Sunday, July 31, 2011

Mmm ... cookies

Update: I couldn't find mixed spice on Friday, so I went ahead and made my own, figuring that I would find something else to do with the remaining mixture later. I was surprised at how readily the cookie dough formed in the food processor and how easy the dough was to work with ... as long as the surface is properly floured. My first few attempts, my cut-outs got distorted trying to pull them up. It is surprisingly hard to get a properly formed heart that way. (Yes, I know. Heart cutter = girly. Forgive me.)

Again, not sure what the desired size of these cookies was supposed to be - there's no "yield" notation on the recipe - but Nigella suggested about twenty minutes of bake time, and I had mine out after twelve. That's not even in the ballpark. I've noticed in general that her recipes tend to assume an oven that is much cooler than mine, so ... bake with care.

I used my leftover white chocolate icing to great effect here.

Final verdict (cookies):
These are not as flavorful as I expected, but they have a subtle tang to them that could become addictive. Would try again.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Shattered Dreams

Or at least, shattered blenders. Read on.

So I started early today by preparing the vegetables for the carrot and coriander soup. This involved a lot of peeling, for which I wore my zesting protection glove. If I don't use it while zesting something soon, it will begin to have identity crises much like my roasting pan.

The mixture needed to go into the slow cooker with boiling vegetable stock. I attempted to boil it in the microwave, but it stubbornly hovered just below bubbling ... and then I realized that it was starting to evaporate, so I decided that extremely hot would have to be good enough. Then I wandered away to occupy myself with aspects of my life that are not relevant here, but involved a great deal of nothing worthwhile.

Next step was to get the pistachio poppy bread in the oven. Surprisingly, I didn't have enough poppy seeds, so spontaneously went light on this. No great loss - it popped plenty after it popped out, later on. When pasting this recipe into my blog yesterday, I had noticed some reviewers stated it was dry, but decided to make it as-is this first time around.

I find pistachio meal mesmerizing. Honestly, I could have just inhaled the entire bowl of ground pistachios, but then I would have a rather small, flavorless loaf of poppy bread.

However, the reviews did point me in one good direction: several noted that the bread baked for far less than an hour and ten minutes. If I may hazard a guess, it may be because these intrepid reviewers did not use a glass loaf pan ... but not having one, either, I decided to start 45 minutes. I had it out a little shy of that, perfectly cooked and maybe just beginning to edge towards brown at the ... edges.

Final verdict (bread): This is a very dense and slightly dry bread, but it's tasty, with that distinctive snap of pistachios. I will probably try it again with more liquid, as suggested.

Onwards to the Ladies' Thighs. Not sure whether it was the recipe or if it was me - though I followed what was printed verbatim - but after it was fried up, this mixture refused to stay in a single, cohesive ball (or rather, multiple, cohesive balls, singularly) long enough to apply the flour coating. I finally managed to mash them into submission, but it was a messy experience.

Speaking of messy experiences, I learned the hard way that you cannot pour liquid into the bowl of a food processor while it is detached. After sending a cascade of vegetable broth across my counter, I got the processor resituated ... and it was still leaking. I swapped hastily to the blender. (Remember I mentioned the blender above? Well ... wait for it.)

Anyhow, the soup pureed very easily for all that buildup. I tossed it in the pan with the celery tops and chopped coriander, then added the milk. I went to "gently heat" it to "piping hot," only to discover it was already in that state. So it sat with the burner at off while I wrassled with frying the Ladies' Thighs.

The dog, by the way, long ago saw me with frying pans and ran to hide.

I decided that the kitchen was so messy I had to clean up a bit before attempting to eat,so I delved into my sink. The blender was sitting upright in the sink. At a bump, it tipped over and ... a large triangle-shaped section broke away. Given the temperature of the soup mixture when I pureed it, I believe the glass got too hot. Alternate theories are the age of the blender or just the universe being obnoxious.

