Sunday, December 28, 2008

Potato Rosemary Bread

Last holiday season, Kurt bought me all the tools I needed to become a real bread baker. He got me a nice, big, sturdy wooden bread board for kneading, and a DVD that showed me, step by step, how to make bread by hand. At the time, I wasn't a complete stranger to bread baking. I had made lots of it in my bread machine, and one or two loaves using my Kitchenaid stand mixer. Still, I considered these "cheating," due to all the mechanical help.

Over the course of the last year, I have developed somewhat of an obsession with yeast. I've acquired more bread baking books than I care to admit. I've read through recipes, absorbing the process until it is as familiar as my multiplication tables--mix, knead, rise, punch down, shape, rise, bake, cool. I've learned why breads rise, and what is really happening while kneading. I've started to understand the chemistry behind the process.

However, throughout all of this, I haven't baked all that much. I have baked a fair number of the breads from Artisan Breads in Five Minutes a Day, and have been happy with the results and fully endorse it to those who want to bake fast, easy, REAL bread. But, for me, it still fell into the "cheating" realm, somehow, because not all the steps were included.

Over the course of the last two weeks, I have turned a corner in my bread baking and have somehow become a little less intimidated. Last Sunday, I made Cinnamon Rolls from The Bread Baker's Apprentice. They came out very well. I was bolstered. I made the Chocolate Swirl Wreath from my last post. It turned out very well. So, I continued.

On Friday, I started a seed culture for a sourdough starter. It's on day three now, and has risen significantly. I can't wait to start baking with a real sourdough starter. And today, I made the Potato Rosemary Bread from The Bread Baker's Apprentice. Actually, I started this bread on Friday, by making the biga. Today, I finished it.

This bread was a long, involved process. I started first thing this morning, by setting a head of garlic in the oven to roast for an hour. At this time, I took the biga out of the fridge, to take the chill off. In the meantime, I made a dozen Ginger Rum Muffins from Granny's Muffin House for breakfast. Then, I boiled the potatoes to make the mashed potatoes. By the time the garlic was done roasting, the potatoes were ready for mashing.

Kurt was busy getting himself on Facebook (finally), so I let the Kitchenaid do the kneading, so that I didn't have to move Kurt in favor of my bread board. This dough rose nicely, and was ready to be shaped after the two hours expected. The boules doubled in size after about an hour and a quarter. Then, I baked them.

The smell alone was worth making this bread. The roasted garlic and rosemary blended together to make my house smell amazing. The taste even surpassed the smell, though. The crumb is tender, the crust crunchy. The roasted garlic and rosemary meld with a hint of potato, and some bite from the ground pepper. Paired with a slice of aged cheddar, this bread is pure enjoyment.

I am probably inordinately proud of this bread. With the biga, and all of the prep work, I finally feel like this is the real thing--even if I did let the Kitchenaid knead it. I will definitely make this one again.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Bread for Christmas

As a young Jew, I was always very secure in my religious identity. The only times I began to see cracks in the surface involved certain Christmas traditions. To this day, I cannot be in the same room with a Christmas tree without being completely transfixed with it. I have to inspect all of the ornaments, and watch the lights intently as they run in different patterns.

Around the time of college, there was another Christmas tradition that came to my attention that has invoked a sort of envy. That tradition comes in the broad category of "special food," and, very specifically, "celebration breads." There is something about the idea of a bread that is only made once a year--a bread that is enriched with decadent ingredients--that has always appealed to me. So many cultures have their own Christmas breads--stollen, pannetone, etc. I love their festive shapes and sparkling sprinkle of candied fruit. I don't actually like the taste of citron, but boy, is it pretty.

Perhaps it all comes full circle, and the reason Christmas breads appeal to me is really related to my Jewish-ness. After all, the ceremonial or symbolic bread is not exactly a foreign concept to me. Between the challah and the matzoh, the idea has been pretty ingrained in me. Once, I asked Kurt why he thought I am so attracted to cooking and baking, and he told me he thought it was because I love exploring the nuances of other cultures, and food is one of the most direct ties to that. Whatever the reason, this year I wanted to make a Christmas bread.

Luckily, King Arthur Flour provided me with the perfect opportunity. On their homepage last week, there was a picture of a grand bread wreath. It was beautiful--round, swirled with chocolate, and glazed with confectioners' sugar. The minute I saw it, I knew I wanted to make it. I knew that it was going to stretch my abilities as a bread baker, but I was willing to take on the challenge.

