posts tagged with 'cooking'

afternoon in the kitchen

Every Tuesday we share a meal with the friends who make up what we still call "Bible Study" despite not having opened a Bible together since Zion was born. Call it eight years. But we still get together, and once there are no kids under five in the group we might be able to get back to the studying (that'll be three years from now, unless someone pops out another kid). Unlike our regular Friday evening gathering, which is always at our house and a pot luck, the Tuesday dinner rotates among four families (well, 4.25 counting 5th Tuesdays) who make up the group. So we get three free dinners out per month—but when it's at our house we have to do some work. Well, let me tell you, today I did extra.

Yesterday evening Leah asked me what I was planning to cook, since she was going to Whole Foods and cook pick up what was necessary. When I said I had no idea she read me the sale items for inspiration, and we settled on a pork loin. What is a pork loin? I wasn't entirely sure, but it sounded like something that could feed a crowd. (It may surprise you to know that I have never cooked pork; lots of bacon and ham, but no pork.) After some confusion over recipes—it turns out pork loin and pork tenderloin are not at all the same thing!—I figured out basically what I should be doing; and despite my not having a meat thermometer, which was strongly recommended by most sources, it seemed easy enough.

Of course, making a roast seemed fancy enough that I needed some top quality sides to go with it! Mashed potatoes, sure (and I had to do them with the food mill since Lijah didn't care for the lumps last time). Roasted broccoli so we'd have something green. Then in my searching for pork recipes I came across one for butternut squash with maple syrup and sriracha; I'd been wanting a new way to do squash! So I thought I'd try that as well. And then, since I forgot to feed the sourdough starter yesterday, I had to make yeast rolls too.

I have to say, while I'm not sure about pork—my ethical considerations are particularly strong when it comes to pigs—the meal came out so good I might have to shell out real money more often to repeat the experience. Certainly, it was worth all the afternoon's work and stress. Too often I get into a rut, just cooking the things I know how to and buying the same ingredients again and again. Rice and beans mostly. Which would have been fine with one of the young visitors: that's what he asked for when he saw what we had on the table. You can't please everyone all the time. But the evening's meal sure pleased me!

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breakfast standards

I like to think we do pretty well for breakfasts around here. I've heard friends say that even cereal is too much trouble for them in the morning, so they limit themselves to a breakfast bar on the way out the door. None of that for us! Still, I come to understand that I still have improvements to make.

In our book club we're reading the fantastic Gone-Away Lake, by Elizabeth Enright. I've read it lots of times before but I'm always glad for another go. Her sequel, Return to Gone-Away, isn't quite as good, but it's still plenty compelling enough for me to give it another run-through this weekend. And on page 29 I read the the following words:

Aunt Hilda's breakfasts were famous: varied and original, not just the ordinary plodding through of cereal and eggs and toast.

Eggs and toast ordinary?! Here I thought I was doing pretty well to get a hot breakfast with scrambled or fried eggs on the table four or five mornings a week. I do agree with her on the cereal though—at least so far as cereal by itself is concerned. So what would she have extraordinary cooks prepare? Here's Aunt Hilda's breakfast that day: "fresh orange juice, hot buckwheat cakes with butter and apple jelly, and bacon." Sounds good to me. Does anyone have a good recipe for buckwheat cakes? How about a suggestion for getting the kids to try them?

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it's not cake, it's bread!

In former times I had no qualms about wanting to make pumpkin bread all year long. Since then I've expanded my baked goods repertoire so it's now a more seasonal treat... and this is the season! The best thing about pumpkin bread is that, since it's clearly bread rather than cake—just look at the name!—you can eat it for breakfast. Which we did yesterday. Then, since it's packed with sugar we had it for dessert after lunch and dinner.

We had the first loaf with dinner the day before. We hosted friends and made roast chicken and mashed potatoes, so it all felt very Thanksgivingy. Our friends brought pumpkin cookies for dessert which weren't any sweeter than the bread, but they did have frosting on them.

Here's the recipe, if you want to try this decadence for yourself. Super easy.

Preheat oven to 375°. Beat together in the stand mixer:

1 cup oil
2 1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 can pumpkin

Combine in a large bowl and whisk all up:

3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ginger

Add to the wet ingredients and mix til combined.

Bake in two ungreased loaf pans for 55-60 minutes.

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the apple pie

Last year we got tons of apples from our Northern Spy tree. At the time I predicted, half in jest, that the bumper crop would mean slim pickings this year—in fact that's just what happened. Never mind, we got tons of Honeycrisps this year, which is what the people want, and there are enough Northern Spys to eat a few and make a couple of pies. I made the first one yesterday.

apple pie in process on the kitchen table

putting it together

I have to admit I didn't feel totally manly as I rolled out this particular crust; the refrigerator repair guys working a few feet away put me off my game a little bit. But the apples were good ones, and the pie came out wonderful. Even better, when time came to serve it there was also a cheesecake and a gigantic (and wonderful) carrot cake, so there was some pie left for me and the boys to have for breakfast this morning.

a slice of apple pie on the table

yum

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keeping us in bread

I've been having to work harder to not run out of bread these days. The kids are getting bigger and eating more, and our fuller fall schedule means more packed lunches, so more sandwiches. Maybe we just want to eat more as the weather gets colder. Maybe it's a temporary blip. For whatever reason, baking a batch of two loaves once a week isn't enough any more. So the trick becomes finding time for a second baking day—and that's in addition to a couple times a week that I make sourdough bread (much beloved when it's hot out of the oven, but not much good for sandwiches).

