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Archive for the ‘Recipes’ Category

Planning

It’s possible that everyone is like this, but I’ve often felt like my personality is defined in opposites. For example: I’m shy by nature and pathologically incapable of keeping my mouth shut (meetings, classes, while other people are talking); I’m borderline dyslexic, but read faster than most people I know; I’m afraid of all sorts of things (including the dark) but the sports I like best are the ones that include a rush of speed and adrenaline (dinghy sailing in high winds, downhill skiing in fast conditions). You get the idea. The last few years I’ve been struggling with another contradiction, one that sometimes feels like it might involve the key to my own happiness and other days makes me feel like I’m letting my life drown in a sea of minutiae (melodramatic, did I mention I’m melodramatic?).  The issue is planning versus spontaneity. Namely: weekly planning of meals.

I know, total let down. On and off for the past year or so the DC and I have sporadically planned our meals. This involves deciding who is going to make what for supper and when in the upcoming week. This then leads to only buying the groceries we need for the week. It saves time, assures a bit more equality in the kitchen, avoids waste (from all the times those lovely fruits and vegetables rot in the fridge because I bought them without a plan) and means that I’m more likely to delve into my various cookbooks for inspiration instead of just making the easiest, fastest thing I can think of because I’m tired and hungry and out of time. I know people who swear by this system.

My problem is I can only maintain it for short bursts of time. Then a week comes up where I decide to not come home for supper a couple of times, maybe I don’t feel like cooking what or when I planned or I never get around to buying the ingredients I need. “No big deal” the planners out there say to me. “Just start again the following week.”

The thing is, I am a wagon faller offer. Whether it’s flossing as regularly and rigorously as my dentist assures me I need to or keeping track of (and limiting) my food intake or keeping my receipts in some sort of organized manner so I can track my spending habits, once I stop, even for a day or so, I’m finished for a good long time.

Somehow once I get away from my routine there’s a large part of me which is thrilled by the freedom and the possibilities that lie before me. “I don’t need a plan” I think to myself. “I am a creative, fly by the seat of my pants kind of person. Routine is my enemy. Spontaneity and chance are my friends.” And all of these things are true.

Sometimes…

Increasingly I’m having to face the fact that to be spontaneous I need to have some room to breath and if I don’t plan, if I don’t organize, my time is eaten up in a muddle of aimless activity. More and more I’m having to call on my latent, organized, list making self, just so I can have some room to be spontaneous.

There’s pressure to adopt this distressingly mature realization. This semester I have a weird schedule at work and four out five days I don’t get home until after 6:30. It’s important, if I don’t want to eat at an ungodly hour every night, that I plan ahead. I’ve been attempting to embrace the slow cooker as a solution (mixed results have ensued – more on that later) and I have ideas about some sort of casserole plan that entails me arranging the ingredients ahead of time so I can just pop said casserole (or whatever) into the oven  when I get home. Last week this didn’t pan out, but this week I’m crawling back up on the wagon. 

And I had a good moment when in search of an onion quiche recipe for Monday night I found Nigella Lawson’s “Supper Onion Pie” (a version of the recipe can be found here)in Domestic Goddess which isn’t a quiche at all but more of an onion upside down pie. I was excited because I haven’t cooked this recipe before and rarely get around to Nigella’s savory dishes.

As of this moment I have now cooked the onions, grated the cheese and mixed the dry ingredients, so tomorrow night I’ll hopefully come home, crack an egg, mix in some milk and mustard and have dinner in half an hour or so. Tres exciting! It feels spontaneous! It feels planned! Mostly, quite honestly, I feel a little tired.

Speaking of spontenaity: since I was in the kitchen anyway, and feeling a little down for reasons unrelated to food or menu planning,  I decided to mix up a batch of Monkey Bread from Smitten Kitchen and while this does indicate a falling off the wagon in the whole “watching what I eat” portion of my life, it was unplanned.

