Monthly Archives: August 2008

The problem with food blogs

First off, the good: Delicious photos and creative recipes, which encourage innovation and experimentation. Fabulous, generous people. Easy enough. Nothing to regret there.

The problem: the baked goods! oh, the baked goods. While I doubt there is any blogger who bakes everyday, everyday there are many talented people baking many wonderful things. And so, the list of things to make grows considerably faster than there are reasonable occasions to make them. For instance, just in the last week these recipes caught my eye:

  1. Chiffon cake.
  2. Plum cake.
  3. Granola Grabbers.
  4. Blueberry Pudding Cake.
  5. Chai Cupcakes.
  6. Blackberry Flummery (although not a baked good, it’s still dessert).

And this happens nearly every week. In my ever continuing efforts to avoid a heart attack/diabetes/morbid obesity, I try to exercise some restraint. I can’t bake everyday. (Or can I? )

Enter the machinations of the Unstoppable Sugar Fiend (a/k/a my dear mother.) Here’s a short story to illustrate how dangerous she is:

The other day, I made these blueberry crumb bars. I had considered halving the recipe because 9X13 makes an awful lot of irresistible crumble servings. But that would involve using 1/2 an egg, which seemed like a waste, blah blah blah. I convinced myself to make the whole thing. Figured I could freeze 1/2 of it or something. Anyway, I made them, and each of the incredibly tiny portions were delicious. Only hours after it cooled, we had already made a huge dent in the 9X13 pan.

I thought I’d do the generous thing and give a big chunk of the remainder to our neighbors, who have 5 kids and had just returned from overseas on vacation. When I mentioned this to the Fiend, she gasped and clutched at her heart. She looked at me as if I had suggested that we eat the neighborhood children, instead of feed them. She was aghast, and she was not kidding. The crumble was just too precious to her.

The next day, after at least 1/3 of the crumble was gone–(Oh, Internet. It is so easy to lie to you. My better angel tells me that slightly more than 1/2 of the crumble had been dispatched)–she suggested that I make another one. That day. In fact, I only just managed to stop her as she was collecting her purse and heading out the door to buy more blueberries. I told her she was crazy.

I haven’t told her about the #2 above yet. Who could withstand the harrassment? But that is the recipe weighing most heavily on my mind at the moment. I have an 8X8 inch pan and peaches and other delicious stone fruits on hand (in the last week, the Fiend has purchased peaches, nectarines and plums in an attempt to encourage another tart). It feels like destiny.



Filed under Food

I crumbled.

I do not know why I can’t write this post.

Short story: I saw this recipe and filed it away as looking delicious and something I wanted to make soonish. With end of blueberry season fast approaching, I knew it would have to be soon. Enter Friday, when I had some time– and just slightly less than 2 pints of blueberries– on my hands. Opportunity was a-knocking, and I answered the call.

I made a few modifications to the recipe:

  1. I substituted 4oz neufchatel cream cheese for 4oz of the butter. (This was an idea I got from Madam Chow, and it worked wonderfully in the peach tart I made a little while back.) I thought it was an awesome modification to this recipe as well. I had intended to sub out only about 2oz of the butter. But when I saw that the cream cheese was not preventing the flour from crumbling nicely, I just couldn’t resist adding more. (It didn’t hurt that I had almost an entire opened package of the cream cheese left, which I was looking to use up.)
  2. I also subbed 1.5 cups whole wheat pastry flour for 1.5 cups of the all purpose.
  3. At the very last moment, I bailed on using the lemon zest in the crumble dough. I used the lemon juice on the blueberries, though. Someday I’ll get around to discussing my complicated relationship with lemon flavor.

Everybody loved the bars, and nobody seemed to notice the whole wheat or reduced butter. I’m sure the bars would have been more delectable with all butter and all white flour. But, they were still so good, the modifications didn’t feel like a sacrifice at all.

p.s. These photos are rudimentary and crass.  You should really check out the photos at Smitten Kitchen.  If they don’t make you salivate, you are probably not alive.


Filed under Dessert, Food, Uncategorized

A bit more food nostaglia

I made Nancy Silverton’s Pappardelle with Bagna Cauda, Wilted Radicchio and an Olive-Oil-Fried Egg

today, as sort of a brunch meal. This is much, much fancier than I usually cook or eat. It has anchovies in it! I think this was the first time I even touched anchovies to be perfectly honest. They are certainly not the most pleasant-looking food.

I only found the recipe last night, and that was by accident. But when I saw it, I knew I wanted to at least try it–despite the anchovies– because it reminded me a great lunch I had in Barcelona last year. At the time (and even now, actually) I had no idea idea what I was ordering, but what I ended up with was a runny fried egg on top of a crispy, french-fry like base. The base was sort of like a mix between fries and potato stix in terms of texture. It also had some kind of mildly spicy, chili sauce mixed into it. The whole thing was unexpected and delicious. So the idea of having the runny yolk of egg run through egg noodles was very appealing.

It’s a pretty easy recipe to put together for something with such a fancy name. I cut down on some of the oil and didn’t use parsley (because I hate it). I also didn’t bother with the cheese, but it might try the dish with a bit of parmigiana next time for the sake of complexity.

