September 30, 2004

Pizza (thin crust, margareta)

You could argue that I'm living on pizza now. Well, you see, I made a rather huge batch of pizza sauce, and I don't want it to go bad...

Posted by chris at 11:00 PM

New Zealand fig-and-almond bread

At some point, I knew I was going to have to try to make this bread. It's easily the prettiest bread pictured in the Bread Bible, encrusted with almonds and with a fig plopped into the center, which, when cut, looks not unlike a heart.

The bread required several risings, but it wasn't all that difficult. And certainly, it looked pretty stunning when it was done -- although it did turn out smaller than I thought it would be (it's about 6 inches across, maybe 3 inches high). And, having cut it open -- well, sure, it tastes great; how couldn't it, with almonds and figs through-out it? But I'll admit I'm a little disappointed in how dense the bread is. It had been a surprisingly dry dough to work with, and I probably should have added some more water early on. I'm not sure what happened there.

I don't expect I'll be making this again until there's some special party or whatnot where I need a nice-looking dish to bring. It is awfully pretty, even this first attempt.

Pictures hopefully to come!

Posted by chris at 12:28 AM

September 29, 2004

Pizza (thin crust, margareta)

This time I decided to see what would happen if I didn't give the pizza stone enough time to heat up. The pizza was OK but the crust wasn't nearly as crispy -- which is more or less what I expected, but you have to experiment with these things.

Also I added some ricotta cheese, a habit which I always found nasty in pizza joints, but which tasted very good on this pizza. Either it was better ricotta or it was simply fresher from not sitting under a heat lamp all day.

Posted by chris at 04:20 PM

Basic hearth bread

I was in the mood to dip bread in olive oil, and this is the best type of bread that I've made yet for that, mostly because it's a simple bread that isn't really dazzling on its own. It didn't come out as nicely as it has before -- I probably should have let it cook up a bit longer, to get a crispier crust -- but ah well.

At some point I tried to figure out how much one of these loaves of bread costs, excluding the time I spend making it. I'm conservatively guessing that it's about 15 cents worth of bread and whole wheat flour, 10 cents of yeast, 10 cents of honey, and maybe a penny's worth of sugar and salt. Maybe add some money for the plastic wrap and parchment paper: It still comes out to, at most, than 50 cents! Not a bad deal.

Posted by chris at 10:45 AM

Pizza (thin crust, margareta)

I made another batch of thin-crust pizza dough -- it's pretty easy to make, after all -- and a big batch of pizza sauce. Maybe we will be having this often? It is pretty simple to make, although this particular dough really didn't like stretching out to its full width. At first it kept tearing, and then it became too stiff. But it all worked out in the end, yum yum.

Posted by chris at 10:39 AM

September 27, 2004

Cracked wheat bread

Back to the sandwich-style loafs. This one came out pretty nice -- a fluffy loaf with nutty nubs of cracked wheat. Not much of a crust, alas, but after the fantastic crusts of the rye loafs, I guess I can go without a crusty crust for one loaf. This was another Bread Bible loaf, and it was pleasantly unsticky, considering it was a milk-and-oil bread.

Posted by chris at 11:21 PM

September 26, 2004

Pasta (egg), in browned butter and sage sauce; rye bread

Yesterday was Bryan's birthday, so today he came over and I made him lunch. It was difficult thinking up something that would impress Bryan, but I remembered that he said he had never made pasta, so I decided to do that. I went with egg pasta because it just seemed more exciting than the hot water pasta, although both taste good.

I might have added too much sage the the butter, but I found when pouring it onto the pasta that I could control how much of the sage poured out, so I was able to add as much butter and as much sage as seemed right.

It all came out tasting pretty good! He also got to try the rye bread, the carrot cake, and the Irish soda bread. The soda bread was too rich for him (he's crazy) but he seemed to like everything else: Success!

