Saturday, February 28, 2009

Daring Bakers: Chocolate Valentino with Ice Cream

Here it is - my first Daring Bakers challenge result!

The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. They have chosen a chocolate valentino cake by Chef Wan, a vanilla ice cream recipe from Dharm, and a vanilla ice cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

The flourless chocolate cake requires only three ingredients - chocolate, eggs, and butter - and pretty much tastes exactly like the chocolate that you use. I selected Scharffen Berger 70%, which is dark and not very sweet, with subtle fruity hints. The cake is supposed to be very dense and fudgy, but I'm sorry to say mine came out rather dry. There could be a few reasons for this. I've heard that the cake is best after sitting for a day, but I ate my first serving the day I made the cake, and my second serving straight out of the fridge. Other servings (which we gave away) that weren't straight out of the refridgerator looked a bit more moist, but I can't say for sure. The other possible cause for the dryness might be the egg whites; the recipe calls for stiff peaks, which I thought I had, but notes that overbeating may cause a dry cake. I guess my peaks should have been a little softer.

The challenge hosts, Wendy and Dharm, each provided a vanilla ice cream recipe (one custard-style, one Philadelphia-style), but they also stated that we didn't have to make vanilla - we were free to experiment. I made a custard-based coffee ice cream (since Dan loves coffee!). I hobbled together a recipe (included below) after looking at dozens of non-coffee recipes (every coffee recipe I could find used instant - yuck!). After spilling half of the ice cream mix (oops), I dumped the rest in my ice cream machine only to discover that the motor had died. It wasn't completely gone - a sickly hum emanated from somewhere within - but it couldn't summon the power to turn the paddle, so it was useless. I had to pour the mix in to a Tupperware container and use the old "take it out of the freezer to stir every half hour" method, which worked fine, but it wasn't as smooth as it would have been with a machine.

I also made a bourbon caramel sauce, which was fantastic. I used Bulleit, which has undertones of tobacco and coffee, so it worked very well with the coffee ice cream. The caramel sauce is the subject of my next video, which will be posted here Monday, so come back then for the recipe. (If you haven't seen the first video, click here to watch it.)

2 cups heavy cream, divided
1 cup 2% milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup coffee

Put milk, sugar, and 1 cup of the cream in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until just before boiling. Do not let it boil! Remove from heat and let cool for five minutes. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, then slowly add a small amount of warm milk mixture (about 1/2 cup) while whisking rapidly to temper the eggs. Add egg mixture to the saucepan with the remaining milk mixture and stir. Return to moderate heat and cook (without boiling) until thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon. Remove from heat and stir in coffee and remaining cream. Place custard in refridgerator for several hours or overnight. For freezing, if using a machine, follow manufacturer's directions; to freeze without a machine, follow David Lebowitz's directions here.
The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Most Important Meal

Remember how your parents and teachers would say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? I firmly believe this. Chances are you haven't eaten in at least eight hours - of course you need to refuel! I'm always ravenous in the morning, so I start almost every day with oatmeal. I always add milk (to boost the protein), and usually fruit and nuts. Some of my favorite combos are dried cranberries and almonds or applesauce with cinnamon and walnuts. I hardly ever use brown sugar or maple syrup anymore - fruit is usually sweet enough. I always use old-fashioned oats, not quick or instant, which cook faster because some of the fiber is removed; old-fashioned oats take only a few more minutes (about five, as opposed to two or three) but they have a lot more fiber so they will keep you sated for longer.

On weekends, however, I try to make something a little special, and I'm a little more lenient on the health front. One of my favorite breakfast treats is the popover. I've written about these before; they still fall flat some days (as seen below) but they taste just as lovely. I like to put out a platter of popovers, a pot of tea, and some toppings like butter and jam. (Once we used lemon curd, which was spectacular!) One recent Sunday morning, we slathered our popovers with Stonewall Kitchen Blackberry Jam, a gift from our landlords (hi Holly!). This jam was so delicious that we used it all up within six weeks - it usually takes us a year to use up any given pot.

