Sunday, February 25, 2007

Never Call Domino's Again

For a long time, I thought all pizza was supposed to taste like Domino's/Pizza Hut/etc. Oddly enough, I don't remember the first time I discovered differently. As best as I can figure, it was sometime before I lived in Charlotte, but likely after I left Cleveland; that would put my pizza discovery squarely in Washington, DC - but damned if I know when, where, or what kind of pizza was involved.

Suffice to say, I have no shortage of "real" pizza these days and I'm real glad for that. If I don't make it myself, it's just a short walk to one of two shops or a simple phone call to another shop a half mile away.
There's a lot of pizza 'round these parts.

I have two favorite styles of pizza - one of which isn't even technically pizza.
New York style is how I prefer my pies; I love the thin crust and the monstrous slice size. Oh sure, Chicago deep dish pizza is good, don't get me wrong here, but I like the balance between bread and toppings in NY pizza.
My toppings of choice? Pepperoni, onion & black olives.

Second to NY pizza is something I didn't discover until I moved to Philly, and it can barely even be called a pizza.
Tomato pie is a regional thing found almost exclusively in the Northeast United States, most commonly in cities with a large Italian-American population. It's kinda-sorta like a pizza in that it uses pizza dough and tomato sauce, but it looks nothing like a pizza, nor does it taste a lot like one. In fact, tomato pies taste different from town to town, and even from shop to shop - much like there are different ragù recipes from family to family, there are different tomato pie recipes.

I first had tomato pie at a local pizza shop. It's not on the menu but, being regulars, we could special order it sometimes. It ain't cheap though.
What else to do but work up my own recipe for it?

The first thing one might notice about tomato pie is that it's not round. It's square or rectangular. The next thing you'll see is that this pizza-esque dish isn't dripping with cheese; depending on the version, you'll see anything from no cheese at all to a bare sprinkle of grated parm to a very thin layer of provolone or mozzarella. This "pizza" is about the tomatoes, not about the cheese.

Chellie's Tomato Pie
makes 1 large rectangular pie
special equipment: 1 large cookie sheet or half sheet pan

2 cups warm water
1 T + 1 t active dry yeast
1 t sugar or honey
5-6 cups hi-gluten flour, bread flour, or AP flour
4 T olive oil
2 t salt

Combine the warm water, yeast and sugar in a mixing bowl or in the bowl of your stand mixer. Let stand for 10 minutes, or until frothy.
Add the salt, olive oil, and 1 cup of flour. Mix until smooth.
Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough comes together in a smooth, slightly sticky ball.
Knead for 5-10 minutes by hand or 5 minutes by mixer, until the dough is soft, supple and very springy.
Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl and let rise, covered, in a warm place until doubled - about 1 hour.
While the dough rises, make the sauce.

Over low heat, saute 1 T of crushed garlic in 1 T olive oil. When the garlic browns slightly, add 1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes, 1/2 cup water, and a healthy splash of balsamic vinegar.
Raise the heat to medium.
Season to taste with salt, pepper, oregano, and basil.
Let the sauce cook on medium heat, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid has evaporated - about 30 minutes.
Let cool to warm room temperature.

Preheat oven to 425*.

When the dough has risen, punch it down, knead it a couple times, and let rest for 5 minutes.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a rectangular shape. Transfer dough to a lightly greased or parchment paper lined cookie sheet or half sheet pan and stretch the dough to fit the bottom of the pan and slightly up the sides.
Let rest for 5 minutes.
With your fingertips, press indentations halfway into the slightly risen dough on the bottom of the pan. You should have a relatively flat rectangle of dough surrounded by a slightly raised crust along the edges.

Top the dough with the tomato sauce in a thick layer.
Bake at 425* for 17-22 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.
Remove from the oven and, if desired, top with a bit of shredded parmesan, provolone, or mozzarella cheese. Remember this pie is about the tomato sauce, so don't douse it in cheese.

Let the pie cool almost to room temperature.
Slice into squares and serve.


The dough recipe can be divided in half and used to make a standard 16" round pizza.

The dough recipe can also be used in the same proportions or halved to make focaccia - after the dough has risen once and been punched down, shape as desired. Let rise a second time, covered, for 30 minutes.
When the dough has risen a 2nd time, again use your fingertips to press indentations all over the surface of the dough. Drizzle liberally with olive oil and season with salt and the herbs of your choice. Bake at 425* for 20-30 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp on the outside.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Oh, how I miss my kitchen...

Ever have one of "those" weeks? You know the sort - you're so busy during the day that the best you can manage is 5 minutes to grab some takeout for lunch, and when you're done at night you barely have the energy to lift the TV remote, let alone actually cook something.

Yeah, I'm having one of those weeks. It's nearly 8pm and I'm just taking a break from working. I hope to be finished by 10 tonight.
Fortunately I love my job. Seriously, I do.

Of course, working doesn't preclude me from thinking about food, and this week I've had a couple things on my mind.

First, cake. Not just any cake, though.
I'm in charge of the cake for Munchkin's upcoming 7th birthday party, and I've been tossing some decorating ideas around in my head. The birthday girl loves white cake with vanilla buttercream best, so we're gonna go with that. As for decorations, I saw this cake on one of my favorite food blogs and got inspired. I love the idea of 3-D decorating, and this is kinda like two treats in one. We'll see how well I can execute something similar, but at the very least I'll have fun.

Second to cake, I've been thinking about Mardi Gras. This insanity at work kept me from making jambalaya or beignets to laissez les bon temps roule; thus I've been thinking about New Orleans and food almost non-stop for two days now. And I'm dying for muffaletta.
If you've been paying attention, you know that I'm surrounded by olive-haters here, and a muffaletta without olive salad is just a sandwich. If I ever make it to the grocery store, I'm totally making myself the biggest, most olive-laden muffaletta this world has ever known. Kevin can fend for himself, I want me some big, drippy, messy sammich!

Bread. I desperately need to make bread.
Maybe tomorrow...

Monday, February 19, 2007

Crunchy Marshmallow Yum

Rice Krispies were on sale at the grocery this weekend. So were marshmallows.

What might one do with an abundance of these two tasty ingredients?

Okay, here's the secret about Rice Krispy Treats: only use that recipe on the side of the box as a rough guide.

A couple years back, a friend and I were lamenting how Rice Krispy Treats tasted so much better when we were kids. At first we thought maybe our memories were tainted; this was twenty years and several concussions after the fact, y'know? But the more we talked about it, the more we just knew things had once been different.

So, armed with boxes of puffed rice cereal and many, many marshmallows, I got to trying out some different things. We distinctly remembered a richer, gooier treat than the current recipe turned out - so the obvious thing to do was to add more butter and marshmallows.

