Saturday, May 30, 2009

Foodie Fight is On!

redpepperflakesandmelon I know any of those?  

Definitely, no.  Then who was this in my inbox?  

As it happens, it was Foodie Nick, as in Nick and Dan, food champions of Foodie Fights, a blog that hosts food competitions every week or so with 6 contestants and 2 secret ingredients.  I hope they won't mind my lifting their picture and placing it on my blog...I didn't know where else to find these two ingredients in one shot.  (If you do, guys, just email me and I'll remove it promptly.)

I was wholeheartedly surprised when, sitting in the computer room at the School of Ed, I accidentally logged into my Danger Kitten Bakes email account instead of locating articles for my paper.  Oops.  And thank God I did, because there was my email letting me know I'd been chosen.  

That's right, I am one of the chosen ones this week (ok, it was by random selection, but still) and the fight is on!  Melon and crushed red pepper.  Sweet and spicy, which sounds pretty good to me.  

You should know that I love both of these foods, but I have a special affection for the versatile crushed red pepper flakes, even though they sometimes make my face puff up (yes, that's an allergy there).  

And, while I don't want to sound too weird, you should also know that I had a vision.  As soon as I saw what the ingredients were, the dish I am right now in the process of making promenaded across my eyes, a bit smugly I might add, while all of the other dedicated ed students typed valiantly on.  I don't know where it came from or what business it thought it had, but I'm making it with only a couple of minor tweaks and suggestions from my husband who, thankfully, never tires of eating my confections.  

Whoops.  Have I said too much?  Well, you probably won't be too surprised anyway, given everything you know about me and all.  I have until midnight on June 1, a bit Cinderella-ish, I think, and I just hope the slipper fits and I can go home with a little claim to fame.  

My competitors?  Well, check out their websites, because I am up against some pretty professional people.  And, if you get a chance, go to Foodie Fights on Tuesday and vote for me, Danger Kitten Bakes!  Thank you.

Prix Fixe (a culinary school can I beat one of those?)
The Bake-Off Flunkie (good enough for this to not be her first contest)
Potato Candies (haven't figured out yet what these are, but they sound original enough to come from the mind of someone who might win a food competition)
Cre8tive Kitchen (her creativity just may be the thing that gets her to the gold)
Charlie Sinden (a legitimate chef...who am I kidding?)

One of our judges will be Neal, from Burning Pasta, who is last week's winner.  While I haven't figured out yet what "burning" pasta might taste like, it too sounds original.  I guess that's why he won.  

Personally, I have The Studious Cook to thank for my Foodie Fights competition.  We became friends on FoodBuzz, and I saw that she was in last week's "Cauli-Razz" competition.  She made a nice souffle that you just might want to check out.  

Anyways, your little competitor is rather tired, and she has some "foods" to attend to.  Check back on June 1 to see just what I've been up to, and in the meantime, be sure to check out all of the sites above.  


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dear Warm Chocolate Sandwich

Dear Warm Chocolate Sandwich, 

While I know I'm not supposed to use food, and, more specifically, sugar-rich, carb-loaded foods such as bread and chocolate, as a stand-in for therapy, your tender crispiness and sweet, warm, velvety filling indeed assuaged my melancholy heart this morning, and I want to thank you. 

Because coming off a long weekend (4 days!--a hardened impossibility when you are a working person) and trying to force yourself to read about reading and to write--to reflect, mind you--on what a good literacy coach does is just a tad bit difficult when M.F.K. Fisher is sitting by your bedside, her governess-like, black and white eyes reminding you that food is a matter to be taken just as seriously and intellectually as any endeavor there ever was.  

My dear Chocolate Sandwich, she tricked me into eating you with her well-worn prose!  Her chapter in "How to Cook a Wolf," titled "How to Rise Up Like New Bread," which I sneaked a look at between reading about "literary expertise" and taking the laundry out of the dryer, orders the eater to make her own bread and subsequently provides recipes for "hot loaf" and "bucket bread."  "Making good bread," Fisher writes, "is pleasant:  one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony.  It leaves you filled with peace, and the house filled with one of the world's sweetest smells."  

While I did not have the energy to make my own bread this morning, how, dear Chocolate Sandwich, could I not be reminded of your origins, a three-page printout of an old New York Times article that's been quietly biding its time in the back of my recipe binder for years now, waiting until the perfect moment to remind me of its presence?  Was it you, dear Sandwich, who conspired with Ms. Fisher to pull me out of my post-weekend slump this morning?  

