Sunday, May 31, 2009

Farmers' Bounty

I played a gig at the local farmers' market on Saturday. We don't get paid, per se, but we accept produce and cash tips. I walked away with $14 and a bag of beautiful potatoes, squash, cucumber and snow peas. What a great way to start the weekend!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Yogurt do's and don'ts

My yogurt making usually goes swimmingly. It's not rocket science; in fact it's super easy to do. We're talking about 15 minutes hands on time, 4-8 hours hands off time (go to work, go to school, go to bed, whatever) and, voila, yogurt!

All you need is:
  • about 1/2 a cup of plain yogurt
  • 2 quarts of milk (any kind will do; I usually use 2%)
  • a (preferably) nonstick pot*
  • a whisk
Optional stuff (but it's nice to have):
  • a medium to large bowl (to move the hot milk to so it cools down more quickly)
  • a thermometer (you can judge the temperature using your finger, but this makes me more comfortable and confident)
  • dried milk
  • 2 quart size yogurt containers (from back when you didn't know you could make your own)
Really optional stuff:
  • cheesecloth or (clean) old t-shirt (if you want to make Greek yogurt or something that approximates it)
  • mix-ins (honey, vanilla, berries, sugar, fruit, etc)
Here's what you do:
  1. take your milk and yogurt out of the fridge (it's good to let your yogurt warm up a bit)
  2. pour the milk into the pot and put it on a medium burner
  3. stir occasionally (with the whisk or something that is safe for nonstick pots if you're using one)
  4. check the temperature after a few minutes and continue doing so until it reaches somewhere between 120◦-140◦ - I usually aim for 125◦.
  5. take the pot off the burner - pour the milk into a separate bowl if using
  6. leave it alone to cool down to about 115◦ (5-15 minutes) - if you are not using a thermometer the milk will be at the correct temperature when you can stick your finger in and not have to pull it out immediately (or so I'm told, I did it once and it worked...but then I got my thermometer back from the friend I'd loaned it to)
  7. when the proper temperature is reached whisk** in the yogurt - go ahead and mix in a few tablespoons of dry milk at this point too (it makes the yogurt a little thicker)
  8. cover that puppy up - I cover it with aluminum foil and then wrap it in towels to kind of incubate the yogurt - then I usually put it in the oven or microwave or somewhere out of the way.
  9. after 4-8 hours you'll see that a miracle has occurred - uncover the bowl and there it is, a bowl of yogurt
  10. pour it into the yogurt containers (or whatever you will keep it in) and put it in the fridge
  11. DONE!
If you want to make a thicker (Greek style) yogurt strain it using a mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth or the t-shirt. The time on this varies; you'll have to play with it. The results range from slightly thicker yogurt to labna (almost cream cheese consistency).

Here are the 2 main don'ts 
  1. do NOT, I repeat DO NOT, forget to whisk or at least stir the yogurt + milk mixture 
  2. do NOT forget to leave the yogurt + milk mixture out - DON'T put it in the fridge
You may not like it at first if you've never had plain yogurt. It's a bit more runny and definitely has more of a bite to it than the stuff you buy at the store, but it's also cheaper (by about half, even if you buy nice/organic milk) and customizable. I love it, and I hope you will too!

*I don't generally love nonstick cookware, however, when heating up milk it's kind of a godsend. It's easy to let milk get too hot and scald; if it burns onto the bottom of your pot there is NO way it is coming off...ever. Well, it will, but it takes a lot of work! I've soaked pots for 3 days and it's still nearly impossible to get off. Use nonstick and it peels right off.

Let me count the ways...

Have I mentioned how much I love powdered milk. I've used it three times since Wednesday (and I finally got to the new package that has a spout - I'm thrilled). 
  1. Whole Wheat and Oatmeal Bread - A step away from my standby, but very delicious. I used an entire cup of oats with no noticeably poor effects. The dough is a bit more, um, substantial, than I'm used to (though I've never used all whole wheat flour either...and that full cup of oats probably didn't help), but the bread itself is great and slightly chewy. 
  2. Yogurt - The first time I made it it was a disaster, that happens occasionally, more on that later. Second time around was a win.
  3. Arabian Pita Bread - I find pita bread intimidating for some reason. Here am I, making bread every week, but pita bread is horrifying. I made mini pitas; they are pretty darn cute and delicious. Not all of them puffed up like they should to make the 'pocket', but I don't really care. Wonderful recipe that apparently freezes well, I've got about 12 left for the freezer.

