Archive for the ‘baked things (bread/pastry)’ Category

11
Nov

Laterculi: Poppy Seed Pop Tarts

   Posted by: Livia

Okay, so this is not an accurate redaction. Or, well, it’s about (slightly less) as likely to be accurate as anything else.

There’s a play by Plautus (Poenulus 325-6) there’s a reference to laterculi with the only description being that they are composed of sesame seeds, poppy seeds, (wheat) flour, and nuts.

Okay, so the name is also descriptive. It’s the word for bricks or tiles.

Some people take this description and match it with gastris, a food from Crete described by Athenaeus as walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds and poppy seeds, with fruit, honey, pepper and white sesame seeds. That will lead you to redactions both simple and amazing.

Now that last gastris redaction – which looks to me like a seedy fruitcake – would be perfect to make in an 8″ x 8″ x 2″ shape that was not unlike a common Roman brick shape.

On the other hand, Athanaeus’ gastris recipe has fruit and no flour. But Plautus was very clear that flour was involved in this project. Flour would be easy to add to the gastris because the nuts are working in a similar way. But it’s also leeway to go in a completely different direction.

One could make candies out of the honey and seeds with just a bit of flour.

Or! And here’s what came to my mind as being kinda fun – you could make pop tarts and call them tiles.

Okay, so pop tarts. First place to go is Smitten Kitchen‘s homemade pop tart recipe.

Next the filling. I liked how La Spelonca separated the poppy seeds and the sesame seeds. It both made them look more dramatic and kept the flavors clear and less like bagel toppings. So tentative working plan is to have two different flavors of pop tarts: Poppy Seeds and either almonds or walnuts or both; and Sesame Seeds and either hazelnuts or pistachios or both.

Okay, so poppy seed filling is a thing. But my first google search yielded only recipes that called for milk… but the Romans mostly ate their dairy in the form of cheese. It just didn’t feel right.

So I kept looking and loved this one that described the method and thought process beautifully and clearly – cook poppy seeds with a minimal amount of water, grind, cook again with honey and sugar.

Okay, so first I have to find the poppy seeds. So off I go to Amazon. And the first review right off the start informs me that real bakers look for unwashed poppy seeds for a richer, nuttier flavor and a better texture. Well, okay. So off I go looking at the unwashed poppy seeds and their reviews. And then things started to get weird. There was some division, but also some overlap, between the bakers and the people making poppy seed tea. And some of the people making the poppy seed tea seemed more interested in the color of their tea than the flavor, but others loved the flavor. Erm… And then I got to the ones talking about how ‘effective’ their tea and/or baked goods were. And there was the one who assured people that the reviewer really could tell that these poppy seeds were unwashed because there was plant material included as well. Ummm… I object! Because if I’m baking and there’s plant material, don’t I then need to wash the poppy seeds? But it wasn’t all double entendre and drug references, because there were still people staunchly championing the unwashed seeds while listing their preferred baked good and their baking credentials. But then I got to the one that was all, “I just made the best batch of muffins ever. Now I’m off to take a nap.” And I just. Now I have no idea whether kolaches is actually a baked good or just a wink and nod drug reference in the land of amazon reviews. So I still haven’t what to buy for making a large quantity, but I picked up half a pound of what are definitely washed seeds at a spice shop in the Italian Market.

So poppy seeds and water in a small saucepan. Check. Going well. The poppy seeds take on moisture, darken, and swell.

Grind the poppy seeds… doesn’t go so well. I put some in my mortal and grind it with the pestle… and it goes okay, but every time any utensil touches the poppy seeds there’s mess left behind. And so after a few desultry grinding attempts I figure I might as well see if I might like the consistency of it not ground all that much. So I put it all back in the saucepan and add the honey. And then add more honey because honey was more common that sugar back in the day. And then panic! Because the honey just liquifies and everything becomes sloshy. And cooking it more doesn’t make it any drier. And what if I really needed sugar to get a good paste because of how honey is like an invert sugar? Eh, whatever – let’s refrigerate what I have and see how it moves tomorrow. Plus I’m going to add nuts to it.

And the paste is fascinating! I used a fork to move it and it’s sort of a non-Newtonian liquid. Woo!

Okay, so crust. Filling. Assembly!

I got a friend with skills and a marble rolling pin to help with the first set of rolling out (I’m hoping I can use my pasta roller when I’m on my own). I rough guessed a size that’s smaller than pop tarts. My goal is to find a size that stretches my supplies while still being large enough to not get grabbed by the handful. One or two should be an intuitively obvious portion size. These ended up about 4″ x 3″ (and I think I could go a smidge smaller and have them about the size of poker cards).

I did one batch with just an egg white wash for sealing and one with a beaten egg. I think I’ll go with the beaten egg for future versions (because simpler to brush and more efficient use of stuff).

About 2 teaspoons of filling lumped in the center. And then I spread it out with my fingers because everything else seemed to just get coated in seeds more than helping to move them where I wanted. I left 1 cm margin. I can try getting a narrower margin, but too narrow might lead to disaster. And then I crimped the edges sealed with a fork and poked holes in the top.

I started the oven at 350F. And then after 10 minutes with no obvious cooking I popped it up to 425F. Total cooking time was 25 minutes, and that was a little too much (very brown, some corners just starting to burn, still entirely edible and hella tasty). Then I looked at the recipe, which was 350F for 30 minutes. So I just panicked too early.

When they were cooking, there was enough butter in the dough to lead to puddles of bubbling fat that were almost frying the pop tarts. So not okay for a toaster! But it was kind of sexy on a lined sheet pan.

When you bite in, the first taste is browned butter. And the second bite is also butter with a bit of pastry. When you get to the filling, it’s amazing. The nuts and poppy seeds are a lovely texture among the crispy pastry flakes and I’m not going to worry about grinding the poppy seeds at all for the future. And the honey is a great balance to the butter. It’s sweet, but not too sweet. They’re going to make the best breakfast.

So plans for the future:

* reduce butter per 2 cups of flour from 1 cup to 3/4 cup (12 tablespoons)

* try rolling out with pasta roller

* Cut to 3.5″ x 2.5″

* Poppy seed & almond is great. Also try sesame seed & hazelnut.

