posts tagged with 'cooking'

not-so-high tea

I made scones yesterday morning with the idea of passing them out at the bus stop and showing the other parents that I cared about them and was glad to have them as neighbors. I don't know how they feel about me as a neighbor, but none of them wanted any scones. Never mind, the boys sure wanted some—though since they'd just been treated to a big breakfast of fried eggs, toast, bacon, and oranges, I told them to hold off. Because it was scones, I told them we could have them for tea later. So we did.

Zion and Nathan sitting at the table for tea, looking serious

tea is serious business

We had friends over by then so they got to join in too. It was lovely, and the boys were totally ready to enter into the spirit of "tea" as a meal: "Take tiny nibbles," Harvey said, recalling instructions from some book or other. Then he kind of spoiled the effect by knocking over his teacup reaching for the tin of scones after the little boys didn't pass them quick enough. Luckily the cup only chipped rather than shattering—I was letting them use our finest Crate-and-Barrel wedding china—but the puddle of milky tea was mess enough. The little boys—Lijah and his friend Liam—didn't spill a drop, and so would have been within their rights to complain that I only trusted them with plastic cups, but they're more polite than that. They weren't huge fans of the tea, either, come to that, and much preferred the sliced mango to the scones.

Which I don't understand, because they were some tasty scones. I brought the rest of them to work this morning, where they were again properly appreciated. This batch was with orange zest and chocolate chips; the original recipe is from Joy of Cooking and is for raisin scones with cinnamon, like this:

raisin scones cooling on a rack

cinnamon raisin version

In a large bowl, whisk together:

2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Cut in:

6 Tbsp butter

Stir in:

1/2 cup raisins (or orange zest and 3/4 cup chocolate chips, or lemon zest and 1/4 cup chopped candied ginger, or...)

Add and mix until combined (you'll have to knead it against the side of the bowl with your hands to get all the flour up):

1/2 cup cream
1 egg, beaten

Shape the dough into a disk maybe 3/4 inch thick, cut it into 12 wedges, and put them on a baking sheet. Brush them with cream or milk and sprinkle them with cinnamon sugar (for the raisin ones; or plain sprinkling sugar for the others).

Bake at 425°F for 12-15 minutes or until they're golden brown.

And if you want to replicate our experience, serve with decaf Earl Gray tea with cream and sugar, milk, and mango slices.

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squash soup

close-up of roasted squash on a baking sheet

squash glamor shot

In the middle of the winter when the green of our garden is just a memory, looking at the pile of winter squashes on the counter makes it real again. Butternut squash is one of just two storage crops I've managed to grow in any worthwhile quantities—the other being the garlic—and we've started the past three winters with a significant number of them taking up space in the dining room. At this point in the season the pile is smaller, but there are still squashes! It feels like a success. It also feels like a success to turn one of them into delicious food.

squash slices on a baking sheet

uncooked squash

One of my favorite ways to do that is by making roasted squash soup. It's pretty easy. Peel a squash, split it in half, and take out the seeds. Then slice it up, splash some olive oil and salt on the slices, and bake them on a cookie sheet until they're soft and browned on the edges. You can do that ahead of time. (You can also eat the delicious squash morsels right off the sheet when they come out, but not too many—or else you'll have to do another one to have enough for your soup.)

roasted squash

roasted

Then it's time to make the soup part. Chop a big onion, a couple carrots, and two-three stalks of celery. Melt a lump of butter in a stock pot and when it's hot toss in the vegetables. Cook them for a while, over not-too-high heat, stirring every once and a while. When they seem ready, toss in the roasted squash and enough chicken or turkey to cover it all up. If you have some delicious roasted-vegetable turkey stock made from the carcass of a pasture-raised bird you're all set for ingredients; if your stock is milder you'll probably want to add some salt, at least. Simmer it all together for a while.

diced onion, carrots, and celery

somewhat diced

If you have a stick blender, now's the time to put it to use. Blend everything up into a beautiful puree. If you don't, all the ingredients should be soft enough to mash with a potato masher. Don't bother with a blender—what a pain. Lumps are fine too. If it's too thick—not everybody wants to be able to stand a spoon up in their soup—add some more stock or water. Taste it. If it isn't wonderfully delicious, you can add a little maple syrup and a little cayenne pepper... but if you started with well-roasted squash and good stock you won't want to.

And that's our squash soup, beloved of adults and small children alike (the bigger children aren't quite so appreciative). There really should be a photo of the finished product, but it didn't last long enough.

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tomato soup

I made tomato soup this afternoon. I never did before. I was intimidated by the concept—like I had no idea how to even begin to turn tomatoes into soup. As it happens, it's not that hard: it's basically just regular soup without carrots or celery and with tomatoes. If it weren't for the existence of Campbells I would have figured it out years ago.

I'm not saying my tomato soup was the best ever—the kids didn't like it (in my defense, they pretty much categorically don't like soup, especially when there's also grilled cheese sandwiches available). I used some of the barbecued turkey stock Leah made from the Bernstein Thanksgiving bird, so there was a distinct smoky flavor to the end product which may be a good thing or bad depending on your tastes. And it ended up kind of thin; Katie tells me I could have thickened it with bread crumbs, which would be fine because we have lots of bread crumbs around here.