Finally decided that the rest of the cleaning would have to wait and dug in.
Final verdict (soup): A very hearty, flavorful soup with a thick texture - fun to eat and easy to make (pureeing adventures notwithstanding). Definitely would make again.
Final verdict (ladies' thighs): After all the effort ... not worth it. Virtually flavorless.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Menu Plan: Weekend of 7/30

This weekend, I still have dessert left over from last week. (Dessert: the best of leftovers.) However, I have a meeting with my harp mentor on Tuesday, and I intend to bribe with cookies, so the plan is to make them Monday evening or potentially Sunday daytime. I want them to be fresh, but I have a crazy week ahead of me ...

Here's the lineup:

Carrot and Coriander Soup - Best-Ever Slow Cooker One-pot & Casserole Cookbook (Catherine Atkinson and Jenni Fleetwood)
Ladies' Thighs - Unknown Turkish / Mediterranean cookbook
Pistachio Poppy Bread
Christmas Decorations - How To Be A Domestic Goddess (Nigella Lawson)

All right, they're technically Christmas cookies, but they're a nice, generic, mildly spicy cookie. Substitutions to note:

The soup and the ladies' thighs call for one onion each. I will be using an onion to divide between the two.

Ladies' Thighs: This calls for sunflower oil to fry. Regular vegetable oil will be used here. Says to serve with lemon wedges, which I will skip.

Pistachio Poppy Bread: One of the reviewers says that the pistachios on top make it difficult to cut, so I will skip the additional quantity.

Christmas Decorations: Not making the frosting - I have a quantity of white chocolate frosting that still seems (and tastes) very good. I won't be frosting all the cookies, maybe about half. I managed to find three small-to-medium cutters that weren't Christmassy: a heart, a star, a hegaxon (how geometrical) and a circle. I also have a set of Easter cutters (... I have no idea why), but those are no more appropriate.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Slow Cookery, Fast Cookery

As mentioned in the last post, I started cooking Friday evening - specifically, around 8:30pm, when I popped the condensed milk into simmering water, which was reputedly supposed to produce toffee. Now, I've had some issues with recipes from the ice cream recipe site before, and I had to spend a lot of time checking the water and turning the heat up or down to maintain a gentle simmer, so I honestly didn't expect this work. I figured I would end up with either a burnt mess or ... still have a can of condensed milk. Imagine my delight when, the next morning, I popped open the can and there was delicious, perfect toffee.

But that's getting a little ahead of myself. First, around midnight, I popped the chicken, seasonings and salsa in the slow cooker and set my alarm for 7am, at which point, I wobbled out of bed, disturbed my dog, and turned the cooker off. Back to bed!

I woke up to get on with the ice cream and discover aforesaid toffee. I made caster sugar as I usually do, pouring the appropriate amount of regular into the Oscar, running it, and then carefully opening it whilst sugar dust poofs ominuously in the air.

Interesting bit about this recipe - there's no instructions about where to add the cream, so I made a reasonable guess to add it into the eggs and sugar right before the hot milk. Results seem to suggest this was, if not the intended course of action, then an effective one. This ice cream together like a dream - I was actually shocked how fast the custard cooked. Once more to my ice bath in the roasting pan, which continues to be used as anything but a roasting pan, and then into the ice cream maker. Took longer than I expected to form up, close to half an hour. While it ground away, I started on the cake ... but that's the next story.

Final verdict (ice cream): This is an awesome ice cream, rich and addictive. My only complaint is it's a bit slimy, doubtless due to the toffee. Next time I make a recipe from this site, I am going to experiment with cutting back on the flavoring. (Did I say that last time and forget? Probably, but what was I going to do with extra toffee? Oh, right ... eat it.)

When I started on this cake, I had the unpleasant discovery that the maple syrup I had bought was not sufficient for this cake. I used as much as I could while still reserving some for the frosting and added a little bit more water, figuring that the additional liquid was necessary but knowing that maple syrup was more viscuous.

I must have been knocked off my stride by this: I forgot to butter and line the pans before pouring the mixture. I rescued it, cleaned the pans, buttered them ... and poured it back in again without lining. At this point, I just threw up my hands and went with it. Also note that I didn't have (or couldn't find) eight inch cake pans, so I had to use nine inch.

But luck was with me, for with a little knife application, out came the cakes, whole and perfect. The frosting, however, would have to wait until after my gig ...

Meanwhile, I tore apart the chicken with forks and stuck the slow cooker back on.

