Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Prison Blues

We really are prisoners of our own desires. Even if the desires diverge significantly.

One revels in all things known. The familiar. Reliving things that have already happened. Over and over.

Driving down the street, or taking a walk, names of known people who live in the houses being passed are recited, events that took place at some location are recalled in a sort of short hand code, the first time a restaurant was visited is recounted in the key details such as year and wine and main course and clothing worn. Favorite restaurants are visited over and over, with the identical dish being ordered each time. The same comments being offered. Like a religious ceremony, whose well worn rituals are caressed over and over. The routine providing comfort and maybe a sense of security, or possibly a sense of everlasting longevity, projecting the ritual into the infinite future.

Then there are the relentless experimenters. Always something new. New location, new people, new gadgets, new tastes. As soon as something is tried, it’s done, crossed off. Time to move on. Push the envelope. Never the same thing twice. Always on the search for the next thing. Always noting the new restaurant, the menu changes. Interest in the past exists only in that it indicates where not to go in the future.

Either road can be a tough grind.

One leading to a certain stagnation, and, anyways, certain to eventually deliver disappointment, as nothing remains the same forever, least of all memories. Seems like a dreary sort of prison to me.

The other leading to certain mental burnout in the attempt to find all things new, let alone new things actually worth trying. This prison might be worse, barring the familiar, holding the prisoner like a rat on a treadmill, always running but never arriving.

All this leading up to the lentils dilemma. You know, cooking something for the umpteenth time, because everyone really does like it, and besides, it’s cold out, the first rainy day in nine months around here. So lentil soup. Over rice.

While some were relishing the reappearance of the known, others (i.e. me) were dreading another go round with the same old thing.

So, despondent due to lack of sun and being stuck in my prison (of my own design, of course), moping about (apparently my creativity is closely tied to the sun), actually moping about on the internet, I stumbled across some ideas. Maybe some keys to escaping both prisons. For a day, anyways.

The ideas coming from the web site, although we didn’t actually follow the recipes there, just the ideas. Improvising as we went.

Lentil soup with a new hairdo. Of roasted carrots and apples. Not mixed in, but set on top of the soup as a garnish. The carrots and apples caramelizing during the roasting process, adding a component of sweetness to the lentil soup.

Plus a simple cayenne crème. Just crème fraîche mixed with cayenne pepper. Drizzled around the edge of the soup for visual interest as well as for a taste punch. Delicious!

And a cracker, made from the lentil soup. Just something fun. With the added benefit of a warm oven on a cold day.

In the end, something familiar with a new twist. Enough of a twist to unlock all of our prisons.

Print Recipe

Lentil Soup with Roasted Carrots and Apples, Cayenne Crème and Lentil Crackers
Based on a recipe from
Adapted by surfindaave
Serves 6 to 8 as a main course

2 pounds spicy Italian-style chicken sausages
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped fine
1 carrot, chopped fine
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ pounds dry black lentils
5-6 cups chicken broth
1 bay leaf
several sprigs thyme
1-2 tbsp cumin
salt, pepper
2 gala apples, peeled
4 carrots, peeled
olive oil
½ cup crème fraîche
1 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste (start with less, add more to taste)
Lentil Crackers (recipe follows)
Steamed rice as an accompaniment, if desired

In a large, heavy soup pot, cook the sausages over high heat until well browned. Remove to a plate, reserving fat in pan.

Drain all but 2 tbsp of fat from the pan, and in that, sauté the onions, celery and carrots over medium heat for 5 to 8 minutes. When softened, add the garlic, stirring, and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add 1 cup of the chicken broth, and scrape up any brown bits stuck to the bottom and sides of the pan. Add the lentils, bay leaf, thyme, cumin, salt and pepper to taste, and the remaining chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer. Add the sausages back to the pot. Cover partially, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add additional liquid if necessary to achieve the desired consistency.

While the soup is simmering, roast the carrots and apples. Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Grate the carrots and apples on the roughest side of your grater, using long strokes to get as long of strands as possible. Alternatively, if you have time and the tools, use one of those rotating potato peelers to pare the apples and carrots into super longs, thin strands. Toss the grated carrots and apples with a few tbsp olive oil. Place on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper and spread out as much as possible. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The mixture has to give up a lot of water before it will begin to brown, so be patient (and watchful). When the carrots and apples have browned significantly in places, remove from oven and reserve.

Stir the cayenne pepper into the crème fraîche, taste, adjust (it should be hot, but not unbearable), and reserve.

When the lentils are tender, serve the soup in large, flat soup bowls with a heap of the roasted carrots and apples placed on top (not mixed in), and drizzle some of the cayenne crème around the edges. Place a lentil cracker on the side of the bowl. Enjoy!

Lentil Crackers
Based on a recipe from Emeril Lagasse
Makes 6 large crackers

¾ cup of the lentil soup
¾ cup flour, plus extra for rolling
olive oil
kosher salt

In a bowl, mix the lentil soup with about ½ cup of the flour, mashing the lentils. Slowly add additional flour, tablespoon by tablespoon, until the mixture forms a ball. Continue to mix with your hand, adding additional tablespoons of flour, until the dough achieves a smooth, non-sticky texture and is firm like modeling clay. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, flatten to a disk, and set in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Divide the dough into six pieces. On a floured board, roll out each piece into a long, thin strip, maybe 14 inches long by 2-3 inches wide. Dust off excess flour. Place the strip on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper (I was able to bake three strips at a time). Brush the top lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle with kosher salt. Repeat for remaining pieces of dough.

Bake the strips for about 20 minutes, until they are lightly browned and crisp. Remove from oven and let cool completely.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Purist Dreams

Three groups of people walk into a pizza parlor.

There are the, let’s call them the purists, for whom pepperoni, tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil are the necessary and exclusive components to even consider calling something a pizza. Maybe an olive or an anchovy could appear on occasion. But that’s it.

Then there’s the indulgers. Who pile the pies high with long lists of diverse ingredients on top of the poor crust, until the thing is so tall, it is hardly edible in a practical sense. Not satisfied with pepperoni, they add sausage, ham, meatballs, everything they can think of. Along with any number of different vegetables, mushrooms, who knows what all. Better to have some of everything than risk leaving anything out, is the motto.

Then there are the ones who dare to put unheard of things on top of a crust and deem it a pizza. The innovators. The dreamers. The crazy ones.

This is nothing new. There is an entire chain restaurant dedicated to offering a few dozen non-traditional ingredients on top of a baked crust, and calling it a pizza. Actually, a California pizza, to be more precise.

Generally speaking, I tend not to be much of a traditionalist. More a break the rules type. Eyes closed and jump is more in line with my motto. So, you might expect to find me in the innovators camp on this topic. And, for the most part, I am when it comes to most types of foods.

Until we get to pizza.

For some reason, well, not some reason, but for a very specific reason, that involves wonderful pizzas made by hand in a small pizza parlor after midnight, with the dough stretched to fantastic diameters, heaped high with mozzarella, spicy tomato sauce, pepperoni, and nothing else, said pizza fresh from the oven and surrounded by a dozen or so friends, for that reason, I tend towards the purists side when it comes to pizza. The memories are too strong.

