Category Archives: food

passover prep.

Another in a series of bad pictures (of delicious things).

crack

matzah crack, first batch, with birthday sprinkles

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Leavened.

Photo on 2016-04-13 at 14.35

Latest loaf, all purpose with some whole wheat and a couple of tablespoons of oat bran, olive oil, molasses as sweetener.

All the years I’ve lived alone, I’ve always kept one of those classic strips of three yeast packets in my fridge. Sometimes it’s been years between attempts to bake with yeast, and sometimes I’ve pulled the packets out to discover they were three years past their use-by date (long even by my loose limits), but they were always a cheap just-in-case item. Well, now I have been baking bread almost every week for a year and more except for the months when it was too hot to turn on the oven, so a few weeks ago I went to the supermarket to pick up another Fleischmann’s three-pack. “$2.79?” I thought. “Really?” I looked at the shelf label and it told me that the unit price was $59.39 per pound (or something like that). Hmph! snorted I to myself, I know that the price for a full pound from (say) King Arthur isn’t anything like fifty-nine dollars. Key Food didn’t have any full pounds to check this, but Whole Foods, when I was lured in there by Z a day or two later, did. Price per pound? $5.39. That is, buying yeast in packets raises the price tenfold. Which is perfectly acceptable if you use one packet a year for three years, but not if you’re baking every week.

Canny Brooklyn shopper that I am, however, I waited till my next trip to Sahadi’s, where I found four different kinds of bulk yeast and got a pound of SAF Blue Label for $4.25. And look how dynamically my latest loaf rose! I always trust Sahadi’s for fast turnover, so I don’t doubt this is the freshest and happiest yeast I’ve ever had; and I am not tempted to skimp on it, but can dip my teaspoon luxuriously.
Photo on 2016-04-13 at 14.31
Let me know if you want to share my pound of yeast. I figure I have six or eight more loaves till summer, by which time my investment will already have paid for itself,  and then I’ll move the package from the fridge to the freezer for the hot months.

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Educational.

Happy New Year! I come into it with new knowledge, that it is very easy to make zabaglione.  Lifetime learning, that’s what I’m all about.

Also I made a quiche that one friend called “the best quiche he had ever had.” I think its special quality must have been that it was still warm from the oven and unctuously soft — there was nothing particularly remarkable about it. Here’s what it had: Plain butter crust with a little cornmeal thrown in, cream & almond milk for the liquid, sauteed mustard greens & spinach with onion and scallion, feta and cheddar.

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Layerless.

I can’t get behind the name “strata” for this foodstuff. First of all, you don’t perceive the layers; they’re only relevant to the setup. A layer cake, hell, even a sandwich is more stratified than a so-called “strata.” Secondly, it’s a plural form. I feel as uncomfortable saying “a strata” as I would “a phenomena” or, in the other direction, “several chair.” (That’s not meant as a correction. If it doesn’t bother you, go ahead. But on my tongue, it sits wrong.)

However, I have no problem calling it “a delicious savory bread pudding.” [Or you could call it a “Breakfast casserole,” as Melissa Clark just did in the NYT. Hers seems excessively rich, what with the croissants AND heavy cream, but I do like that she gives a ratio basis:
A basic ratio is one egg to a half-cup of liquid dairy (milk, cream or a combination) to a cup of cubed bread. Substituting yolks for some of the whole eggs will give you a richer custard. Using fewer eggs gives you a firmer casserole that’s easier to slice for serving. And mixing in plenty of grated cheese (about a half-cup per cup of dairy) adds flavor, luscious gooeyness and a scattering of browned bits on the top.]

For the Streetsingers‘ caroling party I made Smitten Kitchen’s corn-scallion version, using frozen white corn kernels and, along with cheddar, maybe half a cup of parmesan (mine is old and very hard, making it a pain to grate, so I quit early), and almond milk rather than cow, and adding a little mustard powder as well as the mayonnaise. It turns out that one of the flat little pane italiano from Trader Joe’s, bought a day early and sliced in half to firm up just a bit, is just about the right size to generate 8 cups of bread cubes with an end or so left over to nibble. The pudding sat in the fridge for about seven hours; I’d planned on eight but, you know how it goes, all that grating takes longer than you think.  Halfway through the 55+ minutes of baking I poked a bunch of bread bergs sticking up over the surface down under to drown in the liquid. They’d have been dry toasty crusts if I hadn’t. My old Pyrex baking dish has a wicker-sided serving container, which no doubt helps hold the heat; covered with aluminum foil right when it came out of the oven,  and wrapped in a plastic bag and a big towel for travel, the pudding stayed modestly warm for several hours, and I had no issues with extra liquid pooling in the dish.

