It’s Probably Axel’s Fault. All of It.

One of the gifts of technology has been being able to “hear” magazines in podcast form, and in this household, there is altogether too much access to food podcasts. D sometimes listens to them, and gets …these ideas… ideas T really, really, really wishes he had never heard.

His latest idea, though, is Axel’s fault. And, it all started with the cured egg yolks.

What could be finer, terms of lovely things to enjoy, than a fresh new cookbook? With full color images, and cross-sections of the ingredients… the dishes… the appliances… Oh, yes. This is Modernist Cuisine at Home, a very, very pricey little cookbook that is more an art piece than a cookbook (but, to its credit, it comes with an Actual Cookbook which does not contain high def images, and which does have stain-proof, wipeable pages). In this very beautiful book, which is Axel’s newest pride and joy, D saw a photo of someone grating something which was not cheese, and D remembered an America’s Test Kitchen episode he’d seen. “Oh, yeah, those are preserved egg yolks!” he said.

In terms of things T wants to eat, egg yolks are not that high on the list. A childhood of parents who were at times vegan and other times vegetarians who kept chickens left her with a mild distrust of egg yolks. She eats eggs, but prefers them scrambled, so she cannot see… anything about them. Once you’ve candled eggs… yes. Well. The less said, the better.

Now, T didn’t think much of this throwaway comment, but D is in possession of a mind which fastens upon a thing and does. not. let. go. He remembered those eggs. For days. And when we were gifted with a basket of some farm fresh from his niece’s chickens, he had An Idea of what to do with them, he said.

An “idea” he said. “Something cool,” he said.

It seems the word ‘cool’ has varying definitions within a single household, but we digress.

It’s apparently very simple. Separate egg and yolk. Dump yolk in mixture of salt and sugar. End up with far too many whites, and no real plan of anything to do with them. Dismay your spouse with your apparent glee at the disturbingly orange, firm little balls of protein-rich… something-ness, which languish for weeks on end in their dry brine cure, growing ever harder and more disturbingly un-egg-like.

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Some argue that the yolks need to air dry, others suggest a short stint in a low oven. Regardless, they seem raw-ish, and T has determined that no matter how… “like Parmesan” dried, aged egg yolks are, she will not be eating them, thank you so. She will, instead, avail herself of the myriad frozen egg yolks, and inveigle her way into getting macarons. Frequently.

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Macrons are, in and of themselves, another deceptively simple food that is tricky. It’s just whipped egg whites, a bit of sugar, and almond flour for structure – how hard could it be?

Hard.

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Sure, you can whip the whites, but if you don’t sift both flour and powdered sugar, and the sun comes out from behind a cloud, it will all go wrong. You may sift the flour and sugar, but if the chickens laid the eggs on or near a new moon, it will all go wrong. Your eggs may be room temperature, you may whip to stiff peaks, but if the wind is from the East, well. Honestly, the EAST??? What were you thinking?

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You may leave your cookies to sit the requisite thirty+ minutes to set, you may keep your kitchen hermetically sealed against drafts, you may sing all sixteen lines of Va, Pensiero in perfect Italian, swaying gently, but … the cookies will not raise. You will make another batch. You will make stiffer peaks. You will add less coloring. You will give up on remotely following the sanitized recipe and add tiny flecks of ground vanilla bean. They will still not raise, and a few of them will cave in.

You will not know why. You will serve them anyway, they will melt in spouse’s mouth, and be the most delicious puffs of air-infused-with-Creamsicle she has ever eaten. She will share them with her chorus buddies, and they will clamor, in a strictly ladylike fashion, for mOaR.

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(Oh, yes. Fiori di Sicilia, you ask? Well, that most divine of all seasonings makes your cookies taste like Creamsicles. A mere 1/2 teaspoon, and all is delicious and smelling of soft, vanilla-y citrussy goodness. It tastes like your Italian summer dreams, even if that one time you were in Italy in the summer it rained the whole time and you never even heard any Verdi when you were there, only incoherent screams, and a lot of horns from people flipping you off as they drove up waaay too close to your back bumper…)

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*cough* Where were we? Ah, yes. Axel. His fault. His cookbook. Those disturbing orange orbs. The amazing fluffs of Creamsicle goodness. Yes, well. Perhaps Axel can be forgiven this time for once again instigating some hair-brained (like harebrained, but…worse) foodie scheme into this household. After all, the more of those slightly disturbing orange orbs there are, the more freely available egg whites there are, perfect for more experimentation in making the perfect macarons. Some day, they will rise triumphant and smooth, perfected and serene. Some day, there will be no cracks. Some day, all that invisibly melting cookie flavor will actually look as perfect as the ones in bakeries. Until then, we’ll keep on trying. After all, there really isn’t much most of us wouldn’t do for Italian summer dreams. (Dreams work better, after all… they don’t contain those rude drivers, for one thing.)


Health Junk, Because Some of You Wanted to Know: Week… seven? Yes. Week seven of D’s medical leave, and a low, gray fogbank has taken up residence around us. Thank God for a bit of precipitation and moisture in the world, which will soon herald a green springtide, but the low visibility and endless gray means a lot of indoor days… and trips to the Oakland Museum of California. Thank goodness for indoor entertainment. If you haven’t been, go. It’s truly one of the better museums in the Bay Area.