Now, don’t get me wrong here. I understand that pesto pizza is fine. And that teriyaki chicken and tofu and whatever can be baked onto a crust. And that it might even taste good. Good and fine in the sense that such things do not have to be directly outlawed, and that the possibility of the death penalty for even suggesting putting such things on a pizza is maybe just a bit too much. But I have never quite gotten to the point where I, deep in my soul, have agreed that such a thing is a pizza.

So when TeenGirl suggested pizza for dinner, I, of course, envisioned a somewhat purist style pie. Lots of tomatoes, mozzarella, pepperoni, with a pool of molten grease in the center. You know, pizza!

She, however, had an entirely different idea.

Together, we made a very nice whole wheat pizza dough (already a stretch for me to associate anything whole wheat with pizza). Which she baked with just some fresh tomatoes and goat cheese. It actually looked pretty good. Primarily because it very much resembled a purist pizza.

She then took a jump off the cliff by then making a spinach and white bean salad, with a powerful lemon juice and garlic dressing, which she proceeded to place on top of the baked pizza. Along with a few shavings of parmesan cheese.

The result, if not directly something I would deem pizza in my book, was delicious. And dramatic to look at. And, in a sense, practical. You had your carbs (whole grain of course), your protein in the form of cheese and beans, and your salad, all at once.

To balance this novel pizza concept, TeenBoy made a more purist style pie, with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, pepperoni and basil. Albeit on the whole wheat crust. None the less, very good as well.

So after a slice or two of a dreamer’s innovation, which I actually enjoyed very much, I reverted back to my purist obsession. And contemplated the oddly disjointed pizza emotions raging inside me as I sipped my glass of Bordeaux.

Print Recipe

The Dreamer’s Salad Pizza with Goat Cheese
Recipe by surfindaave
Makes 2 large pies

500 grams whole wheat flour, plus extra for kneading
200 grams white flour
2 packets dry yeast
pinch of sugar
1 tsp salt
3-4 tbsp olive oil
12 to 16 ounces of goat cheese
8 fresh roma tomatoes, cut into slices
1 large bunch of baby spinach
2 15 ounce cans of white beans, such as cannelloni, drained well
2-3 cloves garlic
juice of one lemon
salt, pepper
parmesan curls, for garnish

Make the pizza dough:
In a large bowl, combine the flours. Mound the flour, and make a depression in the center. Pour the yeast into the depression, add some lukewarm water, a pinch of sugar, and a punch of flour. Stir gently to moisten yeast, and let proof for 10 minutes. When yeast is foamy, sprinkle salt and olive oil around outside of flour mound. Add some lukewarm water to the bowl and begin mixing with a wooden spoon. Continue adding just as much water as necessary and mixing until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and all the flour is incorporated. Move the dough to a floured board and knead briskly for 15 minutes. Place in a warm oven to rise for 1 hour.

When the dough has risen, divide into two equal pieces. On a flat surface lined with parchment paper, roll or press dough into the desired pizza shape (round or rectangle), pushing up the edges.

Brush the bottom (only!) of the shaped dough with some olive oil.

Preheat the oven to the highest temperature it will go – mine goes to 500ºF on a good day. An oven stone is the ideal surface to bake the pizza on, but a baking sheet will do as well.

Make the pizzas:
Line the bottom of the shaped dough with slices of tomato. Crumble the goat cheese and sprinkle the entire bottom of the shaped dough evenly with cheese.

Bake the pizzas for about 15 to 20 minutes, until the crust and cheese are browned. Remove from oven.

While the pizzas are baking, whisk the lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Drizzle in the olive oil, whisking, until the dressing is emulsified.

In a large bowl, toss the baby spinach leaves with the drained beans. Pour the dressing on top, and toss well. Divide the salad between the two pizzas, heaping the salad directly in the center of the hot pizzas. Garnish with a few parmesan curls. Serve immediately. Enjoy!

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Champions Weekend

I am just getting to the Thanksgiving wrap-up.

As mentioned, food took a back seat to high school sports for another weekend. TeenGirl proved to be one of the fastest running girls in the state of California on Saturday in an event that gathered all the best high school runners from across the state to Fresno for a 5000 meter (3.11 mile) race across fields, over hills, through gullies, and for some, including TeenGirl, a chance to stand on the winners podium and collect medals. As the one of best high school runners in the Sate of California.

To get to Fresno, other than the 5 hour drive north through LA, across the San Fernando valley, though the Tejon pass (4144 feet up), and then deep into the heart of the San Joaquin valley, past miles and miles of almond trees, millions of rows of grape vines all neatly trimmed and ready for next year, past thousand and thousands of cows, and literal mountains of cow poo, past huge dairy complexes and ramshackle rundown farm houses, all you have to do is run. A lot.

Run twice a day for 6 months. Every single day, never missing one. Over mountains. Through parks. Around streets with motorists who have no intention of yielding right of way to a mere runner. Through blazing afternoon heat. And chilly evenings. Wind, rain, dust, fog, whatever. At 6 am in the morning, and 10 pm at night, if need be. Usually alone, as no one else can keep up anymore, least of all me. Set some school records along the way, win lots of cross country races along the way, gather a satchel full of medals, pose for lots of pictures that eventually appear in local papers, usually just after finishing running, with sweat still dripping, hair and makeup long destroyed by wind and effort. That’s all you have to do.

You also have to put up with your overly proud father running all over the parks where the races are held, ‘cheering’ (read screaming his head off like a complete idiot), taking pictures at inopportune moments, bragging shamelessly, etc.

So, food took a backseat to a championship running this weekend.

But I did want to catch up on Thanksgiving. Of course, there was the turkey, which was great. With tons of dark meat for me. While everyone else fought over the breast meat.

As mentioned in the previous post, we made four dishes for the Thanksgiving pot-luck-pourre last Thursday.

As could have been predicted, the much anticipated Brussels sprouts with chestnuts and bacon were not the highlight of our offerings. They were very good, and the roasted sprouts could not have gone better with the chestnuts and bacon. Really a great way to combine some traditional fall flavors. And they generated lots of complements. But they were outdone by two other dishes. None the less, the sprouts, chestnuts and bacon were good enough that they were long gone before a reasonable picture could be taken.

The roasted root vegetables with caramelized pecans won hands down. Everyone agreed. Once you tried them, you could not stop nibbling away. The roasting brings out a wonderful natural sweetness to the vegetables, which the caramelized pecans complemented perfectly. The tart apples and the red onions pulled the dish back from just plain sweet to nicely balanced. The only thing to watch for is to avoid over-roasting the vegetables. This one has already made the list of Thanksgiving regulars.

Unfortunately, I could not get any pictures of the roasted root vegetables before they were gone.

Also, the cayenne sweet potato pie with pecan crust was great. Creamy and smooth, with a hint of a cayenne bite. Though not as many tried this one, possibly fearing an instant weight gain just by looking at it, those who did try it raved. So I was pretty happy about that.

The final entry, the apple galette, which I have made lots of times, and always had success with, fell victim to an error on my part. I always halve the recipe when I make it, and did so this time as well. I halved everything except the butter. Essentially using twice the butter in the Pâte Brisé dough as called for. Man, what a mess. I knew the whole time something was wrong, too. But I could not figure out what. Until we baked it. The excess butter literally oozed out of the dough. Needless to say, the dough never achieved the desired flaky crispy texture, ending up tough and chewy. So we left that one home. Just an error on my part due to too many things going on at once.

I didn't take any pictures of the galette, of course. Well, three out of four ain't all that bad!