I think the Bagna Cauda has potential. But in my rush to make it (it was 2 pm and I still hadn’t eaten yet), I accidentally added the juice and zest of 1 whole lemon, instead of 1/2 a lemon. That’s kind of a lot of lemon, and it ruined the dish. Anything that might have been subtle about the anchovies or garlic or radicchio flavors was washed away by the overpowering lemon taste. Such a pity. I did manage to eat my egg and some of the pasta. I had it with a slice of the light whole wheat bread, and it’s a hearty meal. I’ll try it again because it does have the potential to be great. I might change out the radicchio for spinach or something similar. It seemed kind of too bitter to me. But then again, it was really hard to tell what was working with all the lemon squishing around. But I can’t complain. I got to try something really different and had a hearty, filling meal. This would be a great meal to have on a brisk fall morning, just before a really long hike. It’s the kind of thing that will keep you going.


Filed under Food

Bread-Making and Nostalgia

Reading Badger’s other (unfortunately password protected) travel blog about her recent trip to climb Kilimanjaro had me thinking about a trip we took together to Machu Picchu. We hiked the 4 days along the Inca Trail, but the trip was fully supported. One of the greatest things about it was the food, which was always high-quality and fresh. And there is nothing like hiking all day to get the appetite up. One of the culinary highlights was tea time. This was usually just after we got into camp after a day of hiking. There would be a few hours after lunch and a few hours before dinner and we needed something to tide us over. The group would be tired and maybe a bit sore, but we’d descend on the tea-time snack. The porters and guides would set us up with some tea (with powdered milk), biscuits or cookies, and jam. The menu reminded me of childhood trips to Ireland, which used to be the only place I’d drink tea or eat biscuits or jam. So every afternoon, we’d have a really filling and wonderful tea. And it turns out that the tea-time fare was similar in Kilimanjaro. Which got me thinking about recreating that nostalgic feeling, especially since I haven’t taken any vacation yet this year.

I wasn’t in the mood for biscuits, but I did have some nearing-the-14-day-mark dough in the fridge from the light whole wheat recipe in this book. Not enough can be said about the wondrousness of that book. Many people have remarked on it. But I think I finally decided to buy the book after reading this post. I’d been seeing (reading?) people talk about it for a bit, but I thought the idea of five-minute bread sounded gimmicky and too-good to be true. Well, I was wrong. It’s fabulous. I have made so many things from that book. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with wheat recipes, in an effort to be good. My latest attempt was a simple light whole wheat. It’s basically this recipe, except with 1 cup whole wheat flour instead of 1 cup white. Not much whole wheat at all, but it counts. It may be my favorite so far. Though the all-white loaf is delectable.

This is the old, stored up dough, kind of gross looking actually:

It was goopy and slopped after so many days in the fridge, but it worked out all right. I shaped it into a boule:

I let it rise for 40 minutes and then slashed it incompetently:

I baked it with a pizza stone.  This loaf has a wonderful smell and looks really nice as well.

The crumb on this loaf was bit denser than I’d like. I don’t know if that was because of the age and wetness of the dough or maybe it needed a bit more time to rise. Still very tasty though. It really didn’t take much work and it was worth it for a nice afternoon, nostaglic tea break:


Filed under Food, Uncategorized

I had a three-stage granola plan

Stage One: Learn to make a nice granola that I like to eat. I don’t really like commercial granola and my (one?) previous attempt was not memorable. But the idea of granola is very appealing to me. It seems wholesome and filling and–this is key– is frequently a topping for yogurt.

Stage Two: The next step was to use granola as a gateway–a key that would unlock the portal (if you will permit some vague Buffy-speak)– to enjoyment of plain, unsweetened yogurt. I would like to like plain yogurt. Problem is, I barely like regular, sugary, fruity yogurt. In fact, it’s really only the Australian-style Wallaby’s yogurt that I like (it’s creamy and mild-tasting). But that stuff is expensive and full of sugar, and I have to go to Whole Foods or Fairway to get it (annoying).

So, for many reasons, the idea of switching to unsweetened probiotic bacteria cultures appeals to me. To that end, I have purchased a Wallaby’s plain yogurt tub and plan to learn how to enjoy eating it in some fashion. And granola is part of that plan. (As is agave syrup. Because I can’t go from all sweet to no sweet without some help.)

Stage Three: Wean myself off the granola and (perhaps) the agave and learn to tolerate plain yogurt with just some fruit and maybe honey, as recommended by Marion Nestle in her great (but disturbing) book What to Eat (short answer: nothing whose labeling contains a health claim).

Will this ever happen? About the unsweetened, plain yogurt, I don’t know. Frankly, it’s a long shot. And the bit about weaning myself off the granola now seems extremely unlikely as I have, on first attempt, located an ideal granola recipe, which has crack-like addictive properties.

I can’t say I wasn’t warned. I was. I just didn’t believe it that I’d be unable to stop eating it or that I might need to make a double batch. And now I am in a terrible way.

