27 December 2011

Ginger Roasted Carrots for Christmas Dinner

I had several days where things just went wrong in the kitchen. J from A Half-Baked Life came down with her family to visit. I had planned soup and rolls for lunch but both failed. The rolls didn't rise as they should have, and the soup was a disaster. I couldn't serve it, so lunch was out instead.

On Christmas day I kept the dinner plans simple, with eggnog and cookies planned for dessert. The red wine gravy for the Beef Wellington failed. (The Beef Wellington itself was lovely, and I'm sure the gravy was my fault.) Both cookie recipes I mixed refused to roll out and cut out properly. Despite my best efforts at tempering the eggs the eggnog curdled. I served a friend's gift of Austrian Christmas Bread and the box of chocolates my mother brought. I used a stick blender to revive the eggnog, and there was enough rum available that folks didn't seem to mind.

I had planned roasted balsamic carrots with Christmas dinner, but I realized far too late that I didn't have balsamic vinegar in the house. So I threw ginger in with the carrots instead. Naturally, the carrots, which I hadn't planned, were the hit of the dinner and my husband asked me to make them again, and I expect he'll be happy to see them often. I'll be happy to make them often as they're quick and easy. Here they are will last night's dinner:

Sausage, Carrots, Mashed Potatoes

Roasted Ginger Carrots.

Ingredients:
1 pound carrots
1 inch piece fresh ginger
olive oil
salt to taste

Method:

Preheat oven to 425 Fahrenheit

Scrub and trim carrots. Slice thinly. Spread the carrots on a baking sheet. Peel and grate the ginger, adding it to the carrots. Sprinkle with salt and drizzle with olive oil. Toss to coat. Roast for 10-15 minutes until carrots begin to soften. Serve and eat.

23 December 2011

Making Christmas


Years ago, when my parents married, my mother asked my father what he would like her to make for Christmas. He asked for Julekake, a Scandinavian Christmas bread. It was common in the bakeries in my father's childhood Chicago, but it was more difficult to find in the small Army towns where my father was posted, so my mother found a recipe, and baked her own.

We ate it with eggs or bacon or sausage every Christmas breakfast of my childhood. My mother baked simple round loaves studded with raisins and candied cherries.

Julekake, 2011
Model

When I grew up I swapped out dried cherries for the candied ones. I baked it in the oven of my boyfriend's apartment before I went to share Christmas with his family, inhaled the scent of them to make it Christmas when the traditions around me were not my own.

I've discovered that the fruit is not mandatory, though I'd never leave it out. A braid is traditional, and I'll make a braided loaf when I have time, though for gift giving I make several simple round loaves, small cousins to the bread of my childhood. Whatever the shape the cardamon scented loaves are Christmas to me.

I bake Julekake on Christmas Eve while I listen to A Christmas Carol on Public Radio. My children are asleep upstairs and my husband is at church singing with the choir. It is quiet in my house, and whatever strain of trying to Make The Holidays is worked away in the kneading of the bread, the sweetness of the fruit, the scent of the cardamom. In the morning, after we've opened presents and put the train back on its tracks underneath the tree (again) we break bread, and my boys are connected to the traditions of my childhood, and the grandfather they never knew.

Christmas Breakfast

A note about scalding the milk. The dairy protein whey contains a protein which has negative effects on the volume and texture of baked goods. Scalding, or bringing the milk to just less than a boil, partially denatures the protein and reduces these effects. You can scald in a small saucepan on the stove top. I use a glass measuring cup in the microwave. I heat the milk one minute at a time until it is steaming.

Julekake

Ingredients:
2 teaspoons active dry yeast (or one packet)
½ cup warm (not hot) water
1 cup milk
¼ cup butter
½ cup cold water
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 cups dried fruit, mix of raisins, golden raisins and chopped dried cherries
5 ½ cups all-purpose flour

Sprinkle the yeast into the warm water in a small bowl and set aside.
Cut butter into chunks and place in a large mixing bowl. Scald the milk and pour over the butter. Stir to melt the butter, then add the cold water. When the milk is lukewarm, stir in the yeast, sugar, salt, cardamom, egg and fruit.

Stir in the flour, one cup at a time until the dough is too stiff to stir. Pour it out onto a floured counter and knead in the remaining flour. Continue kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic. About 20 minutes. Return the dough to the mixing bowl and cover. Allow to rise until doubled, 1-2 hours.

Deflate the dough and remove to a lightly floured counter. Divide in two and shape into loaves. Let rise until doubled, 1-2 hours.

Bake at 350 Fahrenheit for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to cool at least 10 minutes before slicing.

22 December 2011

Too Good Not to Use

I will be back tomorrow with bread for Christmas breakfast, but I have been muttering to myself all morning and I have to share with you lest the nice people at the craft store have me arrested later today when I start screaming "I mean, what is it all FOR anyway?" in the trim aisle.

I have pretty plates covered in pink flowers.  I inherited them from my grandmother.  I store them in weird plastic pouches which have the appearance of quilting.  Just recently I had the good sense to label the weird plastic pouches so that I don't have to open 10 of them before I find the soup plates.


Because, you see, I sometimes have to find the soup plates.  Sometimes I have people over for dinner, on Christmas, or on random Tuesday night.  Sometimes I have enough of my everyday dishes and I just use those.  Sometimes I need more dishes, or I'm feeling fancy.  Once I pulled out my pretty pink-flowered dessert plates and the spare yellow-flowered dessert plates (that's them, there with no plastic pouch) for a four year old's birthday party, in the park.

Yes, I am that mythical person, the one who uses the nice things.  And you would not believe the grief I catch for it.

"Oh, you don't need to pull out the fine china for me."
"I never registered for china. What's the point?"
"Oh, the fine china, fancy schmancy. [absurd comment about the queen.]"
"I have my [ancestor]'s china but it's too good to use."

Of course I don't need to pull the fine china out for you.  But I have it, and it's pretty, and it makes me happy to use it.  You are my guest, and my friend, and you are important.

The point is that some people like pretty plates.  Other people don't, which is fine.  But I'm sure I could go to your home and point out some object you love that serves no purpose other than that you love it.

I'm an American.  I don't have a queen.  Even if I were an Englishwoman living in London (Because that's the queen they mean.) it's unlikely that I would ever entertain a queen. As it turns out my nice china comes not from the side of my family you would expect, but from the midWesterners who were just a generation or two removed from European immigrants, the "Real Americans" as it were.