Print Recipe

Roasted Fall Root Vegetables with Apples and Caramelized Pecans
Recipe by surfindaave
Serves 6 to 8 as a side dish

6 large parsnips, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
6 to 8 small beets, peeled, cut into 2 inch pieces
6 carrots, peeled, cut into 2 inch lengths
2 large tart apples, such as Granny Smith, cored and cut into eighths
2 medium red onions, each cut into 8 wedges through the core
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
2 ½ cups pecan halves
6 tbsp unsalted butter
6 tbsp sugar (we used agava nectar)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 450°.

In a large roasting pan, toss the parsnips, beets, carrots, apples and red onions with olive oil and thyme leaves. Roast in oven for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring once or twice, until vegetables are tender and well browned. Remove from oven and keep warm.

In a small skillet, heat butter until foam subsides. Add sugar, swirling pan, until sugar melts. Continue cooking until the mixture achieves the desired caramel color. Add pecans, stirring, until they are well coated with the caramel. Pour the caramelized pecans over the roasted vegetables, and toss gently. Serve immediately. Enjoy!

Print Recipe

Bacon Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Chestnuts
Recipe by surfindaave
Based on a recipe by Charlie Palmer
Serves 8 to 10 as a side dish

3 pounds small Brussels sprouts, stems trimmed and outer leaves removed, cut in half
1 pound double-smoked slab bacon or other smoked bacon, cut into lardons (1/4-by-3/4-inch rectangles)
2 cups onions, chopped
2 pounds fresh chestnuts
2 to 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
Salt, pepper
Additional thyme, for garnish, if desired

To roast the chestnuts: cut an X on the flat side of each chestnut. Roast on a flat baking pan in a 400ºF oven for 20 minutes or so, until the edges of the cuts curl back. Remove from oven to a towel, and let cool somewhat. Remove shell and inner membrane. Reserve chestnuts, ideally still as a single piece.

In a small skillet, heat bacon over medium heat, stirring, and cook until all fat is rendered out of bacon, and bacon is well browned. Remove bacon pieces to a plate lined with paper towels. Reserve fat.

In the same skillet, sauté the onions over medium heat until they are a deep golden color, about 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450ºF.

In a large roasting pan, toss the Brussels sprouts, chestnuts, bacon, and onions with all of the bacon fat. Add thyme leaves, salt and pepper. Toss well. Roast in oven for 20 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the Brussels sprouts are well browned. Remove to a serving dish. Stir in just enough chicken broth to moisten the dish. Season with salt and pepper as necessary, and sprinkle with additional thyme for garnish. Serve immediately. Enjoy!

Cayenne Sweet Potato Pie with Pecan Crust

This recipe is directly from Gourmet magazine, November 2005, (which you can find on the only modifications being that I added 2 tsp of cayenne pepper to the sweet potato mixture in the food processor, and I made a pecan and whole wheat pie crust, as opposed to the pecan and ginger snap cookie crust suggested in the magazine. We decorated the pie with some extra crust pieces cut into leaves, as well as some of the caramelized pecans from the Roasted Fall Root Vegetables with Apples and Caramelized Pecans recipe above.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Pot (Luck) Pourri

It’s not really a pot luck Thanksgiving dinner. As the final menu is tuned somewhat. But everyone coming is contributing something. Which, as the dishes are determined by the people coming, are announced to everyone so that a reasonable variety of final dishes can be assembled. For 26 people. Mostly family, some friends. Coming to enjoy this most lucky of pot-luck-pourris.

Being a bit in stress, as this is a week of both soccer championships (TeenBoy’s team), and the California State Cross Country Running Championship race, for which TeenGirl has qualified, being one of the fastest high school girls in California (this is also the reason that my postings have been a bit infrequent over the last few weeks - all this sports takes up a lot of time!), I was not the first to pass on a list of proposed dishes that I would be contributing to this event. In fact, looking at the current list, I am probably about the last.

It’s being hosted this year at my brother’s new house, as he certainly has by far the most room for so many people. So his family will contribute the turkey, and will be stuck with most of the mess. Been there done that many times. Usually fun until the wine buzz wears off and the mountain of dishes and assorted broken things looms. Of course everyone helps clean after dinner, but it seems there is always another mountain of mess after everyone has finally left.

Some day, I am going to just roast a turkey when it’s not a holiday. This will certainly be a shocking event for everyone here. As there seems to be some unwritten food law that roasted turkey happens only twice a year, max. And those occasions must be holidays. But everyone is raving about salting the turkey before roasting, for maximum crisp skin and juicy meat. This being the next logical progression beyond brining. Which is now apparently passé. A salted roast turkey with fig, chestnut and sage dressing? Not to mention turkey soup the next day made from the remnants. Something I want to try soon. Well, we can all dream…

So, the infamous green beans baked in the Campbell’s mushroom soup are coming. (First dish announced. Can we cancel this holiday? No? Too late?) Along with the sweet potatoes and marshmallow mixture. Another blast from the past (curse that Betty Crocker!!). At least edible. There will certainly be good things as well. Some killer mashed potatoes. With lots of butter. There are usually interesting desserts. The gravy is always one of the highlights. And, being a dark meat lover, and in the distinct minority on this issue, despite the proven fact that the dark meat is moister and infinitely more flavorful, I will have almost the entire bounty of dark turkey meat all to myself. On a 24 pound turkey, that is a pile!

So, the question becomes, what will we contribute?

For some reason, I’ve had Brussels sprouts with bacon and chestnuts on my mind for a while. My idea is to render the bacon, and roast the chestnuts and Brussels sprouts in the bacon drippings in the oven till tender and caramelized. Maple syrup may also become involved somehow, not quite sure yet. Then toss it all with the rendered bacon. Then eat a large pile of it. As vegetables are usually not the big sellers at these events, so there should be lots for me. Is it bad form to bring something you know pretty much only you will like?

To this end, I found Italian chestnuts. These being the current foodie rage as the best tasting chestnuts. At least the sign said they were Italian. Maybe the sign is Italian and the nuts are from the tree out behind the vegetable market?

Plus some super fresh looking Brussels sprouts. And some apparently high quality thick slab bacon.

Another dish we are looking to make is a sort of fall root vegetable roast, with beets, parsnips and carrots, all roasted together with some apples for moisture. Sounded good. Again, however, something I fear will have limited appeal to the guests, being basically vegetables.

Even though sweet potatoes, mashed together with marshmallows (really!) are coming, I intend to offer my infamous sweet potato pie with pecan crust. Maybe put some candied pecans on top for decoration. This stuff has a little fire to it (cayenne pepper), and is intended for dinner, not dessert. And is delicious. Smooth and creamy. I figure that since my sweet potatoes are so different from the others, I can get away with this. On the plus side, I would be happy in no one ate any of this, and I could take the entire thing home again (more bad manners?).

On the dessert side, an apple galette, maybe soaking the apples in calvados, which is an apple brandy produced in the Calvados department of Lower Normandy, France. With some sort of flavored Crème Frâiche to go on top.

Hopefully, this is neither too much nor too little. And I am sure we do not have to worry about duplicate entries for any of these dishes from other guests. As these dishes either contain vegetables, or are a bit of work to prepare.

The sweet potato pie and the apple galette will be made today. They will keep overnight. The vegetable dishes will be made tomorrow morning, and heated through just before serving.