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It’s trade-off time! According to the Geneva Marriage Accord of 1386, spouses have to trade off being ill. By a narrow margin, this time it’s T who is dragging, as her autoimmune disease has figured out a way to bowl over her immunosuppressant drug. Now is the season of enormous fatigue, new labs and new trials and – ugh… just in time for the upcoming choral show, where T is going to put on elbow-length gloves, a string of pearls, and …sequined ears (don’t ask) to make a fool of herself. The performance definitely won’t be as high energy as it might have been, but, at least the drug conk out was expected; her endocrinologist warned her early on that there would be multiple drug shifts throughout the life of the disease, because that just seems to be the way autoimmune disease goes. It’s no fun, though.

Himself, meanwhile, under medical supervision, is doing his own drug juggling, to gradually reintroduce some necessary medications. There are gains every day, and though we still don’t know entirely what caused this catastrophic unhinging of every single thing, having a break from work stress while sifting through the detritus of the implosion of his life has been, while not wholly pleasant, bracing and necessary. Some days it’s a slog, but he’s doing as well as he can, and wellness – and happiness – seems a less elusive goal these days.

And how are you? What are you looking forward to these days? More importantly, what weird foodie thing are you cooking? Here’s hoping it has nothing to do with Axel…

Rubber. Glue. And… Sugar.

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One might imagine that with Himself out on medical leave, all kinds of cooking and travel would be taking place. Well, no… medical leave, in this case, means you feel cruddy enough not to go to work and don’t know what the cause is, unfortunately. We’re working through it – and we’re mostly doing well, but sometimes it’s a slog, without a doubt. Still, there has been some experimental foodie-ing going on, because we wouldn’t be us without this aspect of our lives.

People talk about “adulting” in the sense of eating all of the foods in one’s farm box before it goes bad or eating all the produce in one’s fruit bowl before same. These are huge and worthy goals, dear people. We’ve extended our personal goals to really looking critically not just at our consumption, but at our waste, which the U.S. does a lot of – wasting food, that is. People on a budget considering seriously the impact of really using every single bit of a fruit or veg find that they can save a lot of money while expanding their creativity. It’s definitely a challenge. We discovered an entire cookbook for that purpose. It’s gorgeous and full of interesting recipes, but the one which caught our attention the most was… a banana peel cake recipe. Oh, yes – Banana Peel Cake With Brown Sugar Frosting.

NB: If you have a latex allergy, like T’s youngest sister, remember that banana peels contain latex – please, DO NOT EAT THIS CAKE or even try to make it, as boiled or processed banana peels release more latex than fresh.

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Normally, the idea of cooking with something that is limp, brownish, and usually crumpled up and put in the trash would seem problematic, but the cookbook author swears by this recipe, and said it tasted like the best banana bread, ever. Like the majority of West Coast folk, we’re big fans of banana bread, and the idea of a recipe with a controllable amount of sugar and carbohydrate, yet with still a rich banana flavor seemed remarkable – too good to be true.

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Not even going to lie – it kind of was.

This is not to say that it wasn’t a banana bread-shaped thing in the universe of banana breads, but for all of the accolades, etc., the cake itself was kind of …well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The directions state that you need to remove both blossom and stem ends of the peel, then pry out and discard the white strings from the interior of the peel. Next, one is meant to boil the peel, drain it, preserving some of the water aside, and then to puree the peels. All of that was kind of fun, because it was… just so weird to be messing around with peels, which are so very obviously trash. We started the cake on an impulse, after making a morning protein shake — and if you look, our peels are just of normally ripe bananas. Not nearly overripe bananas. The cookbook strongly suggests you use very brown or almost fully covered in speckles peels, as one does when making banana bread.

But – without the gift of hindsight, we went with what we had, impulsively trimmed our peels, and tossed them into a pot. The kitchen smelled of bananas, as it always does when one makes bread, but it was a slightly …different smell. More rich, but also more bitter, and slightly tinged with an almost vanilla edge.

And speaking of vanilla – or spices of any kind – the recipe is utterly lacking in those. And that was a point of contention with our Baker. There are far too many baked goods in the world which don’t include, at minimum, vanilla. It might be argued that bananas are a relative of vanilla, thus not in need of it, but to us a good banana bread typically includes allspice or ginger or cardamom or at the very least, a simple pinch of coriander, or a bit of cinnamon even — anything, just so the bread doesn’t just have the flat, slightly insipid flavor of banana alone. But, no, not this time. The Baker compensated by adding in ground vanilla powder, but since we were trying to actually follow the recipe, we didn’t take it further than that. We probably should have.

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Something – the peel? the latex? – really informed the texture of this cake in both its baked and unbaked form. Baked, it is slightly springy to the touch, but sticky – really sticky, like Scottish Sticky Toffee Pudding stickiness, as if it is made with dates and a sugary syrup. Unbaked, but the batter is thin and unprepossessing. It didn’t really raise much, despite all the leavening, and it sort of came away from the back of a spoon like …well, not even like pancake batter – like a crepe batter. Noting the batter texture, the Baker decided to bake it as a roll cake, which turned out to be the best call.

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Like Sticky Toffee Pudding, this cake might best be served in the British way, with a sticky sauce, and eaten less like a cake and more like a bread pudding. The whipped cream in the center lessened the effect of the general stickiness, and everyone who had some enjoyed it. We …tasted it, and then said… “Meh.”