My theory about making your own bread has been that it isn't actually very hard—it just requires being home for a certain amount of time in a day. To that I can now add that you need to know you're going to be home for a certain amount of time in order to be able to safely start the baking. While we certainly spend more time at home than the average American family, we also like to keep our schedule flexible, which has really slowed down my bread production. But needs must, so I'm working on figuring it out. If I get up early enough I can have it done by 10:30... that works, right?

I'm still using the same recipe I have for years and years, which you can find here. The only differences are that I've now started using melted butter rather than oil, I've increased the oven temperature to 360 or 365°F (though that may just be our oven) and 40 minutes is the shortest baking time I'd do... sometimes it needs a bit more.

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the best thing about muffins

I made muffins yesterday. Banana chocolate chip. The best thing about muffins is that you can have them for breakfast, and then later in that same day have them for dessert! It seems almost unfair. The cooler weather is is nice because it makes baking much more attractive: there's no downside! Over the past couple days I made oatmeal cookies, wheat bread, chocolate chip cookie bars, and the muffins. Hmm.. maybe there's a downside to my waistline? Here's the muffin recipe if you're interested, except now I'm using melted butter instead of oil. That's healthier, right?

Yikes, in checking that recipe link I see that I already made the same amusing observation this post is built around before, back in 2011. Oh well, I already wrote this much... let's hit the publish button!

potluck competition

We had a church retreat this past weekend—well, some people in the church had a retreat. I took care of the elementary kids, which is to say two of my own three children plus about 25 more. Of course, I had lots of help and it was lots of fun, but it was also pretty tiring. On our way home we stopped at my parents' house for dinner with them and my brother. We got home around 8:15. Less than twelve hours later I had to leave to set up for my the regular Sunday kids program, with the added effort of unloading and putting away all the materials I brought out for the kids to use at the hotel. So you can see why I was struggling to find something appropriate to prepare for the potluck lunch I was invited to.

I didn't really think about it until yesterday morning, and then for a while I was about ready to just give up and go in there pleading exhaustion and overwhelmedness. But then all the other people who were going had been at the retreat too, and also I'm actually pretty competitive when it comes to food prep, so bringing nothing felt pretty bad. Then in the shower I had a brainstorm: I was going to have over an hour between the end of Kids Church and the lunch. If I mixed up some cookie dough at home, I could bring it in and stick it in the fridge at church—then I'd be able to wow people with fresh-baked cookies coming out of the oven just in time for dessert. Who would be able to top that?!

As it happened, people appreciated the warm cookies a great deal. But they were just one small part of a wonderful lunch that included salad fresh from someone's garden and rice and beans with peach salsa made from someone else's home-grown peaches—all served on a beautifully set table with name cards and wildflowers and artistically-strewn stones and peach pits (it looked cool, really!). So I couldn't stand out. Never mind, I'm happy just to have done my part!

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part butter, part milk

pancakes on a plate

the pancakes of 2019

Eight years ago when I last wrote up a pancake recipe on these pages, I was still using canola oil rather than butter. Just laziness. Besides that it's a good recipe—as you can see by the fact that I'm still making pancakes almost the same way every Friday morning. Recently, though, we saw the biggest change in the recipe in years: we've switched to buttermilk.

A potential problem with making buttermilk pancakes regularly is that it can be hard to keep buttermilk around. I mean, what else are you ever going to be doing with it?! In our case, though, it went the other way: I wanted to have buttermilk for making cakes—not just for birthdays anymore!—but even with an accelerated cake-baking schedule it proved impossible to use up a carton before it went bad. So I thought I would try it in pancakes.

It turns out to be dramatically better than making them with milk. Who knew?! Actually, I guess lots of people knew. But not me. Thankfully, I'm now enlightened. In case you were also among the buttermilk innocents, the main difference is that buttermilk and baking soda make for a much better rise than baking powder alone (that's why buttermilk is in the cakes, too). Then the higher rise makes for a more tender crumb, which is good for its own sake, and also lets the pancakes soak up lots of syrup. Which of course is the real reason we're doing this breakfast!

Here's the (new and improved) recipe.

In a large bowl whisk together:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup wheat germ
3 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cinnamon

Beat well:

2 large eggs

Add to the dry ingredients, along with:

1 1/2 cup buttermilk
3 Tbsp melted butter

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix gently with a whisk until they're well-combined and smooth.