* Make 75 of each flavor; 150 total. Freeze before baking.

Bake Sales are a challenge for me, as I’m new to baking. I’ve been calling myself new and baking for a couple years now, and it’s going to continue for a few years more because it’s still feels like a risky adventure every time.

I came to this recipe over the winter, when my friend Smittywing made a double batch for the Death Bi Chocolate bake sale. It was quick to put together and the ingredients were rather straightforward.

Having lost the recipe, I googled around and found several people with the recipe, and Post Punk Kitchen even attributed it to having come from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, so I’m mentioning that.

I am, however, changing almost half of the ingredients… slightly. And I’ve changed the name.

Ever since Chocolat, I have been aware of the adding of chili to chocolate and calling it exotic, and frequently also calling it Mexican. Also, I’m lucky enough that one of my local supermarkets has a good selection of Mexican and Central American food items. And, really, Mexican chocolate comprises a wide variety of spices and blends, and it’s also more about the processing of the original chocolate, as far as I understand. And I’d rather have my cultural appropriation from long dead people… I don’t know, actually. I just know that I wasn’t comfortable re-using the title this time. Your mileage may vary. (here, have David Lebovitz’s write up of Mexican Hot Chocolate)

Spice Hot Chocolate Snickerdoodles

Preheat oven to 350F

Dump into the bowl of the mixer: 1 cup almond oil (being sure to use the 1/2 cup measure twice), 1/2 cup sorghum syrup (which now pours smoothly out of the greased measuring cup), 2 cups sugar, 6 Tablespoons unsweetened unflavored soy milk, 5 teaspoons spiced rum, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon kojinte cinnamon*, 1 teaspoon aleppo powder*.

Start the mixer going slowly, and then incorporate as you go: 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 1/3 cups whole wheat flour, 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda.

Voila! Dough! (Okay, so it’s still a good idea to stir a little by hand and scrape the sides to make sure the edges and bottom are fully mixed). The end result is very stiff.

Mix together come cinnamon sugar in a small dish. I didn’t measure. If you do, the proportions in the recipe were: 1/3 cup sugar | 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Now I was going to present these in snack sized bags… and I thought they’d be lovely to dip into coffee… so I made thick, stumpy cylinder shapes. Don’t do this. Once they are flattened and baked, they look distinctly unappetizing. But they were very tasty, fit into the baggies, and would have been good dipped into a wide variety of beverages. You should make them round! The recipe suggests walnut-sized, rolled in sugar, and then flattened a bit. Mine did not spread much, so what you see is pretty much what you get.

On the other hand, what you feel is not what you get. It says to bake each batch for 10-12 minutes. And I ended up putting the first batch in for another 5 minutes because a quick poke test had them feeling exactly the same as when they went in. Apparently that’s perfectly normal for snickerdoodles, and they ended up being delightfully cookie-like when cooled, even though they seemed like they were still doughy fresh from the oven.

*I’ve bumped the spices up higher in the order, because my dough didn’t end up evenly mixed and some cookies were definitely spicier than others. (also those flavor varieties are chosen simply because they were what I had on hand, not because they’re better than any other cinnamon or hot pepper powder)

Also a note if you are making them for a bake sale, too – obviously, you don’t want to put them inside a bag until after they have fully cooled. Otherwise, the steam will condense on the inside of the bag and turn your cookies soggy and your sugary coating to slimy syrup. Luckily, I had 14 little labels and ingredients lists to write up while these not-so-pretties cooled.

Growing up, Passover was one of 2.5 Jewish holidays my family would celebrate.

My uncle, while he was alive, was a strong presence leading the seder with charisma and a mischievous delight in tradition. After his death, my aunt was more thoughtful and pursued discussion and commentary. Passover was the time of year I spoke most openly about Judaism at my public school, taking in butter, matzoh, and salt, and sharing with my classmates. In college I learned even more about it during that one year I was dating someone more observant than I (and she has since gone on to become a rabbi). The first time I got drunk was at Passover, and I’ll still argue passionately in favor of the richness of the cheap, sweet, syrupy Passover wines of my youth (and have so argued on this blog).

It’s a holiday that has a strong emphasis on food. On problematic food. On being rushed and hurried and fleeing servitude so that bread could not rise. It’s a holiday of learning rules through food and exploring the Jewish way of reasoning from text to law through centuries of debate and logic. It’s about learning logical discourse and boolean algebra through food. And unlike my approach to gluten free cooking (bread? Whatever – let’s eat rice! And all sorts of things are fun without wheat!), this holiday requires that you deal with the matzoh. It’s not enough to eat leavened bread, but it is also required encouraged that you partake of the food that is problematic. And that leads to creativity and weirdness and often some rather dry and tasteless food.

But you know me, and creativity and weirdness are favorites of mine. I love this holiday, but I’ve never cooked for it before. I love this holiday, but I’ve never hosted it before. But now I have a house.

And I had a friend who pinged me and mentioned that she really, really liked matzoh and could there be acquiring of it? And I took that question and replied, “Well, I guess I could host Passover.”

So I invited some friends…

And had 21 RSVPs. Including my parents, jews and non-jews, the proudly child free and three children, people who keep kosher and people who only vaguely know that ham and cheese sandwiches are problematic, vegetarians and people who refuse to eat vegetables, and also the neighbor who has taken to asking for food from me (and her boyfriend).

From them, there were the following contributions: My mother made her signature chopped liver and brought a fruit bowl; Lulu brought coconut macaroons; Redwizz brought his secret family recipe charoset; another friend offered stuffed mushrooms and spinach kugel (but they ended up canceling); and my boss kindly dropped off her leftovers from the first night’s seder she hosted. All the rest was up to me. I did end up at the last minute get some amazing help from Geeksdoitbetter and Carrie, and the seder would not have gone nearly as well without their (especially Geeksdoitbetter’s) help.

