Thursday, June 25, 2009

All hail cake!

This is a damn good cake, yummed by all. I riffed on a traditional "wacky cake"--god, I hate foods labelled "wacky"--by using less sugar, vanilla soy, and the chips. I'm really pleased with this. I haven't tried it with regular milk so I can't vouch for what it would taste like otherwise. I just had some soy in the fridge that needed a home so, voila. Cake. In fact, I should just stop buying the soy milk because it never really gets used and I hate to waste. So I won't buy it unless I know I need it. Like for this cake. Because I really like this cake.

Chocolate Chip Cake

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
Large handful of chocolate chips

1 cup vanilla soy milk
1/3 cup oil (vegetable, canola, a clear oil, not olive)
1 tbsp white or cider or white wine vinegar
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 and grease and flour a 8 or 9 inch cake tin. Whisk the dry ingredients (including the chips) together in a large bowl. In another bowl or measuring glass, whisk the wet ingredients until combined. The milk will look slightly curdly but this will not be a problem. Add the wet into the dry and mix well with a spoon until combined but don't whisk as you can end up with a tough cake. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 30-35 mins Let cool and remove from the pan.


Jean gave me two very nice awards. I love cake and shiny things so this is right up my alley. :-)

Thank you, Jean!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I'm your ice cream man

Last week, I finally got around to getting an ice cream maker. I previously had one of those little hand-crank models that I used extensively when I was first married; however, in subsequent moves I lost the ice case and just never upgraded. But now I have a Cuisinart and am most happy. First up, chocolate, using the recipe from the Cuisinart manual with some tweaks.

2 cups milk, separated (I only had 1% so that's what I used; see notes below)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
8 ounces bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (I used Merckens bittersweet chips)
1 cup heavy cream, well chilled
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Heat 1 cup of the milk until it is just bubbling around the edges. Put the chocolate and sugar into a blender or food processor and process until you have a fine, grainy texture. With the machine running, slowly add the hot milk and process until smooth. Transfer to a medium-sized bowl and let cool completely. Stir in the second cup of milk, the heavy cream, and the vanilla; cover tightly and refrigerate until cold, at least 30 minutes. Follow instructions for your particular machine; once it has processed for the noted time, you can eat it immediately or pour into a freezer-safe container for later.

Now the texture was not as a whole-fat ice cream is in that it was not nearly as creamy and there were some rather pleasing teeny chocolate bits throughout. Next time, I would definitely make a full-fat version as I prefer it; taste-wise, however, it is fantastic, especially with real chocolate jimmies on top. One other caveat of the low-fat version is that it's very hard to scoop out of the container once frozen. I'd recommend softening it up a bit before serving; even then, you may not get pretty scoops.

I'm itching to try DebinHawaii's apricot-cardamom creation, which looks almost too pretty to eat. Somehow, though, I think I could manage. :-)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Amber waves of grain

My god did I go through a lot of flour. Especially this weekend.

It all started with the pitas:



Homemade bagels, no problem:

Why stop there? Burger/dog buns, anyone?:

I'm toast.

My camera is acting up so no pics of the completed samosas or buns turned out; I'll post those later.

Blessed be.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Now these were just what I needed today: a little nutmeg, some cinnamon, sugar, all rolled into goodness. I used the recipe from Rachel Allen's Bake and am very, very pleased with the result. The boys wonder contributed their expertise, as well.

I'm thinking homemade play dough is next. I'm really looking forward to that.

More pita goodness

Thanks to everyone for leaving comments! It was a real treat logging on this morning and being greeted by more than Hecklerspray and NapaStyle. :-)

The pita recipe again is adapted from Joy and it's about as simple as you can get. My limited knowledge of copyright law (thanks, Amanda!) means ingredients cannot be copywritten, only procedure and, as I've adapted it slightly, here is how it all went down:

3-3.5 cups bread flour
4.5 tsp active dry (not instant) yeast (2 packets, I believe. I have a one-pound sack of the stuff in my freezer and a yeast spoon [measures 2.25 tsp] but just use 4 tsp and it'll be fine.)
1.25 cups very warm water (body temp)
1 tbsp honey
Pinch salt
2tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Dissolve the honey in the water, then add the yeast and stir until dissolved. Give it a couple of minutes to proof: You want some nice foamy bubbles on the surface and a good, clean yeasty aroma. (I love doing this. It's magic the way the yeast feeds off the honey and blooms. And the way good yeast smells is heavenly.)

