Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bunches and bunches of foods

I meant to post last week, but I was too busy cooking.

Can you imagine?

Last week, I made a rhubarb crisp. For some reason (I think having rhubarb images scattered around marthastewart.com helped), I had rhubarb on my mind the way you get an annoying song stuck in your head. It would not go away. As luck would have it, when I went in the grocery store, one of the first things I saw was that rhubarb was on special. So I bought a pound and a half, having no idea what to do with it.

The rhubarb recipes in the April Martha Stewart Living were for tarts and teacakes, and I didn't feel like making a crust but the idea of a tart was very tempting. I made a strawberry rhubarb crisp, combining the basic idea of the tart with my typical apple crisp.

A pound of rhubarb, cut into 1/4inch slices, and about 8oz of strawberries (which I just happened to have).

Combine with 1/4cup of sugar (I'd actually add less next time, I prefer a tarter rhubarb dish, but if you like it mildly sweet, this is good. If you want it truly sweet, add in a bit more) and 2-3 tablespoons of flour, put in a 9x9 or 8x8 square baking dish. Then make the topping.

1/3cup flour
3/4cup oats
2/3cup brown sugar
dash of salt
teaspoon or so of cinnamon and ginger
1/2teaspoon or so of nutmeg
then add 1/3cup melted butter, combine (will be crumbly) and pour over the fruit.

Bake at 350 for about 45 min, until bubbly.

Eat. Restrain yourself for about 15 minutes until it's cool enough that you won't burn yourself. omg it was good.


So that was last weekend. Come Tuesday I had to start cooking madly for a little hors d'ouerves mini reception-type thing for a meeting I was attending (helping run) on Friday 3 hrs away. This is tricky, but I'm not unused to hosting cocktail parties at places other than my home. I made about half of the stuff at my place, and the rest at my parents' house, which was half an hour from where the reception would be held.

My menu consisted of tried and true foods, ones I couldn't mess up (except when I found out my parents haven't sharpened their knives since 1974, and I therefore had some serious problems cutting the tomatoes).
Cherry tomatoes stuffed with herbed chevre
Tomato/basil/mozzarella skewers with fig/balsamic reduction
Sausage profiteroles
Figs poached in port wine, served with chevre
Cranberry chocolate oatmeal cookies
Beer cookies
Coconut macaroons
Mango/cream cheese spread
Olive tapenade
Olive bread and rosemary bread, instead of crackers.

Some notes:
Stuffed tomatoes: make sure you have a sharp knife. Seriously. This will be a disaster if you don't have a good paring knife. Also, I used basil and tarragon, kind of by accident the first time, but one of those great accidents, like oven-safe tupperware.

Skewers: I marinated my own mozzarella because I couldn't find the already-marinated stuff- not impressed. I marinated for about 8 hrs at room temp in 1/2cup evoo, a tablespoon of lemon juice, some basil and parsley. It didn't add much flavor and the olive oil leaked out of the tupperware, all over the bag during the car trip. However.... the balsamic/fig reduction is AMAZING. I need to make more. I also boiled it for about 20 minutes instead of the recommended 5-7. Quickly, because it's that awesome and needs to be shared: finely chop 2 dried figs (I used black mission) and put in a small saucepan with 1/2cup balsamic vinegar. Bring to a boil, then simmer until reduced- note times mentioned above. Yumyumyum.

Sausage profiteroles: yum. Also, you really need to cook that flour/butter/water mixture for 5 minutes over heat; if you don't, they don't puff and look very sad in comparison (I had two batches, the first were sad, the second was puffy and jolly)

Figs poached in port wine: if you make the whole batch, you'll probably have leftovers. Make a sandwich with figs and chevre, it's really tasty.

Oatmeal cookies: I used the Quaker oats recipe, and used chocolate-covered cranberries instead of raisins or chocolate chips. This was kind of a compromise between people who like raisins in their oatmeal cookies and people who like chocolate chips. It's a good compromise.

Beer cookies: I've explained the fabulosity of these before. They continue to be fantastic.

Coconut macaroons: a Martha Stewart recipe that is so incredibly easy, yet impressive.