What on earth is too good to use?  What good would these plates do me if I left them forever sealed in their weird plastic pouches. Yes, I would preserve them.  They would be safe from children and guests and random acts of the Beagle. But life is not safe. Life is messy and things get broken (though less often than you might think.) Someday I might not have enough plates and won't be able to find replacements that match.  Then I'll have to buy other plates that don't match, and my table will be a riot of pretty plates that get along even though they aren't identical.

That doesn't sound so bad.


21 December 2011

Yeasted Waffles

Waffles have become a Saturday morning tradition at my house. We have waffles, fruit, and sausage or bacon. Normally I make buttermilk waffles which are lovely things.

When you have one really good waffle recipe, do you need another? No, but I don't need another pair of shoes either, and that has never kept me off of Zappos.

The thing about baking bread is that before you know it you've started buying yeast in bulk, and then you've got this big container of yeast in your freezer and you start looking for excuses to use it. I have a friend who swears by his yeasted pancake recipe, and I have every intention of trying it as soon as he actually shares it with me. (I just emailed him about it, in fact.)

I've been playing around with things that you can mix up when things are quiet and then bake when you're ready. Waffles that rise overnight seem like just the thing for busy Saturday mornings. You do most of the work Friday night after you've dealt with the dinner dishes, and then when you get up on Friday morning you plug in the waffle iron, mix a couple of eggs into the batter and you're a breakfast hero. It doesn't hurt that these are crisp on the outside and fantastically fluffy on the inside.  They even do well if you wrap up the extras and run them through the toaster on Monday morning.

Yeasted waffles

Yeasted Waffles

Ingredients:

the night before:
2 cups milk
½ cup (1 stick) butter
½ cup water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon yeast
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups white whole wheat flour

the morning of:
2 eggs
½ teaspoon baking soda

Method:

The night before, slice butter into chunks and place in a large mixing bowl. Heat milk and water until steaming but not boiling in a small saucepan or the microwave safe container. Pour over butter. Stir to melt butter.

When milk is warm to the touch but no longer hot, stir in the yeast and sugar. Add salt. Stir in flour one cup at a time. Cover and allow to sit overnight. (Or, allow to rise for two hours and then store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.)

On Waffle Day, plug in your waffle iron. Slice fruit. Start sausage. Brew coffee. Beat eggs and baking soda together and then beat into waffle batter. Cook according to your waffle iron's directions.

20 December 2011

No-Knead, Whole Wheat Pizza Crust

I kind of hate pizza delivery. It's never fast enough, it's never very good, and if you're ordering for a crowd it's always about compromise. Have you ever had pizza with someone who wanted exactly what you wanted?

I also prefer baking with whole grains most of the time. Some pizza places will offer a whole grain crust, but they're not serious about it, so it's terrible: more biscuit or cracker than yeasted dough and too sweet. Blech.

This dough makes it easy for me to make pizza at home because it takes just a few minutes to mix up and then it sits in the refrigerator waiting for me. The only downside is that you can't start when the craving hits and have pizza half an hour later. The obvious solution is to eat pizza once a week, and make a new batch of dough while you're cleaning up.

I'm not from New York or Chicago and I do not claim to be a pizza expert. There are plenty of pizza experts out there who will teach you how to stretch a pizza, and how to move your pizza from the peel to the oven.  Just be careful not to  feed the raw dough to your dog accidentally.
Mesmerized


One thing I do know: you need your oven as hot as it can get, and you need to turn it on at least half an hour before you want to start baking, even if your oven has a rapid pre-heat setting. Pizza relies on high, even temperatures to get the crust to rise in the oven and be crispy on the outside. Commercial pizza ovens get a lot hotter than your home oven, so there's no need to worry about it being too hot in there.

In the Oven

No-knead, whole wheat pizza dough
makes 4-6 individual pizzas or 2 medium pizzas.

Ingredients:
1 ½ cups water
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 ½ Tablespoons kosher salt
2 Tablespoons olive oil
4 cups hard whole wheat flour

Method:
Choose a large container that will fit inside your refrigerator. Stir together all the ingredients except the flour. Stir in flour one cup at a time. The dough will be quite sticky, just make sure all the flour has been incorporated and try not to worry. 
Cover the container and set aside to rise. It may take anywhere from 4-12 hours to double depending on the temperature.

Once the dough has doubled in bulk, punch it down,then grab an edge of the dough, lift it slightly and pull it in towards the center. Continue all the way around the dough, then flip the dough over in the container. Cover and place in your refrigerator and then don't think about it for a day or two. You can keep the dough in the refrigerator for 2-7 days.

When you're ready to make pizza, take the dough out of the fridge and place it in a warm place.

If you have a pizza stone, put it on the floor or lowest rack of the oven. At least half an hour before you want to start baking, preheat your oven as hot as it gets. Dig through your refrigerator and pantry for toppings. Chop and shred as necessary.

Dust your pizza peel or baking sheet with whole wheat flour or corn meal.

Divide the dough as desired. Take a ball of dough for one pizza and drop into your bag of whole wheat flour. Toss to coat. Stretch the dough and then place gently on the peel or baking sheet. Top as desired.

Move the pizza to the oven, keeping the oven door open for as short a time as possible to retain heat. Now watch. The dough will rise as the air bubbles inside expand in the heat. It's a beautiful thing. How long it takes to bake the pizza depends on how hot your oven is, so keep an eye on it. It's done when the cheese in the middle starts to bubble. Remove the pizza from the oven and try to wait a minute so your cheese cools from “molten lava” down to “Hot! Hothothothot!”  

15 December 2011

Jeff's Ginger Beef

Lunch in the Park, a novel about love and family, is available for sale in multiple electronic formats at Smashwords, for the Kindle at Amazon.com and for the Nook at BN.com Wherever you buy it, it is DRM-free. The delicious recipes that Kate and Jeff cook up are right here on my blog.

I hope you'll read Lunch in the Park, you'll love it, and you'll feel the overwhelming urge to write a review on one or more of the sites above. And of course I'd love to hear from you here on the blog, too.

 
When my husband read the Dinner chapter of Lunch in the Park his response was “It made me hungry.” He tried to tell me it was because I had written the scene of Jeff cooking so well, but the fact is it doesn't take much skill to use words like “ginger” and “garlic” to make someone hungry. When I announced on Google+ that I was thinking of put Kate and Jeff's recipes here the response was “ooo, ginger beef?” So here is Jeff's ginger beef recipe, a big hit in Jeff's home, and mine.

Ginger Beef and Rice

A note about oyster sauce. You shouldn't be afraid. Oyster sauce is not at all fishy tasting. If you're feeding someone who can't eat shellfish you can look for a vegetarian version or you can substitute plum sauce which will have a different but still delicious flavor.