Last night, I embarked on my journey. I let my Kitchenaid do all the kneading, because the dough was very sticky, and I didn't want to toughen it with too much flour while kneading by hand. I let it rise while we ate dinner, and then rolled the dough out. I sprinkled it with semisweet chocolate chips. It called for chocolate schmear, but I didn't have any (or time to order it), so I used the chocolate chips instead. I was liberal with them, using far more than the 1/2 cup suggested. On went the sugar, and the almonds. I had Kurt roll it up, since he has become rather proficient at the task after years of making our cranberry-pecan spiral cookies. We sliced it, and made it into a pretty circle, and let it rise again while I chatted with my family on the phone.

I took the pictures after pulling the bread out of the oven, but before glazing it. I am sorry that I do not have final photos, since the glaze made it even prettier (and then removed it from the filling-encrusted baking sheet, which also improved the presentation).

The end result was a dessert bread that tasted like a dense Danish ring. The chunks of chocolate chips provided a nice bite, and the almonds melted to a near-marzipan quality. I will definitely be making this one again.

If you are interested, here is the recipe, courtesy of King Arther Flour. I replaced the Hi-Maize with regular all-purpose flour, and used semisweet chocolate chips in place of the chocolate schmear.

Happy holidays!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Why NOT to buy a first edition of a cookbook...

Tonight, we are having friends over for dinner. Well, kind of. We are having friends over, and we will eat dinner, but the friends are cooking for us. This particular friend is an amazing cook, so we let him have free reign over our kitchen when he visits.

Not wanting to look like a slacker, I decided to make a cake for dessert. I chose the Quadruple Chocolate Loaf from Nigella Lawson's book, Feast. I had made her Guiness cake, and it is nothing short of heavenly. So, I was confident in her recipe-writing abilities. And, even though it made me a little nervous and queasy, when the recipe said to line the pan in plastic wrap (with a note that said, "Don't panic--it won't melt."), I followed the instructions because I figured she knew what she was doing.

She didn't. At all. I checked on the cake after a half hour of baking, and there was no plastic wrap anymore. It had completely melted into the cake, onto my bread pan, and onto the bottom of my oven. Wonderful!

I was obviously very upset about the disaster that was my cake. So, I did what any rational girl would do. I Googled it. First, I came up with the recipe--clearly stating that you should use greased tin foil. And then I came across some other people who had had my problem. It appears that later editions of the book had the tin foil, but that the first edition that some of us unluckily had, states to use the plastic wrap.

So, I guess the moral of the story is never to buy the first edition of a cookbook, no matter how much you trust the author. And, if something doesn't seem right, Google it BEFORE you start baking. Chances are, some poor, unfortunate blogger has already made your mistakes. But, I won't know that unless you search it out beforehand.

From now on, I'm trusting my instincts in the kitchen more than the written word in front of me. Now to go see if I can get that melted plastic wrap off of my bread pan.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

An Emotional Baker

I've been long absent from my blogging. I think it's just because I got lazy about taking pictures, and actually uploading them. I've been cooking. I've been baking. And, now that the weather is cooler, I've been doing a lot more of both.

Lately, I haven't been happy at work. I won't go into the specifics, since my company has a very explicit "No Blogging About Us" policy. But, I will suffice to say, without mentioning what company I work for, or any specifics at all, that I have not been in good spirits while there, or at the end of my day.

I've been told that there are people who are emotional eaters. They get upset, and they dive into the chocolate, the ice cream, the chips, the macaroni and cheese. I always sort of identified myself as one of these. I've found out over the last three weeks that I was wrong. I don't emotionally eat. As a matter of fact, that's exactly what I do. I, emotionally, don't seem to eat. I've lost more weight by being unhappy at work for three weeks than I did by going to the gym four times a week for two months. It's not that I'm skipping meals (or snacks), really. It's just that I sit down to eat it, take a few bites, and am...done.

Now, one would think that, if one had very little appetite, one would lose interest in cooking/baking. Not the case, apparently. Last night, I was left to my own devices. I had had a particularly rough return to work from a week-long vacation. And so, I unleashed myself upon my kitchen. I made a Cranberry-Banana Bread with fresh, tart cranberries sprinkled throughout it. I put together a dinner of Garlicky Stewed White Beans with Green Peppers, and stood over the pot breathing in the glorious garlic smell as it simmered. Well, the garlic smell mixed with the cinnamon smell, from the baking bread.