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Though this was our first exposure to Peel Cake, it’s apparently quite common in, of all places, the magical land of Oz. The Oz – or Aussie – version of Dateline had it on their show way back in 2009 when cookbook author Edna Toledo came on to the show and made it. Her recipe uses far, far more peels and she says you can use orange peels in it, too. (Hm!)

A more recent NZ version has both peels and… avocado frosting, so you can… be… super… green? Or something.

We may have to try this again, because we must have done something wrong. Everyone says this is fluffy and delicious, and it’s hard to compare our ambivalent response to the rapturous descriptions of what is clearly a beloved cake, but… nah. Sure, the cake is okay, but life’s short — too short for cake that isn’t absolutely amazing. Why waste the carbohydrates? We’ll try something else.

Until next cake…

Plums Galore!

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Plums. They are … determined? Obstinate? Persistent? Annoying?

Yes.

We have several quarts of unripe plum paste. We have several gallons of unripe plum pickles. We have several more gallons of ripe plum paste. We. Are. Tired. Of. Plums.

We will, however, be making some plum pickles, and some plum jam, and maybe some other things. Made of plums. Lots and lots of Santa Rosa plums. Which keep falling off of the tree, and demanding to be picked up so as not to have wasps, etc.

Plums.

A Mostly Pictorial Panko Lemon Garlic Tofu Recipe

Okay, so some people just HATE tofu. T, who grew up with it from childhood, LOATHED it until at some point in her twenties when… she got over it. It’s … just like any other ingredient, in that it’s a Thing to which you add Other Things and then it has flavor. Of course, meat allegedly has its own flavors even without additions, but that’s the blood, and we’re ignoring that. Meat (sans sangre) is flavorless, just as tofu is flavorless. As an ingredient, tofu is fine, and, even better, is lacking weird stringy bits and wobbly things you don’t want to identify. It’s a perfectly reasonable food, you just have to season it.

Crispy Lemon Garlic Tofu 1

This recipe is adapted from Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken‘s.

We realized that, like most people, we’d fallen into a meal rut, with winter casseroles and heavy, savory things like beans. Our attempt at something piquant and unique was this dish, which is both crunchy and tangy. It turned out surprisingly well, it was (mostly) easy and quick to prepare, and a good use of odds and ends for side dishes and whatnot. And, if you love someone vegan or vegetarian? It’s well worth preparing during this ridiculous Hallmark holiday… celebrating the tang of lemon as an antidote to the saccharine of the holiday. *cough* Or something.

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The marinade calls for two lemons, zest and juice; three cloves of garlic, agave, water, salt, and pepper. T left out the agave, and added a tablespoon of tapenade leftover from something, far more garlic than called for, and then she microwaved the lemons, which made them delightfully juicy. (And messy.) (She also did a frankly terrible job of zesting the lemons, because though frozen lemons preserve their great skin, after defrosting, the lemons are too juicy to work with, and the skin on Meyers especially is too thin and delicate, so, a word to the wise: zest the frozen lemons before defrosting, or better yet, before you freeze them…) It’s said that the tofu can marinate for up to three days in this blend, but we find that if we remove the water its packed in, tofu doesn’t need more than a half hour to marinate. We laid out our tofu chunks on a cookie sheet, stacked the sheets, and weighed them down with a cast-iron skillet. After an hour, we poured off all the water, unstacked the pans, and poured on our marinade. After about twenty minutes, we put the tofu in a series of zip-top bags, all of which proceeded to leak. (ANNOYING.)

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We’d forgotten how much of a chore the multi-step dredging food in flour and panko can be… since we’d not made anything which required these steps in about a year and a half, the last time we made faux crab cakes (squeeze-dried shredded zucchini, panko, Old Bay – tasty). Fortunately, after all the plate-of-flour-and-seasonings, plate-of-wet-binding, messy-sticky-hands thing, we discovered that this tofu dish works nicely baked – and there’s less a chance that your chef will get bored and forget she has something on the stove. Ahem.

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It’s easy to leave dish as vegan, as is, or, if you’re feeling particularly beleaguered that you’re ACTUALLY EATING TOFU and it’s NOT EVEN IN AN ASIAN DISH, you can use an egg whipped with water to make the recipe safely animal-product-y. The flour dredging is a place to layer in the flavors, to give your tofu the taste you prefer. We entirely forgot the nutritional yeast in the breading, but added pretty much everything else, including random herbs not called for, old packets of Parmesan from pizzerias, a sprinkle of Old Bay, even more garlic (because since when is three cloves enough????), and ground cayenne (because: we add it to EVERYTHING). Each time we ran short of the dredging blend, we remade it differently, and T didn’t follow any measurements at all. (It’s a wonder anything she makes ever turns out.) We did a test run of this dish after making something else, just in case, but it’s good enough to serve as a main dish with a couple of sides. The lemon shines through, and the exterior crunch is a nice contrast to the soft tofu insides. (It’s not as soft as it would have been, as firm tofu gets even MORE firm when you’ve a.) frozen it and b.) pressed out all of the water. If you dislike tofu for texture reasons, you might try that.) The recipe inventor finishes this with parsley and sliced lemons, but tonight, we’re going to make a buttery lemon sauce, which will really bring out that lovely tang. Pair this with steamed veg like green beans or asparagus, a lemon-infused rice, or lemon pasta, or savory roasted sprouts.

This was a surprisingly delicious meal, and perfect for the suddenly chilly evening. Here’s to home cooking, and the attractive nuisance that is a bored person in a kitchen.

