Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sweet and Sour Pumpkin Pancakes

Alright guys, this is a two-for-one recipe day. I was laying in bed a couple nights ago, thinking about pumpkin. I guess I'm thinking about a different food each time I'm laying in bed waiting to fall asleep, but this time it was pumpkin. Mostly because I'd forgotten I had that big pumpkin left, until Ross came up to me the other day and mentioned that the pumpkin had mold in a little spot on the top near the stem. Naturally, I figured I had better get to work processing that pumpkin immediately, so I did it the next day. :) I only lost a bit of the top that I wouldn't have lost otherwise. The seeds are sitting in a bowl of water now waiting for me to have time to roast them. The rest of the pumpkin has been sliced, rind on, into 4"x1" pieces, after which I flash froze it, bagged it (4 bags) and laid those in the freezer to hard freeze. I already had 3 cups of pureed pumpkin left in the freezer, plus some pumpkin ravioli filling (which is now in the fridge), so I didn't want to make any more mash. Aside from that, it occurred to me that by declining to mash-then-freeze my pumpkin, I have greater flexibility in my cooking with it. If I need more puree, I can thaw, roast and puree. This way I can roast-and-eat pumpkin, grill it, cube and stir fry it, and all sorts of other things. I think I'll do it this way for the rest of my life now. No more being locked into mash!!

Anyway. After I got done, I had about 1/16 or so of a pumpkin left that wasn't being frozen, and I cut off the skin and diced it into 1/2" cubes, then threw it in the fridge to use later. Ah, fresh produce. Happiness. Love. Fulfillment. So laying in bed that night, I thought about pumpkin stir fry, and I thought about (and talked with Ross about) putting tiny pieces of squash and scallops in raviolis instead of a mashed-type filling. And then I thought about pancakes, and I decided that's where I needed to go with these little cubes. Instead of putting the pumpkin in the pancakes, I decided to put it on the pancakes. And so because of that, you get the pancake recipe my mother always made, which dates back to 1842 (I have no idea whose recipe this is originally or how it came to be in my family), and you have the pumpkin ... uh... chutney-like, I suppose, topping. Hope you enjoy!

The Pancakes (I actually make half recipes of this, and it's still about twice what Ross and I can eat. I don't measure the salt, baking powder or soda)

2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup melted butter
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda

Whisk eggs until light, then add buttermilk. Add dry ingredients, stirring until just combined. Stir in butter. Cooked on greased griddle.

The Pumpkin Stuff (I will make extra of this next time to put on ice cream)

1/4 cup butter
3 cups fresh pumpkin, cut into 1/2" cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup each: brown and white sugar
juice and grated rind of each: bergamot (or lemon) and wekiwa orange (or other mildly sweet orange)
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine first 3 ingredients in a skillet and cook until squash starts becoming soft. Add remaining ingredients and cook down until thick, chunky and where the sauce is a sauce but not super runny. Pour over pancakes, ice cream, or whatever you like.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Sweet Potato with Israeli Couscous

I found this little sweet potato next to the pumpkin. I think I mentioned this to y'all already. It's weird to me that I keep finding root veggies and squash tucked in various places in the house. Was I trying to hide them from myself? Was I developing some sort of storage system that I don't actually remember any of the details of? I have no idea, really, but given that we've been low on produce lately (though you'll see that change in the next Saturday Spending), it's exciting when I find this kind of stuff hanging out awaiting rediscovery.

Because risotto has effectively become our home's "lazy meal," I did this in a similar style. I didn't use a normal broth, since I mainly was just looking for a spice combination in the broth and not a meat or veggie flavour. I feel like this worked out pretty well, and it nicely accented the sweet potato, in a way that doesn't rely on sugar to make the sweet potato have a place on the table (I guess y'all know I really do prefer the savory uses of this root). Hope you enjoy!

