05 December 2010


A few things I've been up to, in no particular order (okay, yes, in chronological order. You can take the girl out of the archives, etc.):

The Enchanted Forest. Oh so fun! And I was so glad to discover that some of the pieces from this sadly abandoned park have been salvaged and can be viewed in all their restored glory at a petting farm in Maryland. Sounds like a trip!

Thanksgiving in wonderful Orange Beach, Alabama. The wretched road trip was totally worth it because I got to reconnect with some high school friends, see the fam (MollyMac pictured above), and enjoy the lovely gulf beach. Not a bit of oil in sight, though I've never seen jellyfish like this!

09 November 2010

Goings on

I can't say that I'm crazy about the approach of winter, but I do love fall food and the prospect of baking more! Some of my adventures lately have included:

Sourdough starter. I suppose it's meant to keep me humble, as this has had me just perplexed. I started some back in September, gave up in disgust and tossed it in the fridge, then took it out a couple Mondays ago and it's been doing sort-of well. I'd really love to get it to the point where it just needs all purpose flour (it requires 25% rye currently, and that does add up!), but I hope to make some proper sourdough bread soon!

Random pizza shot. Made the dough one Sunday and was too tired to bake that night, so John froze it for me. I thawed it out the next Sunday and we had a lovely pepperoni pizza (while watching, I think, "The Wire.")

And my latest bona fide triumph: Salted Pumpkin Caramels, from the ever-reliable Food52. I made these to take in for a Saturday work treat. (As it happened, there was no power whatsoever at the Library that Saturday, so I ended up taking them to a church membership class and a Halloween party, but whatever.)


25 October 2010

New Trick!

Oooh, check out the arty effects I got from my new app, Hipstamatic!

16 October 2010

Food for this Week

Last week I mentioned the Fresh 20, a meal planning service I've been trying out. I find I adapt a lot to suit schedule, tastes, opinions about how to cook, etc. But the fact that I adapt doesn't mean I don't like their ideas! Last week was a good example, both in terms of switching up their suggestions, and also trying things I wouldn't normally cook.

So, the instructions were to braise some flank steak for dinner one night and use the leftovers for risotto another night. I pan-fried the steak . . . see below. A proper dinner with a vegetable side (green beans with lemon and almonds) and a starch! So exciting.

And the next night we had tacos -- I took the leftover steak, sliced it, sprinkled with fajita seasoning, and tossed it around with peppers and onions. We enjoyed the meat with tortillas, cheese, and delicious smoky paprika cream.

For the risotto component of the week I roasted the butternut squash that came in our Dominion Box and stirred it into a basic risotto. No pictures because risotto looks like risotto. I put the leftover squash on a salad, which was pretty good. I do not come from a winter squash eating people, but butternut squash is nice.

Extracurricular activities this week included whole wheat bread from Bread by Jeffrey Hamelman, a birthday present from Mom and Dad. It used a pate fermentee, which was a first for me. It's meant to enhance the texture (I think it did) and help it keep longer (we'll see). I didn't take as much time as I should have to shape the loaves properly, but that doesn't affect the taste!

Really, Blogger?

Seriously, you make it just impossible to either predict the order in which photos will post or rearrange them once they have posted in their nonsensical order. THEN you refuse to post my photos at all today. Maybe a server error is your fault, maybe it isn't, but I'm blaming you.

11 October 2010

What I've been up to

Not a whole lot, actually . . . it's been busy at work, cooling off outside, and we've been settling into a fall routine. I'm trying a meal planning service for the next few months. The Fresh 20 sends out a weekly menu for five meals (designed to serve four people with moderate appetites), featuring seasonal produce, whole grains, lean protein, etc. I've enjoyed it so far! I usually end up omitting the meal that includes seafood -- because I don't like seafood -- and often rearrange the suggested order to suit the house schedule (leftovers before Bible Study on Tuesdays, something that holds well on Wednesday so John can eat while I'm at yoga, etc.) and it turns out a pretty good amount of food without being wasteful. It's certainly encouraged me to try different recipes and to cook with meat more than I usually would.