Appetizers

mystery dip
So my boss’s husband makes a vegan mushroom/artichoke mousse mold thing to offer vegetarians instead of gefilte fish. I plan to get his recipe. But also included with their leftovers were little matzoh sticks, so I knew there had to be dip! This was my mother’s job. It was rapidly determined that either cream cheese or sour cream would be likely to overwhelm the delicate flavor of the mousse, so it was thinned with mayonnaise. Then, because it was dip, the flavor needed to be boosted a bit, so she added oregano, hot pepper, black pepper, and salt. The result was pretty tasty but not perfect.

chopped liver with little matzoh crackers

(not included were the pitted dates I split up the side and stuffed walnut quarters into. I was going to toss them in the over with honey, salt, and pepper, according to an ancient roman recipe, until just warm enough to be soft and pliable. Instead, a few were nibbled just stuffed.)

Seder

Charoset Okay, so my family’s recipe is hand cut apples with crumbled walnuts, cinnamon, and red wine. Redwizz’s family recipe is apples, dates, orange juice, almonds, and cinnamon, mixed in a food processor until it looks like mortar. Oddly, they don’t taste all that different, and his is easier to eat on matzoh (as well as being acceptable to those who do not imbibe).

First Course

I gave the diners a choice among potatoes (roasted leftovers from my boss – and surprisingly tasty), hard boiled eggs (using these directions from Coconut and Lime with great results), and gefilte fish from a can.

Second Course

Chicken Soup with Matzoh Balls and/or Noodles – I make stock all the time. I make flavorful stock! And I had a bag of vegetable ends in desperate need of a round of stock making. What is more, when I was out in the Italian Market questing for chicken fat (which can not be found there!), I happened to be in line behind someone buying a quantity of chicken wings and asking for the tips to be thrown away, so I managed to acquire them for free. But I was using a larger pot than I’m used to, and even though I increased the amount of vegetables and spices accordingly, it still tasted like water after hours of cooking. Like water! So I ended up getting a (small) whole chicken just for the stock. And then it had flavor! But that was surprisingly stressful.

The matzoh balls were also a little scary. I was sure I could do it, but I kept being sure I could do it later and procrastinating it farther and farther off. Until Carrie showed up and offered to help, and I managed to talk her into making them even though she’d never seen nor tasted them before. I gave her all of the directions I’d accumulated from my grandmother (who made amazing ones) – use the recipe on the matzoh meal box and don’t handle them much) and set her to it. And they turned out a little dense, but they floated and were tasty

The noodles were storebought and standard. I’m glad I didn’t make them too far ahead because by the time the meal was over and we went to clean the pot they had turned into a gelatinous mess.

Main Course

I decided to go with both dairy and meat options (just nothing mixed) and let people choose their own adventures. I had also planned several parve/vegan dishes, but those (accidentally, I swear) ended up being the ones cut from the menu once it was clear there was plenty food.

Meat

Mark Bittman’s Braised Lamb with Horseradish and Parsley

I love that this dish incorporates food mentioned as historically relevant in the service, and I love that it’s braised – eliminating the holiday’s tendency toward dry meats. The lamb shoulder was sourced from Esposito’s, and they were willing to remove the bone and package it separately for me. They also had special seder plate lamb bone sections, but since I was already buying a lamb bone, I just went with the shoulder piece. I bought three shoulders – two in the 3 pound range and 1 in the 5 pound range. And there was a lot of painstaking trimming of fat from that cut that I’m not sure was necessary, but the end product was succulent and beautiful.

Right, so the first step was taking all of the bones, roasting them, and them adding them to a pot with some vegetables to make stock (and then cleaning them and roasting the three prettiest for the seder plate).

Then I took the huge dutch oven my mother bought me as a housewarming present (my first one of my own! At the time I wasn’t sure I’d use one that big, but I’ve already used it a lot) and browned the lamb cubes in batches, sprinkling with salt and pepper. Even with the olive oil, the lamb still stuck a bit – and I suspect it might have released if I’d waited for a proper sear, but I could not resist stirring the meat a good bit.

When I was on the last batch for browning and it was looking just about done, I added the slivered garlic and let that cook for a bit together. Then in went a glug of manischewitz concord grape (the recipe allows for white wine, but I love cooking with the manischewitz too much) and the lamb stock. And then the rest of the meat… which possibly should have gone in before the stock because I had to be very careful not to splash.

And I simmered the lamb for several hours and then didn’t add the peeled fresh horseradish (because I was scared and it was incredibly tasty without) until the last half hour of cooking, overnight, and the reheating on the day, but it didn’t end up changing the flavor much at all.

I almost forgot the parsley sauce, and few people used it – but I made it thick, with just a minimal amount of oil and vinegar (done by sight, so I have no measurements for you). It was delicious, and I’ve enjoyed using it up at leftovers – stirred into sour cream dip for chips and mixed in with egg salad)

Lemon Thyme Chicken

I feel a bit bad about this one. It has been so long since I’ve paid money for meat, that I’d planned to only spend money on ethical meat. And there I was at the farmers market staring at the $14/pound meat when this was already the most expensive meal I’d ever made and I’d been buying tables and chairs and a sink! And I walked away (after buying 4 dozen eggs) and bought cheap meat at the grocery store, where I bought enough thighs and breast meat to feed everyone for about $14. Next year I’ll do better.

Right, so step one was to peel and thickly slice an onion or two and to lay them in the bottom of the casserole dish (this adds moisture and keeps the meat from cooking to the dish, making cleanup easier).

Then I took a jar of pre-peeled garlic and shook enough into the dish to give more even coverage for the bottom – it doesn’t have to be perfect. And I tossed in about 10 oil-cured black olives to round out the flavor.

I arranged the chicken so that the thighs (with skin and fat) were around the outside and the breasts (skinless and cut into thigh-sized pieces, so three pieces per half) were filling in the center.

On top of that came freshly cut thyme (on the stem) and roughly-cut chunks of lemon. I usually make this dish with rosemary, so I used too little thyme to affect the chicken as much as I wanted, so in future I’d recommend really piling the stems on or/and also dusting with powdered thyme.

If you have more of the breast meat, you can also add a swig of wine and start the cooking process with aluminum foil over to keep it from drying. There were enough thighs (roughly half the meat) in this batch that no additional liquid was needed and it was fine uncovered. It went into the 350F oven right before we started reading, so let’s say it cooked for an hour and a half. I have, however, accidentally overcooked this dish by as much as an hour and had no ill effects or drying of the meat.

