are yellow, while the grits I have been served in diners are always white. Of course, the grits I have been served in diners also taste like watery paste, slipshod watery paste as the cook didn’t even bother to mix the lumps out, and the texture is, well, gritty.
                After you take your leap of faith and decide on a grit, then all you have to do is stir.
               Water and milk come to a boil, pour in the grits, stir. Keep stirring. It will thicken, just keep stirring. As with polenta, mine thicken way quicker than the recipe suggests. Never mind, keep stirring. 
                I added the butter and the two types of cheese. I don’t like Monterey Jack so I substituted mild cheddar. But, out of character for me, I didn’t add extra cheese. Lewis and Poliafito already incorporate a fair bit of More into their recipes, probably why I like them.
                When I tasted the product at this point, I thought, “Meh, mediocre polenta.” Then you pour it into a pan, put more cheese on top and they would have you stick it under a broiler for a few minutes. I was taking dinner to the bf’s house, so I let it sit in the pan for an hour and then put it in a 400 oven for 15 minutes.
                OMG it was good. Seriously. Nothing like polenta, but soft and smooth, rich and slightly salty. I served it with chicken chili. (I know, I just lost you.) And it was a good accompaniment, but I could have eaten it all by itself, any time of the day, for any occasion. It could be comfort food, celebration food, breakfast.



                The bf said it was the best meal he has ever had, and I don’t think that was the chicken chili talking. 

Love, Margaret

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Something for your quiver

Dear Marg,

I stumbled upon the Craftsy website while looking up some knitting thing or other and found they have a whole section on cake decorating. Advanced Fondant Techniques, Modern Buttercream and Handcrafted Sugar Flowers are all on offer. For a small fee you can learn the techniques to conquer the 6" Miette Cake.  Victory will be yours for only $39.99!!!

Love, Elise

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

More about my birthday, this time - presents

Dear Marg,

I'm worried that the sheer number of cookbooks I got for my birthday implies great expectations on the part of my friends and family. I mean, what are they going to expect me to serve for dinner after receiving Ready for Desert by David Lebovitz, The Flavor Thesaurus by Niki Segnit, 500 Soups by Susannah Blake, Canal House Cooks Everyday by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer and Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel? I can never live up to the presure of those expectations.

So instead I'll share a bit about each of the books over the next few days. OK, weeks is probably more like it given my schedule lately. Starting with the smallest, since that is how they are stacked on my desk, 500 Soups is a  6" square collection of recipes divided into chapters like, "Cooled and Chilled", "Healthy and Wholesome", "20 Minute Treats" and my favorite, "Meal in a Bowl".



Each primary recipe is illustrated with a photograph that clearly shows the soup. Not one for art that obscures soup, Ms. Blake has selected images that show you exactly what you can expect. In fact, so little attention was given to the art of the photography that I had to search to find the photographer's name (Ian Garlick. Really.) listed in the same font and placement as the Home Economist.



The chapters feature about 10 main recipes and then at the end of the chapter each recipe is given its own page with a handful of variations. While I love the idea of variations, it's odd that they are at the end of the chapter.When I'm on the bean soup page I want to be inspired by the wealth of options that Blake has come up with. If I"m curious about whether I can substitute red beans for black I don't want to leaf through to the end of the chapter to find out. I want it all right in front of me. 



I haven't had time to try any of the recipes yet,but they do look good, and the breadth of varieties offered is wide. The book is part of the 500 Series, which also features 500 Cupcakes, 500 Casseroles and 500 White Wines.

This seems to be a solid basic book, and a good addition to the library. I'm not sure that it will help with the surfeit of high expectations but as Abby says, you can't be a wizard every day.

Love, Elise

Monday, November 12, 2012

More Cake

Dear Marg,

Guess what kind of cake Amos made for my birthday? Apple!

It was the Chunky Apple Walnut Cake from the red Silver Palate, the one whose binding has completely disintegrated from being held open by a cutting board while I work my way through yet another recipe.

Honestly, I don't think my standards are as high as yours, or maybe the fact that he made it gives it an extra 10 points, or maybe I'm grading on a curve, but I really loved it.

Love, Elise

Sunday, November 11, 2012

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!




Elise,

 It was your birthday just a few days ago and I wanted to bake you a cake. Since this cake was just for my celebration of your birthday, I gave myself some leeway and didn’t actually bake it until the day after your birthday.

 But I baked a gingerbread cake because I know you really like it. I like it OK. To be honest, gingerbread is one of the few desserts about which, to paraphrase you, the best that can be said is that there is no risk of overeating. I don’t hate it; it’s not like fig pie or tapioca. I just don’t want to eat it. But I baked it, for you.

 Lest you feel too guilty about my sacrifice, I also baked it because I wanted to get back on the Miette horse, back in the rushing Miette river, but I wanted to get back on a horse that was placid and exhausted, I wanted to wave my toes in the shallows at edge of that river. The Miette Gingerbread requires no slicing of layers, no crumb coat, pretty straightforward mixing. It seemed like a safe place for the reintroduction.

 Naturally, since I had actually located and purchased two 6” pans, the recipe calls for two 7” pans. I went with one 8” and one 6”. Next time, I’ll use two 6” pans. There seems to be no reason not to, aside from the peculiar uselessness of a six inch cake. One person who reviewed Miette was thrilled with the 6” cakes because smaller cake means fewer calories. Huh?? Smaller cake means larger pieces. A six inch cake serves three. 



 I think the whole process went pretty well. I restrained my oppositional defiance disorder and slavishly followed the instructions. Except for the pan sizes. And I put parchment on the bottom of the pans even though they just call for butter and flour. Oh, and I also skipped the medium size strainer step because I don’t have a medium sized strainer. But other than that, I was dutiful. I didn’t over mix, and I only peeked in the oven once. 

 So far so good. They rose enough, they baked all the way through, they came out of the pans, (I was happy I had used the parchment).

 Then there was the cream cheese frosting. I prefer gingerbread with whipped cream and maybe a nice fruit compote. But I was slavishly following directions.

 I slavishly followed those directions right off the road to Hell and into the tree of regret. Miette’s cream cheese frosting calls for a pound of cream cheese (this is 2 packages) and a cup of confectionary sugar. It makes gently sweetened cream cheese. 

 Then came the application process, and things went awry. Miette wants you to use your half inch star tip to apply the frosting in a spiral as the cake slowly turns on your revolving cake stand. No half inch star tip, no revolving cake stand. Not even a bag for my decorative tip set.  I used a plastic bag.

 The star tip I have is so small and the frosting so thick, I squeezed and squeezed, nothing. I squeezed harder, several small holes broke through the bag and tiny spirals of frosting spewed out. But from the star tip? Nothing. I kept squeezing until the entire tip apparatus burst out the bottom of the plastic bag. I applied the frosting in a spiral (sort of) as it extruded from the half inch hole in the corner of the plastic bag. Chris has my offset spatula, so I made do with a straight spatula. 


 While my finished cake didn’t look like a Miette cake, it didn’t look bad. Unfortunately, it tasted like gingerbread with gently sweetened cream cheese. 















 













  Happy Birthday!!





Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Holiday From Failure




Regan Daley’s Sweet Potato Bundt Cake with Rum Soaked Raisins and Spiked Sugar Glaze.






 First try and it was nearly divine. Next time I’ll double the raisins and triple the glaze.