See the Yahtzee score sheet in the background? This is the other part of our weekend breakfast ritual. We've fallen in to the wonderful habit of playing Yahtzee while we eat on weekend mornings. It's a nice game of chance and strategy, and it takes us back to our first year of marriage, when we played endless rounds of Yahtzee, Uno, and Sequence on the fold-up table in our shoebox-sized studio apartment in London.

Here are some chocolate-chip pancakes - a very rare indulgence. I actually haven't made pancakes in quite a while because we're just about out of maple syrup and I've held off on buying more since the next sugaring season is just a few weeks away. We've actually been invited to a maple sugaring weekend in Vermont, which I'm really excited about.

Have a great weekend, and check back here tomorrow for the big reveal of my first Daring Bakers challenge!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Time to wake up!

Readers, I'm tired. Whatever this bug is that I have, it is draining all the energy from me. I'm a night owl and an insomniac. Usually it's very difficult for me to fall asleep before two or three in the morning. But all this week, I've been asleep by midnight, and last night, I could have easily fallen asleep at eight (but I made myself stay up to watch Lost!).

I'm also tired in the kitchen. It's that time of year when we've used up all the lovely CSA produce that we froze during the summer months. We have no squash, no kale, not even any pesto left. But we're three and a half months away from the start of the summer harvest, so for the time being, we're stuck with purchased frozen veggies and some not-so-fresh, definitely-not-local produce from the grocery store.

I need to shake myself out of this slumber, and so I'm looking for new inspiration in the kitchen. Today I went to the library and checked out several food-related books, including one on fads, one on local eating, and one memoir. I'm hoping that by looking for new ideas and new perspectives, I'll be able to reinvigorate myself. I also realized today that we're almost through the winter, but I have yet to make three of my winter staples: beef burgundy, chili with polenta, and squash casserole. I'm planning to make these in the next few weeks so I can post about them here, and I'm also going to make a real effort in March to try out some new recipes.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Pizza Party

One of the nice things about living near our alma mater is that when college friends come back to campus, a visit with us is usually on their itineraries. The weekend before last was Winter Carnival, so several of our friends came back. A cup of coffee with my friend Emily on Friday afternoon led to an impromptu pizza-dough-making session that night and a pizza party at our old college house Saturday evening.

We used the pizza dough recipe from the Williams-Sonoma Savoring Italy cookbook. It's a very simple recipe - only yeast, water, flour, and salt - but it was fantastic. We actually made a quadruple batch in my stand mixer (using the paddle hook for the initial stirring and the dough hook for the rest of the stirring and kneading). I've since made another quadruple batch and found that this dough freezes and thaws well. (A single batch of dough, as listed below, makes one 12" thin-crust pizza). For the crispiest crust, I bake the pizza at the highest heat possible (my oven goes to 550) for a short time (about nine minutes). I bake the plain crust first for about five minutes, then top it and put in back the oven - this way, the crust doesn't have a chance to get soggy.

With four pizzas to play with, we used a variety of toppings; the best combination by far was one that Emily suggested which was based on a recipe in the Cheese Board Collective cookbook. The Cheese Board Collective is a cooperatively-run company in Berkeley that produces cheese, pizza, and baked goods. All of the employees own an equal stake in the company and receive the same hourly wage. Emily highly recommends the cookbook, so I plan to check it out soon. Anyway, the Cheeseboard pizza combines kale, walnuts, and white sauce; we used the last of my frozen summer kale and pecans that I had on hand. Emily made a basic roux, spiced with paprika, nutmeg, cardamom, and pepper. We sauteed the kale to remove as much of the moisture as possible, then layered the roux, kale, mozzarella, and pecans on the parbaked pizza. For a final touch, we brushed the finished pizza with garlic-infused olive oil. Although I love kale, I've never before had it on pizza and was surprised by how wonderful it was. I was especially pleased by the surprising crunch the kale took on the edges. We also made a pesto, chevre, and mushroom pizza (with the last of my frozen pesto), as well as a few other veggie combos. We rounded out the meal with a salad of romaine and shredded root veggie mix.

