October 15, 2008

first off, 24 hour blog-a-thon for poverty

So I'm just getting up to speed on this, and the event's over in just a few hours, but check out what my good friend Mando at Austin's Capital Area United Way has been up to!


Yep, he's posted once each hour since this morning at 12 am about global poverty. It's part of today's Blog Action Day 2008 activities.  Mando has a lot more to say about this issue than I do: He works every day nurturing volunteer initiatives in our area.

Me? I have a long way to go in taking action to address poverty issues in my community or anywhere else. Instead, I thought I'd just remind you to be grateful for your meal tonight, even if it is just leftovers. And if you aren't already taking some kind of action at home (er, or even if you ARE), try some of these ideas. I promise to.

September 16, 2008

father-in-law's fettucine alfredo

OMG, folks. My mother-in-law asked for a recipe. Isn't she sweet? Man, I am SO in with this family. Just kidding.

Hi Mindy - [my father-in-law] has been raving about some spinach/pasta dish you made while he was there. Could you send me the recipe whenever you get a chance?

Heehee! They love me. Oh, it was just a spontaneous pasta dish. Let's see, I like to keep a bag of frozen choppped spinach in the freezer for quick meals. We already had about 1/2 lb of wheat capellini cooked, so I just rejuvenated that in the microwave with a little water. (I know, the "foodies" have stopped reading already. Didn't I mention I'm A BIG CHEAT!? Okay, not as much as that blonde lady that has that cooking show comprised of making layered fruit desserts and decorating store-bought pastries, but still.)

  1. First I cooked about 3 cloves of chopped garlic in 1 1/2 T olive oil, and kind of roasted it, stirring or shaking constantly so it didn't burn, but the garlic was browned. I poured all that off, oil and garlic, into a dish and set it aside.

  2. Then I put maybe 2 cups of frozen spinach in a skillet with a pat of butter on medium heat.

  3. When the spinach started to soften, I added about 1/3 or 1/2 cup of 1% milk and reduced the heat. I probably added some ground pepper and salt. Then, I snuck in a tablespoon of cream.

  4. While that reduced, I cooked 2 links of sliced italian chicken sausage in a pan, and set it aside. I also grated about 1/3 cup Parmesan finely.

  5. When the spinach mixture had reduced, I quickly added about 1/2 of the Parmesan and mixed it. I tossed that with the reserved oil and garlic, and plated the pasta/spinach/garlic mix.

  6. Then, to serve, I topped with the sausage and a little more parmesan.

I think it was my "cheat" at fettuccine Alfredo. It didn't have nearly as much dairy and fat, but has the same creamy hint, garlic, and pepper that fettuccine Alfredo has! P.S., next time I'll add more spinach for more balance. You know how much it cooks up, and I always underestimate it! I had a lunch today at work that cooked down to about a teaspoon of spinach. What was I thinking?

Anyway, that was my first more-than-2-pot meal in weeks. And, yeah, no pic. You'll have to be satisfied with this shot of one of the two fantastic mesquite trees in our new backyard!

homebuyer's remors-elation!

Um. Yeah. So, like, I haven't written any posts or been active in the food blogging world in, like, a month. Dude.

I have no excuse. Well, one small excuse: We're buying a house! That, coupled with about 6 weeks of crazy workload makes Mindy a bad blogger.

But! I've started cooking a bit again. I made bag salad with feta and fresh toasted almond for dinner tonight. Does that count?

I CANNOT wait to share my adventures in cooking in my new kitchen with you. We will have ALL NEW APPLIANCES! I will have... wait for it... a vent in the kitchen! And not 3, not 4, but about 8 feet of linear counter space!

Here is a before of our new kitchen. Much as it pains me, the only way to open up the kitchen is to remove and sell that super-neat built-in display cabinet. Don't worry, at least 4 more built-ins remain in this fab-o 50's house.

We have lots of great plans for this space. Even though the general layout in the kitchen will be similar, we'll have all new finishes, some open shelving (perhaps), some revised cabinetry, and new floors and paint.

Wish. Us. Luck!

August 10, 2008

tuscan cannellini and tuna salad

This a favorite summer side dish. It was one of the first things I ate during my under-appreciated college study abroad experience in rural Tuscany, cooked up and served in an old farmhouse by a cozy, grandmotherly lady who could barely understand my expressions of gratitude, despite cinque semestre d'italiano. (I also enjoyed the homemade wine made by our retired hosts, available to us students in a blue milk crate in the corner of the kitchen for $4 a bottle, but that's another story! Did I mention that I didn't fully appreciate what a fantastic summer that was?)

It was also intended for my entry for A Southern Grace's fun Beat the Heat event this week! I believe I've missed the deadline, but check out Grace's site for lots of no-heat-allowed cooking to cool down this week. (Not to mention her great site, on which you'll find--among other great posts--a plethora of gorgeous pies, cookies, and cakes!)

Tuscan Cannellini and Tuna Salad

1 medium vidalia or other sweet onion
2 cans cannellini, drained
1 can good-quality dark meat tuna in olive oil, drained
1-2 T olive oil
dash of balsamic or other red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
2 t capers

1. Mellow the onions. Finely slice the onion and place it in a medium bowl. Cover with cold water and quickly squeeze the onions 5-10 times. You should notice the water becomes a little cloudy, which indicates that the excess acid is getting flushed out of the onion. Drain the water, cover again with cold water, and repeat 2-3 times. Drain and place the onions in a towel and squeeze out all the excess water.

2. Combine ingredients. Into a medium bowl or serving dish add beans, onions, capers, vinegar, salt and pepper. Drizzle generously with olive oil and combine. Add the tuna, gently breaking up into large flakes. Fold it into the mixture.