Mango cream cheese spread: 1/2cup mango chutney (get the cheaper stuff, it's good enough-unless you can afford to spend $7 for just enough chutney for this recipe) and an 8oz package of reduced-fat cream cheese. Combine. It's that easy.

Olive tapenade and bread were store bought... although I might have to start making my own olive tapenade, they don't have it at my grocery store anymore :( It's Hannah's brand, very good, and not nearly as greasy as some.

Next up: cookies for four reasons... a birthday, a very late birthday, a because-you're-far-away package (shoot, is she reading this? ;) ) and choir rehearsal snacks. I'm not entirely sure what I'll bake, and I might not get all of this with one batch, which is all I have time for tonight. So, we'll see. Choir and birthday are tomorrow, but the birthday package will be late anyway, so.... yeah.

I also need to get my boyfriend to grill this week while he's on spring break, because 1. yum, and 2. it's pretty darn hot out, really nice grilling weather. Maybe he'll do a guest post about grilled sausage or something.

And if all the above wasn't enough for you, check this out. I'm really tempted to make the sushi ones sometime soon.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

C is for cookie...

And I like cookies. I like to bake them, I like to pack them up and mail them to people, I like to eat them (often with coffee- did you know peanut butter cookies are delicious with coffee? I credit my grandmother with that idea).

I said in the last post that I had an idea for altering chocolate chip cookies. Well, I tried it out, and voila:
Chocolate chip cookies! I wish I had a picture of how they normally look with the Nestle's Tollhouse recipe (which is not how they look in the picture on that site), because these look so much prettier.

To recap, here is the recipe I used...

1/2cup (1 stick) of butter
1/2cup of shortening
3/4cup of brown sugar
slightly less than 1/2cup of granulated sugar (maybe 1/2cup minus 2 tablespoons- which is 3/8cup)
cream all that together, then add
1 egg
1/4cup honey
1teaspoon vanilla
beat more. Add in
2 and 1/4cups flour
1teaspoon each baking soda and salt
1 bag chocolate chips

Bake 375 10-12 minutes.

Now, let me analyze. They are much softer and chewier during the first few hours after baking. The normal recipe makes a cakier cookie- which is all well and good, but I'm really a chewy cookie person, and I feel they get stale and crumbly after a few days in a sealed container. The modified recipe had a sweeter taste and something I can only describe as a "hollow sweet taste". I feel like this taste would come from having too little salt (you really need salt to enhance the flavors), but I'm pretty sure the 1 teaspoon in this would be plenty of salt. It could also be from the lack of taste of shortening. But they basically tasted quite a bit like the cookies we used to get at receptions when I was in high school.... and I'm sure are the reason for quite a few of us holding onto our "baby fat" longer than normal.

So, yum. However, fast forward 24hours and the cookies turned out to be pretty hard. I've read that honey will substitute for 1and1/4 as much sugar and 1/4 liquid. Two eggs are 1/4cup of liquid and I cut out about 1and1/4 of the granulated sugar with 1/4cup of honey- but I should have used 1/2cup of honey to make up for the missing egg. So, I have plans to try again, where I'll use 1cup of brown sugar, no granulated sugar, 1 egg still, and 1/2cup of honey. I'm not sure if this is getting too far from my original attempt at a chewy cookie, but I've no doubt it'll be tasty, and if nothing else, I have a few friends that will basically eat anything that I can give these too.

Ok, so chocolate chip cookies are still in the works. But!! I have to finally talk about the Exotic Spice Cookies I mentioned earlier. These are GOOD. You will want to eat them all immediately. I'm serious- but don't, they keep really well, especially if there are some you burned and they're a little hard, keep them around a week and they'll get softer.

First cream 1/2cup of butter and 1/4cup shortening together, with 1cup brown sugar (she says dark, I usually only keep light on hand), then add an egg and 1/4cup honey and 1 teaspoon rosewater (very common in Indian cooking, and I believe available in the "international" section of your regular grocery store. I got my bottle at King Arthur Flour. Rosewater is basically rose petal tea, smells quite good, and a little goes a long way.) Then add in the flour mixture (which is 2cups flour, 2-1/4 teaspoons ground ginger, 2 teaspoons baking soda, 3/4 teaspoon each cardamom and cinnamon, 1/2teaspoon coriander, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 cup of chopped crystallized ginger (I always put mine in the food processor, it's incredibly annoying to chop large amounts of crystallized ginger because it's sticky)) and stir. Refrigerate the dough for an hour, and roll 1 tablespoon into balls, dip in turbinado sugar (raw sugar- like "Sugar in the Raw" in the sugar bowls at restaurants. I couldn't find mine (I usually have some on hand) so used sanding sugar. I would say any sugar but granulated, as it's too fine.) Bake 11-13min at 350.