Stand-Mixer Pizza Dough
adapted from Williams-Sonoma's Savoring Italy, by Michele Scicolone

1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 1/2 cups flour *recipe calls for unbleached all-purpose, but I use King Arthur's white whole wheat
1 teaspoon salt

Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and let stand until creamy, about five minutes. Stir until dissolved.

Add yeast mixture, salt, and half of flour to stand mixer bowl and stir at low speed with paddle attachment until blended. Switch to dough hook and add the rest of the flour. Stir on low until well-blended. If you are making multiple batches at once, add flour one cup at a time, stirring after each addition until thoroughly incorporated. Switch to medium speed and kneed until smooth and elastic, about seven minutes.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk. The recipe says this should take about two hours, but I've found that most of the rising happens in the first forty-five minutes.

Punch down the dough and knead breifly on a floured work surface to remove any air bubbles. If you are going to freeze any dough, now is the time to do it. I wrap each ball in plastic wrap and then put the wrapped dough balls together in a Ziploc freezer bag. If you are going to cook the dough today, leave the ball on the floured surface and invert a bowl over it. Let rise until doubled in bulk, about one hour.

Bake at the highest heat possible for four or five minutes; remove from oven, add toppings, and bake for a few more minutes, until crust edges are golden.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

a slight delay

Just popping in to apologize for the lack of posts this week. I've been feeling lousy for a few days now (some sort of stomach bug) but I'm working on some posts for tomorrow, Thursday, and Friday - and don't forget to check in Saturday for my first Daring Bakers challenge!

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Few Announcements

--I've joined a challenge group called The Daring Bakers. Every month, The Daring Bakers tackle a specific recipe and post pictures and write-ups on the designated "reveal" day. I can't say what this month's recipe is until the reveal, but I promise that it will be decadent! I'm making it today and we're having friends over to share the spoils (because honestly, the amount of butter and cream going in to this thing would be criminal if split between only the two of us). This month's challenge will be revealed on February 28th, so check back then for pictures and a description of what I've made.

--I'm working on a recipe index for Choice of Pies, which will hopefully appear in a sidebar within the next few weeks.

--Dan and I are shooting the next Cooking with Sarah video this Saturday! I'm excited about the recipe and I hope we can make this video look better than the last. I plan to post it in early March.

That's all for now. I still haven't posted about the amazing impromptu pizza party we had last week because there are so many photos to sort through - I just haven't been able to narrow them down yet. I promise to post about that (including a fabulous pizza bianca recipe!) next week.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Food Budgeting

Yesterday I mentioned that I had budgeted $10 for nice cheese for Valentine's Day. It's been at least two years since I've done any formal food budgeting - I usually just keep a rough estimate in my head and try not to go over a target - but since we're really trying to save money, I decided to try a new and very formal budget. At the beginning of the month, I sat down and wrote out a list of all the food I thought we might need to buy in February. I then assigned a dollar amount to each category; for example, I budgeted $15 for salad greens for the month. I gave us a little leeway with an "other" category that would bring the total for the month to $200. It's not an extremely thrifty amount for two people, but for the first month, I wanted to make sure the goal was realistic.

I then put the whole list in Excel, as shown above. (The graphic shows a total of $155 because we had already spent $45 stocking up on February 1st.) Whenever I buy food, I save the receipt and enter the amount in each category. The column on the right shows me whether or not I've gone over budget for that item. You can see that my estimates were not perfect. Because of Dan's birthday and Valentine's Day this month, there were some more extravagant purchases than usual. Also, because of a food challenge I'm doing (more on that tomorrow), I'll definitely go over budget in the "other" category. However, I'm pretty sure that I'll be able to stay within the overall budget and not go over $155/200.

Having a strict budget like this has been helpful for me because I'm less likely to toss random things (like, say, kalamata olives) in to the cart if I know I'll have to account for them later. You may have noticed that there is no meat on the list; that's because I fill the freezer when I find a good deal and such purchases usually last for a long time, since we don't eat much meat anyway. I think the only meat I bought this month was two slices of deli ham (accounted for under "other") for a macaroni dish we had a couple of weeks ago. We've had chicken a few times, using frozen breasts that I bought in bulk. Mostly, however, we get our protein from beans, cheese, or nuts.