Dairy

Kale and Feta Matzoh Pie

This recipe was inspired by Gourmet’s Spinach and Matzoh Pie, but I was already supposed to have someone bringing spinach kugel and I love the more bitter greens. Really, this recipe was begging for some kale!

I bought three spring tops of curly kale from Landisdale Farm at the farmers market. The day before, I shredded the kale and cooked it down with a pinch of salt (so that I’d have more room in my refrigerator).

The next day, I assembled the lasagnas.

I mixed up a pound of fresh farmers cheese (from mexico, featured in my local supermarket… tasted like try, crumbly sour cream with a bit more culturing), 2 cups whole milk, 3 eggs, freshly ground nutmeg, and some salt and pepper, in a bowl with a fork. It was fine, even without the blender.

And I ended up with two casserole dishes almost exactly the size of a piece of matzoh, so I used one to soak the pieces in the 2 cups of the mixture while assembling in the other… and then just laid the rest of the pieces on top to assemble the second one. There didn’t seem to be any difference between the dish that had been oiled and the one that hadn’t when it came time to serve.

Then I finely diced an onion and reheated the cooked kale, squeezing out the moisture as I went. I also minced and threw in about a quarter cup of fresh dill.

Once the moisture was mostly evaporated, I stirred the kale into the remaining egg/dairy mixture and crumbled in a good half of the pound of feta I’d bought from my local halal.

Then I assembled: matzoh, filling, matzoh, filling, matzoh – matzoh, filling, matzoh, filling, matzoh. And I had just enough filling left to put a very thin layer on the top of both – perfection. And I crumbled almost all of the rest of the feta on top (let’s say 3 ounces per dish).

This was baked ahead and served only slightly warmed. It was delicious! I love the body of the kale in this, and I can’t image spinach being nearly as good.

It even freezes and reheats well! I love this dish! Such a success.

Greens and Quinoa Pie

This was my very first time tackling quinoa. I know that’s delinquent of me, but still. The grains were smaller than I expected, and there was no way they were going to be cooperative in a strainer for rinsing and draining – so I soaked them. Only then the toasting process was unfortunate, and I had to give up on that step. Perhaps toasting them dry and then soaking them next time.

So I cooked 3/4 of a cup of quinoa (because I’d eyeballed the amount and had no use for a quarter of a cup, so I went ahead and cooked it all) and set it aside until I was ready to deal with making the dish.

In my largest skillet, I cooked the romaine and some other lettuce-y head that was pale and spiky (but not frissee) and bitter enough to be related to chicory. Then I tossed them into a strainer in the sink and squeezed them occasionally as guests started trickling in and milling about the kitchen.

The last thing I did before settling people into the dining room to start the seder was to assemble the skillet of cooked onions, green onions, dill, cooked quinoa, and squeezed cut up lettuces.

Once we started taking turns reading the story of Passover, I sneaked back a couple times into the kitchen (and hid the afikomen) to get it cooked, the three eggs beaten and added, and the cheese – the remaining 2 ounces of feta and the last of the stichelton from my cheese tasting. And then I popped it into the 350F oven (in the skillet, not juggling the whole transfer to a pie plate) to finish cooking evenly.

It turned out pretty tasty, froze well, and received praise from the one guest who claimed to love quinoa. While filling and sturdy, I’m not sure it was exceptional enough to make next year.

Golden Gratin – Yam & Apricot Casserole (could have been vegan)

There is no good reason why this dish isn’t parve and vegan! No good reason! But for some reason the recipe is made for it to be meat, and there’s a tendency among the commenters to make it dairy, too. Having made it, I say that it would lose nothing from being vegan.

So you peel your orange-fleshed sweet potatoes or yams and cut them into chunks.

Then you make a base syrup out of apricot nectar (I was planning up substitute orange juice, but my coop just happened to have a bottle of apricot nectar across from the check out – and I just used the one bottle, which was less than 4 cups, but whatever)… and then the recipe calls for a cup of chicken broth. Why, recipe? Why? I happened to have a quart jar of oolong tea hanging out, so that was a perfect substitution. Other substitution options would be orange juice, white grape juice, water, or vegetable stock.

The recipe then called for 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted pareve margarine. I used 3 Tablespoons of butter because I don’t believe in margarine. Honestly? I could have skipped the butter entirely, and that might have improved the dish.

Then 1/2 cup chopped dried apricots. I had bought Turkish Apricots from nuttyguys.com on a Groupon without a purpose a while back, and they went into this. Geeksdoitbetter cut them into quarters (and she peeled the yams and washed the kale and did all kinds of things to make this dinner go).

So the apricots cook with the nectar and tea with some cinnamon and black pepper and then you add the yams and cover and cook until the yams are fork tender. At this point, I put them up until the next day.

I was careful to keep the chunks of sweet potato intact in the repackaging so they’d still be individual pieces the next day, and they were delicious.

On the next round, when I served the leftovers a few days later, I mashed them into a smooth yamy puree and topped them with a crumble topping of 1/4 cup rolled oats (not kosher for passover), 1/4 cup matzoh meal, 1/8 cup matzoh flour, 1/4 cup brown sugar, and as much olive oil and neccessary to get it the right amount of crumbly. Baked for 40 minutes, and it was de-light-ful. Well, it was a (potentially vegan, and it would have been fine) sweet potato casserole with a crumble topping – what’s not to love?

Parve / Vegan dishes

Asparagus

The Soup Vixen helped me acquire half a flat of asparagus from the Italian Market. I was going to roast them right before serving… and that didn’t happen. So now I have a pickling and canning project. Woo!

Dandelion Greens

Come on – what says bitter greens and spring time so much as dandelions? These were (again last minute, so didn’t happen) going to be quick sauteed with olive oil and vast quantities of garlic.

Carrot Casserole

These were going to be cut into coins in the food processor and baked with a little liquid (probably vegetable stock) and some za’atar seasoning. This was the first recipe to be abandoned because I found the golden gratin, but I still bought the carrots

Savory Red Pepper and Onion Matzo Brei (not vegan)

Also would have been tasty, but was a dish that sounded best made last minute.