It seems that I might be an emotional baker. Tonight, after a dinner of Ramen noodles (yeah, I went there--I used real bouillon in place of their MSG-filled packets, though. I told you I haven't been hungry!), I set about making Banana-Chocolate Brunch Cake. I even did all of the dishes when I was finished (a rarity--that's usually Kurt's job). As I type this, the house is slowly filling with the warm cinnamon scent of the cake.

I should probably make note, as the girl who is all about local food, why I am using so many bananas. As I was food shopping on Sunday--for the first time post-CSA season--I stumbled upon a "reduced to clear" rack in the produce department. There, staring at me, was a wrapped package of past-prime organic bananas. There were five of them, for the unbelievable price of 57 cents. I couldn't leave them behind. I actually consider my purchase of only ONE package to be a sign of great self-control. I easily could have walked away with 30 over-ripe bananas, perfect for baking, for all of $3.42. My freezer would have been fat and happy. But, I resisted.

My oven timer is ringing. It is time to remove the banana cake...and maybe think about baking some cookies.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

TWD: Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters

I've been behind on my TWD baking. I actually made the Granola Grabbers, but they disappeared before I could take pictures of them, and my Tuesday got busy, so I didn't get to blog. Since I had a long weekend, I promised myself I would follow through with this week's recipe. I am so glad I did.

These cookies were easy to put together, and made the house smell amazing. They tasted incredible, too. There's something nostalgic in their flavor. I can't put my finger on it. I can't imagine that it is a childhood memory, since my mother didn't bake that often, and certainly would have shuddered at 2 sticks of butter. I don't think they have a Weight Watcher point value for that. There's just a giant red NO when you look it up, I suspect. Still, the taste reminds me of childhood, for some reason. Or maybe it just tastes like what childhood should taste like. I can't help but feel that these are ideal lunchbox cookies--they have protein from the peanut butter, fiber from the oatmeal, and kid appeal from the chocolate chips. Of course, all of this is overlooking the 2 cups of sugar (one brown, one white) and the 2 sticks of butter. It is easy to overlook such things when they taste so good.

My story has a sad ending, however. Tonight, Kurt and I went out to run a couple of errands--most important of which was to buy our dog a 40-pound bag of food. Feeling that she had been such a good girl all weekend, I also purchased a nice, meaty knuckle for her to chew on, and some premium kibble that had bigger bites to put in her saucer toy (which she rolls around, eating the bits until it is empty). All of that, and I come home to find a ziplock bag torn to shreds on my rug. I knew immediately that this was no ordinary ziplock bag. In fact, this was the very ziplock bag that held about 10 more of these luscious cookies (one of which I was anxiously awaiting as my dessert). My dog has not gotten her meaty knuckle. She has not gotten her bigger kibble. And she'll be lucky if she gets her regular food in her bowl. Of course, she's probably not hungry, anyway, after eating the last of my cookies. Let's hope the chocolate doesn't affect her, and that I return to speaking terms with her some time this week.
If you would like to check out the recipe, go to Stefany's blog, Proceed with Caution. I would warn you, though, if you do make this recipe, to keep it well outside the reach of your animal companion. Thank you, Stefany, for a wonderful recipe choice!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

In Tribute

The Workman family received bad news this weekend. Grandmother Workman, the matriarch of the Workman family, passed away on Friday night. She was 87 years old, loved and cherished by her five children, five grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

I didn't know Grandmother as well as I would have liked to. However, she was always extremely warm to me, always quick with a smile and a quip when I was around. Somehow, though I met her in the twilight of her life, I always felt a connection with Grandmother. Within her love of her home and her acclaim in the kitchen, I always felt that she was a kindred spirit. I like to believe that the welcome she showed me means that she felt it, too.

This evening, after the gathering of the family and the funeral, I have felt drawn to my kitchen. Doug (Grandmother's second son and my husband's father) has always said that no one cooks or bakes as well as his mother. Grandmother's fresh-baked bread and pecan pie are the stuff of legends, especially among the Workmans. So, it does not surprise me that, after paying tribute to Grandmother's life in the form of a wake and funeral, I felt compelled to enter my own kitchen and dig in to some flour. I suspect I am not the only person feeling this, as this morning there were homemade quick breads and cakes gracing the kitchen table, each brought by family members who had made them. Perhaps food is a way to deal with grief. Or perhaps a warm oven and a batter-flecked apron seemed an appropriate way to mourn a wonderful woman.

