Monday, September 27, 2010
You know, for a positive, optimistic person, I certainly have a long list of things I don't like. Bananas (texture issues.) Kevin Costner (wooden acting abilities.) Bus rides during rush hour (overwhelming people musk, rudeness, confined spaces.) Also: seafood, irony, jodhpurs, elevators, indigestion, Mel Gibson, crowds, multi-tasking and eggplants.
In addition to things I don't like, I have a fairly strong aversion to particular words. It seems that the arrangement of certain letters creates unpleasant sounds or associations in my mind, and I am embarrassed to say them. Pantaloons. Bloomers. The word 'wiener' used in earnest; also, frankfurter. Panties. Macaroni. Pumping. Pumpernickel.
But the ultimate offender?
The fact that this word is used so often when describing baked goods troubles me deeply. Because there is NO alternative. In a world virtually clogged with choice, there is no other option for describing moistness. Believe me, I've tried. But saying a muffin is tender, juicy, damp-in-a-good-way, wet-ish, soft, undry, uncrumbly just doesn't work.
So I don't really have a good adjective for the texture of this Peach Cardamom loaf. Because despite all the luscious peaches involved, it fell somewhere in between the 'M' word and dry. I adapted the recipe from Whole Living magazine, and all I can surmise is that there was simply not enough fat or liquid in the batter. Where else could I have gone wrong?
I started off here:
Then did this:
Then I got down to business, mixed the dry ingredients with the wet, and ended up with this:
Which then went here:
And ended up like this:
It all looks so promising, no? And yet...decidedly not as juicy/undry/tender as I'd anticipated. But lest you get the wrong impression, I've eaten almost the entire thing. I sneak slivers while I'm waiting for my toast to pop, or cut large hunks off for lunch. I've eaten it plain and with butter. I've eaten it warm and cold. And the fact remains that this loaf is actually good and totally worth perfecting.
Let's just say it's still a word in progress.
Peach-Cardamom Loaf, adapted from Whole Living Magazine, September 2010:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
6 tbsp butter (use 1/2 cup! Trust me)
6 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup honey (next time I'll use a 1/2 cup and cut down on the brown sugar.)
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup applesauce
4-5 ripe peaches, cut into smallish cubes
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9 inch loaf pan. In medium bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients.
2. Using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and brown sugar till fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the honey and beat till combined. Add eggs, 1 at a time, and the vanilla extract and beat till incorporated.
3. With the mixer on low, add half the flour mixture and beat till just combined. Beat in the applesauce and remaining flour mixture till just combined. Fold in the cubed peaches and transfer the batter to the loaf pan. Bake till testing knife comes out clean, approximately 50-60 minutes, depending on your oven. Transfer to wire rack and let cool completely. Then slice and serve.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
I'm sure there are people out there who love lunch. Who can't wait for that internal noonday bell to ring, the one that signals hunger and a break in the day, so they can crack open their Tupperwared leftovers, their brown paper bagged sandwiches, their styrofoamed take-out soup with plastic packages of crackers. They'll find a spot on a parkette bench and gossip with co-workers, gripe about bosses or discuss their favourite television shows. They'll laugh when a gust of wind blows away their napkins, and giggle when a firetruck drives by, unhurried and open for admiration and one of these lunch lovers will inevitably say "What IS it with firemen?" and everyone will nod and talk about the sex appeal of danger and men in uniforms. It IS a funny thing about firemen, isn't it! I mean, even though the heroic men who come to save your life will likely look something like this...(and I mean absolutely NO disrespect to these fine gentlemen)
...we somehow persist in thinking they'll look rather more like this...
Though I truly hope I never find out which is more accurate.
Breakfast, I adore you. You're the easiest one to get right, health wise. Dinner, you're my social meal, the one I share with family and friends and eat with childlike abandon. But lunch, you are utilitarian and lonely. Your primary function is shutting up my hunger in an insufficient amount of time. You're often accompanied with indigestion from eating too fast, or sleepiness from eating too much, or utter boredom, if you're on day 3 of leftovers and, like me, have only an attention starved cat named Pickle to keep you company in the staff lunchroom.