When you're slicing the beef thinly it's helpful if it's a bit frozen. If you have frozen beef don't thaw it completely, and if you have fresh beef, toss it in the freezer for half an hour or so before you start slicing.

Ginger Beef

Ingredients:
3/4 pound flank or sirloin
3/4 pound broccoli florets
1 red bell pepper
2 tablespoons high-heat cooking oil (safflower, sunflower or peanut)
2 cloves garlic
1 inch piece fresh ginger
1 teaspoon cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

marinade
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon Chinese rice wine
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
a few grinds of black pepper

sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 teaspoon Chinese rice wine
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4cup water

Fill a medium sauce pan half full with water and bring to a boil.
While the water is heating, slice the beef and place in a small bowl with the marinade ingredients. Mince the garlic and peel and mince the ginger. Seed and thinly slice the red pepper.

When the water comes to a boil, add the broccoli florets and cook for one minute, then remove from heat and drain.

Set a wok or large frying pan over highest heat.

Mix the sauce ingredients and set aside.

Mix the cornstarch and water and set aside.

When the wok is HOT add the oil and swirl to spread. Add the beef and quickly spread to a single layer. Allow to cook one minute, then flip the beef. Add the garlic, ginger, broccoli and red pepper. 

Add the sauce and stir to coat. Bring sauce to a boil. Add the cornstarch and water. Continue cooking until sauce is thickened.

Serve over rice.

14 December 2011

Kate's Black Bean Soup

Lunch in the Park, a novel about love and family, is available for sale in multiple electronic formats at Smashwords, for the Kindle at Amazon.com and for the Nook at BN.com Wherever you buy it, it is DRM-free. The delicious recipes that Kate and Jeff cook up are right here on my blog.

I hope you'll read Lunch in the Park, you'll love it, and you'll feel the overwhelming urge to write a review on one or more of the sites above. And of course I'd love to hear from you here on the blog, too.
 
Sometimes I'm here talking about food.  Sometimes I'm chasing my kids around.  Sometimes I'm serving women in labor. If I'm not doing any of those things I might be checking in on the lives of the fictional people who live in my head.

Before you run away, no, I'm not hearing voices.  I've just always have a story or two that I'm writing in my  head.  If I have a few minutes I try to get the story out of my head and onto paper.  Sometimes I find that the people in my head are recalcitrant, and won't go live on the paper.  Sometimes I can transfer them onto paper just fine, but I find that there's nothing more to them than a vignette.  Every once in a while I discover that they have a lot going on, and the more I write, the more I find.  This is the case with Kate and Jeff.  Kate and Jeff have been living in my head for quite some time now, and a while back I decided to start putting them not on paper, but out in the great wide world.  You can read about them on my fiction blog, Lunch in the Park.  A brilliant and beautiful friend of mine declared it better than Dickens. If you go take a look, and  I hope you will, start at the beginning, Picnic.  You can use the navigation buttons at the bottom of each post to keep reading from there. (Sorry, the blog is no longer public. The novel is coming soon.)

One thing that my fictional stories have in common is that someone is always a cook. In this story both Kate and Jeff cook, and I've written scenes about food and cooking.  My husband read one chapter and declared that it made him hungry, and then asked me to make the dish in question.  This is not that dish, which will come later.  Instead I'm offering up Kate's  black bean soup.

Kate has a lot going on in her life, and not a lot of money for eating out.  This soup is hearty, healthful, pantry friendly, cheap and simple. Heck, it's even vegetarian and gluten-free. The real people who live in my house like it, too. Kate makes it a lot in the winter.  She uses her slow cooker, but you can make it without one.


Black Bean Mexican Soup

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups black beans (or 2 15-ounce cans)

6 cups water

1/4 cup olive oil
1 large yellow onion
4 cloves garlic
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
1 chipotle pepper canned in adobo sauce 
2 medium potatoes
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes

2 Tablespoons lime juice
1/2 cup cilantro
salt and pepper to taste

Sour cream and cilantro for garnish

Method:
The night before sort and rinse black beans, then place in slow cooker crock with water and allow to soak overnight.

The next morning, turn the slow cooker on low.

Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat.  Dice the onions and add them to the hot oil, stirring occasionally.  While the onion cooks, mince the garlic. When the onion begins to soften add the garlic and cumin to the pan.  Stir until fragrant, then remove the pan from the heat and add onion mixture to the crock.  Mince the chipotle pepper and add it to the crock, then clean and dice the potatoes and add them.  Cover the crock and allow to cook at least 6-8 hours on low.

(For a quick version, use canned beans.  Drain and rinse the beans, add to a large soup pot with 4 cups of water.  Add tomatoes, diced potatoe and chipotle and bring to a simmer while you saute the onion, garlic and cumin.  Add onion mixture to the soup.  Simmer for 15 minutes or until potatoes are soft.  Then continue with the instructions below.)

15 minutes before it's time to eat,chop the cilantro and add it to the soup along with the lime juice.  Stir and taste for seasoning.  Add salt and pepper as needed.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of chopped fresh cilantro.

03 December 2011

Oatmeal Cookie Granola with Two Variations

I'm almost cheating, because of course granola can taste like oatmeal cookies.  It's already oatmeal, after all.  The rest is just details.  But details matter.  I've often said that the world can be divided into two kinds of people based on what they choose first when faced with both a chocolate chip cookie and an oatmeal raisin cookie.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Granola

Which side are you on?  Do you like the chewy sweetness of raisins in your cookies, or do you think it's not a cookie without some chocolate chips? Cookie love is serious business. Some people even wear shirts declaring their allegiance.  Like the chunky vs. smooth peanut butter battle, this issue can divide households.  

This granola recipe is here to help.  Whether you're a raisin household, a chocolate chip household, or a mixed marriage, this will work for you.  Unless you don't like cookies, in which case I can't help you.

Ingredients: 
8 cups oatmeal
4 cups walnuts
12 Tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon vanilla
2 cups raisins OR 2 cups chocolate chips

Method:
Preheat oven to 325 Fahrenheit

Combine butter, sugars and salt in a medium microwave safe bowl and microwave 1 minute  at a time until butter melted and begins to bubble.

Chop or crush the walnuts.  I like to leave them in fairly large so the sugar can catch in the wrinkles of the nuts and make crunch sweet nuggets.  In your largest bowl combine the oats and walnuts.  Add the butter and sugars and stir to combine.

Distribute the oat mixture over two cookie sheets and bake for 45 minutes, stirring every fifteen minutes.