In memory of Grandmother, I would like to share my favorite excerpt from Barbara Kingsolver's amazing book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Grandmother will be greatly missed, and very fondly remembered.

I'm drawn to [The Day of the Dead], I'm sure, because I live in a culture that allows almost no room for dead people. I celebrated Dia de los Muertos in the homes of friends from a different background, with their deceased relatives for years before I caught on. But I think I understand now. When I cultivate my garden I'm spending time with my grandfather, sometimes recalling deeply buried memories of him, decades after his death. While shaking beans from an envelope I have been overwhelmed by a vision of my Pappaw's speckled beans and flat corn seeds in peanut butter jars in his garage, lined up in rows, curated as carefully as a museum collection. That's Xantolo, a memory space opened before my eyes, which has no name in my language.

When I'm cooking, I find myself inhabiting the emotional companionship of the person who taught me how to make a particular dish, or with whom I used to cook it. Slamming a door on food-rich holidays, declaring food an enemy, sends all the grandparents and great aunts to a lonely place. I have been so relieved lately to welcome them back: my tiny great-aunt Lena who served huge, elaborate meals at her table but would never sit down there with us herself, insisting on eating alone in the kitchen instead. My grandmother Kingsolver, who started every meal plan with dessert. My other grandmother, who made perfect rolls and gravy. My Henry grandfather, who used a cool attic room to cure the dark hams and fragrant cloth-wrapped sausages he made from his own hogs. My father, who first took me mushroom hunting and taught me to love wild asparagus. My mother, whose special way of beating eggs makes them fly in an ellipse in the bowl.

Here I stand in the consecrated presence of all they have wished for me, and cooked for me. Right here, canning tomatoes with Camille, making egg bread with Lily. Come back, I find myself begging every memory. Come back for a potholder hug.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

TWD: Chocolate Pudding

I've never been a fan of chocolate pudding. It always seemed like a waste of dessert for me. If I'm going to eat chocolate, I'm going to eat CHOCOLATE. And if I'm going to eat my dessert with a spoon, I'm going to eat ice cream, and really eat my dessert with a spoon. Chocolate pudding was relegated to something to eat when I had teeth pulled (a common occurence when I was a child, unfortunately), or when my throat was so swollen that I couldn't eat anything else.

The thing that I never realized before was that there is chocolate pudding that is not Jell-O pudding. This chocolate pudding is not Jell-O pudding. This chocolate pudding does not deserve to have to share a name with Jell-O pudding. This chocolate pudding almost isn't's chocolate divintiy in a glass. It is like no other "pudding" I have ever tasted before.

So, the process. It was a little involved, and I made it while I wasn't feeling well. There were a lot of steps. Melt the chocolate. Bring the milk and the sugar to a boil. Pulse together the dry ingredients. Pulse together the eggs and sugar. Run the machine while adding the hot milk. Put the whole thing back over the heat. Pulse it all again. Add the butter and chocolate. Spoon it into glasses and refrigerate for what felt like an unfair amount of time. Why bother with all of this when you can just add some powder to some milk and have chocolate pudding?

The answer, upon tasting the results, is obvious. This is something beyong pudding. This is almost mousse-like. This holds its bittersweet flavor and therefore isn't cloyingly sweet like the boxed variety. This pudding does not need to be a component. It is a wonderful, satisfying dessert all on its own--yes, even without whipped cream. This chocolate pudding is well worth the extra steps. This chocolate pudding, it turns out, is anything other than a waste of dessert.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Chickpea-Kale Stew with Chorizo

I had a whole, long post typed out catching up from the last time I posted, and my computer just ate it. Gone. So, out of sheer laziness, I am picking up with tonight. Sorry about the lack of catch up.

Lately, I've been inundated with greens from my CSA. The list of items I am getting is long, but most of them fall into the same category--leafy greens. Now, I might get kicked out of the kind-of-crunchy club for saying this, but I don't like dark leafy greens. I'm sorry. I just don't. I love spinach. I've learned to like chard, but it has taken work. Kale? Escarole? Collards? They kind of make my stomach turn.