Incidentally, I used all King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour in both of the breads. I love that stuff too!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Grapes that is. Pickled grapes. I made these a few weeks ago, the same day I made the chicken and dumplings. Once again, I stole this recipe directly from Deb over at smitten kitchen. Her pictures were just so pretty - I needed some of my own.

They really are pretty tasty. Not my favorite things in the world, but nice and sophisticated. They're a good snack; they're not too pricey (especially when you have cinnamon sticks that you've never used); I think you could use them to dress up a cheese course. I wouldn't do this every time I have a bumper of grapes, but I'll probably make them again.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Recipe Cards

I'm currently bidding on a neat old recipe card tin. I've looked around for some recipe cards online, but I either hate them or they are way too expensive. So I decided to make my own. I haven't printed any out yet, but I'm very pleased with my creations! 

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Dad's hamburgers!

My dad makes the best hamburgers, and I haven't had one in at least 4 years. Until today that is. Yum! He learned how to make these in graduate school from his major professor. I finally got him to show me how he does it; he always adds the caveat that he doesn't really know what he's doing and doesn't measure whenever I ask him about it. Fine, I get it, I just need to know what's in there! And here it is:
  • Start with ground chuck, about a 1/4 lb per burger
  • Put this in a large bowl (in an electric mixer if you have it)
  • Add a few generous glugs of BBQ sauce
  • Next add a hearty splash of Burgundy (cheap stuff does fine)
  • Now a few good shakes of onion salt 
  • Followed by a few equally good shakes of garlic salt
  • Finally, add a few drops of Worcestershire sauce
  • And mix mix mix
Now you need to make patties. Make a ball and then flatten it out with your palm. Dad suggests going around the edges with your thumb, pressing them and smoothing the outside so they don't crumble and fall between the grates. 

Put the patties on a hot grill, starting around the outside (the coolest part) and working your way inside. Keep an eye on your watch; they only need to cook for about 5 minutes on the first side and 4 on the second. Try to move the outside ones to the center and vice versa when you flip them. 

Now all that's left to do is fix your bun and enjoy!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Better cakes

I like to make most things from scratch, but I usually use a boxed cake mix when I'm baking cakes (unless it's some kind of crazy/special cake). Cake mixes are pretty good these days (so I'm told*), but there is a trick that will make your cake mix cake taste better. Instead of dumping in whatever amount of water the box calls for do this:

  • Add a heaping teaspoon of yeast to 1/4 cup of warm (~110◦ F) water in a pyrex measuring cup
  • Sprinkle on some sugar
  • Leave alone for a few minutes, until a foam forms and it smells all yeasty. It's a good idea to do this before you start making the rest of the cake; it should be ready by the time you get all the other things up and running.
  • Use milk to fill the measuring cup the rest of the way (to whatever amount of water the box calls for) - be sure to measure from underneath the foam NOT on top of it
  • Proceed as directed

*My mom has a master's degree in home ec. This is a trick she picked up back in the day - I imagine cake mixes were much more nasty back then.

Monday, May 18, 2009

I'm happy this is in my kitchen #2: White Whole Wheat Flour - King Arthur

I love making bread. I haven't bought a loaf of sandwich bread since I read this post a few months back, which, incidentally, turned me on to powdered milk, another one of my favorite things. I love the recipe, but I was slightly disappointed with the ratio of whole wheat to white flour. I've made a rock-like loaf of whole wheat bread before, so it's not that I don't understand why there is so much white flour, I just don't like it per se. Then I remembered I had bought some King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour. This stuff is amazing. I read an article about it in a magazine a year or so ago, and I've been buying it ever since. I've been toying with the ratio ever since, and since I've been making this bread (about once a week), I haven't had bad results. I made a loaf yesterday with about 3/4 www to 1/4 white, and it's great. 

The flour itself is lovely. Most whole wheat flours are really gritty, with relatively large chunks of bran or germ or something. This is nothing of the sort. It has a little heftier constitution than the ultra-processed white stuff, but it's still fine and deliciously powdery. It's a little more expensive than regular flour (around $4-5, and it goes on sale with some frequency at my store), but if you're getting quite a few homemade loaves out of it, come on, you know it's worth it.