Ok. These are amazing. So, so tasty. However, when I made them, I happened to not have enough crystallized ginger (again, something I always have on hand for baking, not something I went to the grocery store specifically to get 3/4cup), so used barely over 1/2cup- almost 1/3 less than I was supposed to. I love ginger, I will eat crystallized ginger alone. I know that this is kind of uncommon, because it is very strong, and so I was surprised to find, when I bit into a cookie, that the ginger flavor was very strong, even though I used less than I was supposed to. Also surprising was that when this cookie was made on the cookie contest show, one judge thought the ginger flavor didn't come out well enough to call them "ginger" cookies. My reaction to this is.... did she eat the right cookie?!

But anyway, the only thing I would say is you might consider reducing the ginger if you don't adore ginger. Otherwise, they have the perfect texture for a cookie and really deserved to win the grand prize on the show.

In the next week, I'll be making hors d'ouerves for a reception room at a meeting. I have a cold, so I won't be doing much cooking for a few days- but I'm definitely still collecting recipes to share later.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Have fun with your sugar cookies

I wasn't going to post today, but I saw a website that needs to be shared!


Also worth mentioning is Martha Stewart's Cookie of the Day, which is where I found this awesome cookie cutter site.

Ok, so for a while, Martha Stewart's been having a cookie recipe every day; I think this started out to get everyone excited for her new Cookie Cookbook (yes, of course I already own it!). Last week, she switched to cupcake for cupcake week (which has gotten me all into cupcakes, but they're difficult to transport, especially compared to cookies, so I tend to bake cupcakes seldomly), but now we're back on cookies. Some of them are kind of cool and unusual, like peanut butter and jelly bars, but some of them are like today's, umbrella cookies. I have a problem with showcasing these cookies as a great new recipe. Why? Because they are your basic sugar cookie, cut with a fancy new cutter. This is not a new cookie, this is a new shape. Any bozo can go get a fantastic set of unusual cookie cutters, and make shoe cookies, giraffe cookies, butterfly cookies, the list goes on and on, from the same slab of rolled-out dough!

However, even with this opinion, I'm a sucker for cookies of fun and interesting shapes, especially because that's when you can go kind of nuts (in a good way) with icing them. And that's why I'm excited about thecookiecuttershop.com. I've never seen cutters in some of the shapes they offer, and I'm totally ready to just buy a whole bunch (specifically, the t-shirt, one of the dresses (#O1061), and the glass slipper under the "Unusual" category, and some of the cat ones). One could have a blast with the t-shirts, assuming you have good, relatively stiff frosting (not runny icing, unless you have a stiffer-frosting border piped on the cookie) and a plethora of decorating tools.

So, I'll post back if I order some of these, and let you know if they're as wonderful as they seem.

Until then, I have plans to alter the Nestle's Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe- I want make them a bit chewier, and the plan I have is the following:
current recipe includes:
1cup of butter
3/4cup of granulated sugar
3/4cup of brown sugar
2 eggs
and other stuff- vanilla and dry ingredients, and of course, chocolate chips.

My idea to make a chewier cookie:
1 cup of butter (or perhaps 1/2cup of butter and 1/2cup of shortening)
3/4cup brown sugar
1/2cup of granulated sugar
1/4cup of honey
1 egg
and the other stuff.

I base my hypothesis that this will give me a chewier cookie on the quality and ingredients of the Exotic Spice Cookies I mentioned in the Beer Cookie post. I'm not entirely sure if it'll turn out as I'd like, I think I need some food science courses (maybe I should go back to school for that once I finish this degree. hmm? kidding)

I had planned to try these amazing cupcakes tonight, but I think I'll be in lab too late for cupcakes, so those will have to wait a little longer.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

More than one way to have a beer

I did some cooking worth mentioning this weekend... two batches of cookies on Friday, but also some cookies before Friday, which I meant to tell you about because they're quite amazingly good. However, I had a presentation this afternoon, so that sucked away all my time. By now, I'm kind of zombie-ish... therefore, rather than try to work and make some fatal errors, I'll blog instead.