My memories of lunch as a kid are equally fraught with dissatisfaction. In junior school, I didn't have any friends, so I would eat in the institution-mint coloured bathroom on the ground floor and pretend to read if anyone came in, like I'd made a measured choice to be there. High school, I fared a bit better socially, but lunch had little to do with food, and me and my friends would sit in Tea Masters sipping bottomless hot drinks and eating Rice Krispie Squares well past the 'end of lunch' bell ringing. And as an adult, working primarily in retail jobs, well, you didn't get much of a lunch break, often eating bites between serving customers and swallowing larger portions of hunger-induced rage towards people for interrupting you.
So clearly, my lunch memories have little to do with the act of preparing and enjoying a noonday meal. Now that I'm working again, I'm struggling anew to figure out what to make for this troublesome meal. The other week, Husband and I had been at No Frills, where, despite my list and best intentions, I always end of being seduced by sale prices and buy things I don't need. There was a special on bricks of cheese for $2.99. $2.99 cheese! So I bought a hunk of Jalapeno Monterey Jack. But I didn't really know what to do with it after the initial 5 uninventive cheese sandwiches I made. So I found a good recipe for savory scones, courtesy of Canadian Living, and decided to make a bunch and freeze them, so I could take scones to work for lunch.
I combined the dry ingredients in my trusty metal bowl:
I grated a bunch of Jalapeno Monterey Jack cheese. Hahaha! Look at my giant hands! (hopefully, that will distract viewers from how near my boobs are to my elbows. Way to go, unsupportive undergarment.)
Then, like the recipe renegade I am, I chopped up WAY more scallions than were called for. Whoops!
Everyone jumped in the pool of flour and mingled:
A shaggy dough was formed when the wet ingredients were added, and I had that mild panic I always get when my fingers get sticky. I don't know, is that an actual phobia? I washed the sticky off and formed the dough, cutting it into these pale, triangular beauties:
And about 20 minutes later, I had the perfect, golden, salty, creamy, spicy, flaky accompaniment to eat in the staff lunchroom alongside my daily apple and fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt.
With a side of Pickle.
Scallion-Spicy Cheese Scones, adapted slightly from Canadian Living:
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 cup cold butter,cubed
1 cup shredded Jalapeno Moneterey Jack Cheese (smoked cheddar would be lovely too!)
1/2 cup scallions, finely chopped
1 cup milk (I'm a 2% gal)
1. Preheat oven to 350-400 degrees F, depending on your oven. Combine the flours, salt and cayenne in a large mixing bowl and stir till well combined. Add the cubed butter, and using your fingers, rub the butter into the flour mixture till it resembles pea sized crumbles. I love that part. Conversely, you can freeze the butter ahead of time and grate it on a cheese grater, saving yourself a lot of bother. Add the grated cheese and scallions and stir to combine.
2. In a measuring cup, lightly beat the egg, then add the milk. Pour into the dry ingredients and stir with a fork to make a ragged dough. With lightly floured hands, press dough into a ball.
3. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly, about 10 times. Don't overwork the dough if you can help it. Roll it out into a rough circular shape about 1/2 inch thick, and cut into 8 pieces. Place on a lightly floured baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, till golden brown around the edges. Let cool slightly, then eat!
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
It all started on Friday night. Husband had come by my work to pick me up and the plan was that we were going to drive up to Sauble Beach for a much needed break. Husband had worked about eleventeen hundred hours of overtime and I was recovering from a week of working on my own at the front desk, hopelessly untrained and at the mercy of nervous pet owners. With my new job, our work schedules are now completely opposite. He comes home right when I'm leaving and by the time I get home, he's ready to go to bed. To say it's an adjustment is an understatement.
Fast forward to an hour outside of Toronto, a bit north of Vaughn which, as a non-driver, means nothing to me, but perhaps you know where that is. It felt like the middle of nowhere, except that there was a pit stop with a Tim Hortons to our right, which meant something to me because Tim Hortons is kind of like an Inukshuk for city people who feel entirely lost in the highway limbo that lies between city and cottage country; a gentle, doughnutty reassurance that we are indeed somewhere man has been before.
It was about here that it happened.
Husband: What's that noise? Is that the engine?