Off to the gig in a church without air conditioning. (This is not a good idea, brides to be - not if you want to get married in July.)

Once back, my first mission was to get the rest of the ingredients into the chicken and corn chili - namely the corn and the beans. Since I couldn't find Mexican canned corn, I used regular canned corn and added dried cilantro (no fresh on hand today) and adobo peppers. (As a note, I only had three chicken breasts, but it was probably about the same amount of chicken intended total. Everything's big in Ohio. Nope, it's not Texas that makes everything big, it's Ohio - at least when it comes to food.)

Next step was the cat head biscuits, which involved literally the last amount of flour I had - it was exactly the right amount, including the cornstarch added to make cake flour. Another butter-rub dough, this time with shortening as a double-threat, but with a vegetable-spray ... sprayed measuring cup, it worked perfectly.

Stay with me on this one now ... while the biscuits worked in the oven, I started on the maple frosting for the cake. Trying to find a handheld electric whisk produced this weak and wandering handmixer, which I decided to try because the larger handheld, I didn't think I could support in my hand for 5 - 7 minutes straight. Bad mistake: it got the icing only halfway there, whereupon I decided to just whip by hand. I still didn't get the icing completely to meringue, but I got it close enough to get a lovely texture.

And the frosting was definitely worth it: sweet, gooey, perfect texture. Not as mapley as I would have liked, but again - quantity issue.

When the biscuits came out, they had completely filled the cake pan. No need for alarm: the borders were still apparent, and careful application of a spatula caused them to sproing out fully formed.

Just like that: time to eat!

Final verdict (chicken chili):
My version, at least - I can't claim this was the recipe verbatim - was spicy but not too spicy, tender and just about perfect. My only issue is the beans were a bit undercooked - I would add them an hour earlier or so. Any longer, and I imagine they would liquefy.

Final verdict (biscuits):
Not too sure about these - that have that addictive, slightly sour bite that comes from buttermilk, and they're quite fluffy, but mine also came out a bit gooey, too. Might try them again and see if that's the recipe or just my doing.

Final verdict (cake):
This is a decent cake - and the icing / frosting is excellent, as noted above - but with the quantities I ended up using, it lacks maple flavor, and I just wasn't wild enough about the taste or the texture to want to try it again. If you are not as much of a cheapskate as I am and are willing to spend the money on the maple syrup, feel to try it, but I'm not confident the end result would be worth the expense. I have no problem shelling out for ingredients, but it had better be excellent.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Menu Plan: Weekend of 7/23

I put together a menu intended to work around my mid-afternoon gig, including shopping this evening and - gasp! - starting dinner. I still can't figure out how the timing on this recipe is supposed to work. It says 6 - 8 hours on Low in the slow cooker, shred the chicken, then 3 - 4 hours more. If you want to eat at 6pm, that entails starting as early as 6am. I don't even understand how that's a practical option for anyone of the human persuasion.

So I'm going to start it late tonight, set my alarm so I turn it off after 7 hours, potentially shred the chicken before I go back to bed (because come on, it's Saturday!) and let it sit until I'm ready to leave for my gig. I'm hoping it won't overcook. I'm also noticing that these thing has a ton of five-star reviews on its site, so ... great expectations, starting now.

Here's this weekend:

Chicken and Corn Chili
Cat Head Biscuits - Unknown Cook's Country 2009 - 2010
Autumnal Birthday Cake - How To Be A Domestic Goddess (Nigella Lawson)
Toffee Ice Cream

I'm a bit nervous about the flours, since I need cake flour, self-rising cake flour, and regular flour. In all probability, what will happen is I'll just make cake flour out of regular and self-rising, respectively, since I have a reliable recipe for cake flour.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Making A Hash Of It

As usual, started with dessert today - cappuccino cupcakes from Nigella Lawson. I noticed this morning that the recipe specifies self-rising cake flour, so I followed a handy-dandy formula (from my mother, not the internet) to make some with self-rising flour. I figured if regular flour + formula = cake flour, then self-rising flour + formula = self-rising cake flour.

