Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Modern Apron on Sweetnicks

The Cream Peas with Pancetta that I posted a couple of weeks ago are part of the ARF/5-a-day roundup on Sweetnicks. Go check out what everyone else submitted as well! Yummy stuff that's good for you--can't beat that.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Mini Post: Frustration!

I hate when this happens!

The Scene: My house; I am preparing to go to the grocery store. I have my list in my hand.

Me: Oh, I wanted to make that [recipe recently seen]. I had better make sure I have all the ingredients. I will look at the recipe. It was right here in this book.

[picks up book and flips to index, looking for name of recipe]

Me: [baffled] Why, I know it was right here in this book...or, well, maybe it was this one...I was reading it recently, too...

[checks another book lying on table]

Me: Hm, not here either...oh, well maybe it was in this magazine I was reading the other night...

[flips through magazine without success]

Me: Argh! Where was that recipe?!?!?

Google! Get on this--I need to be able to do a keyword search of my brain!!!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Elusive: Cherry Cobbler

A few facts:

1. Last week I had quite a lot of cherries from various sources.

2. I decided that a cherry cobbler was just the thing to make with my cherries.

3. I have over 300 cookbooks; I have more than 100 back issues of cooking magazines from two continents; I have thirteen 1 ½” binders with recipes torn from magazines.

4. I looked through perhaps a dozen of those cookbooks and a dozen more other sources for a cherry cobbler recipe

5. There was not a single recipe to be found for cherry cobbler.

Can you believe this? There I stood, bowl of cherries on the counter crying to be made into cobbler, and nowhere could I find a recipe. I kept waiting for someone to jump out and show me where the camera was hidden. It was madness.

I was finally forced to adapt a recipe. I pulled out the ever-faithful Fannie Farmer and looked at the recipe for apple cobbler. Pretty basic: butter, flour, egg, milk, sugar. I decided to add some oats to the mix, for interest and whole-grain-ness, and a little cinnamon for zip.

I would like to say that Fannie Farmer has an interesting shortcoming that I didn’t notice until I adapted this recipe. When they give amounts of ingredients, they don’t indicate if they’re to be in any way divided in the ingredient list; that information is in the body of the recipe. So if you’re kind of a sloppy cook, as I was when I made this cobbler, you’ll do something like dump ¾ of a cup of sugar on the fruit, when really ¼ cup of it was intended for the fruit, and the rest was intended for the topping. Way to go, me.

As it turned out, the fruit mixture was not so sweet that it made your teeth ache. They throbbed for perhaps a second, but in the end they were fine and there was a nice lot of syrup with the fruit. I think you could fiddle with the amount of sugar until you got it down to a reasonable level of sweetness, say between ¼ and ½ cup. You might not get quite as much syrupy goodness, but you’re not flirting quite as blatantly with diabetes, either.

The topping this makes is much more cakey than crumbly. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s not crumbly at all, because it’s made with melted butter instead of cold. If you’re a crumbly-topping-on-cobbler purist, you’re going to be let down. However, it does have a nice upside-down cake quality about it that’s endearing if you’re open to a variation on a theme.

I used a large round ceramic casserole I have that holds about 3 quarts in which to cook this. Really any baking pan will do, so long as it holds the fruit and isn’t too spread out. I tried using a couple of rectangular ones, and quickly realized that the fruit was practically in a single layer, and that the topping wasn’t going to stretch out quite that far.

So here’s my recipe for Cherry Cobbler, because apparently they’re scarce. When you check Martha, Alice, Shelia and Julee, Sara Foster, Mark Bittman (Mark Bittman!), Fannie, and a whole bunch of magazines, and no one has a recipe for Cherry Cobbler, you know there’s a gap, and you need to fill it. Serve this warm with vanilla ice cream.

Cherry Cobbler
adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook
makes 6-8 servings, depending on how much ice cream you serve along with it

4-5 cups cherries, pitted
1 ½ cups sugar, divided
8 ounce (1 stick) butter, melted
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ½ cups flour
1 ½ cups old fashioned rolled oats (not instant)
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a large casserole, place cherries so they’re about 3-4 cherries deep (you don’t want them so spread out that they’re in a single layer). Sprinkle with ¾ cup of sugar.

Combine melted butter, milk, vanilla, and egg. Stir in ¾ cup of sugar. Add salt, flour, oats, baking powder, and cinnamon and stir to combine.

Drop topping over cherries in large spoonfuls. The topping should cover the cherries comfortably, but don’t worry if a cherry peeps through here and there.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until cherry filling is bubbling around the edges of the topping. Remove from oven and allow to cool 10 to 15 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day!: Biscuits

This won't be lengthy, as I have children to look after, but I thought I'd share this quickly.

This morning Alex decided to make biscuits. He used a recipe from Joy of Cooking.