Apparently they have a whole grain cookbook; I may eBay or Amazon this!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

How to use fruit purees instead of fats in baked goods

I've always found this interesting, the idea that you can use apple sauce instead of oil or butter and everything will turn out great. Seems suspect. Not that I haven't done it before; I used apple sauce in place of oil in sugar cookies once. They weren't bad per se, they just weren't that good. And now I know why. I was listening to public radio on the way to my parents' house and the Splendid Table was on. I remember when this show came out, but I never got to listen to it because it's on Sunday mornings and I was being dragged to church; more recently I just forgot about it. But I found myself in the car on Sunday, and Lynne and I were cruising south. Anyway, a woman came on with a question about subbing apple sauce or other fruit/carrot purees in baked goods, and here's what we both found out:

  • You should NOT sub purees for fat in recipes that use the creaming method. In other words, most cakes and cookies ("cream butter and sugars..."). These baked goods get their fluff from the sugar cutting through the fat and creating air pockets. No fat, no fluff, end of story.
  • You should NOT sub purees for fat in recipes that use beaten eggs as the fluffing agent. I was thinking angel food cake...but that doesn't have any fat, you know, other things with beaten eggs.
  • You CAN sub purees for fat in recipes that basically don't fall under the other 2 categories. Anything where you can dump all the ingredients. Things like carrot cake and hummingbird cake are perfect candidates (I'm debating box cake mixes...maybe). Lynne was most excited about the possibility of brownies, especially using a prune puree. (brown-laxies. yum!) Seriously though, that sounds delicious. She said it works great with anything chocolate.
  • On a final note Lynne (don't you love that we're on a first name basis) said that you shouldn't sub puree for all the fat, because, well gosh darn it (channeling Alton Brown), it tastes good. (and it serves other functions...)
So, let's review. No purees in cookies or anything else using the creaming method. No purees in egg-induced fluffiness. Go puree-crazy in brownies and 'dump' recipes. But don't leave out all the fat.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

An aside from my usual

I usually don't cook "southern" food. Fatback just doesn't do it for me, neither does heavy whipping cream (well...sometimes it does), and no I don't want any chitterlings (chit'lins), but thanks for asking. Despite this, I decided that yesterday was the day that I was going to foray the southern smorgasbord, and I came out with a recipe for chicken and dumplings. Granted, they are chocked full of tarragon and thyme, somehow I don't think that's traditional, oh my but they are tasty. I won't go through the recipe, as I'd be stealing it straight from Deb over at smittenkitchen, but I will tell you that it is superb - we're talking posh nouveau-southern restaurant good (yes they have those).

As a recovering vegetarian, I think I did pretty good with raw, bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

This I was much more used to. Aren't leeks beautiful?

It's been such a long time since I've cooked with meat; I must admit, it smells delicious.

Butter and vegetables. Yes.

The dumplings were surprisingly easy. They're just flour, baking powder, salt, milk and fat.

They puff up like profiteroles...

...and they are phenomenal!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

First day of summer and recipes

Yesterday was my first free day; I had exams and papers and presenations all week, but Friday was free. And so, I cooked. I decided to make some rosemary chickpea soup. I've recently acquired this blender (c. 1978?) so I decided to mix (all of) it up in there. Danger. Luckily it worked out better than expected, and, luckily, I was smart enough to put a towel over the top of it before turning it on. It's a great soup, one of my favorites, and it's super easy and quick. Highly recommended.

That was lunch. A friend was coming into town for dinner, and we were going to go out to eat, but then I remembered it's graduation weekend around here and everyone's parents are here taking their darlings out to dinner, so I called that off and made Pad Thai instead.

Basil Curls

This is my favorite Pad Thai recipe (and the only one I've ever made, so that's not really fair, but it's good). It is adapted from, of all places, The Joy of Cooking. First, a word of advice - this is one of those recipes where you should probably adhere to mise en place Having all of these things set up before you start will really help; this is stir-fried so once you get going you can't really stop.

serves 4 (heartily)
the hardware:
  1. 2 cutting boards (or chop all your veggies first or clean it in between)
  2. 1 wok or skillet + vegetable or peanut oil
  3. cooking utensils of choice (separate ones for the raw shrimp/chicken if you use it)
  4. 1 one cup pyrex liquid measure
  5. 1 large plate
  6. 4 small plates
  7. 1 small bowl for eggs
  8. 1 soup bowl size bowl for shrimp/cornstarch/sesame oil
  9. 1 heat-resistant pot or bowl for noodles
  10. 1 colander
  11. large serving platter
the goods:
  • 1 t cornstarch
  • 1 t toasted sesame oil
combine the above in a bowl that's large enough to fit all of your 
shrimp in, I usually eye-ball it with no problem