Buying Spices

So, we watched this youtube video the other day on how to make “tuna” sliders out of unripe jackfruit (go – watch it – then come back and let’s talk). It really is an awesome recipe, and we’re nearly ready to make an attempt at it (it’s too hot, and we don’t have Old Bay Seasoning). That’s not what this post is about today, though.

Today, I want to talk about choice. Like, if you go to Amazon, and try to buy Old Bay Seasoning. Go ahead, go over there and drop it into the search box, then come back here and tell me how you found the experience. Did you locate what looked like the best deal? That would be the 24-ounce item that shows up first on the list. Do notice, though, that it is a “Fresh” item (so, you have to join some program or other in order to buy it) or an “add-on” item (which means you have to play grocery-cart bingo and put enough in your cart to actually get it delivered). Also notice that there are just about 100 different things from which to choose.

There’s a thing going on here that I think is important: I think that there is a payoff here on the part of Amazon in that you’re going to have to 1) join some program of theirs (which makes them money) or 2) add more things to your cart than you want to buy or 3) troll through literally 100+ items to figure out which one you can and should buy. I think that this level of product chaos is found in a few different places, and I suspect that there’s some degree of psychological testing going on here, to figure out what drives the most profit. Or perhaps this level of chaos actually accomplishes that, and this is simply the new normal when shopping on Amazon.

In my case, I decided that I really didn’t need the Old Bay and that I’d spend the couple dollars at the grocery store, rather than suffer through the buying process on Amazon. I emptied my cart (including the slippery add-on item which put itself on my “buy later” list, repeatedly) and went to buy the other things I wanted elsewhere. I’m sure I’ll use them for other dishes, and Amazon is perfectly prepared to drive a certain amount of business away in order to maximize revenue. They’re a store – that’s what they do.

This jumble of bad choices is what’s known as a dark pattern: something which drives the user to do something they do not want to do. Once you become familiar with dark patterns, you start to see them, and then start to look for them. In this case, I’m sure that I’ll continue to use Amazon. But I’m also sure that I’ll start paying attention and, if I find myself struggling to actually find the thing that I want, I’ll go elsewhere.

I ended up spending way more money than I’d intended to spend just then, but also bought a whole bunch of things that we needed: I went to the SF Herb Company’s culinary herbs page and simply went down the list, adding 1 of everything on there that we do use and have run out of. Those spices and a stop at the Asian market and we’re done. And some time today we’ll get our delivery and will have the joy of unboxing bulk spices! (below is a previous order)

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-D

Eating the Resistance: Poland

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After Warsaw fell in 1942, it seemed that Poland was pretty much done for. They decided otherwise.

We all know what the word “resistance” means, but Merriam-Webster’s secondary definition is also pretty much apropos. It is, “the capacity of a species or strain of microorganism to survive exposure to a toxic agent (as a drug) formerly effective against it.” We are the microorganisms – small and previously disorganized – who will survive the present toxicity. Poland’s resistance was successful because it involved virtually every member of society – men, women, children, from professionals to laborers and religious people. And, though it was shut away behind the Iron Curtain for fifty years, Poland’s resistant spirit reignited in the days of Solidarity under the leadership of Lech Wałęsa.

Obviously, we need to eat some Polish food to fuel ourselves for the winter ahead.

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In another example of America’s melting-pot culinary tradition, many people from the South grew up eating cabbage rolls. T’s mother sometimes fixed them when she was growing up, but not frequently. Cabbage rolls are a lot of work, as we discovered. The nice thing about this recipe is that though some people add a couple of eggs to the filling, those can be left out with no terrible consequence. Ground chuck and pork is the original meat for the recipe, but it’s easy enough for the veg/ans to substitute a meat-analog in crumbled form, like Tofurky sausage and Quorn or Morning Star’s Griller crumbles. Avoiding all carbs? Leave out the rice and add chopped tomatoes. This is flexible comfort food, and can be as healthy as you like. Cabbage rolls are pretty much a meal within themselves, though a traditional side is noodles in mushroom gravy, or boiled potatoes. We ate them with baked cauliflower, because some days one must double-down on the veg. Some Polish Americans eat cabbage rolls browned in butter, with a bit of sour cream, but they’re also perfectly reasonable as is.

American Variation on Gołąbki

  • 2 tablespoons butter or oil
  • medium onion, diced
  • ¼ c. chopped parsley
  • 2 garlic cloves, smooshed and diced
  • 2 chopped mushrooms, optional *we used dry porcini*
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 pound ground chuck + 1 pound ground pork OR 2 c. veggie crumbles
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten – OPTIONAL
  • 1½ cups white rice
  • ½ tbsp. salt
  • ½ tbsp. paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
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Choose a solid, good-sized green cabbage and core…
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Add a 1″ slit to the bottom of the cabbage leaf …
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Don’t forget parsley; shredded carrot or tomatoes.
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…and now it all gets just a bit messy!


Cabbage Prep: With your newly whetted knife, with which your husband obviously intends to gut a cow, carefully core your cabbage from the bottom. Fill a large pot of water half-way and when it comes to a boil, put in your entire head of cabbage and let it boil. After about ten minutes, we fished out our cabbage head, leaving the water hot in case the core wasn’t quite soft enough, and gently begin to peel apart the leaves when it was slightly cooled. We made a pile of “reasonable to use” and “others” and set them aside. Some people prep the cabbage leaves by thinning the thick spine with a paring knife, and making a slit along it to make rolling easier. Be careful that the slit is only an inch long; cabbage leaves can be delicate.