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Angel Food

I’m making an angel food cake right now. I’ve never made one before, which feels a little…I don’t know remiss somehow. When I mentioned it to a friend the other day she said “Oh yeah, I used to make those all the time when I was in highschool.” That made sense to me.  There’s something childlike about angel food cake. It’s not quite real food, more meringue than cake really, all those egg whites all that airy, billowyness. Then there’s the risk factor: they can fall, they need to be made in a special pan and hung upside down to cool ( I just stuck the side of my hot mit into my cake executing this move as it turns out – luckily the top of the cake will be the bottom and so no one will be able to see it!). The egg whites won’t whip if you break yolk into the whites, or if there’s any fat clinging to the beaters or in the pan. All of that part isn’t why I’ve never made one before, I think it really has something to do with the eggs. It seems like such a waste to make something that needs all those whites and none of the yolks. I occasionally make recipes that just use the yolks: mayonnaise, custard (more on ice cream another day), but they usually only need one or two, not 10, so I’ve never ended up with that quantity of egg white hanging around. I’ve thought of freezing the whites and building up a collection until I hade enough, but  I’ve never quite had the committment for that.

But the perfect conditions presented themselves this week. Last Sunday I was inspired to make the poppy seed, lemon cake from Smitten Kitchen. Over the past year I’ve fallen in love with Smitten’s writing and pictures. I haven’t made many of the recipes, but I’m fascinated by the cake making displayed there and the pictures are really lovely. I made the strawberry rhubarb pie this past summer in the midst of the only week that really felt like a vacation. The DC was in the midst of digging up the back yard, the weather was tropical (by which I mean it rained a lot and then when the sun came out it got steamy really fast and then it rained again), my heirloom tomatoes vines looked like they were mutating and I had dug out my mother’s old sewing machine to make this:. The pie was delicious (the crust was a little too flaky) and the week was lovely. I don’t know why that level of domesticity was so satisfying and relaxing, but it was a rare week of total satisfaction for me.

crackly surface of the cake

Hot muggy and satisfied are far away in this last week of vacation before the semester gets going again, but domesticity as a way of avoiding the work I need to be doing is always desirable right before school starts. Poppy seed lemon cake presented itself in my blog reader (which is mutating kind of like my tomatoes this past summer). I’m a huge fan of lemon cake and had a carton of eggs that needed to be used. The recipe calls for a whopping 8 egg yolks and left me with a whole cup of egg whites. I was assured on various websites that they’d be fine in the fridge for a while, so today: angel food cake.

As for the Poppy seed lemon cake, it needs more lemon. I realize this is entirely personal taste, but I like a lemon cake/loaf/pie/curd/whatever that makes you scrunch up your face and drool pucker up a little from the lemonyness. This cake only uses the zest of two lemons, and that slight whiff of lemon just isn’t enough for me (though I appreciate the idea of it). What is amazing about the recipe is the heavy hand on the poppy seeds. The cake is black with poppy seeds and they crunch and pop in your mouth like caviar. There’s a rich earthy, woodiness to the poppy seed which is really underutilized. Here’s a challenge for you (well Montrealers anyway) – the next time you go pick up fresh bagels at Fairmount or St Viateur, get the  poppy seed, not the sesame. Sesame is good, but the mysterious, foresty taste of the poppy seeds might surprise you. And if like me, you don’t usually get the poppy seed because they aren’t fresh, out of the oven hot, then just remember that that’s just because we all keep buying the sesame seed ones. If you’re wondering if the poppy seeds get in your teeth, I can’t say I noticed, I was too busy trying to catch them just right between my teeth so I could feel them pop, to look in the mirror.

 So now I just need to find an extra lemony lemon cake recipe and double or triple the poppy seeds. Jamie Oliver has his Gran’s lemon cake recipe in his book Cook. I’ve never tried any of his dessert recipes, so maybe it’s time. Besides I have two skinless lemons in the fridge I need to use up!

