Monday, January 31, 2011
H and I didn't want to come empty-handed, and I didn't think the Hairspray and Mama Mia! DVDs were enough of a hostess gift, so I took the trinity out of the fridge- butter, eggs and chocolate- to come to room temperature during the day. H wanted to make fairy cakes (no surprise there), but I wanted to make cookies. Here, I was being selfish: I didn't want to make kids' cookies. No sugar cookies with frosting or plain old Toll houses tonight. I wanted deep, dark, molasses-y flavor, oatmeal that was cooked until lacy and crisp, shards of midnight, bittersweet chocolate. I was looking for sophistication. So, I kind of tricked my daughter into baking MY version of oatmeal peanut butter chocolate chip cookies under the guise that she loves peanut butter and chocolate and oatmeal (she just doesn't like it all mixed together, but she didn't question me). I think this was a white lie, the kind parents tell their children when they need them to do something or to soften a blow. I didn't care at that point. With the week I had, these cookies would be my medicine, my elixir, and my little H would never begrudge me that.
The wholesome oatmeal, the dark chocolate, the unsweetened peanut butter: all these ingredients fool my weary mind to think these would make fine breakfast treats Saturday morning. Delectable Trickery indeed.
The pizza B made was delicious, the apps she put out for just us thoughtful and appreciated, and her sea salt Lindt bars very tasty. It was a great night with great friends. B's daughter tried a cookie, and handed it back after a few bites. Nevermind, whippersnappers. More for us sophisticated old birds...
Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies
I started with a Martha Stewart recipe and tweaked it slightly. I love Martha, but her portions tend to be larger than life. I am not feeding a softball team. I also wanted to up the flavor factor, so subs all around. Using my KitchenAid to do the dirty work, I really creamed the sugar and butter for a long time, to achieve a nice airy quality despite the dense whole grains. I also beat the eggs for about 2 minutes to assist with lightness and crispness of the cookie.
1 1/2 cups quick cooking oats
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 egg, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup all natural unsweetened peanut butter
1 Valrhona 85% dark chocolate bar, chopped into small bits
Stir together oats, flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. Put sugar, butter, and peanut butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 5minutes. Mix in eggs and vanilla. Beat for about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low. Add oat mixture, and mix until just combined. Mix in chocolate. Cover and let sit in fridge for at least 1 hour but not more than 24 hrs.
When ready, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out 1 inch balls and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 12-14 minutes. Cool. Will store for several days, if you don't eat them all first. Makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies. Doubles easily.
Free to use chocolate chips in lieu of sharded chocolate bars. You may also want to add some sort of nut- peanuts?- if you want a stronger peanut flavor. This is is very subtle. Also, all-purpose flour is fine too. Don't feel like you can make drop cookies immediately. The resting bit in the fridge is something I gleaned from a NYT article a few years ago on "aging" dough. If you have never done it, I urge you to try it! It's supposed to help the eggs break down and be absorbed by the flour and grains. The orginal article had some suggestions for up to 36 hrs, but I found the best results were somewhere between 6-12 hrs.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Since I do have a four-year old, I don't have the luxury of just dreaming about food; some actually has to materialize. I toasted some bread and cheese for her, sliced her daily half of avocado. While in the veggie crisper, I noticed a small, purple cabbage. I probably bought it last year (bad joke for January) and forgot about it prior to the Caribbean voyage. I took it out. I remembered a recipe I read from Molly Wizenberg's blog Orangette. Her then-boyfriend made this mad-dash salad in the college food hall of purple cabbage, garlic, lemon vinaigrette, and Parmesan cheese. I had all those ingredients. I shrugged and got out the chopping board.
I leaned against the counter, pausing shredding up the head of vegetable. I couldn't just eat cabbage for dinner. That just wouldn't do. And I was bored. And it was so cold outside, so turning on the oven would give my heat more bang for the buck.
" Hey H! Do you want to bake some bread?"
" No, I want to bake fairy cakes, but this time I want to make chocolate-strawberry-vine frosting and I think we should use purple M&Ms..."
" Um, we're not baking fairy cakes tonight. How about bread?"
" No! I want purple M&Ms and fairy..."
" Oh, sorry, no purple M&Ms. You can mix bread batter with your hands."
I pushed the cabbage to the side, and whipped up the most fantastic, rustic, easiest-quick-bread-EVER to have alongside my cabbage slaw. It's not garlic bread, mind you, but it's rich and delicious and dense and lovely. We grabbed the four ingredients we need for... Irish Soda Bread.