3. Serve. Top with Parmesan curls and serve immediately.

To add to the cooling effect? Add a nice cold glass of Vinho Verde. So affordable, and yet so crisp and effervescent. I love it!

July 31, 2008

lazy. busy. eating out.

Don't you guys have those weeks? I actually don't see evidence of it on most of your blogs, but me, I guess I needed a break!

I'm still here, though! We had a busy weekend in New Braunfels, a popular spot south of Austin for floating down the river.

We made migas tacos for breakfast one morning. If some of you (or shall I say, "y'all"?) aren't familiar with migas, they are a really simple TexMex variation of Eggs a la Mexicana:

Migas Tacos

(serves 6+)

15 -20 corn tortillas (the fresher, the better)
8 eggs, scrambled
3 T milk, added to the eggs
1 jalapeno, minced
1 large tomato, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 poblano pepper, diced
handful of mushrooms, sliced
2 t chipotle powder (and/or a good dash of your favorite hot sauce)
salt and pepper to taste
1 T olive oil
1 c shredded cheddar cheese or a blend with cheddar and white Mexican cheeses

1. Cook tortilla strips: Depending on how crunch or textured you want your migas, take 3-5 of the tortillas and dice them in about 3/4 inch pieces. (Some people prefer them sliced in thin strips.) Heat the olive oil in a nonstick skillet. When it's hot, add the tortillas and cook until browned and crispy. Remove and set aside.

Ah, nothing like migas and tequila in the morning.

2. Cook the veggies*: Put your tomato, onion, and peppers in the skillet and cook just a few minutes until they begin to soften.
Do not cook them too long, or the migas will lose their freshness and texture. (This is my tendency: Ugh! Can I help it that I like my vegetables soft and caramelized?)

3. Cook the egg mixture: Add the eggs, milk, and seasonings and scramble gently until almost set. Add the tortilla pieces and the cheese, folding in.
I'd suggest not scrambling too enthusiastically or too long. Again, this was failure number two on my part. If you overdo it, they'll still taste good, but they don't look as pretty and are a bit too crumbly for my taste.

4. Serve, with cheese and perhaps extra hot sauce and salsa. The migas can be served or plated either in the remaining tortillas as tacos, as we did, or just on the plate with warm tortillas on the side.

*I recently read someone griping about the devolution of cooking on the blogosphere, specifically about the use of casual or colloquial language. One of the terms that so perturbed the author was "veggies." Well, honey, here it is. Hope you took your blood pressure medicine. Veggies! Veggies! Veggies!

Some will tell you that migas tacos are just redundant, due to the excessive use of corn tortillas. To that, I say, pshaw!

After a long day on the river, we cooked up a variation of the bison burgers I made the other week, and attempted some baked sweet potato fries. However, the fries need another go. I blame their imperfect state on inferior cookware provided at the rental condo. Still, the flavor was great. I'll be sharing a revised version of the sweet potato fries soon!

Klassy table cloth, eh? Still, look at the color of those sweet potato fries!
I can't wait to do them justice. Stay tuned.

July 21, 2008

a zucchini after my own heart

So this is not the first time I need to give, ahem, MAD PROPS to Smitten Kitchen. All the same, I loved the simplicity of a recent post for zucchini strand spaghetti (which was adapted from a recipe by Michael Chiarello), and knew it was quick enough that I would not only attempt it but achieve a fair imitation.

Sure enough, I was not disappointed. And I didn't even keep with her suggested textures, substituting fusilli for the spaghetti; nor did I use fresh basil. (Geez, I'm starting to think I should rename this blog something like "Lowest Common Denominator Adaptations from the Pros.") Ah, well. Only some much time in the day and so much space in the tiny rental kitchen.

The best thing about this dish is that it reminded me that I don't necessarily need to douse my zucchini in olive oil and cook them on high heat until they're browned (though this also is tasty!) It came out light but still satisfying the way only fresh vegetables paired with pasta, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, a little heat, and some Parmesan can.

Zucchini Strand Pasta with Pesto
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, as adapted from Michael Chiarello

2 medium sized zucchini
1 lb pasta (I used wheat fusilli and loved it.)
1/4 c olive oil
4 cloves or 2 T garlic, minced
1/2 t red pepper flakes
3 T coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves, or 1 1/2 T basil pesto
pepper and kosher salt to taste
2-3 T grated Parmesan

1. Put your pasta water on to boil.

2. Prepare your zucchini. Cut off the very ends. Then you can julienne with a mandoline, but I don't have one (and quite frankly am afraid of them), so I sliced my zucchini into the smallest strands possible. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.

3. Cook the pasta until it's al dente. This should take about 8 minutes for wheat and 10 for semonlina. If your zucchinis aren't teeny tiny, as mine were not, suspend the zucchini in a colander over the pasta pot for 2-3 minutes or until crispy-tender. When pasta is done, strain over a colander, reserving 1-2 T of the pasta water.

4. Heat the olive oil, brown the garlic, and add the red pepper. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until the garlic is golden brown. Add the pesto (or basil), mix well, and remove from the heat.

5. Combine and serve. Toss in a bowl or serving dish: pasta, reserved pasta water, zucchini, oil and pesto mixture, and about 2 T Parmesan. Serve warm and sprinkle with 2-3 t of Parmesan.

Mmmm. I kind of wish summer squash season lasted all year 'round. Then again, we probably have the longest growing season possible. Stay tuned for perhaps some fried zucchini blossoms.

Update: Yipes, speaking of blogging plagiarism and copyright issues (see Alosha's entry that started it all off), please note that the nice photo below is from Gourmet. Clicking it will take you to their recipe (similar to almost any you'll find) for fried squash blossoms.