Rice Prep: While the cabbage is boiling, prepare rice according to package instructions, BUT, only boil for ten minutes. Drain, rinse in cold water, and set aside.

Brown Veggies: In your butter or oil, brown the chopped onion for about three minutes. Add mushrooms and garlic and turn off the heat, continuing to stir so it doesn’t burn. Stir in paprika and black pepper.

Preheat oven to 350°F

Roll ’em: In a mixing bowl, combine rice, meat, parsley, and your onion and spices mixture. Don’t forget your salt. This stage is a lot like making meat loaf, and most people advise you to use your hands. Using an ice cream scoop, scoop about a quarter cup of filling per cabbage leaf, cross the little triangles formed by the slit toward the stem end, fold over the sides, and roll them. Place them in a pan seam-side down.

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You will need 3/4 c. of some kind of liquid to complete cooking the rice inside of the rolls, and to allow the rolls to plump. The two tablespoons of tomato paste will dissolve well in water or broth to fill that need. Some people just pour a little V8 in the pan, but cabbage is a watery vegetable that needs intense flavor, so don’t be afraid to add some. NB: If you’re not using meat, cook these rolls for 45 minutes. If you’re using meat, 1.5 hours is your baking time. Meat eaters, let your rolls rest for the same half hour you would a steak. Conventional wisdom is that cabbage rolls are better the next day, and they also freeze very well. And they’re good for you.


John Stuart Mill, in an address at the University of St. Andrews in 1867 said, “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends than that good men should look on and do nothing.” While you may be uncomfortable with the labels of “bad” and “good” here, the point is to do something. Eat well. Sleep well. Do well. You are not defeated, not by winter cold nor war nor work nor worry. Decide otherwise.

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The Unprepared Chef, or, How To Make An Imperfect Cheesecake

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Can you bake a cheesecake without cream cheese? T. asked the internets at large on a Wednesday afternoon. She was treated to dubious silences and a chorus of “NO” by well-meaning strangers when she perused the goods in her fridge and found a log of Laura Chenel chèvre – a mild and fresh Sonoma goat cheese. “It’s too bossy,” she was warned. “Too much flavor.” That’s as may be, but when you’re stuck on a writing project and have been cooking just because a.) you’re cold and cross, and b.) you’re craving an excuse to eat blueberries, and c.) did we mention cross? you just… go ahead and make that thing. Because, cheesecake. Sometimes life is less about if you could do a thing, than if you should

Normal people have… food on hand, in the house, and don’t need to make lightning raids on the pantry to create things out of odds and ends, but somehow, the end of the week always brings us to this weird pass. Maybe it’s just that we haven’t yet gotten into the habit of doing “big shops” for more than a few days at a time, a relic of our time in the UK when we went to the tiny market up the road daily. Maybe it’s just that we rarely have desserts that we make for ourselves (though D. frequently makes ginormous cakes and …carries them off to work) and we don’t think to have ingredients on hand. Maybe it’s just that SOMEONE is altogether too fond of cream cheese frosting for their ginormous work cakes. At any rate, T was determined to thaw some blueberries, and needed something to go with them. Enter the chèvre.

Possibly a traditional West Coast American cheesecake (sans eggs, unbaked) might not have worked out as well, but this was T’s usual kitchen sink veggie hybrid, which uses a box of Mori-Nu silken tofu to replace the additional protein and creaminess that eggs would have provided. A tablespoon of vanilla, together with half (4 oz. from an 8 oz. log) of a Laura Chenel chèvre cheese – no salt added, because chèvre is already salted – three tablespoons of castor sugar, and we were good to go. The ingredients she simply creamed together with a stick blender, and set aside.

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The unprepared chef traditionally never has digestive biscuits, gingersnaps, or anything else helpful — or homemade — but there’s always that stale packet of graham crackers she got for the nephews ages ago — they’ll do in a pinch for the crust. They won’t add much flavor, so freshly ground dried ginger and/or cinnamon to the dry crushed crackers is essential. One and a half cups of blueberry mixed with a half tablespoon of King Arthur Flour dried lemon juice, two tablespoons of sugar and 3/4 tablespoon of cornstarch was stirred to a thickening boil, and set aside for later… and then T put it together, baked it – sans water bath, just in a plain oven at 170°C/350°F for thirty-five minutes until the middle still jiggled but there were signs of tightening all around the edges.

T could hardly wait for the stuff to cool. Enquiring minds now wanted to know if it was any good… and it was! The slight tangyness provided by sour cream in many cheesecake recipes for more prepared chefs is provided by the chèvre. We actually wish we had used more than half the container; the Chenel is such a mild cheese and not so assertive that we couldn’t have used more of that piquancy (conversely, we could maybe have gotten the same effect with a tablespoon less of sugar – we’ll have to fiddle with it). Maybe we’re just on a late autumn citrus kick, but T. really wished she’d added more lemon in the form of zest to the berry topping, which she added to the room-temperature cooled pie. Next time. Next time.

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Until then, here’s to finding random things in the cupboards and the fridge and beating them into culinary submission.

In lieu of the pie…

Not every use of pumpkin this time of year ends in pie or a hideously over-sweetened “spiced” coffee drink of red cup fame. (There’s no pumpkin in those things, actually, so never mind…) D’s friend, Rainer, who emigrated from Germany, recently enjoyed some of D’s carrot cake and reminisced about a cake he ate growing up, made with Hokkaido pumpkins. It was, he described it, rich, dense, and spiced similarly. He then gave D. the recipe in …German. Fortunately, there’s Google.