Chocolate Chip Variation:
Remove granola from the oven. Immediately one cup of chocolate chips over each sheet of granola.  The chips will melt slightly.  Allow to cool thoroughly, then stir to combine.  

Raisin Variation:
Remove granola from the oven and allow to cool.  Return granola to largest bowl and add raisins.  Stir to combine.

If you live in a mixed household you can easily make one pan of chocolate chip and one pan of raisin, and then everyone will be happy.  And if you decide you want chocolate chips and raisins?  Well, it's your granola, you can do what you want.

01 December 2011

Sugar Cookie Granola

Granola is a strange thing.  It's generally fairly high in sugar and fat but it's thought of as health food.  You can pay a lot of money for it even though it doesn't require any exciting ingredients or any skill except stirring.  It lives on the continuum of breakfast foods somewhere between a bowl of steel-cut oatmeal and Cookie Crisp.  It is infinitely flexible and will take on a huge variety of ingredients.   

Sugar-cookie granola

I've been toying with the idea of making a series of cookie inspired granola recipes, and since this is December, the month of cookie madness I decided this was as good a time as any to try it out.  Today's granola is a simple sugar-cookie granola, the only add-in is almonds.  I chose almonds because almond extract is a common flavoring in sugar cookies.  It took me less than 10 minutes to get this in the oven, and yet I have two full cookie sheets of granola that taste like cookies.  What else gives so much for so little effort? 

Ingredients:
8 cups rolled oats
4 cups raw almonds
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

Method:

Preheat oven to 325 Fahrenheit.

Put butter and sugar in a microwave proof bowl and microwave on high one minute at a time until butter is melted.

Coarsely chop almonds.

In your largest bowl combine oats, almonds and salt.  

Add vanilla to the butter and sugar and then pour over top of the oats.  Stir to distribute.  

Spread mixture over two cookie sheets and place in oven.  Bake, stirring every 15 minutes.  After 45 minutes remove from oven and allow to cool thoroughly on cookie sheets before storing.  (Or packaging up to give out to friends and neighbors.) 


19 November 2011

Roasted Apples with Cardamom

Roasted apples with cardamom

These were a riff off of the roasted apples at Remedial Eating.  I roasted mine at 450 instead of 400, used only 1 Tablespoon each of butter and brown sugar and roasted them for 45 minutes instead of 60.  I also skipped the cinnamon and used a full teaspoon of freshly crushed cardamom.  I love cardamom, and just like I think you should grate your own cheese I think you should grind your own cardamom.  In this case I just crushed the seeds on the cutting board with the back of a spoon, no special equipment required.  

If you don't want to use them on top of waffles, you could use them on top of ice cream, or just by themselves.  

16 November 2011

Successful

On the second night of class we sat around the table marking slabs of clay. My slab of clay was not behaving. I kept carving, stamping, rebuilding. We chatted as we worked, getting to know each other. I put down my tools and stared at the clay. It was wrong.

“Nope” I folded the slab in half. Sandy, the teacher, gasped in horror. I reslabbed the clay and started over, building where I had carved. It was better. I built my slab into something useful. It was declared “cool.”

I kept making things that were not as cool. Objects cracked and broke, dried with waves in places I wanted flat. The carving I put on a box didn't come out at all the way I'd hoped. I achieved far less than I had hoped.  Several objects were crushed into small pieces to be recycled.

Weeks later we glazed. The glaze on my useful object dried and I left it on a shelf in the kiln room. I retrieved it this evening, pleased with the results. Sandy told me it has created quite a stir when the kilns were unloaded. I fingered the smooth surface, tracing the design and the places where the stain and glaze had mingled.

I started building a bowl from an idea I'd had in my head. Sandy was not sure it would work, but she became increasingly engaged in the project as the final form began to emerge. I layered clay and slip, pushed the pieces into position. Sandy's chair moved closer to mine. She said she had to go, but didn't get up. She asked if I was going to return tomorrow to finish it. When I told her I had to finish tonight she settled into her chair and waited.

“You're just waiting to make sure I don't crush it.” I said

“Yes, I am.”

“Because you know I will just throw the whole thing in the recycled clay box.”

“I know you will.”

Clay and slip, clay and slip. Would it be any wonder if the bowl refused to remove itself from the mold after all those layers and all that pressing? The edges of the bowl would not survive much fussing. I attached the last piece and eyed the recycled clay bucket. Sandy sat waiting.

I slid the clay and mold from the table and wiggled my fingers at the edges. I was asking a lot from clay and slip. Sandy has been doing this a long time, and she was not exuding her usual airy confidence.

Was I holding my breath? I don't remember. “I don't think this is going to...” The clay and the mold slipped apart as if I'd unlatched them somehow. The mold in one hand, the bowl perfectly cradled in the other I saw the interior for the first time. “It worked! I love it!”

Sandy loved it, too; delighted at my delight and at the object itself. It is now wrapped in a coveted piece of “good” plastic so that it will dry slowly and evenly, and sitting on my shelf awaiting an uncertain future. It must dry evenly so that pieces don't fall off. I must put a foot on it. I must be very gentle with it before it is fired into hardness. I must decide how to glaze it. I must be patient enough to do the glazing. It must survive the kiln, the kiln operator, and all the people who take things off and put things on the kiln room shelves, at least twice.

But for now it is enough that the thing exists outside my head. It worked. I love it.

02 November 2011

What's for Lunch

What's for lunch

A trip to the grocery store not withstanding I didn't have dip on hand, so this is a mix of buttermilk, sour cream, and a salt-free spice blend.  It's a small step up from making french onion dip from soup mix.

There are roasted pumpkin seeds in the bag.

All this fiber and vitamin filled goodness is brought to you by the big bowl of Halloween candy in the closet.

Bento Lunch

01 November 2011

Does every day mean EVERY day?

I'm pretty sure trying to post something every day will end in tears (mine from stress and yours from boredom), but a solid percentage of the uncool kids are doing it (the cool kids don't need to do it because they already have readers.)  So I shall dip my toe in the water and see what happens.

I made a chickpea curry tonight (more on that later) and needed two onions cut in large dice.  My v-slicer is perfect for that task, but I hate (and/or lost) the guard that is supposed to hold the food and protect my hands from being sliced by the many sharp blades.  Fortunately I have watched enough Alton Brown to know that the correct answer is a pair of Kevlar gloves.