For a nice straightforward recipe from Gourmet for fried zucchini blossoms, click the pretty picture below from Gourmet's website.

I do recommend you follow Marcella Hazan's directions to cut the blossoms so that their petals fan flat and open, like a lovely star, before frying.

(Unless you choose to stuff them with goat cheese, which I hear tell is an even more decadent approach to these.)

salmonella schlalmonella, or why i love the farmer's market

One of my few solitary activities (because I generally like company and sometimes have a hard time being quiet) is my semi-regular Saturday morning visits to the Sunset Valley Farmer's Market. I've really been getting a kick out of leaving Adam home--seeing as how he refuses to get up before 11 on Saturdays--and heading south to the market, usually with a quick stop at the bank for what the ancients call "cash."

I'm afraid I was too laden with grocery sack and money in one hand and my hibiscus mint tea in the other to take any photos at the market, for which of course this blog is now screaming. It was a gorgeous morning. This being July in Texas, the air was pretty warm but an unusually cool breeze was in the air, tossing the bunches of basil and onion tops to and fro and causing several of my fellow shoppers to comment happily on the amazing summer weather.

Here's a little photo of my haul:

Nothing too exotic here, but a great selection of cheeses, melon, potatoes, baby portobellos, peppers, basil, bison, and last but not least, tomatoes.

If you don't already visit a local farmer's market, but are interested, click here for what seems to be a pretty solid directory.

Before I sign off, what are your favorite local food finds this season? I'm sure you guys have some great resources in other regions--how I long for fresh seafood or lovely Silver Queen Corn!

July 15, 2008

smashed red potatoes with summer pesto and buffalo burgers

I can be such as dang slacker. You know I spent 6 weeks in Italy in college studying archaeology and was such a slacker that my friend and I refused to complete the easy assignment or essay requested at the end of the program, thus passing on the how-many-ever college credits it should have been worth. W. T. F.? That is just pathetic. But I did have fun!

So, the charming and entertaining Cathy of Noble Pig is hosting a Potato Ho-Down for submissions of potato recipes galore tomorrow--You know, for all those folks who might occasionally jump right over the asparagus or sole and go right to the say, garlic mashed potatoes, home fries, or latkes! I was *so* looking forward to joining this month and cooked the simple recipe below for Sunday dinner. Then what do I go and do? I think I was the LAST person to send her my entry. Whew! Made it, just under the wire. (I'm having flashbacks to nearly every college assignment. I must work well under pressure... right?)

Check out Noble Pig tomorrow, Wednesday the 16th, for links to lots of lovely folks' undoubtedly fantastic takes on the unassuming but oh-so-satisfying potato.

In the meantime, here's a meal I cooked up Sunday that both Adam and I LOVED. It was terribly simple and sang of summer goodness.

Smashed Red Potatoes with Pesto
and Buffalo Burgers with Pesto Aioli*
Inspired by Sunday AM Rachael Ray episode and the Joy of Cooking recipes

*I just love that adding flavor to mayonnaise elevates it to the gastronomically superior "aioli." What a cheat.

5-6 small red potatoes
1/4 c milk
1 T butter

2 c basil, loosely packed
1/2 c pine nuts
2 medium garlic cloves, smashed and roughly chopped
1/2 c Parmesan or Romano cheese
1/2 c olive oil
salt and coarse black pepper to taste

2 T low-calorie mayonnaise (or whatever mayo-like product you prefer)
1 lb ground buffalo (or beef)
1/3 yellow onion, diced finely
1/2 t paprika
1/2 t kosher salt
heavy dusting of coarse black pepper

4 kaiser rolls or hamburger buns, toasted

1. Make the pesto:
Put basil, pine nuts, garlic, and half of the cheese in a food processor and process until the mixture is fairly creamy. Stream in the olive oil and process until combined. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl or resealable container (so you can save the extras for pasta, bread, or vegetables). Add the salt, pepper, and remaining cheese; and gently combine with a spoon or spatula. Set aside.

2. Make the aioli for the burgers:
In a small cup or dish, mix 2 t of the pesto with about 2 T of mayonnaise, or adjust the ratio to taste.

3. Make the taters:
Clean, dry, quarter, and boil the potatoes until fork-tender. Drain, and place in a bowl or serving dish. Add milk, butter, 1-2 T of pesto, and smash or gently break up the potatoes while mixing. Add salt, pepper, and more pesto if you wish. Set aside, or keep warm in an oven at 200 degrees.

4. Make the burgers
Put a large cast-iron pan, non-stick skillet, or stove-top grill on medium-high. (Preheat for 2-3 minutes while mixing the burgers.)

Place defrosted lean ground buffalo in a bowl. Add onion, paprika, salt, and pepper and mix gently by hand. Press the buffalo into the bowl a bit so it's flat and score it so that you have portions for 4 equally-sized burgers. Shape the burgers, making the center a bit flatter or indented.

Cook the patties 2-3 minutes on each side for a medium burgers with a light pink center. Remove from heat.

To serve:
I put about 3 t of the aioli on the toasted burger bun, added the burger and put some thinly-sliced homegrown cucumbers (my mother-in-laws, not my own!) Plop down some potatoes, add some more fresh veggies or a green salad.

The burger was really fantastic with locally and naturally produced buffalo, the addition of paprika (thank you, Rachael Ray), and the creamy pesto aioli. Potatoes were tasty, though I might add even more pesto or some fresh bits of basil for a little extra brightness.

backup coffee supply

I don't have a great deal of tips and tricks to share--at least not yet. Still, everyone has their little habits and shortcuts that, if shared, might make another's day just a smidge more pleasant.