Orangette’s recipe is really easy to put together. I bought the chocolate and the shredded coconut weeks ago in anticipation of making this. The recipe, which is very slightly adapted from the Orangette recipe, which was in turn an adaptation of a recipe from David Lebovitz’s Perfect Scoop, calls for:

3 cups rolled oats

1/2 cup shredded coconut (I used a little less than 1/2 cup and used 40% reduced fat coconut to no apparent ill effect).

2T sugar

6T honey (I think next time I’d try it with just a little less sugar. Like maybe 1/2T less of the granulated and 3/4 or 1T less of the honey).

2T vegetable oil (I used canola)

Pinch of salt

1/2 cup almonds (which I thought I had. Alas, no. I subbed in mostly pecans with a few walnuts to excellent effect. I probably like those nuts better than almonds anyway, and they worked really well with the oats and honey.)

1/2 cup of bittersweet chocolate. I used a Sirius chocolate bar (from Iceland via Whole Foods), which is just my favorite right now. Creamy and delicious.

Preheat oven to 300F.

Mix the dry ingredients (except chocolate) in a bowl.

Then, in a small pot, carefully whisk the honey and oil together under low heat. When the honey is smooth and liquid-y, pour onto the granola mixture. Mix well and put mixture in a bake pan.

I have to admit that at this point, I had a crisis of confidence. I don’t know if it was confidence in the recipe, in myself, or in the concept of granola generally. But it all seemed too simple and bland. I almost panicked and added some other kind of flavoring. I considered vanilla extract and cinnamon. But then I remembered that cinnamon, especially, has ruined every batch of granola it was ever added to. And that I have not enjoyed vanilla flavored granola in the past. Too cloying. I decided to let the panic pass and just cook the damn granola.

As recommended, I stirred the granola half way through the 20 minunte cooking time. My crisis of confidence had not completely subsided at the 20 minute mark:

This looked too pale. Still too bland. I feared a granola-based disaster. I was about to find out, however, that I had just cooked up my very first batch of crack. Did you ever watch Breaking Bad? You know, the first time Hal cooks up meth. And then the drug dealer realizes that it’s pure and near perfect. It was like that.

I hesitated before eating the first spoonful. And before I chewed, again in mild state of panic, I popped a bit of the chopped chocolate (which I had not yet added to the hot granola) into my mouth so that I would not be overly afflicted by the plain granola. How unnecessary that turned out to be. My goodness, the warm, nutty, flavorful first bite did not even need the chocolate. But the chocolate! Oh, the chocolate! So so good.

And the first bite led the second and so on and so forth. Until I could not believe how much of the granola I could eat. Once I realized how good the granola was, I was in a rush to eat more of it, and I ended up adding the chocolate to the granola when it was still a bit too warm. But that turned out to be a delicious mistake. The chocolate, which I chopped sort of finely, melted in places and mixed together with the oats and nuts in the most wonderful clumps.

It would not be sad if you increased the chocolate in the granola by 50% or even 100%. Though, as it is, it’s not exactly low-calorie so I will try to hold off doing that.

I only brought a small amount of the granola to work today. It was meant to be a snack. In the afternoon. Perhaps with some yogurt (see 3-stage plan above) or a bit of milk. Yeah. The granola didn’t make it past 10am, and at first I was grateful I hadn’t brought more. It was so delicious that I was afraid to add milk to it (as recommended) for fear of ruining it. I did add a bit of milk to the last few bites, and I can confirm the granola is also excellent with milk. But by mid-afternoon, I soley regretted my temperance. I really needed more granola.

Problem now is that this granola is pretty much too good to eat with yogurt. So I’m back to square–or stage–one in the plan to conquer plain yogurt.

Postscript: After I wrote the post but before posting it, I started to wonder if maybe I had over-hyped the crack-like properties of the granola in my own mind. After I got home again though, I found myself standing over the granola container with a plastic spoon in my hand, just eating and eating it. Next thing I knew, everyone else was around me also eating it. It’s powerful stuff.


Filed under Food, Uncategorized

At least the gymnastics is over

I realized last night that I do not have the mental fortitude necessary to be an Olympic athlete. (The realization that I do not have any of the physical talents necessary to compete in an Olympic sport came long long ago).

I know this because as I sat alternately choking up and then sobbing outright at Shawn Johnson’s gold medal win, she beamed and grinned and bit her lips and held herself together. Like a champ. An Olympic champ. And I sobbed like some kind of second-string intramural alternate.

I get much less emotional over the diving.


Filed under Uncategorized

A growing obsession with pudding

I made this pudding yesterday. It was very good and simple, though next time I’d cut the sugar just a bit. It turns out, I really like making my own pudding. I’ve never been a huge pudding fan, but I think it’s because I’ve only had store bought stuff.

I ate the pudding with a peach oat crisp. I still sort of dream about the peach tart. Sigh. But I will have to move on, and I hoped this would be a good substitute (and a bit healthier). It’s decent, but it’s no buttery, crispy tart.

And this was the final result.

I will experiment a bit more with the idea of an oat crisp. It has not yet realized potential as a dessert.


Filed under Food, Uncategorized