In any event, Sandwich, I couldn't help but skip right to the back of the book and read Fisher's Conclusion. (Like a good chocolate sandwich, whose recipe was concocted during the Atkins-crazed, Anti-Carb Era of 2003, this act is both forbidden and satisfyingly filling for the very rebelliousness of it.)  In an attempt to wrap her book up tidily and leave us with a little more than we bargained for when first reading her war-oriented directions to make a "sludge" containing vegetables, cereal, and ground meat, and to eat it cold if we must, Fisher ends with this affirmation:  

"I believe that one of the most dignified ways we are capable of, to assert and then reassert our dignity in the face of poverty and war's fears and pains, is to nourish ourselves with all possible skill, delicacy, and ever-increasing enjoyment.  And with our gastronomical growth will come, inevitably, knowledge and perception of a hundred other things, but mainly of ourselves.  Then Fate, even tangled as it is with cold wars as well as hot, cannot harm us."  

Now, my dear Chocolate Sandwich, how could I not want to make you after reading this?  Why try to write my "Reflection" paper when I could instead be stirring ganache, measuring chocolate chips, buttering slices of bread?  I wanted so much to grow gastronomically so that perception of myself would come and I could not be harmed.  

And you, dear Sandwich, surely provided this, turning the spongy, light slices of un-grilled bread into two slick layers of thin, dense crunch, the ganache and chips between into a mouthful of thank-you, God.  My melancholy lifted, I can now go back to work, because, as Fisher also reminds us in her Conclusion,  we should not "live to eat," but, "since we must eat to live," we ought to do so with "grace and gusto."  

Grace and gusto it is that I find in you, oh dear Chocolate Sandwich, and full I am.

Warm Chocolate Sandwich
Recipe by Maury Rubin of City Bakery

This warm chocolate sandwich will not disappoint you.  The sheer idea of it--eating warm chocolate between layers of crispy, buttery bread, particularly in the middle of the day or for breakfast--is almost guaranteed to make you happy.

4 oz bittersweet chocolate (I used Ghirardelli double chocolate chips, my favorite)
1/4 cup half and half or heavy cream
4 slices of plain white bread (I used Zingerman's Paesano)
4 tsp chocolate chips (I used Nestle semi-sweet, but I would recommend a better chocolate, as long as it is semi-sweet)
1 T soft, spreadable butter

1.  If not using chocolate chips or pieces, chop the bittersweet chocolate.
2.  In a small saucepan, heat the cream until little bubbles appear on the edges.  Remove from heat and add the bittersweet chocolate.  Whisk until smooth and refrigerate for about 30 minutes until slightly solid. 
3.  Spread a layer of the chocolate mixture 1/4 inch thick on two of the bread slices.  Press about 2 teaspoons of the semi-sweet chips into the chocolate mixture.  
4.  Spread some butter on one side of the remaining slices.  Place each slice over a slice of the chocolate-spread bread, and press lightly to seal.  Freeze for 7 minutes.  
5.  Heat a panini press or a skillet and hand-hell press (you could also use a skillet and a baking sheet weighted with heavy cans or other heavy item) and add a little melted butter to the pan. Place sandwich, buttered side up, on the pan or press, and press down until bread is lightly browned.  Flip sandwich and repeat.  Cut in half diagonally and eat.  

Makes 2 sandwiches.  Recipe can easily be doubled.  

Friday, May 22, 2009

Ice-Cream Cake

Have you ever had ice-cream cake from an ice-cream shop made with Oreo cookie crumbs? This cake is made with crumbs...and butter. This butter part is key because it will make you and your fellow cake eaters fight over the crust while you leave the ice-cream to melt all over the plate.  Of course, if it's your birthday, you might just have a fighting chance.

Of the repertoire of birthday cakes I make for people, this is probably the most frequently requested. And, between you and me, it's always a nice choice on my end because it's so easy! On the other person's end, it has the added plus of the birthday girl (or boy) getting to choose his or her favorite flavors, as was the case when I made this for my sister.  She chose chocolate and vanilla, but you could, of course, branch out a bit and still have a spectacular cake.

Ice-Cream Cake

2 (18 ounce) packages of Oreo cookies
2 sticks butter, melted
2 half gallons of ice-cream (any flavors)

Grind the Oreos in a food processor until you have fine crumbs.  (Alternatively, you can put them inside a double plastic Ziploc bag and roll a glass, wine bottle, rolling pin, etc. over them to crush them as fine as possible.)  Pour crumbs into a large bowl and add melted butter.  Stir together.  Press 3/4 of the crumbs along the bottom and sides of a 10-inch springform pan, then freeze until firm, about 10-15 minutes.  Remove one of the ice-creams from the freezer and, when crust is firm, scoop ice-cream into bottom of pan, making sure to press against the sides too.  Smooth with a spoon and pack down until even.  Pour remaining crumbs on top and spread to edges.  Freeze cake for 10 minutes until firm.  Remove the second ice-cream from the freezer and pack into pan on top of crumbs.  