Here's one I like:

We use usually use a French press for making coffee. I prefer to grind my coffee for each pot, but I can't quite eyeball the perfect bean-to-grinds ratio and thus always have unused grounds lingering in the grinder. What I've started doing, rather than throwing them out or tossing them in a compost heap*, I like to store that extra teaspoon or two in a little ziploc bag in the freezer.

*which would be just lovely, but would mean less coffee for me and besides, I've grown to busy or lazy to maintain my compost properly.

This way, when I run out of coffee mid-prep and am desperate for just an extra 1/3 tablespoon of coffee to fully flavor the pot, I have a little back-up supply.

Got any tips and tricks for easier prep, saving money, or anything else appropriate to post online? Don't be shy.

thanks a lot

When I was about 14, a big group of us were taken by a parent to Galveston for a birthday party. I wore my first bona fide bikini, an Adrienne Vittadini "french" style in black and white stripes. I was foxy!

Shortly after a quick dip in the warm and frothy surf, I emerged: All the white stripes on my suit had turned a dull shade of gray-brown.

I was so disgusted!! The stain never washed out of my nice new suit.

Now, in recent years, I've returned and it seemed much better. I had thought our Texas beaches were getting better--and cleaner!

Thanks a lot, powers that be.

On the upside, I may be forced to vacate overseas now. ;)

July 13, 2008

oat scones with dates and raisins

I woke up this morning requiring a little something to soak up the booze from Saturday night: I've been laying low all week after our car accident, and after a nice long dinner at Chez Nous, then a pint at Lovejoy's, er... 2 more beers while watching Wanted at the Alamo, and ah, 2 more at the Continental Club to see Bobby Bare Jr! We had a great time, and it was sooo good to forget about my banged-up knee and the events of the previous week.

So, Sunday morning called for some breakfast sweets. I was craving oats, but didn't want oatmeal. When it's still 90 degrees at 11 pm, and the days are regularly peaking to 103, hot cereals are not called for.

Anyhoo, I decided to try something from the Joy of Cooking. These scones are a big diversion from my favorite recipe, but if you like a lighter, more buttery and biscuit-like scone, you may want to try these. My husband--a serious biscuit and honey aficionado, true to his southern roots--really liked them, whereas I can rarely get him to work up much enthusiasm for the denser version.

The crumb on these is nice and soft, and the flavor is mellow and buttery.

Oat Scones with Raisins and Dates
Adapted from the Joy of Cooking

Preheat oven to 450o.

Whisk together:
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/3 c sugar
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt*

Stir in:
1 1/4 c old fashioned rolled oats
2/3 c raisins and/or chopped dates

Whisk together and then add:
1 egg
8 T butter, melted
1/3 c milk

Mix together until the dry ingredients are moistened. Turn the dough out on a floured surface and pat into a 3/4 inch thick round. Sprinkle the dough with 1/2 t kosher salt. Cut the dough into 6-8 triangles and place them on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes, or until the scones are nice and golden brown.

Yes, zee dough will indeed be sticky.

Here's the flattened and scored dough. Transferring a soft and sticky dough like this is made much easier with a bench knife.

*Post script: I wish I'd added some spice to these! I think some allspice or maybe cardamom would have made them more interesting.

July 9, 2008

happy back tabbouleh

So Easy! You Can Make it When You Have No Time and a Terrible Crick in Your Back!

Yep, this was soo easy and delicious. I've never made it before. Better yet, I now have an item to add to my rather short list of side dishes acceptable to share with vegetarians and vegans. Hurrah! My horizons are expanding.

This recipe is compliments of my lovely mother-in-law and the box of bulgar in her cabinet!

Bad Back Tabbouleh

1 C bulgar
1 1/2 C boiling water
1 1/2 t sea salt (though would regular salt make a distinct difference? Not likely.)
3-4 T lemon juice
1/4 C olive oil
dash of garlic powder
3 C parsley, chopped finely
1/2 C green onions, chopped

Step 1: Put bulgar in a medium sized bowl and pour the boiling water over it. Let grains steep for 30 minutes.

Step 2: Mix everything else into the bulghar mixture. Refrigerate.

Or, you could just begin eating it out of the bowl, as I did.

Enjoy! The green onions really add a nice tang to this. It was more earthy and sweeter than what I've usually had in restaurants, with less parsley. You can of course adjust for your tastes, but I love it as is.

Post-script: I should probably call this Reverse Tabbouleh or perhaps Bulgar with Parsley, because in verifying (on the internets) that I wasn't calling Tabbouleh by the wrong name, I noted that this is by no means the proper way to make the salad. Nevertheless, I like bulgar more than parsley, so PBLTt!

holiday weekend recap

Well, it was a fantastic July 4th weekend (until our unfortunate accident, the details of which I'll spare you though I'm tempted to post the picture of my poor mangled Subaru!)

Hubby and I drove to Lafayette, Louisiana to share the holiday with his family there. Thursday, we were treated to my mother-in-law Jacque's "no recipe" gumbo. She's insisted that there is no recipe for her gumbo, but this time, I grabbed a sticky note and started jotting down her ingredients. So, in addition to brownies, I will be working on making a version Jacque's gumbo and a tabbouleh salad recipe she gave me.

Think I'll be able to follow that recipe?

Friday we were treated to stuffed chicken and pork chops, homemade mac and cheese casserole, baked beans with sweet onions, peppers, and ground beef (a really delicious twist on the traditional sweet baked beans), salad with homegrown tomatoes (yeah, just like the Guy Clark song), and chocolate eclair cake.

Friday night, after my initiation into the world of Wii Bowling, the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra treated us to a blend of Cajun music and traditional July 4th tunes, followed by a beautiful fireworks display.