This appears to have been roughly accurate, though the cupcakes did bake with bizarre mushroom clouds on top. In any case, the batter was a breeze and incredibly delicious: I wanted to inhale it and never mind actually making the cupcakes. Resisting impulse, I continued - not quite enough batter for a dozen cupcakes, so I craftily made eleven. They cook very quickly: I did them for fifteen minutes, not twenty, and might in hindsight have cut an extra minute off.

I'm not usually a fan of white chocolate, but I decided to make this recipe verbatim, and the lightness of white is very appropriate here. However, the frosting recipe made a quantity far exceeding what was necessary for the number of cupcakes ... so, stumped, I decided to save it for some kind of nefarious use on a batch of cookies.

Final verdict (cupcakes):
Rich espresso taste, sweet frosting - almost cloying, but perfect in context with the bite in the cake ... this cupcake is tasty and not too heavy. Would definitely bake again.

After a break, I started on the enchilada casserole. To dice two cups of chicken without polluting my measuring cup, I stuck plastic wrap inside the cup. I was mildly surprised by the spice combination here: I always think of cumin and coriander as Indian. I was concerned when I opened the green chile peppers that they were bad, but a can with no expiration date determined me to make a leap of faith.

I didn't have a 11 x 7 baking dish - mine was actually 11 x 8.5 - but all cooking times seemed to work identically with the exception of the final time to crisp up the cheese, which went very fast.

While the casserole was in the oven, I worked on the potatoes. To me, diced is a very small cut, so I cut them quite finely ... apprently, more finely than the writers of the recipe wanted. When I poured them into the pan, application of the spatula caused the potatoes to disintegrate. I was hinging perilously on mashed territory.

Next step, chorizo. The directions for this recipe are deceptive. I just assumed it should be raw, since I've never seen pre-cooked chorizo, but step 3 refers enigmatically to "heated through," which implies to me they mean cooked. Since I'm familiar enough with the proper consistency and taste to know when chorizo is done, I decided to roll with it and kept the mixture in a few minutes longer to cook it through.

The final step of the recipe reads to mix in the cheese, "trying not to break up the cubes of potato." That ship had already sailed. I decided to roll with it and ended up with not quite mashed potatoes - more of a hash.

In previous posts, I've boasted about my uncanny ability to get everything ready at the same time, my miniature disasters canceling each other out. Apparently, I need to make a certain amount of mistakes to get my timing right, because it failed me this time. The potatoes took too long to come to a boil, which meant the casserole was out well before I was done with that dish. Still, thirty seconds in a microwave cures all ills. (Not recommended for medical conditions.)

Final verdict (casserole): Flavorful, filling and satisfying, though it feels like something is missing here; I couldn't quite identify what. Would make again.

Final verdict (potatoes): The flavor combinations are quite nice here - a well-rounded dish, though I'm not sure if it would meld quite the same way if the potatoes were cut properly. Would try again with larger pieces.

Finally, after my food had settled, I set about making the blackberry lassi. Could not be simpler: dump everything into the food processor, go to town, adjust honey to taste, and then strain out the seeds.

Final verdict (lassi):
I didn't get the expected creaminess or bite from this lassi, so it missed for me. Proportions were off somehow for my tastes. I'm going to keep searching, as I'm sure there are more recipes for this.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Menu Plan: Weekend of 7/16

It's been a busy, productive day: I even managed to finish my shopping before getting my menu up here, since there will be workmen invading the yard and making my dog crazy tomorrow. Maybe I can set off the smoke alarms again and traumatize her more. I seem to be using my stovetop a lot, though at least I'm not juggling three separate stovetop offering this weekend.

Instead, I'm going Mexican, indulging in some caffeination, and finishing off with a glug of India:

Layered Chicken and Black Bean Enchilada
Casserole - All Tried & True Slow Cooker & Casserole

Potatoes with Chorizo and Green Chillies - unknown

Cappuccino Cupcakes - How To Be A Domestic Goddess (Nigella Lawson)

Blackberry Lassi

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Vim and Vinegar

I meant to check out the currants today, but I was so discombobulated with everything else going on in my life that I forgot and just bought raisins.

I decided to do the chutney first so it could cool. I was stunned to discover that a standard-sized packet of dried apricots contained only a bit more than a cup of diced apricots, so I was forced to slightly-more-than-halve the recipe on the fly. I'm not sure whether I overestimated the amount of malt vinegar, or whether the recipe doesn't cut down, but I think the inside of my nose was burned clear every time I leaned over the burner.