So here’s our proposed offerings:

Bacon Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Chestnuts (with Maple Syrup?)

Roasted Fall Root Vegetables and Apples

Spicy Sweet Potato Pie with Pecan Crust and Candied Pecans

Calvados Apple Galette with (Whisky?) Crème Frâiche

Hopefully some pictures and recipes later today and tomorrow as these things start to appear from our kitchen.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Sourdough Experiment #6 – The Ups and Downs, but mostly Ups

It really can’t be called an experiment any more.

We’ve made a different sort of sourdough bread, based on home-made sourdough starter grown right on my kitchen table, every week for a few months now. And, to my endless surprise, they turn out pretty damn good, considering I’ve never been very successful with yeast-based breads in the past. The sourdough starter bacteria really pump out a lot of gas, lifting the dough to great heights.

This is definitely the up side of the sourdough experiment. All it takes is patience. Warm days help, but are not absolutely necessary. Cold days just means more patience is necessary to allow the little bacteria time to multiply so that there are enough little gas passers to raise a dough. Eventually, this happens. And another couple of loaves of sourdough bread are ready for baking.

Another up is that the bread rises significantly as baking begins. So far in each of a dozen or so tries, the final bread has at least tripled in size by the time baking is done. Which makes for a nice, light loaf of bread.

Plus, I like the taste of the sour bread. A definite up, for me, in any event. Flavor that you cannot get in any bread from a store.

But there are the downs.

The main one being that, if you are severely mentally challenged like me, and you forget every time to save some sourdough starter for the next loaf, you really can not plan exactly when the next loaf will be ready to be baked.

So I wanted to make some of the rye and whole wheat sourdough bread for Thursday, that being Thanksgiving.

And in the weekend rush of high school sports events last Saturday, not only did I forget to save some starter before kneading the entire batch into a new loaf and popping it into the oven, but I forgot for the next two days to start a new batch of sourdough starter.

So, unless the little bacteria have a prolific non-stop three day orgy in their little bucket of flour and water, the starter I made yesterday will not be ready in time for Thanksgiving.

Maybe it is for the better. I’m not entirely sure the sourdough bread is ready for the ultimate judges panel- the relatives. These guys make Gordon Ramsey look meek. The barbs are always heated till red hot before they are slung across the table. Naturally in the guise of a pseudo-compliment. Laden however with layers of resentment and frustration and who knows what all before they are slid between the ribs and twisted, or jabbed viciously and deep during an apparent pat on the back. Maybe I can sit at the kids table during the turkey dinner. The kids haven’t reached this level of sophistication yet!

Anyhoo, last Saturday, we went for a whole wheat and oat bread with lots of molasses. Based on a pure whole wheat sourdough starter.

Though I personally prefer the natural sour flavor – i.e. sourdough bread without added honey or molasses, I am but one of many here, and my preferences usually get voted down quickly.

So we have experimented a bit with whole wheat flour based breads, which are not as sour as rye in the first place. And we have tried a few combinations of honey, looking to balance the sour flavor a bit and mollify the rest of the people who live here.

This time, I wanted to try adding oats. In the form of whole steel cut rolled oats. Supposed to be very healthy!

Plus, some super iron-rich molasses. Also highly recommended from a health perspective.

The molasses turned the bread a deep, dark brown color. And added a very striking flavor. Molasses being a more intense flavor than, say, honey. Sweet, salty, a little sulfury, all at once.

I think, however, that the addition of the oats made for a less soft crumb. The bread rose well, as the pictures illustrate. But the resultant bread was more crumbly than others. Maybe the oats interrupt the natural formation of the gluten fibers of the whole wheat flour as the bread is kneaded? Maybe I should have done something different with the oats before adding them to the dough?

I soaked the raw oats for a while in some boiling water. And then just mixed them into the starter, along with additional flour, prior to kneading. Although the oats sort of dissolved into the dough, I could tell while kneading that the texture would be a little different.

The flavor was great, however. Very rich and hearty, mainly from the molasses. Something we will certainly try again.

Recipe to follow shortly!

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Quintessential Fall Flavors – WHB

Fall, crisp cool mornings with steaming cups of hot black coffee, the dog tracking footprints from the lawn thick with glistening dew throughout the house, and depositing piles of beautiful colored leaves caught in his ever-thickening fur on every chair and sofa. What could say fall more than all that? Don’t ya just love it?!

Also in season are chestnuts. One of my favorite nuts. Difficult, yes. Temperamental, I’ll give you that. But bursting with a unique combination of nuttiness and sweetness that you just don’t find in any other nut.

The trick to chestnuts is to buy them fresh, refrigerate them immediately, as they spoil very quickly, and learning the subtleties of getting the peel and inner skin off the nut before you lose your sanity.

I learned to love chestnuts in Munich, where, as in most European cities in winter, chestnuts are sold in little paper bags by street vendors freshly roasted. All you have to do is find a way to get the peel off with your gloves on. The gloves help in the sense that the chestnuts are usually (not always!) still hot, but hinder in that it is that much harder to get the thin papery inner peel off if the roasting process has not loosened it sufficiently. There was always a certain proportion that had to be tossed.

At home, the main difficulty is finding a fresh chestnut. They appear around November and December in stores, then are gone. Whether the store has actually kept the chestnut in reasonable condition prior to your purchase of it is another question. The best idea is to get the fresh chestnuts right into the fridge as soon as possible, and use them as quickly as possible. The fresher, the better.

Roasting them is not so hard, just 20 minutes at 400ºF will usually roast them sufficiently that the outer and inner peel will come off with relative ease. I have learned that no matter what technique you use to roast them, there will be some that just cannot be peeled. And I have learned to accept this as the price of enjoying fresh chestnuts as opposed to (shudder!) canned.

Since chestnuts have a natural sweetness to them, which the roasting process accentuates, I like to build on that. Whether in chestnut soup, maybe chestnuts and Brussels sprouts in bacon and maple syrup, or simply, as today, chestnuts caramelized in butter and sugar.

The chestnuts today are the eye candy to a really tasty pasta sauce based on a kobasha squash and sage mixture. The kobasha squash has a dark green outer peel, which is very tough, hiding a bright orange inner flesh. When cooked down a bit, it is sweeter and more flavorful than most other types of squashes, in my opinion. It harmonizes well with sage and nutmeg.

So this week, we made Pasta with Kobacha and Sage Sauce with Caramelized Chestnuts. For , sponsored this week by Nandita of .

With the natural earthy sweetness of the creamy kobacha and sage sauce, the caramelized chestnuts not only complement it wonderfully, but they make for a very dramatic presentation.

As usual, we put this on top of some whole grain pasta. Which only adds to the earthy and nutty flavors of the dish as a whole.

A very flavorful way to incorporate some of the seasonally fresh elements available only at this time of year!

