Sunday, November 28, 2010

Olive You!

Full disclosure: I forgot the ice cream at home on Thanksgiving, AND the brioche was really disappointing (the lack of rising the night before just led to rolls that were just OK).  Upside - I can have the ice cream all to myself (muahahahahahahahaha!).
However, Thanksgiving dinner was still lovely.  It was a smaller family gathering, but wonderful nonetheless.  There was plenty of food, something for which we all gave thanks.  After all, while modern media might have one think that the day is all about gluttony, the real reason behind the holiday is, of course, to reflect on how lucky and fortunate our lives are.

We had so much food, in fact, that we were able to make several lunches and small dinners out of the leftovers this weekend.  Of course, I worked to use our vegetable share into the meals, too.
We got more dill this week, but I didn't feel like pickling anything, so I found a rather simple spinach and chickpea recipe that utilized dill.  Instead of spinach, I used some arugula and mizuna, which I hoped would make up for the fact that I didn't have any onion (I also used the rest of our CSA garlic to boost the flavor).

In addition, I used the last of the cranberries by putting them inside a baked acorn squash.  The color was quite pretty, but I think that since I was loathe to add that much sugar to my original cranberry dish, the finished product was a bit tart; I would use a little honey next time, which will also smooth out the squash slightly.
The chickpeas were tasty, too, although I always always always underestimate how many greens I'll need, so the greens-to-chickpea ratio was not quite balanced.  That being said, I would most definitely use the arugula in this recipe again, as I didn't miss the onion at all.

Today was a "what do we have" type of day.  I have been wanting an olive burger, something which I had never heard of until our stint in Michigan.  We cooked a few Morningstar® patties and threw on a slice of Swiss cheese.  
Meh - they were OK.  I think, though, that the saltiness of the olives really works far better when there is a real beef patty next to it.  Something about the flavor of beef, the mildness of the cheese, and the olives make the taste something that can't be repeated with a veggie burger.  Oh, well.  The latkes, our side dish of the evening, more than made up for the disappointing result of the original main dish.
Instead of potatoes, we used the radishes and turnips we got in our veggie share this week.  These latkes were amazing.  They were simply flavored - just salt and pepper - but they were phenomenal.  The depth of the flavor that the radish and the turnip added made them better than any potato latke that I've ever had (and I have had some amazing potato latkes).  I was so sad that the count was only two apiece...and that hubby liked them as much as I did, so he didn't want to share.

The last thing I did today was make a kalamata olive bread.  I found this recipe quite a while ago and have been wanting to make it for ages, but I'll be honest - I was too lazy to go get bread flour.  That changed today when I went to the store for other sundries (yogurt for Wee One, basically), and I decided, what the heck?  
I don't like rosemary (in a similar manner to the way I don't like basil), so I just omitted that.  Everything else I duplicated as much as I could - I don't have a cloche, and if I weren't completely out of room for any more kitchen toys, I would totally be getting one.  
I was pleased with this end result.  We didn't wait the full two hours to taste test it - I mean, come on - TWO hours?????  It was, instead, dessert.

I do think I'd make two changes that were not noted in the original recipe (other than the whole get rid of the rosemary part):

  1. I would rinse the olives at least a little - the briny taste was a little overpowering, so the balance of bread to olive was a bit off.
  2. I would cut the olives into smaller pieces, at least in half lengthwise.  Some of the bites were all olive, once again throwing off the aforementioned balance.  

But that just means I have to try this recipe out again... and again...

Last thing - I opened the fridge pickles with dinner, too.  I was really happy with them!  They were a touch sour, to I think I'd cut the vinegar and up the salt a little, but they were nice and crunchy, and I know they'll be great on sandwiches!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


I'm tired, but I feel like I am juuuuuuust about ready for Thanksgiving tomorrow.  We did not have school today (a wise decision, as so many students and their families head out the day before Thanksgiving to get to wherever "there" is on time), so I spent the morning cleaning and laundering.  OK, I did a little grading, but that was only to get caught back up because one of the servers was down for a while, slowing everything down.  But I did not grade a single essay.  Those can wait.
After the folding and the hanging and the vacuuming was done, I ran a few errands.  The most important of these was getting the ice cream.  No, I didn't go to Safeway or Fry's or Basha's.  I went to Udder Delights out in Gilbert.
I confess; I have wanted to go there for a while.  The shop is a drop-off location for Desert Root Farms, but it's a really good thing that Bergie's is closer, as I might be getting a cone each weekend instead of just a biscotti.  Of course, when one sees the name, Udder Delights, one can't help but look up the website.
Of course, once you get to the website, you want to see the flavors.  U.D. has regular flavors, available year-round.  These include sugar cookie (with real sugar cookies) and bubble gum (meh - not my favorite, but always a hit with the kids).
There are also seasonal and monthly flavors, like pumpkin cheescake.
Earlier this month, I checked out the new monthly flavors, even though I was really hoping that "ice cream weather" was just about over.
And there it was.