Dessert

Coconut Macaroons

My friend has a quest to find the perfect coconut macaroon recipe, so I made doe eyes at her for many of them for Passover. And it worked – she made 4 batches.

Only there was an error in the handing down of the familial coconut macaroon recipe, and this try called for 2 egg whites per package of coconut (instead of the 1 called for by the condensed milk people)… and that made the recipe harder for her than it should have been. Apparently the extra egg pools out into eggy feet around the base of each macaroon, and she had to tear them off individually. (also, her dishwasher broke mid macaroon making)

That said, the macaroons were soft and sinfully delicious and way better that the dusty, dry ones from the boss’s Passover leftovers. I brought the leftover macaroons to work, and there was so much praise!

My friend, however, is still looking for an even more perfect recipe. The condensed milk flavor was more noticeable than she wanted and there was the egg issue, but the ease of the recipe was a big plus.

Walnut-Date Torte

Whooo! So my stand mixer is also new so me, so this was my first time whipping egg whites. It was amazing. It was a miracle that I didn’t eat the sugar/whipped egg white mixture with a spoon. I can see meringues in my future. Pavlovas with summer fruit.

Right, so the walnut stuffed date appetizers (which didn’t happen) and the dates for this cake were prepped at the same time. I just took my measuring cup and every time the date was dry or not pretty or didn’t split easily, it was cut into bits (quarters the long way, and then 4-5 slices down the length). I ended up with slightly over a cup and a half from that method, which was exactly what the recipe called for. Then I added the half a cup of boiling water and let it sit to hydrate.

For the walnuts, I just learned that the way that entry is written explicitly means you measure the 1 1/2 cups of walnuts, then toast them, and then chop them. Done!

And then I got out the food processor my sister got me (which I absolutely did not steal from KitchenMage) as a housewarming to chop the walnuts with 1/4 cup light brown sugar until finely ground. Then the recipe calls for 2/3 cup matzoh meal, but I’d misread the recipe before shopping and also bought matzoh flour for just this recipe, so I was determined to use it! So in went 1/3 cup matzoh meal and 1/3 cup matzoh flour, 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom, and a pinch of salt.

Instead of orange zest, I just happened to have some orange peel soaking in water in my fridge awaiting accumulating enough to candy… so I minced up an eighth of a cup of blanched, soaking (so much milder than fresh) orange peel and added it to the dates. I really liked this change.

I beat the egg whites until the looked like they were thinking about peaks, and then I started slowly adding the remaining 1/2 cup white sugar. And the volume didn’t increase as much as I was expecting, so I might have beat slightly longer than requested, but they were holding stiff, glossy peaks and looking lovely when I did stop. They made that lovely crinkly sound when you fold into them.

But first – the 4 yolks get mixed into the dates and orange peel. First the dates were added to the egg whites and folded in, and then the nuts and flour were folded in. This was seriously one of the most delicious cake batters ever! (And I’m a devoted batter eater. I find the batter is almost always significantly tastier than the end product, and this was no exception).

I had enough batter for two medium (8″?) pie plates. It baked at 350F for 40 minutes until a toothpick came out clean (I didn’t notice the springing away from the edge of the pan phenomenon), and I served it in the pan.

It was okay and definitely decent on the first day.

By the second day, however, it was nice! You should definitely make this 1-3 days ahead. You know what was also nice? Drizzling it with cointreau! It’s in the good fruitcake family, and it does well being treated that way.

10
Jan

Bread! No, really – bread!

   Posted by: Livia Tags:

I have started baking!

Now I’ve tried baking before, and I have ruined cookies. I have ruined more than one box mix of bread made in a bread machine. I just don’t get dough.

And now, all of a sudden, I’m baking. Bread. Without a bread machine.

Okay, so the without a bread machine part was entirely accidental, but I’d already added water to flour when I found out the motor on my bread machine had given up, and it would have been more difficult to clean up at that stage than to keep going and give it a try completely by hand.

I’m trying to keep myself to eating no more than a loaf of bread a week, so there hasn’t been an explosion of bread products. But it’s the second week of fearless breadmaking, and the second loaf of tasty bread… so I’m ready to confess to it.

Premise: Michael Ruhlman wrote a book, Ratio. And after talking it up with my friends, it was a yule gift to me (thanks!). I thought it was a book about baking, but it’s really more a book about all kinds of cooking – at a very high level. It pretty much says, “All of those techniques you know that come with complicated recipes? Well the recipes are secretly rather simple, and here are the magic formulae behind them all – in graph form, no less.”

Okay, well, I have a scale and I’m feeling a lot more comfortable with bread being able to be reduced to a framework with some flexibility.

But I’m also not an expert, so I can tell right away that the scant ten pages on bread will not be sufficient, so I also pull out the book of bread machine recipes and my Joy of Cooking.

Experiment 1:
I look at the lean dough recipe (Ratio, p.10):

20 ounces bread flour (about 2 cups)
12 ounces water
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon active or instant yeast

And I compare it with the recipes for 2 lb loaves in the bread machine cookbooks. Those tend to call for about 3 cups of flour, so I scale down the recipe to:

15 ounces flour
9 ounces water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
yeast

Yeah, so I didn’t measure the yeast. The store only had packets, so I just went with a whole packet and figured that should be a loaf of bread worth.

So I pulled out my measuring cup (because it’s microwave safe) and poured in 9 ounces of water. And then I chucked in the random egg yolk I had in my freezer (thawed first) and 2 teaspoons of butter (because every recipe in the bread machine cookbook had about that quantity of lipids). And then I carefully microwaved it up to about 90F and poured some over the active dry yeast to soften it.

Into another container (a quart yogurt container was the perfect size), I started measuring out my flours. And of course I didn’t go the easy route, but I went for whole wheat flour right away. I added about 5 ounces of whole wheat, maybe another 3 ounces of rye flour, and then I was just careful adding the white bread flour to get it to exactly 15 ounces.

Then I added the liquid to the bread machine, added the flour, and topped it with the wet yeast. Plugged it in and nothing happened. Nothing! Whah!