Print Recipe

Pasta with Kobacha and Sage Sauce and Caramelized Chestnuts
Recipe by surfindaave
Serves 4 as main course

1 large kobacha squash, cut into sections, peeled, and flesh cubed
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
2 leeks, cleaned, white part chopped
Salt and pepper
1 bay leaf
1 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
6 fresh sage leaves, cut in thin strips
4 cups chicken broth
Sage leaves, sliced thin, for garnish
1 ½ pounds pasta (we used whole wheat fettuccini)
Caramelized chestnuts, for garnish (recipe follows)

Place the olive oil and leeks in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. When the leeks begin to color, add the squash and season with salt and pepper. Sauté 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, to lightly caramelize the surface of the cubes. Add the bay leaf, nutmeg, sage, and about 3 cups of the chicken broth. Cover the pan and cook until the squash is tender but still holding its shape, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Puree the sauce in a food processor in batches. Reheat the sauce in the skillet, adding additional chicken broth to thin the sauce to the desired pasta sauce consistency.
Bring salted water to a boil in a large pot, and cook pasta per package directions. Drain well.
Serve the pasta with the kobacha and sage sauce, placing several caramelized chestnuts on top, and sprinkling the pasta sauce with the slivered sage leaves. Enjoy!

Caramelized chestnuts

1 pound whole fresh chestnuts in the shell
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. With a paring knife, score the bottom of each chestnut with an "x". Roast the cut chestnuts on a baking sheet for 20 minutes. Remove chestnuts from oven and wrap in a dishtowel until cool enough to handle. Peel off chestnut shells, including the inner membrane. In a large sauté pan, melt the butter and add the chestnuts. Cook over a low flame for about 5 minutes. Once evenly browned, add the sugar and toss. Allow to caramelize for another 5 to 6 minutes.

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Friday, November 17, 2006

Anti-Smoked Out Food

November 17 is the day targeted by the American Cancer Society to encourage people to quit smoking by staging the so-called Great American Smoke-Out. Originally called Don’t Smoke Day. The idea being that smokers would be encouraged to not smoke for one day, and contribute the money usually spent on cigarettes to some charitable cause. Initially a high school scholarship fund, and eventually things like the American Cancer Society.

When the idea started, more than 30 years ago, it seemed like everyone smoked. On planes, in restaurants, in hospitals, on TV, in movies, everywhere. Back before these anti-smoking campaigns, our high school was so clouded with smoke that they had to establish an outdoor smoking area for the students. Underage students. Who were doing 2 plus packs a day. When the bathroom doors opened at school between periods, smoke would just billow out like the place was on fire.

Somehow, smoking had become the sort of way to communicate the concept ‘I know it’s bad, but I still do it, so I must be bad too!’. Bad as in very cool. Which seems odd in those ‘down with the establishment’ days. Smoking being an established habit of everything establishment back then, from the military to movies to business. But the allure was too strong, the advertisements too good, and the nicotine grip too addictive.

As the Smoke-Out concept became a real movement in the late 70, kids in my first college would participate in a sort of intentionally misguided concept of their own. That being to smoke as many cigarettes as possible for the 48 hours preceding the Smoke-Out day, thereby making themselves so physically sick that they could not bring themselves to smoke on the actual Smoke-Out day itself. Thus meeting the letter of the concept, if missing the intent of the concept by as wide a margin as possible. Naturally, the long-term effect of this was an even deeper dependence on nicotine, with all its associated health effects.

Having survived college, barely, both in grades and health, things have now turned completely from trying to kill ourselves at every opportunity to looking at options to stay alive.

Anti-oxidants are now the new drug of choice. As food is metabolized and turned into energy for the body, the unwanted by-products of this process include oxygen molecules and other so-called ‘free radicals’ (subversive elements for sure! Illegal aliens of sorts?! Maybe even terrorists!?!). Smoking also apparently releases these free radicals in the body. As these free radicals rage through the body, they are thought to cause extensive damage to the body, having been identified as keys to heart disease, aging (shudder!!), cancer of various types, cardio-vascular diseases, and on and on. Anti-oxidants counteract these affects by neutralizing the free-radicals and excess oxygen. The body generates anti-oxidants naturally, but diet can play an important role in supplementing the body’s natural defenses with additional anti-oxidants. Can’t have too many, apparently!

Since oxidation is the process here, and anti-oxidants prevent oxidation, and oxidation is just another word for rust, I always wondered if we are really just talking about the body becoming, literally, rusty, and tossing in a can of primer in the form of beta carotene to try to prevent that rust from forming? Well, obviously too much time on my hands!!

In any event, in honor of the Smoke-Out day, and in memory of those odd, misguided college days and friends, an anti-oxidant meal.

Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selinium, and Beta Carotene. Those are the anti-oxidant elements that need to be added to the diet.

Of course, this time of year, the most orange of vegetables is a great source of a lot of these elements. Namely the pumpkin. Other key sources are whole grains, such as whole wheat pasta. So we constructed a meal around these ingredients. We tossed spinach into the mix as well, as it is also a big contributor to our cause.

The resultant meal is whole wheat pasta with a spicy roasted pumpkin, spinach and amaranth seed sauce, topped with a sprinkle of shredded chicken breast.

The pumpkin offers a ton of beta carotene, along with vitamin C. The whole grain pasta contributes selenium. The spinach contributes vitamin E, vitamin C and some additional beta carotene. A sprinkle of parsley on top pumps up the vitamin C some more. And a little chicken in the mix increases the selenium levels. The amaranth contributes lots of iron (which will be quickly absorbed by the body due to all the vitamin C) and protein, along with some vitamin C. So this is a seasonal meal pumped full of all four key anti-oxidants.

Now – just to be clear, these ingredients, irregardless of what quantities of them you eat will not reverse 30 years of a 2 pack a day of Camel no-filters habit. It certainly won’t hurt, but more to the point would be to quit first, then help the body clean up as best as possible.

Just to be sure my body was staving off rust at full throttle, I tossed down a few glasses of anti-oxidant rich red wine (Bordeaux 2000). And put some of that to work scraping off the internal rust as well. Better safe than sorry!

Print Recipe

Whole Wheat Pasta with Spicy Roasted Pumpkin, Spinach and Amaranth Sauce
Recipe by surfindaave
Serves 6 as a main dish

1 small pie pumpkin, 2 ½ to 3 pounds, cut into sections, seeds removed, peeled, and then cut into 1 inch pieces
olive oil
cayenne pepper
2-3 pounds chicken breasts
4 cups chicken broth
1 onion, quartered
1 stalk celery, cut into several pieces
1 carrot, cut into several pieces
8 peppercorns
1 bay leaf
4-5 tbsp amaranth seeds
6-8 sage leaves, chopped
1 bunch spinach, washed well, chopped roughly
salt, pepper
2 pounds whole wheat pasta (we used fettuccini)
parsley, chopped, as garnish

Preheat oven to 450ºF.

Toss the pumpkin pieces with olive oil, and then sprinkle with cinnamon, cayenne pepper and cumin to taste. I like more cinnamon, and note that the cayenne will stay strong through the entire cooking. Roast the pumpkin pieces on a parchment paper lined baking tray for 25 to 30 minutes, until browned and tender. Remove from oven and reserve.

In a large pot, combine the chicken breasts, broth, onion quarters, celery, carrot, peppercorns and bay leaf, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a bare simmer, and cook, covered, for 30 minutes. Turn off heat, and let chicken cool in pot. When cooled, remove chicken to a plate and reserve. Strain broth into a bowl, discarding solids, and reserve.

Heat a small skillet with a tight fitting lid until very hot. Place 2 tbsp of amaranth seeds on the skillet, quickly cover with lid, and shake skillet over heat until most of the seeds have popped, 30 seconds or so. Transfer popped seeds to a bowl. Repeat procedure with more amaranth seeds until you have about 2 cups of popped amaranth seeds. Reserve popped seeds.