Once the chutney was on the heat, I prepared the cookie dough to go into the fridge. This is the third or fourth time I've mixed tiny bits of cold butter into a dough, and this time, I think I got closer to the mark - but I still find that the butter starts to melt even before I get into the dough. I'd say I have warm hands, but I know that's not the case. Trust me, I love circulation at the drop of a hat. This is, yes, a problem for a harp player.

Final verdict (Chutney): I liked the melding of flavors, but there was simply too much malt vinegar taste remaining for me. Would try it again and use half as much. It also took longer to reduce than advertised - closer to 45 minutes.

While dough was in the fridge chillin' out, I put together the wet masala blend for the beef vindaloo. Discovered when I went to fry up the spices that cinnamon bark is not the same thing as a cinnamon stick ... oops. So I didn't get as much cinnamony goodness as I would have liked. Also, food processor oozed orange. Bits of wet masala everywhere, I tell you.

Just as this is the third or fourth cold-butter dough I've worked for an English scone / cake / cookie, this is the third or fourth dough where it has been too sticky to use a cookie cutter, even after refrigeration. I tried rough-forming the dough with my hands, but the problems didn't stop there: it was nearly impossible to flip the cookies, even after they had pan-cooked fully on one side.

Too much butter? Not enough butter? Lots of variables, but less butter in the pan seemed to help. Smaller cookies, perhaps? Seems likely, given the amount left. Definitely discovered that three is the maximum number of cookies one can safely do at a time. Ah, the mysteries - a good half-dozen variables to juggle.

Final verdict (cookies): For all the hassle, these are the soft, "meaty" griddle cookies I remembered. So would definitely try these again, changing some of the steps in an attempt to get a better results.

Onwards with the beef vindaloo! Not much more to tell, except that I chose the perfect pan despite myself and being quite sure I had the wrong one. Once it was on the long cook, I started on the pilau and ... once again ... discovered quantity issues. Not quite enough basmati rice; mixed in some arborio to approximate the remainder, more or less because that was the closest rice to hand.

Sidebar: I really need to get myself some cardamom pods already.

Final verdict (beef vindaloo): I cooked this for ten minutes longer than advertised, but even though the mixture was boiling, not simmering (despite me turning it down a couple times), it still was tough when I took it out. Beyond that, I didn't think it had a great deal of flavor other than generalized heat. Would not bother repeating. Sorry, Aarti!

Final verdict (fruity pilau): As with the last pilau recipe (same book), a simple, flavorful rice. It comes out very fluffy and not at all mushy, with just enough taste to be interesting on its own.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Menu Plan: Weekend of 7/9

Where's the beef? This weekend, it's on the menu.

I don't cook with beef much because it's more expensive and I frequently find that - with all the specialty ingredients and produce I'm buying - my grocery list is pricy enough as it is. However, this recipe really appealed, so I succumbed. Last week was practically vegetarian (bacon doesn't count!), so let's go for it.

Here's the roster:

Goan Beef Curry with Vinear: Beef Vindaloo
Apricot Chutney - 500 Indian Recipes (Shehzad Husain, Rafi Fernandez, Mridula Baljekar and Manisha Kanani)
Fruity Pilau - 500 Indian Recipes (Shehzad Husain, Rafi Fernandez, Mridula Baljekar and Manisha Kanani)
Welsh Cookies

I am so excited about the Welsh cookies, you have no idea. It's somewhat ludicruous.

Substitution notes:

Pilau: Calls for cardamom pods. (I was actually going to break down and buy these, but Kroger's - surprisingly - doesn't have them. Anyone know where, short of mail order?) Will use appropriate amount of ground.
Cookies: Calls for currants. Going to use raisins, unless I can find currants. Which might be easy. Never really looked.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