Anyway, all that is to say if you've never made tomato soup before and feel like having some, go for it. It's a great way to eat up some of those canned tomatoes you put up in the summer that you don't have any other way to eat. Wait, I'm the only person in the US who cans tomatoes and doesn't know how to make tomato soup? (or tomato sauce, for that matter)? Oh well, never mind. For reference, I based my soup loosely off this recipe, the first non-spammy result for a search for "tomato soup recipe". I might even try it again some day. But not soon; there's still plenty of this batch left.

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dessert buffet

As the weather turns cold again, we have more incentive to turn on the oven. And the bread is never ready to go in first thing, so more often than not we get a dessert out of the deal. Today we had friends over who are experiencing the same thing at their house, so after lunch the kids got to choose between brownies, apple crisp, pound cake, pumpkin spice chocolate cookies, banana chocolate chip muffins, and pumpkin bread. They were so overwhelmed I felt bad and let them have a little bit of their top four choices. Life is good at our house these days!

recent recipes

I had a bad day, so it's a pleasant diversion to look back on some accomplishments from the past couple days—cooking ones. Like this cake.

a pumpkin cake

seasonal

We had folks over yesterday evening and I realized I hadn't thought about a desert. There wasn't time to make a pumpkin pie (or at least not to let one cool enough to eat) but a pumpkin cake seemed reasonable. I searched the internet and printed a likely-looking recipe, but on reflection it wasn't quite likely enough—I wasn't prepared to make a cake entirely with vegetable oil. So I triangulated between that recipe, our family pumpkin bread, and what I know about making cakes. The result came out pretty good, with cream cheese frosting between the layers (sadly not to Harvey's taste) and powdered sugar on top. Here's the recipe, for future reference:

In a large bowl whisk together

2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

In a stand mixer, beat on medium-high for five minutes

1 cup (2 sticks) butter
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Add one at a time, scraping the bowl and beating between additions

4 eggs

Add the dry ingredients in three even bunches, alternating with two even glops of

1 can canned pumpkin

Divide the batter between two buttered and floured 8-inch cake pans and bake at 350° for... um... until they're done. Maybe it was like 40 minutes? Let them cool.

For the frosting, combine 4 ounces (half a package) cream cheese, 2 tablespoons butter, and 1 cup powdered sugar in the food processor and pulse until combined. Or if you ask Harvey, leave out the cream cheese and make a proper butter frosting. After I had already started making the frosting I realized we were out of powdered sugar. Heading across the street to borrow some I passed the boys playing with the neighborhood kids—it all felt pretty old-fashioned!

The day before I was totally out of ideas for supper—out of ideas and out of ingredients. But even though we're getting into pumpkin season we still have lots of zucchinis. So why not zucchini quesadillas? I grated some zucchini and onion, salted it for a bit to get out some of the water, then cooked it in bacon fat with cumin and garlic powder. Then I made the quesadillas with the cooked zucchini and cheddar. Every new quesadilla I make is my favorite, and this was no exception. Zion wasn't a fan, of course, but you can never please everyone. With cake and quesadillas at least I managed to please myself!

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adequate bread

I'm maybe starting to figure out this sourdough bread business. At least, I've settled on a process that accomplishes three key goals: it keeps the starter alive, doesn't take too much time or effort, and turns out acceptable bread.

a round loaf of sourdough bread

something like that

For me, one key is not keeping the starter in the refrigerator. When I did that I could never manage the long-term scheduling required to get it out, let it warm up, feed it, and then make the bread—with all the steps that requires. It's a two-day process, minimum, and at my current stage in life that is very much beyond me. So my starter lives on the counter, where I feed it every morning with a quarter cup of water and half a cup of all purpose flour (which we buy in bulk).

When I want to make bread, I start the night before by scooping a cup of starter into a separate container and feeding it (as above) before I go to bed. Then in the morning I put all that starter into the stand mixer bowl together with 3/4 cup of water, a half tablespoon of kosher salt, and about two-and-a-half cups of bread flour. I let it mix all up with the dough hook for 20 minutes or so while I do other things (trying to remember to check to make sure it's not too wet, in which case I want to add more flour). If it's dry I knead the dough for a couple minutes by hand—if it's wet enough the machine does fine—and then I form it into a ball and leave it in a glass bowl, covered with a wet cloth.

There it stays until it's doubled in size or I get back from the day's outing or I get bored of looking at the bowl. I "punch it down" and let it rest for ten minutes, then I shape it amateurishly into a ball or, less frequently, a baguette, and leave it to proof on a heavy aluminum baking sheet greased with butter. Usually it can proof uncovered, in this summer weather at least—but if the day seems particularly dry I'll cover it with a wet cloth for at least the beginning of the proofing.

When it seems to be pretty well risen I preheat the over to 500 degrees, with a beat-up old metal 9x13 pan on the bottom rack. After 15 or 20 minutes of preheating I slash the loaf (as seen above), pour a couple cups of boiling water into the hot pan for steam, and bake for 25 minutes to half an hour. When the bread smells like bread and sounds hollow when I tap on the bottom, it's done.