After much despairing, I pulled out the bowl part and twirled the paddle for a bit by hand – and it came together pretty quickly and painlessly into a ball. So I dumped the ball into a large, heavy bowl to mix a little more. And here was the real moment of brilliance that will keep my coming back to bread making – I realized that I didn’t have to get a whole table messy/floury to make bread – I could knead it right there in the bowl!!! Not only was my table not getting dirty, but I was also amazed to discover that my hand didn’t end up all that messy, either. I love bread dough!

I kneaded it in the bowl for a bit, but it fairly quickly became apparent that there wasn’t enough liquid in the dough and it just felt grainy. So I slowly added water in batches as I was kneading. And then I was reading more in Joy of Cooking as I was kneading, and I saw that it said you must have sugars in the dough, too, in order to feed the yeast. So the next time the dough felt dry, I grabbed the honey bottle and squeezed in some honey. I think I ended up adding slightly less than al 1/4 cup of water and maybe an eighth of a cup of honey.

And then I had to let it rise… except my kitchen isn’t hot enough. I live in a tiny studio apartment, and I’ve come up with a solution where I heat my bedroom just a little and the kitchen not at all and this winter (thanks to the help of friends) I have the place insulated enough that it’s enough for me to be comfortable… but the kitchen’s around 40F on most days. So I (oiled the bowl, rounded the dough, turned it in the oil) dampened a kitchen towel and microwaved it until it was warm and steamy. Then I put the bowl on a cutting board and wrapped the top in the warm towel and tucked it all up close to the baseboard heater in my bedroom.

By morning it had doubled in size. Punched it down, kneaded it a little, had some errands to run, so I re-wet and microwaved the towel and put it up for a second rise. Came home and heated up the oven and baked it. (400F for 10 minutes, 350F for 25-30 more minutes – from Joy of Cooking)

Results of experiment #1: So I fully expected this loaf to fail. From no recipe to the equipment failure, from starting off trying a whole wheat loaf to the random inexplicable tinkering – this recipe was doomed to fail. Only it didn’t! It was delicious! It was bread! Okay, so it was a bit solid and tough and more suited to toasting that gobbling up straight, but it was still hard not to gobble it all up right away. I even took some to my mother that night, and she agreed it was tasty bread! Success!

Experiment #2:But I can do better.

This time I only went up to 3.5 ounces of 15 to be whole wheat flour. And I mixed some whole milk with the water (still a total weight of 9 ounces).

And I kneaded it for longer in hopes of making it chewier. Oh, and I figured that since I can keep kneading the flour in a bowl and my hand isn’t getting too dirty that the whole project is portable! So I tucked back into the warm bedroom and kneaded the flour for a whole episode of Earth 2.

The dough still needed more liquid (about the same amount more) and I still added honey (2 Tablespoons-ish). And I accidentally – because I didn’t check back with the book – only included 3/4 teaspoon salt.

And even with the long kneading time, it never reached the stage Ruhlman describes where, “To know if you’ve kneaded the bread dough enough, cut a small piece and stretch it gently. If it reaches the point of translucency before it breaks, the dough is ready.” (Ratio, p.8) But I figure that’s a feature of using the whole wheat flour. And I was starting to worry after 50 minutes of desultory kneading whether I might not be doing too much. I kept adding liquid until the dough was just slightly tacky/sticky after a thorough kneading.

Since the initial mixing had been done in this bowl, too, there was a fine crust of floury bits around the rim, so I did have to wash and dry the bowl before oiling it and putting the dough back in it to rise. But I used the same set up as last week. Only one rise, though.

Results of experiment #2: OMG BREAD! No, really – bread! Just the right amount of gumminess. It could use a bit deeper flavor, but it was exactly what bread should be! Without a recipe and done by feel! I can not express how happy this makes me! It wasn’t just beginners’ luck, either! Wooo! I can not wait until next week when I’ll let myself have another go, but I have no idea how this loaf will last through the night without getting completely devoured.

Plan for experiment #3 So I’m going to need to buy more yeast for next week, so I was perusing the King Arthur Flour website, and I stopped by to look at their recipes – some of which convert back and forth between volume and weight. I’ve noticed that they tend to go with a 16oz flour : 10 oz liquid ratio. That would be a little more wet, and I think I’ll try that next.

4
Jan

C is for Cookie

   Posted by: Livia

I am eating the weirdest cookies that I bought at Death Bi Chocolate – I think they have white chocolate chips, raisins, dried cherries, and powdered candy canes…. They are addictively good, and I have no idea how.

29
Dec

Death Bi Chocolate?

   Posted by: Livia Tags:

I do not have a baking talent… or really much of any talent for desserts.

So, dear friendslist, is it a plausible goal to produce something chocolatey and tasty (but not necessarily gourmet) for the Death Bi Chocolate people by Monday noon?

Especially considering that I recently re-injured my knee with the grotty cartilage?

Ingredients should cost no more than $15 and be light enough to be hopped across the street. Preparation should be able to mostly take place sitting down.

Are there any recipes that fit these requirements? (even if I don’t make something for the event, it’ll still be great to know if such recipes exist)

I know this isn’t the best year to try my hand at participating, but it has come to my attention that this year it will be held somewhere more local than it used to be, so I’d love to see the event do well.

Plus – chocolate!

Wisdom from the comments: Epicurious Chocolate Cake, Chocolate Orgasms, Whacky Cake, French Chocolate Candy, and these fancy shaped brownies:

Fancy shaped brownies are very easy. You will need:

brownie ingredients
a sheet of parchment paper
a half sheet pan
a spatula
cookie cutters

Line the half sheet pan with the parchment paper.
Spread the brownie batter over the parchment-lined pan. Bake till set. Let cool.

Cut in shapes with the cookie cutters. Place on a serving plate. Eat the scraps.

If desired, microwave butterscotch chips or white chocolate till they melt and drizzle over the cutouts. Lick the drips off your fingers.

Read books
Element of Fire by Martha Wells

I really liked this book, but I spent the entire time I was reading it wishing it were Science Fiction instead of Fantasy. See, one of the things I like most about some of this author’s other writing is that she writes science fiction that is believably otherworldly where I am neither pointing the the earth culture some author blatantly ripped off nor am I wincing at the implausible technobabble. Her stuff is the closest to good hard sci fi that I have read in a while. So I went into this book looking for that itch to be scratched, and I got fantasy.