I used to think Irish Soda Bread had to be dark brown. And contained seltzer. Where I got those ideas, who knows. Now I know that it takes literally minutes to whip up, bakes at fiery 450F for 15 minutes, then finishes at 400F for 25 minutes. No rising time, you can mess with different flours, and it really works as a breakfast toast, lunch smear, or accompaniment to a simple dinner. Plus, H can measure it all out herself with minimal coaching, muck it all up into a ball, and slap it on some parchment. Easy peasy. And mighty tasty.
And while we ate, picnicking in the living room to Harry Potter, my meal actually satisfied the Italian meal craving from earlier. The pungent garlic from the dressing, the melted butter on the oven fresh bread, the Parmesan crisps, toasted alongside the bread at the very end. It reminded me of Boston: all Italian and Irish, slap dash, thrown together out of necessity. Weird, I know. But the food was more than alright.
Purple Cabbage Salad
This recipe is inspired by Molly Wizenberg's book A Homemade Life. And also because I tend to buy vegetables with no idea of how I am going to cook them. Then, forget about them and invent something out of necessity.
Quarter head purple cabbage (small ones are sweeter, I remember from her book)
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Half a lemon
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon black pepper
pinch of sea salt
Preheat oven to 400F. Using a vegetable peeler, strip off long pieces of Parmesan. Place strips on a piece of parchment. Toast the Parmesan for a few minutes in the oven until the melt a little and get nice and brown. Slice your cabbage so it's all frilly ribbons of vegetable. In a jam jar, add the garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. Shake with as much energy as you have on cold, snowy night. Dress the salad with the vinaigrette, S&P and the Parmesan strips.
You don't have to make the soda bread, but together, they are absolutely delightful.
Irish Soda Bread
I don't know where I stumbled on this. I make it more from memory and to get rid of last bits of flour I have lying around. Last night I used the remaining spelt flour I picked up in Oregon last summer.
2 cups spelt flour (this can can be subbed for wheat or more all purpose)
2 cups all purpose unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2-3/4 cups buttermilk
Heat oven to 450F. Mix dry ingredients together. Make a well and add buttermilk (use the lesser amount at first). Using your hands, mix the dough together- it will be sticky and mucky. You may need to add a splash more buttermilk. Take the dough out, form ball, and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Score an X in the top. Bake for 15 minutes at 450F. Turn down to 400F and cook for 25 minutes. The bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Tear out a hunk and slather in butter. Sigh and slump against the counter.
This bread is very tasty toasted the next morning, or sliced across its equator to make an open face sandwich.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Because I know one season is only here for so long, being snowed in does not upset this gal. This is the second time this January we have received oodles of snow. I am in heaven. This also causes me no stress because I work from home, so I don't have to commute behind the relocator-from-AZ-who-doesn't-possess-snow-driving-skills-owned SUV. Snow and snow days and overcast grey skies move me to bake and cook and nest and cuddle. Today, I incorporated all my favs: cuddle under my blankets when my flight was cancelled; had a magical tea/ birthday party with H; cooked chicken and roasted vegetables with some leftover corn pudding; and baked fairy cakes.
" 'What are fairy cakes, Mom?' asked H. 'I want to make pupcakes (translation: cupcakes)! Why is your book calling them fairies?' (jumping up and down) 'Do we have fairies to here, in the house? Oh! Are they company to eat my pupcakes? Oh Mama, I want a fairy to have a tea party with!' "
Well, I did have to disappoint her on the non-existent house guests, but I had to look up why my British English cookbook called pupcakes, er cupcakes, fairy cakes. Here's what I got, courtesy of the Net.
I would've just called it a cupcake but fairy cake is so fun, no? So fairy cakes it was, and they were delicious and cozy and just the right warm vanilla-y smell to warm up our chilly house and make the snow appear even more magical. We still have a few left, and the snow keeps falling. H had a 2-hour delay this am due to the icy weather. While I was brushing her hair, she mused,"Perhaps there are some snow fairies outside who would like some cake. I think we should leave one near the bird feeder."
Once again, Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess is used as the inspiration. I seriously want to be Nigella. She is gorgeous and witty and very good at instructions. Moreover, she views her recipes more like a conversation and a jumping off point. She is (mostly) unfussy yet sophisticated and modern in her approach. I just love someone who's cookbooks house Granny's heirloom recipe alongside PB sandwiches for the King.
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
7 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup self-rising flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk (any kind is fine)
Preheat the oven to 400F. Cream sugar and butter until fluffy. Add eggs, one at time, until well incorporated. Mix milk and vanilla together. Alternate liquid mixture and flour until batter is smooth and creamy. Place liners in cupcake pan. Fill with an ice cream scoop or until liner is half-way full. Cook for about 15-17 minutes. Cool on a rack and frost with your heart's desire of icing goodness: chocolate ganache, buttercream, or royal icing, as we did.