Here's what he produced.

Yep, he's a keeper.

from Joy of Cooking

1 ¾ cups sifted all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
4-6 tablespoons butter
¾ cup milk

Sift together flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder in a large bowl. Add butter and cut into dry ingredients until the mixture is the consistency of coarse corn meal. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add the milk. Stir until the dough is fairly free of the sides of the bowl. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead gently and quickly, making about 8 to 10 folds. Roll out to a thickness of about 1”. Cut out with a biscuit cutter lightly dipped in flour. Place on an ungreased baking sheet and bake until lightly browned, 12-15 minutes. Makes about 24 biscuits for appreciative small children and spouse.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Vanquished: Brioche

Sometimes I think I might be crazy. Other times I think maybe I’m just not too smart. For years I have harbored a ridiculous fear of brioche. I don’t mean I cower if I happen to meet one on the street, but I’ve been timid about the idea of making it. I’m not really sure why, since I’ve taken on other breads fearlessly and been successful with them. Maybe it's that name: brioche. It just sounds so fancy. Or maybe it’s that funny pan it’s supposed to be cooked in. I have one, but I’ve never used it. That round fluted shape makes me think of a crown. Perhaps I’m intimidated by brioche’s lineage.

This weekend we were having family over to celebrate the twins’ third birthday (which is actually today). It was brunch, so I wanted something that could wear both hats, if you know what I mean. We were having a salad luncheon: chicken salad, fruit salad, green salad, baked eggs (which, OK, aren’t a salad), and cupcakes for dessert. I wanted a bread that would be breakfasty but lunchy at the same time. Sweet bread wouldn’t work with the chicken salad, and something like baguette or rosemary bread would leave the fruit salad and eggs as the only breakfast components.

In flipping through one of my favorite cookbooks, The Crabtree & Evelyn Cookbook (now sadly out of print, but which is probably responsible in part for the start of my food obsession) I came across three recipes in the index that all had possibilities. One was a Sally Lunn bread, one was Whole Wheat and Potato Cloverleaf Rolls, and the last was Brioche.

The description of the Brioche was so comforting. It says that this recipe is “An ideal introduction to brioche making…” because it doesn’t use the fluted pan. It uses a simple rectangular bread pan. The words fairly stroke your hand and murmur, “There, there, you can do this.” And so I did.

Aside from not using the proper brioche pan, this recipe also lets you whip everything up in a food processor. The dough actually comes out looking more like batter, which rather worried me, and as in other instances where I’ve used rapid-rise yeast, it looked the same after I let it rise for an hour as it did when I scraped it out of the food processor into the bowl. I was a bit apprehensive, but I’d come too far now to back down. Into the oven it went, while I crossed my fingers, swallowed a green m&m whole, threw salt over my right shoulder, rubbed my rabbit’s foot, and tried to remember where I’d put that four leaf clover.

Forty minutes later, what a roaring success. Although it comes out of the oven looking crusty, nothing could be further from the truth. It’s light and airy, faintly yellow from all those egg yolks, and soft as a peony blossom. I sliced it into pieces and laid them out on a platter and was agog at how easy it was. Magnificent.

I served it with butter and jam for those wanting to emphasize its more breakfastlike traits. It also went beautifully with the chicken salad, its buttery goodness a nice foil for the creamy salad.

They say the best way to conquer your fears is to face them. Now, where is that brioche pan?

Yes, this is my daughter helping me and yes, she is wearing her winter coat over her pajamas; no, I don't know why.
from the Crabtree & Evelyn Cookbook
makes one really friendly loaf

2 ½ to 3 cups all-purpose flour
1 ¼ -ounce package quick-rising yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 large eggs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, add 2 cups of flour, yeast, sugar, and salt and pulse to mix. In a small saucepan, heat butter with ¼ cup water until butter is melted and mixture is hot to the touch (125 to 130 degrees F). Pour the liquid into the dry ingredients, and process a few seconds, or until the dough begins to form a ball. Add eggs and process for about 45 seconds, or until dough becomes smooth and sticky and begins to pull away from the sides of the work bowl. If dough is too wet, add some of the remaining ½ cup flour and process for a few seconds more. (N.B. in my experience the dough never pulled away from the sides of the work bowl, and I added about another ¼ cup of the flour; at that point I said, “The hell with it” and set it to rise.) Scrape dough into a buttered mixing bowl, cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk. (Ha!)

Punch down dough, and place in a buttered 8 ½ inch x 4 ½ inch loaf pan. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise until doubled in bulk again, about 30 minutes. (You know what? I just realized I didn’t do this; seems this step is optional, folks!)