So anyway, on Friday, I made beer cookies.

Beer cookies? you say.

Yes. Beer in cookies. Could there be anything better?

Two Sundays ago, I was at home, watching the Food Network (my normal routine every weekend day that I'm not out of town or in lab). I happened to catch a cookie cook-off, and you can imagine how intrigued I was. I had been planning to put an end to the morning's laziness before then by going to school, but how could I miss a cookie cook-off?! Seriously.

There were a lot (a lot) of really good cookie recipes on this episode, and actually the first ones I made were the grand prize winners, Exotic Spice Cookies (there's a reason they won), but I want to tell you about the beer cookies because OMG DELICIOUSNESS and they're just so unusual. We'll get to the spice cookies later... especially because the only ones left are the burned ones (oops... my two cookie sheets cook very differently, and I forget that a lot...), so I might make some more soon. I'm going "camping" on Saturday, so perhaps I'll make a batch to bring then (not real camping, because there's no way I'm spending the night in the woods in New Hampshire in April).

So, the beer cookie recipe is linked at the top, go there and make them. Below follows how it went.

First off, you get white beer and you boil it with honey to reduce. Note: I am not a beer drinker, but nearly every one of my friends is, and I am surrounded by beer- but I am fully aware that I am surrounded by good beer, what with all the fab microbrews in Vermont and New Hampshire. So anyway, I boiled beer (I used the seasonal Long Trail white beer).

I boiled it, and I boiled it, and I boiled it some more. I boiled it over an hour. I was kind of getting sick of standing there, waiting for it to boil after half an hour- I wish I could fit chairs in my kitchen. However, it smells really good, like warm beer with honey (which... makes sense, that's what it is), but I always associate beer smell with gross frat houses or helping friends clean up the morning after a party. This is enormously different.

There's no indication in the recipe of how long the boiling should take- it tells you that you'll know when it's done, because eventually the sugar will start to boil, and this makes the boiling look quite obviously different, and once the boiling changes, it's done. I suppose you'd look at 2 bottles of beer with 5 tablespoons of honey and realize you need to reduce it 9-fold and that that could take a while, but arg it took over an hour, even after raising the heat a tad. So, that was kind of annoying, but mostly since I wasn't expecting it. It also didn't boil long enough, because I had 1/2 cup of the syrup instead of the indicated 1/3cup, and I kept boiling it past the stage where the sugar started to boil.

But anyway, I got the beer syrup, even if it was too much (I poured off the extra). Then I combined the syrup with butter, powdered sugar (not used to cookies using powdered instead of granulated sugar!) egg, vanilla, orange zest, and then added in the flour, baking soda and coriander. Mix, mix, mix, bake, bake, bake. Watch these cookies as they're baking... anything in my oven always takes the full time in any range of baking times (i.e. it says bake 10-15min, I need 15. 35-45 min, I need 45) but even though it says 20min, but your oven could need anywhere from 15 to 25 min, my cookies were perfectly done by 17min. They were solid, just barely beginning to brown on the edges. They had a different look to them- a slightly shiny finish on the top (my dad suggested a semi-gloss instead of a matte finish, I think this is fairly accurate) and bubbles. This may be the beer, it may be the powdered instead of granulated sugar, I'm not entirely sure. But they look like something you'd want to eat.

Then they cooled enough to grab one without pain, and I eated it. I tasted the beer, my taster did not. However, he's a beer drinker, and I am not (also, he had a cold, so he might have just not been able to taste them as well as he could have otherwise). It's very faint, the rest of the flavor in there is OMG GOOD. Really.

I let them hang out in tupperware overnight, and the next morning I made a glaze, just a simple one of milk, powdered sugar and orange juice (although I used grapefruit juice, having no oj on hand) that's basically what I use to ice all cutter-cookies. I glazed by dropping half a spoonful on top, and then drizzling all of them when the glaze wasn't spreading around as much as I'd have liked.