The final product

Here’s the Angel Food recipe I used: http://bakingsheet.blogspot.com/2005/06/best-angel-food-cake.html

Here are some other ideas for left over egg whites (including a volcano): http://www.davidlebovitz.com/archives/2007/09/recipes_to_use.html

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It came out fine. The D.C. said it was the best dessert I have ever made. As usual I think he’s on crack. It’s good. My lack  of motor skills added about twice as much butter to the filo and it’s sweet – so of course it’s good. The filling I think could be better. The recipe called for cornstarch to be added to the semolina, sugar, vanilla, egg, and milk mixture for the filling. I guess it’s to thicken it, but as anyone whose made cream of wheat knows, it gets pretty thick on its own. The cornstarch added a chalkiness that’s not exactly perfect. Next time smaller pan, no cornstarch and maybe a touch of cinnamon or maybe rosewater.

It’s not that I can’t take compliments, it’s just this is good in a have it for breakfast and feel good kind of way, not a ohmygod this is the best dessert ever kind of way. I’ll post the recipe later when I have better motor skills. For now off to do some of those “other things”.

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I’ve just made Mediterranean phyllo-semolina pie (it just has to have a better name) from Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Deguid’s book Home Baking. It’s almost one in the morning. The recipe was not hard I just started it late. Basically it’s like baklava made with hot cereal in the middle. Sounds not so appetizing, but I had some at a pot-luck a few months ago and it’s actually quite nice. It does in fact have a better name than Jeffrey and Naomi have given it, probably a few as they list it as a Lebanese dessert and I was assured it was Greek. Makes me wonder about their book a little really, but it has such lovely pictures. I bought it at Powell’s in Portland I think in part because one of the things I lusted after most sorely when I was a very poor grad student in
Toronto was their book about Rice. Now that grad school has landed me a cushy teaching job I just couldn’t pass up one of their books in the discount pile!
 I won’t know what it will taste like until morning as it’s supposed to sit, but I’m thinking with the butter and honey and phyllo it’s got to end up being good. Unless the wine I’ve been drinking has caused some awful misjudgment. Along with a propensity for discounts I seem to have inherited a bit of a compulsion to finish things off from my Grandmother. Luckily she also passed on a cooking gene. When I called the D.C. for dinner I said I was making a gourmet meal (ok so really it was just a recipe out of Gourmet magazine – one of those quick menus) and asked what he wanted to drink I really was just trying to warn him I’d be pissed off if he didn’t come to the table quickly (I HATE when people don’t come to the table quickly). Anyway he suggested a bottle of wine. This was supposed to lead to a slow romantic evening, but much like I had overstated the level of dining, he had overstated his attention level. So when he returned to the thing I was afraid would keep him from the table in the first place he left a very nice bottle of wine only a quarter finished. This time it wasn’t my latent lushlike tendencies, but just a need to not have things go to waste. So while the dessert I’ve attempted may be Greek like the wine I was drinking, I think it’s safe to say drinking and baking do not go well together.  I guess I’ll see in the morning when I have pie for breakfast!

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Family

Just so it’s clear: I come by this food thing honestly. My father picture-0311.jpgwas scheduled to fly back to Florida to sail back to Cuba yesterday morning, but when I went over to my Aunt and Uncle’s house to have breakfast and say goodbye he informed me thay my Aunt had made soup so he was staying a few more days. I guess it was a matter of comparing the pros and cons of staying or going and the soup tipped things over towards staying. It’s good soup.

Most of the members of that side of my family make good soup. My father used to make crazybig pots of soup when I was a kid. I remember coming home from school and having little bowls of soup. They always tasted better on the second day. I, on the other hand, am soup-challenged. I’ve never really liked the soups I’ve tried to make. That is until I discovered pasta fagole, or Italian pasta and bean soup – what I ignorantly used to think of as minestrone soup (which is actually just vegetable soup).