Still, there’s wonderful political intrigue, and an amazingly understated and limiting system of magic that feels wonderfully plausible. Every single character has dimensions and motivations and regrets. I ended up wanting to spend a good deal more time in this world.

The Wizard Hunters by Martha Wells

Luckily, I already had another book set in the same world as Element of Fire. Only this one – is set in the future of the other book – possibly a steampunk future. So there’s that rich texture of fantasy, but the magic has faded a bit in the way of technology and there are whizzing gadgets and whamframits and legacies of wizards and the ways different cultures have been shaped by developing in a world with magic. It’s almost an anthropological study, but it’s also swashbuckling and quirkiness. There are so many elements in this world, but they are all clearly defined and interesting and I need to go buy the next two books in the trilogy right away.

Watched movies
Stardust

There were times when I was grinning uncontrollably, thinking, “Awwww… Neil Gaiman, your message is showing.” Geek boy makes good! People love you, even if you’re different! Overconfidence will do you in every time. N’awww!

But aside from that, totally aside from Neil Gaiman’s input, this was an awesome movie. The visuals were stunning! The acting was wonderful – there was just the right balance of scenery chewing and subtlety. And I have never seen costuming and special effects work together so well before – with the way they did the witch’s magic, her incredibly awkward dress totally worked because it matched the smokey magic effect and made it looks like she was trailing off into vapours at the edges – and both were enhanced by the other. I loved that the pretty pretty princess looked like a real person, and beautiful. I loved that one of the essential parts of becoming a hero was acquiring Keanu Reeve’s hair – I had never understood before. Robert De Niro was great, but I really wanted to squish his first mate’s cheeks – who was he? OH! – well, this movie really suited him.

Kiss of the Spider Woman

This movie has been available for me to watch ever since it was released and we had a copy on Beta. Finally got around to it.

First off. I hate William Hurt. Far too many times, I have gone into a movie really excited that it will have John Hurt in it, only to be tricked into having to watch William Hurt, instead. Not a fair substitution, I tell you! I think he managed to single-handedly ruin the last third of History of Violence, which would have been one of my favorite movies, if only they had cast someone other than William Hurt. I don’t like his voice, his mannerisms, the way he manages to be smugly modest, and he has stupid hair. Or I might just be projecting that all because I am bitter that he isn’t John Hurt.

And the movie starts off with William Hurt’s voice talking painfully slowly he’s really savouring his own nasal tone, and I almost turned it off right there. But my mother has been trying to get me to watch this movie for years, so I kept going.

I sure was glad that my closest neighbors have moved because I was a bit embarrassed at times to have, “Faggot,” shouted out through my windows so frequently – not a polite movie.

But it was a good movie. I liked how the characters developed and didn’t compromise. I liked how the story was built up in layers that seemed superficial but weren’t.

I have an urge to rewrite bits of it. On the other hand, I like that I have to fight the text at that point.

Baked… badly
Saga of the whole wheat banana peanut butter chocolate chip cookies

It all started with overripe bananas. And I was going to make banana bread, but I always make banana bread. So I looked through my cookbooks for something new to bake with bananas.

I have checked out from the library a cookbook for Clueless Bakers, and it had a recipe for whole wheat banana peanut butter cookies. What could go wrong?

So I started off following the recipe exactly, and the recipe said that throwing in chocolate chips would cause nothing but good things, so I did that.

The result? Lumpy, grainy, yucky cookies of blech!

I thought back to the best peanut butter cookies I have ever had, and they had been made from a fairly thin batter with melted chocolate drops on top. So I went to the store to buy Hershey’s Kisses, and I set out to thin the batter.

I looked in my fridge and decided that the small cup of vanilla yogurt would be the perfect choice, after all I was planning to put yogurt (plain) in the banana bread, if I made it, and a bit of vanilla would do wonders for the taste. I also decided that a teaspoon of powdered ginger would also do wonders for the taste, so I added that.

The batter was thin and spread out just the way I wanted, but it didn’t get crispy at all. The outside was cooked, but the inside was still mushy – and they were thin now!

Apparently, yogurt was the wrong choice. When I called my mother to whine about my cookies, she said that I should have used an egg but that a dairy product would trap too much moisture.

The Hershey’s Kisses were also not as charming as the chocolate drops made special for the other recipe because they didn’t melt – the just got a bit droopy around the edges but maintained their shape perfectly even after baking. Creepy. Possibly, I should have been tipped off by the paper tags under the foil that said, “Oops,” and, “I hate Mondays!”

At least the dough was tasty. If it weren’t for cultural indoctrination against salmonella, I’d prefer to eat most cookies as dough.

Nevermind, I packed up the entire lot of them and left them in the staff room for people to try.

I’m good at savoury food, but for some reason I am bizarrely incompetent at baked goods.

ETA: The free cookies at work were not tempting enough at all – at the end of the day, I ended up throwing out half of them.

21
Jul

My life is full of hard choices

   Posted by: Livia

PIE vs Harry Potter.

Made from scratch key lime pie in which we tested out two different recipes… versus the new Harry Potter book.

Pie made with some absolutely lovely people who are wonderful people… versus the new Harry Potter book

Pie with people who live in the city versus my pre-paid Harry Potter book out in the suburbs at least 40 minutes away.

what do you think happened?

I totally managed to do both!

There was socializing and talking and baking – with an extra trip to round up enough ingredients for the *two* batches instead of the single one originally planned. We found that the Nigella Lawson one was bizarrely fluffy and that we probably liked the simple recipe printed on the bag of key limes best, but we are reserving final judgment until the pies have had a chance to cool and set in the refrigerator.

Because we ate the pies warm!

Pies came out of the oven about 11:20ish.

There was tasty sampling that was reasonably leisurely so as to fully judge the pies’ merits.

And then there was freakishly fast driving. And I did not get a speeding ticket even though I totally deserved one.

Got to the bookstore at 12:10 to a bunch of people leaving – but there were still a bunch of people buying. My pre-paid receipt was not in the special box, so manager-type person was called over and a list was checked – and I walked out with a copy at 12:20.

And now I need to calm down a bit before getting into the serious business of reading.