They're good- just in case I haven't made that clear yet. They're also pretty, I added some orange zest on top.

Warning: these won't last very long, you will eat them all immediately, nom nom nom. I had to divide them up immediately (ones for me, ones for my parents, and ones to bring to a party) so I didn't start getting into the allotments meant for other people.

I highly recommend these. Also, they are the brainchild of a guy getting his master's in food science, which I think is cool.

Edit: ...... I just thought of something. How good could these be with Guinness?? I'm highly intrigued now. Does Guinness complement citrus at all, or would that be weird?

Friday, April 4, 2008


I cooked myself dinner last night. You might think, especially because I'm trying to have a food blog, "why is she telling us this? of course she'd cook dinner." Actually, I rarely cook dinner. Remember how yesterday I suggested not to make those stuffed pork chops if you're not going to get home til 8pm or so? That's approximately my normal schedule.

Only.... I ignored my own suggestion, got home at 8, realized I probably should have planned better by sticking chicken breasts in the fridge to thaw a bit the night before, and finally sat down for dinner at 9:45. It's not a big deal for me to eat so late, but I was a little impatient and didn't cook the chicken quite long enough (I ended up just cutting off the too-pink side, losing two, maybe three bites, and I stuck the leftovers back in the oven for a bit longer).

Anyway, dinner.

Looks yummy, right?

Here's what I did.
I thawed a whole chicken breast I just happened to have in the freezer (I love the freezer, it's a treasure trove of meats and breads). This is enough meat to last me four meals.

Meanwhile, I made a stuffing mix of about 4oz (2/3 of a standard 6oz package) chevre, a cup of chopped apricots, and some tarragon I found while digging around in the fridge (loosely inspired by memories of this recipe.) Then I cut a slit in each breast, stuffed in the stuffing (the stuff in the small bowl was divided between the two breasts, it was maybe 2/3 of the total mixture that I made- I saved the rest for the "sauce"), tied it up, and rubbed the outside with salt and pepper.

Into the pan it went, to brown on all sides- this seals in the moisture when you bake it.

Then I baked it. I thought 350 for half an hour would be sufficient, but it was not. I took it out when it seemed to not look raw when cutting into it. However, I was wrong, but I should have probably also pounded the breasts before stuffing- they were quite thick.

While all the baking was going on...

I made the sauce.

This is where things get a little... weird. I am more of a baker than a cook. It's often said that "baking is an exact science", and, being an actual scientist, I'd have to say, yeah, not so much- there is some wiggle room. When I bake, I know the limits to the wiggling, and I go to them, but not past them. I follow the recipe, I get tasty foods. On the other hand, when I cook, I tend to cook a little too freely. I start adding in random things because they taste good, don't pay attention to timing very much, and I end up with weird things that get dried out because they were ready too soon but I left it on the burner anyway, or with flavors that just don't work. I guess baking provides the borders I need, and I kind of lose it with cooking.

Plus, I find meat a little scary. And it's icky to touch when it's raw (I'm sorry, but it's true and you know it).

Anyways, back to the sauce. I like goat cheese. I like apricots. Hey, they're in the chicken! Why can't I saute up some chopped onion (I like sauteed onion, too!), add chevre and apricots, some "cream" (whole milk), deglaze the chicken frying pan with some chardonnay (it's in the fridge) and make a nice creamy sauce? And put it over polenta? Well, I'm not entirely sure why, but apparently the answer is, no, you can't.

The sauce was not creamy, it was not saucy. It was more of a side than a sauce. However, since there was a ton of goat cheese (and apricots) in it, it tasted good.

I think part of the problem may have been the order in which I did everything, as well as cooking it too long. I tried to use the same idea for the sauce for the pork chops I mentioned yesterday, but I couldn't remember exactly what to do.

This often happens to me when cooking.

Finally, I made polenta. The sauce was supposed to go over the polenta, flavoring the lovely, creamy polenta with creamy sauce flavors. It didn't. The polenta also wasn't very creamy (my ratios were completely off. Martha Stewart said to use 4 cups of liquid to 1/2 a cup of polenta (i.e. cornmeal- I prefer Quaker brand, other brands I've used come out very pale and gummy, I don't quite know why) and I thought, Martha, that's insane. I'll do 1 cup of boiling water for 1/2 cup of polenta. I should know to trust Martha (although I think 2 cups of liquid for 1/2 cup of polenta would have been sufficient)- I did not make "creamy" polenta, I made the kind you'd later bake and slice to toast).

