Sometimes, it’s ok to call it quits

In a perfect world, I’d be experimenting with sourdough breads regularly.  I’d create boules of beauty, and share them with friends and family.

However, this isn’t a perfect world.  A handful of close friends are gluten free.  I rarely get to share the things I cook and bake because I’ve messed something up just enough that it doesn’t feel fit for sharing, or I’m just make enough food for myself for the week.  At the end of the day, I’m just feeding myself.

I do make bread on occasion.  I even had a rye sourdough starter going for over a year.  But those two statements?  Rarely done at the same time.  When I make bread, it’s usually with SAF instant.  When I was maintaining my sourdough starter, I was just finding ways to cook the discarded starter.  I was almost never making proper bread with my starter.  It even got to a point where I forgot I had a starter hanging out in my fridge.  I literally did not notice it in my fridge until about two months after its last feeding.

Even then (!!!), it took me a couple of weeks to finally toss it in the trash.  Some part of me hated feeling like I was giving up on a project.  But logically, it didn’t make sense to try again.  More so, because I have a place in a 10 minute walk away that does a wonderful sourdough.  I’ve started going there a bit more frequently because I absolutely love their sourdough pizzas, but you can pick up bread to take home.  I can spend 2-3 days making sourdough bread on my own, or I can spend $4 – $7 at my local restaurant.

It will do me more good than harm to recognize what I am willing and not willing to do.  If I didn’t live so close to awesome bread, I’d probably feel differently about this.  Or if I had a large family to feed, which I don’t.

But you know what they say: when one door closes, another opens.

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Cardamom and loaf pans, a Kitchen Conclusion

Another Kitchen Conclusion post to start off 2018!  This time, I’m highlighting two recipes from Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Magazine.  Both just happen to involve ground cardamom and loaf pans.

Not a resolution per se, but I want to be better about cooking and baking from my plethora of cookbooks and magazines in general.  And let’s not forget all the cookbooks that I take out of my local library.  I also like to cook with people, and for people.  It makes for a better incentive than just cooking for little ol’ me.

When my sister proposed that we bake the Milk Street Magazine’s pistachio cardamom cake on New Year’s Eve, I easily agreed.  She had most of the ingredients while I had the flour.  It went faster with two people.  I handled the grinding of the pistachios and the other dry ingredients.  She prepped the wet ingredients.  We skipped the glaze because (1) we weren’t presenting this cake to anyone, and (2) neither of us needed the extra sugar.

The only criticism I have is the bake time printed.  It said 325ºF for 50-55 minutes.  As we were sliding the loaf pan into the oven, I had huge doubts about the bake time.  It’s hard for me to say how long it took in total since I had to keep adding time, but it was probably about 70 minutes in my oven.  No, my oven doesn’t run under-temperature.  If anything, it’s usually running a few degrees higher than the displayed temperature.

Overall impression of the cake itself?  Maybe we didn’t toast the pistachios long enough.  The dominant flavors seemed to be orange and cardamom.  I think I even tasted the tang of the Greek yogurt more than any pistachio flavor.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  The cake was still very tasty.  But for my sister who is a big fan of pistachio, it was a slight let down.

And then last week, while I was enjoying a day off from work, I decided to try the Milk Street Magazine recipe for brown butter cardamom banana bread.  I’m generally not a huge fan of standard banana bread.  I have a version with chocolate chips and cinnamon that I like, but that’s probably because the chocolate and the cinnamon tend to distract from the banana flavor.  (Oddly enough, I love fresh bananas on their own.)

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Brown the butter!

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mixing the wet ingredients

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I did like the cardamom and banana combination.  Ok, not more than chocolate and cinnamon, but I’m definitely willing to bake this one again.  I also gave a few slices to a friend.  Their reaction came back as favorable.

Having said that, I couldn’t taste the brown butter.  Maybe I didn’t brown it enough?  I mean better to under brown than to burn something, but maybe this is a theme in my kitchen.  I don’t know.  I guess I’ll just have to try again sometime.

In general, I find the Milk Street Kitchen recipes to be unintimidating and delicious.  I like their use of bolder flavors.  I have also made their savory sweet potato gratin with happy results, lest you think I only make desserts.

I definitely recommend giving them a try if you haven’t already.

Reference Links:  Warning, depending on when you are reading this post, you may hit a paywall.  If you want to see the recipes in full, I believe that they are both in the book Milk Street: The New Home Cooking.  Chances are that your local library carries a copy! 

https://www.177milkstreet.com/recipes/pistachio-cardamom-cake

https://www.177milkstreet.com/recipes/banana-bread

A cold weather summary

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Eek! I have several photos to share and yet I have been so lazy about making a post.

My punishment? Doing one big post as concise as possible. gah!