But, back to the food: Saturday was spent strolling the shops in downtown Breaux Bridge, my mother-in-law's hometown, then catching up over drinks with Aunt Helen and Uncle Fred. Fred and Helen collect, repair, and sell antique collectibles, linens, and vintage fans; and make and sell all kinds of fantastic preserves and syrups. (If you're ever in Breaux Bridge, you can find their booth at Le Napoleon downtown.)

A sampling of our goodies from Fred and Helen!

While in town, we had lunch at the Cafe Des Amis, a popular spot for visitors that features a fun Zydeco breakfast (which we missed) and a very tasty turtle soup which my hubby is quite fond of (though I seriously doubt I'll be attempting a recipe any time soon!) If you are in town, however, I hear the humbler Le Cafe is amazing for delicious po' boys.

Sunday, it was time to hit the road, though Adam couldn't return Texas without a stop for some hot boudin sausage links that we spread onto bread in the car for sandwiches, which makes for a nice retro road trip luncheon, in my opinion!

Happy July! Enjoy a wheat beer for me. I'm sadly stuck with ibuprofen for a few more days!

July 8, 2008

i told you i'm a winner

Before I get into my lengthy weekend recap, I have an overdue thank-you card to write.

Dear Kristin at Going Country,

You rock! Thanks for the props and the Arte y Pico award!

Your friend,

Yep, I was gifted the Arte y Pico award from hysterical, crafty, and thoughtful converted city girl Kristin at Going Country. SOOOO exciting! Like Kristin, I think the last time I received an award of any kind was 8th grade. It was for the science fair. For a project I did with my friend Meghan on mummies. Getting props for the lil' blog was way cooler. I'll be sure to do the same for others as soon as I get caught up from the weekend.

Many many thanks for Going Country and to Arte y Pico for giving me another excuse to get in touch with other bloggers! Please check out Kristin's site and her post for the Arte y Pico award to meet some cool new bloggers and learn all about Kristin's adventures on the small farm she runs with her husband. The have barns! And sheep! And lots of produce! Bats! I tell ya, it's always an adventure.

out sick; back later!

You know how your parents or friends always tell you to "drive safe!" "It's a holiday weekend!"?

Well, there's a reason for it. On Sunday afternoon while driving back from Louisiana, my little blue Subaru was murdered. Now, hubby and I are home licking our wounds and waiting for the whiplash to recede! Other than that, it was a lovely holiday weekend!

Hope your weekend was safer and involved less loss of property!


July 2, 2008

boule, glorious boule!

Well after about 437 hours I finally had my bread! Ain't she pretty?

I did use Rose Levy Beranbaum's recipe for hearth bread, and will add the recipe as soon as I return home from visiting family.

Here I am, enjoying the fruits of my labor. (Note dorky work project schedules in the background...)

Thank you, Rose and my dear pizza stone.

July 1, 2008

hearth bread, how you taunt me

Oh, the emotional roller coaster of baking bread. Damn you, yeast!

I'm on my 2nd attempt at baking bread in two days. The first batch tonight, after 24 hours of allegedly developing a richer flavor in the fridge, the dough turned to glue in the mixer. Admittedly, this was to be expected: I accidentally tossed the salt in far too early, and likely killed all the little yeasties. I just thought I'd give it a try.

Here's attempt number two, during which I meticulously follow each word of Beranbaum's instructions, and read each word twice whilst trying to soak up every possible grain (tee hee! a pun; my apologies) of baking wisdom.

Please, bubble through, little sponge!! Now to insert toothpicks into my eyes and stay up past my desired bedtime in the hopes of Successful Crusty Bread.

The dusty apron, awaiting use once more.

June 28, 2008

back-to-business spiced breakfast bread

Well, I've tidied the kitchen a little, and I'm also coming to terms with the fact that our oven is apparently quite erratic.

So, it's back to business, or at least back to attempting to share some food with you. I woke up this morning, spotted an overripe banana and decided to bake something with it. In the name of inching my way to healthier eating, I mixed up Rose Levy Beranbaum's banana bread recipe with whole wheat flour, oat bran, and some veggies. Next time around, I'd go for even more carrot, nuts, and texture, adding some bulgur, rolled oats, or steel-cut oats.

Spiced Breakfast Bread
Adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Bread Bible

1 overripe banana
1/2 C yogurt
1 egg
zest of one lemon
1 t vanilla
2/3 C wheat pastry flour
1/3 C oat bran
6 T sugar (preferably raw/turbinado)
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
5 T softened unsalted butter
1/2 C walnuts, toasted and chopped medium-fine
1 carrot, finely shredded
1/2 t cinnamon
generous dash of powdered allspice and/or ginger

Preheat the oven to 350o. Grease a loaf pan with butter and set aside.

In a small bowl, peel and gently mash the banana. Add the yogurt and mix the two until their thoroughly blended, about 2 minutes by hand. Add the egg, lemon zest, and vanilla and mix until smooth. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, measure the wheat flour, bran, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and stir briskly to combine, 1 minute.

To the dry ingredients, add the softened butter and half the banana mixture and blend until combined. Add the remaining banana mixture in two batches, mixing quickly and thoroughly in between additions. Mix in the cinnamon, ginger, allspice, carrots, and walnuts until just combined.

Put the mixture in the prepared loaf pan and bake 20-25 minutes or until the top of the loaf springs back when pressed lightly in the center. Remove and cool on a rack.

Yield 6 muffin-sized bars.

Happy Saturday!

June 27, 2008

time for a kitchen makeover

I'm really excited to do some cooking for this weekend, but before that happens, I must face... THIS!