The first thing we had to decipher is what a Hokkaido pumpkin is… and where to find one. The name easily enough identified it as yet another varietal of Japanese pumpkin, but it’s known in this part of California as a Red Kuri (or kari) squash. At our usual market we found something that looked … KIND OF like a red kuri in shape, but it was too large, and the color was more butternutty… and the grocery store brilliantly labelled it “Winter Squash.” Um. Yes. Full of detailed, helpful information, that name.

Red kuri – or Hokkaido squash – as you see in this cheater picture from Wikimedia Commons – are beautiful. Their small size and intensely colored rind are notable, and their inner flesh is kind of …pink. They’re on the sweeter side, and are carried locally at various farm markets, Whole Foods, Sprouts, and the like, though with the before-Thanksgiving run on hard squash and gourds, we couldn’t source any this time. We bought our “winter” squash for Tuesday soup and grated a kabocha instead. Another Japanese favorite, used in tempura, kabocha are hard and sweet and have the same bright orange flesh, so we figured it was a decent substitute.

Rainer’s Kürbiskuchen

200g soft butter —> 7/8 cup
150 g sugar —> 3/4
100 g of honey or maple syrup —> 1/3 c honey
4 egg yolks
500 g pumpkin flesh —> 17 oz
300g Hazelnuts —> 2 c. hazelnut flour
100 g flour —> 1 c. AP flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 pinch of salt,
1 teaspoon cinnamon,
nutmeg
some black pepper.
4 egg whites

200 g chocolate —> 1 c
dried pumpkin seeds for garnish

This recipe records the equivalents which we used – please note that they are not exact, nor did we entirely follow the recipe, though we were as faithful as we could be.

The what-to-mix-first portion of the recipe didn’t translate very well, but once you’ve made carrot cake, you can pretty well make this. As we had a few hopeful vegans around this holiday, we opted to make the cake vegan — so we made flax eggs and used Smart Balance. We cut the butter called for by half because …well, it just seemed like a lot, and there’s really nothing worse than a greasy cake. We baked it in an angel food cake pan and were astonished at how much oil there was left still in the pan afterward. We were actually a little worried, but it all came right …

German Pumpkin Cake 1

The instructions mentioned something about having chocolate flake scattered on the top of this cake. D. made a deep, rich ganache instead, and we skipped the pepita garnish because if you didn’t see pumpkin seeds, you’d have no idea that pumpkin was the flavor of the cake! Though too soft for T. – she’d like to try the recipe again with the right kind of pumpkin, with eggs, and with a different balance of hazelnut flour to AP flour, just to test some hypotheses – the cake was a hit with the guests over lunch on the weekend, and the remainder was quickly snarfed up by workmates. The ganache contrasted amazingly well with the bland sweetness of the pumpkin. This was a “ten minute cake,” it was literally gone before Rainer even got to taste any! Oh, well. Good excuse to make it again.

Anyone weary of the traditional uses of pumpkin during the holidays might swap out carrots (and raisins) in a traditional carrot cake recipe, and enjoy the results!

German Pumpkin Cake 2

Baking Like the Babes: Russian Chrysanthemum Bread

When you bake bread every week, or every-other, you lose the ability to really… blog anything interesting about it. Oh, yes, this week the dough had a GREAT gluten! This week we used a little more White Whole Wheat, and a pumpernickel instead of a blended rye…. Yeah, we know we have the ability to gabble on endlessly about that sort of thing, but at the end of the day, we love you too much to expose you to our sheer nerdishness. I mean, we’re the people who peruse the King Arthur Flour catalogue over breakfast! So, we bake – a great deal – and it’s usually wholemeal bread which we use for absolutely everything – toast to sandwiches. Sometimes we’re inspired to branch out by seeing images of some wonderful thing, and that was the case this time. Blogging Baker Babe Lien is rounding up the Bread Baking Babes this month, and while we’re rather short on babe-ishness around here this week, we happily played along with this gorgeous looking bread.

Whole Wheat Maple Bread 6

Russian Chrysanthemum bread seems like one of those holiday breads that is just perfect for this time of year. The simple dough calls for using strong flour, which is simply a high gluten flour, and the recipe follows. The filling for the original bread Lien (and many others) made is savory, which you know we’ll have to try before winter is over, but you know we mavericks can never simply follow a recipe properly the first time — we made ours of tartly sweet cranberries and clementines with dark chocolate — basically leftovers from the cranberry sauce T. had just made, with shards of dark chocolate thrown in. It is a TASTY filling – not terribly sweet, not too tart, smooth and richly chocolaty. T. thought this looked like a pull-apart bread to us, but a lot of the Baking Babes – and D. – thought it made more sense to actually slice it. This bread is open to a great deal of variation – it’ll be interesting to see where it lands in our whimsy next! And we do look forward to trying it in a springform pan, or with some more flower-y shapes.

500 g strong flour/bread flour (with some extra for dusting the board when you roll out the dough)
7 g dry instant yeast
125 ml milk, lukewarm (1/2 cup)
125 ml kefir or yogurt (1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
90 ml olive oil (3 oz.)

We used whole wheat flour and instead of sugar, maple syrup. We also forgot the yogurt and skipped out on the egg in the glaze and in the dough, as several guests this weekend are vegan. We’ll give it another try at some point as written.