It seems only fitting to frost something British with a topping known as Royal Icing.
1 1/3 cup confectioner's sugar
tablespoon (or so) of water
Food coloring (we made ours pink)
Blend sugar and water together. Add food coloring. Dip cupcake top in and swirl to get off excess.
We also topped ours with red M&Ms, to look like "a cherry on top." I would probably go a little more hardcore with some pastel candies, roses, other sugar-fied decorations (sugared violets?). But it was a snowstorm. We made 'em fierce with what we had in the cupboard.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Now that I have more cash, I have been trying to cook more types of meat. I truly love a great steak or roast, but even now, red meat is a little pricey for me. I choose to only buy free-range meat or from a place I can witness how the livestock enjoyed life before s/he met his demise, so this tends to up the cost of my beef choices. To try and become more proficient in one genre, and also to save some cash and support the local economy, I bought a quarter of a pig from a local farm, Pete and Jen's. I got about 20 lbs. of fresh, apple-orchard-finished pork: chops, ribs, a fresh rolled ham roast. As a rule, ham is not my favorite food. In fact, last year my employer gave us certificates to Honey Baked Ham Company, and I used it to buy tasty mashed potatoes, cornbread stuffing, green beans, and some pecan pie. The unnatural coral color, the weird skin on the edges, the cloves, all of it just kind of grosses me out. That being said, I am a ham picker: if there is hot, freshly-cooked ham on the counter at my grandmother's house, I will pick a piece or two of the warm meat off the bone and delight in it's salty goodness. Small amounts, I suppose, are superb little morsels in my mouth; a slice or two on my plate, not-so-much.
Well, this morning the ham roast screamed at me from the freezer, "SUNDAY DINNER!!!!!!!!!!!!" I shrugged, why not? I remembered a recipe in Nigella Lawson's Nigella Bites, which involved Coca Cola and mustard (two of my favorite things- sweet and savory- and when does one get to combine mustard and Coke???!?!?). I don't know if it was because I didn't have a bone-in ham or that it was fresh and not pre-cooked or if it's not a full-moon or I can't cook with Coke because I don't live in Georgia, but it was terrible. Dry, tough, that weird flaky gross thing pork does when it's cooked incorrectly. I followed the directions to the letter. OK, that's a lie. I never do that. But I did follow them pretty darn close, especially involving time and measurement of the braising in cola. Only on the glaze did I veer, and actually, that part was scrumptious- I scraped it from the top of my rawhide-esque slice and licked it off my fork. Yummmmm, mustard-crystallized-sugar deliciousness.
I also made the recommended corn pudding because what the heck? And I adore Nigella. If she says it's a good match, I trust her. However, Nigella darling has a far greater indulgence of cream and butter than I can handle, so I also subbed some ingredients. I am going to put in parentheses, what I subbed within the recipe, and you can choose. If you're looking for a luxuriously creamy pudding, I would try her version; if you're looking for a richer version of creamed corn with a side dish feel, try mine. Or substitute some more and create your own pudding, Puddin'.
I also served some leftover collard greens (glug of olive oil in a hot pan, simple saute of onions and garlic, add the greens to the pan along with a 1/4 of cup water, cook until greens are tender and all the water has evaporated, season with salt and a squeeze of lemon) and steamed yellow, orange and purple carrots. The veggies were terrific, really pure and clean flavors that I think would compliment a GOOD ham roast. Oh well, they can't all be home runs. To soothe my chapped ego, I beat a tsp of butter, a few tablespoons of powdered sugar and a tablespoon ( or two) of Meyer's rum in a bowl, heated up a slice of my banana bread from earlier this week in a pan a la french toast, and frosted it with my rum "life's-not-so-hard" sauce. The perfect bandaid to my meat mistake, and comforting enough to make me remember I make a mean chicken thigh. Tomorrow, Monday, an exhausting day most weeks, I'll stick to what I'm good at. Sundays are for going big and staying home.
Ham Glaze (for a 2 lb ham)
Handful of cloves
2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard
1tablespoon of molasses
2 tablespoons of brown sugar
This is for a ham that is cooked and hot- just a glaze to finish it off. Heat oven to 500F. Score the ham in a diamond pattern. Stud with cloves. Drizzle molasses over the tops and side. Spread mustard over molasses. Press brown sugar into mustard-molasses mixture. Bake for 10 minutes or until crackling and brown.