Yes, I headed into the kitchen yesterday, and was so horrified by the more-deplorably-messy-than-usual state, that I had to document it. At least you can tell I've been busy! Pizza stone. Check. Bowl from mixer. Check. Mostly empty glass of white wine... check. Do I mise en place? Do I clean as I go? What do you think?

Even the sponge looks a little off-kilter. Or is he just considering ending it all?

Recipes to follow. I swear.

June 26, 2008

oven insufficiency alert

I was just avoiding work (again)--er, taking a little break--and reading this yummy brownie recipe EvilChefMom just posted and remembered:

My (rental) oven doesn't maintain temperature at all! I finally bought an oven thermometer which lead me to discovery #1: My oven runs 35-50 degrees cool.

Then! Two days ago, while baking my scones for the Strawberry Shortcake, I discovered (#2) that after 30 minutes of preheating at 450o, the oven was still hovering around 345o.

What to do? Anyone have any suggestions about helping my oven attain high heat? Besides moving, which is kind of in the works; or perhaps wrapping my oven in industrial-strength foil?

June 25, 2008

welcome to strawberry land, people

This dessert, while also my sister's first birthday cake, is also the namesake for one of my childhood entertainments: Strawberry Shortcake! She was just so cute with her big floppy hat and freckles. How strange is it that we had a cartoon character borne of a fruity dessert? And get a load of the other characters: Huckleberry Pie, Rainbow Sherbet, Crepes Suzette, Seaberry Delight?! (That last one was from season 2; apparently they were pulling out all the stops at that point.)

Strawberry Shortcake Cartoon *The World of Strawberry Shortcake*

Ah, I recall fondly the faintly dusty strawberry scent of my Strawberry Shortcake doll's hair, as I tucked her into her white plastic gazebo... Oh! Where was I?

Sorry, no photos of the complete dish survived my work group potluck. That, and I forgot my camera. 

Strawberry "Sconey" Shortcake
Hah. Sorry about the corny alliteration. Sounds like Shortcake's streetwise cousin from across the pond, no?

1 batch of my
favorite scone recipe*, adding 1/3 C sliced strawberries and 1 t lemon zest
2 C sliced strawberries
1/3 C granulated sugar
1/2 t cinnamon
1 C whipping cream, plus more for serving
1 T amaretto liquor or 1 1/2 t Grand Marnier
1/3 to 1/2 C powdered sugar

*As an alternative, you can make the Strawberry Shortcake recipe on the Bisquick box! That's how my mom made this dessert, and I always loved it.

Step One: Slice your strawberries, put them in a bowl or container and toss with granulated sugar and cinnamon. Set aside and refrigerate for 2+ hours.

Step Two: Bake and cool the scones.

Step Two: Whip the whipping cream and liquor on high (in the bowl of a mixer or by hand), adding powdered sugar until it's the right amount of sweet for you. Adjust liquor/sugar as desired.

To serve: Place scones in individual dishes, drizzle with 1-2 T liquid whipping cream, top with 1/3- 1/2 C strawberries and juice, and add a dollop of whipped cream. 

Add vanilla ice cream, if this doesn't offer you enough varieties of sweetened dairy yet. 

Yield: 6 generous servings

June 24, 2008

I heart Texas!!

I heard some lyrics in a song today that reminded me of how easy it is for people in other parts of the country to lay the blame for the current administration on the state of Texas.

Well, I just needed to say that the next time someone makes a snide remark about how Austin's the "only place in Texas one can live" or some similarly superior and narrow-minded comment about the generally disposable nature of my state, I might go freakin' ballistic.

I wasn't even born in Texas, and I'm proud to be born in California and raised mostly on the east coast; but (dang it!) I love Texas dearly, despite the hotter-than-hell Septembers and the other obvious downsides to living in a red state!

So, the next time you think about writing off the Lone Star State, please think of me and consider giving us a chance. Thanks. Y'all. xoxo

June 23, 2008

pizza margherita perfetto

I'm emerging from my weekend at the beach and my long and tedious day back at work. Whew! Why the hell don't we embrace the 4-day work week again? Well, while you ponder that one (and write your congress person or CEO), and I watch Dr. Strangelove out of the corner of my eye, here's a catch-up from last week:

So I was following SmittenKitchen's pizza-making posts the last week or so (she was on a kick, but it was a good kick indeed!) The lovely and talented lady has wiped away (eh, virtually) my tears of pizza-crust-making frustration.

Check out her recipe for Wine-and-Honey Pizza Dough here and tips for pizza-making here. Her dough was miraculously soft, sweet, and gluten-y! I always seem to end up with pizza dough that wants to tear and fill with holes, but this baby had wonderful texture.

Simple Margherita Pizza
based on SK's pizza tips above

1 batch Wine-and-Honey pizza dough
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 T olive oil
10 cherry tomatoes, cleaned and stems/flaws trimmed
1/3 C white wine
1/2 t red pepper flakes
1/2 t sugar
3/4 t salt
cornmeal, 1-3 T approx.
3/4 C shredded mozzarella
1/2 C fresh mozzarella, torn into large (1 inch) chunks 
1/3 C fresh basil, torn

Make the pizza dough 2-24 hours ahead of time. I made my dough too late in the evening, so once the dough was rolled out into the desired shape (rectangular for me), I placed it between two sheets of plastic wrap, rolled it up, and covered the ends of the roll with another piece of wrap. When ready to make dinner the next night, I took the pizza dough out about 15 minutes prior to baking, at the same time as preheating the oven to 400o. (If using a pizza stone or cast iron pan, place it in the oven to preheat as well.)