Depending on the temperature of your freezer, take the cake out about 20 minutes before you will cut it so that it will soften (I have actually bent a cake cutter/server beyond repair trying to cut through one of these frozen cakes before!).  Slice and serve with whipped cream (whip heavy cream with vanilla and a little powdered sugar and your favorite hot fudge sauce). 

 Cookie crumbs mixed with butter.

Cookie crumbs pressed into pan.

Chocolate ice-cream being packed into bottom of pan.

Second layer of cookie crumbs being spread on top of chocolate ice-cream.

Vanilla ice-cream being spread on top of second layer of crumbs.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Getting to Know You Quiz

I saw this quiz on How to Eat a Cupcake, who notes that she copied it from  The Boastful Baker who copied it from Brownie Points.

Perhaps someday when I go in for a job interview, my interviewer will ask me questions like this.  Until then, however, I will have to be content with simply posting my responses here.  Practice, you could say.  

As The Boastful Baker notes (and you should check out her blog because it has some very nice photos and yummy looking recipes), she didn't even do the Facebook 25 things meme, which just goes to show that all it really took is food.  Neither did I!   For me, all it ever takes is food I think.   

And by the way, you might be happy to know that I actually have learned a thing or two in grad school.  Meme.  That's right. Other people know about pop culture because they are aware of their surroundings.  But me, I have to go to graduate school to find these sorts of things out.  Yikes.  At least it's coming in handy in my food life.  Thank God for graduate school.  

I would love to hear comments from all of you about your own responses, or to pose additional questions.  Mine would be:  dishes as you go or after?  Also, feel free to copy it onto your blog so we can get to know YOU!

Metal or non-stick? I HATE non-stick.  In fact, I am working on cleaning out my supply of non-stick pans (aka throwing them all away) before I move.  They are mostly all scratched up anyway.  I like regular pans because a)I'm very harsh on pans and the non-stick coating always comes up, b) I don't want to die from ingesting those flakes of non-stick coating, c) haven't you ever heard of grease?

Cast iron or stainless? Totally depends.  If you want a crisp coat on a piece of meat, cast iron is the way to go.  Otherwise, I tend to use stainless.  

Cutting board: silicone or wood? Definitely wood, though I own both kinds.  My cutting boards are actually for different foods...garlic/onions/veggies board, a big yellow plastic cutting board that I LOVE for cutting fruit, especially pineapple, and myriad other boards.  

Knife: carbon steel or stainless? Carbon Steel. I'm a huge fan of good knives in general (see the cookie/Williams-Sonoma post below) and of the the Wusthof Classic in particular, especially the tomato knife. If you don't own one, please consider doing so.

Kitchenaid or hand mixer? My favorite kitchen tool is my KitchenAid.  It is the pale yellow of beaten egg yolks, and I adore it with all my heart.  My husband gave it to me before we were married or even engaged, claiming he had his personal interests in mind.  While I am sure this is true, I think he might have underestimated how completely happy I would feel every time I looked at it.  In any event, half of it now basically belongs to him anyway!

Cooktop: gas, electric, induction? Definitely gas, even though it truly frightens me. 

Side-by-side, freezer on top, fridge on top? I've always dreamed of having a side-by-side because they seem so novel and cool.  Steve and I recently visited friends in Madison and I spent all weekend holding a glass under the ice-making button even though it was slow and half broken just because I couldn't resist.  

Apron or whoops? I almost always wear an apron in the kitchen.  I'm just messy, and like to wipe my dirty hands all over it, which is why the one my grandmother made for me is more like a rag now.  When I am having people over I switch to a newer one that my mother-in-law made for me that I save for such occasions.  I sometimes catch people looking at me funny when I walk out of the house with aprons on, though, as if they have never seen someone wear an apron in this century.  Is it that weird?

Mashed potatoes: by hand, ricer, or mixer?  I love mashing by hand, but a ricer is on my kitchen dream list.  Maybe when I get that interview...

Sandwich or wrap?   A couple of Christmases ago I bought my dad a Leonardo da Vinci doll along with a panini press and my husband made Leonardo talk.  Leonardo said (in a thick Italian accent):  "Carlo, make me a panini."  I couldn't have said it better myself.  Panini have got it going on.  Leonardo wants one, so it must be true.  

PB & _________ ?   Peanut butter and homemade jam from Margie.

Pancakes: syrup or applesauce? Syrup, for sure, though I love sour milk pancakes with molasses, various jams, honeys, and corn syrups.  What a way to start the day, or a pancake-eating contest.

Cake: scratch or mix? Mix?  Okay, in all honesty, I do have a secret passion for Confetti cake mix with party chip frosting. My mother in law brought them to our house recently and I think I ate about 5 before I realized it would probably be a good idea to stop. Otherwise, I love making cakes the good old fashioned way.

Chili: beans or no? Beans, as you know if you read my Honest Legume Hummus post, are delicious and nutritious.  I'd take them any day.