Well, it took several batches while I gradually scaled the amounts up, and at least one where things were just way too greasy, before the experimenting could stop. Looking back, I'm surprised we even wanted any more Rice Krispy Treats after all the failed - but still tasty - attempts we ate. But, at long last, I'd found a combination that made something pretty much identical to what we both remembered.

So it was good, and this weekend (with the sale and all) I decided to make these gooey squares of crunchy goodness once again. Believe it or not, Munchkin couldn't remember ever having them before. As much as she loves marshmallows, I figured we were good to go.

Real Rice Krispy Treats
makes 24 squares

6 cups of Rice Krispies, or other puffed rice cereal
1 stick of butter
16oz bag of miniature marshmallows

Start by buttering the bottom and sides of a 13"x9" pan.

Put the cereal in a really big bowl and set aside.

In a large saucepan, melt the stick of butter over low heat. Stir frequently and let it cook until it begins to turn a very light brown.

Immediately add the marshmallows and stir until completely melted.

Pour the marshmallow goo over the cereal and keep stirring until mixed well. Work quickly before the marshmallows set!

Pour into prepared pan.

Rub some more butter on your hands and pat the sticky crispy mass into a nice, flat rectangle, making sure to get into the corners of the pan.

Resist the temptation to eat them immediately. Let set for 30 minutes or so.

And there we were with a big ol' pan of Rice Krispy Treats - not just any Rice Krispy Treats, but good Rice Krispy Treats. After dinner, Munchkin and I got ready to have dessert.

She took a small bite and decided that she didn't like them.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Valentine's Day: Dessert

To top everything off tonight...


What's more simple than cheesecake? And what's more perfect? I love chocolate as much as the next girl, but I really, really love cheesecake.

For Valentine's dessert, I wanted something rich but relatively light; something simple but decadent.

To me, that called for a crustless cheesecake with some fruit to evoke warmer weather. We got snow and ice from that blasted winter storm, so I didn't need a reminder as to how cold it is outside.

I made a coulis of frozen raspberries and another coulis of poached fresh peaches. I tried my hand at some fancy plating (not my forté, if you couldn't tell!) and proudly called Kevin in for dessert.

My only complaint is with the peach coulis; the peaches were fragrant and delicious out of hand, but I lost some of the flavor along the way from fruit to sauce. Though the coulis has a lovely yellow-orange color, it's far too mild for our taste. I think next time I'll reduce the sauce once I've strained it...


Overall today was an amazingly good food day. I don't know if the cheesecake met the heights of our main course, but we were both happy to be eating it. And we both unabashedly licked our plates clean.

Valentine's Day: Main Course

Ahhhh dinner!!! It was even better than I expected!

After being restricted to the bedroom while everything cooked, seared, and simmered
(save for the 2 times I snuck into the hallway and hollered for some more gougéres)
I was called to dinner to find:

Coconut seared scallops with chocolate sauce
NY Strip steak with a roasted red pepper beurre blanc
Wilted spinach with garlic
Potato gratin
And a couple extra gougéres on the side

*falls over dead from the sheer bliss of things*

There's no way I can choose a favorite item here, because it was all so good. The scallops were cooked just perfectly; their chocolate sauce, while unconventional, was spot on for the coconut crust and for the whole Valentine's Day thing; the steak was seasoned simply so the strong flavor of the beurre blanc came through; the gratin was the perfect mild complement to the flavors of everything else. Pure heaven.

We're going to have the dessert I made soon now and I'm not feeling very confident that it'll stand up to dinner... ;)

Valentine's Day: First Course

I've been ejected from the kitchen for the time being while Kevin makes the important part of our Valentine's Day dinner. I'm not entirely sure what we're having; I had to come in and help unearth the mandoline and while I was there I saw some potatoes.

So, potatoes, scallops, and steak are involved. Otherwise I have no clue.

We must have something to snack on though, right? I didn't have time last night, so after work today I threw together something quick...

makes about 30 puffs
recipe adapted from Food & Wine

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk
1 stick butter, cut into tablespoons
1/4 t salt
1 cup AP flour
4 large eggs
3 1/2oz shredded cheese
1 t Dijon mustard
Fresh ground pepper & nutmeg

Preheat oven to 400*. Line two baking sheets with silicone mats or parchment paper.

In a medium saucepan, combine water, milk, butter and salt. Bring to a boil.
Add the flour all at once and reduce heat to low. With a wooden spoon, vigorously stir the mixture until it comes together in a ball.
Continue stirring for 2 minutes.
Remove from heat and let the dough cool for 2 minutes.
Add the eggs one at a time, incorporating each egg completely before adding the next. The dough will separate into clumps when you add the eggs and look ruined, but keep beating the dough hard with the wooden spoon and it will come back together.
Add the mustard and a pinch each of pepper and nutmeg and mix.
Fold in the cheese.

Using either a piping bag fitted with a large round tip or a tea spoon, portion the dough into approximate teaspoon sized mounds on the baking sheets. Keep 1" between each puff to allow for expansion.

Bake at 400* for 20-22 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown.

Serve immediately.

These can be frozen for up to 2 weeks or held in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. If frozen, let thaw at room temperature. Reheat in a 350* oven until heated through.

This is a basic choux with savory ingredients mixed in to make bite-sized appetizers. The same base dough can be used to make cream puffs, éclairs, and churros.
It can be intimidating to work with at first, mostly because it requires an impressive amount of elbow grease to get those eggs mixed in, but the end results are so worth it. In addition, panade - the dough itself - is the only pastry dough to be cooked before baking. Serve these at a party and impress your guests with a little trivia along with the yummy bites!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Ah, candlelight.

Dear dear blog...I'm so sorry for neglecting you. I meant to update you this weekend, I really did, but you know how it is. I made some food and I was too hungry to wait to take pictures of it. Well, that happens sometimes, and I was all set to do some mad typing on Sunday, when I had some quiet time.

Wouldn't you know it - our power went out. No, there was no storm or wind or errant truck hitting a power pole; it just broke.

Funny story about that power outage. I left to take Munchkin home Sunday evening and we stopped at the restaurant to say goodbye to Kevin. The waitresses cooed over Munchkin and I asked Kevin if he wanted me to bring him a burger on my way back. See, he cooks all this fancy food, but he perks right up at the prospect of a Wendy's bacon cheeseburger.
So with Munchkin in tow, we walked across the street to the car and about 5 seconds later discovered that all the streetlights were out. Turns out the power died over like 3 blocks right after we walked out of the restaurant.


I headed back, Wendy's bags in hand, and saw that the streetlights - and, ergo, the power - were still out. Kevin wasn't home, so I discreetly slipped in the back door of the restaurant to see what was up.

Kevin and Chef C. were in the kitchen, cooking by candlelight for a dining room full of customers. Let me repeat that - they were cooking by candlelight for a full house, every table lit only by a couple candles. There were candles on the pass, candles on the stations, candles everywhere, and they were cranking the food out like nothing was amiss.