I recognize that early in the growing season--spring and early summer up here in New Hampshire--are the time for greens. I've read Animal Vegetable Miracle, and I know what the vegetannual looks like. I know leaves come first. I wish I could feel a burst of excitment when I see piles of greens on my table after our pick up at the CSA. But, I don't. All I see is a bump in the road that I have to pass on the way to my favorites--the summer squash and zucchini and tomatoes and carrots and potatoes and basil.

Bump in the road or not, the greens have to be consumed. I cannot stand by and let a farmer's hard work go to waste--especially not a farmer I have to look in the eye the next time I pick up my share. And so the hunt is on. I need to find recipes that incorporate greens without making me gag.

I was shocked. I found one tonight. Not only did it not make me gag, but I liked it. I mean, really, actually liked it. The recipe is for Chickpea-Kale Stew with Chorizo, originally from the December 2007 issue of Cooking Light. I used chorizo that is made at a local butcher out of happy pigs (well, probably not happy anymore, but they lived happy, healthy, uncaged lives). I also used canned chickpeas, because that was just easier for my time schedule. If you make this recipe, do not leave out the lemon wedges. They give the whole stew a new spin and bring everything together. Ultimately, it was the lemon that made the kale--dare I say it?--taste good to me.

Overall, I've learned two valuable lessons tonight. Next time I'm looking for a kale recipe, look for one that incorporates lemon juice. They seem to go well together. The other lesson is one that I probably knew before, but kale made me doubt. If I look hard enough for a good recipe, and keep trying without giving up, I can learn to like any vegetable in at least one application. Thank you, Cooking Light, for finding the key to kale for me.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

TWD: Mixed Berry Cobbler

For years, I never knew there was a difference between a crisp and a cobbler. As a matter of fact, I wasn't aware of the difference until this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe came out. Let it be known, there is definitely a difference.
Now, I'm not necessarily saying that a cobbler is fussy. But, I will say that cobbler is far more fussy than a crisp. A crisp is a 10-minute affair. You can chop the fruit, toss together the topping, and have it ready to bake before the oven is even preheated. Not so with a cobbler, which requires making a dough similar to a pie crust.

The end result was excellent, so I'm not complaining. The frozen mixed berries worked perfectly, and didn't require chopping, etc. The topping was crisp and crunchy, and just right under the mushy berries and melting vanilla ice cream. If I had to change anything at all, it would be the fruit. I have an aversion to anything that tastes too much like artificial raspberry flavoring--a lasting result of having Lyme disease at nine years old, and having to take a raspberry-flavored medicine that made me feel seasick all summer. The combination of the raspberries (which I have no trouble eating fresh) with the sugar and cornstarch came a little too close to hitting that old gag point. Next time, I might stick to blueberries and strawberries. Or, maybe take Dorie's suggestion in "playing around," and try it with apples and maple syrup. Yum!

Another note--you can ignore Dorie's pleas to eat this the day it is made. We did, of course. But, as a two-person household, we weren't about to finish it in one night. Unrefrigerated, it kept quite nicely and was very satisfying today. So, rest assured, if you do not finish it in one sitting, it will keep just fine overnight.

Overall, this was a great recipe. I'm definitely looking forward to using it for the base for many future variations.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

TWD: La Palette Strawberry Tart

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie challenge was for a strawberry tart. It was an odd recipe for me, in that it was hardly a recipe in all. Instead, it was more, make a pie crust, put some jam and fruit on it, and serve, with something creamy on top. Easy enough.

The hard part was the strawberries. You see, I'm a bit of a stickler for the local/in season thing. I know that, for most places on the East Coast, this was a seasonal recipe. But, up in New Hampshire, strawberry season has not yet sprung.

So, I sat with my conscience to figure out how and if I could do this recipe. On Sunday, I determined that I could--I would just go to the local farm stand, which would have gotten the strawberries as locally as possible (they have sister farms throughout the East Coast). I resolved to start the crust when I realized that I was out of powdered sugar.

I went to the supermarket to fulfill my powdered sugar need (and, in the meantime, restock my butter supply, which it seems TWD quickly depletes). The heat got the better of me. It went from 60 degrees on Friday to 95 on Saturday, and it maintains, still today. At the supermarket, I got to thinking "do I really want to go all the way to the farm stand in this heat? Nah. Better to pick up the strawberries now, while I'm here." So, I did. My good, usually localvore self, bought California strawberries at a huge chain supermarket. Shame on me.