Napkin: cloth or paper? I love cloth napkins, and all table and kitchen towel lines to be more exact.  Couleur Nature makes beautiful ones.  

BBQ: takes the whole weekend to make or take out?   I miss pulled pork sandwiches from Louisiana, but my husband makes yummy BBQ.  

Chicken: white or dark? A mix of both, though I love the dark meat best.

Ice cream: cone or dish? Cone for sure, except when I'm at home.  I never have cones at home, though I would love to try making them sometime.  Anyone have a recipe? I'm not fond of the "cake" cones, just sugar and waffle.  

Friday, May 15, 2009

Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookies

There was a time a few years ago when I first moved back to Connecticut that I worked at Williams-Sonoma. I loved this job and probably got more satisfaction out of explaining the merits of of the folded aluminum bakeware and letting customers try out Wusthof and Henkels knives on the little pullout cutting boards than most of the other employees. The people I worked with, however, were fantastic in other ways, and many of the managers did love to cook. One guy who was particularly fun and who went out of his way to be nice to everyone said something to me once that puzzled me.  A bunch of us were in the back room discussing things we liked to bake and enjoying cake squares someone had brought in, and this guy said cookies were too much work. Too much work? Cookies were the easiest, simplest thing out there to bake, the thing that even non-bakers might have made once or twice in their lives.  I'd been baking them since I was a little kid. Whenever I was hankering for a baked good, more often than not I went to the simple Toll House chocolate chip cookie recipe on the back of the bag. It took less than 10 minutes to stir up the batter. Too much work? What was this guy talking about?

Thinking about it later, however, it dawned on me that he was incredibly right. While cookie dough is often easy to mix up, baking cookies can be a big fat pain. You have to scoop individual balls of dough, one at a time, onto a cookie sheet. Then you have to bake them. Then you have to let them cool on the sheet for a few minutes before they hold together enough to lift them, carefully, oh so carefully, onto a cookie rack, where they may or may not survive (beware large spaces between the cooling rack tines, through which the edge of the cookie might slip, break off, and ruin the cookie's aesthetic appeal). Meanwhile, you can't start another batch until the sheet is free, and when it is free, the new blobs of dough often start melting on the hot sheet before you can fill up the pan. What a lot to think about, and what a lot of potential dangers! Isn't it easier just to make cake, or bars, or pudding, or quickbread, or the myriad other baked goods you can make in a single pan?

Thinking about it now, I realize that my Williams-Sonoma manager may have done more than make my work experience a little more lively; he may have influenced my baking in recent years quite a bit, because I don't often make cookies anymore. While this could be considered a loss, I view it as having been a great opportunity to broaden my horizons, and broaden them I have.

But the charm the individual cookies bring is unsurpassed, in my opinion, by any other baked good. There is something wonderful about cookies, and I bet you know what I mean. Cookies silently remind our brains of childhood. They whisper softly to us phrases like, milk and cookies, after school snack, or lunchbox item, picnic food. Cookies, it's no secret, have something special going for them.  

Carole Walter's Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookies

As a kid I usually stuck to three basic kinds of cookies:  chocolate chip, peanut-butter, or oatmeal raisin (unless it was Christmas time, in which case I helped my mom bake about 15 different kinds!).  As I've gotten older and acquired more cookbooks, however, I am glad to say I've branched out, and these will not disappoint.  

3/4 c lightly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup quick oats
1/3 c granulated sugar
1 3/4 c all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 c (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 c creamy peanut butter
2 T light corn syrup
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups TOTAL semisweet chocolate chips and salted cocktail peanuts (you can use any amounts of each as long as the total is 3 cups--I usually like to equal parts of each)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  
2.  In a food processor, process brown sugar, oatmeal, and granulated sugar for 2 minutes until fine and powdery.  
3.  In the large bowl of an electric mixer (or you can mix by hand or with a hand beater), mix butter until smooth.  Mix in peanut butter and corn syrup.  Add the oatmeal-sugar mixture and mix 2 minutes.  Then add the egg and vanilla and mix 1 minute longer.  Scrape down sides of bowl with a spatula.  Reduce mixer speed to low and add baking soda, salt, and flour.  Mix until just blended.  Using a rubber spatula, fold in the chips and nuts.  
4.  Form into balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet (I used a nonstick sheet).  Flatten slightly and bake for about 9 to 10 minutes until cookies are just barely browned on the edges.  
5.  Remove from oven and let stand on sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack using a thin spatula.  

*These cookies will store for 5 days or can be frozen for 1 month.  

Balls of dough waiting to be flattened before they go in the oven.

The baked cookies ready to be transferred to a cooling rack.

Cookies cooling on rack ready to be eaten!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Oh, Banana!

