Some things I bookmarked this week #4

  • This column will change your life: consumer options |  The Guardian – “Might it not make sense, then, to comparison-proof your own life? This is one good argument for pursuing a long-held eccentric career ambition over something more conventional: if nobody else you know is a gherkin wholesaler, or a goat farmer, you’re much less likely to feel gnawed by the sense of not measuring up.”

KK is addicted to these green tomato pickles, but they’re tough to track down locally and cost about $7 a jar. I’m hoping I can use this recipe to make some smaller batches of our own. (I also got 4 books from the library on canning and preserving.)

What have you found this week that was worth keeping?

If my life were a reality show, it would be called Kitchen Boners (NHBPM 14)

 

And oh, how we would laugh.

We got home from the gym just before 9pm, so I threw a chicken in the pressure cooker and dumped a bag of kale into a stock pot. Then I gathered the few supplies needed to make the lovely “Orange Kissed Almond Cookies” at Beard and Bonnet, which I’d bookmarked last week. Everything would be ready in about 20 minutes, and I’d be a rockstar.

Instead, the leeks I threw in with the chicken burned and had to be dynamited out of the pressure cooker. And the dark meat didn’t get 100% done, because the pressure cooker cookbook I’d borrowed from the library that said how long to cook everything? I returned it a few days ago.

The cup of leftover Mexican restaurant salsa I threw in with the kale made it too salty.

And the cookies?

Oh, the cookies.

Or more accurately, the “cookies.”

First, I didn’t have orange extract, so I microplaned some fresh zest and let the dough sit for a couple of extra minutes. It smelled heavenly. All systems go.

Then I opened the can of almond paste, which the fine print said was actually “almond cake and pastry filling.” Semantics! I thought. If they meant marzipan, surely they’d have said “marzipan.” And the regular grocery store didn’t sell anything exactly labeled almond paste, so this was probably the stuff.

I worried just a bit when the almond paste and sugar didn’t become so much “uniformly crumbly” as uniformly gooey and unappetizing looking. And my dough was darker than the original recipe’s pictures, but then, my kitchen’s not the best lit room in the house.

Besides, I was in a hurry. Twenty minutes in the oven would fix it all.

So what if it smelled like orangey-almondy-cancer after about 10 minutes?

The inspiration:

From Beard and Bonnet. Don’t they look absolutely scrumptious?

After 25 minutes in the oven, my reality:

This is pretty much why I don’t bother watermarking my photos.

If you’re detail-oriented, you’ll notice that I held the parchment paper up at about a 90-degree angle to the cookie sheet, and the cookie sludge did not budge. But when it cooled, it did harden into a substance that could be used to attach a guy in a hard hat to a girder. In case you’re in the market for a more natural hat-girder adhesive.

Today’s lesson: Almond cake and pastry filling IS NOT almond paste IS NOT marzipan. Use what the one a recipe actually calls for, and you’re more likely to end up with what a recipe is actually supposed to make.

 

Bonus lesson: This is exactly why you should keep ice cream in the freezer. Well, one of about a thousand reasons, but still a very good one.

Have you butchered anything in the kitchen lately, even though you really do know better?

My favorite health app is: cooking (NHBPM 12)

Cooking: 5 stars

I started cooking around age 7. I had to stand on a chair to be able to see into the skillet, but my dad showed me how to make pancakes and eggs scrambled and fried. My tormented mom objected and made me run drills so I would know what to do the day my long hair would inevitably catch fire at the gas stove.

Correct answer: grab a dishtowel and wrap it around my head, then stick my head under the faucet at the sink.

Anxiety — not just for breakfast anymore!

But in spite of her warnings (or maybe, in part, because of them), I felt like a wizard caught up in an alchemical romance. I could take simple elements — water, egg, bread, cheese — alone or in combination, put them in a metal pan, apply fire, and end up with something entirely new: scrambled eggs or a grilled cheese sandwich.

I held the spatula AND the power.