I shook my head and dropped off the burger and fries, only having time to mutter "What the hell, dude?" and for him to shrug in response.

Well, what could I do but head home and light some candles of my own? I huddled under a blanket and got through a couple chapters of The New Professional Chef by candlelight until PECO got the lights back on. Some nice, light reading for sure, right?

So we both survived the terrifying multi-hour blackout of 2007. I think Kevin made out better than I did, though; he came home after the night was over and said a diner had sent a bottle of wine back to the kitchen. Apparently he was quite impressed that dinner went so smoothly considering, y'know, no one could really see anything. Being that Kevin's not much of a wine drinker, I excitedly looked around for his share of the wine I was sure he'd brought home for me, but alas...he just shook his head and told me he & Chef C. had killed it.
I suppose they deserved it.

This weekend's kitchen adventures were fairly tame, I do believe.

Munchkin and I made a giant pizza - dough from scratch, sauce from scratch, and just a bit of provolone cheese on top. I like square pizza, so we made a double batch of dough and used a half sheet pan to bake it. Mmmm square pizza.

Then for our sweet treat, we made mini churros. They had to be mini, as I did not have as much vegetable oil as I thought I did. They were very cute and very tasty, which is where there are no photos of the mini churros.

Next up: Valentine's Day!! Wonder of wonders, Kevin somehow managed to score the evening off. He's offered to make us a fancy dinner - steak and scallops are involved! - and I'm taking charge of dessert. And maybe some snacky foods if time permits tomorrow.

But it's a secret what I'm making so you'll just have to wait to hear about it.
I'll try my very hardest to get some pictures this time...

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Comfort Food

Terrible quality on that photo, I know. I was hungry. Sorry.

It's been one of "those" weeks this week and it's barely half over. Kevin's been fighting a cold and the weather has been just unbearable. One of several lingering fallouts of my former pro wrestling career is a ruined lower back, hip and knee. Usually I can manage pretty well, but when the weather is this cold it's real hard for me to move around.

So. Comfort food has been on the menu.

Monday, Kevin chased me out of the kitchen so he could cook us up some yummy dinner. Hooray! When the table was laid out, I discovered fried chicken and other stuff. A mustard sauce on the chicken - I tasted that first. In fact, I tasted that before I took the photo, and you can see where I stuck my finger if you look close.

After a few bites I figured out I had me a plate of fried chicken breast stuffed with bacon, onions & cheese. YUM!! Then there was the mustard sauce on top, and some chicken Ramen with the overly-salty liquid drained away. And, look, fancy sprinkles on the plate all decorative and pretty - parsley and paprika, I believe.
Not pictured: some macaroni salad and lightly toasted slices of the Saffron & Tomato bread.

It was goooooood. Hearty and tasty and fairly simple, and it was just right for the weather and our moods.

Tonight we had dinner at a friend's house and it was, again, comfort food. We all sat at the table to ground turkey tacos with your usual toppings - lettuce, tomato, cheese, sour cream, and salsa. Nothing fancy - our friend isn't much of a foodie type, really. The taco seasoning came from a packet, the salsa was from a jar, the cheese was a regular ol' bag of shredded Kraft. It was exactly what I ate frequently growing up; it was good then and it's still good now.

Sure, you can make your own taco meat seasoning. You can whip up some fresh salsa easily. You can get queso fresco instead of the Kraft cheese. But, really, who cares sometimes, y'know?

First and foremost, the fact that someone took the time to invite us to dinner and prepare food for us completely negates any ideas about fresh salsa or hand-mixed spice blends. Some people just don't cook, and I'm perfectly fine with that. I'd much rather have a simple meal like this where you can spill and laugh and talk loudly than a gourmet meal at a restaurant alone.

Second - we've all got our guilty pleasures, our junk food that we don't always blog about. I like the packaged taco seasoning because it reminds me of my childhood. Sometimes I like mac & cheese from a box, complete with nuclear-orange cheeselike powder.
I like Manwich. From a can. I may eat it on homemade rolls, but I like Manwich.

I'm not the only one with guilty pleasures as comfort food, am I?

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Saffron & Tomato Bread

So when's the last time you spent a thousand bucks or more to season your food?
Probably never, I'd wager. Even the most intrepid foodie isn't quite
that crazy to buy a pound of saffron at a time. But if you ever wanted to, y'know, splurge a bit, you'd be looking at 4 figures to get 16 ounces of these teeny threads.

Okay, I don't need to tell you that saffron is the most expensive spice in the world; everyone who's spent some time in a kitchen knows that already.

The photo above is a more reasonable amount for the home kitchen. That's about half a gram of Spanish
Coupé, which I carefully extracted from the darkest corner of our spice cabinet. At $10-15 a gram or more, it gets coddled like a baby - I keep it in a glass vial with a tight fitting cork, then it's wrapped in foil, then that bundle is stored in a sturdy zip-top bag. After all that, I drag out a chair to stand on and tuck it all the way in a back corner of the topmost shelf where no light or heat or draft can reach it.
(Most people have a spice rack. We have an entire cabinet for our spices/herbs/etc which makes dish storage a challenge. But, c'mon, priorities!!)

After watching this season of Top Chef, it was next to impossible not to have saffron on the mind (heh heh heh). Unfortunately I don't have Bravo's budget, so my use of saffron had to be calculated and judicious. Fortunately saffron has a strong, distinct enough flavor that a little bit goes a long way.

When saffron is paired with tomatoes and baked into bread, your loaves wind up with a beautiful orange color, a moist crumb, and a wonderfully complex flavor that doesn't need much more than a bit of butter or a hint peppery salami to enjoy.

Saffron & Tomato Bread
adapted from Fairholme Manor
makes 2 loaves

1 T active dry yeast
1/2 cup water, divided
about 8 saffron threads
1 1/2 cups crushed, seeded tomatoes
3 T honey
3 T olive oil
5 1/2 - 6 cups bread flour
1 T salt

About 1 hour before starting, steep saffron threads in 1/4 cup hot water. You can also do this the night before and hold in the refrigerator overnight.

Heat the remaining 1/4 cup water to 105* - 115*, or until it feels warm against the inside of your wrist. Mix in the yeast and the honey. In a large mixing bowl, or in the bowl of your stand mixer, allow to sit until frothy, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, warm the tomatoes and olive oil slightly.

Strain the threads from the saffron & water "tea" and discard threads. Add the 'tea' to the yeast mixture.
Add the tomatoes and olive oil. Mix well.

Add 2 cups of flour and mix until incorporated. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Add the salt and 2 more cups of bread flour. Mix well.
Continue adding flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough holds its shape and is soft and slightly sticky.
Knead the dough for 5 minutes in a mixer or 10 minutes by hand, adding a sprinkle of flour if needed, until it's supple, smooth, and moist but not sticky.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl and cover with a tea towel or plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in bulk, 30-40 minutes. While they rise, preheat the oven to 375*.