During this spring semester, I find myself with a strange thing: time. This morning after doing some reading for class, I had a rather bizarre experience. I realized I had no other work and wondered what to do with myself (yes, there was packing to be done for the move, and yes, I could get ahead on my work, and yes, I could certainly organize all of the books and papers that are taking over our second bedroom, aka, my work area, but none of these things struck me as particularly fun). Spying some bananas in the fruit bowl that looked suspiciously overripe with little brown spots, I decided to make banana bread.

The question of how I consume all of the baked treats I make is a good one, and so I offer you this surprisingly tasty and healthy bread. It's made with some whole wheat flour, canola oil (a healthy fat), banana, eggs, and only a small amount of sugar. It's a great breakfast or snack food, and probably much healthier than anything processed you might buy (cereal, energy bars, packaged bread, etc.--check out those ingredients lists; if stuff is unrecognizable to you, like, say, if it contains "hydrolized" something or other, "monoglycerides," "soy lecithin," "high fructose corn syrup," or "partially hydrogenated oil," you might want to think twice before swallowing).

E-Kitten's Banana Bread

This banana bread is healthy, slightly sweet, and delicious eaten straight from the oven or toasted with butter. When you toast it the outside gets a thin, almost ghostlike crispy coating and the inside stays soft, producing a nice play of textures. The recipe has been in my book since 2000, and I've played with it several times since. I have no idea where it originally came from, but all of my changes make it my own, I think. You can use any combination of flour (I usually like to use slightly more white flour than whole wheat when using whole wheat; otherwise, bread becomes cumbersome in the mouth). You can also add more or less banana and sugar, depending on your tastes. If you have extra banana, you can also cut it into small chunks and throw it into the batter--when you bite into the bread, the soft, voluptuous mounds of warm banana will greet you and make you happy.

1 c white flour
1 3/4 c whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 c canola oil
Scant 1/2 c sugar
2 eggs
1 c mashed ripe banana (about 2 1/2 medium bananas, 2 large ones, or 3 small ones)

1. Grease and flour a standard bread loaf pan. Heat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the bowl, break the eggs in, and stir with a fork. Add the oil and banana and mix all ingredients together. If you are adding banana chunks, gently stir them in.

3. Spoon batter into prepared pan and bake for about 40-45 minutes, until the top springs back when lightly pressed with your fingertip. Do not overbake!


Mashed banana

Wet and dry ingredients ready to be mixed together

Unbaked bread waiting for the oven

Baked banana bread

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A (Shroomy) Walk in the Woods

I woke up this morning to find I was not the only one whose mind was on morels. Wednesdays are my favorite newspaper days. In fact, I'm sort of embarrassed to admit that most of the time, Wednesday is the only day I even bother to look past the front page photo of the New York Times. I'm sure other food enthusiasts experience the same excitement I do as I flip through the (real or virtual) pages to the food section and devour the new recipes (in my mind, at least). I'm always eager to see what's "in-style" in the food world, though I also have to admit that my eagerness stops there. I almost never actually make those New York Times recipes because while they are always fashionable and trendy, they are rarely sensible and good. The one general exception to this rule is Mark Bittman's simple recipes, which I have sometimes made to greater or lesser success. This morning, we were clearly on the same page, because there was his article on morels and asparagus, "The Flavor of Spring," and, while I haven't tried it yet, it seems like it would be tasty. It is even accompanied by a nice video and a recipe.

Another thing I maybe shouldn't tell you but am going to anyway is that my first mushroom hunting experience was thrilling. I know, I probably don't get out much, but finding secret mushrooms in the woods that are actually in plain sight sent little ripples through my body and made my brain buzz in a way that had me wondering if I had actually found some other kind of mushrooms and not the coveted morels. Seriously, if you've never been mushroom-hunting, I hope you will be lucky enough to find someone who is as gracious as my husband's family was in sharing one of their hunting places with us. If you would like a little teaser, Michael Pollan has a wonderful account of his own mushroom hunt in The Omnivore's Dilemma, and in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver talks about the mushrooms that grow in the patch of grass on her property where an old goat used to live.

After reading Bittman's article, I did a little online morel info hunting, and found this site to be the most informative. It includes a map of where morels have been sited in 2009 as well as a list of FAQs which I think would be worth reading for the new mushroom hunter and the merely curious alike.

A happy mushroom duo.

The Mushroom Hunters

Where did we find them? In the woods.

It was late morning when we went out, overcast and cool, and we headed north on a pre-cut trail. It had been a long time since I'd been in the woods, and for a little while I took it in subconsciously while I focused on following my mother-in-law, Margie. It was flat and grassy, and I kept my eyes along the edges of the trees the path cut through, though we weren't really hunting yet. Instead, we were trying to get to the hills a ways beyond where we hoped we'd find their dark shadows. We hurried along the path while Margie tried to remember which way to go, and eventually we crossed another path and went through a clearing, pausing periodically to make sure everyone was together and to determine in which direction the hills might lie. My husband's compass said we were still going north, and we walked on. I thought about what people had been saying--it wasn't time yet, it hadn't been warm enough, they wouldn't be out until next weekend or the one after. How long would we walk before turning around?