Well, let’s do it in months:

October – the household and a couple of friends went to Mack’s in New Hampshire for apple picking and squash overdosing. Personally I purchased four squashes: a delicata, two sweet dumplings, and a sunshine (which I later learned is a variety of kobocha, aka Japanese pumpkin).

sushine squash

sushine squash

I liked the delicata fine, but it wasn’t anything special. I adored the sweet dumpling, but maybe that is because I stuffed it with spiced apples. The sunshine was definitely a favorite, but I was sad that I had stuffed it with apples too. The sunshine squash had a flavor a lot more like chestnuts than like your normal squashes.

November – I started to make a lot of batches of what I like to call “pancake muffins.” They are exactly like what they sound like. Pancake batter cooked in an oven instead of on the stove top. So much faster and cleaner! And in easy to grab serving sizes too.

I have been using the Bisquick Healthy mix (because I am too lazy to even mix together basic pancake batter) with yogurt as my liquid to simulate a yogurt pancake batter. I’ve tried blueberry yogurt (the house favorite), strawberry (also pretty good), apple with cinnamon (very disappointing flavor-wise), and mixed berry. Last night, I made a batch with raspberry yogurt. Basically, the more flavorful yogurts work best for this. Once the batter was mixed, I plopped it into a muffin tin at 375F for about 15 minutes.

They taste best straight out of the oven, but keep well in the freezer. The only downside to storing in the freezer is that they seem a little drier after you reheat them.

Seriously though, pancake muffins have become my latest addiction. They also seem to keep me full longer than my favorite healthy cereals.

pancake muffins

pancake muffins

December – the new obsession? Challah bread. I made my first loaf last weekend and I’m making my second loaf as we speak. I nearly freaked out when I was in the middle of making my first loaf. In a moment of ditziness, I used water from my Brita filter… the same Brita that I keep in the fridge for cold water. Three hours later, the dough had barely budged.

I was worried that I had ruined it. Luckily, I’ve had some introduction to slow fermentation using colder temperatures, I didn’t think all was lost. So I decided to warm up the dough in a slightly warmed oven. Once all of the chill was gone, I left my bread bucket with my dough on my kitchen counter. Three hours later, it had doubled beautifully. I went about braiding it (also my first time) and let it do it’s final rise (and skipped the second rise completely because it was getting rather late).

My propensity for laziness reared its ugly head again, and I used a milk wash instead of a proper egg wash. When everything was said and done, the challah tasted wonderful but it just wasn’t shiny. I have nothing to compare it to, but I was pretty satisfied with my first challah attempt. (The recipe I used was from Beth Hensperger’s “Bread Made Easy” book, if you’re curious.)

With the slow fermentation accident, I wondered how it would turn out if I did a proper slow fermentation challah bread. On top of that, I had been watching bread videos featuring no-knead techniques which is basically a slow fermentation (http://foodwishes.blogspot.com/).

Couldn’t the two be put together? I thought I was onto something interesting.

I realized today that I wasn’t all that original. Googling “no kead challah recipes” spit out more responses than I had expected. Eventually, I came across a post on Steamy Kitchen (http://steamykitchen.com/blog/2008/01/13/challah/) that seemed to have exactly what my head was thinking of experimenting with. I thought about re-using Beth Hensperger’s recipe, but decided to go with what was on the Steamy Kitchen blog. Overall, the measurements weren’t too different. My only substitution was to use oil instead of butter.

So now, I have a dough just hanging out in my fridge, waiting for tomorrow when I will actually shape and bake it.

In the meantime, here are photos of the challah loaf I made last weekend. It only lasted a few days before I had eaten it all. (Photos of challah loaf no. 2 later.)

~ Mikan

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No four and twenty blackbirds in this pie

For the first time, I have made a pie completely from scratch. It was a spiced plum pie with a butter pie crust.

I thought that the crust was my greatest obstacle as I had never made one before. I didn’t have a pastry cutter so I made do with a fork and a potato masher. XD

It wasn’t pretty, but the dough came together and I kept it in the fridge overnight. This kept it nice and cold, but, unfortunately, made it very painful to roll out into a 13″ circle. Yes, painful. I’ve had wrist problems in my left hand recently, so this was not one of my more stellar moments.

Then, I came to realize that my true obstacle was cutting, peeling, AND PITTING about 12 plums. I went through half the plums before finally finding some sort of a system. The procedure was eventually to cut up the plum in all of the wedges I needed. Then, I went about finding the one wedge that could slip out the easiest. After that, I set upon ripping out the other wedges until I was left with the pit on the final wedge, which I cut out. This took about an hour total. This would not have been so bad, except that I hadn’t started until 10:30p. (note: don’t help your father with paperwork before making pie when it’s already getting late.)

After the agony of preparing the plums, the spices and sugar for the filling was a nice, easy change of pace. But since it was fairly easy, I was done pretty quickly. (well, it would have been much faster if I didn’t need to go to the downstairs apartment to borrow cardamom. I was so sure I had some, but I couldn’t find it. I guess I was hallucinating.)

I put my pie crust in the pie pan, filled it with the plums and spices and sugar, and popped it into the oven that had been preheating for a very, very long time.