Ice Cream.

Omigawdomigawdomigawd!!!!!!   Red velvet flippin' ice cream!!!!!!!
Clearly, I had to investigate to see if the product was worthy of such a title (can you tell I love red velvet cake?).
Thankfully, I put myself in charge of dessert for tomorrow's family feast, and what better treat to go with pie (more on that later) than ice cream?
So, it was the last errand on my list today.
The people are great; I was told that since this was my first time visiting, I was REQUIRED to sample at least three flavors of ice cream or sorbet, but I was allowed to sample all of them if I wanted to.  I sampled only 4, but what a four:

  • apple pie (seasonal)
  • sugar cookie
  • cinnamon streusel
  • and, of course, red velvet

The red velvet was a gorgeous vermillion that looked as rich as the cake for which it is named.  But smooth?  No.  Mixed in are HUNKS of chocolate and regular cheesecake.  Not little nibbles, mind you.  These chunks are so large that one is an entire bite in and of itself.
My final order was a quart of the apple pie, and quart of the sugar cookie, and a waffle cone with what must be the world's largest single scoop of the red velvet.
I had eaten the whole thing by the time I got home.

At least I'm sharing the apple pie (left) and the sugar cookie!

When I got home, I put my precious cargo in the freezer and then turned my attention to the pie crust that I had to make and the biscotti that I wanted to make just to make.
The pie crust is easy; I like Martha Stewart's pate brisee recipe for a two-crust pie.  It's fabulously simple to make, and it doesn't call for any of that shortening nonsense.  Yes, I know; I am trying to use this blog to see how I can eat healthfully, but 1) this is a holiday that I'm cooking for, and 2) I am morally opposed to using shortening in a pie crust.  So, the pate brisee mixed up easily, and it's now chilling in the fridge, waiting for its apple-cranberry filling tomorrow.
We still have a boatload of frozen bananas, so I found a banana biscotti recipe.  I did modify it, using white chocolate chips instead of cinnamon chips (apparently a rare beast here in AZ)  Then, I wanted something more appropriate to the holiday at hand, so I tried some cranberry-orange biscotti as well.  The banana biscotti turned out nicely, although, as per my aversion to baked goods bearing bananas, I based this determination only on the lack of burning and the lovely cinnamon smell that pervaded the kitchen.

Unfortunately, today, the score appears to be Allison: 1, Oven: 1.  That's right, the cranberry-orange batch, the second one I made, decided to get a leeeeeetle crispy on one side.  I think I can salvage but scraping, but we'll see - while the banana still had a hint of softness to it, the cranberry-orange feels brittle, and I'm almost afraid to take it out of the "air proof container" where I placed them all.

Right now, I am waiting to finish step 2 of the brioche rolls I am baking tomorrow.  I will be honest, even though I had some good success with my pain complet (take 2), I am still terrified.  The mood of yeast, as any aspiring baker knows, fluctuates with the wind, and even though I have been waiting for the dough to rise for slightly more than the prescribed hour, it doesn't appear to have risen all that much.  The last thing I want it puckish rolls, so I'm toughing it out for a bit more and praying to the gods of all things buttery, yeasty, and French that things turn out well.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Quite the Pickle

I was excited to receive dill this week in our CSA share, although that excitement quickly waned when I realized I really have no idea what to do with dill except to make tartar sauce or as a garnish over salmon.
I confess that I do enjoy a well-made tartar sauce (lots of pickles, lots of dill), but making it is beyond my abilities; I can't make anything with mayonnaise as the main ingredient.  It honestly makes my gag reflex step into overtime.  So tartar sauce is out (plus, then I'd have to make fish and chips, and that's just too much work).
And we don't have any salmon.  I know I can go out and get some, but we are in Arizona, not known for its consistently great seafood selections.
The only other use for dill, in my mind was pickles.
As luck would have it, we had an Armenian cucumber in the fridge; it was in our share last week, so I found this refrigerator pickles recipe by Martha Stewart.  I have no idea what a kirby cucumber is, but I figured that the Armenian one would be fine.
I knew that wouldn't use all the dill, and we also had a TON of okra (I'm so not tired of it yet, but hubby is, it seems), so I figured that I could pickle those, too.  So, I found this pickled okra recipe from my Food Network hero, Alton Brown.  Since this was an actual canning recipe, I sliced and salted my cukes as per instructions and then ran to the store for more canning lids and some dill seed.