Gently deflate the dough and divide in half. Form into two loaves - either in loaf pans or freeform rounds. Sprinkle tops with flour and let rise again, covered, until doubled in bulk.
When the loaves have risen, gently slash the tops with a razor or a sharp knife about 1/4" deep.

Bake at 375* for 40-45 minutes, or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped. Cool on wire racks before slicing.

Friday, February 2, 2007

The Taste of Red

In my random food-related perusings this evening, I came across an interesting question that got me all sorts of thinking; to paraphrase: How does a chef with a food allergy handle the preparation of a dish containing a potentially fatal (to them) ingredient? Given how important the process of tasting along the way, how does an allergic chef create a dish that they can't taste?

The answer, in my experience, is they have someone whose palate they trust do the tasting for them.
Kevin has a pretty severe allergy to shellfish; if he has a small cut on his hand that isn't even visible to the naked eye and he deveins shrimp, his fingers swell. If, god forbid, he eats shellfish, his throat swells and he can't breathe.

It's only fitting, of course, that one of his specialties at the restaurant is lobster bisque. No one else there can make it quite as good as he does, and by this point he can use his eyes and nose in the cooking process just as effectively as his tastebuds.
Except when they run out of one of the components.
Usually he has one of the other guys in the kitchen do the tasting for him if needed - if he's handling a new recipe containing shellfish, or if he gets a hankering to add some more complexity to a recipe he already knows by sight & smell.

A few weeks back, he ran into a bit of a situation. The restaurant closes for a couple hours between lunch and dinner, and those hours are spent prepping for dinner service. The other sous was off somewhere running errands and Chef C. was out for the day, leaving Kevin to handle his prep with only the garde manger and the dishwashers as company.
He was getting the bisque ready when he discovered there was no cognac in the restaurant. No time to go on an excursion for more, so he subbed in sherry and threw some in a small bowl; he ran it home so I could be his palate for him. I know how the stuff is supposed to taste, and I suppose I'm a better stand-in than the dishwasher. (*grins*)

I dutifully taste-tested (OH NOEZ! I have to eat lobster bisque, life is unfair!!) and after a moment I realized I couldn't keep my palate's secret any longer. I didn't have time.
"It needs needs, needs something brown!" I blurted. He looked at me funny, and I flailed about trying to explain.

You see, the taste of food registers as colors in my brain.
Oh sure, I can eat food and identify that there's basil in it, or fish sauce, or whatever. It's the categories of taste that I interpret as various colors, and I can only translate that into specific ingredients or classes of ingredient when I have time to sort it out in my head.

When I said the bisque needed something "brown," I meant that it was missing a certain earthiness - a murky pungency that came from the cognac. That flavor category registers as the color brown to me. Other brown tastes are cumin and chipotle.
The color green means a bright, but not citrus-acidic, flavor. Herbs like dill and basil are obvious "greens" to me, but so too are some vinegars, and buttermilk & yogurt.
Reds are thick, sharp, and sometimes spicy. Tomatoes, bell peppers, cured sausages, and wine taste red.
Orange is mellow and mild, but with a substantial mouthfeel. Orange is my umami.
Yellow is a sharp, bright taste - often different from green but sometimes the two shade together. The "tang" in blue cheese tastes yellow to me, as does ginger and most citrus.
It goes on and on.

When I examine a recipe and think about how its components work together, it's almost like a painting of sorts. The handy image up at the top of this post pretty accurately illustrates what baked manicotti "looks like" in my mind as I prepare it. (do you like my masterful Photoshopping or what?)

My internal monologue as I cook would probably be pretty interesting if others could hear it. I taste the food, and I think "Hm, this needs more green. What kind of green do I want...." Then I decide if basil is green enough, or if I want something really bright green like a sharp vinegar - or do I want a greenish-yellow?

I know most people don't experience food like I do, with the colors and all. It makes it really difficult to explain how I put together a recipe sometimes, or how I decide what flavors to pair with others. You can't just tell someone that you added enough red until it tasted right, or that their bisque needs something brown, ya know? You get some funny looks that way.

But honestly, I wouldn't want it any different.
It seems like it wouldn't be quite as interesting if food didn't taste like a rainbow.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Food and W(h)ine Tries Damage Control; Plus: Leftovers

After the kerfluffle yesterday over the Top Chef spoilers, Food & Wine today tried to do some damage control.

Yesterday, an intrepid reality tv fan found a Top Chef story on Food & Wine's server. Food & Wine prepared profiles of both Top Chef finalists in advance of the last episode so that we had a story on the winner ready to publish immediately after the season finale.
Food & Wine online
And with that, they linked the original article on (the apparent winner) as well as a questionable article on (the finalist who didn't have an article anywhere on F&W yesterday).
I won't comment on the questionable article save to say that a twelve year old could have come up with something more convincing for a creative writing class.

I will say that the the telling point here is the original URL of yesterdays "oops" article;

Not bravos-new-top-chef-tells-all1 or bravos-new-top-chef-tells-all-(finalistname).
Just plain ol' bravos-new-top-chef-tells-all.
If F&W had prepared two stories ahead of time, the leaked one yesterday would have been named in such a way to differentiate between the two supposed stories.

Poor form, Food & Wine. Poor form. You should have just ignored the whole thing.

I guess we'll see what happens on Wednesday, but it isn't looking so good for one of the two youngsters.

(By this point, I'm sure everyone's already heard the news cuz this thing is everywhere now. Still, I omitted names in case anyone is actively trying to avoid any potential spoilers.)

In other news,
with all the tasty ricotta cheese leftover from the weekend, I wanted to be sure to use it up before it went off. Considering the lack of preservatives and all, I wasn't sure how long it would last. And I didn't want to futz around too much in the kitchen, seeing as I was in the middle of cleaning it around dinnertime yesterday.

While I washed dishes, I put a stockpot on to boil and threw together a quick sauce of crushed tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, garlic, basil, oregano, a pinch of nutmeg, a bit of sugar, and some salt & pepper.
Then I mixed the remaining ricotta with a small handful of shredded parmesan, some basil and black pepper, and an egg.
When the water hit a boil, I tossed in a pack of manicotti tubes and let them go for 7-ish minutes. A quick bath in cold water stopped the cooking so I didn't get gummy pasta.

After that, it was just a matter of putting some of the sauce in the bottom of my baking dish, filling the manicotti with the cheese mixture, plopping them in the dish, topping with sauce and cheese, and baking them for about half an hour.

I felt the dish came out perfectly, to be honest. It was what it was - a simple, quick meal that required little effort but delivered lots of taste. The pasta was firm enough to hold its shape, just barely on the soft side of al dente. Kevin said he would have preferred the pasta boiled a minute longer, but I think he's crazy; I personally wouldn't have boiled it a second longer than I did.
Maybe I'll do an extra 30 seconds next time as a sort of compromise.