I bought mine from Amazon in a size Large which are just the right size for my perfectly average sized hands.  (I think they're average.  Nora, do I have meat hands and no one has told me?  And remember, this is for posterity, so be honest.)  They are not perfect.  I managed to cut a small hole in them by taking my serrated and quite sharp long knife and pulling the glove across it with great vigor.  If I were ever to try that trick with my hand in the glove, well, I'd deserve what I got, quite frankly.  But for holding an onion while I run it across a mandoline or for holding onto ginger while I grate it on a microplane the gloves are fantastic, well worth the money I spent on them.  They do need to go in the wash to be properly cleaned, but there are two of them, they're ambidextrous and I only need one at a time, so it's not a big deal.

Other food news today: 

I managed to make a cup of tea so strong my Irish guest couldn't finish it.  (Enormous American-sized tea bag plus a small child who prevented me from removing the bag from the cup on time.) 

I managed to randomly throw together a place of edible things to restore a guest who felt a bit wobbly.  I would like to be confident in my ability to put together a plate of things anytime a visitor arrives, but I'm not.  As it happened I made a trip to the grocery store this morning and was well stocked.

07 October 2011

Fast Food: Apple Cheddar Quesadillas


It was my day to co-op at my sons' school, and I had a client meeting 25 minutes away in the afternoon. School ends at 11:30 and the meeting was at 1:00. Normally that would have been plenty of time to get the kids home, fed and safely deposited in the loving embrace of the playroom where they could occupy themselves and enjoy the benevolent neglect of their father who was working from home in the next room.

But of course nothing is ever simple and I was the only co-oping parent instead of being one of two, and my older son's class let out a bit late due to some flower planting and a trapped possum. I got home much later than I had expected. I did at least have a plan. We had good cheddar and tortillas in the refrigerator, and in the fruit drawer of the pantry there were a couple of good baking apples.

My goal was to make these as quickly as possible. I used an apple corer-slicer, but a knife would do just as well, grated my own cheese and had both boys eating less than 10 minutes after I got in the door. I even had time to eat my own food in a moderately civilized fashion before I had to leave. (I didn't get the boys settled in the playroom. Their father had to do that.)

Apple cheddar
quesadilla


Any good crisp apple will do here. A pie apple will hold up better than an eating apple. Use really flavorful cheddar both to contrast with the sweetness of the apple and so you can use less. If you're not a fan of cheddar, other cheeses would work well. Brie would be brilliant, but you might never want to eat anything else again, so be careful. I heat the tortilla on one side, and then flip and add the apple slices then the cheddar, and then fold the empty half of the tortilla over the top. Once the cheddar starts to melt down between the apples slices flip the quesadilla over and cook until the cheese is fully melted. The apples will just barely soften and sweeten. You will wonder why people eat ordinary grilled cheese.

05 October 2011

Lunch Habits

My mother packed my father's lunch every day. He had a domed, construction worker style lunch box which always had a thermos full of coffee or soup, a sandwich, a piece of fruit and a cold pack, maybe a cookie if we had some.  Minus the cold pack, it was probably much the same as the lunches he took to school as a boy.

I don't make fancy bentos. I learned long ago, and re-learn continously, that fancy and I are not friends. I'm okay with that.  Not making the fanciest lunches doesn't stop me from making lunches that nourish my family. My bentos won't become internet sensations, and possibly don't even really qualify as bentos, what with all the boring, but if 30 years from now my boys think a packed lunch includes a serving or two of vegetables (and maybe a cookie if they have one) then I'll be pleased.

What's for lunch
slightly more colorful than last week

Bento Lunch
Check out the other lunches this week.

01 October 2011

Two Birthday Cakes


I made birthday cake for two little boys who insist on growing up and turning 5. One little boy loves all things chocolate, and one little boy will have no cake at all if chocolate is the only choice. Given the opposing preferences and the size of the joint party I made two cakes.

Chocolate boy got the same chocolate cake I made for him two years ago. It was a hit then and it was just as popular this time around. I won't reproduce the recipe because I baked without adaptation from the Chocolate Layer Cake with Milk Chocolate Frosting on Epicurious. People rave about it and ask me how I got the frosting so creamy. The answer is butter, silly, lots and lots of butter. (And then a bit more butter.)

Yes, it is off kilter.  You know who cares?  Nobody cares.

Not-chocolate boy requested a strawberry cake. I don't know why strawberry occurred to him, since normally he asks for vanilla cake. I found a promising recipe for strawberry cupcakes at Annie's Eats. Of course there are no good strawberries in the stores here at this time of year, so I had to use frozen, and boy wanted layer cake, not cupcake because, he told me, a layer cake means more cake for everybody. I don't claim to understand the logic, but I couldn't argue with it, either.

So I made the cupcakes into layer cake by baking them in two 9”X2” round cake pans at 350 Fahrenheit for 40 minutes. The layers collapsed after they came out of the oven, and then a certain Beagle I know managed to knock one of the layers to the floor. We'll not discuss what words I might have uttered when I heard the crash.

Left with one deflated (though tasty) layer I used a recipe for buttermilk cake in The Cake Bible which produces a single layer. This baked up beautifully and kept its height.

The buttermilk cake wasn't really meant to be part of a layer cake, and I think it would have done better as the base for some fresh, sliced berries, but it held its own, and helped compensate for the flat strawberry layer.

In addition to being a bit flat, the strawberry layer didn't retain the flavor of the strawberries. If I were to make another strawberry cake I would probably use a basic yellow cake (like this one but without the lemon and maybe a just enough strawberry puree to tint the batter.) and then frost it with the strawberry frosting because that was really good, creamy and full of strawberry flavor.

I used the strawberry frosting recipe as written except that I was using frozen strawberries where Annie's Eats used fresh, and I don't have a stand mixer. This was my first attempt at a Swiss Meringue Buttercream,and I was slightly concerned that using a hand-held mixer would doom me to failure. But no, the frosting beat together beautifully the night before, and then beat back to fluffy yumminess after a night in the fridge.

There are some tricks to using a hand-held mixer in these long-slog recipes. Put a slightly damp folded kitchen towel between your mixing bowl and the counter to keep your bowl from spinning away from you. That effectively gives you another hand. During the long beating sessions try tilting the bowl just enough that you can rest the base of the hand-mixer on the counter and tilt the beaters into the mix. And don't limit your self to holding the mixer by the handle. I find it much easier to slide my whole hand under the handle and hold the body of the mixer.

None of these recipes were particularly tricky, and if the Beagle hadn't knocked the cake to the floor I would have said it was a fairly simple evening of baking. I'm not an expert baker. I grew up using cake mixes. I promise you, making a great cake isn't a matter of culinary genius. It's simply a matter of finding a good recipe, following the instructions, and learning to say “Thank you. I'll send you the recipe.” when people start hunting you down at parties to tell you how good the cake is.