What's not in this budget? Household items like cleaning supplies - we haven't needed to buy any this month. Personal care items - I did buy a toothbrush this month, but that's it. I didn't include personal care as a category in the budget because we spend so little on stuff like that anyway. We buy the cheapest shampoo and we stock up on things like shaving cream and soap when they are on sale, so we only have to restock every few months. We also buy toilet paper and tissues in bulk, and it's not like we could cut back on that sort of thing, anyway. Really, I built the budget around food because a) we already spend minimally on non-food groceries and b) food is where we can easily spend in excess; if we aren't careful, we can add $100 or more to our monthly bill by tossing stuff like crackers, wine, and cantaloupe in to the cart.

The list above clearly does not include everything that we are eating this month; it's just everything we are buying. We won't eat all of it (for example, the tomatoes and lentils should last us at least another month) and what we do eat will be supplemented by food we already have on hand. Our CSA provides us with all the root vegetables we could ever hope to eat and we also have a lot of frozen vegetables and fruit (put aside last summer or bought in bulk on sale).

I've started the list for March:
  • milk
  • cheese
  • butter
  • yogurt
  • eggs
  • salad greens
  • frozen broccoli
  • canned fruit
  • dried cranberries
  • flour
  • yeast
  • oatmeal
  • nuts
  • whole chicken
  • turkey sausage
  • 12 pack beer
So far I've budgeted $115 for the items above. I'm trying to think if there's anything else I will need. If this is it, I'll add an "other" category for $35 and see if I can try to keep all food costs in March down to $150.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Salad Days: Root Veg with Chevre and Toasted Pecans

This week's salad is without question the best salad I have ever had. The recipe for the shredded root veg slaw came via email from a fellow CSA member after several people had asked for recommendations on how to deal with all the root veggies. The root veg mix is delicious and keeps well in the fridge for several days; I've enjoyed having it on hand so I can serve it as a side dish, add some color to a tossed salad, or, as in this case, make it the centerpiece of a hearty salad entree.

We enjoyed this salad on Friday the 13th as part of our early Valentine's celebration, since we had plans with friends on the day itself. For the past few years, our Valentine's routine has been to pop a bottle of champagne, order Thai or Chinese, and make creme brulee (Dan's favorite). However, this year, since we're trying to spend less, I nixed the takeout and budgeted $10 for good cheese instead, planning to serve it along with a salad. We also postponed the creme brulee since this month is packed with desserts already (some of which you've already seen).

Picking the cheese was hard because there were so many amazing selections at the Coop. I went in thinking I'd like something local and made from raw goat's milk. Since we live right on the border with Vermont, the local options are abundant. However, some of the imported cheeses looked so tempting that my resolve wavered. Ultimately, I decided to split the budget, selecting one imported, semisoft, raw, cow's milk cheese and one local, soft, pasteurized, goat's milk cheese. We snacked on the imported cheese, a Morbier from France, while I grated the veggies for the salad and Dan did the dishes. Morbier is a creamy, slightly bitter cheese with a pungent smell but a mild and faintly nutty taste. It is made of two layers, separated by ash; traditionally, farmers would pour leftover curds from Gruyere de Comte in to a mold in the evening, then cover it with a layer of ash to preserve it, and top it off with more curds from the next morning's batch. Now it is generally made from one batch but the ash layer is kept for tradition. We both enjoyed this cheese very much, but I'm not sure I'd buy it again soon; there are just too many cheeses out there that I haven't tried yet.

The local chevre went on top of the root veg slaw, along with some toasted pecans, all with a bed of mesclun. The combination was simple but fantastic. You know how when you taste something delicious, the first few bites taste the best, but then you sort of get used to it? That didn't happen with this salad. With every bite, I was surprised; every forkful was bursting with flavor and new taste. I think it's just the perfect balance of earthy, tangy, sweet, and nutty flavors, and the mix of textures - smooth, crunchy, crisp - offers so much variety that it stays interesting even if you eat a huge platter. We've already repeated this salad and I know it will become a regular menu item for us.