Still. He did lick his plate clean, which I took as a good sign.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Whoops. F&W Spoils Top Chef

Today, a short comment on delicious irony:
Technology spoiled by technology.

If you're a fan of Bravo's Top Chef - like I am - you've had your winner picked for weeks, maybe months.
(for the record, I choose my top 3 within the first couple shows: Sam, Ilan, and Cliff)
Now that we're down to the final two, speculation is running hot and loud in the blogosphere as to which cool 'do will prevail. Bets have been placed, potential spoilers tossed about, and interesting pick-apart frame by frame discussions on which way Padma is looking in the previews when she congratulates the winner are being had.

It seems wholly ironic that as we watch a television show on cable, possibly on fancy HDTVs with DVRs wirring and all manner of other technological wonders bringing us entertainment, that a dumb mistake on the internet brings the speculation to a screeching halt just two days before the show's finale airs.

Food and Wine magazine messed up bad.
This afternoon, for about 15 minutes, an article appeared on Scheduled for print in the March 2007 edition and probably intended for online publication on Feb 1st, it was aptly titled Bravo's New Top Chef Tells All.

And tell all is exactly what it did, as the article by Adam Sachs interviews the winner who won't be "officially" crowned for two more days. Right there, in black and white, the winner's name screamed out to anyone fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time.

Oh man, Food & Wine website people.
You screwed up good. Bravo isn't going to be pleased.

Lucky for me, I saw the article. I've never been a patient sort, so I don't mind knowing who wins...I'm the kind of person who shakes all her Christmas presents trying to figure out what's inside.
I also saved the article once I saw what it was, because I knew F&W would pull it as soon as they figured out what they'd done.

So if you, like me, want to know who wins Top Chef before the show airs,
feel free to view the article via either the messily-formatted HTML file HERE, which will open in your browser,
or the slightly-less-messily -formated PDF file HERE which will open with Adobe Reader.

THESE LINKS OPEN BIGHUGE TOP CHEF SPOILERS!!! Don't blame me if you didn't want to know and you open them anyway, mmkay?

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Wow, you CAN make cheese at home...

So the other day I was perusing my ever-growing list of food blogs that I read regularly. I drooled over some gorgeous photos, I lamented that I'd never be able to make that recipe, and then I stopped and blinked.

DIY: Homemade Ricotta Cheese.

Whoa, wait a second. Homemade cheese? Surely The Foodie Bride wasn't serious, was she?

I kept reading. She was serious, and the method she presented looked too simple to believe.
A gallon of milk, 5 cups of buttermilk and a little salt?
Just heat it to 170* F while stirring, then stop stirring until it hits 190*?

And as I stood there over the stove, Munchkin at my side, I inadvertently did a Keanu Reeves-esque "Whoa."
Cheese was appearing, and it was gathering fast.

I didn't have any cheesecloth as recommended - and couldn't find any at the store - so I took a moment before we started to line my colander with a double layer of coffee filters. I scooped the cheese from the stockpot into the lined colander and watched the extra whey drip out from the mound of ricotta. Neither of us could believe what we were seeing.

Somehow we managed to let it finish draining before we added some salt and dove in to try a bite.
Whoa. Dude, we totally just made ricotta cheese.

I boiled some water, threw in some cellentani pasta, and chased Munchkin away from the cheese so she didn't eat it all before dinner. When the pasta was done I made a quick sauce of butter, a small splash of pasta water, garlic and herbs. The pasta went into the sauce, I added a nice sprinkle of our homemade ricotta, and served with cheesy garlic bread.

Thank you, Foodie Bride. Our dinner was amazing.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Cinnamon Swirl Breakfast Quickbread

It was a dark and stormy night...

Wait, no. It wasn't stormy. But it was dark and it was nighttime...and I had a lovely container of fresh, spicy cinnamon that had been calling to me all day. It was all "Hey! You! Yeah you there! Bake with me!!"

And it was 10pm when that cinnamon reeled me in. I love cooking and all, but I wasn't about to stay up past midnight to scratch that kitchen itch.

Enter the quickbread.

Cinnamon Swirl Breakfast Quickbread
makes: 1 loaf

1 cup sugar
2 cups AP flour
1 T baking powder
1 t salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 t vanilla

Cinnamon swirl:
1/3 cup sugar
1 T cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350* and lightly grease a 9"x5" loaf pan
In a small bowl, mix the cinnamon and sugar for the swirl. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt.
In another small bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, vanilla and oil.
Add the liquid to the dry ingredients. Mix gently until just moistened. Do not overmix!

Pour half the batter into your prepared pan. Sprinkle 1/2 the cinnamon-sugar mixture on the batter. Add the rest of the batter and top with the last of the cinnamon-sugar.
Run a knife or a skewer through the bread to create a swirl effect.
Bake at 350* for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes before removing to cool completely on a wire rack.

Simple. Quick. Crumbly and moist. Perfect with a hot cup of tea or coffee.

Monday, January 22, 2007

On the Evolution of a Foodie

It's a strange thing to watch - witnessing the evolution of a person's tastebuds.

A year and a half ago, when I stepped into this role as stepmom to Munchkin, she was a picky eater. Check that - picky eater doesn't quite express the solid days of tomatoes, processed cheese slices, mac & cheese from a box, Wonder bread, and Chicken McNuggets that made up 99.9% of the little one's diet. It was kind of a shock to me, really, having never been a picky eater myself. I'm from a fairly average meat & potatoes type family where we didn't eat much in the way of "exotic" foods, but I ate whatever the rest of the family was eating.

Dinners usually consisted of a simple salad followed by some sort of beef or chicken (the Bizarre family doesn't really eat fish), noodles or potatoes, a vegetable of some type, and maybe bread or rolls. Save for broccoli or mushrooms, which I hated, I happily ate some of every dish. We were - and largely, still are - pretty down to earth, simple eaters. Grandpa grilled steaks or chicken or burgers during warm months, and those warm months also meant fresh veggies from the garden. We didn't have anything with fancy sauces, and the most "exotic" we got was stir fried chicken - everything else was pure Americana with a bit of Eastern European influence.

Things really changed for me personally when I was about 19. I was dating a boy at that point in my life who had a much more worldly view of food. With gleeful abandon, he made it his personal mission to show me what I'd been missing.
Chinese food ... was something more than stir fry or sweet & sour chicken???
Cambodian food?? I didn't even really know where Cambodia was, but I loved the food.
There was more - so much more - but it was Greek food that really hit me square in the tastebuds. To this day, I still haven't found a Greek restaurant that stands up to my memories of the first time he took me to The Mad Greek in Cleveland, OH. It was more than a decade ago, but I still remember the saganaki we had, how stunned I was when the waiter brought it to the table and lit the cheese ON FIRE before extinguishing it with the juice squeezed from a lemon half. Oh my God, I was hooked.