The scenery changed to bushes with thick thorns that snagged my jeans as I walked with my sister-in-law, Tasha, and my husband behind me and Margie's teal green shirt just a few steps ahead. The morels, I'd been told, can be found, but it's not easy. You need an experienced eye, you need to know the secret places. I followed Margie's shirt out of the corner of my eye, imagining all the old-time mushroom hunters out in the woods today, and the delicious fungi they would find. I kept my eyes on the ground, running them up and down the ground, zeroing in on the areas around tree trunks. Was it only in cutesy woods drawings that I'd seen the mushrooms grow around tree trunks? Was it something I'd made up? Suddenly I realized we were going up; Margie had led us to the hills and they were very steep. Out of breath, I paused by a tree and let the others catch up. We walked together for a ways, looking down to see how far we'd come. How long had we been out? I wondered. We kept walking. At one point Steve stopped and asked Tasha to take a picture of us, offering her our camera for the job. Declining, she used her own. Smile. Snap. And then, "I think I found one!"

Tasha's mushroom was poking up out of the leaves a good two feet from a tree, and not right around the trunk where I’d been looking. Located in a dip, exactly the area that Tasha had informed me at the start of our walk they like, the morel lived peacefully until we picked it. We scoured the area around it, and Tasha uncovered another one nearby in the moss, but us, nothing. After that, we grew quiet and spread out, ready to get down to business or give up. I could hear Margie on her cell phone somewhere behind me, and Stephen to my left. Absentmindedly I wandered sideways and up, looking at the places similar to where Tasha had found hers--the side of the hill we were on, a foot or two from a fairly large tree trunk. I began to imagine me happening upon a mushroom, calling out to the others that I’d found one. I held the bag containing Tasha’s two and walked on, silently telling the mushrooms to make themselves known to me, hoping I could will them to show their dark bodies to me, ghosts who only appear when you want them to.

At some point I became aware of Margie’s phone conversation—she was talking about mushrooms. Margie was saying how Tasha had found two and then remarking on times that the other person had found a whole bunch. “Two pounds!” I heard her say, "that’s a lot." Finally, she clicked off and it was silent again and in the silence I thought about how we should get out of these woods and go somewhere where we might find a whole grove of them. Two pounds. I pictured them in my mind, a whole mess of them, and then I turned and saw it—a beautiful morel sticking up out of the ground, its dark, mysterious body revealing itself to me. I looked, my head still fuzzy with thinking of the two pounds, and then I saw another, and another, and another. "Guys?" I called. "I think I found some." It took me a few moments to understand just what I was looking at. The group rushed over as I knelt, dizzy, suddenly conscious of the sweet, musty, oniony smell of wild leeks that was rising up out of the earth when I pressed my face close to the ground near the morels. The group picked as I watched, somewhat stunned, and then I photographed the morels in their natural habitat. If I had looked up to find the Dalai Lama instead, I don't think I would have felt more reverent, and the pungent earthy smell and image of the quiet, growing morels stayed with me for the rest of the day.

A wild leek, picked and lying on the woodsy ground.

Preparing the Morels for Heavenly Consumption

Mushrooms have been washed and are ready to cut.

These cooking directions come from my father-in-law, Michael, and I hope he won't mind my sharing them with you. The whole business of mushroom hunting is pretty secretive since you don't want to give away your magic spot, but seeing as how I'm new to this whole mushroom thing, I'm not quite sure if the same is true of cooking methods. After we brought our bounty home, Margie gave us careful instructions in cleaning the mushrooms, and then later Michael gave me careful instructions in cooking them.

Cleaning and Preparing
Rinse the morels under running water, or soak for a minute in a bowl of water (then drain and rinse) to remove the dirt. Cut the morels in half lengthwise, then soak in a bowl of salt water.

1. The morels are cut in half lengthwise before their saltwater bath (yum).

2. The morels soak in saltwater.

Heat some butter in a cast iron skillet (we used about a half stick of butter for about 15-18 mushrooms). Add the mushrooms and cook over low to medium heat, stirring occasionally. The mushrooms will produce a lot of liquid, but the liquid will cook off (see pictures below). Continue to cook until liquid has evaporated. Consume with attention.