Me: What noise? (while being totally aware of the weird knocking noise that has suddenly come from our vehicle)
Husband: That one. There. Oh no. Shit. (clutter, sputter, knock, knock, whirrrrrrrr. Ka-CHUNK!) Okay. There goes the transmission. It's blown! Double-you The Eff!
We lurched violently forward as Heidi the Jetta shut down. With a deftness only a seasoned video gamer could demonstrate, Husband navigated the now-defunct Heidi over to the right shoulder of the highway and we absorbed in silence what had happened. It didn't take long though, because we already knew our weekend at Sauble Beach was done for. Eventually, the tow truck came, and we even managed a few laughs when my dear, sweet father came to pick us up in the backroads of sketchy Rexdale and joked about us having to wear bullet proof vests in case of shootings, which is probably all kinds of politically incorrect, but oh well.
We tried our best to salvage our weekend. But by Sunday, it was not to be. I, in full possession of a raging case of PMS, couldn't shake the feeling that the universe didn't want me to be happy. Husband and I went on a walk to get some candy at the bulk store, and just as I was starting to come out of my dark mood, just as I was noticing the sun-dappled trees and the delicate breeze and the honeybees, a cat ran out into the street in front of us and got hit by a car.
I screamed. It happened in slow motion. I could hear the sound of Cat making contact with Car. I covered my eyes and my legs turned to jelly. Miraculously, the cat sprung up and ran off, one of its 9 lives clearly used up, but the other 8 just waiting to get back to the catfight that had been taking place several moments earlier. My dark mood returned, full force. Somewhere between Heidi the Jetta, Reckless Cat and Hormone Fluctuation, I gave up on a relaxing weekend.
Husband had been making jokes earlier about being able to read braille on my forehead because of the rather alarming smattering of pimples that had settled on my face. I mused that if these had been freckles rather than pimples, I would be adorable. I was reminded of that old 'beauty trick' I used to see in Seventeen magazine:
"Got a pimple? Why not try dotting it with some brown eye pencil and turning it into a beauty spot?"
The beautiful girl demonstrating this tip always seemed to have her fake pimple right above her lip, to the side, like Marilyn Monroe, or Cindy Crawford. It looked sexy. So I decided to give it a try.
Hmm. I'm not sold on it.
Some days are like this. Some days can't be saved no matter how hard you try to see the silver lining. Some days, you'll come home from working at a job you're not sure you like, and you'll be so glad to see your dog and cat, your furniture, your purple bathrobe. You'll also be so glad that you had the presence of mind to make pizza dough the night before, so now, all you have to do is a tiny bit of prep with these; some chopping and slicing and grating...
And then you get to release some pent-up frustration by punching the dough:
Satisfying. Then you'll spread it out on a baking sheet dusted with cornmeal that, in a certain light, looks like stars thrown across a night sky (like the ones we should have seen in Sauble Beach) and brush some olive oil on top. A gentle dusting of red pepper flakes and fresh ground pepper, and the lightest toss of coarse grain salt is all you need for the base:
Finally, you layer the grated, unnervingly orange cheese, apple slices, tomatoes and several basil leaves and you pop it in the oven for half an hour during which time you'll imbibe a beer or glass of wine...
And when it comes out, golden crusted and perfectly delicious, perhaps the best you've ever made, and you have a week's worth of Coronation Street waiting for you on the computer, then and only then will you realize that despite Heidi the Jetta, Reckless Cat and Hormone Fluctuations, there is still sweetness in this life. A dog and cat who gravitate towards me like I'm their North Star wherever I am; a family that will come and help me, no matter how old I am or how far away I may be; a Husband who puts toothpaste on my toothbrush for me each and every night - this is who and what I live for.
Okay, Universe. Message received, loud and clear.
Good Luck And Godspeed Pizza:
Basic Pizza Dough, from Martha Stewart's 'Fresh Flavour Fast '(and the BEST dough I've ever eaten)
1 1/2 cups warm water (115 degrees F)
2 packets active dry yeast (or 4 1/2 tsp, if using the jar)
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for brushing
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
4 cups all purpose flour (I used half whole-wheat)
a pinch each of dried basil, oregano and rosemary (my addition!)