And, honestly, my dessert showed it. My tart would have been so much better with local, just-picked strawberries. The tart crust was wonderful (I've eaten pieces of the unassembled, leftover crust on its own since Sunday). The jam--which was locally produced in MA by Trappist monks--was wonderful. The fresh whipped cream, heavily dosed with vanilla, was wonderful. The strawberries...were okay. They were cold. And, in that point in time, this was a major attribute. But, they weren't strawberries. They were...well, strawberries.

So, I found myself a great recipe to use the next time that I have real, fresh, locally-picked fruit in season. At that point, this recipe will be nothing less than stellar.

As a side note, I did end up going to the farm stand later in the afternoon. So, this dessert followed the first all-local meal of my season--scrambled eggs with asparagus, spinach and blue cheese. Here's to the start of a season filled with ripe local fruits and veggies!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

All About Me

Lisa, of Bumblebutton, tagged me for a meme. I'm pretty new at the whole blogging thing, so I hope I do this right.

The rules: Each participant answers questions about herself. At the end of the post the participant tags 5 people. Their names are posted letting them know they've been tagged. They then have to read the participant's blog. The tagged lets the tagger know when she's posted her answers.

What was I doing ten years ago? Ten years ago, I was just barely 17 years old. I had just completed my junior year of high school. The summer of 1998, I went with USY to Poland for ten days, and then spent six weeks in Israel. It's hard to believe that was ten years ago. It's also hard to believe that Israel felt so safe back then. I came home from that trip with such a heightened sense of myself--of who I am, and where I came from. I also came home with what was probably my only true tan in my entire life.

What are five (non-work) things on my to-do list for today:
1. Get my poor, sprouted potato seeds planted. I seem to have over-ordered seed potatoes, and don't have quite enough containers to plant all of them (okay, fine--I'm short 9--but at least we'll have lots and lots of potatoes to eat next fall/winter.).
2. Go to Wilson Farm stand. The TWD challenge is a strawberry tart, but it's a little early for strawberries in NH. If anyone will have them, Wilson will.
3. Bake the TWD tart, if I do find strawberries. If I don't, well...I guess I'll have to sit out this week. I'm pretty stubborn about not using produce that comes from all the way across the country.
4. Call Kelsey to work on ordering invitations for Amy's bridal shower.
5. Take pictures of my garden to share with friends and family who don't live nearby.

5 Snacks I enjoy:
1. Hummus with celery sticks.
2. Fruit--whatever is in season.
3. A cold glass of herbal iced tea. Maybe not a "snack," but I make it during that 3 PM hungry time at work pretty often to put off actual snacking until I get home.
4. A square of good chocolate.
5. Whatever I've recently baked. During the summer, this usually includes zucchini bread.

Things I would do if I were a billionaire:
This list could go on and on, but for now:
1. Buy a nice, fertile, flat piece of property to grow a lot more food on. I'd like it to be able to support lots and lots of veggies, a berry patch, and an orchard with all of the fruit trees I desire (apples, peaches, pears, and plums).
2. I love my house, so I'd probably stay there. But, I would like to give it a second floor, add on a deck and screened-in-porch, and remodel the bathroom (because it needs it), and the kitchen (because I'd like to).
3. I'd buy my family houses in the area that I live in. Not that they would have to live there full-time, but at least so that they could come for extended visits and have their own space.
4. Travel more--I'd definitely like to go out to California again, explore Washington and Oregon, and, of course, there is traveling to see my family more.
5. Buy a VW Westie, fix it up, and use it to go camping (Sally dog in tow, for this one).
6. Go to all the live concerts my heart desires, without worrying how far away it is (and having to get up in the morning for work), or how much the tickets are. I guess I already did this back in 2001-2003, but I'd love to have the ability to be that care-free again.

Places I have lived:
Hauppauge, NY
Boston, MA
Somerville, MA
Southern NH

Jobs I have had:
Office clerical
Bookseller at Waldenbooks, Borders, and Barnes and Noble (during various summers)
Cashier at HMV records
Ticket seller at the Children's Museum of Boston
Clerical in shoe buying department at Filene's
Financial Analyst at Filene's
Financial Analyst at a company that shall remain unnamed

And finally, those lovely bloggers that I have tagged...
Robin, of Made with Love
Danielle, of Sweet and Savory Eats
Steph, of A Whisk and a Spoon
Jacque, of Daisy Lane Cakes
Hygeia, of Phamished

Have fun, ladies!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

TWD: French Chocolate Brownies

This past week, I joined Tuesdays with Dorie, a weekly baking group. I have been reading a number of blogs from people who participate, and knew it was something I would like to join. What could be better than the promise of weekly sweets, while stretching my culinary skills?

