Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cookie Lesson

Two lessons, in fact.

1: It pays to follow directions
2: It pays to improvise

I had a jones for chocolate cookies. I got me a goodlookin recipe:

2 cups confectioner's sugar 
3/4 cups dutch process cocoa
3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups butter (!)
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs

Sift all the dry ingredients together into a large bowl. Cut in softened butter until evenly combined. A few little lumps are ok. Mix eggs & vanilla and add to dry ingredients. Mix until it forms a mostly smooth ball.

Bake cookies for 8 minutes at 350.

I followed it. Wow, huh? And then the dough turned out way too gooey for rolled cookies, which is what it was supposed to be. Well, I knew that might happen, the recipe reviews said it might, but what to do next? I didn't want to sit around waiting for it to harden up in the fridge, which was the suggested fix.

But I do have a totally neato vintage cookie press. Ha-HAH! It worked beautifully. Better than I had ever gotten the darn thing to work before, in fact.

So, who wants to have a tea party?

Monday, October 19, 2009

mmmm Margarine

The first time I had a proper PBJ was when I was in maybe 3rd grade. I was at Tom & Pat Petit's house, and Pat offered me one. I remember thinking it was a funny idea. We had peanut butter at my house, and bread, but jam was something that existed as a by-product of Dad's whacked-out fruit flavored cordial recipes. As such, it didn't go with anything really, and I sure as hell didn't like to mess up my peanut butter with it. I had rather just have raisins, that was normal, right, raisin sandwich? Uh-huh. I think dad even tried to make grape jelly once, with the concord grape leviathan that was hulking around the back yard, it was awful stuff. The jelly, I mean; it was cloudy and bitter, but I could be remembering something else. The vine was pretty cool.

The point is, I was taken aback at the idea of putting jelly (grape flavored!) on peanut butter. But Pat gave me one anyway, and it was amazing. Smucker's grape jelly. Jif. White bread. And the secret ingredient: a thick layer of margarine. To this day I remember eating that sandwich, and feeling like I'd gotten away with something. Now, I am truly grateful for all the weird shit my parents made me eat as a child (except turnips, I still have a grudge about that one). I really don't like white wonder-style bread, it's pretty nasty. And I love real butter! Wow, if I had to give up real butter I might die of misery. Jif? Hate it. Ate it too regularly in highschool.

But somehow, the salty, artificial, butter-esque, movie-theater-popcorn taste of margarine has retained its magic, and I go through phases when I hanker after a slice of bread topped with a thick, sloppy layer of margarine and strawberry jam. Add a big mug of tea, and fuzzy pajamas; sometimes comfort is simple.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Paean to Eggs

I eat lots of eggs. They are magical, I am convinced. They go in sweets and in main dishes, they enable the existence of cake, and custard, and pudding, and quiche. And breakfast wouldn't be breakfast without them. Pancakes, waffles, omelettes, french toast, scrambled eggs, plain and fancy, eggs Benedict, over-easy, poached or fried. Eggs at easter. Eggs go in every kind of traditional cooking that I know of. Egg-drop soup. Pickled eggs, millions of kinds. Well maybe not millions, my hyperbole is getting away with me.

I know I've had plenty of entries about breakfast, but I do worship at the temple of the first meal of the day. There was my brussels sprout scramble recently, there was the spinach stew with poached eggs a while back, a generic breakfast entry in august, and then, because breakfast at breakfast time is not enough, there was breakfast for dinner, and then pesto on pancakes for regular breakfast. Eggs are a good start for everything.

So here are a few pictures to share my love of all things egg, and in particular, Breakfast.

Fried eggs on toast. Can't beat it. Lotsa butter on home made bread, salt, pepper. Don't ask me why the picture keeps loading up sideways. It's really bugging me.

Breakfast BLT. The traditional, plus a fried egg.


And the one I'm most fond of, breakfast by the seat of the pants. I forgot to eat my PBJ one afternoon; I thought it had a reproachful look the next morning. Kinda like "Hey dummy. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle."

PBJ French toast.

1 stale PBJ

1 egg
1/4 cup vanilla soy milk
1 tsp brown sugar
teensy pinch salt
dash of vanilla
pinch of pumkin pie spice

Mix all the batter ingredients well and soak the PBJ until it's good and soggy. Fry at medium low until it had developed a golden color, flop, continue to cook until it had poofed up slightly in the center. If you like it pretty moist and custardy,(I do) take it out immediately. If you gotta have it done through, turn off the heat and leave it in the pan a minute longer. I ate mine with extra jam, a pear, and a scoop of yogurt.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Panade with Fall Veggies

Panade: a big poufy bread-thing. A savory bread pudding. A method for using up leftovers. The basic recipe calls for

1) bread so stale it's gone hard- I used about 1/3 loaf of homemade
2) broth

That's basically it. You soak the bread cubes in the broth and then bake it until it has developed a crust. It's better than you would think, especially if you add in a bunch of other things most people have kicking around their kitchens. Here's what I had today-

a tomato
leftover brussels sprouts
a dying bunch of basil
2 onions
a quarter of a red pepper
the heel of a bit of gouda and some bits of some italian other thing, very similar
a rather dessicated clove of garlic
2 eggs
olive oil
pepper & salt