28 September 2011

What's for Lunch: Eggs, Veggies and Dip

Lunch for 1 adult and 2 preschoolers
lunch for 1 adult and 2 preschoolers

This is how I get my kids to eat vegetables.* Snack at preschool tends to be fruit and some kind of simple carb.  I'm not thrilled by this, but as that's the only thing about that school that doesn't thrill me I try not to whine too much. Snack yesterday was white rice, soy sauce and pineapple, today was canteloupe and cheese quesadilla.  I try to make lunch focus on veggies since I know the starchy carbs will reappear at afternoon snack (today I made lemon millet muffins) and possibly again at dinner.  

This box provides 1 hard cooked egg per person, lots of veggies and some ranch dressing for dip.  My older son, who rarely eats all the way through a hard cooked egg dipped his egg in the dressing and ate it all, along with a good number of veggies.  Dip is a good way to lure unsure eaters to their vegetables.  If you choose or make a dip with quality ingredients the bit of fat it adds will not only make the vegetables more palatable it will make the fat soluble vitamins in the veggies more available during digestion. 


*Note: this has nothing to do with how you might get your kids to eat vegetables. I know kids who would eat this whole box by themselves and kids who would starve rather than touch even the outside of this box.

Bento Lunch
Check out the other yummy/cute/nutritious lunches at "What's for Lunch Wednesday."

27 September 2011

Fresh Tomato Sauce

I dropped a bunch of cookbooks in front of my husband this weekend and told him to pick meals for the week. He filled out a weeks worth of dinners with references so I could find the recipe.  It was very helpful.  What he didn't do was actually read the recipes.  Once of his choices was spaghetti with plum tomatoes and basil.  I didn't follow the recipe because I'm an inherently lazy cook and because I believe I am capable of throwing together a fresh tomato sauce.  You are also capable of creating such a lovely thing. So I'm not going to give a recipe, but I will walk you through the process.

Fresh tomato sauce

Start with good tomatoes. There's no point in trying this with mediocre tomatoes.  Buy enough to feed however many people you're going to feed.  Set a pot of water in the stove to boil. Coarsely chop the tomatoes, place in a colander and sprinkle with a small amount of salt.  Allow to drain.  When the water comes to a boil, drop spaghetti, I use whole wheat, about 2 ounces per person in and allow to cook about 8 minutes.  While the spaghetti cooks, chop garlic, up to 1/2 clove per person depending on your tolerance for garlic, and fresh basil.

Warm a serving bowl with a few ladle-fuls of cooking water, then drain and wipe dry.  Toss the tomatoes, garlic,  and basil into the bowl along with a pinch of crushed red pepper and some freshly ground black pepper.  When the spaghetti is done cooking, drain and add to the tomatoes.  Toss and then add a splash of really good olive oil.  Serve, and try not to fight over the last few pieces of tomatoes that are left in the bottom of the bowl.

25 September 2011

Urban Cheesecake

You may be aware than I am a big fan of homemade birthday cakes. But my husband doesn't want cake, he wants a cheese custard with a crust. Sure, we call it cheesecake, but it's not cake. I feel like I'm cheating somehow, serving up custard pie when I should be making layers and frosting them, and maybe even trying out some of the tricks I learned at the cupcake workshop I attended a while back. But no, he wants cheesecake and it's hard to argue that the layer cake means I love him more than the cheese pie he really wants.

So it must be the best cheesecake possible. Naturally I turn to someone known for being meticulous about recipes, Jack Bishop of America's Test Kitchen. The cheesecake is fabulous. It is creamy with just enough sweetness. The crust holds together but doesn't require you to hack at it with the knife.


We will ignore the fact that this recipe comes from gimmick cookbook Cooking with Friends where the Friends in question live in absurdly large Manhattan apartments that are missing a fourth wall. We'll just pretend that I wouldn't buy such a cookbook, nor would I have allowed it to survive 15 years of moves and bookshelf purges. That way I don't have to explain why Phoebe, Joey, Monica, Chandler, Rachel and Ross stare out at me from my collection of cookbooks. (“It's really a Jack Bishop cookbook!” I'd have to explain. “And the recipes are really good!” I'd continue. Then you'd shake your head at me and my silly cookbook.)

The cheesecake is in the “Urban Living” chapter, rather than the dessert chapter. In 1995, cheesecake, pesto pizza and grilled corn sprinkled with chili powder were things you would encounter only in a metropolis, so says my cookbook. I don't know if that is strictly true, since my small-town library provided me with an entire cookbook full of cheesecake recipes in 1996 when I first made a birthday cheesecake for my college boyfriend. But it did make me think about the way that our food world has changed in the last 15 years. Both the World Wide Web and the Food Network were in their infancy in 1996, though of course libraries had cookbook collections and PBS had Julia Child. Everybody has heard of pesto pizza now, right? And we've learned to sprinkle chili powder on nearly everything. Cheesecake is certainly everywhere, including Factories that want to serve you cheesecake if you happen to have room after the platter of main course you ordered.

If we were to write an Urban Living chapter today, what food would we use to entice a cook in middle-America who was looking for a change?

Urban Cheesecake
adapted from Cooking with Friends

Graham Cracker Crust
5 ounces graham crackers
2 Tablespoons sugar
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter

Cheesecake
2 pounds cream cheese (low-fat works perfectly)
1 ¼ cups sugar
4 large eggs
½ cup sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 450 Fahrenheit.

Place all crust ingredients in the work bowl of a food processor and pulse until butter is fully incorporated. Alternately, melt the butter, crush the crackers and mix all the ingredients together.
Place in the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan and press down with a smooth bottomed glass. Set aside.

Beat the cream cheese in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in the sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs one at a time. Beat in the sour cream and vanilla.

Pour the batter into the springform pan.

Bake for 15 minutes.

Open the oven door all the way. Turn the oven temperature down to 200 Fahrenheit. Close door and continue baking for 45-60 minutes. The cheesecake should be set at the edges but still jiggly in the middle. If you bake until the center is set you'll get a very over-baked cheesecake.

When cake is ready, remove it from the oven and run a knife around the edge of cheesecake to free the custard from the sides of the pan. Allow to cool to room temperature on a wire rack and then refrigerate for at least three hours before serving.

The cherries in the picture were canned in light syrup, but the cheesecake will be completely delicious on its own.