The Dolce Culo and his Italian Mama are responsible for me being able to make soup, as she likes to send over frozen containers of beans and vegetables in stock (I think that’s what’s in those containers) which are then meant to be turned into soup. This, it turns out is easypeasy. Basically you just make a tomato sauce (onions, tomatoes from a can or whatever, salt, olive oil -sautee onions, add the rest, cook for a while), then you add beans (canned beans, frozen beans, green beans, shell beans, beans you cooked on the stove from dry or beans Carmela sent over in a little recycled plastic container which are now sitting in the freezer – it doesn’t matter). Once the beans are integrated in with the sauce you add soup stock (I like Imagine brand organic chicken stock but vegetable stock or powdered stock is fine, homemade stock is always good too). Then I stir for a while, consider adding corn and chile and making it more southwestern, then I look at the soup and try and figure out what’s missing. I leave it for a while to let the tastes meld together, still thinking I’ve forgotten to do something – then I remember and add about half a cup to a cup of small pasta. Not the pasta that looks like rice, but still something really small. Then I let it cook until the pasta is done. Then it’s done. If I have some sitting around I also like to cook it with a bit of the rind from a parmasean cheese. The cheese taste makes it taste better, richer. I serve it with parmasean grated on top. If I’m really ambitious I eat garlic rubbed toast with it, but the key is that it’s easy and that screwing up some of the steps doesn’t really lead to bad soup.

It’s not my Aunt’s cilantro soup served with cream, but it’s nice when it’s cold or rainy out.

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I feel guilty. One of my goals for this coming winter was to do some serious work on my bread making skills, maybe even take a class. But this weekend I tried Mark Bittman’s NY Times recipe for no-knead bread baked in a pot, and despite some necessary changes it has come out just about perfectly. It has a crisp, golden crust and a soft chewy interior with the requisite air pockets. It’s beautiful.

I had no instant yeast so I used regular dissolved in a bit of warm water. It still worked. I had no plastic wrap so I covered the bowl of dough with a plastic bag held down with duct tape. It still worked. Room temperature in my house right now is a fair bit below 70 degrees Fahrenheit (the Dolce Culo is walking around with a hat on indoors). It still worked. A big gob of dough stuck to the dishcloth I wrapped it in and it looked awful and puckered when I put it in its pot. It still worked. This seems, in fact, to be a foolproof recipe. I still don’t know anything about yeast or protein and gluten levels in flour, I still don’t know when to stop kneading a bread dough, or really how to tell if bread is done baking by tapping the bottom, but now that doesn’t seem to matter. This is almost too easy.

The one problem with the recipe is scheduling a 24 hour period in which you can be sure to be in the right place at the right time. The bread rises for 18 hours so you need to be able to plan ahead a little. Still, that’s not so awful. No really it’s not. I’m a total commitment-phobe and disorganized and I managed it. The only other downside is that I ate a lot of bread and butter this weekend.

Get you hands on this recipe; it’s kind of miraculous. Oh, and when you take it out of the oven and put it one a rack to cool (maybe carrying it around the house to show everyone) it pops and crackles and sounds generally like a party is happening in the loaf of bread. This is very cool and makes you feel better about whatever it is that you have avoided doing by deciding to spend 20 hours making bread (am I the only one who bakes to avoid doing real work?).

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No Knead Bread

I’ve just found this article in The New York Times about no-knead bread and I’m very excited. Excited enough to consider packing it in at work and going home to bake bread. It’s not the lack of kneading I’m excited about, it’s the fact that the claim is that the bread will come out as good as fresh baked bakery bread – the kind with the chewy middle and the crisp crust – the kind I’ve never been able to make at home (though my attempts at bread baking are by no means vast). The secret seems to be wet dough and a long rising period. So perhapsI won’t rush home to make it now as I would then have to bake it some time between midnight and 8 am, but this is now on the list of things to do (soon).

I’ll let you know how it works. In the meantime here’s the link to Mark Bittman’s article in the NY Times (there’s a video too!). http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/08/dining/08mini.html?th&emc=th

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