Meanwhile I made him a rye loaf all his own. I scored the loaf with the letter "B" for Bryan, which was cute, but the crust burned a bit on the inside of the hoops of the B. Oh well. It was still cute; hopefully he'll report back on whether it tasted good.

Posted by chris at 03:46 PM

September 25, 2004

Medieval cookery

I finished reading The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages, which was great. A bit repetitive at times in that way academic texts, where each chapter is supposed to be independent, can be. But filled with great details, and a detailed look at the system of "humors" that was the driving force behind a lot of medieval cooking. (Some foods were wet, very wet, or extremely wet; or else they were dry, very dry, or extremely dry; also, they could be some degree of warm or cool; and you wanted to mix these in the right proportion so they could have the best effect on the body.)

One of my favorite details, about how the line between "fruit" and "vegetable" was vague in the 15th Century:

An Italian recipe collection includes a dish called a Champoste di pere o di rape: if the cook didn't happen to have any pears on hand, he could simply substitute turnips, with no perceived change in the fundamental nature of the dish. In much the same way another collection juxtaposes recipes for Quince Pie and Cabbage Pie, stating that they are to be treated analogously.
Posted by chris at 09:39 PM

Irish soda bread, plus whiskey butter

File this under "foods I didn't actually like, which I then made, and which turned out great" (see also: Biscotti). Soaking the raisins in whiskey provided for enough whiskey to add to the butter plus enough to drink afterwards. The raisins made the whiskey sweet so it was like Canadian rye. O Canada!

Anyway, this came out really ridiculously yummy. Or maybe I'm just a boozehound.

Posted by chris at 08:34 PM

Rye bread

I went out last night and bought yeast -- the proper kind of yeast, this time. And today I made another rye bread, due to popular demand. And it is once again pretty tasty! Whoo!

Posted by chris at 03:41 PM

Pasta (hot water)

Made a quick blob of pasta for some lunch. This time I made the "hot water" style (where you add hot water and olive oil rather than eggs). It was pretty fast and simple. Cut it into "artisan" strands again. Someday I'll go for ravioli!

Posted by chris at 03:40 PM

September 24, 2004

Pizza (thin crust, margareta)

I made pizza!

The Bread Bible recipe turned out to be for very thin crust pizza, which I guess is nice if you don't like carbs or something. Actually the pizza turned out pretty nicely -- especially the crust -- but I was a bit surprised that all that work went into a 10-inch pizza.

Also I realized that when I bought a replacement bottle of yeast, I bought the wrong kind! I wanted instant yeast, I bought "active dry" yeast, and it turns out they're different. It also turns out that "active dry" yeast if preferred for pizza dough. Hence, tonight's dinner.

Posted by chris at 08:32 PM

Popovers

To be fair, I didn't even really know what popovers were. But they were in all the cookbooks, and the recipe looked pretty easy...

They came out OK. They seem like an alternative to biscuits. I don't have a popover tray so I used the muffin tin instead. Some of them didn't really "pop", and I'm not sure why not. But even the runts tasted pretty good.

Posted by chris at 06:52 PM

September 23, 2004

Carrot cake

Band pratice was cancelled, so I suddenly had the evening free. I felt like making something desserty, and we did have all those carrots...

Joanie helped out by grating the carrots and prepping the pan and all that jazz. Mostly cooking is a nice "alone time" for me, but it was fun to cook with someone else as well.

The cake turned out nice. The cream cheese icing turned out a bit sweeter than I perhaps would like, but it did prevent us from eating the entire cake in one sitting. Also, the recipe made for a lot of cake. I spent some time slicing the big sheet of cake into little Tupperware-ready squares, so they could be taken to work (and so they'd stay in the fridge).

Posted by chris at 11:54 PM

Rye bread

This one (another Bread Bible loaf) turned out pretty great. Hard to tell if it's just because it's a new type of bread, or if it really is a great loaf, but either way, yum. I accidentally forgot to refridgerate the starter, and the fact that the bread wasn't cold made it nicer to knead. I also didn't feel shy about adding flour when, during the second knead, the bread got a bit sticky (rather than just tacky). I'm feeling a bit more comfortably with the process, now that I've made a few of these types of loaves.