4 1"x1"2mm slices ginger (I got this out of my freezer, but you could use fresh or dried slices)
1 tablespoon dry cilantro (or a large sprig fresh)
1/4 teaspoon dried (or 1 teaspoon fresh) orange peel
10 peppercorns
1 star anise
1 teaspoon kosher salt
6-8 cups water

2 tablespoons each: butter, olive oil
1 tablespoon harissa or other hot sauce/paste
1 medium sliced red onion
salt and pepper to taste

1 clove garlic, sliced

1 1/2 cups couscous

1 sweet potato, roasted, peeled and cut into 1/2" cubes
5 sliced pickled cubanelle peppers (alternately, you could use fresh peppers, pickled jalapenos, whatever works for you)
salt and pepper to taste
1 avocado, diced

Tie up all the spices in cheesecloth or in a metal strainer. Put them and the water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes. Remove spices and leave simmering. In a skillet over medium or medium-low heat, melt butter with the olive oil. Add in the harissa, onion and salt, and cook about 15 minutes. Add sliced garlic and cook another 5-10 minutes, until garlic begins to brown on edges and appear crispy. Stir in couscous and fry until it darkens slightly. Add in one cup of broth at a time, stirring. When pasta is nearly cooked (this takes about 5-6 minutes, and roughly half the broth), stir in sweet potato cubes and pepper slices, and cook until everything is heated through and pasta is cooked to your desired level of doneness. Serve with avocado cubes. Serves 2-4.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Saturday Spending

Well, you'll be surprised by this. Although my pantry is getting dangerously low, I've not had time to really dedicate any of my attention to fixing it. Lately, it seems that we eat a LOT of risotto. Mainly because it's so easy to cook and it only takes about 40 minutes total. And I have night classes, 'n stuff. So all I got was rice. Because I think we're almost always out of medium grain.


$2.56 - 5 pounds medium grain rice

total: $2.56

How was your shopping? Are you dreading the billion dollar trip to the store like I am? Or are you mostly set and just getting incidentals?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Food Waste Friday

This week? Not perfect. Interestingly enough, as I was cleaning down the bread table, I discovered there was a large piece of cake that snuck by us. I think the cake was probably several weeks old. It hadn't molded somehow (which is particularly strange given the humidity in Houston - magic cake, huh?), but it looked so tremendously stale I opted against eating it (or making Ross eat it; he said he'd had a piece the day before and that it was quite stale but that he'd muscle through that one if I really wanted him to. He's a good garbage disposal). So we wasted that. But that's it, so I'm comfortable with this level of waste. I'm taking it mostly as a lesson to look under foil covers and the like to make sure nothing is escaping me.

And, just FYI, recipes should be resuming again next week. I've got three piled up from this week for you, and although I'm spending most of the weekend away from my kitchen (we're going to this rodeo cook-off thing, which I don't know much about I guess because I'm from California and not Texas, but evidently it's quite a big event in Houstonian culture, plus of course too much work, and my Sunday tutoring job that always results in an amazing sandwich from Victor's, something I'll never be sad to eat, plus prepping for my French exam with friends which necessarily will involve some sort of yummies; hopefully at House of Pies, and my homework, of which there is a LOT), it's possible I'll cook some other stuff too before Monday rolls around. Anyway, once I get caught up, there'll be a string of recipes for y'all to enjoy. Some bergamot, and some not (I know some of y'all are probably tired of the bergamot, even if I'll never be tired of it).

How'd y'all do in the waste department this week?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Candied Bergamot Peel

Still going through the bergamots, and it's wonderful. When I made the bars, it necessarily left a lot of rind behind, and of course I couldn't let it go to waste. I cannot imagine the horror I'd feel if I actually had to say I wasted a single part of the most precious fruit in the world. So... Yeah. I thought about it, and I was considering doing the spoon sweets, but I just didn't feel I had enough rind for this (since it was rind from only 3-4 oranges), although I've since changed my mind. Small jars of spoon sweets would be better for me to make anyway, I believe, since I tend to treat them in an addict sort of manner. I thought it'd be nice to make another candy, but I didn't want to really mess with standard candy making this weekend. I am simply drowning in homework. Drowning. Really. Like, as I understand it, Ross misses me. Y'all probably get more communication out of me right now than even my neighbours do. So I thought candied peels would be the way to go. They're awesome, you never want to shove the entire batch in your mouth at one time (or maybe you do? I don't coat them in chocolate so I can avoid this problem), and they're super sweet without being cloyingly so. This is a four day process, the way I make them now, so be prepared. The four days are spent doing virtually nothing, but it's not a candy I just toss together and eat a few hours later. Hope you enjoy!