1. Place warm water in large bowl; sprinkle with yeast. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Brush another large bowl with oil.
2. Whisk sugar, oil, salt and dried herbs into yeast mixture, then stir flour with a wooden spoon until a sticky dough forms. Transfer to oiled bowl, brush top with olive oil and cover with plastic wrap; let stand in a warm spot till dough doubles in size, about 1 hour.
3. Turn dough onto a well-floured surface. With floured hands, knead until smooth, about 15 seconds and divide into two equal balls. If only using one, freeze the other; it keeps up to 3 months in the freezer, just let it thaw overnight in the fridge in an oiled bowl when ready to use.
1 cup grated old cheddar
1/2 large apple, sliced thinly into half-crescents
a handful of fresh basil leaves, coarsely torn
2 small tomatoes, thinly sliced
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Sprinkle a baking sheet with cornmeal. Spread the dough onto the sheet in a long, oval shape. Rub some olive oil onto the top of the dough and sprinkle with red pepper flakes, fresh ground pepper, and some coarse salt, if you have it.
2. Sprinkle the cheddar evenly over the dough. Add the slices of apple and tomato; top with the torn basil leaves. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until cheese is all melted and crust is golden brown. Let sit for 5 minutes, then serve!
Thursday, September 9, 2010
Every time I go over to my dad's house, I end up rummaging around the cookbook shelf. My mother came to Canada in the 1970's a relative non-cook. So when she married my father, she purchased a bunch of cookbooks to help her learn some basic recipes and pad out a repertoire of good, humble, hearty dishes. These books mean so much to me now because in those batter-splattered, stuck-together, yellowing pages, she made measurement conversions and left comments about recipes she tried and recipes that failed. Exclamation points seemed to work on a system much like Michelin Stars; to receive three exclamation points meant it was a cracker of a recipe that would likely be repeated.
My mother favoured the simple and tasty. She enjoyed good food but was not prone to trends or showiness. All those aspic jellies and fancy appetizers like vol au vents were never to make an appearance at our table, and those recipe pages in the books go unmarked, unstained, ignored. She did make a mean meatloaf that resembled a ham and cheese jelly roll, and a life-changing filet mignon with a mushroom-sherry cream sauce. And on a recent pillage, I uncovered her hand-written cheesecake recipe; the cake that ushered in new years, birthdays, graduations, just-becauses. The cake that served as both dessert and breakfast the morning after. I will one day make that cheesecake. Anyways, that last pillage also yielded me this;
A 1973 copy of the classic 'Beard On Bread.' I was so excited to find this! Have I mentioned that it is one of my goals in life to be able to make decent homemade bread? However, I do take issue with the name of this book. I realize that 'Beard' is James Beard's last name. And I'm aware of the almost delicious wordplay of the title. But may I just say that every time I look at the title, all that comes up is a rather unfortunate visualization of a beard hanging out on a loaf of bread? And the alternates I came up with don't help much: 'Beard Bears Bread', 'Beard Bakes Bread', 'Beard's Bread' - all of them make me think, quite literally, of an improbably animate beard involved in the complex process of bread making.
But the recipe I selected, entitled 'Myrtle Allen's Brown Bread' is actually the easiest, best-tasting loaf I've ever made. A precursor to the now famous 'No Knead' bread that made the rounds on all the food blogs, this loaf requires minimal handling and only 1 rising period, and can be likened to the delicate tartness and density of a rye bread.
You start off by dissolving the yeast in warm water and molasses and let it get puffy. I was not all that fond of the creepy face that looked up at me. That was not in the recipe book.