You'll notice a white streak- more chevre. :) I think I went a bit overboard with the chevre last night, and normal people probably wouldn't really like it- chevre's up there with my top favorite foods, and I think not so common.

Just so you don't think I was a total bomb in the kitchen last night, take a look at the above photo, at the item in back. Banana bread! I have been contemplating altering Aunt Blanche's banana bread recipe, which is almost a staple in my immediate family. It has great flavor, and is incredibly useful for getting rid of overripe bananas (overripe bananas work best in this recipe; don't bother if they're still greenish at all), but the main drawback, for me, is that the bread is incredibly greasy. I eat it with a fork because I actually hate to touch it.

Another old family recipe is my great-grandmother's maraschino cherry bread, which pops up only at Christmas time, and not for years and years until I decided to resurrect it in December. It uses no butter, has three eggs in a recipe that fills one loaf pan, and has a more spongey texture- not greasy at all. My great-grandmother grew up on a farm, and apparently, on farms back in the day, even though one might assume they had eggs galore, many recipes had either eggs or butter- not both. (Side note- we have a molasses cookie recipe that's been in our family since the late 1600s, and that has no eggs.) So anyway, I wondered if I could tailor the banana bread recipe to get rid of the butter, and compensate with extra eggs.

It works!

I still want to fuss around with the recipe, though. it's nice and spongey, not greasy at all, but a little tough- I want to consider changing the leavening used. Right now I have equal parts baking soda and baking powder, and I know if you overbeat anything with baking powder, it'll become tough. However, I also know that if you use baking soda, you need something acidic to interact with it and generate gas. I'm not sure what's really acidic when it comes to food (aside from the obvious citrus and vinegar).

Another thing I'll do is further reduce the sugar (I cut it down by 1/3 last night, it's just normally quite sweet) and make a glaze of some sort, both to sweeten and to rehydrate. I'll share the final recipe, once I have it.

Next up:
White Beer cookies.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A new blog! About food! and other good stuff.

I have been toying with the idea of revamping this blog for a little while, but certain things have held me back. It's going to be a FOOD BLOG! Ooh. Cool. Also a perhaps a knitting blog. Hey, let's just say it's a Domestic Goddess blog (although you'll never hear me tell you about my housekeeping skills, because I don't have any).

Ok, great, food and knitting. What does one need to blog about food and knitting?

1. be a halfway decent cook/knitter, and enjoy cooking/knitting.


2. Be able to photograph all that to show it off and make the blog interesting.

Ch.... wait.

I'm not a stellar photographer. I know some stellar photographers, maybe I can get in cahoots with one of them from time to time, and show you pretty photos.

Another problem with my photography (perhaps the main problem) is that I have terrible lighting in my condo. I can really only get decent pictures of anything during a bright sunny morning/early afternoon, and over near the glass door of my living room. This is as far as one can get from the kitchen, and I'd really prefer to photograph food in the kitchen. However, for the sake of this new blog attempt, I'll try to optimize the photogenecity of items in my home.

For now, I'll leave you with a good recipe for stuffed pork chops.
These are quite delicious and when I make them (which is fairly often in the rotation of meat that I cook), I usually have the following as sides:
polenta with whatever cheese is in my fridge (very easy to make from scratch- and pour the pork chop cream sauce on the polenta, that's really good)
sauteed spinach and mushrooms (saute up some sliced mushrooms with butter and salt until they're soft, then add in fresh spinach, and voila, a lovely, buttery dish)
baked sweet potato "fries" (slice sweet potatoes into steak fry-like wedges, coat in salt and other spices and either oil or citrus juice (I prefer citrus juice, but either is fine) and bake for maybe 30 min or so at 325.)

Note: this is not really something you can whip up when you get home at 8pm or later on a weekday night, which is my normal schedule. I like to make these on weekend nights when I have all afternoon to cook, and then make a huge batch and have leftovers all week. These make really good leftovers.