peel from up to 6 oranges, cut into thin strips
2 cups sugar, plus another 1/4 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon bergamot or lemon juice

Place the peel strips in a bowl of water, weighing down with a slightly smaller bowl. Let sit out until the next day, then drain and repeat the process. This goes on for three days. On the fourth day, drain them and plop the peels in a saucepan with 2 cups of sugar and 1 1/2 cups of water, plus the juice. Bring it to a boil, stirring occasionally (if you remember) until the sugar melts. Then, simmer over low to medium-low heat for about an hour, or until the strips are mostly translucent. Drain, reserving syrup, and toss them in the quarter cup of sugar, shaking to coat evenly (I do this in a Tupperware container). Remove from sugar (don't throw away any leftover sugar - put it in your coffee or tea, or just eat it with a spoon) and place, separated from one another, on wax paper. Let sit overnight. Enjoy.

Alternately, instead of rolling them in sugar, you may choose to simply strain them, dry on wax paper, dip in chocolate and then dry on wax paper again. It's up to you. I eat them too fast this way, so I generally try not to make them this way anymore.

There're a couple options with the leftover syrup. You may use keep the syrup in a jar and use it to flavour things (that's what I'm doing with this batch, because I'm truly enjoying the homemade Earl Grey tea blends I'm making these days). You may also do what Lisa does, which is boil it to the hard crack stage, let dry on a silpat on a baking sheet and hammer into... well, it's brittle, but Lisa calls it crack (because it's addictive like crack) and then eat lovely pieces of hard candy. This is what will be happening next time I make it. The idea of what effectively amounts to being bergamot jawbreakers is more than I can bear to not experience. You may also cook it down a little more, using it in place of maple (or other) syrups on pancakes, biscuits, etc. You could can it if you wanted, so you have the syrup year round. You could use it as the base for a sorbet as well. There's a lot to do with the syrup, so keep it and enjoy it!

As an aside, this method is completely applicable to the rinds of any citrus fruits you may be playing with right now. So while it is true that this recipe is for bergamot, feel free to use it for navels, sevilles, tangerines, limes, lemons, grapefruits, whatever!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Saturday Spending

Not a ton of spending this week, but a couple incidentals. Ross didn't know there was chicken in the freezer until I said, "hey, while you're at the store would you get chicken too? We're almost out." "Almost?!?" was his response. Evidently he didn't know that we had meat in the house, since I haven't cooked it in a month or more. I need to make a massive produce and rice trip, but I'll get to it when I have time to really stock the pantry again. So here's how it went.


$7.99 - 4 pounds chicken breast
$3.78 - gallon milk (ew)
$0.00 - butter (yay Kroger for free stuff)
$3.48 - orange juice (have y'all ever tried campari and orange juice? So much love)
$5.38 - 10 pounds bread flour

total: $20.63

Friday, February 17, 2012

Food Waste Friday

Happily, I have nothing to report today. There's been an utter lack of waste, which is pretty amazing. I don't know if this is because the only food we've bought in the last.. what, month? has been related to camping, or just because we've been doing better. But regardless, I'm pleased.