The other neat thing about this recipe is that you warm up the flour in the oven before hand. I have no idea what this does, but I'm sure it's entirely scientific and therefore well above my understanding. So after it comes out of the oven, you combine the flour with the creepy yeast face and gently form a shaggy dough:
Why yes, that IS a springform pan instead of a loaf pan! I didn't have a big enough loaf pan so I improvised. And then I let it sit longer than Myrtle recommended. Way longer. About 12 hours longer. Because I'd read somewhere that the rising time is what imparts the flavour, and I was determined not to make another pretty, tasteless loaf. And may I just say that baking a loaf right before going to bed is the best possible smell to go to sleep to? And also the best thing to wake up to, because in the morning, breakfast is a foregone conclusion:
Plain, simple, humble toast with peanut butter and honey. Served with fresh coffee, a great book and a quiet morning stretched out in front of me. Heaven. And can I just tell you that I did something I've been wanting to do for a while now? I disabled my StatCounter. I decided that while it totally excited me to see where all my readers come from and how long they were visiting my blog, I didn't actually need to know. It started altering the magic of food blogging for me, because when I started this blog, I said what probably every blogger says: "If only 1 person reads this, I'll be happy." So I'd like to get back to that principle; that I'm doing this for the love of it, for good food, for my handful of dear readers and for myself. And that's enough for me.
Myrtle Allen's Brown Bread, from 'Beard On Bread' (Recipe Rating: !!!)
3 3/4 cups whole wheat flour, preferably stone ground (nope, didn't have that, used regular)
1 1/2 packages active dry yeast (about 2 1/2 tsp yeast if you have a jar instead of packages)
2 cups warm water, 100 - 115 degrees F. approximately
2 tbsp molasses
1 tbsp salt (I'm going to try using a bit less next time)
1. Put the whole wheat flour in a large mixing bowl and put in a warm oven (set as low as possible) Both the flour and the bowl should be warm when you make the bread.
2. Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of warm water and blend in the molasses. Let proof. Add another 1/2 cup of water. Combine the flour, yeast mixture, and salt. Add enough warm water to make a wet, sticky dough (about 1 cup or more, according to the flour.)
3. Pour directly into a buttered 9x5x3 inch bread tin. Cover and set in a warm spot, allowing the bread to rise by 1/3 its original size. Preheat the oven and bake at 450 degrees F for 50 minutes, or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Remove from the pan and leave on the rack in the turned-off oven for 20 more minutes to give a crustier finish.
Friday, September 3, 2010
Guess who has a new job! Yes friends, I am now working at an animal hospital and am still getting used to being at work when I've been unemployed for a rather long spell. Consequently, I'm pretty tired these days as I'm adjusting to my new schedule. So this is going to be a very no-frills post, simply a recipe, but I'm already mentally composing my next post, so I'll have a story for you in a couple of days.
You know, every two weeks, almost without fail, I get a bag of carrots with my Good Food Box. And I always have the best of intentions to use them up, but the fact is, there's only so much I'm inspired to do with carrots. Frankly, I'm sick of them. So out of sheer necessity, to rid my fridge of the three bags of gently aging carrots that have amassed on the veg shelf, I decided to make this salad.
I chopped up a bunch of carrots and look! They naturally composed themselves like this on the cutting board! As if I would waste precious time doing this myself. Please.
Then I roasted the bejeesus out of them with some chopped up potatoes. Yes, I dared to turn on the oven in this stifling humidity. Then I let them cool in a bowl with some green onions and lemon zest.
I whizzed up a dressing inspired by a President's Choice hummus I'd had with masala and honey in it, and poured it over the salad.
And can I just say Ding Dong?!! This salad has been feeding me for two days now, and it's so humbly delicious, ringing with a fragrantly sweet flavour and is surprisingly filling. I've been crumbling a bit of goat cheese on it and as a result, carrots have bought themselves a bit more time and love in my heart.
Carrot Salad With Honey-Masala Dressing:
A bunch of carrots, maybe about 3-4 large ones, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3 regular sized potatoes, cut into smallish cubes
2 green onions, finely chopped
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp honey
1 tsp garam masala
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 350-400 degrees F. Toss the carrots and potatoes with generous splash of olive oil, salt and pepper and pour into a roasting pan. Roast for about 40 minutes, or until you can't stand the heat in your kitchen anymore because there's a heat wave outside. Take veggies out, pour into a large serving bowl. Add the green onions and lemon zest and allow to come to room temperature before dressing.
2. Assemble the dressing by whisking together the lemon juice, olive oil, honey and garam masala. Adjust ingredients to your taste and add salt and pepper if you like. Pour over cooled veggies and serve, topped with crumbled goat cheese.