1 14 oz can of creamed corn
1 18 oz can of fresh sweet corn (subbed 14 oz because that's what I had on hand)
1 1/3 cups of milk (subbed buttermilk because I needed to use it up)
1 1/3 cups of cream (subbed fat-free milk because I have a lot to use up)
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
5 eggs, room temperature
Heat oven to 375F. Beat eggs together until frothy. Add milk and cream (I used my KitchenAid and streamed it in). Add corn and dry ingredients. Butter 12x6 casserole pan (mine holds about 4 cups), and cook for an hour. The pudding should be brown on top and puffed up slightly.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
I had never experienced a cruise before and was nervous/ excited/ dying to get away on "the big motorboat," as H described it. I have some friends who absolutely love to cruise; others, they kind of put the fear of Triton and Montezuma's revenge in me around water transport/ accommodations. I fall somewhere much closer to like than dislike, but I am pretty sure that I will not be joining a frequent cruiser program anytime soon. I enjoy my vacations lazy and beach-filled; working on "ship's time" was not my favorite directive. If you know me, you know that the more I am told to do something, the more I will act like a petulant child: a bratty tween being minded by an overbearing great aunt who thinks you can't walk to the mail box by yourself or fix yourself a sandwich, so said tween rolls eyes, darts in traffic and plays with fire. Maybe that's overly dramatic, but my main motto in college (notice I stated college, not preschool) was: You're not the boss of me. Anyways, all that means is I prefer to wake up when I want, grab a coffee and if in Hawaii, donut (the best I've ever had from some hole-in-the-wall on Oahu), head to the beach with a book, towel and sunglasses, swim/ lounge/ people watch/ sleep all day until the sun sets, then go to bed early (it's vacation- I sleep a lot), and do it again the next day. Cruising doesn't really lend itself to my preferred laziness and own time frame. But I digress.
The employees were incredibly friendly and accommodating; I also noted there weren't too many Americans represented within the staff (just sayin'). There were several days where the drink specials were delectable, and I had quite a few amazingly delish meals. Their prime rib, something I am not one to order, was especially tasty: all buttery soft, a perfect medium rare, great salt crust, and not too much fat. The au jus needed some work, but there was horseradish (sigh of content). I don't cook much red meat because H is not a fan (my daughter is OBSESSED with cows, and it was very traumatic for her to learn the source of beef is her beloved bovine), so I really went to town on the ship with different cuts and beef dishes (Chateaubriand and a great New York Strip/ Black Tiger prawn surf 'n' turf). My cruisemate, friend of forever M, also enjoyed some tasty fillets. She likes her meat a little more done than I, but the bite I tasted still was close-your-eyes-swoon-worthy.
As you can probably imagine, the seafood dishes were also excellent. M and I both dined on an AMAZING brasa dish that I *think* was cooked in parchment, with lemons, fennel, tomatoes (more like a tomato broth than fruit) and black olives. Nomnomnomnom. It was so light, no heavy-handed oil or butter appearance, just the right amount of salt, and the vegetables and fruits were so complex in the sauce. The fennel had mellowed out, and the lemon was all cooked down and squishy and divine. I haven't seen Brasa in my local grocery market, so I am going to do some investigating. It appeared to be like a white fish, so I may try out my ideas on some haddock or halibut or cod, maybe even tilapia. Sole would be good too, perhaps.
There was also an incredible-cannot-even-take-how-good-this-tastes-and-feels-in-your-mouth chocolate lava-esque cake. Chocolate is my homeboy. I am like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction (prior to going nutso) with chocolate. Oh cocoa, how I love thee? And how I adore thee even more than I thought possible when made molten. I ate, like, 10 of these little melty souffles that were almost like par-baked dark chocolate brownies. You know what I am talking about: those dense little morsels that are all deceptive and appear cooked, but when you break the confectionery-dusted top with your spoon, a black river of ambrosia flows out. Ok, so it doesn't flow it; it oozes like mud, but that's not a particularly nice visual. Whatever. I am obsessed with this dessert, and a recipe is for sure forthcoming...
But I what I love, dare I say, almost equally? Rumcake! Oh yes, rumcake. Alcohol, to me, is so much better when eaten with and cooked in food. Especially when it's all coddled in eggs, butter and flour and baked in the oven at 375 F. Now, what kind of Caribbean wayfarer would I be if I didn't partake in the duty free specialties. I bought a big jug of deep, dark rum, and I intend to drink and cook with it all winter to remind me of the tropics. I am on the lookout for some rumcake recipes, but in the meantime, I had a fruit bowl and refrigerator to clean out upon arriving in my winter wonderland. There were several cartons of eggs as well as some gems of bananas. Scouring the cabinets, there were some leftover prunes and raisins from Thanksgiving, and walnuts from Christmas. Rum-soaked fruits in banana bread it is.