Ever since, cooking has been something I do to create and to relax. For me, cooking is natural mindfulness. When I’m doing it, I don’t have the resources to think about anything else, and my mind is unusually focused yet aware. I use all my senses, including instinct, to make a steady stream of evaluations and decisions. I flow.

It’s perverse, but I even like that the end product is ephemeral. It helps keep my ego in check and keeps the focus on the process, not any particular outcome.

But. I would still like to share an outcome with you, because I made a lovely cake this week. You might have trouble tracking down one of the key ingredients, though, because it is rarer than rare — leftover champagne.

KK recently received a beautiful personalized bottle of real champagne (from zee Frahnce!) as part of her work anniversary. We waited to open it until a dinner with friends because she kept saying, “We can never drink all that ourselves!”

She’s so cute.

But because nobody wanted to drink all of her champagne, and she couldn’t, we ended up with nearly a cup of it leftover. (Beware those self-fulfilling prophecies.) It kept for a bit in the fridge, but of course wasn’t great for drinking anymore. It was great for cooking, though.

I would say this cake was worth making even if you have to open a fresh bottle to make it. These are the sacrifices we sometimes have to make, you know.

Champagne Vanilla Pound Cake

Inspired by this BHG recipe and this description of real pound cake.
Makes 1 9×5 inch loaf pan (8 servings). Double it to fill a 10-inch tube pan.

For the cake:
Butter a loaf pan. Preheat your oven to 325°F.

Weigh out 8 ounces of gluten-free all-purpose flour in a small bowl. Add 1 teaspoon on xanthan gum and a pinch of salt. Set aside.

Soften 8 ounces of butter (that’s two sticks). Add 8 ounces of sugar and cream until light and fluffy. Beat in 8 ounces of eggs (for mine, 3 large eggs ended up being 7.something ounces and it worked fine).

Add 1/2 cup champagne or sparkling wine and the scrapings from 2 vanilla beans (or 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, but the beans taste better and look pretty in the cake).

Slowly add in the flour mixture, scraping down the sides to incorporate it all. Pour the batter into a buttered loaf pan and bake for 50-60 minutes until it tests done.

Cool in pan for a bit, then turn it out onto a plate and add the glaze.

For the glaze:
In a small bowl, mix 1/2 cup of powdered sugar with 1 Tablespoon of champagne. Add a few drops more champagne until it becomes a drizzling consistency. Pour over slightly cooled cake.

I served this for dessert with Philadelphia-style Pumpkin Cheesecake Ice Cream (this recipe + 1/2 cup canned pumpkin and 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice).

KK”s review: “Oh my god, I LOVE pound cake. You would never know this was gluten free. Can I have some more glaze?”

My review: Easy to make and easy to enjoy. The cake had the large moist crumb it was supposed to, and the champagne kept it from being overly sweet. Next time, I will poke holes in the top of the cake and add extra glaze. Because when you’re a grownup, you get to do that kind of thing.

And like the true primary beneficiary on her life insurance, I introduced KK to toasted pound cake with butter, for breakfast.

Recipe: Fast and Slow Chicken Soup

I’m tempted to call this Chicken Stoup instead, a la Rachel Ray. She’s not my favorite, but I DO love a good portmonteau.

Damp and cool, this rainy fall day. The rain overnight left the sky completely drained of color when we woke up this morning. I felt exsanguinated and uninspired to match. This demanded a soup infusion STAT, before I just caved and went back to bed.

I’d made an overnight slow cooker stock Sunday using a gifted turkey breast carcass from a dear friend’s birthday dinner (genius theme: Early Thanksgiving). And this time, I remembered to leave on the yellow onion skins and was rewarded with 2+ quarts of pretty, golden broth. Fragrant, too, thanks to the parsley stems.

That was the Slow part.