But then, after I started the process of chopping the garlic and adding it to the pot full of vinegar, aforementioned dill seed, and mustard seed, it occurred to me that we had just received a lovely bunch of jalapeño chiles, courtesy of my mother-in-law's garden (also home to what must be the world's largest basil plant).  So, I decided to change the plan and use, instead of dear Alton's recipe, one from Emeril - BAM!
I have to say, the smell of the brine solution cooking was enough to clear my sinuses.  But it was quite lovely to see the mixture come to a boil anyway.

I am really, really, REALLY hoping that we get more garlic in our share next week.  We have gone through all of it, and I had to actually cut back on how much the okra recipe called for, which was disappointing.  Pickled garlic is something that I fancy a great deal; garlic is my favorite olive stuffing, too, so I'll be sure to be spearing the chunks out of the jar along with the pickles.

When all was said and done, I had two jars of the pickle chips and four jars of the okra.  Because we were warned that the chiles were pretty hot, I was convinced to only put one of each in TWO of the okra  jars.  That way, if those jars end up melting our mouths, we can salvage the other two (at least that's the idea).

Sadly, I am not able to report on the taste of either batch.  While the pickle pickles are only fridge pickles, the recipe still instructed me to wait a week before digging in, and I don't want to be disappointed in any lack of flavor.  I'm counting down the days until I can crack open one of those jars.  The okra, on the other hand, is going to take a month to mature, so that might just be a Christmas "surprise" for us.
No matter what, I'm pretty stoked - with the exception of the two seeds in each recipe, all of the plant-based ingredients came from our CSA.  While I'm certainly no woman of the 1800s, canning and preserving because it's a way of life, I am making use of the foods that are available to me and making sure that I am not wasting them.  And that's the important thing.  In this season of gluttonous excess, the notion of wasting food when others have none is utterly repugnant to me, and if spending an afternoon smelling of vinegar and dill can help keep me from taking what I have for granted and thus focus on how I can ensure that fewer do go hungry, then it's paid for that time tenfold.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

C is for Cupcakes!

***Editor's note:  this really isn't a "good food" post.  In fact, I highly recommend NOT clicking on the cake recipe link if you don't want to be able to hear your arteries clog up as you read.  But when your Wee One has a birthday party, it's time to get your sugar/fat/cholesterol on any way you can.

It was the weekend of the cupcake!  Princess Rufflebottom's birthday party was upon us, and I decided that cupcakes would be easier on me than a tiered cake like I did last year.
Perhaps that would have been the case were it not for the subsequent decisions I made regarding the party and/or cake:
  • We would have a general Sesame Street® theme instead of just Elmo.
  • HRH never travels without CookieDuckieElmo, aka the Primary Color Posse, so there would be three theme colors: blue, yellow, and red.
  • Cupcakes would be blue, yellow, and red, iced with matching icing.

OK, so that meant three different batches of cupcake batter and three batches of icing.  In one KitchenAid®.  
Sooooo, I got up at 6 and began strong.  For many cakes in the past 5 years, I have used this cake recipe.  BE WARNED:  Do not click on this link if you do not want to see what went into the batter, which includes an entire cup of melted butter.  The recipe makes for a very moist, decadent cake, and I've been very pleased with the results before.
It may not be the best recipe for cupcakes, as every cupcake fell a touch.  No one noticed, though, since I just made sure to fill in any divots with extra buttercream.
The bonus, however, was that it makes more than the normal 2 dozen.  I got 33 cupcakes out of my first two batches, which were red velvet and yellow almond (the beauty of that recipe is that you can modify the flavoring however you want it).  After that many cupcakes, I figured it was probably a good bet that I didn't need to take the time to create a blue batch, too.