People said they liked it; I warned them not to lie out of politeness, because it would come back to haunt them, but they insisted, so I’ll be making this (maybe in the spinach version) again for potlucks and for my new-mother cousin Deborah.

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Latke Party 2015, or, The Baking Powder Bafflement

Latkes!  I made five, even six, kinds for this year’s shapenote latke party (after three hours of singing about death, blood, and the baby Jesus, come to my house to eat latkes and light the menorah). Regular potato-onion; potato-onion gluten free (potato starch, no flour); butternut squash with sage, using gift sage from Dr. Jon; caraway tricolor red, orange, and white (red cabbage, carrots, potato with caraway and sesame seeds); chard with feta and parsley; plus totally vegan — that is, no egg — potato-radish (very fragile).  Thanks to the New York Times for inspiration for most of these. The chard-feta are an Ottolenghi recipe published in the Times (and made by me) last year; I simplified, leaving out the dill and cilantro (but adding some dill seed) to limit the number of half-bunches of herbs that would go bad in my fridge following the party.  The three-veg are also a revision, of a Melissa Clark recipe asking for broccoli stems where I used potato.  Broccoli is a dominant flavor and I didn’t want leftover broccoli florets any more than I did leftover cilantro.  I did include all of the flours (buckwheat, corn, oat bran, and all-purpose), even though I  doubt we could taste them. No doubt the broccoli version would have been good, though quite a different beast. Still, the squash and the tricolor both garnered particular expressions of delight.  I have to say it was a big success overall.  Can I say, though, that I don’t understand the purpose of baking powder in potato pancake recipes. It’s not like latkes need to rise like biscuits. Does it maybe make them stickier and more coherent? Anyone who can explain it, please chime in.

These sauces were offered: sour cream; yogurt; plain applesauce; cinnamon applesauce; cranberry applesauce; cranberry sauce; cherry jam.  Continuing the apparent theme, there was cranberry shrub to mix with prosecco and cranberry-apple cake upside-down cake (I dotted some dried cranberries on top too).

I have to thank Deb Perelman again for the revolutionary information that latkes can be made ahead and reheated.  I fried more or less a batch a day from Monday through Saturday, applesauce and cake on Sunday morning, and (the warm weather cooperating by allowing open windows) the smell of frying dwindled to a mere undertone by party time on Sunday afternoon.

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Back in November . . .

Considering there were just two of us, I made a lot of different things for Thanksgiving. And practically everything had its own sauce. I made horseradish sauce for the roasted parsnips and carrots (ground horseradish, yogurt, cider vinegar — tangy) and “gorgonzola” cream for the butternut squash using leftover soft, stinky cheese (equal amounts butter & cheese, garlic, pounded with a pinch of salt; this was delicious). And for the steamed cauliflower, a whole tiny one, very cute: wait, what is this “sauce” on my list? Apparently I was supposed to remember and find the recipe. Hah! However, as I had two kinds of cranberry sauce and mushroom gravy in addition to the sauces above, I guess we were sufficiently sauced. So to speak. (I got the sauce ideas from Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy, a book I had better buy so that I can quit renewing the library copy.)

The cocktail was cranberry shrub with seltzer, vodka, and Dutch’s Spirits’ Prohibitters (part of a set of three bought at the Hudson Valley Wine Festival last year); appetizers were radishes with butter & salt, olives, and artichoke hearts marinated with olive oil, lemon, and chopped olives. For soup we had passato di verdure from Beatrice Tosti di Valminata, mentioned here. Along with the parsnips, cauliflower, and squash, I made a rather unsuccessful, mostly classic stuffing using a nice bread from Mazzola’s, celery, onions, and vegetable stock. (It needed more stock, since turkey juices were not available.)  Z brought red Philippine rice and Mama Stanberg’s cranberry relish; the other cranberry sauce was the classic plain with a little medium hot pepper. We drank a granacha from Navarre, Lurra, with a sheep on the label.

I was going to make an apple crisp but in the end we ate some leftover mini pumpkin cupcakes and a Blanc de Calville apple from the Samascott orchard in Kinderhook. Oh my god, I bored everyone with my enthusiasm for this apple. Crisp with a bursting juice, and a winey tang.