mix with cornstarch/oil
  • 3 large eggs (beaten)
  • 1/2 c green onions (roughly chopped - the JOC suggested 1.5 inch long pieces - I don't ever put 1/2 a cup because that's a ton; I just buy one bunch and use whatever I get out of it.)
  • 2-3 chilis (red if you can get them - use your judgement here about the seeds and ribs)
  • 4-6 cloves garlic (minced, the JOC says 2 T)
put the 3 above on a small plate or in a bowl
  • 4 oz firm tofu (drained, cubed, 1/2 inch) - you can substitute chicken if you're not into tofu
put on small plate or in a bowl
  • 1/4 cup Thai fish sauce* (nam pla - you can use soy sauce; it won't taste the same but still good)
  • 1/4 lemon juice (sometimes I use part or all lime juice)
  • 3 T sugar
mix the 3 above (I usually do it in a liquid measuring cup)
  • 1/2 c bean sprouts
  • 1/3 c roasted peanuts (roughly chopped)
  • 1/4 c fresh basil (chiffoned)
  • 1/4 c fresh cilantro (chopped or not)
  • 2 t dried shrimp, ground (optional, I've never used these; you have to get them at an Asian market I believe)
  • 1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 t black pepper
put the above on a larger plate (the JOC suggests doing this in a clockwise manner, with each ingredient separated - it makes it more ceremonious, but I think you could just dump them in at the same time)
  • 6 oz rice noodles
Before you start on the stir fry you need to submerge these in hot water. The JOC says to let them soak for 20-30 minutes. I did that the first time and they were mushy. I find 5-10 minutes is more like it; I like them al dente.
  • limes and peanuts for garnish
*this is easy to make vegetarian. just use a whole package of firm tofu instead of shrimp and soy sauce instead of fish sauce

the game plan:
  1. peel, chop, mix etc.
  2. your shrimp are supposed to hang out in the cornstarch for 15 minutes or so, so I like to do that first
  3. the noodles also need to soak for at least 5 minutes (and they go in the stir-fry, so you need to do that early on too, just don't forget about them)
  4. heat oil on medium high to high in wok (JOC says 1/4 cup, which I think is absurd, I use like a T); don't let it smoke
  5. cook shrimp until they are almost done - you're going to add them back later and you don't want them tough - this won't take but about a minute if your oil is hot enough - remove shrimp to a (clean) plate
  6. if you use the chicken, I would go ahead and cook it now, thoroughly, removed to clean plate
  7. add more oil if necessary, cook eggs (Do this like you're scrambling them; keep them moving. Remove them to the chicken plate before you think they're done, they will continue to cook, and they are going back in later.
  8. clean out your pan if there's egg residue and add more oil (a few Ts) and allow it to heat up
  9. add the garlic/onion/chilis plate
  10. stir constantly allowing garlic to begin to brown
  11. add tofu (if using) stir for a few minutes until it begins to get color
  12. add noodles, stir to coat
  13. add fish sauce/lemon juice/sugar, stir well, coating noodles
  14. add shrimp and eggs (and chicken), stir
  15. add all the ingredients on the plate (either in clockwise order, stirring in between, or just dump), stir well
  16. DONE - remove to a large platter/bowl (I usually just take it off the heat...but a serving platter sounds fancy doesn't it?)
  17. enjoy with plenty of lime juice and peanuts

Thursday, May 7, 2009

I'm happy this is in my kitchen #1. Powdered Milk

You know what I love? Powdered milk. Gross right? 


But hear me out. I don't drink milk - the only time I buy it is to make yogurt - so buying even just a pint to use for the occasional recipe that calls for a cup (quarter cup, splash, tablespoon) of milk yields at least half a pint of spoiled milk. Solution? Powdered milk. It's right there in the baking aisle, and it's super cheap. Really, it is! It seems expensive up-front because you're going to drop $6-9 depending on how big a box you're buying, but you're getting gallons of milk out of it. And it doesn't spoil. And you can bake with it, and make French toast with it,make buttermilk with it (1 T lemon juice/cup), and, apparently, drink it (though I've been told you should chill it very well first). 

This is the reason I bought it. I'm almost done with my first box and bought a second last time I was at the store; this time I went with the pourable variety, which I would recommend unless you're planning on making large quantities at a time (the other option comes in packets to make a gallon). 

The Hillbilly Housewife - This is a cool website in and of itself, and it provides plenty of uses/ideas/conversions for powdered milk.
101cookbooks yogurt - I don't do my yogurt exactly this way, but I throw some powdered milk in when I think about it.

Perhaps perhaps perhaps...

I would love for this blog to be *amazing*; here's the plan:
  • post my favorite pictures and talk about them
  • post my favorite recipes (or the most intriguing ones) and pictures of them...and talk about them
  • be witty
  • be relevant
  • be intelligent
  • be entertaining
  • talk about some of my favorite kitchen gadgets and ingredients
I'm excited. Thanks for dropping by.