To make the sauce, first bring a small pot of water to a boil (just 2 cups or so), adding the tomatoes and poaching for 1 1/2 minutes. Remove from the heat, cool the tomatoes with cold water, and remove the skins. (I had to squeeze the little tomatoes till they popped; then the skin slid right off.) Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a saute pan for a minute or two on medium high. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook another minute or two, then add the tomatoes and reduce the heat to medium. Add wine, sugar, and salt; and cook on medium 30-45 minutes, until the tomatoes have broken down.

Place your prepared pizza dough on your surface of choice. I find the best option is my makeshift pizza paddle: a piece of cardboard approximately 12 x 12 inches, with a 2-inch folded edge I use as a handle. Coat your surface generously with cornmeal, placing the dough on top. Brush the pizza with extra olive oil, and dust with a small amount of kosher salt, if you wish. Spread the tomato sauce over the crust, then top with the two kinds of mozzarella and basil.

Transfer your pizza from the prep surface or pizza paddle to either a baking sheet coated with cornmeal or to the preheated pizza stone or cast iron pan. Bake 10-15 minutes or until the crust is a dark golden brown.

Remove from the oven, cool 3-5 minutes, cut and serve.

Yield one large pizza.

recipe for sunburn

Yes, I've been quite the slacker the last few days: Not what this fledgling project needs! I promise to bake or cook something interesting for you, my zero to four readers, by Wednesday (my department potluck!)

In the meantime, I'll be recuperating from this:

1 fair-skinned and freckled woman with moderate sun-damaged skin
12-16 hours over 2 days in full, midday sun
3 varieties of sunblock, ranging from 6-50 SPF

Go to beach. Do not invest in an umbrella or other sunshade. Add fair-skinned woman and friends. Apply sunscreen inconsistently and swim frequently. Slowly remove suncreen by swimming and jumping in the water and lying on towels and lounge chairs. Bake gently for 4-7 hours/day.

Optional: Remove giant sun hat if sun damage is also desired on face. I didn't use this, but may try it sometime in the future!

Yield: One silly sunburn and increasingly spotty shoulders and arms.

June 15, 2008

chocolate sugar cookies, revisited

This is a post-script from last week's "no substitute" post. Upon further inspection, I've decided to leave a modified recipe from what I originally saw as a failed attempt:

The original recipe featured huge, dense, crackly, larger-than-life chocolate cookies. I rediscovered it in a mid-week stress-hormonal craze and could not wait to sink my teeth into those chewy dark chocolate babies!

Low and behold, due to my various ingredient substitutions--go figure--the outcome was a thinner, crispier version and I was terribly disappointed.

I've reconsidered my first verdict, however. The flavor in these sugar cookies is so satisfying and will of course improve with a good Dutch-process cocoa. I've been sharing them with friends all weekend, and everyone agrees that they're darn tasty. They would be fabulous over ice cream or as the cookie for an ice cream sandwich. Here's the recipe. See for yourself.

Chocolate Sugar Cookies
(adapted from Martha Stewart Living)

1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 to 3/4 c unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/2 c (1 stick) softened unsalted butter
1 1/2 c vegetable shortening -- for flatter, crispy cookies, use SmartBalance shortening or butter
1 large egg
1 1/2 t vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375o. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk the dry ingredients together in a bowl and set aside. Cream butter and sugar together (by hand or mixer), until fluffy and pale. Mix in the shortening. Then add the egg and vanilla and mix until creamy. Gradually add the flour until just combined.

Drop the cookies (in the size of your choosing, but the recipe calls for huge ice cream scoop-sized portions) on baking sheets and bake until edges are firm, 18 to 20 minutes. (It actually didn't take quite that long for me.)

Cool and serve as desired.

Yield 12-16 large cookies.

accidental kolaches

I awoke this morning wondering what I should do with my remaining brioche dough and knew I needed to (a) make more rolls, because Adam when crazy for them; and (b) make something savory because I was craving meat and cheese. I ended up keeping things simple (not the first time), particularly since (a) it was early, (b) I hadn't shopped for produce in a week, and (c) besides, I like simple!

I began with the same pull-apart bread (okay, it's nanterre to be precise) we made yesterday, but instead of placing 8 rolled sections of plain dough in a pan so that they bake into a neat little sectioned loaf, I put chopped ham and shredded cheddar and swiss cheese inside the loaf. What I came up with, low and behold, tasted just like a breakfast kolache. Turns out, kolaches--at least the ones made by German and Polish Texans--are made with brioche!

10 oz brioche dough, chilled (see previous post)
1 c sliced ham, diced
1/2 c cheddar and/or swiss cheese
1 t butter
1 egg yolk

Preheat oven to 350o. Melt butter in a small container, brush the bottom and sides of a loaf pan, and set aside.

To prepare, I took about 10 oz of brioche dough and shaped it into a roll, then portioned the roll into 8 equal pieces. Take each piece, and flatten it into a square with the palms of your hand. Place about 1-2 T of ham and 1 T cheese in the center of each square, and then roll it into a nice little tube, sealing all the edges.

Each roll should be of similar size, shape, and length; and they should fill the pan like a family of sardines. Once in, use a sharp scissor to cut each "log" in half.

Brush the tops with the egg mixture, and pop them in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the top is nice and golden brown.

These were delicious and would be a great side for a brunch, and probably even better to make Monday at the office a more pleasant event. I'd like to get more creative next try, and add some mushrooms, different cheeses, greens, or herbs.

Also, isn't this shape prettier? I'm going to try larger sections next time.

June 14, 2008

do the do the brioche

Saturday, I spent my morning learning the fundamentals of making brioche. Originally, I was taking the class as sort of sloppy seconds to the boule/French bread class, which was full. As with any Saturday morning informal class, there was a motley assortment of bakers, from the know-it-all to the silent perfectionist and the quirky mother-daughter duo.