Today's lineup was complicated by the fact that I had some work to do, so I was back and forth a lot .. and plagued by inexplicable, silly errors due to distraction.
While preparing the coffee ice cream, I decided to use some of the K cups I had accumulated - so it wasn't just fresh coffee ice cream, it was fresh hazelnut cream coffee ice cream (say that three times fast). I filtered two or three times and still didn't get all the grounds out, though it was a minor enough amount not to matter.
What also didn't matter - luckily - was the fact that I managed to push the filtered coffee off one of my kitchen boards, causing some of it to spill on the stove. I tried to use a turkey baster to recollect it. No such luck. Having previous experience with the recipes from this site, I decided that it would be all right.
And it was, but I'm afraid that I undercooked the mixture. After forty minutes in the ice cream maker, the result was still liquid - so I dumped it into the freezer and hoped. What I ended up with was some kind of Italian ice mixture, definitely not ice cream.
Final verdict (ice cream): That said, the flavor was excellent, the texture still good, and I think the error was mine, so I will put this one in my file to try again.
Then I set about preparing the cookies, a process slightly complicated by the necessity of running out between the melting of the chocolate and the prepping of the batter. I was stunned when I saw the size of each cookie: a quarter cup of batter? 10 - 12 cookies total? (I had failed to notice this upon original inspection.) This mixture produces impressive, puffy uber-cookies.
I did have to make one substitution on the fly: the only semi-sweet chocolate chips I had were minis, which I figured would simply melt rather than remaining as a textural element, so I used milk chocolate instead.
Final verdict (cookies): Very good, very rich, and somewhat melty even after fully baking. The texture of the espresso bean is a trifle gritty, but not enough to take away from the result.
After another break, I started on the batter for the corn fritters. This was the first time I had ever tried to peel kernels off a corn-cob with a knife, and I realized it was harder to do than I had anticipated. My chosen chili was a jalapeno, and of course, with my usual sagacity, I licked my fingers after cutting it.
Next step, frying the bacon for the casserole. This was the first time I had ever chopped bacon, too - it was a landmark day of cookery! - so I was surprised how hard this was, as well. Really, I just need to start assuming things are nigh impossible and work backwards from there. It did not produce as much bacon fat as advertised, so I added an additional amount of oil to avoid smoking issues.
Slapstick of the evening: when I opened the top shelf to get my uber-grater for the cheese, the bottom panel flew down and struck me square in the middle of the forehead. More annoyed than injured, I commenced with simmering the pasta. This involved wine. This involved wine in a bottle that will not fit upright in my refrigerator. I have it laid flat. I pray it doesn't spill. I had to eyeball the amount of pepper, as I didn't have any pre-ground, just a grinder and a strong wrist.
Whilst the pasta simmered, I set about frying the corn fritters. When I put the second batch in, the oil started to sputter. By the time I got the third batch out, it was having a grand old time sending out random pings of oil. Then I had the brilliant idea to take it off the heat and put a little water in.
Some sixth sense had me retreat to the other side of the kitchen.
The oil exploded. It started popping, jumping and sizzling like an uncovered load of popcorn. My main concern was getting safely back to the stove for the pasta. My dog, on the other hand, went downstairs and hid by the fireplace.
Once the oil stopped spitting, I crept back to finish the casserole. I had to retrieve the dog, who was determined to stay where she was.
Final verdict (casserole): This is very good, rich, creamy and with a distinct bite from the Pecorino Romano. It's also quite easy (unless you have spitting oil nearby).
Final verdict (fritters): These are a perfect mix of crispy and soft with just enough spice (if you use one jalapeno with no veins or seeds - other combos, your mileage may vary). They're also almost entirely corn and chili - the flour and egg are unobtrusive binding agents.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Menu Plan: Weekend of 7/2

This being a holiday weekend, I intend to cook for Saturday and Sunday, and then the plan is to buy hot dogs, potato chips and potentially some kind of other treat for 4th of July. So I will make decadent, questionably healthy food for the weekend, and then I will eat trashy, definitely unhealthy food for Monday. I can feel the pounds coming on

The line-up is a bit carb-heavy, but that's all right with me - I don't have a lot of vegetable recipes, something which my mother keeps chiding me for. I thought that the ice cream and cookies would go well together, so I am rather proud of coordinating those:

Skillet Carbonara Casserole - Unknown Cook's Country 2009 - 2010 issue
Corn Fritters - 500 Indian Recipes (Shehzad Husain, Rafi Fernandez, Mridula Baljekar and Manisha Kanani)