Whole Wheat Maple Bread 9

When making her bread, Babe Elle wisely rolled her dough all out and used a biscuit cutter to get the perfectly sized rounds. Would this have made our lives much easier? Oh… sure. *cough* Maybe. Probably. However, D rolling the dough out individually suited the graduated sizes of the petals on his mums.

Whole Wheat Maple Bread 10
Whole Wheat Maple Bread 11

Overfilling the petals is really the worst thing you can do, with a loose filling – you need just a schmear of filling to show, and just enough so that it won’t squish out when you’ve pinched the dough together… it should stay in place, allegedly. T. started filling with a tablespoon initially, but switched to about a teaspoon full of filling – enough to taste, not to make a meal on (sadly). And the round of dough is simply folded in half and then the folded edges pinched together to make a petal. This would be a great job for small children with clean hands and a need desire to avoid other work and participate in the making of the treat.

Whole Wheat Maple Bread 14

We topped our bread with sugar crystals, colored with saffron, just to add a little crunch and color. Though T. really did kind of over-do it on the filling, the dough turned out to be very excited about proofing, which made the whole thing a bit more forgiving than it could have been. The tender, toothsome dough baked up looking golden-brown and delicious and was really well received by eaters of all ages this past weekend.

Whole Wheat Maple Bread 16
Whole Wheat Maple Bread 18

It’s too easy to be busy lately, and the holiday throws its own craziness into the mix of the daily things we have to do. We’d lately forgotten the fun of baking with others, so we’re grateful for the Babes for being the first to try this easy – yet complex – frilly bread. Can’t wait to try it again!

Taste & See: Miyoko’s & Coracao Confections

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In our continuing efforts to explore the world of artisan vegan cheese with T’s mother, we threw another “wine” and “cheese” (for every time you read that word, substitute “cultured nut product” or something) party to sample some of Miyoko’s autumn offerings – but this time added the raw cacao offerings of Coracao Confections to the mix. The Wee Elf let us know that he was disappointed that we hadn’t simply invited him over to have more Sharp Farmhouse cheese, and his little brother continued to not really taste much, but no matter – this time the Littles were along to make snarky remarks (can you really call the 15-26 group Littles anymore? Yes? Forever? Right-oh, then) and The Aunt came to take teensy, tiny tastes of this or that — and then enjoy more than expected.

That’s the fun of these little tastings – we are all surprised – usually pleasantly – by our responses. Nobody (except maybe T’s Mom) goes into these tastings expecting to love the food – we have chips and salsa on standby, at all times – yet we don’t need them, which is nice. This time our taster’s responses ranged from the pleasantly surprised, to the “Hm, that might be okay in a dish” to the, “Oh, dear Lord, no,” end of the spectrum. What one person views as a hardline NO, another person views as an opportunity to take all of the plate home with them – which wasn’t a surprise. In addition to the chips was homemade pico de gallo, kimchi and pickled veggies and as always, a lot of laughter and rude commentary.

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We started with the scariest cheese in the bunch – the one covered in charcoally-powdered-ash, because why not go all the way out there? The Mt. Vesuvius was slightly firm, with a dense smoothness that clung to the knife. The …smeary black ash was finely powdered and stuck fast, not coming off on anything but fingers and knives. It was quickly ascertained to be tasteless, but still made for some very worried, unhappy faces as it was passed around the table. The Elf demurred quietly. The Aunt reminded everyone that charcoal was a time-honored remedy for a sick stomach, so with tentative expressions, tasters went for the first bite… and said, “Huh.”

Second comment: “Oh, hey, that’s really good!” Third comment, tied with action, “Pass it back, would you?” And then the tasters tried to bogart that whole plate for themselves, even before Elf could finally have a taste and put in his bid for trying to keep the plate. Typical, really.

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Our second cheese was one we knew would be rich and unique. Truffles are kind of a big deal amongst foodies, and though not everyone in the tasting group were fungus-fiends, we figured that we needed to at least try the stuff and thereby hold up the standard for dedicated California foodies, or they’d come and take our license or something. We opened up the French Style Winter Truffle wheel with expectation of a complicated and sophisticated flavor. I mean, we had no choice. The description uses the word “umami.” As in, An elegant, woodsy, and earthy wheel marbled with truffle-scented mushrooms. Explodes with deep umami flavors in a luxurious creamy base. We were going to come away from this cheese having had An Experience.

… Of course, being us, the experience was, “Huh. That tastes like dirt.” “No, it doesn’t, it tastes like earth – it’s earthy.” “Well, that’s what mushrooms taste like.” “Dirt?” “No, I said EARTH.”

And the Laurel and Hardy convention rolled along from there.

This isn’t a bad cheese. It’s creamy, spreads well, is studded with little mushroom-y pieces — but the prerequisite here is that you must really like mushrooms to feel like this is your cheese. Our group is… slightly indifferent to mushrooms, unless they’re on pizza (the Philistines). Conclusion: Melted into a bowl of buttery pasta (dairy-free butter, of course), this cheese would be amazing… just not so much for us on seedy or rye crackers, fruit, cucumbers, or any of the other things we had to pair it with. Maybe an especially sour sourdough could redeem it? It has a real richness and creaminess that needs… something more. We just don’t know, not having elegant enough palettes for that umami! Not disappointed, though. Onward!