Also, I have now cooked my way through an entire little jar of yeast. Yay, yeast! It's one of the best plants ever!

Posted by chris at 09:22 PM

September 22, 2004

Basic hearth bread

Well, I added less water this time to make a less sticktastic dough, and indeed the dough was eminently reasonable. Something weird happened in the oven, though, and apparently I accidentally turned off the over -- or something? -- because when I went to reduce the temperature, it had to preheat all over again. Egads. So it cooked and cooked and the insides reached the right temperature but the thermometer wouldn't come out clean.

Well, eventually I said enough was enough and called it done.

Apparently I also forgot, once again, to add salt before mixing it. Such a tiny part of the recipe, and I've forgotten it twice now (and added it too early the first time). And, indeed, the bread tastes a bit weird because of it -- a bit watery, like a water cracker. It's not necessarily bad, but it's weird.

We'll see if the handsome sticky loaf came out tasting the same way.

The crust is pretty nice, though! Gnaw, gnaw!

Posted by chris at 02:03 PM

Corn muffins (Northern)

Wednesday only comes once a week! I am off today, and I woke up early, so I made corn muffins for everyone. Sliced up a little fruit (ah, the Asian pears had gone a bit off, oh well!), made some orange juice from concentrate, coffee in the French press -- it was quite a spread. A very nice way to spend the morning.

The muffins were really moist this time, and might have tasted too oily -- I probably didn't need to put in quite as much vegetable oil as I did. But everyone else thought they were just fine, so I guess it went off OK.

Posted by chris at 01:11 PM

Vanilla pudding

The thing about vanilla pudding is figuring out when it's thick enough. Last time I made it, I debated three or four times, thinking "OK, it's thicker! OK, maybe it's not thick enough." Finally I let it cook until it was as thick as pudding, and that seemed to work.

But this time I stopped it when it first got somewhat thick, to see if it would "set" in the fridge. Which, in fact, it didn't.

So this time it came out a bit thinner than last time. But it also had a much milkier taste -- something which I normally wouldn't think was a good thing, since I don't like the taste of milk, but in fact it was enough to make you think, "Why yes! That milk, it's pretty good! Let's buy a cow so we can have some more."

Posted by chris at 09:57 AM

Basic hearth bread

Last time, I accidentally added the salt to this loaf too soon; this time, I'm pretty sure I forgot to add it altogether. The yeast was spunky, and dough was by far the stickiest dough I've ever worked with. I was sure that, after sticking to bowls, hands, parchment paper, there would be very little left to the actual loaf of bread. But the yeast made it grow phenomenally during its final rise, and the crust browned beautiful, and it's really the handsomest freeform loaf of bread I've done yet. Maybe I'll try to get a picture of it.

No word yet on how it tasted, mind you, since I'm gifting this loaf...

Posted by chris at 09:53 AM

September 20, 2004

Basic hearth bread

This was another Bread Bible loaf, which was allowed to sit in the fridge for a day (in fact, I didn't have enough time to knead and cook it yesterday, so it was just as well). It is chewy and has a hard crust, although the crust didn't turn out quite as brown and impressive as I'd hoped. It was a very sticky dough. Anyway it has some pretty nice flavors.

Posted by chris at 11:29 PM

Butter cookies, frosted, shaped like the Lower 48

After spending a lot of my time attending an arts festival I started making food again. This time, butter cookies! Christmas is coming, and I wanted to give some of these recipes a try.

Well, but as it turns out, this was another recipe that involved a very crumbly dough which you had to pack together -- a dough held together by willpower rather than, I don't know, eggs. That was somewhat annoying.

But the cookies -- except for the first batch, which burnt a bit -- came out pretty nice and buttery, and the sugary glaze is delightful. Joanie owned a cookie cutter shaped like the United States, and how can you turn that down? But Maine kept sticking to the cutter. Oh well!