Clearly, this is not the most precise of methods, and I have no doubt it's far from making the perfect loaf. But I don't care about perfect—when I worry about perfect I get paralyzed and don't make anything. Acceptable is better than nothing! There are two more pertinent problems. First, having the over on for close to an hour isn't really ideal in the summer. At least it tends to be in the evening, when it's cooler outside than in the house anyways—with windows open and fans on we don't notice the oven's heat so much.

Second, not refrigerating the starter means I have to make bread an awful lot; sometimes more often than we can manage to eat it. So I'm trying to give it away. Let me know if you'd like to try a loaf, or take some starter so you can try your hand at it yourself! If I can figure out how to make adequate bread in my spare time, I'm sure you can do even better.

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our rhubarb this year

It's past time for my annual rhubarb appreciation post!

a piece of rhubarb crisp

plenty of rhubarb, plenty of crisp

The last few days I've been appreciating a new recipe for rhubarb crisp. I made it for our friends who come over for dinner on Fridays:I wanted something to go with the leftover butter crunch ice cream we had in the freezer and went with the best-looking of the first few search results for rhubarb crisp, Allrecipes' Ginger Rhubarb Crisp. It's a winner, and I'll definitely be making it again. Maybe not right away though, since I'm the only one in the house who likes it—and it's a 9-by-13 pan so I've been able to like it a lot!

Of course, I wouldn't be making it at all if I didn't have a couple of big healthy rhubarb plants in the garden. The eight cups of rhubarb the recipe calls for would set me back between $10 and $15, the way prices are around here now. It's good, but it's not that good! But as it stands I have plenty to go around for free, so I'm always on the lookout for new applications. Sunday morning I made muffins.

a couple of rhubarb muffins with struesel topping

more rhubarb goodness

And of course, there's pie (the one pictured below from a couple weeks ago).

half a rhubarb pie on the back porch table, with the garden in the backround

rhubarb morning

If you have a year-round garden and don't have rhubarb in it, you totally should. Come by in the fall and I'll give you a little clump to get started!

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hippy secret ingrediant

Today I made sourdough pancakes and laundry powder. What do those two things have in common? Baking soda!

Ok, so maybe what they actually have in common is that unless you're a crazy hippy you've probably never even thought about making either of them, much less on a Tuesday morning; but the baking soda made me notice that I am a crazy hippy, so I wanted to comment on it.

We've been making our own laundry powder for a long time—or to be more precise, Leah's been making it. But I took over the laundry duties a couple months ago when she started working some out of the house, so when we ran out the other day the responsibility for making more fell on me. We use the recipe from Making It, written by the couple behind the Root Simple blog—it's just one part laundry soap (Leah still makes that, by a process unknown to me), two parts borax, and two parts baking soda. It works fine, it's cheap, and best of all it doesn't stink.

The pancakes are newer; I started with them because once you have a sourdough starter you need to keep making more sourdough starter, and there's only so much bread that one family can eat (especially when 50% of the adults are gluten-free!). But I keep doing it because they come out light and crispy and delicious, even with all whole wheat flour and less sugar and much less fat than my regular pancake recipe. The two younger boys don't like them much; I can't decide if that's a feature or a bug.

I don't really have a recipe for sourdough pancakes besides whisking an egg into a cup of happy starter, fed the night before, along with a tablespoon or two of sugar and a little salt. Then I dissolve some baking soda in water and fold it into the batter. You'll notice it's a fat-free food at this point, but I fix that by cooking each pancake in plenty of butter: I make sure to add more to the griddle for each batch.

I don't know about everybody else, but baking soda doesn't much feature in my more conventional baking. Too unpredictable. Who knows if a particular ingredient has enough acid to activate it and remove that horrible metallic-salt taste? An ingredient other that lactic acid-laden sourdough starter, that is. I really feel a connection to my homesteading forebearers of, oh, the late 1800s when chemical leaveners became widely available.

We do lots of odd things in our household, and not all of them require purchasing baking soda in bulk. But some do. It is a signifier, of a sort.

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productivity in one sphere

We had a great day today of visiting and hosting. And never mind my many failures and inadequacies, today I'm proud of one thing at least: beginning at 6:15 or so I baked the following foods:

  • Whole wheat sourdough bread
  • pumpkin chocolate chip muffins
  • banana chocolate chip muffins
  • white sourdough bread
  • sourdough pancakes

Plus I made potatoes and scrambled eggs and peanut noodles. And spaghetti with sauce from a jar. And a salad. That feels like enough for one day.

And even with all that, we'll start tomorrow with a clean kitchen!

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self-deprecating bragging

With everything we're trying to do it's sometimes—often—hard to think about dinner before, oh, 4:30 on any given day. Combined with the somewhat limited palates of our boys, that means that the dinners we put on the table are not always inspired. Today, for example, I served spaghetti with sauce from a jar. But it's ok, because everything else on the table was totally representative of our awesome hippy credibility. Fresh sourdough bread; kale salad with homemade dressing (with local honey and homemade—though not by us—vinegar); and for desert a peach crisp made with home-canned peaches. See, we're still cool.