Judi's Winter Root Salad

8 cups grated root vegetables (beets, turnips, carrots, daikon, celeriac, etc., plus one garlic clove)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons olive oil
1.5 tablespoons vinegar

Mix it all together. Lasts in the refrigerator for several days. I omitted the garlic and used a German stone-ground mustard instead. I only used beets, carrots, and celeriac in mine. Grating all these veggies by hand would be a pain (literally, for my bad wrists); my yard-sale Salad Shooter does the trick in two minutes.
Best Winter Salad

4 cups mesclun (rinsed and spun)
3 cups Judi's Winter Root Salad
2 oz chevre (about half a small log)
1/3 cup chopped pecans

Set oven to 300. Spread pecans on an ungreased cookie sheet and toast in oven until they smell wonderful (about eight minutes). Divide mesclun between two plates. Scoop half of the root veg slaw on to each plate. Top each serving with dollops of chevre and toasted pecans. Serves 2.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Valentine's Cupcakes

I tell you, I'm exhausted. It's only Tuesday morning and already it's a hell of week. Between dealing with car issues and meeting with clients, I feel like my brainpower has already been sapped for the next few days. So I'm not going to say too much about these cupcakes - I'll just post the pictures. We can all appreciate a little eye candy, right?


ETA: You can read about how I made the royal icing decorations here and see where I used the rest of them here.

Monday, February 16, 2009

LOST Birthday Cake

Wow, what a hectic weekend! I'm getting a late start today because, after bidding our guests adieu, Dan and I had to deal with some car maintainence stuff this morning. I finally got some time to upload photos and write, but my computer is being PAINFULLY slow - and it's huffing and puffing and making all sorts of strange noises. I fear the end is near for this reliable old hunk of metal. I'm just hoping it can hold out long enough for me to save the money for a new one.
Anyway, yesterday was Dan's twenty-ninth birthday, and per his request, I made a cake based on Lost, our favorite TV show. If you don't know the show this cake must look very strange. I drew on the extensive mythology of the show and made a collage design using some of the most iconic images - the smoke monster, the polar bear, and the lock-down hieroglyphs. There's also the beach, of course, with "Happy Birthday Dan!" written as a message in the sand, and the numbers (4-8-15-16-23-42) hiding in the waves. The whole thing is framed by jungle foliage. I made the leaves in advance with royal icing, but otherwise, everything you see is buttercream. Since this weekend was just packed for us, I did something very out of character and used a cake mix; and to stick with the theme, I made it banana-flavored by adding a box of banana pudding to a plain white cake mix. I sprinkled a little bit of cinnamon-sugar on the beach to give it a more sand-like texture.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Valentine's Cookies

As promised, here are some pictures of the cookies I made this week. Rolled sugar cookies (using this recipe) with vanilla glaze, royal icing motifs, and piped buttercream. I had so much fun making these! I need to do this more. Enough blather - I'll let the pictures do the talking.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

P.S. To see more of my cookie photos, click here.

An Easy Lunch

Since I posted royal icing yesterday and will post cookie photos tomorrow, I thought I'd post something a bit healthier today. This is a recent lunch: cheese ravioli with broccoli, chicken, and pesto. The broccoli and chicken were left over from the previous night's dinner. I say left over, but actually, I intentionally steamed extra broccoli and grilled extra chicken so we could have some for lunch. I used one cube of frozen pesto (made from fresh basil last summer) and added some grated cheese. The ravioli was a steal, as our grocery store recently had a buy one, get TWO free special, so we stocked up. I try not to eat a lot of pasta, but we both enjoy ravioli and since it cooks up so quickly, it is nice to have on hand.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What I Am Doing This Week

Man, this week is crazy! No Salad Days today. Usually we have a salad entree on Tuesdays but yesterday I didn't drink enough water during my workout and I ended up with a whopper of a dehydration headache, so we got takeout from the Chinese place down the block. (It's actually in a gas station, but it's the best Chinese around - true, that's not saying much, but some Chinese students at the med school told me that it's the best and that's where they all order from.)