Posted by chris at 05:00 AM

September 16, 2004

White sandwich bread

So I wanted to try out the Bread Bible, and I went with what I thought would be an easy recipe: White sandwich bread. Bread that is supposed to be the bread that Wonder Bread wants to be.

Well. It required attention every two hours for the better part of the day. It felt like I was sitting an infant that needed its diaper changed very, very frequently.

The end result was a very nice bread, sure, but I haven't made this sort of milk-and-butter-infused sandwich bread before with a simpler recipe, so I can't compare and say whether the starter and the zillion little steps were worth it. It wasn't, to my taste, all that much better than the fairly easy to make whole wheat bread I've been making... but it is a different beast.

Also: I was reminded that mixing dough with butter in it is annoying. It takes forever for it all to finally cohere and stop being a sticky mess. I mean, this is the sort of thing that would be easier if I had a mixer, i guess, but, eh.

Also: When I first went to write this entry, my blog up and disappeared. It's actually a few days later than the entry says, and I've just restored all the entries. If this happens again I will be very, very frustrated indeed...

Posted by chris at 09:00 AM

September 15, 2004

Browned butter

I accidentally melted some of the butter that was supposed to just be "softened" for the bread I'm making today. So I set it aside to finally experiment with browning butter. Also, Billis had mentioned that he had browned some butter while making cookies, and that reminded me to give it a try.

It browned!

I used it as a topping for pasta. It had a pretty nice flavor, but it still needed a little something -- perhaps sage? Rosemary? Something savory to round it out.

Posted by chris at 03:00 AM

Biscotti (cinnamon and raisin)

This morning I was leafing through Baking Illustrated and noticing how many of the bread recipes in there that I wanted to try require a "sponge" started to be prepped the day before. I'm looking forward to giving that a try, but this was a new book! I wanted some immediate gratification.

So eventually I came across the biscotti recipe, and thought that would be nice with coffee. I went with the lemon anise recipe, which required two eggs (the others required three), which is all the eggs we had left. We didn't have any anise, but it suggested substitutions, and I went with cinnamon and raisin and hazarded the amounts to add. I really wanted to try out cardamom, which I thought Jake would enjoy, but if my first batch of biscotti came out weird, I wanted it to be for technical reasons, rather than bad spice choices.

The dough was very, very powdery, and I wasn't convinced it was supposed to be so powdery. It required a certain amount of packing before it formed anything like the logs of dough that were needed, and I felt pretty sure it was all doomed to failure. The recipe didn't describe what the dough was supposed to look or feel like, but it did suggest flouring your hands, which was completely unnecessary.

They're cooling on the rack right now -- they didn't brown as much as I might have wanted, and from the uneven coloring I suspect that I should have left them in for a bit longer on the first part of the bake. I haven't tasted them yet, except for biscotti residue when flipping them over, but that certainly tasted good enough. And they do look like, you know, biscotti. (UPDATE: And, now that I've tasted them, they taste pretty great! The raisins got all burnt, which I dig.)

This was also the first time I got to try out parchment paper, which is, of course, dreamy.

Posted by chris at 02:00 AM

Books are here

Both Baking Illustrated and The Bread Bible arrived today. I didn't think they'd get here so soon. But also I rented from the library a book about the science of baking and one about cooking in the middle ages (to stitch up with another interest I've had of late). Now if I could only get a little time to read...

Posted by chris at 01:00 AM

September 12, 2004

Pita

Joanie had bought some hummus from Foti's, so I made some pita tonight. I regretted not spending the $1.50 for a water sprayer when I bought those gadgets a few days back, but flicking the water onto the baking sheet "hearth" with my fingers seems to have worked OK. The bread is good and more of it formed into pockets than the last time I made it.

It doesn't really need to be said, but Foti's makes excellent hummus.