1. The morels are cooking in butter and their natural juices. Liquid has not yet cooked off.

2. The butter and juices have mostly cooked off.

3. The morels in a serving dish waiting to be eaten.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I've Been Reading You, Orangette

French Yogurt Cake and the Act of Blogging

One of the first baking blogs I discovered after I started blogging myself was that of Orangette, aka Molly Weizenberg. I actually happened upon her book before her blog, although the book came about because of the blog. On my way to class one day, I suddenly found myself upstairs in Borders, in the cookbook section to be more precise. Although this wasn't the first time this sort of thing had happened, I was still surprised to look up and find Martha Stewart and Rose Levy staring me down on the feature display shelf instead of my professor. Already possessing their copy, I sneaked off to the side of the cookbook inlet where food literature is housed and began flipping through pages of prose. M.F.K. Fisher next to Judith Jones, a little Ruhlman for the contemporary adventurous, David Kamp for the what's-hot fiends, and Amanda Hesser for the New York Times Magazine loyalists who miss Mr. Latte were all stashed together with spines of other authors, known and unknown.

It was the unknown that caught my attention that day-a thick, pale bluish-green hardcover with the words "A Homemade Life" marching across the front between a neat row of dainty coffee mugs and little soldiers of quaint glassware. What's this? I wondered, picking up the book and reading the inside jacket. As it turned out, Ms. Weizenberg was a blogger, like myself, albeit a more well-known one. The admission on the jacket that while in Paris Molly "was supposed to be doing research for her dissertation, but more often, she found herself peering through the windows of chocolate shops, trekking across town to try a new patisserie, or tasting cheeses at outdoor markets, until one evening when she sat in the Luxembourg Gardens reading cookbooks until it was too dark to see, she realized that her heart was not in her studies but in the kitchen" piqued my interest for obvious reasons. Supposed to be in class but sneaking off guiltily to look at cookbooks? More interested in identifying the chocolate cake with the best crumb than in analyzing transcript or reading yet another article on the reading wars? Then in the midst of my Ph.D. or not decision, the dust jacket lines hit rather close to home. I went home and immediately bought the book on Amazon and read through it. I also began checking out her blog, though her entries do not appear very frequently. Her recipe for French Yogurt Cake with Lemon caught my attention from the beginning. It sounded simple, which I like, and quick, which I also like since I do most of my baking at night when I don't have a whole lot of time. Yet for one reason or another (no yogurt one day, no lemons the next), I never had the opportunity to bake this. Recently, I was flipping through Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking, From my Home to Yours (See: Dreaming of Biscuits, below) and came across her recipe for French Yogurt Cake. Her recipe includes almonds, which I didn't have around, but I remembered the recipe on Orangette's blog, which is a bit more simple (though she does note that you can make variations on the basic recipe, one of which includes using almonds instead of some of the flour). With yogurt and lemons in my fridge, this was the opportunity I'd been waiting for to try one of Orangette's Homemade recipes, and it did not disappoint.

Reminiscent of Fannie Farmer's "Cottage Pudding Cake" but a bit springier, this cake is the perfect winter or summer treat. It is slightly spongy but also dense, simultaneously light and heavy in the mouth. It has a refreshing hint of lemon, mostly picked up in the glaze, which I highly recommend using. I don't care for glazes and almost made this cake without it, but it turned out to really make the cake. The elegant and simple look, feel, and taste of this cake is both a great dinner party dessert to please your guests as well as a casual afternoon snack.

My cousin recently asked me how I consume all of the baked goods I make. While it's not exactly healthy, one thing that helps is making half recipes. For this cake, I halved the recipe and used a 6-inch cake pan (thank you, Nancy!) instead of the 9-inch pan that Orangette calls for. (I used only 1 egg instead of the 3 the full recipe calls for and threw in a couple of extra tablespoons of yogurt to compensate for the extra half of an egg that was missing.) When trying to figure out what size pan to use for half recipes (or doubles) I find the Practically Edible website ("The world's biggest food encyclopaedia") pretty useful. It has pan conversions here.

French Yogurt Cake with Lemons, from Orangette

You will find Orangette's recipe here.

Rose's Recipes also features French Yogurt Cake, as does Carmen Cooks. Check them out for some nice photos.

In other blogging matters, Danger Kitten Bakes recently received a shout-out on the blog Cup O' Cake Designs. What this blogger doesn't mention, however, is that she is the one who inspired me to start blogging, so you should check out her work. As her blog states, she is in business as a "baker, card designer, and seamstress." What could be better than that?

A classmate of mine also has an endearing blog called Fooding Through Life in which she chronicles her adventures of "eating my way one day at a time". Sounds like a worthy pursuit to me. We discovered in class one day that we both secretly dream of going to pastry school and have each gone so far as to check out programs, consider costs, and ultimately determine, rather sadly, that while we might attend pastry school someday, today is probably not our day. Instead, we will both be experiencing the joys of teaching next year, with many new foodie posts, I'm sure.