23 September 2011

Swedish Meatballs


We were in week five of a kitchen renovation that the designer blithely assured us would take three weeks. We had just gotten to “functional kitchen” and we'd been eating at restaurants and from take-out containers so much that I just needed to cook, and I owed a meal (or twelve) to some friends.

Our new cabinets, counters and most of the appliances came from IKEA, so Swedish cuisine seemed appropriate, and I broke out my copy of Aquavit: And the New Scandinavian Cuisine Marcus Samuelsson offers up a variety of modern dishes from his restaurant that are inspired by the food he learned to cook in his grandmother's kitchen. Naturally I went straight to the cliché of Swedish Meatballs.

I'm told that the Italian-American classic spaghetti and meatballs is an American invention, meant to cater to the meat loving Americans that the Italian immigrants wanted to attract to their restaurants. My guess is that my own Swedish-American ancestors were part of that crowd of carnivorous Americans. Chef Marcus Samuelsson assures us that these meatballs in lingonberry cream sauce make a weekly appearance on family tables in Sweden. They're not any more complicated than meatball simmered tomato sauce and served over pasta, so I hope you'll give them a try. If you don't have a Swedish population nearby you might need to take a trip to IKEA for the lingonberries, but everything else is standard grocery store fare. Try serving these with mashed potatoes the next time you crave something home-cooked.



Swedish Meatballs
adapted from Marcus Samuelsson's Aquavit
for the meatballs:
½ cup panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup heavy cream
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
1 ½ lbs ground free-range beef
2 Tablespoons honey
1 large egg
salt and pepper to taste
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
Instructions:
  1. Combine the breadcrumbs and heavy cream in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat and sauté onions until softened. Remove from heat.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the beef, onion, honey and egg and mix well with your hands. Season with salt and pepper. Add the bread crumbs and cream and mix well.
  4. Sprinkle some water on a large plate or platter. With wet hands, shape into balls about the size of a golf ball, you should get about 24 meatballs. Place formed balls on the moistened plate.
  5. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place the meatballs in the skillet, in batches if necessary, crowding is not good for browning, and brown on all sides.
  6. Remove the browned, but not fully cooked meatballs from the skillet and set aside.
  7. Remove all but 1 Tablespoon of fat from the pan. The assemble the sauce.
for the sauce:
1 cup low-sodium chicken stock
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup lingonberry preserves
2 Tablespoons pickle juice, preferably from a sweet pickle
Instructions:
  1. Return the skillet to the heat and add all ingredients for the sauce. Stir to combine.
  2. Bring the sauce to a bare simmer.
  3. Nestle the meatballs into the sauce and simmer for at least 10 minutes until meatballs are cooked through. If you're preparing other foods (like mashed potatoes, mmmm,) then set the skillet at the absolute lowest setting, put on a lid and ignore the whole thing until it's time to serve.

21 September 2011

What's for Lunch Wednesday: Fruit and Veg

After several weeks of blowing off playgroup (It's hot outside in the summer!) and then showing up with a grocery bag full of whatever seemed lunch like at the local grocery store, I finally got a lunch packed.

Lunch at the playground

One apple, one cucumber, and a handful of carrot chips with some ranch dressing for dip was enough for me and the boys. We each had a yogurt and water.  Those of you wondering where the starch is, it was at breakfast, morning snack and dinner.

Don't forget to check out the other lunches at What's for Lunch
Bento Lunch

A tibit

A hearty welcome to Maud's readers. She's right. This space is sadly neglected.  I actually have a couple of posts in the hopper though, including one about Swedish Meatballs that will be ready just as soon as *someone* gets the photos processed.  Ahem.

In the meantime you might enjoy the following posts which seem appropriate to the changing weather:

An easy, delicious chili cornbread casserole for when you need to take something to a potluck, or you want to make something on Sunday that you can portion out for lunches during the week.
A lovely, moist but not oily, carrot cake, great for birthdays and any cake requiring occasions.
And finally this Red Kidney Bean Stew is perfect for miserable days when you think it might never stop raining or be warm again.  It's so good it will make the sun shine in your house.  (Maybe)

I hope you enjoy these, and that you'll come back for the meatballs (ooh, and there's cheesecake coming soon, too.  You don't want to miss that, do you?)

27 July 2011

Black Bean and Corn Salad

More than once I have gotten within half an hour of dinner time and had no idea what I was going to do about dinner. Nothing was planned, and I could not mentally survey my pantry and compound something easy. On days like that, there are only two ways to avoid a restaurant: spaghetti or having something in the fridge that I can scoop into bowls and call dinner. In the winter time that something is soup, but in the summertime it's tabbouleh or this easy to assemble salad. It also travels well to potluck lunches.

IMG_8403 photo by Rich Renomeron

2 cans black beans, rinsed OR 2.5 cups cooked blacked beans OR 1 ¼ cups dried black beans
16 ounces frozen corn (or fresh if you can get corn picked that day)
1 jalapeño pepper (optional)
¼ cup olive oil
2 bunches scallions
1 bunch cilantro
5 medium tomatoes OR a pint of cherry tomatoes
juice of 2 limes
salt and black pepper to taste

If you're starting with dried beans, cook beans until tender.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.

Seed and mince jalapeño if using, then mix corn, jalapeño and olive oil together, spread in a single layer on the baking sheet and roast for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until corn begins to darken. Remove from the oven and set aside until other ingredients are prepared. The roasting brings out the sweetness of the corn and mellows the heat of the pepper.

While the corn is roasting, hop the tomatoes and place them in a colander in the sink to drain. Wash the scallions and thinly slice the white and tender green portion. Wash the cilantro and chop the leaves and tender stems.

In a large bowl, mix all of the prepared ingredients, including the oil from the baking sheet, and add the lime juice. Stir to combine then taste and add salt and pepper as needed.   

24 July 2011

Serious Lemon Cake

I went to the pool to swim laps early this morning. Swimming laps first thing in the morning is for people who are serious about swimming. By the time I got into the pool at 6:15 the lap lanes were full. I observed the swimmers for a length before I decided which lane to join, and then I waited another lap for her to get to my end of the pool so I could ask to join her. It's a basic pleasantry of lane sharing, choose someone who seems to be at about your level and wait for the swimmer to acknowledge you before you get in and start swimming.

I have the gear of a serious swimmer: a racer-back suit with no frills or furbelows, a swim cap made for folks like me who have a lot of hair to tuck up, and goggles. I can swim freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke creditably. (I can even do butterfly, though it wears me out pretty quickly and I feel self-conscious when I do it because that's a very serious stroke and everyone in the pool knows what you're doing when you try it.) I can do thumb-drag drills and flip-turns. I can tread water for at least 20 minutes. I can dive to the bottom of the pool, pick up a brick and bring it back to the surface, even when I've managed to forget my goggles.