When I moved to DC, I tried to find Greek food as good. I remember Zorba's, I remember another couple places I tried, but it just wasn't right, ya know? Admittedly, Zorba's has excellent hummus but something was missing.

I never could find anything to suit my taste for Greek food in North Carolina, and the passion waned some. I went on to discover other cuisines I'd missed - Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, it was all amazing. And once I made my way to Philly, I was happy to find excellent providers of several of my favorite ethnic foods, yet Greek remained elusive.

I had more important things to do than worry about finding good Greek food, though (as crazy as that sounds). I was truly finding my groove in the kitchen and I wanted to share it with the picky young mind of dear Munchkin. I never once held out hopes of getting her to eat sushi, though she still watches me with high amusement as I slurp down raw fish, but I really wanted to help her enjoy food.

It was a struggle early on, as those of you with children probably know. She flat out refused to try anything new - especially if it was green. I read up on picky kids and saw a lot of suggestions to get them involved in the cooking process, so I tried that route. We made all sorts of food, baked all sorts of goodies, but she'd just watch me eat them as she happily ate sliced tomatoes and processed cheese. After a month or so, I was cursing those blasted "experts" and the whole "get kids involved in the cooking process" idea. It just wasn't working. I was ready to throw in the towel.

But something slowly started to happen.
First it was the cheese. She gradually started trying different cheeses. Cheddar was good. Jack, muenster, provolone...she liked them. She tried a bit of Gorgonzola from my Cobb salad one day at lunch and loved it.
Oh my God, the kid likes stinky cheeses. There is hope yet!!

I remember the evening that everything changed. I mean, everything really and truly changed and she became a different kid. By that point she had mastered helping me bake bread, could work the Kitchenaid without any assistance, could measure ingredients alone, and took great joy in dragging a chair over to the stove or counter to watch what was happening. She could cook, but she still hadn't learned how to enjoy eating.
One Friday night we stopped off at an Italian/pizza joint. Kevin was working so it was a girls' night. Munchkin only wanted a snack, but I hadn't had dinner yet; I ordered the manicotti and she had a small plate of french fries. My salad came out first, and she watched me eat with interest. I asked if she would like to try a bite, and she thought about it for a second. She asked what kind of "sauce" I put on it- blue cheese. "Okay, I'll try a bite," she chirped.

I did my best to act nonchalant, but I was practically dancing. This would be the first time anything green and healthy had willingly entered her mouth.
I speared a bit of lettuce on the fork and made sure to include some of the shredded mozzarella. Like a baby bird, she held her mouth open and I held the fork out, barely daring to breathe.
She chewed thoughtfully for a second and swallowed.
"Yeah, I like that okay," she finally decreed.
In her six year old language, that meant that she really liked what she had just eaten and would almost definitely eat it again.

That was about four months ago now, and the child has turned into a salad fiend. I love me a salad - I mean, I really really love salads of any sort. Throw some stuff on top of greens, give me a little dressing, and I'm happy, but Munchkin is truly something else. Her little eyes light up like it's Christmas when she hears the world "salad" and she asks for one with practically every meal.
And it hasn't stopped there. Just the other week she ordered prime rib for lunch. Prime rib!! For LUNCH! This, from a child who would eat turkey or chicken a few times a year as long as she could dip it in ranch dressing, and pretty much forget about beef whatsoever. She's gone from zero to sixty in just a few months.

One afternoon, not too long ago now, I got an ad in the mail about a new Mediterranean place that had opened up nearby, and it listed a partial menu showing a pretty good selection of Italian and Greek dishes. I filed that info away for future meal plans, possibly one night that Kevin had off or something.
That meal plan came sooner than I expected when I picked up Munchkin for her weekend visit a few weeks ago and she had already eaten lunch. I hadn't, and since I only had my own hunger to worry about I decided to go check this new place out. She assured me she would be fine to have a soda and to sit and talk with me while I ate.

When we arrived, the full menu wasn't quite as extensive or "fancy" as The Mad Greek's, but it sure looked good. I settled on the combo plate, which I was told had a little taste of everything - hummus, baba ghanoush, dolmades, falafel, and a small Greek salad. It sounded lovely, and for the price I assumed it would be the perfect amount for a hearty lunch.
Munchkin and I sat and chatted and drank our sodas, and all the sudden this massive spread appeared on the table. There was a mound of hummus, a mound of baba, two falafel, four dolmades, a stack of pita, and the "small" salad was a meal in and of itself. I stared at the plates in amazement, then stared at the waiter in amazement.
"Oh my God," was all I could manage. The waiter smiled, and Munchkin giggled - then stole my fork and started in on the salad. She was fascinated as I started eating, and I explained what everything was. She made me repeat "baba ghanoush" about twelve times and laughed each time I said it, and kept eating my salad. That was fine - this was enough food for three meals or more.
And, oh my God, it was Greek food. It was good. I ate happily, and in between bites told Munchkin how happy I was to find a restaurant that served one of my favorite types of food. She looked at me wide-eyed. "You like this as much as you like sushi?!?" I nodded and scooped up some more baba before turning my attention to the falafel. She knows how much I like sushi, so this was a real revelation.

From the corner of my eye, I suddenly saw a small hand appear holding a bit of pita. It hovered briefly over the hummus, then the pita was dipped and I shifted my gaze to see how Munchkin liked her first taste of the chickpea goodness. "Oh!' she exclaimed, then smiled. She tore off some more pita, the same way I had been doing it, and had some more hummus. "Oh this is good!" she said happily, and Miss Not-Hungry helped me polish off that mound of hummus.

So today,
well, it's after midnight, so technically...on Sunday,
the three of us tried to figure out what to do for lunch. Munchkin had been talking about hummus last weekend, so Kevin asked me if the Mediterranean place had Italian food (he doesn't like Greek food. I know, right??) After a three second discussion, we decided to go there for lunch and with much glee we traipsed off into the cold.
Poor Munchkin was overwhelmed. She wanted it all. She wanted some pizza, but she wanted a salad too. And she wanted hummus. We got ourselves situated and made up minds - Munchkin and I would share some hummus, and she got a slice of pizza and a small side salad with mozzarella cheese. I stressed small when I ordered for her (she's at that stage that she doesn't like to order her own food). I should have remembered the last time we were there, because her small salad came and it was the size of my head.
Before long, it became apparent that she was more interested in my food, though. I got a salad too, though mine had olives, artichoke hearts, and a nice topping of fresh goat cheese in addition to all the regular salad fixins.

We already discovered that Munchkin doesn't like olives (insanity!!! She gets that from her father, the olive thing. How can anyone not like olives?), and she deftly avoided those as she pretty much ignored her salad and picked from mine. She liked the cheese better

And it hit me then and there: she was choosing fresh goat cheese - soft and pungent - over every kid's favorite shredded processed mozzarella. She didn't even finish her slice of pizza for the hummus and goat cheese salad she was gorging on.
Right before my very eyes, I am watching the evolution of a foodie. She's choosing quality over processed, bland ingredients.