I’d bought bone-in chicken breasts this week, since they were on sale, but I knew the white meat wouldn’t hold up to a poaching and a souping without getting stringy and tough. So I pulled out the pressure cooker, checked Lorna Sass‘ recommendation for timing, and fired it up. A mere 7 minutes of cooking, I had two perfectly moist and tender breasts ready to be boned, chopped, and added to the soup.

That was the Fast part.

The rest of the soup involved cleaning out the crisper and using up odds and ends. That was the Soup part. (Soup art?)

 

Fast and Slow Chicken Soup

Yields enough for 6-8 servings

In a large stock pot, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat and add

  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 ribs of celery, diced
  • 1/2 each of a yellow and green bell pepper that you found sliced and frozen in the fridge from the last time you made hummus (when WAS that?!)
  • 8oz package of sliced mushrooms

While those begin to soften, clean, stem, and chop a bunch of kale into postage stamp-sized pieces. Peel and dice a sweet potato. Dice a medium tomato. Add them all to the stock pot and give it a stir.

Season with any or all of the following:

  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of pepper
  • Italian seasoning (I like the McCormick’s grinder one the best, and they go on sale all the time)
  • Slap Ya Mama seasoning (my Electra-complex season salt of the year)
  • spoon of chopped garlic from a jar, or 2 fresh cloves, pressed

Stir it all again and add 2 quarts of stock. Slap a lid on and bring it to a boil.

Once it’s boiling, add 1/2 cup of rice and 2 cups of cooked chopped chicken breast. Turn the heat down to simmer for 15 minutes, then turn it off and wait for someone to say they’re hungry.

Manic Menu Week in Review

The best things I made this week

Smoky chipotle baba ganoush and blue cheese hummus. What should have been the most autopilot meal turned into my most inspired cooking of the week. I set out to make regular baba ganoush with (all together now) my new grill using a combination of David Liebowitz and The Pioneer Woman’s recipes. But when DL said to sprinkle chili powder on top for a pop of color, I seized the opportunity to dust it up with chipotle chili powder, a great complement to the richness of the smoky grilled eggplants.

But then the plain, boring, can-of-chickpeas-and-seasonings-in-the-food-processor hummus was too plain and too boring. I was out of feta but found the end of a Maytag blue cheese wedge in the cheese drawer. For the first taste, I put a teensy crumble of cheese on my hummus on my celery. For the second taste, I was mashing the rest of the cheese into my hummus and pushing a spoonful toward KK. No longer plain or boring — pretty tasty, really, and a great pair with the chipotle baba ganoush.

Served with: raw veggies for dipping, pita chips for KK, olives, and smug satisfaction.

The best part? Half an eggplant and several peppers in the freezer for later.

Grilled veggie lasagna. The ricotta from Aldi was surprisingly thick and flavorful, and grilling the veggies concentrated their flavors tons better than sauteeing them ever has. Made a quick sauce with a big can of crushed tomatoes, then decided to dice and add a few fresh tomatoes that were getting old, which made for a good texture. I also used about half as many lasagna noodles, and that sat well with our evolved less-bready tastes.
Served with: generous compliments.

Sausage lentil stew (aka failed mujadarra). The sausage was a last minute addition suggested by KK that redeemed this from being one-meatless-meal-in-a-row too many. The sausage was also a pleasant surprise, because it was a brand I don’t usually buy AND 50% lower fat than usual. I added a can of diced tomatoes, a tablespoon of soy sauce, and a few splashes of balsamic vinegar.
Served over: basmati rice (the house favorite) with caramelized onions and a dollop of plain greek yogurt.

I’m not even going to pretend this is a good picture. iPhone + poor kitchen lighting = learning to eat it before you see it.

Pumpkin spice syrup. The syrup was a little more viscous and much darker than the inspiration pic, but the 8oz jar disappeared in about four days because we found so many ways to use it. KK, ever one to gild a lily, added it to her chai tea, and I added it to our oatmeal in the mornings. I even put it in a vanilla protein shake before heading to the gym on Wednesday, and it was delicious.
The lazy version: 1/3 cup canned pumpkin, 1.5 cups sugar, 1.5 cups water, and 2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice. Mix, simmer, cool. Makes enough for four 8-ounce jars (giving size).
Served with: everything!