How'd y'all do?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Bergamot Bars

I really like lemon bars, but I never make them. Never. I'm really not sure why, given that my love of sour citrus is not something unknown to be a routine feature in my recipes. Ross has been asking me for months to please make some lemon bars, and I've just been putting it off for some reason. But then, of course, the bergamots arrived and that changed everything. I'd actually forgotten about the usual lemon bar request, until Ross wisely asked if I'd be interested in bergamot bars. Well, of course I am. So, I was looking through the Martha Stewart cookie book to see if there was a recipe in there (there wasn't). I know, I said it. Martha Stewart. I know so many people hate her, but I just can't dislike her one bit, regardless of her legal actions or personality. The woman can cook. So I love her, and I'm okay with that. I can't imagine why there would be a lemon bar recipe, since they're not cookies, but nonetheless I looked. Perhaps I just needed a break from all my class readings, and what better way to get it than to read cookie recipes? There was, interestingly enough, a mandelbrot recipe, so I could've saved a lot of time reinventing the wheel in developing my own recipe for it by using hers, since her recipes generally tend to be pretty much perfect. Anyway. Martha Stewart plug completed.

So I have all these bergamots, and I have a husband who may be obsessed with lemon bars. I figured I may as well combine these two elements and simply make some bergamot bars. I ended up going with the Joy of Cooking recipe (page 765, so you can see the original recipe), to which I made very, very few changes. So I'm basically going to type out their recipe, with the changes. Either way, hope you enjoy!

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces (or not)

6 large eggs
3 cups sugar (wow!)

grated zest of one bergamot orange
1 1/8 cup bergamot juice (this took 4 oranges, I believe; and I've reserved the peels for candy-making)

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 325F. In food processor (or do this by hand, but y'all know I'm lazy), mix together first group of ingredients, then pulse in the butter until it's crumbly. Press the dough into an ungreased 13x9" pan and bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Put the pan on a rack to cool when it comes out of the oven, and turn the oven down to 300F. Whisk together eggs and sugar, then add in zest and juice and whisk until smooth. Sprinkle flour on top and then beat that in as well. Bake 35-45 minutes, or until the top is set. Cool on a rack. Some people like to dust with extra 10x sugar, but I think that sees a little excessive. You do what you like, though. Makes 18-ish bars.

Monday, February 13, 2012


So, bergamade. It's basically the same as lemonade, except, well... with bergamot. Of course. Because what isn't better with bergamot (if you know the answer, don't tell me; I'll think you're telling fibs anyway)? It's sweet. It's sour. It's musky. It's wonderful. I like to drink it a lot, though I normally only drink it when I've got fresh oranges. I have fresh oranges, so.... :) Hope you enjoy!

1/2 cup bergamot juice (this for me was two oranges) - reserve peels for another use
1/2 cup sugar (or... bergamot sugar!)
2 quarts water

Mix well. Chill. Drink. Serves one, unless you're generous.

Picture coming later. Also, it'll be a few days until my next post, as I need to read a couple books this week which really cuts into my cooking/posting time.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Bergamot Upside Down Cake

In my quest to enjoy all these bergamots in new-to-me ways, I've come up with this little ditty. The base of it comes from my mother's (her mother's?) pineapple-upside down cake. But then, due to some ingredient issues (no ap-flour, no milk, etc.), it's become something quite different. So next time I make the actual pineapple upside down cake, I'll post that recipe separately.

1 bergamot orange, sliced into slices no more than 1mm thick, pips (seeds) removed (save the ends to squeeze juice out of for cake part of the recipe, then blend up the rinds to make more bergamot sugar)
6 tablespoons each: butter, dark brown sugar

heaping 1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter, room temperature
2/3 cups bergamot sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon-ish bergamot juice
1/2 cup sour cream
candied oranges from above

In a skillet over medium-low heat, melt butter and sugar. When melted, stir until sugar is somewhat (mostly) dissolved. Add orange slices and cook for 20 minutes, decreasing heat if needed. Make sure you move them about periodically so the sugar doesn't burn (or for the rinds to get too tough). Transfer contents of skillet to baking pan, as below.