This week is the busiest one of my month (I hope). In addition to work, I'm making Dan's birthday present (he turns 29 on Sunday), I took on three major baking projects, I turned it my film notes today, and our weekend is packed with plans already - no downtime for us.

If you're wondering what film notes are, let me tell you: the single best thing about living in the Upper Valley for me is the Dartmouth Film Society. They project over two hundred films per year and if you're on directorate, like I am, every single one of them is FREE. Directorate is the board that decides on the program for each term. To stay on directorate, each term you have to attend at least five meetings (did I mention that the meetings include free dinner?) and write one set of notes, which are distributed at the screenings in the larger theater. I got on the directorate my first term of freshman year and convinced Dan to join a few years later. When we moved back to the area, our directorate status immediately reactivated, so we've been enjoying free films and cinephilic camaraderie every since. This week, I wrote the notes for G.W. Pabst's Pandora's Box, a silent Weimar masterpiece starring Louise Brooks.

And about those three baking projects - the first (cookies) is almost done, the second (cupcakes) will take place on Friday and Saturday, and the third - no idea, but it has to be done by Sunday evening because it's Dan's birthday cake. All three will make use of a new technique for me: royal icing motifs. I've used royal icing for assembling a gingerbread house, but since I had some meringue powder on hand, I wanted to try making decorative royal icing shapes in advance for later application to cakes and cookies. Here are the results:

Fun, right? Some of the hearts and squiggles and things are now on sugar cookies which are only awaiting some final buttercream touches; the rest are going to be used on Valentine cupcakes that I'm bringing to a brunch on Saturday. The green leaves are mostly for Dan's birthday cake; he requested a Lost theme (it's our favorite TV show), and I don't know exactly what I'm doing yet, but I know it has to involve lots and lots of jungle foliage. Hence the leaves.

I know some bakers consider royal icing to be inedible because it's too hard, but I actually really like the crunch and the tangy taste. What do you think? Do you pick off royal icing decorations or just eat them?

I'll post pictures of all these projects as I finish them. Now I'm off to complete the cookies!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Food News Roundup

With the economy as it is, thrifty eating is a hot topic and I come across articles about it every day. Here are a few links that you might find interesting:

--The "food stamp challenge" has been done by bloggers, journalists, and politicians before; CNN's Sean Callebs is doing it this month and is documenting his experience on the "Living on Food Stamps" blog. (Side note: "food stamps" is an outdated phrase, but one we are all used to; the program is now called Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program - SNAP - and uses debit cards, not stamps.) Callebs is going with the budget of $176 per month, the maximum a single person can qualify for where he lives. It's interesting and worth a read; I'll be following it throughout.

--This is old news, but Rebecca Blood (whose lentils and rice recipe I've referenced multiple times) spent a month eating according to the USDA's Thrifty Food Plan (on which SNAP allotments are based). That works out to $320.80 per month for Rebecca and her husband. But Rebecca added a twist: she wanted to continue eating primarily local and organic, and she insisted on a daily glass of wine with dinner. Start here and follow her journey through one month of thrifty eating; it's fascinating and inspiring.

--If you read her intro post, you'll see that Rebecca acknowledges that she has some advantages in eating thrifty: she's educated about nutrition, she has time to prepare food from scratch, and she has access to fresh and local goods. This article from a USDA report on the economics of food discusses some of the challenges that low-income Americans face in eating balanced, healthy diets.

--Speaking of access, a group of farmers and sustainability groups are banding together to increase access to locally-grown foods in my home state of Maine. Plans include cooperative storage space, a website for easy ordering, and a GPS-guided delivery system. They hope to have it all ready to go next year.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Winter CSA - February

No pretty produce shots this time. I haven't had time yet to scrub and sort the veggies, and I wanted to take a picture before we start using it up (in fact, I grabbed a beet and a carrot for tonight's salad immediately after taking this pic). Plus, a more rustic view might be good for a change. After all, this is how we receive it: tumbled together and covered with dirt. The summer deliveries are usually cleaner but the winter veggies are stored in dirt-filled bins at the farm.