Baked eggs with tomato sauce and goat cheese. This is a recipe I bookmarked over a year and a half ago and never got around to making. I’m glad we finally did! I saved a cup of tomato sauce back from the lasagna, so it came together in a snap. A welcome change from scrambled, scrambled, and more scrambled. If we ever entertained, this would also be great for a crowd, because nearly all of it can be done ahead AND they’ll all finish baking at the same time!
Served with: gluten-free orange ricotta pancakes and sliced orange.

And the worst things?

Unfortunately, both Worst Things this week coincided at the same meal.

Beer can chicken on the new grill.  We walked the dog with about 20 minutes left on the timer, but ended up talking with neighbor for about 15 extra minutes. Chicken shards! I felt like Clark carving the turkey in the National Lampoon Christmas Vacation movie.
Verdict: Will repeat, but with a different beer — Stella wasn’t stellar — and with increased supervision.

Broccoli rice casserole. Dullsville. Maybe it needed more cheese, but I’m not convinced even that would have helped. The gluten-free cheese crackers I found at Big Lots and crushed on top, while not terrible, were not as good as the store-brand Cheez-its I remembered.
Verdict: Will not repeat. Back to basic broccoli casserole — no rice, no crackers, more cheese.

I’m about to make the menu for the week ahead and need ideas. What’s the best thing you made, or ate, this week?

Fig and almond ice cream

We’ve added another amazing ice cream to this summer’s stable of homemade frozen experiments.

That’s right, people. I do it all for science.

I would call this a no-cook ice cream, but that’s not exactly accurate. It’s perfect for custard cowards, though, because you don’t have to prepare a cussed custard. No temping! No straining! 

The figs will need some time to cook down on the stove top, but they require only a minimum of supervision. You could even pop them in the microwave instead, but I didn’t want it to turn too jammy too quickly, so I let it simmer while I made pad thai for dinner.

I used whole green figs from dear friends who’d picked a bag for me to make something special with. Since I didn’t know about this ice cream last month, I put the figs in the freezer, so I could patiently wait for the right recipe, unmolested by their sweet and seedy siren song.

As expected, the frozen figs worked perfectly here. After mostly-thawing them, they were as easy to stem and halve as fresh ones.

Because I didn’t use black mission figs, the colors of the finished ice cream weren’t as purple-pretty as the inspiration recipe, but I figure if your ice cream lasts long enough to stare at, you have bigger problems.

 

Fig and Almond Ice Cream
Adapted from this recipe at Saveur

Yield: a short quart, but this may vary based on the ripeness of your figs and how much liquid cooks out of them.

1 pound ripe green figs, stemmed and quartered (or halved if they’re small)
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1½ cups heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

If you have an ice cream maker like my beloved Cuisinart one, make sure your ice cream bucket has been frozen for at least 24 hours prior. Or, you know, RTFM.

In a heavy-bottom pot, bring to boil the figs, honey, brown sugar, vinegar, salt, and cinnamon stick. Reduce heat to medium and stir occasionally, until figs mostly break down and mixture thickens. Remove from heat to cool.

While the figs are softening up on the stove, in a medium bowl, mash together the sugar and egg yolks. Whisk in the cream, milk, and almond extract. Scrape the mixture into the ice cream bucket — make sure to get all the sugar that sank to the bottom — and process it for 15 to 20 minutes.

Go back to your pot of figs. Mash the big lumps with a heavy spoon and/or hit it with a stick blender for a minute to get rid of any remaining pieces that are bigger than bite-size.

When the ice cream maker is done, dump the ice cream into a freezable storage container (I’m loving the new Glad Freezerware ones in large). Fold in the figgy goodness and firm it up in the freezer overnight.