I see I don't have any pictures of a Fresh 20 meal, but here are a few things I've made over the last little while:

Overnight Oatmeal, as suggested by Kath of Kath Eats Real Food. The idea is you mix up equal parts of raw, rolled oats, yogurt, and milk, let it sit in the fridge overnight, then top and eat in the morning. Muesli, in other words. I've been eating it since I discovered Sam's no longer stocks Go Lean Crunch. This particular morning I had it with dried apricots, almonds, and a bit of palmetto honey.

Wow, we've been broke out in eggplants this year! I've got two sitting in the fridge right now, and I get a least one in every Dominion box. I'm not absolutely crazy about eggplant, but it can be okay, I guess. Below is eggplant glazed with pomegranate molasses, served with goat cheese toasts.

We went to visit the Tidewater gang in late August and brought an almond-peach cake. I believe the recipe was from Food52. It mixed up easily on a Sunday morning (didn't even use a mixer) with butter, eggs, almond flour, nutmegged sugared peaches, and some other stuff I'm sure. By the time we headed down it had baked and cooled. Delicious! Love almonds.

And then this summer's project: baking without turning on the oven. I made pita using the recipe in How to Cook Everything. Only one of them puffed, but they were all tasty. We had a Sunday mezze spread as pictured below: Tomatoes, cucumbers, Halloumi cheese (John would live on this if I let him) and, I think, leftover eggplant. Below that is my one puffed pita. It's not a great picture, but it needed to be recorded.

09 August 2010

English Muffins (Easy!)

As part of my continuing quest to bake without turning on the oven, I decided to make English Muffins this Sunday . . . I've always wanted to try them, I had a brand-new cast iron skillet, and I thought they would be a nice treat for John, who'd gotten back from Nashville late Sunday night.

I used a recipe from King Arthur Flour. The dough mixed up easily in the KitchenAid . . . I didn't have bread flour (just A.P.), and subbed in a couple ounces of whole wheat flour for part of it, but it came together as a lovely, springy (though somewhat wet) dough. I gave it a first rise, rolled it and cut it (using one of Meme's old aluminum tumblers).

I put them on a parchment-lined baking sheet, covered with plastic, and left them in the fridge overnight for a slow second rise.

Sunday morning, I took them out and let them come up to room temp (and get a little puffy!) while I had my coffee. I heated up my gigantic skillet over medium heat . . . then plopped the little dough circles on. They cooked about seven minutes on the first side, five on the second. They didn't stick at all -- in fact, I flipped most of them with my fingers. I was really impressed by how much they looked like proper English muffins: Brown on the top and bottom, creamy on the sides. Next time I make these I'll use a bigger cutter, as they were pretty small, but otherwise I can't think of a thing I'd change.

Fresh English muffins with butter and honey . . . just a lovely thing to have on a Sunday morning.

31 July 2010

Chocolate Peppermint Meringues, Part the Second

Our Story Continues . . .

So, I left the cookies in a turned-off oven to dry overnight. When I got up in the morning, they were still a bit chewy around the middle. Pooh. So I turned the oven to 200 for a half hour, then turned it back off and let them sit around while I ate breakfast and went to the gym. When I got back they were just about perfect! Not quite as shatteringly dry as one might get in, say, December, but pretty darn good.

So I went to whip up the ganache. I'd been frustrated in my efforts to find "pure peppermint oil" (it was not at any of the four stores -- including Penzey's and the fancy chocolate shop -- John and I went to), so in the end I used peppermint extract. I used the microwave to melt the chocolate (as I always do) and think I let my impatience get the better of me . . . the chocolate heated too much and got a bit grainy. But as the chocolate layer was so thin, and delicious, I don't think it mattered all that much in the end.

Boy, were these good! When I make them again I'll use a pastry bag and make a point to make them a bit smaller, but otherwise I wouldn't change a thing. The cookies peeled off the foil like a dream, stayed stuck together, and tasted just like mint chocolate chip ice cream. I went the rustic route, so mine wouldn't have won any beauty contests, but with a little more attention they could really be showstoppers. Certainly everyone at the shindig I took them to gobbled them up and raved.