The first recipe, French Chocolate Brownies, chosen by Di of Di's Kitchen Notebook, definitely did push me to try something I probably wouldn't have otherwise. First of all, there is the fact that they are homemade brownies. Now, I'm all for made-from-scratch. I'm probably too all for made-from-scratch for the tastes of the people around me. However, those brownies from the box are damn good. So, I leave it to other people around me to bring the brownies (made from the red box, of course), while I concentrate on made-from-scratch goods that are different, or at least where the box varieties kind of suck.

The second "stretch" for this recipe was the raisins. I love raisins. I stick them in quick breads, and yeast breads, and bread puddings. My husband, who was fairly anti-raisin when he met me ("Why ruin a good oatmeal cookie?"), has even come around to the raisin side of things, due to my baking. But, raisins in brownies even made me raise my eyebrows? Why embellish a brownie?

For those who know me, you know that I believe firmly in trying a recipe exactly as written the first time around. That way, I have a feel for what the author intended, and I can tell if the recipe, itself is worthy. All bets are off if and when I make the recipe again. Then, I improvise to my heart's content (my mother's chocolate 10-pound cake comes to mind, the latest incarnation of which was a pistachio-white chocolate chip 10-pound cake). So, with that spirit, I pushed down my doubts and tried this raisin-enhanced brownie recipe.

I'm really glad I did. The rum-flamed raisins (the flaming part was surprisingly fun) served as moist little morsels throughout the already-moist, very smooth brownie. As a matter of fact, the brownies were so smooth and melt-in-your mouth that I dare say the raisins gave me something to chew. Otherwise, the rest could just dissolve blissfully without much help from my teeth.

So, the end result was that the raisins were a good idea. The other end result is that these made-from-scratch brownies were far better than the red box ever even dreamed of being. So, the next time someone says, "Why don't you bring some brownies?" I might not be so quick to decline in favor of something more complicated. These brownies brought brownies back to something that I am willing to make, and with pride.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Green Green Noodle Soup

When you have literally hundreds of cookbooks, choosing a recipe can be difficult. Your first task is to choose which book to look through for ideas. That, in itself, is daunting. Then, choosing the recipe itself, from what is likely hundreds in any given book. It is no wonder that I have set a goal of making two new recipes every week. Even at that rate, I do not think I could ever make every recipe in my house.

With so many recipes to choose from, and all the new ones I make per month, it's no surprise that, every now and then, I stumble upon one that is less than stellar. Green Green Noodle Soup, from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, falls into that category. It wasn't terrible--we ate it and did not order a pizza. But, it wasn't great. Unfortunately for the recipes that reside in my home, it is truly a case of survival of the fittest. A mediocre dish that might have been made again in another home gets scrapped in mine, with the epitaph of "with so many recipes to choose from, why make anything that is less than incredible?"

It wasn't that the soup was bad. I think it was all about personal preference. The soup consisted of onions and garlic sauteed in olive oil and butter with some herbs, zucchini and spinach added to that, then vegetable broth added so that the whole thing can simmer. The soup was ladled over spinach linguine that had been tossed with pesto. We grated some Parmesan cheese over the whole thing. Everything here sounds great to me. It's the one step that I skipped over when reading, and skipped over just now in typing it that, in my opinion, ruined the soup. Half of the soup, pre-ladling over the noodles, gets pureed. And that, to me, made all the difference. I think the problem was more one of texture than flavor for me. Unfortunately, a problem with texture is near impossible for me to overcome.

And so Green Green Noodle Soup had met the fate of many recipes before it. It got eaten, and then got a "do not make again" stamp. Better luck next time.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Morning Glory Muffins

I chose Morning Glory Muffins, from King Arthur Flour Whole Grains Baking to be the first recipe that The Jam Girlz would make for our Bake-a-Long. I chose it because it was made with whole grains, and looked interesting and easy.