Put 3 cups of the flour and the pinch of salt in a large mixing bowl and stir the salt through. Add the yeast mixture and the olive oil and mix together either with the hook attachment (electric mixer) or with a wooden spoon until everything comes together. If you're kneading by hand, once it's all in a big, shaggy ball, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and slightly tacky but not all sticky, usually takes about 10 minutes. Which is why I use my beloved KitchenAid. :-) In a mixer it takes about 5 minutes. Use the last half cup of flour only if necessary to bring the dough together; however, if the dough is too dry, add water, a teaspoon at a time to get the right feel.

Once the dough is ready, oil the mixing bowl (no need to dirty another bowl) using again a really good olive oil, and plop the dough into it. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size and springy, usually 60-90 minutes. Punch it down, break off chunks, and roll into balls. I got 13 from this batch. Put the dough balls onto a plate, cover, and let rise for 20 minutes.

Once the dough is rolled, preheat the oven to 450. If you have a baking stone preheat that in the oven as well. If not, upend a baking sheet so you have a flat surface on which to cook the breads. Use one rack in the center of the oven because these get puffy and need room. Once the balls have risen, roll each one out on a floured surface until about 8-9 inches in diameter and about an eighth of an inch thick. You don't want very thin or they'll get crackery when baked. Remember to keep the rest of the dough covered while you roll so they don't get a skin on the surface. If this happens, don't worry, you can still use the dough, it'll just be a bit dry and harder to roll.

Slap the dough onto the hot stone or baking sheet and close the oven quickly. Set the timer for 3 mins, 30 secs no longer. The dough should puff up during that time but, if you leave it in for longer it will not completely deflate as it cools and it will be rather crackery. This isn't bad as the ones that turned out that way I dipped into some hummus as a snack. :-)

Remove the pita and place it on a wire rack to cool. Continue with the rest of the dough balls. I kept rolling whilst each one baked, and stacked them with a very light dusting of flour in between so they wouldn't stick.

Once they cool completely, store in a plastic zippy bag to keep them soft and fresh.

Now, I'm not going to say that these turned out like those you get at a store. I couldn't quite properly cut them in half and split them so they could be stuffed. They're more like a flatbread, to be folded around falafel or whatever you're in the mood for. Oh, and they'd make for a lovely gyro. (Now I want a gyro. I think I'll grill some lamb this weekend. And eggplant. Oh I'm hungry now. The granola bar is a distant memory.) This is why I think they'd be a nice sub for naan with an Indian meal. But the taste is out of this world, really, and I can't see going back to the packaged unless I'm in a bind. I haven't tried them with whole wheat flour as I like the taste of white bread and prefer to use wheat flour in loaf breads: those I toast and smear with butter and jam. :-) However, from a nutritional standpoint, these are vastly superior to a mushy white bread as there's only a handful of ingredients with no fillers or preservatives or--gasp!--the dreaded high fructose corn syrup. Plus, if you're wrapping them around something as gorgeously healthy as falafel, well, yeah, yum.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pita bread

I made the pita bread. I am most pleased. :-)

I used the recipe from Joy, which is very similar to the foccacia/pizza dough recipe I use weekly, so, since I've already got that one memorized, I'll probably just use that next time I want to make these. Actually, these would go really well as a sub for naan with a nice Indian meal. I made a dozen, the boys and I ate three, so I've got enough to freeze for later.

For tonight, I've got a huge batch of falafel in the freezer but as I cannot keep them together in the hot oil, I'm going to bake them to see if I get a better result. I could defrost them, then do a double-dip with eggs and flour but I'm not in the mood. I'll just spray a baking sheet with some olive oil and throw them in. That'll learn 'em.

Freshly made pita. Yum.