Place the roasted pumpkin in a food processor. Add about 1 cup of the reserved chicken broth. Process until smooth, adding additional chicken broth as necessary. When smooth, add about ¾ of the popped amaranth seeds, reserving the rest for garnish. Process the mixture, again adding chicken broth as necessary. The consistency should be that of a thick sauce, not runny.

Transfer the sauce to a large, heavy pan. Heat over medium heat, stirring. Add sage leaves, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Thin with additional chicken broth as necessary to achieve the desired pasta sauce consistency. Adjust the seasonings, especially the cinnamon. Simmer until heated through. Add chopped spinach, stirring. Cook over medium heat, covered, until spinach has wilted and is tender.

With two forks, shred chicken breasts and reserve shredded meat.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta, and cook according to package directions. When done, drain.

Place drained pasta in a large bowl (or in individual bowls). Top with pumpkin sauce. Sprinkle with shredded chicken. Sprinkle with parsley and popped amaranth seeds. Serve. Enjoy!

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Fixing Things Up

I am not a programmer. That is for sure. But there are a few things I want to improve here.

A few useful features, for my benefit as well as for others who may want to use the recipes.

So I added a 'Print Recipe' capability.

And even got it to actually work!

The idea is that next to each recipe is a link 'Print Recipe'. Click on it and a new window will open containing only that recipe with a black text / white background format. It also pops up the print dialog box, which you can either close, or select print to get the desired recipe on paper.

I intend to go back and add these links to previous posts. And of course they should appear next to all the future posts.

Just a little thing, but a lot of work for me!

Next will be a recipe index. As I have almost 300 recipes now. Even I can't keep them straight anymore.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Sourdough Experiment Part V – Holiday Prelims

Thanksgiving is maybe my second favorite food holiday.

It misses first place because, first of all, New Year’s Eve was just made for crazy foodies willing to experiment with flavors and presentations. Guests are usually more receptive to fun ideas on New Year's Eve as well. It also misses first place because at Thanksgiving, someone always seems to bring some supposedly sentimental favorite from the past that everyone really wishes would finally be forgotten, but never seems to be (canned green beans cooked in cream of mushroom soup again?!? Yikes! Or that jiggly pink stuff that still has the can imprints on it from when it was slid right from the can onto the serving plate). That always drags down the overall effect.

For a few years, we had a sort of Prime Rib for Christmas dinner thing going on. Which made a strong run at beating out Thanksgiving for second place. But that seems to have fallen by the way side as the roast turkey fans are the overwhelming majority. I think if Norman Rockwell had just painted a rib roast instead of a turkey, we would have had a chance there. And besides, Christmas has so many strong traditions that everyone seems to expect, its just plain harder to try new things.

On the other hand, for Thanksgiving, it’s really just a matter of deciding to break out of the tried and true and slide one or two new things in every year. Some will fail, of course. But some will become instant hits, talked about for years.

Plus, Fall has such wonderful fruits, vegetables, and the weather is usually conducive to some serious cooking and eating. I love the variety of earthy, savory vegetables, like brussels sprouts with chestnuts. Maybe braised with bacon and maple syrup. Or sweet potatoes mashed up with something super spicy in them. Roasted cauliflower. Maybe with some apples as well. All sorts of squashes. Parsnips (yum!). Fennel. Beets. Pears. Nuts. The list goes on and on.

So we tried out a few things that might make the list for this year.

A new attempt at sourdough bread. This time a sort of honey rye whole wheat mix. Which I am thinking will go well with roasted turkey. Not as sour as a pure rye sourdough. But very good!

And two soups. One a roasted pumpkin with cayenne and molasses – hot! The other a roasted sweet potato (actually a yam, I guess), with ginger and lime.

This was the best rising sourdough bread I have been able to make yet. It was about 50% rye, 40% whole wheat, and 10% white flour. With some honey and some olive oil – maybe a quarter cup of each – tossed in. I think the olive oil helped make a much softer crumb. And the honey took a bit of the edge off the sour flavor. It was still there, but not in an overpowering way. It turns out that not everyone wants a strong sour flavor with every meal. Go figure!

The soups are fun ways to turn squashes into something packed with flavor.

I tossed the pumpkin in olive oil and cayenne pepper, and roasted it till well browned. I added the roasted pumpkin to a mirepoix mixture, added some chicken broth, and a good dose of dark molasses. The molasses combined with the pumpkin, bringing out some if its natural sweetness. With just a touch of sage. And the cayenne of course dropped a layer of fire on top.

The sweet potatoes were also roasted, but plain. I then combined them also with a mirepoix mixture, some chicken broth, as well as a few teaspoons of powdered ginger and some lime juice and zest. Everyone liked this soup best. Maybe because the pumpkin soup was truly hot hot hot (wimps all!). In the next version, I think I would be a bit more circumspect with the cayenne pepper, just to make sure the ginger and lime flavor of the sweet potato soup came through as well.

Placed in the same bowl, the two soups provided an interesting flavor contrast. Similar in foundation, because the sweet potato and the pumpkin have sort of similar textures. But diverse in spice and heat. I put a streak of sage infused olive oil down the middle of the bowls mainly for color, but that also added an element of flavor the meshed nicely. With the fresh bread on the side – a real treat!

Recipes will be added shortly.

Print Recipe

Roasted Pumpkin Soup with Cayenne and Molasses
Recipe by surfindaave
Serves 4 as appetizer

1 small pie pumpkin, about 3 pounds, cut into sections, seeds and membranes removed, peeled and flesh cut into 1 inch pieces
olive oil
1-2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp cumin
1 onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
5-6 cups chicken stock
5-6 sage leaves, minced
2-3 tbsp dark molasses, or to taste

Pre-heat oven to 450ºF.

Toss the pumpkin pieces with the olive oil, cayenne pepper and cumin. Spread on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes, or until well browned in places and tender. Remove from oven and reserve.

In a large soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, celery and carrot, and sauté until softened.

Add chicken stock, molasses and sage, stirring to combine. Simmer soup for 30 minutes.

Puree soup in batches in a food processor until smooth. Add additional chicken stock to thin to desired consistency. Serve with a sprinkle of sage leaves if desired. Enjoy!

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Down and Out in SoCal - No WHB :~(

Well, down in any event. For a few hours. Not quite out (football to be watched!).

Between all the high school sports events, the celebration yesterday, making the petit fours the previous day, and illness today, I just could not get something together for Weekend Herb Blogging. So, a weekend off. First time in quite a few months. Feeling better now, but too late to make and post something by 3pm.

Maybe I can post what we had in mind later this evening, even if it is too late for the WHB round-up.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

She’ll only be 50 once!

But 29 probably for the next 20 years, just like for the last 20. I won't say who is having the birthday for fear of life-threatening bodily harm.

Seems like 50 is some sort of bad age. People not being cognac or wine. In preparation for the party, everyone wants to focus on the celebration without any mention of the age. I guess it’s not such a challenge any more in this country to make it to 50. A lot of people try to freeze time at 29. As if that is some magical number for an age. Like a numerical fountain of youth. Just keep telling everyone that and you will stay young forever.

So she is still panting after the hot young aerobics class ‘spinning’ instructor. Spinning away right next to her now early 20’s daughter panting away at the same instructor. Isn’t it nice when families can enjoy similar passions together? I would say that he’s a lucky guy, but since he is apparently gay (current boyfriend in the class as well), I guess he won’t be taking advantage of that opportunity.

