Tuesday, December 29, 2009

So. Much. Food.

There are some recipes that you describe to people and get an immediate and enthusiastic reaction. And then there are some that you describe to people and get a forcibly enthusiastic reaction accompanied by sidelong looks. These apricot/thyme/rosemary cookies received the latter.

I wasn't sure what to call these, because "apricot spice" brings to mind cloves and cinnamon and "apricot herb" is boring. Since the original recipe called for sage and the blogger who posted it used rosemary and thyme instead, I've decided to call them Scarborough Fair cookies.

They deserve the former reaction rather than the latter. The only changes I'd make would be to reduce the amount of sage used and reduce the ratio of thyme to rosemary. The recipe mentioned that the smell of thyme would be "overwhelming" but then fade; it wasn't overwhelming, but I still thought it was a little strong, and the rosemary was underwhelming. In short: have a lighter hand with the spices. But the texture was perfect, a little crisp on the bottom and edges and chewy in the middle, with just enough cornmeal.

Also, after all these years, I still haven't learned to check where my oven racks are before preheating.

I also made the aforementioned rosemary bread, which turned out splendidly, and a butternut squash soup that was a recombination of two recipes I was given. The soup was awesome. Like, really, really awesome. It involved cumin and apple juice (all-natural, but I wish I'd had cider) and ginger and garlic and jalapenos and just an tiny splash of cream. Tiny, I swear. Plus, I got to use my Secret Mount Vinokurov (quizbowl version of secret Santa) immersion blender!

And there was a salad, but you don't really care about that.

I'm so damn full, and it's great!

Monday, December 28, 2009

College cookies

My lack of a camera is really beginning to bug me, because today's baking fun doesn't really mean anything without pictures.

I actually started yesterday by baking some plain old sugar cookies (using my favorite recipe, which yields dense, chewy cookies, rather than crisp, crumbly cookies), then running out of time to decorate them before going out to Have Fun (dinner at some friends' followed by a visit to this place). Most of them had been eaten by the time I got around to decorating them today...

In any case, my little sister just got into Louisiana State University, so these were LSU cookies. I used a basic confectioners sugar-milk-food coloring icing to make purple borders around the circular cookies, flood them with bright yellow and slightly thinner icing, and write the LSU logo on them. My best friend Liz attempted and failed to decorate one of them (a cross between Jackson Pollock and an epileptic baker), but my friend Kelsey made a very cute tiger cookie (LSU's mascot is the tiger).

Anyway, I'm sure you'd all be falling all over yourselves with glee if you could actually see the cookies, but you can't. Just trust me on this one. Feel free to post accolades, and give Kelsey her due!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Bread, part 1

After a brief hiatus to go to my mom's hometown in Louisiana, I'm back at it. Tonight: rosemary olive loaf. I thought about doing cinnamon bread, but I noticed some Ezekiel brand cinnamon raisin bread in the fridge; while it is of unknown provenance, I can always use it for bread pudding later if it's too old to be eaten and then bake some fresh to replace it!

I dug out of the cabinet some yeast that looked like it had been packaged the year I was born, intending to make one loaf of rustic rosemary olive bread that I've made with great success and one loaf of a rosemary bread that Andy has made over and over and that I absolutely love. Unfortunately, only one of the packages of yeast still had some life in it, and it was the one for the rustic loaf, so the Andy bread will have to get pushed back to another day.

The dough for this is really, really dense and kind of dry when first mixed, more so than any bread I've ever baked, so if you give it a shot, don't let that worry you. As the recipe says, rubbing it with flour produces a very attractive crust. And that dough produces a very tasty bread. It's pretty hearty, so I don't know if I'd serve it with a meal, but it's great dipped in olive oil or toasted with some butter on it.

Here is the recipe for the me bread, and here is the recipe for the Andy bread. "Jo" just uses a bread machine, but you can bake it at 375 for "about 21 minutes," in his words, basting the top with olive oil often starting about 15 minutes in. Eyeball the dough as its rising, and punch it down once, maybe twice if you're feeling flush.

-Don't start baking bread at 10:45 at night (altogether pleasant social engagements and altogether not pleasant stomach upset pushed my baking time back) unless you're not tired. At all.
-Writing a quizbowl packet is a great way to pass the time while your bread rises (Look forward to questions on [REDACTED] and [REDACTED], T-Party field!).
-Only pretending to write a quizbowl packet while actually reading The Forty Days of Musa Dagh is a really great way to pass the time.
-Make sure you have non-Methuselean yeast before you begin. But then again, if you begin at a normal hour of the night (and if you are less stubborn in sticking to your baking decisions than I am), this shouldn't be as much of a problem.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

It's supa-fly to bake a pretty pie

If I could be sure that Certain Parties weren't reading this, I would use some extremely sensual language to describe how this chocolate pie with chocolate glaze and a chocolate graham cracker crust tastes. As it is... I'm just going to subject the pie to big, dopey, I-love-you cow eyes and hope it gets the message. Either that or change my Facebook relationship status.

The glaze that you can't see because there's no picture yet is uneven for two reasons:
1. When I tilted it to spread the glaze around, little crust crumbles kept falling off.
2. I ended up making another portion of glaze, since the first didn't quite cover the entire pie.

When I next make this (and trust me, there will be a next time), I'll make 1.5 times the amount the recipe suggests. Hopefully that and a firmer hand on the crust will solve the problems. I'll also wait for it to cool completely so that I can put the whipped cream that I made on it without disaster occurring.