30 July 2010

Chocolate Peppermint Meringues, Part the First

I've been a bad SMSer! It's been miserably hot here in Richmond, and I just. Have. Not. Felt like turning on the oven. Or really doing much of anything besides misting myself with water and sitting under fan. So it was a surprise, to say the least, to idly click over to Sweet Melissa Sundays today and discover that I'm hosting this Sunday! I'm alleviating my guilt by splitting my post into two (2) parts.

In the first part, I'll write out the recipe and share my thoughts on the meringue-making process. Tomorrow I'll post again with thoughts on the ganache and sandwiching processes, as
well as the final product.

So, the recipe, on page 230-231, is:

For the Meringues:

1.5 oz. bittersweet chocolate
2 Tbs powdered sugar
5 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
pinch cream of tartar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the Peppermint Ganache:

4 oz. semisweet chocolate
2 Tbs heavy cream
3 drops pure peppermint oil


Position oven racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven. Preheat to 200F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment or foil. Fit a pastry bag with a 3/4 inch round tip.

Chop the chocolate finely by hand (yield about 1/3 cup). Process in food processor with the powdered sugar until it is a fine powder, being careful it doesn't melt.

Combine egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set over a pot of simmering water and whisk constantly until the sugar is dissolved and the whites are warmed to the touch. Transfer to a mixer fitted with the whip attachment. Starting on low and
gradually increasing to high, whip until the meringue is cool and holds stiff, ossy peaks. Add
vanilla, then fold in the chocolate dust mixture. Fill the pastry bag and pipe into 2 inch wide mounds on the cookie sheets. Bake for an hour and 15 minutes, rotate pans, then reduce temperature to 175 and bake for another hour . . . until completely dry, but not browned.
Remove to rack to cool completely.

Combine chopped chocolate (the 4 oz of semisweet) and cream in a medium bowl . . . set over simmering water to melt the chocolate, then whisk until smooth. Stir in the peppermint oil. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Peel the paper or foil away from the meringues. Spread about 3/4 tsp. ganache on the flat sides of half, then sandwich together with the rest. Chill about 15 minutes before serving. Will keep
at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. Do not refrigerate or freeze.

My experience:

(And apologies for the weird posting order . . . I never have been able to get blogger to post my pictures in any kind of sensible way. And moving them around seems to require an act of God.)

Anyway! I've enjoyed mint meringues for many years, as they are a Christmas treat favored by my Aunt Linda. She makes hers with mini chocolate chips, sometimes colors then green (for Christmas!), and was kind enough to pass along her recipe, which does not include any fol-de-rol with water baths and whatnot. Additionally, the baking time on hers is far shorter . . . she puts the cookies in a 300 degree oven, bakes for 30 min, then turns the oven off and leaves them to cool overnight. (In fact, I've also enjoyed a variation called "Forgotten Cookies" that were just put into a 300 degree oven, turned off, and left to dry overnight.)

So I'd be interested to hear from people who did the meringue whisking thing . . . especially how it compares with the more basic meringue cookie. Is there a difference in texture? Does it make it more foolproof? It did occur to me that maybe the slight cooking removes any trace of food-borne bacteria? Someday when I'm not under the gun like this I might do a side-by-side comparison, just for kicks.

As it was, the egg whites whipped up beautifully, even without the tartar. I added a wee pinch of salt because I like salt, and was duly impressed with the whipping action on the KitchenAid. Folded in the chocolate dust (which I should have processed more). I then used a spoon to plop the cookies onto their prepared sheet (wishing I'd bothered with a pastry bag, as I do think that makes things quicker and less messy), popped them into the oven, let them cook for 30 minutes, then switched the heat off so they can enjoy their beauty rest. I'll be back in the morning with a report on how the finished product turned out!

21 June 2010

SMS No-Show, and Could someone turn down the heat?

Chestnut-honey madeleines was the recipe this week, and they sounded wonderful! Unfortunately, it's been just scorchingly hot, the ac has been running non-stop, and the last thing I want to do is crank up the oven. All I feel like making is ice cream. Go take a look at some of the lovelies baked by other SMSers.

16 June 2010

A couple other things I've cooked

Garlic Scape Pesto. Weird, yes? The garlic scapes (and the recipe for the pesto!) came in the Dominion Harvest box . . . they're apparently the green tops of garlic bulbs. They're pretty sharp, but good. We ate it over pasta one night and have been putting it on pita chips ever since.