Anyhoo, I wanted to make something that I might only make once every 50 years or so for this special occasion.

And I’ll tell you right up front, it was all a lot harder than it looks in these pictures.

I got inspired by the last Sugar High Friday – Petit Fours edition. Especially the entry from Cake or Death’s Liz. She made some really incredible looking stuff called plastic chocolate.

So I looked around on the Web, and found a site called Baking 911, which lists recipes for making plastic chocolate, as well as the foundational layers for the petit fours that will be covered by the plastic chocolate.

Making plastic chocolate is deceptively easy. It’s just melted chocolate, any sort, kneaded together with light corn syrup. When you mix the two ingredients, you initially get a sort of grainy sand. Continued kneading (like for bread dough) results in a smooth, supple play-dough texture. This can then be rolled out as thin as you fingers will allow you to work with it.

I initially made some Genoise cakes, one chocolate, one vanilla, from a basic recipe I found at Joy of Baking. I have never made such a cake before. My first attempt looked spectacular. Light. Fluffy. I even got it cut into three layers, and reassembled with raspberry jam between the layers. I was so proud.

When TeenBoy opened the fridge, it fell upside down onto the floor from the top shelf of the fridge. And was promptly squished to nothing, and embedded with a layer of dog hairs.

I didn’t actually cry. But it took more than a few minutes for me to catch my breath again.

Actually it was a stroke of luck. I made two more Genoise cakes the next day, the chocolate one and the vanilla one, and they both turned out better than the first one. Just to be sure, I only cut each one into two layers. So in the final petit fours, there is only one layer of jam or ganache. Three layers I could just barely pull off. I personally do not understand how the cake can be cut into four layers and still be expected to stay together.

Then we made the plastic chocolate. Half with milk chocolate, half with white chocolate. I added some food coloring drops to the white chocolate after kneading to get the colors.

The two cakes got cut, into 50 pieces of course.

And the plastic chocolate got rolled. The milk chocolate got rolled into large sheets, much like a ravioli dough. Using cacao powder instead of flour. I cut them out so they would drape over the top of the cut pieces of cake and down the sides. TeenGirl came up with the idea of folding the corners over on either side, which made the final presentation look a lot like a package wrapped in real paper.

We then rolled out the different colored white chocolate balls. I could not make a ribbon out of that stuff to save my life. It stuck to my fingers like pine tar, and had no inclination to attach itself to the chocolate wrapped cakes. TeenGirl and TeenBoy both, however, were able to make some very nice ribbon designs on the cakes.

In the end, we tried for 50 petit fours, and got about 24 finished and presentable. I think we could have hit 35 if we had to. The rest was destroyed in various ways. The dog was ecstatic. And we have lots of tasty crumbs to enjoy long after the birthday party!

Print Recipe

Plastic Chocolate – White or Milk Chocolate
Based on a recipe found at
With suggestions added by surfindaave

1 pound white or milk chocolate, chopped into small pieces no larger than ¼ inch
½ cup light corn syrup
Food coloring (for white chocolate)
Unsweetened cacao powder (at least one cup)
Powdered sugar (at least one cup, probably more)

Heat water in a double boiler until it boils. Reduce heat to very low. Place chocolate bits in top of double boiler, and heat, stirring constantly, until most of the chocolate is melted. Remove the chocolate from the double boiler, and continue to stir until all the chocolate is melted, and the chocolate has cooled just a bit.

Stir in the corn syrup thoroughly. At first, the mixture will seem like a grainy mess, but with continued stirring, it will smooth out into a sort of modeling clay type texture. It should come easily off the sides of the bowl, and form a non-sticky (or not too sticky) ball. Wrap the ball in plastic wrap, and let sit until completely cooled and firm.

When cooled and firm, cut the ball into several pieces (4 to 8) with a sharp knife. For white chocolate, you can now dye each ball separately (see below). For milk chocolate, it’s just easier to knead a smaller ball than everything at once.

Knead the plastic chocolate as described below:

For milk chocolate:
Spread some unsweetened cacao powder on a board, and on a rolling pin. Roll one of the balls in the cacao power. With the rolling pin, begin rolling the chocolate out. It will be very stiff at first, requiring some strong force and short movements. Eventually, it will soften up, and can be rolled flat enough to fold over. Continue to roll the chocolate, turning and folding, until it is soft enough to be kneaded by hand. Continue to knead the chocolate by hand, much like for a bread dough, until it is very smooth and resilient.

The chocolate can now be rolled out flat on a cacao powder covered surface to a very thin layer, and cut with a sharp knife into ‘wrapping paper’, ribbons, or other designs.

For white chocolate:
Spread some powdered sugar on a board, and on a rolling pin. Roll one of the balls in the powered sugar. With the rolling pin, begin rolling the white chocolate out. It will be very stiff at first, requiring some strong force and short movements. Eventually, it will soften up, and can be rolled flat enough to fold over. Continue to roll the white chocolate, turning and folding, until it is soft enough to be kneaded by hand. Continue to knead the white chocolate by hand, much like for bread dough, until it is very smooth and resilient.

At this point, food coloring can be added. Wear rubber gloves! Flatten the ball out, dust it with some powdered sugar, and add a few drops (too many and the texture will get too soft to work with!!!), between three and eight drops total, and carefully knead the food coloring into the white chocolate. Colors can be mixed (blue and green to make teal, etc.), as desired. Knead until the color in the white chocolate is uniform. Add additional drops to intensify the color, but do not add too many! Wash the plastic gloves thoroughly between color applications, and be sure to dry them thoroughly as well.

The white chocolate can now be rolled out flat on a flat surface lined with max paper to a very thin layer, and cut with a sharp knife into ‘wrapping paper’, ribbons, or other designs.

Print Recipe

Chocolate or Vanilla Genoise Cake with filling
Recipe from Joy of Baking
Some adaptations by surfindaave

Note – since the procedure is identical for chocolate and vanilla genoise cakes, only the ingredients differ, I have listed the ingredients separately, but the procedure just once.

Either raspberry jam (not jelly) or chocolate ganache (recipe follows)

3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup cake flour (much finer texture than regular white flour, recommended)
1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch process cacao powder
4 large eggs
2/3 cup granulated white sugar
additional flour and butter for greasing baking pan

3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup cake flour (much finer texture than regular white flour, recommended)
4 large eggs
2/3 cup granulated white sugar
additional flour and butter for greasing baking pan

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Place a wire rack in the lower 1/3 of the oven (important to ensure proper hot air flow over the top of the cake during cooking.

Thoroughly butter a 9 inch round cake pan with a removable bottom. Flour the pan, and then flour the pan again with cacao powder. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper.

In a small bowl, heat the butter and the vanilla extract until very hot in the microwave. Reserve.

In a medium sized bowl, sift together the flour and cacao powder (or just sift in the flour for the vanilla cake). Reserve.

In a large heat-proof bowl, that fits into a pan of simmering water, whisk together the eggs and the sugar. Bring the pan of water to a boil, then reduce the heat to very low. Place the bowl with the eggs and sugar over the simmering water, and whisk until the mixture is heated to lukewarm, about 5 minutes. Do not let the egg mixture sit, or the eggs will cook!

Remove the egg mixture from the simmering water, and beat the mixture with an electric mixer at high speed until it triples in volume, about 5 minutes, and becomes thick and fluffy, like whipped cream. It should fall off the beaters in thick ribbons when done.