Take a heavy, stove-to-oven safe pot and put some olive oil & a dash of salt in it. Slice the onions thin and caramelize over medium. When the onions are just starting to develop color, add the diced bell pepper and crush in the garlic. Once the onions are very soft and golden, remove from heat and toss in the cubed bread, chopped tomato, brussels sprouts and basil (or whatever you have) and stir to combine evenly. Then add the cheese gratings, if you're using any. I put the cheese in separately at the end to avoid having the cheese melt instantly and cause uneven clumps while I was trying to stir it up. Then whip 2 eggs and about 1 2/3 cups of broth in a bowl, and pour the mix over the bread and veggies. Put the pot back over medium heat to start the cooking process. Don't stir any more, or it will mush up. Just poke the bread bits down as they soak up the broth. When you are starting to see steam rise off it, put it in the oven at 375 for about an hour. Cover it if you don't want a lot of browning, leave the cover off if you do.

This picture has nothing to do with the above recipe. I just think romesco cauliflower is totally neato looking. Thank you, Mr. Fibonacci.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Brussels sprouts for breakfast indeed!

This weekend I got some brussels sprouts at market and made up a mess of my favorite sprouts and squash dish. It made more than I anticipated, and in order not to get bored of it, I came up with this.

Sprouts & Squash

1 large stalk brussels sprouts
1 largeish butternut squash
olive oil
salt & pepper
pumpkin pie spice
honey or maple syrup

Peel & cube the squash, toss in olive oil and a liberal shake of salt & pepper and bake at 375 until tender. A few brown bits is good, but not required. When the squash is done, halve the sprouts and put them in a lidded pot with about 1/2 cup water and a couple tablespoons of butter, and a pinch of pie spice. Steam them until the sprouts are bright green & tender, stirring occasionally to make sure they cook evenly. When they're done, add the squash and a tablespoon or 2 of honey or syrup to taste. Very easy.

The stuff in the picture is an egg scramble with the squash as prepared above, with a little bit of leftover red bell pepper and some sheep milk gouda. Brown the pepper & sprouts in a bit of butter first, then throw in the eggs. When they're about done ( it'll only take a sec) remove from heat, top with cheese and cover until the cheese has melted. Sprinkle with a pinch of fresh rosemary if you like it.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Yeah, so, I set the smoke alarm off...

Ever see a smoke alarm in a chinese person's kitchen? Me either. Authentic stir fry is dangerous. Not that this is all that authentic, but I wish I had pictures of the grease flash that caused the smoke alarm thing...

Beet Greens & Tofu in Spicy Oyster Sauce

1 large bunch of beet greens
1 onion
1 block firm tofu
oil for frying
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 T black bean garlic sauce
1/2 tsp crushed chili paste
1/3 c oyster sauce
a pinch or 2 of salt

I had been avoiding buying beets at market for a while because I couldn't think of what to do with the greens. I like them southern style, but that makes them up as kind of a side dish and even a small bunch of beets comes with a large mess of greens. Then they kick around in my fridge until they die. Hence, the chinkabilly stir-fry.

Wash the greens well, separate the stems from the leaves and chop each, keeping them separate.
Chop the onions & add to the pile of stems. Drain & cube the tofu. Big cubes is good. Mix the seasonings in a little bowl.

I guess a wok would be good, but I used my cast iron frying pan. Put a tablespoon or so of oil in the pan and over pretty high heat. The oil should be shimmering and smoking in the pan. Sprinkle a little bit of salt in the pan and put in the stems & onions. Fry uncovered, stirring enough to keep from burning them, for about 3-5 minutes, or until the vegetables have begun to caramelize. Pour them into a dish and reserve. Rinse the pan out, then repeat the process with the leaves, rinse again and put a slightly larger amount of oil in and get it good and hot before putting in the tofu. Wait until the bottoms of the tofu bits have developed a good crust before turning them over, brown on all sides before putting the vegetables back in the pan with the seasonings. Heat everything through, mixing well. Serve with rice. Fried noodles would be good too.

Now, here's the thing: you can use roughly this process with everything, but the 2 key steps are to get the pan hot and keep it that way, and to add a pinch of salt to the pan before the vegetables. Salting the pan draws the water out of the veggies, and the high temperature does 2 things: 1) it caramelizes any starches that come out of the vegetables really fast, so that you have both the fresh veggie taste and a hint of maillard compounds. 2) the heat causes some of the cooking oils to oxidize and polymerize which is what that magic "stir fry" taste is.

Of course, high heat also causes oil to vaporize. And throwing a bunch of wet tofu into a puddle of hot oil causes steam. Which creates a rapidly expanding cloud of tiny oil droplets mixed with the ideal ratio of oxygen packed in little water molecules to make for a very exciting wooHOO! moment when it hits a red-hot burner. As a child this was a regular, but always alarming occurrence at my house. Nowadays I just run around cursing and flapping a towel at the ceiling, I swear I'm gonna pull the battery out of that wretched thing.