09-Herbs_2015Master

You’ll notice that the Country-Style Herbes de Provence picture comes from the Miyoko’s Kitchen website… as unfortunately, our photographer got busy with the pickled cauliflower and some ashy cheese and crackers and forgot to take a picture… *sigh* It is so hard to get good help these days. Anyway. The herby name is evocative, as the cheese wheel is indeed smothered in gray-green herbes de Provence – which include thyme, lavender, and rosemary, but sadly, no purple flowers on ours. The herbs give off their scent as soon as the knife cuts through the product. The cheese is quite firm – enough so that you really can slice it instead of spread it – but we found we liked it better a little softer. This was a taster positive, though not the favorite the Mt. Vesuvius was – it confused some of the less sophisticated palettes of the younger set, and for others, the lavender taste was interfered with by its sweetish smell, making the cheese sweet, but others appreciated the texture and flavors. Softened, the herb-y schmear on crackers was mild and nutty.

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We next moved on to the Double Cream Sundried Tomato Garlic. We knew this one would be well-received, because the creamy, mild and buttery flavor the cultured cashews had in the Double Cream chives are so like Boursin, and could only be improved by pairing with other flavors. The Sundried Tomato Garlic didn’t disappoint. Creamy and tangy, the garlic just a hint and the tomato not too acidic, it reminded us of a familiar and well-loved dish… smeared across a piping hot baguette, this would be a lovely dairy-free pizza type of thing. So, so zesty, creamy, and tasty! For fun, we tested an additional cheese at the same time – but it was a Fresh Buffalo-Style Mozzarella. The cheese, unlike the other wheels, wrapped in waxed paper, came in a cup, where it was packed in brine to keep it fresh. It’s not a particularly pretty cheese, looking much like dairy buffalo mozzarella, except more of a beige-y ball, not stark white.

To taste the cultured nut “mozza,” T. made simple open-faced pizza breads with a plain tomato sauce and medallions of this cheese, which managed to both melt and brown, though not stretch. Surprisingly, the smallest Wee liked the mozzarella best … or, perhaps we should say, he simply chomped happily on all the pizza breads he could reach and asked for more, apparently not noticing any difference between dairy mozzarella and Miyoko’s Buffalo-Style. The six year old palette… is surprisingly robust at times. Or indifferent. Anyway. Our conclusion on the mozzarella is that it is a workable substitute for pizza, and we’ll have to make an additional tasting to see if its mild, nutty flavor holds up to basil, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and pear tomatoes – which is how one also eats buffalo mozzarella.

We veered from our cheese tasting to try Coracao Confections. These chocolates are coconut sugar sweetened, easily found in the Bay Area and ordered simply from the company – big pluses for our non-California readers – and contain 81% cocoa, so they’ve got that deep, dark, good stuff that’s healthy. All of the organic, raw, dairy free, gluten free, soy free, low-glycemic, heart-healthy stuff aside, at the end of the day, truffles are made wth sugar. Of course they’d go over well with the tasters, right? …Kind of. We sampled Raspberry Fudge which got a thumbs up. Rose Truffle which got a confused, “Okay, that tastes like flowers” thumbs up – and it did, the light and lovely rose came through clearly – this was followed by an enthusiastic two thumbs up for Tangerine Bee Pollen, though tasters were again confused and dubious about including pollen in anything they ate, and wondered if the local pollen was supposed to help them combat Bay Area allergies (probably, but one would have to eat a lot more truffles than just one or two to … oh, wait, that’s not a bad idea). Surprised by the Berkley Bar, tasters found this one a good second place, and agreed that it indeed was very much like a Snickers, with raw almonds instead of peanuts. We finished with Peppermint Patties, which contained fresh mint and chlorophyll for a bright and impressive green filling – and…the coconut “bacon” truffle.

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(We can see our friend M. now, giving us a distressed and disbelieving look, with horrified head-shaking, mourning, “Vegan bacon!? Now, that is just wrong. Wrong.” Yeah, well, we live in a world that puts together chocolate and KALE “granola” – of course called “kalenola” – you have to learn to roll with the punches with the California vegan foodies, all right?) In this limited edition truffle, they took flaked coconut and coconut sugar, and then add Hickory Smoke, and Applewood Smoked Salt and added it to the top in a crunchy, slightly salty topping… The smoky, crunchy, and a little sweet adds… something very distressing to some people. Surprisingly, this one got the “Dear Lord, NO!” from the lifetime veggies and vegans in the crowd – our omnivores thought it was actually okay to pretty tasty. So, does it really taste like bacon? No one in this house can say for sure, but coconut “bacon” has been a staple at Coracao for months, and has appeared in various guises – and it sells out, over and over, so people are eating it. …Just not these people, apparently. (FINE, Mark, you win.)

Especially those of us who took that one nibble too many, hit a wall, and made a lot of sad faces while everyone else ate. Poor Elf. It’s very hard to be eight.

We had so much fun doing this that we’re going to do it again. Next time, we’re hoping to grab some other cultured nut products we’re seeing get good reviews – Kite Hill’s artisinal almond milk fresh cheeses are showing up at Nob Hill, Vtopia is a brand coming to our area, and CHAO slices by Field Roast (the tomato cayenne is supposed to be amazing) are already in groceries like Safeway. We expect to encounter both the revolting and the revealing – and it’s all in the name of sharing something meaningful to some of our family (Hi, Mom!) and enjoying an entertaining meal. Cheers!