Carefully sift 1/3 of the flour mixture over the beaten eggs. Gently fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture. Sift ½ of the remaining flour mixture carefully over the egg mixture. Gently fold this into the egg mixture. Repeat for the remaining flour mixture.

Reheat the butter mixture until very hot. Stir. Scoop about 1 cup of the egg and flour mixture into the butter, and fold together thoroughly. Gently pour the butter mixture over the egg mixture, and gently but completely fold the butter mixture into the egg mixture.

Gently pour the batter into the prepared baking pan. Ensure, by tipping just a little, even coverage in the pan. Place the pan in the oven, and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes. When done, the cake will come away from the sides of the baking pan, and will be slightly springy in the center to a gentle touch.

Let the cake cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. When the cake is completely cooled, run a knife around the outside and remove the side of the pan. Let the cake cool some more.

When cake is completely cooled. Set the cake on a raised surface, like a cutting block. A towel under the cake helps steady the cake and keeps it from turning during the cutting. With a very long serrated knife, and a very steady hand, begin cutting the cake into either thirds (if you're brave!) or in half by cutting in just a little ways, then turning the cake a bit, and cutting in a bit, turning, etc. Until a guide cut has been made around the entire cake. At that point, cut the cake into the desired portions, looking at both sides of the knife as you cut, ensuring both sides are in line with the guide cut.

At this point, I slid a piece of very thin but strong cardboard (actually one of those political mailers) into the cut, set a plate on top lined with wax paper, and, using the cardboard to lift, flipped the cake half (or third) onto the plate.

If cutting into thirds, repeat the above two paragraphs.

For the final piece, place a plate lined with wax paper upside down over the remaining layer. Flip the cake over onto the plate. Very carefully remove the cake pan bottom and the parchment paper round from the bottom of the cake layer.

You now have all your layers on separate plates lined with wax paper.

Spread the raspberry jelly or chocolate ganache on all except one of the layers. With someone helping, position the layers one by one over each other, and gently slide the layer off the wax paper onto the top of the other layer, ending with the layer that has no jam or ganache on top.

You now have a completely reassembled cake with filling between each layer.

Using a long sharp serrated knife and a ruler, cut the cake carefully into the desired petit four shapes. Mine were 2 inches long by 1 inch wide.

Decorate with the plastic chocolate.

Print Recipe

Chocolate Ganache
Recipe by surfindaave

200 grams of dark chocolate, cut into bits no larger than ¼ inch
½ cup heavy cream

Place the chocolate bits into a very clean and very dry heat-proof bowl.

Bring the cream to a boil. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate, and let sit for 5 minutes. Stir until smooth and well combined.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Jammin’ with Mugs o’ Guava


Sounds too harsh. Like something from Orwell or Kafka. Something that is inflicted on unfortunate people by dark dictatorships. Not something we do in my cheery little kitchen.

Besides. Sterilize assumes you actually have something to sterilize. Like those Ma and Pa Kettle style mason jars with the funny two-piece lids.

No jars here. We don’t even have any old pickle or mustard jars that have been recently emptied, as we recycle vigorously. My bad, I guess.

But I did find some ancient beer mugs we stole decades ago (!?!) from our old college hang-out. The kind with the false bottom that is actually raised so it looks like you have more beer in the mug than you really do (how dumb could we all have been back then?).

So I washed these things of their decades of dust, collected from a half dozen states. No international dust, as they were in storage for those 12 years. But the storage probably added some interesting layers of yuck as well.

They do look clear again, not yellow anymore, so I deemed them good enough to hold my freshly concocted pineapple guava honey jam.

This was something we immediately thought of making as we tasted the pineapple guavas the other week. The taste was nice, but the effort to get the little bit of flesh out of these small fruits was significant in relation to the reward. So it seemed doing it all at once and having it available for the next month or so as a jam would be infinitely more convenient.

We went with jam, jelly being basically jam’s no-fiber cousin. The goal was to have all the fruit, not just the flavor.

We also used honey, as we are now a ‘no sugar’ kitchen. I have mentioned this before. I thought the honey would work well with the pineapple flavor of these guavas anyways.

So we cooked the pineapple guavas up. Not pectin needed, apparently. The guava must already contain enough natural pectin to create the desired gel-effect. Well, at least that is what I hoped. As all recipes I could find using guavas left out any mention of pectin.

I have to say, that whether the jem gels or not, the wonderfully sweet and fragrant pineapple aroma wafting from the kitchen that enveloped the entire house is reason enough to cook up a batch of this fruit. Wow! Like moths drawn to light, everyone began immediately coming by for a closer whiff. Hoping it was something for immediate consumption, disappointed to find they would have to wait.

I started with about two cups of pineapple guava fruit, seeds and skin removed. Tossed it with the juice of one lemon, cooked that down a bit till soft, then added one half cup mesquite honey, and one half cup agava nectar.

I boiled this mixture for a while, maybe 20 minutes or so, and tried to do the droplet test to see when it was done. Apparently, you drop droplets of the cooking jam onto a damp saucer, and observe whether is gels. If so, done. If not, cook more. The danger being that if you cook the jam too long, the result will be too thick and hard, like toffee rather than jam, to spread on toast. Well, I’m not much of a jam expert. So I dropped droplets for a while until, taking a look at what was cooking in the pan, it was clear to me that the stuff cooking would almost certainly be thick enough when cooled. I think I have to try this droplet test again sometime.

The results? Delicious. Simply delicious.

An ethereal combination of pineapple and honey. I am sure guava is in there too, but since I am not an expert on guava flavor, maybe I’m mixing it in with the pineapple. In any event, very nice.

The only disappointment, at least temporarily, is that my next batch of sour dough bread is not ready to go yet. I just started it yesterday, so it’s not even bubbling yet. It will be a rye and whole wheat combination. I guess the jam will have to wait a few days for the real taste test!

Pineapple Guava Jam
I found the initial recipe on a sort of Hawaiian recipe page, and adapted it
Recipe from Rotaman Recipes, adapted by surfindaave
Makes about 2 cups of jam

Ripe guavas (I had about 2 pounds of whole pineapple guavas)
Juice from one lemon
½ cup honey
½ cup agava nectar (or use brown sugar)
Water (just enough to cover fruit)
Jam jars (sterilized)

Cut the pineapple guavas in quarters. With a sharp knife, slice the peel from the flesh. Remove the seeds. When making guava jam the outer yellow skins and the seeds are not used. Put the quartered guavas in a large heavy saucepan. Add the lemon juice, and pour just enough water into the saucepan to just cover guavas. Boil briskly until the fruit is all pulpy or soft. Remove from stove.

Measure out this fruit mixture, you should have about two cups. I combined the honey and agava nectar and used about 1 cup of that mixture to the two cups of fruit. Some might want to use more sweetener, but I found this to be plenty sweet. Put the fruit and sweetener into a big heavy saucepan and keep boiling briskly, stirring every now and then until a little dropped onto a wet saucer begins to gel or thicken.

Appearances can be deceptive, the jam mixture may look and seem to be runny, while it is boiling away merrily on the stove, but do not be fooled by this. If it is over-cooked it will become hard and almost like toffee when it has cooled down.

Remove from stove and while still hot fill all the jars. Make sure they have good tight lids. This jam can keep for months.


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