The unglazed cake.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Dreaming of Biscuits

Last week I dreamt of biscuits. Lying in bed in that twilight zone just before sleep, I found myself imagining stacks of the fluffy, flaky rounds of baked dough I often make on weekend mornings and eat with honey and scrambled eggs. I wanted to get out of bed and make them immediately, but found myself, with sleep quickly taking over my body, promising instead to make them in the morning. As it turned out, I didn't make any biscuits that morning, but that evening during class I received an email from my cousin with a link to Dorie Greenspan's blog, and what do you know, but Dorie is featuring...biscuits! Weird. Since then, I've been making biscuits like crazy. They're a great snack and a good use of the leftover milk and cream that I had frozen in a rush out of town one weekend to keep them from spoiling. I made heavy cream biscuits (without fat) and milk biscuits with Crisco as an after-dinner snack. For Mother's Day this past weekend, I baked large, fluffy buttermilk biscuits and we ate them honey, butter, jam, and scrambled eggs.

Biscuit Recipes
The nice thing about biscuits is the versatility of the recipes. If you don't have butter or Crisco, you can just use heavy cream. If you don't have heavy cream, you can use milk and Crisco. If you want buttermilk biscuits and don't have buttermilk, you can use sour milk (just add 1 T of white vinegar to 1 cup of milk and let sit in a warm place for 5-10 minutes). You can also use "Buttermilk Blend," which is a powdered buttermilk you can buy in the grocery store that keeps very well in the pantry. Although I almost always use white flour, you can easily replace some of the white flour with whole wheat flour, or with whole wheat pastry flour.

For all biscuit recipes, you will follow these directions:

1. Mix together the dry ingredients.
2. Use a pastry blender or a fork to cut in the shortening, if the recipe calls for shortening. If not, skip this step.
3. Add the liquid (milk or cream) and mix lightly.
4. Turn out on floured surface and knead 8-10 times. Pat dough into a 1/2 inch to 1 inch thick round.
5. Use a round biscuit cutter or glass to cut biscuits.
6. Place next to each other on metal baking sheet or baking pan (no need to grease) and bake until tops are lightly golden. (Making the biscuits touch in the pan helps them to bake upwards rather than outwards. They become light and fluffy this way.)
7. Serve with your favorite toppings: honey, molasses, butter, jam, whipped cream and strawberries (for strawberry shortcake), etc. The biscuits are best eaten hot, straight from the oven.
*See each individual recipe for baking temperature and times.

Joy of Cooking Biscuits
These are the biscuits I grew up making with my grandmother. Along with sour milk pancakes, apple crisp, and Fannie Farmer cottage pudding cup cakes, these biscuits are one of the first things I learned to make. They appear, in my 1975 edition, as "Rolled Biscuits". You can use this recipe to make "Fluffy Biscuits or Shortcake Dough," also from the Joy of Cooking. It probably goes without saying that you can use these biscuits to make strawberry shortcake, a delightful spring and summer dessert.

1 3/4 c flour
1/2 tsp salt
3 tsp baking powder
4 to 6 T chilled butter or shortening or a combo of both (we used Crisco)
3/4 c milk

For shortcake:
Add to the dry ingredients 1 T sugar and another 1/2 tsp salt. You can use cream instead of milk for a richer dough.

Bake at 450 degrees for 12-15 minutes

Dorie Greenspan's "Sweet Cream Biscuits"

This recipe appears on p. 23 of Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking From my Home to Yours. She has several recipes, including the buttermilk one she discusses on her blog, but I chose this one because I had heavy cream I wanted to use up. These are heavy and satisfying, but will not rise as much as biscuits with shortening will. If you want flakier biscuits, make the Fannie Farmer ones below.

2 c flour
1 T baking powder
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 to 1 1/4 c heavy cream

Bake at 425 degrees for 14-18 minutes.

Dorie Greenspan's Buttermilk Biscuits

These are the biscuits that appear on Dorie Greenspan's blog (she links to the Parade Magazine site) and also in her book, Baking From my Home to Yours. I haven't tried making these, but I'm sure they are delicious.

Best Biscuits (From the Fannie Farmer cookbook)

A couple of years ago when I called my grandmother for the biscuit recipe we used to make, this is the one she gave me. Although we used to make the Joy of Cooking ones, she had since started making these and found them to be much better. I agree, and have started making these exclusively. They are tall, flaky, delicious, slightly sweet, and the addition of cream of tartar makes them perfect. This is the recipe I would start with, because you are sure to get great results.

2 c flour
1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 T sugar
1/2 c shortening (I use no trans-fat Crisco)
2/3 c milk

*For Buttermilk Biscuits: Use 2/3 cup of buttermilk, 1/2 tsp baking soda, and only 2 tsp of baking powder.

Bake at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes (15-17 minutes is usually perfect, depending on your oven and how large the biscuits are).


The baked biscuits, waiting to be devoured!

Biscuits in the pan ready to be baked.

The cut-out biscuits ready to be put into the pan for baking.

The round of dough ready to be cut into biscuits.