I mentioned recently that it's time to sign up for 2009 CSAs. This goes for most winter CSAs as well. While we are certainly signing up for another summer share, we've decided to pass on the winter share. The first month was amazing, but the rest of them have been like this (only with cabbage). We haven't made the best use of our share and have thrown out more gone-by produce than I care to admit. The sad fact is, I just can't handle so many root vegetables. (My Scandinavian and Irish ancestors are now rolling over in their graves.)

Where we live, nothing else is available locally in the winter, so other than the fresh lettuce for our salads and the occasionally indulgence of imported fruit, we've been relying on frozen vegetables. Some are summer share surplus that we froze for exactly this purpose; others are bags that we've purchased at our local grocery store. Frozen seems to work well for us. While I feel bad about the food we've wasted from the winter CSA, we've learned an important lesson - a winter CSA is just not for us. (Now, I'd be singing a different tune if we lived in say, California, and a winter share included fresh citrus and greens - but alas, we live in a land of thrice-weekly blizzards.)

So the plan for this year is to sign up for our summer share - once again, a small share from Luna Bleu Farm - and to take the money that would go for a winter share and designate it for farmer's market purchases. That way, when our favorites like kale and spinach are in abundance, we can buy a lot and immediately freeze it for winter use.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Special Project

Here it is - my first ever video blog post! Join me as I make okonomiyaki, a Japanese savory supper pancake that is simpler than it sounds. This was a first for me - I'm much more comfortable operating a camera or manning an edit bay than I am on screen. But it was fun and I'll probably do it again. And I'd love to hear your thoughts - good or bad. Do you like cooking videos? Would you like to see more? What improvements would you make?

Enjoy, and have a great weekend!

Cooking with Sarah: Okonomiyaki from Daniel Maxell Crosby on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Another bread shot

This time as toast. It's still not a great shot, but I wasn't planning on posting about this bread yet. Might as well, though. I made the sourdough honey wheat bread from the Panera cookbook, but I added a cup of my own multigrain blend. I based the blend on this one from the King Arthur store; by shopping the bulk bins at the Coop, I was able to make the same blend for about half the price (and I could leave out the poppy seeds - for me, they don't really add anything other than the potential for embarrassment when they get stuck in my teeth). I also used King Arthur's white whole wheat flour, which I can get from the Coop bulk bins for $.59 a pound (more than 40% off the normal retail price).

Dan loved the bread; while I thought it was tasty, I'm not completely satisfied with it. It was very, very dense, and I'm not sure whether that's due to too much kneading or not enough rising time. It did make great toast, as pictured above; I had some breakfast the other morning alongside a bowl of nonfat plain yogurt with a touch of blackberry jam and some canned peaches.

One batch of dough makes two loaves; I put the other half in the freezer (before the first rise, per the cookbook directions) and will probably bake it tomorrow. I'm going to keep experimenting with this recipe and others until I find the perfect balance. One thing I am satisfied with: the price. I can make my own bread for about $1.00 a loaf, which is a good deal better than the $4.oo or $5.oo that I would pay for the artisan bread that I love. Also, multigrain sourdough, my bread of choice, is hard to find in this area; a lot of bakeries only make it once a week or periodically as a monthly/seasonal special.

Salad Days: The Ploughman's

I'm running a little behind this week. The special project that I've been talking about for the past couple weeks will finally be posted here TOMORROW, so hopefully that will make up for it.

Anyway, on to this week's salad. I had big plans for this week. These plans involved corn, sauteed with scallions and garlic, and an avocado, and a salsa dressing. I was excited about this salad. It was almost finished, too, when I popped a piece of avocado in my mouth - and promptly spit it back out again. I'm not sure why, but it was horribly bitter, and the awful taste lingered for a long time.