It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

SHF #27: Flourless Chocolate Cupcakes with Salted Toffee Hazelnut Sauce

This month's Sugar High Friday caught my eye. How could it not? It's all about chocolate!! And I love me some chocolate - the more chocolate, the better is what I say.

It wasn't easy choosing one recipe. I rifled through cookbooks and websites, I viewed and reviewed my pantry, and I thought long and hard about chocolate.

Oh what a difficult, tragic life I lead.

I wound up mixing a few ideas together - like I usually do - and came up with something sure to fit any craving: chocolate, nuts, salt, and rich caramelly toffee. Okay, I suppose this wouldn't satisfy a fruit craving, but I suppose you could chuck some raspberries on there.

As to the brand of chocolate, I went with my current favorite "almost as good as Scharffen Berger" high cacao choice: Nestle Chocolatier bittersweet chocolate. This is an affordable option when you want rich, smooth, true chocolate taste without having to go to a specialty store and spend a bit more than you intended. Let's face it: just about everyone is on a budget and you can't always manage highest-quality. You won't sacrifice taste using Nestle Chocolatier, especially in baked products.
Not only did I use Nestle's chocolate, but I also used their Molten Chocolate Cake recipe to make the cupcakes.

Flourless Chocolate Cupcakes
makes 12 cupcakes

3/4 cup unsalted butter
8oz Nestle Chocolatier bittersweet chocolate (either morsels, or chopped bar form)
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup plus 1 T sugar
1 t vanilla extract
1 T AP flour

Preheat oven to 425*. Grease a muffin tin liberally with Crisco.

Place eggs, egg yolks, sugar and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large mixing bowl. Beat on medium-high speed with the whisk attachment until fluffy and light yellow, about 8 minutes. The mixture will drizzle into the bowl in a slowly-dissolving ribbon when it's been mixed enough.

While the eggs are being mixed: In a large, heavy saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the chocolate and stir constantly, until chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from heat.

Switch to the paddle attachment (or, if not using a stand mixer, a sturdy spatula).
Slowly add 1/3 of the chocolate to the egg mixture, stirring slowly. Once the chocolate is incorporated, add the rest of the chocolate and the flour. Mix on low speed until a somewhat thin batter is formed.

Divide the batter among 12 muffin cups.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until set around the edges and slightly jiggly in the center. Place pan on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes.
Gently run a knife around the edge of each muffin and turn out onto a rack to cool for about 5 minutes.

Serve warm with Salted Toffee Hazelnut Sauce, ice cream, or whipped cream.

(note: this recipe can also be made in 6 6-oz ramekins and will have a "molten" liquid center)

Salted Toffee Hazelnut Sauce

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts
1 t vanilla
1 t kosher salt

Place all ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Over medium heat, stir until the butter and sugar melt.

Continue stirring occasionally until the mixture comes to a full boil - 5-7 minutes. Once it reaches a boil, let it boil without stirring for 1 minute.

Remove sauce from the heat and let cool about 10 minutes.

Spoon over cupcakes.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Anti-chocolate chip cookies

Munchkin is an unusual child in that she doesn't like chocolate much. The only exception is when that chocolate comes in small doses mixed with peanut butter - think Butterfinger bars or peanut butter cups.

I was craving cookies, so for this weekend's baking project I decided to play on both my craving and her preferred type of candy. I took my standby chocolate chip cookie recipe and we made some substitutions.

Unfortunately not everything went according to plan...

Our oven has been cranky lately. It's a gas oven that tends to run a little bit hot, so I've been accounting for that with slightly lower bake temps. Saturday it decided to make some self-adjustments without my permission - and! - without warning me.

We mixed up our dough, merrily scooped it onto the baking sheets in nice little rows, and popped the first 24 cookies in the oven.
8 minutes later.....charcoal-bottomed cookies. They were completely non-salvageable; nicely browned on the top but burnt on the bottom.

I hate when that happens. The only redeeming factor was that I still had another 30 cookies or so worth of dough left and one higher slot in the oven to move the rack.

Fear not! The rest of the cookies baked perfectly after I made some appliance adjustments and our losses were minimal. We have cookies.

My Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies
makes about 4 dozen, give or take a few

1/2 cup butter flavored Crisco
1/2 cup butter, softened to room temperature (NOT margarine)
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
1 T vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 t baking soda
1 1/2 t salt
2 cups chocolate chips (can substitute any flavor baking chip - for these we used 1 cup peanut butter chips and 1 cup peanut butter & chocolate swirl)

Preheat oven to 350*

Cream both sugars, the butter and the Crisco together until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well between each addition.
Add the vanilla, baking soda, and salt and mix well.
Add the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, incorporating each addition before adding more.
Gently fold in the chips - I find it best to do this by hand with a sturdy wooden spoon.

Portion the dough with a small disher or a regular old tea spoon. I like "rustic" irregular cookies, so we just spooned a bit up and plopped it on the baking sheet. If you want neat, even cookies, use a disher or gently roll the dough into balls.

Bake at 350* for 8-10 minutes, until tops are lightly browned.
Let cool for a couple minutes on the baking sheets, then remove to wire racks.

I'm a fan of "crispy on the outside and soft on the inside" chocolate chip cookies; the butter helps with the crisp and the Crisco helps with the puffy & chewy. It's also important not to overbake your cookies if you want to retain the softness inside. I pull them when the tops are a light golden brown and the cookies are set. Obviously an extra couple minutes will give you a cookie that is crispier throughout.

After a day of reflecting on my poor burnt cookies, I've now realized that it really was for the best. What the hell would I do with 4 dozen cookies between 3 people?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Mac & Chee-zzzzzzz

I'm too tired to drag out the camera to take photos. I really wanted to, but now that I've finally sat my butt down I really don't want to get back up again.

I had a good amount of "random cheese" in the fridge that's getting close to critical-usage stage. It wasn't just one kind of cheese, because that would have been too easy. No, I had some mild cheddar, some sharp cheddar, some jack, some blue, and some cream cheese.

While "at work" today I pondered what to do with all that cheese.
(I put 'at work' in quotes because I work from home, so I'm not really physically somewhere else than a few feet from my kitchen. I'm generally too busy to cook during the day, though, so I am, in a sense, at work.)
Cheese, cheese, cheese. We love cheese, and we love food made with much cheese in it. What to do with something close to a pound of random cheese?
The weather's actually cold right now, so cheese soup might be good. But cheese soup never reheats well, and this is a lot of random cheese. No soup for me.
A casserole of some sort? That's nice & easy, and I had a bunch of errands to run after work, so easy is good. Meh. I slacked on grocery shopping last weekend and the only veggies in the kitchen are onions and potatoes. And all the meat is in the freezer. Oops. No casserole.
Ooooh, hey. Mac & cheese! I have much macaroni, I have milk, I have cheese. It reheats well, and everyone loves mac & cheese!!