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Things to put on your shopping list

after making about a zillion latkes:

  • oil
  • paper towels
  • wax paper

 

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Old ways and new ways

Bread-baking season started again in October, when it finally got cool enough to have the oven on (although it remains, in mid-November, unseasonably mild). I made a satisfactory couple of loaves following Mark Bittman’s easy (food processor-kneaded) sandwich loaf process. I varied the flours, sweetener, liquid, and fat each time, and made no detailed notes, but I am getting a better feel for the texture of dough at each stage and for the shaping of loaves.  I get nice flavor and a pretty good, well-knitted texture in a bread that can last me a week of skinny slices. It turns out that watching the rise timings helps. With those two successes behind me, I attempted a much more complex recipe for French loaves found in BAKING WITH JULIA, edited by Dorie Greenspan. I started with old dough, saved from the previous week’s baking, waking it up with a little water the night before. This went into a first starter, which then made a second starter, which then went through two long rises before shaping and final rise.  The dough looked great, stretchy with big and small holes, through the second starter and even the first rise, but the second rise almost didn’t. The dough had become almost inert, seemingly.  I shaped two small baguettes, following the instructions rather impatiently — it was now eight o’clock on the second day, or twenty-four hours into the process. Maybe they should have rested longer than an hour, but I was out of time.  So into the oven they went. And there was enough oven spring to make the two sad, poorly formed logs burst and bulge out in various directions, but not enough to make the texture less than leaden. Well, whipped lead. Still edible, but dense and somewhat gummy. Rather than developing a crisp brown crust, they had the mottled look of a redheaded glassblower. Continue reading

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Limey.

No photo, so take my word for it that yesterday’s lime pie, finally dolloped with concentric rings of softly (hand-) whipped cream and sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar and minced lime zest, its pale face circled with a russet collar of cookie-crumb crust (speculoos mixed with very similar almond wafers), looked rather pretty. My baked goods hardly ever look pretty — maybe handsome in an undecorated fashion, but not pretty — so I was pleased. And it tasted great, the tangy, soft, cool lime and cream a fine contrast with the crunchy, cinnamon-and-gingery crust. It went beautifully with the other dessert contribution at the dinner party, Camille’s lemon cake with raspberries.

I was inspired by this frozen lemon pie recipe from Everybody Likes Sandwiches, cross-referenced with Mark Bittman and Martha Stewart and a handful of other recipes. Citrus tarts using sweetened evaporated milk are legion, and not complex at their essence, though there are so many variations that this basic simplicity can be obscured.

The only other time I went to Ralph’s place it was for another dinner party and there too I brought cream, bowl, and whisk. That time it was a chocolate torte — the red wine cake, I think. He must think I’m obsessed with beating. The Four Freedoms monument on Roosevelt Island, now visible, clean and elegant, from Ralph’s terrace, had not then been built. Like all the best midtown views, his also includes other people’s terraces, watertowers, and the Chrysler Building.

Crunching and jamming.

You remember that pear-ginger conserve I made, out of Melissa McClellan’s FOOD IN JARS book? Well, I made another recipe, nectarine-lime, and it was maybe even more delicious. It came out a gorgeous purplish-red color, too, surprisingly, suggestive of cherries or raspberries, but I figure it was all due to the nectarines’ skins.  The minced lime zest gave it a little sharp nip.

I had all the ingredients (except the millet, procured for 26 cents at the organic store on Court Street) so I made Smitten Kitchen’s vegan, gluten-free, nut-free chocolate granola bars.  So far I have not encountered any of my acquaintance with all those requirements, but the non-sensitive to whom I’ve offered the bars have enjoyed them. There are a lot of variable slots in the recipe: I used pomegranate molasses for the sweetener, tahini for the nut butter, coconut oil for the fat, dates and dried cranberries for the fruits.  Even cut with (gasp) corn syrup the pomegranate was, as I feared, somewhat overwhelming; if I make these again I will use honey and will change up the fruits, maybe to raisins and apricots. I’ll also reduce the chocolate further (I used a little less than the cup called for).  In pursuit of effective congealment I adopted the technique from the comments of heating the syrup briefly and melting the oil and tahini into it.  I baked at night, refrigerated the tin, and cut the bars in the morning, and they held together quite well. Half the batch is keeping safe in the freezer, individually wrapped purportedly for travel snack use, though I had one frozen last night.  I’d say they were a success, but not such a stunning one as to put paid to any thought of alternatives.

I’m giving you just a thumbnail photo, because why make an ugly picture any easier to see?

Granola bars. They taste better than they look.

Granola bars. They taste better than they look.

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