Donlan General Store

This is very cool. Apparently, my paternal grandparents used to own a little general store in upstate Pennsylvania, Shenandoah I believe. The man in the lower right (back to the wall) is my dad; the other man is his brother, my Uncle Jimmy. I wish I knew what year this was taken but he looks to be in his mid-teens so I'm guessing maybe some time in the 1940s. You can't tell from the picture, but those are bottles of Yuengling beer in the window over dad's shoulder. And what goes better with a Camel than the local brew. :-)

Monday, June 15, 2009

All over the map

Very busy this weekend, although not nearly as I would have liked to be outside due to Saturday's incessant rain. Fortunately, I was able to meet up with Driss for our Whole Foods/Trader Joe's trip before we got swamped. I got two huge Arctic char filets, some local ground pork, and a gorgeous whole chicken that I'm going to roast tomorrow with lemons, rosemary, oregano, and garlic. Also picked up some French puy lentils. I think Rachel did some kind of salad with them with duck; as I don't like duck, I'm going to put some of the roasted chicken aside and see what the recipe is all about.

I made a very good lentil soup (riffed from a recipe from Gordon Ramsay's Healthy Appetite) using orange split lentils from Goya (not the usual dal lentils I buy). Although not as creamy as my earlier versions, this came out quite tasty. Here's what I did:

2 tbsp oil
1 medium onion, chopped quite small
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 well-rounded tsp each ground cumin, ground coriander, garam masala, curry powder
1 tsp each kalonji seeds, brown mustard seeds
1/2 tsp each turmeric, ground ginger
Half pound orange split lentils (I used Goya because they were on sale.)
1 large carrot, chopped
6-8 cups water

Heat the oil and saute the onion and garlic with a large pinch of salt until soft. Stir in freshly ground black pepper, the ground spices, the seeds, the turmeric, and ginger until everything is uniform in color and the fragrances are released. Add the lentil and carrot, making sure everything is coated with the onion and spice mixture. Add about 6 cups of water, reserving the rest for later and using only if the soup gets too thick. Grind in some more pepper and add a few more pinches of salt. Bring to a boil then reduce to a slow simmer. Cook until lentils are soft and falling apart, adding water if it appears too thick.

Whilst I'm quite pleased with the way this turned out, I kept the spices at a minimum because I'm hoping to get some into the boys wonder. Ideally, this would be heavenly with a good pinch of chili powder (not the blend used to make chili) to make it spicy, and I think next time around I'd increase the garam masala and/or curry to give it a bit more depth. However, even at the cautious end of the seasoning spectrum, it's very tasty, filling, and there's absolutely no guilt attached to knocking back a big bowl of it.

Friday night was pizza (of course) and I went for Milano salami with pepperoncini. Stuck with a mozzarella/pecorino cheese blend and the tomato layer is my favorite: spread a thick layer of tomato paste on the dough then spoon over about 1/3 cup of canned chopped tomatoes with their juice. Sprinkle with a large pinch of sugar, some salt, pepper, and oregano, then layer on the cheese and toppings. When it comes out of the oven, I grate parmesan on top, then drizzle a little bit of extra virgin olive oil. I love making pizza.

Some of my garden got annihilated this Saturday by endless rain. My two large pots of baby lettuces and spinach drowned and the radishes in the bowl above got pushed out of the dirt by the force of the downpours. So we picked them. And I must admit to being rather proud of the little buggers. I'm going to chop them up for a salad tonight.

And of course there is cake. Rachel's Orange Madeira Cake, which I glazed with a simple lemon juice and confectionary sugar glaze. I LOVE this cake. This is one of my very favorite things to have with tea, and it goes down especially well with a raspberry green tea I've become hooked on (from Celestial Seasonings). I used a ton of freshly squeezed orange juice in the cake and I'm thinking it might be good next time with some really dark, bittersweet chips folded in. I don't like cheap choc/orange combinations but, as this is from scratch with nothing artificial, I think the Merckens chips I have would make for a real treat.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

No vacancy

This is my fridge:

This is my fridge on drugs:

Any questions?