Posted by chris at 02:22 AM

Iced tea

This hardly counts as cooking. But yesterday I made some iced tea, and I'm enjoying it this morning.

It wasn't until a few months ago that I realized you can just brew a pitcher of tea and put it in the fridge and then you'd have iced tea. (I'd been icing leftover coffee for much longer.) Of course, I had only realized a few months before that that I even enjoyed iced tea.

Posted by chris at 01:00 AM

September 09, 2004

Whole wheat bread

And then I had a few minutes to kill, so I made some more whole wheat bread. This time I semi-accidentally used honey instead of sugar, to no noticeable effect. (My eye skipped over to the sandwich bread recipe, which said sugar or honey, and it seemed like a fun variation to try.) I was itching for something to put the freezer jam I made a while back on. Also it made the house smell nice while we played our new board game, Acquire. (Jake won.)

Posted by chris at 11:59 AM

Rosemary biscuits

This morning I made some rosemary biscuits. It wasn't fresh rosemary, but ah well. It added a nice savory touch to the biscuits, which made it a little less ideal for breakfast, perhaps, but it was a nice change.

I also got to use the grated butter technique, which worked fantastically. They were much fluffier than the last time I made them, and I assume it's because I managed to keep the butter cold by not mauling it with my fists of fire. The new rolling pin and steel scraper both worked out great, too.

Instead of a butter coating, I went with a milk coating, which I suspect was what caused some of the biscuits to stick to the baking sheet. They were mostly sealed around the edges. I don't think I'll do that again!

Posted by chris at 02:18 AM

September 08, 2004

Oven fries & pear-and-pecan bread

The potatoes were starting to sprout a little, so I figured it was time to use them. The Joy Of Cooking was my guide, as usual. I've made oven fries before, years ago, and they turned out pretty poorly. Those recipes didn't call for soaking the cut potatoes in cold water before cooking them, however, which might be why these turned out to be great. (That and I let them cook a bit longer than the recipe suggested -- I like my fries crispy, and without any raw potato taste.

"Did you make the ketchup", asked Jake. "If I had made ketchup", I said, "you'd have known." I do want to get around to that one of these weekends before tomato season is totally up.

Afterwards I made a pear-and-pecan bread, also from Joy of Cooking's recipe. It's still cooking. An hour and fifteen minutes seems like a long time, but we'll see.

I had to let the oven cool down from 450 to 350 for the bread, and the oven doesn't let you know when it has cooled down -- the "preheat" doesn't work like that. I thought about letting it cool down much further and then heating it back up, but then I remembered that I had just bought an oven thermometer! How convenient!

Now I just need to get around to fixing the light bulb in the oven...

UPDATE: Well, the pear bread failed to come out of the pan in one piece. This is the first time this has happened to me with a quick bread. Blehhhh. It'll still taste good, though, I suspect...

Posted by chris at 02:16 AM

Books are coming

Billis got me Baking Illustrated, and I guess it's in the mail. I didn't realize it existed. Turns out it's by the Cooks Illustrated people. So during my lunch today I wandered to Powells and read some of their copy. It looks like it'll be fantastic: Lots of stories on all the variations they tried on each of the recipes, and how each turned out, and why. A lot of science, I guess. This is what I want out of a cookbook right now.

Best tip: If you want to cut butter up for biscuits, freeze it and then grate it with a block grater! I can't wait to try that one. Maybe I'll go make some biscuits.

Also bought The Bread Bible, which someone was selling for $10. It looked good at Powell's, and my mother is a big fan of the same author's The Cake Bible.

Also today, I bought some random kitchen stuff, most notably a rolling pin (finally!) and a steel scraper. I'm hoping that they become as beloved as my whisk and Joanie's pyrex mixing bowls have become to me. The rolling pin is one of those huge 20" tapered French deals -- it doesn't fit in any of our drawers!

Anyway, it gave me an idea for restarting the blog.

Posted by chris at 02:11 AM