14
May

Banana Bread

   Posted by: Livia Tags:

I have an old standard recipe for never-fail banana nut bread that comes from the red-checkered version of the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, so when I got my apartment I got a copy of the cookbook to take with me so that I could have this specific recipe.

Only they went and changed it on me! I ended up with some crazy recipe that had streusel nut topping. Not on, cookbook. [ETA: streusel-laden recipe warning – pop-ups and other annoying advertising]

So I sent home to my mother for a copy of the correct recipe to put into the cookbook:

Banana Nut Bread
350F

1/2 c. shortening butter (5 1/3 Tbsps.)
1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs

1 3/4 c. sifted all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

1 c. mashed ripe bananas (I use 3 bananas, if I have them. Otherwise, 2)
1/2 c. chopped nuts (pecans, in my land)

Cream together butter and sugar; add eggs and beat well.

Sift together dry ingredients; add to creamed mixture alternately with banana, blending well after each addition.

Stir in nuts.

Pour into well greased 9.5″x5″x3″ loaf pan.

Bake at 350F for 40-45 minutes or until done. Remove from pan, and cool on a rack.

Now once I started making this in my apartment, I was living in a land with no dishwasher. So instead of mashing the bananas in one bowl, chopping the nuts into another, creaming the butter and sugar in yet another, and then having the large bowl with the dry ingredients and then everything else – I tried to minimize the dishes I would have to do. So I broke apart the nuts into the measuring cups after they’d been used, and I put the bananas straight into the dough and mashed as I mixed it in. This ended up making the dough too dry. So now there is about another 1/2 cup of sour cream in my standard recipe. Basically, I make it the usual way and then I add sour cream until the dough is wet enough.

This recipe makes amazing bread.

This morning, while I was waiting for the bread to cook, I decided to see whether my new cookbook, The Best Recipe by the Cook’s Illustrated people, had any opinions on the perfect technique for making banana bread. And they do:

  • Sour Cream added richness, but it also made for a heavy texture and an unattractive, pebbly crust.
  • they mix the nuts with the dry ingredients and the bananas with the wet, and they add yogurt in with the wet, too.

It’s the end of the season, and I have an abundance of food.

food I have

Not frozen meat
8 or so assorted pieces of Kentucky Fried Chicken
leftover filet mignon (with sauteed peppers and mushrooms on the side)
bacon (this usually is just assumed, but I thought I’d throw it on the list today)

Frozen Meat *means should be used soonish
ground beef
hamburger patties
meatballs
taco seasoned ground beef
london broil marinated for stir fry*
chicken breast
diced roast pork* (only 1 meal’s worth)
chicken backs for stock

sorely tempting meat on sale this week
ground beef $1.69/lb
skinless boneless chicken breast $1.99/lb

bread
tortillas
I have a bread machine!!!
1/2 pound of bread leftover from a loaf

Produce
10 peaches of dubious virtue (these are the least ripe ones from the $5 of peach seconds I got at the farmers’ market and put up and sugared and put in the back of the fridge to ferment. Now my container is full, and I need to think up something different for these last few)
10 pounds of potatoes
5 bell peppers
2 zucchinis
3 long skinny eggplants
carrots
jalepeno peppers
2 apples
garlic (whole and peeled)

Dairy
sour cream
cheddar cheese
2% milk
heavy cream
and end of a blue cheese that should be finished soonish
cream cheese

OMG food!

I looked through all my cookbooks for stuff for peaches and potatoes (separately)

One of my favorite cookbooks, Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen, had a recipe for a frittata that not only included potatoes, but also bell peppers and day old bread! Score. I had that last night, but I put all the stuff on the list, anyway, just so I could brag about finding the perfect recipe. I wonder how well the potato frittata will reheat? I’ll find out eventually, I guess.

Cooking With the Seasons had an exceptionally tasty-looking peach dessert, but I’ll need people over to try that. Hint. Hint.
ETA: I lied. The recipe is in Winterthur’s Cullinary Collection, which also has an interesting recipe for a pie with dates and sesame seeds that I might like to have help trying to create some moot.

Otherwise, it looks like I’ll make a coriander and peach chutney/salsa thing and find a good meat to put it with… my choice would be lamb, but it’s looking like chicken is the available option.

I have separated the chicken into meat, crunchy bits, and refuse. I can’t quite bring myself to toss the crunchy bits. They are so tasty – there must be a way to use them without the hideous gluttony of a meal of chicken skin. Crumb topping for casserole?

I’d been planning to put the filet mignon with peppers and mushrooms either in tortillas or over rice all mexican-y with maybe the zucchini and perhaps a can of beans. I think the starch shall, instead, be diced potatoes. Lots of diced potatoes. And I could probably grill down at least one additional bell pepper. I might be able to put away five or six lunches from that dinner.

Ummmm… eggplant. That could go with potatoes in a curry. With jarred tomatoes (from [redacted]’s mother!). And… ummm… lots of jalepenos. Yeah.

So what else is urgent? I should have a bell pepper left, unless it self destructs before I get to it. More potatoes. Some pork for a small dish. Beef for a stir fry. Wherewithal to make hella tasty mashed potatoes to feed a large army. Bother – peaches still, I can’t imagine the chicken using up more than half what I have. Oh, and cooked chicken. Right.

So I need salad greens. I think a chicken, peach, grilled onion salad with stilton would be kinda tasty. Maybe some toasted almonds in that. But way too early to buy the greens yet.

roasted pork with potatoes and carrots and gravy. *yawn* Boring, but it’ll still be tasty.

And then I thaw the meat for stir fry again and make it right quick. Probably by this time I will need to buy more bell peppers. There can be potatoes in stir fry. Totally.

Ooh, and the Better Homes and Gardens has a recipe for bread machine potato bread that starts from a real potato.

Yeah. That should feed me into next month. And I think I’lll still need brilliant ideas to eat everything.

And I have a hankering to make lots of bread… only no room to eat it.

ARGH! I forgot about the three pounds of dates I bought to stuff for an SCA event and never got around to doing anything with… and the container of feta cheese and the bag of walnuts. Is anyone throwing a party any time soon who wants to join me in making a tasty little finger desserts?

Meanwhile, I am feeling both antisocial and lonely… and not quite sure what to do with that.