I accidently tented my pie with foil from the get-go. I didn’t read the instructions well enough. After 20 minutes, I finally realized to take the foil tent off. The foil stayed off for about 30 minutes, before I finally put it back.

All the while, it smelled lovely. And the baking finished at around 2am.

Fifteen hours later, the pie was finally cut into (it was one of three pies for our 4th of July BBQ) and lasted about ten minutes before it was whittled down to just one small slice. The crust was good. Asano-mama said it was flakier than the crust on her pies, and a friend of mine who really had not been subjected to my food experiments yet was also suitably pleased with the crust.

The plums were more tart than I expected them to be. (Thank goodness for vanilla ice cream and all things a la mode.) But I was fairly happy with my pie. I think I might like to mix the plums with something else like apples or pears or strawberries next time – something to balance the tartness. The same friend who was pleased with the crust commented that my plum pie reminded him of rhubarb. I can see that.

The verdict? It was a good way to spend some time and the results were better than good.

The pie crust recipe – http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/BUTTER-PIE-CRUST-236477

The spiced plum pie recipe – http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/SPICED-PLUM-PIE-232397

And just for fun, here’s a photo of Asano-mama in the middle of destroying killing pitting cherries for her cherry pie. ^_~

~Mikan

pale and beautiful

Call it chayote, merliton, hup jeung gwa, or whatever you want, it’s my favorite squash these days.

Zucchini and yellow squash doesn’t do it for me. They’re squishy. They’re lackluster. As far as I’m concerned, zucchini belongs in quick breads and not on my plate as a side dish.

Ah, but chayote? It’s such a delicate flavor – just barely sweet. It tends to absorb the taste of whatever it’s being cooked with. The texture? It’s on the firm side of squashes. I had googled “chayote squash recipes” one day and was thoroughly put off. So many recipes demanded that my little chayote be covered up in herbs, sauce, or… eww, cheese. I felt like it was misunderstood.

Tonight, I decided to go simple. I cut up three chayote squashes, one sweet onion, and lightly covered them in olive oil and a pinch of salt before throwing them in an oven, heated to 400F, for about 35 minutes. (Word of advice – chayote has a bit of a thick skin, so I recommend peeling it. However, it produces a very slimy film when you do that. The film washes off your hands easily enough, but it’ll really dry out your skin. If you can, peel them with gloves on.)

The result? Well, I ate two-thirds of it in one sitting. I’m so full right now, that I have to take a break before I finish the rest of my dinner. Sometimes, I’m such a glutton. *blush* On the bright side, it’s a fairly healthy side dish. I find that chayote does well when roasted. After it’s done cooking, it’s still wonderfully moist and pairs so well with just onion.

I remembered to take photos. I can’t let Asano-mama receive all of the attention for her whale cake, can I? 

~ Mikan

A birthday cake fit for a Captain

Rumor has it that like fine wine, plumduff (a.k.a. the Captain) gets better with every passing year! To mark that fact on her birthday, I made her a very simple birthday cake. Since we’re big fans of Cooking Lite here at the Awesomesauce of Greater Boston, this is the relatively-healthy cake and icing recipe I used.

A whale cake for the Captain
Here’s the wet batter mix. I hand beat everything, as I totally refuse to use an electric mixer unless I really really have to.

A whale cake for the Captain
The batter all set and ready to go in the cake pans. Instead of making buttermilk as milk + white vinegar, I actually bought real buttermilk at Trader Joe’s. Maybe it’s just my imagination but to me this was why the cake came out well.

A whale cake for the Captain
See, here are the cakes exactly 30 minutes later, perfectly moist and delicious. It was not a lie.

A whale cake for the Captain
Blehh. Now just to spite the awesome cake, the icing was a disappointment — it was supposed to be a merengue, the flavor and general texture was good, but the consistency was all wrong. I clearly fatigued the egg whites while making the icing. Merengue is so hard to make so I’m not too disappointed. After letting the icing sit it did solidify just enough to coat the cake, though it kind of looked… gloopy.
Flavor-wise it was good though. I added a teaspoon of rose water to the icing just to see how it would affect the flavor. Conclusion: barely detectable. Maybe next time I’ll add a bit more to the cake itself to give it fragrance.

A whale cake for the Captain
Here’s the whale decoration I made for the top — cut out a whale shape from a piece of paper and used spray-on decoration that I had left over from Halloween. It’s black spray food coloring, but sprayed lightly enough it looks gray! I used a whole clove for the eye and put the candle on the blowhole.

A whale cake for the Captain
And here’s the candle all lit and ready for birthday wishes.

Many happy returns to the Captain of the Awesomesauce!

Whole Wheat Soda Bread

Whole Wheat Soda Bread
So, here’s a picture of my first attempt at a vegan soda bread with millet and currants that I tried from my new cookbook, Veganomicon. It was a little overdone (dry) but otherwise pretty decent. I’m now in pursuit of finding the perfect adaptation of the cookbook’s recipe for raspberry chocolate cookies. Mmmmm, chocolate cookies….