But I'm only serious in that I seriously want to burn more calories than I eat (oh,and buff shoulders would by nice) and swimming happens to be one of the more pleasant ways of doing it. I once took a swim class in which I was one of the top two students. The other was a marathon runner. I felt pretty good about keeping up with a marathon runner at any athletic endeavor until he told me that he was also asthmatic and had only 90% of normal lung capacity. Certainly if someone were to show you a picture of me and ask “Is she more serious about swimming or cake?” You'd be forced to conclude that the answer was cake.

And I am serious about cake. Serious enough that I prefer to make my own over buying from grocery store bakeries. Serious enough that I have been known to throw pieces of cake away after only one bite because they were not worth eating. But then, cake is serious business. It demands good ingredients and good technique. Instead of goggles and flip-turns you need good butter, carefully measured and mixed flour and leaveners and pans of the appropriate size.

IMG_8390

This lemon layer cake is serious business. It is whipped-cream-in-the-batter serious. The recipe is based on the “Magnificent Moist Golden Cake” in the book BakeWise by Shirley O. Corriher. She presents three different methods. I chose the dissolved-sugar method because you don't have to cream the butter and sugar together. It's amazing, possibly the most delicious cake I've ever eaten. The instructions in the book are written for those lucky people with stand mixers, but I managed just fine with a hand mixer. The frosting is a version of a classic cooked-flour frosting which tastes much better than it sounds.

For the Cake:
Nonstick baking spray
1 3/4 cups spooned and leveled, cake flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in 2 tablespoon pieces
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup canola oil
3 egg yolks
2 eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream

Instructions:

Place a rack in the lower third of the oven, place a baking stone on it and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9- x 2-inch round cake pan with nonstick cooking spray and line the bottom with a parchment circle. Please make sure your cake pan is at least 2” high or the cake will overflow the pan and sadness will result.

Measure flour and baking soda into a medium bowl and beat for 30 seconds then set aside. Don’t wash the beaters. bowl.

Add the sugar to a large bowl. Heat the water to a simmer and add it to the sugar. Beat a few seconds to dissolve the sugar, and then beat in the butter, vanilla and salt. Add oil and mix on medium to blend.

Sprinkle 1/3 of the flour mixture over the sugar mixture. Blend in on low with a minimum amount of beating. Continue adding the flour until all is incorporated. By hand, stir in the egg yolks one at a time and then stir in the whole eggs one at a time.



Place a bowl, beaters, and heavy cream in the freezer to chill for 5 minutes. Whip the cream until soft peaks form when the beater is lifted. Whip just a little beyond this soft peak stage. Stir about 1/4 of the whipped cream into the batter to lighten. Then, gently fold the rest of the whipped cream into the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Drop the pan onto the counter from a height of about 4 inches to knock out bubbles. Place the cake in the oven on the stone and bake until the center springs back when touched, or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean but moist, about 40 minutes. Ideally, the cake should not pull away from the sides until it has just come out of the oven. The center temperature should be about 209 degrees if you check by inserting an instant read thermometer.

Place the cake in the pan on a rack to cool for about 10 minutes, then shake the pan to loosen the cake all around. Spray the cooling rack with nonstick cooking spray and invert the cake onto the rack to finish cooling.

When the cake is completely cooled, use a long knife to slice it into three layers.

For the Frosting:
7 Tablespoons flour
1 ½ cups milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
zest of one lemon
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 ½ cups softened unsalted butter, sliced into 2-Tablespoon chunks,
1 ½ cups granulated Sugar

Prepare an ice bath in a bowl just big enough for your small sauce pan to fit inside.

In a small saucepan, cook the flour and milk together over medium heat, whisking continuously for several minutes until the mixture begins to thicken. When the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon remove from heat and place in the ice bath. Add vanilla, lemon zest and lemon juice and then continue stirring until the mixture is completely cool. Do not attempt to continue if the flour mixture is even a little bit warm.

Put the softened butter, sugar and flour mixture into a large bowl and cream together, starting a low speed and working up to high. Beat for several minutes until frosting is fluffy. Do not eat frosting with a spoon. (Okay, maybe just the one spoonful. You know, for testing purposes.)

Use about ½ cup of frosting between the cake layers and frost the top and sides generously. Serve to friends to celebrate a birthday, or any occasion worthy of seriously good cake.

18 June 2011

Curried lentil salad




Yes, this is a terrible photo.

A example of how we decide on dinner plans:

I went to the warehouse store this morning and brought home stuff that required a freezer rearrangement. I managed to fit everything in, but clearly we needed to start using the frozen stuff.

So on the way home from lunch we considered the state of our stores. A google search later and I had settled on a curried lentil salad which would use green beans from the freezer, lentils from the pantry, celery from the crisper and some of the cilantro left over from beans and rice on Thursday night. A trip to the store was required for the tomatoes.

This was a much more civilized menu planning process than I normally undertake.

The salad is vegetarian, easily made vegan, low fat, high fiber, gluten free, iron rich, colorful and straightforward. It also makes plenty.

Curried Lentil Salad

8 ounces dried brown lentils
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion
2 teaspoons salt
2 cloves garlic
1" piece fresh ginger
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/3 cup plain low-fat yogurt.  (optional)
1 pint cherry tomatoes
4 stalks celery
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, packed
2 cups green beans, fresh or frozen.
juice of 1 lime

Sort and rinse lentils.  Place in a medium saucepan with 6 cups cool water and 1 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes, until lentils are tender.

While the lentils are cooking, put the oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Dice onion and add to skillet with remaining salt, continue cooking, stirring occasionally for five minutes.  Crush the garlic and finely grate the ginger.  When the onions are soft add the garlic, ginger and curry powder.  Stir over medium heat until mixture becomes fragrant.  Remove from heat and move mixture to a large heat safe bowl. Stir in the yogurt, if using.

Wash and quarter the tomatoes.  Slice the celery into 2-inch matchsticks.   Roughly chop the cilantro.  Set the vegetables aside.

Wash the green beans if using fresh.  Snap the beans into 2- to 3-inch lengths and place a colander.

When the lentils are cooked, drain them in the colander over the green beans.  Add the lentils and beans to the onion mixture and stir to combine.  Allow lentil mixture to cool completely.

Stir in the tomatoes, cilantro and celery.   Add lime juice and taste for seasoning.

You can prepare the lentils and green beans up to two days ahead, but don't add the other vegetables or lime juice until just before serving.

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