Place brioche in the center of the oven and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the top is deep golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped lightly on the bottom. Turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely before slicing.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Mini Post: Lunchtime

Here's something I just don't understand. I'm sitting at my desk, eating my lunch, and someone comes to my door to ask a question. Now, since I am sitting at my desk, I'll concede that I'm fair game for a question, and a quick one is no problem. Since my company has no lunch room, there's no place for me to eat other than my office if I bring my own lunch (which I often do).

But what I don't understand is the person who says, "I can see you're eating but..." and then proceeds to launch into an involved discussion about something work-related (and worse, it's usually something work-related about which I care diddly squat, which accounts for most things work-related). If you can see I'm eating, then why don't you buzz off and let me eat? I have my fork poised above my (rapidly cooling) food, can you not divine that I am most anxious to continue with my meal? And if you failed to notice my fork, do my obviously disinterested nods and falsely bright smile as I say, "Oh really? No kidding," not clue you in that what I'd really like is for you to piss off and let me eat?

I think the worst thing about this situation is that the people who do this are usually repeat offenders. A single instance is forgivable. Multiple instances should be punished by the offender being stoned to death with Triscuits.

Thank you. I just had to get that off my chest.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Celebrate: Dijon Mustard

There are a few ingredients that are so magnificent that I think we should have national holidays commemorating them. Like the Fourth of July, when we celebrate our nation, certain ingredients deserve to be feted. And we should all get a day off on which to do it.

There actually is a National Mustard Day (the first Saturday in August), but I propose that we pick a day to be National Dijon Mustard Day. It deserves to be recognized by itself, not lumped in with all the other, less spectacular (although still good) mustards. Oh how I adore Dijon mustard. But not just any Dijon mustard; it has to be Grey Poupon. I’ve tried other Dijon mustards and they come up short. Grey Poupon has just the right balance of spice, garlic, and vinegar.

Of course Dijon mustard is excellent on sandwiches, but it’s also a fabulous ingredient. I use it in homemade mayonnaise. It lends a slight tang that I would be hard put to achieve on my own. If I added garlic to the egg, lemon juice, oil, etc to give it that piquancy, it would be overpowering;. In Dijon that flavor is already incorporated into the mustard, so it’s tempered.

I don’t think I’ve ever even made a vinaigrette dressing that didn’t use Dijon mustard. My mother taught me to make vinaigrette, and she always used it. She didn’t measure, she just plopped some mustard in the bowl, added a couple of dashes of white wine vinegar, some salt and pepper, and then whisked in olive oil until it was the right consistency. The first time I read about true vinaigrette, I remember thinking, “This must be a typo—there’s no Dijon mustard in it!”

I also can’t get over the combination of mushrooms, cream, thyme and Dijon. This sauce is my idea of ambrosia. I think if I make one more mushroom-mustard cream sauce with thyme to go with steak on Saturday nights, I may find myself in divorce court. Not that Alex doesn’t like it, but apparently he doesn’t share my insatiable craving for it.

I read about some mushroom custards in a book I have (Slim Forever the French Way or something like that; it had recipes that looked good, so I bought it, sucker that I am). The original recipe looked pretty good, but it was just mushrooms, cream and eggs. I felt like that would produce a somewhat bland result, and that it would need some pep. Since it was cream and mushrooms, my natural inclination was to pop in some Dijon mustard.

These custards are silky and creamy, kind of like the world’s nicest, most sophisticated baby food. That’s not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, if you will, but they just slip down with the slightest chew on the mushrooms—earthy yet soothing. They would make a good side dish in place of a starch with a steak. You’d have to skip the mushroom-mustard cream sauce, of course, but you’d get it in another form. Shhh, maybe that’s what I’ll do to Alex this weekend in place of the mushroom-mustard cream sauce.

While these are nobody’s idea of healthy (except maybe the guy who wrote Slim Forever the French Way), they would be a lovely thing to serve to guests on a special occasion. They can be made with any variety of mushroom, although of course the more flavorful the mushroom, the better the custards will be. With a salad, they can even be a meal in themselves, suitable for vegetarians.

Mushroom Custards
adapted from Slim Forever the French Way by Michel Montignac
makes 6 servings

1 lb mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 teaspoons olive oil, butter or a combination of both
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
3 large eggs
½ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425.

Heat butter (if using) and/or olive oil in a medium skillet until butter melts and/or oil is hot. Add mushrooms and onions and sauté until mushrooms have cooked down and are somewhat dry, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir through fresh thyme. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

In a large bowl, combine eggs, mustard and cream. Add mushrooms and stir to combine.

Ladle into 6 – 6 ounce ramekins that have been buttered or sprayed with cooking spray, and place in a large roasting pan. Fill roasting pan with warm water to halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake 30-40 minutes or until custards are set. Tops will brown slightly, and centers should be well set. Serve warm.

These actually reheat quite well, even in a microwave.