So I did my errands and made some phone calls and finally got to work on the goodies.

One pound of macaroni noodles into some boiling water.
A roux with 2 T butter and 2 T flour. Whisk that while cradling the phone between my shoulder and ear, mixing and listening to my nephew tell me about his Heelys.
Slowly add milk, still whisking and still with the phone between shoulder and ear. My neck starts to cramp but I don't have a free hand to do anything about it. The Béchamel comes to a simmer and thickens, so I add more milk whilst chatting with my mom.
AHHH! Stupid cordless phone! The battery died! I hurriedly whisk in the next bit of milk and run to the bedroom to get my cell phone. I run back to the kitchen, tucking the phone against my right ear this time.
My mom tells me about making homemade mac & cheese when she was in high school while I slowly add in the leftover mild cheddar and the jack - both shredded. Mom used plain ol' American cheese in hers, but thinks that my random cheese mix sounds like it'll be pretty good.
I add the crumbled blue cheese and whisk some more, then add some cream cheese that I've hacked up into little bits.
Hey, I'm pretty good at chatting while cooking. I add some more milk to make room for the sharp cheddar while I boast about the dozen roses Kevin brought me today. I briefly contemplate getting the camera out but get sidetracked by conversation and sharp cheddar.
A healthy dollop of mustard - champagne dill Dijon from Biltmore Estate, which, yes, is that good - and a few(dozen) grinds of pepper.
I start unconsciously telling my mom what I'm doing in broken sentences: "Gotta get a spoon for the mustard. One spoon of mustard...hmm, maybe another one. Aaaannnd some more the salt...salt salt salt...hmm needs some more salt. Needs something else...oooh, some dry mustard would be good...mustard mustard mustard. Do do de do, stir stir...."
"Oh damn, that's good...."
She laughs at me, but she's used to it. We kind of have a running joke where I call her up and list off what's in the freezer, or on the baker's rack, or in the spice cabinet.
Silently, I ponder whether it could use a shot of hot sauce or not and decide that no, it's quite good how it is right now. I pour the sauce over the cooked macaroni and mix, then scoop some into a bowl and - rather impolitely - continue my conversation with Mom while stuffing my face.

I finally sit down after like 4 hours of running around and decide that I'm not going to bother with the camera right now.
Maybe tomorrow. I have plenty left over.

In other news, hello to new visitors here in Bizarre-land! *waves shyly*
It seems that I've been getting some newcomers from this month's DMBLGIT and that makes me happy. I guess I'm not one to tread lightly, so after having this blog thing for like a month I went ahead and entered my first ever blog event.

To be honest, I don't think I stand a chance against the other amazing entries. Jeez, just look at those pictures!! My humble li'l cheesecake photo compared to the incredible talent of everyone else? Heh.
But that's okay. It honestly makes my day to see a new comment from some of the bloggers I've been reading (and admiring) for months now. :)

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Tea for One

One of the few cold nights we've had this winter, tonight is. Silly me for thinking winter = frigid in the Northeast, because I've been feeling more of a March vibe than December and January.

But the temperature is near freezing and that calls for but one thing: tea.

As luck would have it, I found some amazingly dark, rich local buckwheat honey this weekend. With my special mug warming my hands, I'll be having some tea time.

If only I had a rocking chair and a fireplace....

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Zopf: Swiss Sunday Bread

We're bread fans here in the Bizarre house. It's a good thing, too, because I like to make bread frequently and in large quantities.

While I was in the kitchen making the cinnamon buns, I decided to give the ol' Kitchenaid a workout and try out a new bread recipe recommended by a friend. It's a Swiss bread called Zopf, or Züpfe, and it's a braided loaf rich with eggs, milk and butter.

In my mind, you just can't go wrong with eggs, milk AND butter in a bread recipe. You really can't.

makes 2 large braided loaves

1/2 oz active dry yeast
2 2/3 cup milk, about 110*
1 t sugar
2 egg yolks
4 T butter, softened
5 cups bread flour, plus 2 extra cups
1 T salt

For egg wash:
1 egg whisked with a splash of milk

In your mixing bowl, combine the yeast, milk and sugar and mix well. Let sit until foamy, about 10 minutes.
Add the egg yolks, butter, salt, and 2 cups of flour. Mix well with your mixer's dough hook or a sturdy spoon.
Add 3 cups of flour and mix well.
Check the consistency of your dough; you will probably need to add more flour.
Add as much of the remaining 2 cups of flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until your dough is soft, supple, and slightly sticky.
Knead 10 minutes by mixer or 15 minutes by hand until the dough is smooth and springy.

Place dough in a lightly greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a tea towel. Let dough rise in a warm place until doubled in size - about 1 hour. While the dough rises, prepare 2 baking sheets or half sheet pans by lining them with silicone mats or parchment paper.

Gently deflate the dough and divide in half. Divide each half into 3 equal pieces and roll each piece into a long rope. Place 3 ropes on each baking sheet and braid tightly. Tuck the ends underneath slightly to create a more uniform appearance.

Once braided, cover and let the loaves rise again until doubled - about 40 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425*.

When the loaves are doubled in size, brush liberally with your egg wash. Bake at 425* for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown and the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the side.

Cool on wire racks and enjoy!

Cinnamonalicious Cinnamon Buns

I truly believe that there isn't much better in this world than a fresh cinnamon bun. Just those two words together - cinnamon bun - conjure up images of gooey frosting, warm, fluffy sweet dough, and the dark, spicy-sweet filling all rolled up into one perfect, decadent spiral of awesomeness.

You can smell them, can't you? You can feel the crisp bits of cinnamon-sugar and the little dab of cream cheese icing on your lip, right?

They're beautiful, they're delicious, and - best of all - they're easy to make. They're especially easy to make when you turn to one Mr. Alton Brown and his overnight cinnamon rolls, because most of the waiting happens while you sleep.

Overnight Cinnamon Rolls
recipe from Alton Brown
Makes 12 buns

Alton explains the process step by step in his recipe, and the only change I can suggest is to add a wee splash of vanilla extract to the icing. The vanilla really wakes up the flavor of the cream cheese and brings together the icing and the cinnamon extremely well.

You may find it a little tricky to roll the dough at first, but go slow and be patient. You will be rewarded.

The overnight rise makes this recipe one for a weekend breakfast with the family rather than a complicated affair you reserve for special occasions. Don't wait for Christmas or a birthday to enjoy these melt-in-your-mouth treats, and most certainly don't spend $5 to buy one at the mall! Do a little mixing on Saturday evening, and Sunday morning be ready for your house to smell better than any bakery.