Brunch for Kenny and Rebeca: Frittata, salad, Billy Bread.

Curried fried rice, from A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen. (Not the greatest picture, but I really liked it! Rice, coconut milk, sugar snap peas, and other goodies.)

14 June 2010

Chocolate Orange Macaroons

This week's Sweet Melissa Sunday challenge was hosted by BlueTreeGreenHeart. Chocolate Orange Macaroons -- yum!

Here are the very simple ingredients: Coconut, chocolate, orange zest, sugar, and egg white.
(I also added a pinch of salt for good measure.)

The method couldn't be easier: Mix by hand, bake until golden.

Don't you want one right now? John said they were the best of the things I've made so far for SMS. I read previous posts and sprayed my foil with Baker's Joy, so there was no problem getting them off the cookie sheet. I loved the way the bottoms got caramely and crunchy while the inside was moist and chewy. And I think the orange zest really brought it ll together nicely.

Another win! (And something I'll probably make again.) Go check out the baker's links for more!

06 June 2010

Pistachio Linzer Thumbprints

This week's Sweet Melissa Sundays entry is Pistachio Linzer Thumbprints, hosted by Tracey of Tracey's Culinary Adventures. I dearly love linzertorte, and like pistachios quite a bit, so I was pleased by the selection. Unfortunately, I just could not find unsalted pistachios, so as suggested, I subbed hazelnuts.

(Also unfortunately, my camera was not in the kitchen and frankly, I just did not feel like finding it, hooking it up to my dying computer, plugging the old computer into a hard line for internets, etc. So just the two iPhone photos. Sorry.)

Anyway, this came together quickly in a food processor. It did fill the darn thing up so much that bits of dough went straight on the counter when I opened the machine up, but that's nothing new. It's a lovely food processor, but it does perplex me.

Also, the dough never did come together . . . . maybe could have used more liquid. But no matter! I just mashed it together and baked it and all was well. They were pretty crumbly, too, when I went to make the thumbprints, but I solved that by bracing the sides with one hand and pressing with the other. (Hence the slightly oval shape of many of the cookies.)

I ended up baking just 20 cookies, saving a goodly amount of dough in the freezer. (I did wish I'd had more powdered hazelnuts to dip the cookies in.) As a final change, I subbed blackberry preserves from our lovely CSA box for the raspberry. They were really quite tasty.

John told me twice that they were awesome, so I think we have another SMS success! Go to Tracey's blog for the recipe (and pictures of a properly made, pistachio-inclusive cookie). If you'd like total cookie madness, check out the full list of SMS bakers.

23 May 2010

Butterscotch Pralines (and LOST)

This week's SMS assignment was to make Butterscotch Pralines. I've never made candy before because (1) I had an unfortunate accident with hot sugar when I was in the fifth grade, and (2) Most candy recipes say to make them on a cool, dry day. I lived my entire life in the Deep South, and I now make my home in Virginia. We get about five cool, dry days per year. But I do remember reading that pralines were originally a french candy more akin to a brittle but when made in the warm, humid climate of New Orleans, they turn into a deliciously creamy and slightly grainy confection. So the warm-ish, damp weather today (also the day of the LOST finale!) could only help. I hoped.

Here we are coming up to a soft ball. Having never cooked with sugar before I was surprised how the temperature stayed low for a while, shot up to about 230, then hung around there for quite some time before finally going up to 238. I'm sure there is a scientific reason for this.
After the sugars (and other things) were properly cooked, I transferred it to my mixer bowl, added butterscotch chips, and let 'er rip.
Once it was creamy, I added the bits of pecan. I didn't get a picture of this stage because the candy was really wanting to set up, and I just went ahead and scooped it while I still could.
I haven't had one of the candies yet (they're setting even as I type), but I did lick the bowl, and let me tell you, these are really delicious. One thing I might do differently next time is toast the pecans, but honestly, these are pretty close to perfect as they are. Thanks to Tess of the Cookin' Chemist for picking such a nice recipe!

16 May 2010

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln . . .

So, the idea for this week’s SMS was to make pumpkin bread pudding, selected by the lovely Carmen of Baking is my Zen. It sounded like a really lovely, lightly spicy and creamy dessert. There was a delicious-looking sauce. The pictures people put up early looked lovely. I got ready to bake today and realized: You know what’s hard to find in May?


So hard, in fact, that I looked through the fruit, vegetable, and baking aisles at WM three times before I gave up and regrouped. After some hemming and hawing and looking through both pantry and cookbooks, I decided on chocolate bread pudding with chocolate chips and dried cherries.

It all got off to an inauspicious start at WF, where they did not have brioche at all. (This is central Virginia, after all, not Paris.) I settled for a big loaf of challah, which I reckoned would be a nice substitute, what with the egginess and butteriness.

(Yes, the wise woman would have bought the pumpkin while she was at WF. I am clearly not that woman.)

Also, the cinnamon sticks were a bit spendy, especially considering I have enough ground cinnamon to last until I’m fifty. Ditto whole cloves. And vanilla beans. So when the canned pumpkin just did not show up, I took it as a sign.

What I ended up doing was following the approximate portions provided in How to Cook Everything (Bittman) with some of the techniques in the Sweet Melissa Baking Book. I toasted about 8 ounces of challah cubes.

Then I cooked together a mixture of milk and cream totaling three cups with a bit of butter the size of a walnut and two ounces of bittersweet chocolate. After the chocolate melted I set it aside to cool for a bit before whisking it into three beaten eggs.

I layered the bread cubes in a dish with a handful of chocolate chips and a handful of dried cherries. (I put a layer of bread on top of this too.)

Then I strained the chocolate custard into the dish and left it to soak while I did the dishes.

It went into a water bath, then the oven for about 45 minutes.
It was good! I think the dried cherries really made it. Bread pudding is never going to look like much (as John helpfully observed), which is probably why it's usually served with a sauce of some kind. Oh yeah, I didn't do the sauce either.

SO! Basically I just made whatever I darn well pleased and called it a SMS entry. I probably wouldn't have made bread pudding unprompted, though, so that's got to count for something, right?

06 May 2010

The Harvest

So, this year I'm trying Dominion Harvest, a local-food delivery service. You pay some money, they source and deliver food (mostly veggies, but also fruit, eggs, cheese, and herbs) right to your door. Mine arrived last night, and I'm pleased with it -- haven't had a chance to cook with it yet, but I did just have some feta as a little snack.

Look at the arty effect! There's lots of lettuce, some arugula, asparagus, eggs, sweet potatoes, green onions, strawberries, blackberry jam, parsley, and the aforementioned cheese. I'm really looking forward to the arugula, which I've never cooked with before. The company provided a suggested strawberry and arugula salad, which I think I'll try. I'm also hearing good things about arugula pesto. Maybe this weekend?

03 May 2010

Peanut Butter Truffles!

I'm always wanting motivation to bake more, so I joined a baking/blogging challenge: Sweet Melissa Sundays. The idea is to prepare a tasty treat from the Sweet Melissa Baking Book and share experiences (and drool-worthy photos) about it. My first entry (which I really did do on Sunday, just didn't have time to blog about it then) was Peanut Butter Truffles, hosted by the lovely Mara of Love Your Mother Earth.

Here are all the wonderful components of the truffle: peanut butter and cream heating on the stove, chocolate waiting to be chopped, and butter. Later on I'll chop up some peanuts.

I've poured the hot cream over the chocolate. Doesn't look too promising.
But after sitting around for a few minutes, it whisks to a lovely smooth consistency. I then beat in the butter. It would have melted more quickly had it not been practically frozen when I put it in.

The rich, smooth mixture chilled in the fridge while we watched a few episodes of Battlestar Galactica and ate some pizza. (Also homemade because that's how I roll.) I couldn't take a picture while I was scooping and rolling the chocolate into little peanut-covered balls -- my hands got too messy for camera operations -- but don't they look nice sitting in the refrigerator?
They're delicious and rich. I do wish there was more of a peanut butter flavor, and also that I'd bought more heavily salted peanuts. And maybe chopped them a little finer. I took the good advice of several other folks and made half a batch, which translated into about 30 truffles.

Lots of fun!