I had forgotten how my normally slackeresque persona morphs to a focused a-type when I'm in a classroom setting and really want to get something out of the class. Our instructor, chef Amy Osborne, was great. Very informative about technique as well as the history and the science of the bread.

You probably already know this, but brioche is a rich dough, which means it has a high quantity of sugar and fats and/or eggs. Because of the high fat content, the dough will be a bit more moist and yields a softer and richer texture.

Basic Brioche
(from Amy Osborn)

4 oz milk
.33 oz instant yeast
4 oz bread flour (more imporant than I thought, though "AP," all purpose, is the next best thing)

7 oz eggs (probably 4 avg-sized, with yolks)
1 lb bread flour
1 oz sugar
1/4 oz salt
7 oz butter, softened and cut into large chunks

In a small saucepan, warm the milk to 100o, or until you just barely sense it's warmed by testing with a finger tip or the inside of your wrist. Put the milk in a large mixing bowl, and dissolve the yeast in the milk. (You can stir it around, mix with fingers, etc., until yeast is almost all dissolved, approx. 1-2 minutes.) Add flour and mix by hand until it comes together. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow to double in size. (You can speed this up by placing the bowl in a sunny spot or on an oven with the pilot light on. Don't over do it though: Once the temperature goes above 90 degrees, the fermentation will begin to slow.)

Put the sponge in the bowl of your mixer and gradually add the eggs and then the dry ingredients. Combine for about 3 minutes on low, adding the butter slowly. Increase the speed to medium for another 3 minutes, until the dough comes together. It should be consistent, smooth, and very soft and tacky to the touch. (My dough was was actually pretty darn moist, and not entirely smooth, but the brioche came out pretty well anyway!)

Place the dough in a lightly sprayed plastic storage bag or covered bowl in the refrigerator overnight to ferment.

Within two days, use the chilled dough to create the brioche form of your choice.

Yield 2 pans of cinnamon rolls or about 2 dozen rolls.

I have very little wisdom to impart thus far down the brioche path (or that of the bread baker for that matter), but what I've learned so far is
  • When warming the milk, the heat should barely be perceptible to the touch. Too hot, and you'll kill or at least inhibit the yeast.
  • As you mix the dough, start at 3 minutes on low and then increase to high for 3 more minutes. If, by the end of the first 3 minutes, the dough looks very moist and does not seem to be coming together, be at the ready to sneak in a touch of flour (about a teaspoon at a time) until the texture becomes more consistent but is still very porous and sticky.
  • At the end of mixing, the dough should be dry enough to touch lightly but wet enough to stick to the bottom of the bowl or to a too-invasive finger. (Dirty!)
  • If glazing by brushing the dough with egg, be conservative: Too much egg running into the pan risks your bread sticking at the end of baking.
  • Brioche is good for hangovers (mine) and picky husbands who often are not impressed with your cooking (also mine).
  • It's a good idea to rotate bread once during baking to overcome hotspots. (I realize most cooks already know this, but I've yet to incorporate this into my own repertoire!)
In three hours, I'd made a pan of cinnamon raisin rolls, brioche a tete, and a pan of small pull-apart rolls perfect for a dinner party of family gathering. Not only that, but we also went home with a batch of dough that I'll be doing... something... with Sunday! Turns out the class wasn't a disappointment in the least.

Stay tuned and see how I may or may not screw up the lovely dough that awaits me in the fridge.

June 12, 2008

no substitute

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

Our lesson: DO NOT use SmartBalance shortening substitute!! (Sorry, SmartBalance people.)

Damn, those cookies in the magazine looked so tantalizingly chewy and rich! Admittedly, I also did not properly let the butter arrive at room temperature before trying to cream it with the sugar. God, I hate wasting all those ingredients! The picture doesn't do my version justice: These were a hard and somewhat gritty disappointment.

No recipe, since I have NO idea if these are any good. Better luck next time!

Postscript: Once I recovered from the shock of the crisp texture of these, I realized they aren't all that bad.

Baked with the substitute fat (SmartBalance), these have a texture akin to ginger snaps, and would actually--as my deskmate Debra pointed out--be great for ice cream sandwiches or just crumbled over vanilla or mint ice cream!

June 4, 2008

crescent roll joys part two: tomato, shallot, and mushroom pesto pizza

Now, I've heard that pizzas are really best with one or two simple ingredients. This one is not that. In fact, the jury's still out on whether we'd use the crescent roll crust again on this! Admittedly, the rolls are pretty damn buttery for a pizza; but it was a great way to have a savory fast dinner after a long walk around the lake.

Start with ye old crescent rolls and arrange in an ungreased pie pan thusly, until you have a nice little crust. Bake 10 minutes or so, until the crust is approaching a golden brown.

While the crust is baking, prepare your pizza ingredients. I chopped 3 plum tomatoes lengthwise, finely sliced a big shallot, sliced a handful of mushrooms, and shredded 3/4 cup of swiss and mozzarella cheese. I like my veggies to mellow usually, so I gave them a little spin in a saute pan with some hazelnut oil. (Yes, I swear I'll get off the hazelnut oil thing soon!)

When the crust is browned, remove it from the oven and drizzle it with the olive oil and follow that with the pesto. Layer on the cheese and toppings, along with any fresh herbs you desire. I threw in a few chopped basil leaves as well.

Increase the oven temperature to 400 and bake for 8 minutes, or until the cheese begins to brown and bubble.

Et voila! You're a cheater, and no hardcore foodie, but you got a fast savory pizza for dinner.