Put your skillet over medium-low heat and butter as required. Pour the batter (I use a quarter cup measure, not quite filled for each pancake) and cook until most of the bubbles on top have popped, then flip and cook the other side for about 30 seconds.

Serve with butter and slightly-warmed maple syrup or preserves.

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new frontiers in cooking

Yesterday a friend brought over some veggies to contribute to lunch, including a big bunch of scallions—which inspired us to try making scallion pancakes! We used this recipe, roughly, and they came out great. The only issue was we started cooking at 11:30, so while we got the rest of the lunch ready by noon we did not have scallion pancakes til much later. Which was bad only because at that point everyone was stuffed with the other delicious food we had made, so for my part at least eating many pieces of scallion pancake on top of that made me feel rather unwell. They're pretty much just flour and water fried in lots of oil, so kind of heavy.

I tend to get in kind of a rut with my cooking, both because I don't want to put a lot of effort into new recipes when there's a good chance the kids won't like the results, and because I tend not to plan very far ahead (like with the pancakes, see). It's not the end of the world—we have more than seven recipes we know we like, so we're not getting the same thing more than once a week unless we do it on purpose—but on the other hand I don't want to miss all the other good things the world might have to offer in the culinary line.

Not quite at the same level, but this evening I made a potato-and-cheese omelet for supper. That was a new one too. Me and Harvey enjoyed it; Lijah liked the bread and the roasted cauliflower, and Zion liked the bread. In his defense, it was just about right out of the oven, so while in no way ground-breaking it was certainly good. Not everything has to be new and exciting.

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gingerbread houses

An important part of our Christmas that I left out of yesterday's report was the gingerbread baking. Besides the cookies the boys made for Grandma and Grandpa, we also did our annual construction and decoration of gingerbread houses. We invited friends over to make the whole affair as festive and exciting as possible.

busy around the table with candy, frosting, and gingerbread

it's gingerbread chaos!

It was a pretty intense day. The boys and I started first thing in the morning making the dough: two batches, with a total of seven cups of flour. That might not sound like a lot but for scale, it's almost all of a five-pound bag. Or maybe it's not, and the bag was only empty because of how much we spilled. Which was a lot. But the dough got made, and we rolled it into balls and left it to chill.

the boys rolling the dough into big balls

the end of phase 1

A little later our friends arrived. Together we designed a house template, then each of the five kids worked (with an age-appropriate amount of help) to roll out their portion of dough and cut pieces for their walls, roofs, and auxiliary accessories. The adults were also making lunch at this time, so there was a lot going on. The house pieces were big enough that each house took up two baking sheets, and each one needed to be in the oven for 15 minutes. There was some confusion over which parts went to which house, but we got it all sorted out in the end. The frosting to glue the houses together took a pound of sugar, and then we needed another batch—another pound—for the decorating.

Which of course is what the kids were waiting for! (Some of them had such a hard time waiting they started decorating before their roofs were quite attached; it was only a little sad, because everything that fell apart was repairable.) We had a tremendous array of candy available, which was good because they expected to taste more-than-representative portions of each type. Decorating techniques varied: the 9-year-olds were guided largely by aesthetic concerns, whereas 7-year-olds and younger were more concerned with attaching the maximum volume of the types of candy they wanted to eat later. Never mind; all five houses came out beautifully.

five finished gingerbread houses lined up on the table

finished!

That was all a week before Christmas. I was talking a couple days ago with friends whose kids were having trouble letting go of the season—they're fellow 12-day-celebrators, but still hadn't taken down their tree two days past Epiphany. I told them my secret for helping the boys accept the end of Christmas: I didn't let them eat their gingerbread houses until the season was officially over! So there was something to look forward to on January 6th.

Harvey breaking the roof off his gingerbread house

finally!

Harvey and Zion's houses aren't entirely gone yet, but what remains can fit in a tupperware container in the bread drawer. Lijah's is still standing; that's because, as he describes it, "I don't like gingerbread, just candy." I estimate another three days till all the decorations have been stripped off, then maybe we can put the remains out for the squirrels.

If you want to make your own houses, here's our recipe as I have it:

In a large bowl whisk together:

7 cups all-purpose white flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons powdered ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon

In the stand mixer, cream:

1 cup (two sticks) butter
1 cup sugar

Add and mix until well-blended:

1 cup molasses
2 teaspoons vanilla

Add the dry ingredients to the wet about two cups at a time, mixing until combined each time. If necessary, add:

up to 1/4 cup cold water

Form the dough into three or four balls, wrap each one in plastic wrap, and store in the fridge until you’re ready to make your houses.

At that point, preheat the oven to 325° F and grease a cookie sheet or two. Roll one ball at a time on a oured surface to a thickness of about 1/4 inch. Cut out your house pieces and bake them on cookie sheets for 15-18 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces Let the pieces cool completely before assembling the houses.

For the mortar—er, frosting—combine in the stand mixer:

1 package powdered sugar
3 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tarter

Whip vigorously with the whisk attachment, adding more powdered sugar or water as necessary to achieve a thick, glue-like consistency.

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