So we were on to the buttercream.  Yellow.... red which turned out more pink even though I used all the red coloring I had in the house (red, brown, and black a a major pain to create, as one has to use a LOT to make what was originally a white or off-white icing that brilliant a hue)... blue which was also a little too light for my liking for the same reason as above.  Whew!  OK, KitchenAid®, you can take a much-deserved rest; you worked hard today!
After having to modify the cake color plans, I decided to ice 16 in each color.  The red velvet cakes were either yellow or blue buttercream.  The yellow almond cakes were either red or blue buttercream.
Each icing color got its own tip - two different sizes of starbursts for the yellow (seemed appropriate) and blue, while the red ended up looking like roses (that was actually unplanned; I had visualized swirls, but when one is a lefty, the angles are always different, resulting in waaaaay different looks than normally advertised).

Of course, the goal was for people to enjoy the taste, not just the look, but I was really pleased with the way they all looked together.  I do think that the next time I make cupcakes on this scale, I'll have to do some work the night before so I am not scrambling to get showered before the party begins (I don't want to scare people off).  I also want to see how I can make that recipe more uniquely mine in the future... once the price of butter goes down a bit.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Missing That Je Ne Sais Quoi...Again

It's FINALLY feeling like fall.  Well, fall for Arizona.  Temperatures are chilly in the mornings and evenings, but they become pleasant enough to have the A/C off and the windows thrown open during the day.  Thus, we have entered Soup Season.  
Yes, I know I made (and posted about) a soup a few weeks ago (before the technical start of the season), but since it was a touch disappointing, I thought I'd try again.  I liked the concept of a squash and apple soup, but I didn't want to feel like I was eating liquid pie - soups, if I may opine for a tick, should have more savory tones than sweet.  
Thankfully, my most recent issue of Vegetarian Times included a recipe for a squash-apple-leek soup at the same time that we received not one but TWO butternut squashes from our CSA.
(NOTE - I apologize - this recipe isn't on the VT website, even though it's this issue's "cover model.")

Since my mom is in town making a pilgrimage to visit HRH, I decided to make use of the long weekend that I have to make not only the soup but another attempt at my pain complet.
This time, I did three things differently:

  • I used filtered water instead of tap water.
  • I let the dough rise the ENTIRE two hours (plus a bit more; I ran out to an errand, which helped keep me from peeking).
  • I added a second rise.  

Upon review of the original recipe, I noticed that there was only one rising, so before the lovely ball of deliciousness was popped into the oven, it sat for about 45 minutes.  I think that this, along with the other two alterations I made to my own actions, helped make the end result less dense but still chewy enough to feel like I am eating something of substance.
The soup was next.  Last weekend, I made a vegetable stock out of the veggies that were, um, looking a touch peaked.  I can honestly state that this soup was made by me from beginning to end.  And the winery that contributed the 1/2 cup of white wine.  But basically me.  Sadly, the store was out of leeks (Seriously, who was getting the leeks?  I never see people buying them; I've even had cashiers ask me what they were), so I used an onion instead.
I was joined in the kitchen by my PIC, who made a lovely salad with the remainder of the arugula and mizuna, along with some julienned Granny Smith apples, hakurei, and Easter egg radish.  If that weren't enough, he took some of our garlic and roasted it so we had something nummy to spread on the pain complet.
Topping off the meal was a hash made of the last apple, potato, sweet potato, Easter egg radishes, turnips, and hakurei, tossed in olive oil, kosher salt, and pepper.

Well.... the hash was, as usual, awesome.
The bread - lovely.  It was especially nosh-able when smeared with butter and the roasted garlic.  I probably could have enjoyed that and gone to bed a happy woman.
The salad was great, too - refreshing and clean tasting.  The mizuna and hakurei melded nicely, and the arugula finished each bite off with, um, well.... a bite.
But.... sigh.... the soup was just.... lacking.  I can't lie - I've never been happy with a butternut squash soup recipe.  Every one that I have tried has been kind of "blah."  There isn't even a good word to describe how I feel about these soups.
I will say that this soup was not as sweet as the acorn squash and apple soup of last month, but to be honest, I think that the feeling that that first soup left in the mouth was bigger, and it left me a bit more satisfied.  I think I did use too much stock for the amount of squash that I had, even though I tried to add another apple to the mix to add a little "meat" to it, but it turned out really thin.
I'm not sure I'm ready to throw in the towel and admit defeat on the butternut front, but I think my next soup WILL include some different ingredients.