Without the avocado, I had nothing - it was to be the centerpiece of this salad. But we still needed to eat. Luckily, I had baked some fresh bread that day (my first ever loaf from scratch - a 7-grain sourdough boule), and that had actually turned out pretty well. So I quickly added some cucumbers to the prepared lettuce to make a simple side salad, and shifted the focus of our dinner to an old favorite from our time in the UK - the ploughman's lunch. The ploughman's, a staple of British pubs, is simply bread and cheese, usually served with some sort of pickle relish and some greens on the side. Depending on how fancy the pub is, you might get a token shred of wilted lettuce or a full, fresh salad, and either one hunk of cheese or a nice assortment. All we had on hand was some sharp Vermont cheddar, but that was good enough, especially paired with the homemade bread.

This meal was just another reminder that in the kitchen, as elsewhere in life, things don't always go according to plan - but they usually turn out okay.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Out to Eat: Spike's Junkyard Dogs

My little brother, Zach, a college student who lives just off Newbury Street in Boston, has been raving about Spike's Junkyard Dogs for months. After our visit last Friday night, I can finally say I understand what all the fuss was about.

Now, if you're like me, and you eat mostly fresh veggies and whole grains, and you're concerned about maintaining a nutritious, sustainable, and predominantly local diet, you're probably thinking hot dogs? Is she crazy? Allow me to explain. Spike's is a small chain of franchises scattered through Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Their hot dogs are 100% beef, with no sugars, sweeteners, by-products, or fillers. Their soft French rolls are made on the premises daily and are a huge leap from the spongy, preservative-laden hot dog rolls we're all used to.

Check out those buns!

When it comes down to it, these hot dogs are certainly not the healthiest option you could possibly choose. But I believe in moderation, not deprivation, and that means occasionally eating something just because it tastes great, even if it's not nutritionally perfect. Spike's dogs are a worthy indulgence. But if you're more strict than I am, Spike's does offer fat-free veggie dogs at the same (low) price. I haven't tried them, so I can't vouch for their taste.

Spike's dogs come plain ("The Mutt") or with a variety of toppings; Zach ordered the Texas Ranger (BBQ sauce, bacon, and cheddar), Dan selected the Ball Park Dog (onions, cheddar, and mustard), and I opted for the German Shephard (mustard and sauerkraut). All the dogs cost between $2.99 and $3.99, depending on toppings, and unless your appetite is an untamed beast, one dog will certainly do the trick. For $6.65, you can get any dog, plus curly fries and a soda; the fries are excellent, clearly freshly made and never frozen. Maria always gets the chicken tenders, and I could see why: they were juicy and yes, tender, with a perfectly crisp and slightly spicy crust. Spike's also offers salads, subs, and grilled chicken sandwiches.

The only part of the meal that was even slightly disappointing was the sauerkraut; it wasn't "sauer" enough for my taste. But, as I've mentioned before, I really like vinegar and very tangy flavors, so this falls more to personal preference than to any error on Spike's part. Ultimately, Spike's offers delicious dogs at great low prices, and I will definitely eat there again.

Spike's Junkyard Dogs
1076 Boylston Street (Corner of Mass Ave)
Boston, MA
-eight other locations throughout New England

My Second Quilt

Yay! I can finally post this here now. I had to wait because this quilt was a Christmas gift for Maria and I know she reads the blog. Now, you may be thinking, Christmas?! Christmas was over a month ago! Yes, but I didn't see Maria at Christmas, since she was home in Austin, and the quilt was a little too bulky for Zach to take it down during his New Year's visit. Since we knew we'd go visit Zach and Maria in Boston at the end of January, I just held on to the quilt and delivered it in person.

my second quilt

This is, as I said in the title, my second quilt. My first measures about 5" x 12" and was made to go along with a doll bed as a Christmas gift for our niece in 2007. So I've moved from doll quilt to lap quilt; hopefully my next one (on the sewing schedule for September of this year) will be big enough for a full/queen bed.

quilt detail

I had a lot of fun picking the fabrics for this project; the blue and chocolate was the starting point, since Maria loves that combination. The top was machine-pieced, but the quilting was done by hand; I used embroidery floss and did long running stitches along the length of every other strip. The hardest part was putting on the bias tape, since the quilt was so thick; I used contrast stitching, which sounded like a good idea at the time, but it makes my mistakes a bit more evident. But that's okay. It will be nice and warm to help keep Maria cozy through New England winters.