Rum-drunk Banana Bread
This recipe was adapted from Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess (my bible during my Missoula years). Banana bread is so versatile, and the flavors really lend themselves to the vacation nostalgia I was going for. And bananas and rum-soaked fruits? Meyers, take me away...
1/2 cup of prunes, chopped
2 ounces of amaretto
4 ounces dark rum
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup plus two tablespoons of spelt flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
4 small, very ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
Put the prunes in a small saucepan with the alcohol. Bring to boil. Remove from the heat, cover, and set aside for at least an hour. The prunes should absorb almost all of the alcohol. When ready to add to batter, drain the fruit.
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Put the flour, baking power, baking soda, and salt into a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the melted butter and sugar. Beat until well incorporated. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then the mashed bananas. Stir in walnuts, drained prunes, and extracts. Add the flour mixture, quarter of a cup at a time, making sure all is incorporated after each addition. Pour batter into a buttered loaf pan (9x5 works, make sure it's well-buttered or lined with parchment), scraping out every last delicious spoonful. Bake for 60-75 minutes on the center rack. An inserted toothpick should be near clean when testing doneness. Leave it in for at least 10 minutes to rest and cool in the pan; then, turn out to finish cooling to scarf down, warm, with a smear of cream cheese.
You could sub out spelt flour with whole wheat. I would increase all purpose flour to 3/4 cup, though, and just 1/4 cup plus the two tablespoons of whole wheat. I also think I am going to try and get the bread drunk on rum the next time. If you don't have/ like prunes, try raisins. The prunes definitely added the rummy flavor I was looking for, and the extracts enhanced it, but how awesome would a drunk banana bread be, with eggnog or really strong french vanilla custard or creme anglaise? Or even make rum ice cream and serve the bread warm for dessert? Or you could try some fresh bananas, sauteed in butter, brown sugar and rum, add to the bottom of the bread, and then bake? Oh, the possibilities are endless, and so is my supply of overripe bananas!
Saturday, January 1, 2011
This am, after our inaugural 2011 swim, we grabbed breakfast at a local brunch place, Daywatch. Really tasty, diner-esque grub with a healthy twist. H had bacon and eggs (their logo is "I love Bacon more than you do"), and I ordered the Bacado omelet with fruit and toast. Part of the reason I ordered said omelet is that's how H says avocado: "Mommy, please can I have some bacado, please?" The other reason: I keep reading about Omega3's and realize I don't exactly eat a lot of essential fatty acids. Here's my guess at the preparation. Try it out this new year to get that 2011 glow :)
1 ripe avocado
4 egg whites
Glug of fat free milk
3 strips of bacon, well cooked and drained
3 oz Monterrey Jack, grated (this was what was in the omelet- at home, I would sub a really sharp Cheddar or even Swiss)
Oil or butter for the pan (since I am going for that EFA surplus, I would use some olive or grapeseed oil)
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat an omelet pan (if you're fancy and well-equipped) or apx 8 inch saute pan on medium. Swish in some oil/ butter (if non stick pan- all that I have), taking care to get just enough so the eggs will turn and slide out. In a bowl, whisk separated egg whites and milk (about 2 tbs) until incorparated and egg white proteins are broken up. Pour mixture into pan. While the eggs set, take avocado out of shell, remove the seed, and slice across like an equator line. Place 3/4 of avocado on one side of egg mixture. Crumble bacon on top of avocado, and sprinkle half the cheese on top. Once egg is pretty set (bubbles appear), flip non-topping side onto bacado goodness side, making a half crescent (or use your fancy schmancy omelet pan to flip, gourmets). Sprinkle remaining cheese over the top. Let cook a minute or two more; then, slide out of a pan on a plate. Top with remaining avocado, fanned out across the top. Season with salt and pepper to taste (make sure the pepper is fresh-ground and on the rougher grind-side). Serve with some fresh fruit, sourdough, buttermilk biscuits, or English muffins, perhaps (?), with fresh, chunky peach or apricot jam.
If I was making at home, I would chop up some green onions and sprinkle on top for extra crunch and flavor. Maybe make some pico de gallo with the addition of some extra garlic and lime juice (or just some good jarred salsa)??? I might even mix up some Frank's Red Hot and ketchup with a dash of Worcestershire to use as a spicy sauce for some kick.