I have no room left for anything. Nothing. I'm stuffing fruit and cheese and juice into the boys wonder just to make room on the shelves. Yet I find time to make pesto and hummus and other things that NEED REFRIGERATION! Granted, the pesto was frozen but I needed to clean out the freezer to make room. And yes, there is no picture of the freezer because it is a tundra of ice packs, soft pretzels, nuts, sausage, chicken, shrimp, and other things buried so deep that only by summoning Cthulhu from its vasty depths will I ever know what is in there.

And I just cleaned it all out this past weekend. Wiped, sorted, tossed. I suck. But I need at least eight bottles of hot sauce and five of mustard just to function on a daily basis. Not to mention an uber stack of plastic cheese. It's how I survive. :-)

Here is a pretty picture of my pesto:

Much easier on the eye. Ohm...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Why we cook

From my garden: basil waiting to be turned into pesto; French breakfast radishes; mesclun, cinnamon basil.

Richie, who writes one of my very favorite blogs, Line Cook, defined (for himself) what cooking is and asked his readers: What are we to cooking? The comments were interesting and informative and I spent a lot of time thinking this over at random moments throughout the days.

I've been cooking forever; my first proper meal was in grade school, a Sunday dinner of pork chops, mashed potatoes, gravy, and some kind of canned vegetable (frozen was a luxury back then). After that initial success, I was expected to participate at least weekly in the food preparation. I already had baking down pat (not just slice & bake) so this was a natural segue. My mom could feed an army in under thirty minutes (suck on that, Rachael Ray) and my dad would raid the spice cupboard to make sure it tasted good.

As I got older, PBS started running all-day cooking shows every Saturday. My dad would be inspired and write ingredients alongside his crossword (preparation be damned) and we'd eat something similar later in the week. It was most definitely the next level in my cooking as we--as a family--became more experimental in the kitchen.

When I graduated high school, I landed a job as a dietary aide in a nursing home kitchen. The bosses liked me and would give me various cooking duties whenever we were short-staffed. Institutional cooking is not quite as much fun as your own kitchen, but it was a nice change from waiting tables and wrapping individual bread slices. Plus there was a certain fascination in making 25 lbs of egg salad in one afternoon. Hypnotic. Weirdly hypnotic.

After that, I decided I wanted a degree in English so I got one and bounced around libraries and publishing. Always, always interested in food but not wanting to commit to it. I had a brush with culinary school after the first time I got fired. I was collecting unemployment, the Food Network has just come into being, and I liked to bake. What the hell? I was accepted to the bakery arts program at The Restaurant School (and yes, I did have to apply. They didn't take everyone.) and took some serious time to mull it over. After much mulling I realized that, whilst I liked to bake for friends and family, I couldn't see myself working at someone else's mercy. I chose publishing.

Now I'm home, raising twins, and doing freelance work on a journal for a company I left on good terms. The best part (besides the money)? It's a food journal. And I love it. :-) I cook almost every single meal, bake my own bread, and almost never purchase store-baked goods. I take a great amount of pride in what I do in my kitchen.

In a roundabout way, this brings me to my answer: What do I bring to cooking? I don't have Thomas Keller's depth; Gabrielle Hamilton's extraordinary talent; or Richie's drive but I do have a passion for food and I try to respect it as much as possible. I bring to each meal a history of an only child spending time in the kitchen with her parents, refusing to touch raw chicken, offering instead to make scalloped potatoes. Someone who, when her father was on disability and her family was living week-to-week, learned how to make Mexicali with canned vegetables, Minute Rice, and the cheapest ground beef because a proper meal had to be put on the table. Someone who now does not deny the lessons learned from her childhood kitchen and, instead, uses them to creatively feed her family today. I still love a fried Spam-wich, and a bowl of the cheapest generic boxed mac & cheese is something to die for.

What do you think? Why do you cook? And what do you bring to cooking?

Apple & prosciutto salad with walnuts; ropa vieja, black beans, and rice; BBQ chicken, cucumber salad, and spicy corn bread; falafel; asparagus & prosciutto pizza/plain cheese pizza, spring pea soup and pecorino romano soda bread.