Like the tarte tatin, this baked faster than I expected; as a result, I suspect that my family's oven is running hot. I'll test it tomorrow with a simple cake or something, reducing the temperature by 20 degrees or so and seeing how that works out.

EDIT: Here's the recipe!

Red wine is awesome!

I made the pear tarte tatin with red wine caramel, and it was ridiculously good. I have photos but no way of uploading them right now... but when I do, you'll see that the pears take on this lovely rose color against the dark red caramel. I wish I'd done a more symmetrical job in tucking the phyllo around the pears, but there you are. Strangely, it was done in a little over half the time the recipe recommended. I'm not sure if the recommended amount of phyllo was just too thin, but it held up well when sliced, and I got to eat it more quickly, so no complaints here!

Incidentally, I used a pinot noir to make it, and used the remaining wine to make a wonderful Mark Bittman recipe: salmon with pinot noir sauce. I added a few things, including garlic and shallots, and it was wonderful, particularly when served up alongside some crisp roasted kale and roasted, mashed turnips and sweet potatoes.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ongoing list of recipes under consideration

Please comment, both to add your own and to offer constructive criticism on what I've got. Or to lavish adulation on what I've got. I suppose I'm okay with that.

*Found a recipe for orange marshmallows; have a recipe in my trusty (if dilapidated) Good Housekeeping baking book for the richest chocolate cake I've ever made; will increase proportion of unsweetened to semisweet chocolate in order to make a dark chocolate cake with candied orange rind and orange marshmallow garnish.

*While in Louisiana, will be cooking Christmas Eve dinner for an unspecified but assuredly large number of people. Mark Bittman has a recipe for an almond dessert frittata that seems quick, simple, and easily adaptable for large quantities. I plan to top it with caramelized apples.

*Thank you, Shawn McClain, for bringing into this world a pear tarte tatin with red wine caramel.

*Andy's mom made delicious molasses cookies while I was in Pittsburgh for Thanksgiving. I'm going to bake both the recipe I habitually use and the recipe she habitually uses in order to compare and contrast.

*During a discussion of chocolate pie on the quizbowl forums, someone whose cooking prowess I greatly admire posted this recipe. It looks beautiful, and plus, I don't get to use that fluted tart pan often.

*I made a whiskey chocolate cake at college once; it was shockingly alcoholic, which may have added to its appeal. I found a recipe for a bourbon cake that looks to be more chocolate and less bourbon and thus looks to be more appealing to the parental set.

*Aforementioned pistachio tart can be found here. I plan to take less time than she did. Efficiency ++.

*Homemade cinnamon raisin bread with pecans. Maybe I'll candy the pecans.

*Overnight sticky buns. Need I say more?

*I've never tried making jelly candies, although I've always enjoyed eating the gourmet ones that you get from time to time. Flavors I want to give a shot: pomegranate (with star anise, perhaps?), strawberry, key lime.

*Apple pudding with caramel sauce.

*Emma will murder me if I don't make those turnovers, so I shall.

*I've always wanted to try a Paris-brest pastry... Here goes nothing!

*Nutella palmiers! It's Nutella! In palmiers!

*Apricot cornmeal cookies with rosemary: savory, sweet, thoroughly intriguing.

*Andy's been extolling the virtues of St. Louis butter cake. I saw that the NYT featured it a month ago, and it looked indulgently delicious.

*My family looked askance at me when I made bacon chocolate cupcakes, and I no longer eat meat, but I found a recipe for chocolate fudge with bacon that I'd like to try on my friends.

*Fig frangipane tart (which was presented to me as a dessert pizza, but I don't have a baking stone)

*If the bushes at my house are flowering--they should be, as it's freakishly warm in Sarasota--I'd like to make hibiscus macaroons with lavender cream.

*Normally, I eschew white chocolate, but white chocolate cheesecake with raspberries sounds great.

*Flan? Flan. As a shout-out to my friend Ernest, I'm taking suggestions on favorite flavors.

*You've read this far, and thus you are rewarded with cardamom doughnuts.

Prequel: Sarasota ain't too thrilling, but desserts are!

I'm sitting on Andy's couch with no finals and no med school interviews and no newspaper work on the horizon. I could be writing 8/8 music for PACE NSC (a high school quizbowl tournament, for you readers not in the know), but instead, I'm prepping, via Tastespotting, for a month of culinary goodness.

Here's the thing: Those of us from Sarasota know that while the good ol' SRQ might be able to furnish some beautiful beaches, it is sorely lacking in a laundry list of other things to do. I'm going to be around from Dec. 18 to Jan. 15 (minus a few days in Louisiana), assuming that my parents remain acquiescent to my going to ACF Winter (a college quizbowl tournament, for you readers not in the know); while I've got some wonderful and captivating friends who are going to be around, there will still be ample amounts of potentially unspent time.

So, I plan to bake. A lot. I'm going to try some ambitious things (I like the look of this pistachio tart that reportedly took 8 hours to make...) and some simple things (Cupcakes with 2 tablespoons of ginger? ys plz), some new things (homemade marshmallows) and some old things (Emma never tires of apple turnovers); I'm definitely going to be open to suggestion. No, I'm not going to hold myself to some Julie and Julia-esque standard in which I cry into my pillow and ponder divorcing my husband if I don't achieve a dish a day. But I do intend to run through as many pounds of butter and flour as possible.

And if you're going to be in Sarasota, my father and brother are absent the house, so my mother and sister and I will need help eating it all. Really. Just call or comment if you want to eat something that you see.