On Sunday morning, I decided that it would be a great time to make the muffins. I had a wedding to go to in Connecticut, and figured that they would make a great on-the-go breakfast for the two-hour ride down there.

The first modification I made to the recipe was to make them in a mini loaf pan instead of in a muffin tin. I'll be honest--I didn't like the sound to having to grease the paper muffin liners, and my muffin tin has sort of seen its day (to the point where I don't really want food in direct contact with the baking surface). Also, it seemed fitting to use the mini loaf pan on the way to Chach and JoJo's wedding, considering that Chach and JoJo had given us the muffin pan as a wedding gift just eight months before.

The muffins came together fairly easily. The hardest part was realizing that the bowl to my food processor was in the waiting line to be washed, and therefore wasn't immediately available to me. After that, it was smooth sailing.

The loaves took a little longer to bake than the muffins would have--about ten minutes extra. This wasn't necessarily the best thing, since I was on a tight schedule to get to the wedding in time. As a result, Kurt and I ended up taking still-steaming morning glory bread on the road with us.

They turned out wonderful. The raisins were plump and moist, due to their soak. The carrots, apple, and coconut made for colorful confetti throughout the inside, and the sunflower seeds offered an interesting crunch. I must say, they were also filling, and sustained us through the wedding ceremony--I was surprised to realize that I wasn't even hungry when lunch was served.

As for the wedding itself, it was held in the couple's backyard under perfectly sunny skies. The temperature remained a steady not-too-hot, not-too-cold 73, and everyone had a great time. Chach and JoJo certainly know how to throw a great party. I hope all their days are as fun-filled, action-packed, and fair-weathered as their wedding day was.

Morning Glory Muffins
adapted from King Arthur Flour Whole Grains Baking

1/2 cup raisins
2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups peeled and grated carrots
1 large tart apple, peeled, cored and grated
1/2 cup sweetened coconut
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
3 large eggs
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375. Lightly grease a muffin tin or line with papers and coat the papers with nonstick spray.

Put the raisins in a small bowl and cover them with hot water; set aside to soak while you assemble the rest of the recipe.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, spices and salt in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the carrots, apple, coconut, and sunflower seeds. In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, oil, orange juice, and vanilla. Add to the flour mixture, and stir until evenly moistened. Drain the raisins and stir them in.

Scoop the batter evenly into the prepared pan (the muffin cups will be almost full to the top; that's OK). Bake the muffins until nicely domed and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 28 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the muffins to cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then turn them out onto a rack to finish cooling.

Makes 12 muffins, or 4 mini loaves.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Cauliflower Rye Casserole

Spring in New England doesn't always feel like spring. Every now and then, you'll get a glorious, 70-degree day. But, in New England, spring is more about waiting for those days than actually experiencing them. Today was one of the waiting days. It was barely 60 degrees when I got home from work, and it had just started to rain...hard.

The smell of rye bread toasting when I walked through the door was welcome. I knew right away that Kurt had started our dinner, a recipe from Sundays at Moosewood, Cauliflower Rye Casserole.

This recipe is comfort food at its best. The smell of the rye and caraway fill the whole house. The oven stays on throughout the entire preparation, sending gentle heat throughout the kitchen. The dish itself is cheesy and gooey and warms right to the soul.

With the number of new recipes that I try every month, it is rare for one to stand out so much that it becomes an instant classic in the house. The Cauliflower Rye Casserole did just that. Since making it for the first time in February, we've made it at least another three times. The ingredients sound strange, but, put together, they are the perfect blend. If this recipe hadn't come from the Moosewood Collective, I probably wouldn't have trusted it. However, my experience with Moosewood has been to just go with it, because they know what they are doing.

Cauliflower Rye Casserole

1 cup beer
3 cups rye bread cubes
1 head cauliflower
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 1/2 cups grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
4 eggs
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Pour the beer and stir and let sit until it becomes flat.

Put bread cubes on baking sheet, and toast in a 300-degree oven until they are crisp, but not browned, about 15 to 20 minutes. When cubes come out of oven, turn oven up to 350 degrees.

Saute the cauliflower in the butter with the caraway seeds until just barely tender. Combine the bread cubes and cauliflower with the grated cheese. Spread the mixture into a greased 3-quart casserole dish.

Mix the eggs, mustard, coriander, and black pepper with the beer, and pour the mixture into the casserole dish.

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes, until puffed and golden.