Heat oven to 350F. In an 8x8" cake pan, pour candied oranges (and the butter/sugar) and arrange somewhat neatly around the pan. Mix flour, baking powder and salt then set aside. Cream the butter, then add sugar and cream again. Then add egg and bergamot juice and mix well. Add in half the flour mixture and mix well, then add in the sour cream, mixing well once again. Add and mix in the remaining half of the flour mixture, then spread into cake pan on top of oranges (this mixture is very thick, somewhat like frosting). Bake 40-50 minutes. Remove from oven, let stand 5-10 minutes and flip over onto a plate.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Saturday Spending

This week's shopping was all camping stuff, as I can tell. Okay, not all. But mostly. Plus more stuff for the bergamots (of which there are now 13 more; THANK YOU, LISA!!!!). So here's that.

$2.26 - water
$6.99 - sugar
$2.29 - hot cocoa
$5.00 - butter
$3.48 - OJ
$7.99 - almonds
$3.40 - onions
$7.39 - tahini
$1.99 - eggs
$1.00 - garlic
$11.39 - flour (17 pounds)

total: $53.18

Friday, February 10, 2012

Food Waste Friday

Well, my fridge is still empty. This basically means that I had little waste, because there wasn't much that could be wasted. However, there was still waste somehow. We wasted about a bowl's full of pasta. What happened is that we somehow managed to overcook the pasta, and though we tried and tried to eat it, neither of us could stomach getting through that last bit.

So this is not great, but acceptable, yeah? How'd y'all do?

Earl Grey Tea

Okay, this is the simplest of recipes, and since it's tea, I won't be giving a picture. Plus, I'm already out of town camping by the time y'all get this, so there's that. Have a great weekend!

3-4 teaspoons black tea (I've been using osmanthus for this)
20-25 ounces water heated to between 190F and 200F
1-2 tablespoons bergamot sugar

Heat water, and pour it over tea. Put sugar in your teapot (not the one you're steeping in, but the one you're pouring your cups from). Wait three minutes, then drain tea from spent leaves into pot that has sugar in it. Stir, portion out, drink. Serves 2.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Bergamot-Lavender Shortbread

I've always thought that bergamot and lavender are pretty good friends. Every time I see them hanging out together, something good comes of it. So of course, now that I've got bergamot to play with, I wanted to get those buddies together and give them a chance to do something good for me. Enter shortbread. I've been making my own Earl Grey blend since the oranges came in (yes, that will be posted too, although it'll be tomorrow that it happens), and really, with tea one must have shortbread. Am I the only one who thinks that? I hope not, but maybe I am.

Anyway, these are pretty simple. They use the standard 1:2:4 ratio, of sugar:butter:flour construction. I'm embarrassed to say that the last time I baked shortbread is when I was mailing it to New Orleans (along with 30 pounds of other goodies) for a friend who stayed after Katrina to rebuild. This time I made them to take to school with me. My Monday class is three hours, and I personally think that three hour long courses should not happen without snacks. So this week, snacks are happening in the form of shortbreads and tea. I hope everyone enjoys this sort of class eating as much as me!

I'm not really sure why I haven't made them since, given how truly simple the are to make. I've seen recipes where the entire process is done by hand, and I'll probably use that process someday, if I don't have electricity. But since I do, I used a hand mixer and that's the way I'm going to write this recipe. After all, we live in a technological world and might as well enjoy its benefits. Hope you enjoy!

1/2 cup bergamot sugar
1 cup butter, at room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour (admittedly, I used 2 1/4 cups of cake flour, since I have that and I don't have all-purpose since I haven't been to the store in a few weeks)
1 teaspoon dried lavender flours, lightly crushed
pinch of salt

Cream together the sugar and butter. Cream in the salt and lavender. Mix in the flour. Wrap in plastic then put in the fridge for at least one hour (I left mine to chill overnight). Heat the oven to 300F, and get out your dough. Roll it out to 1/4 to 1/2 inches thick, and cut it out with biscuit or cookie cutters (or a knife, or...), re-rolling scraps as needed. I made circles, stars and bats. Put your shortbreads on a sheet pan, then put the pan in the fridge for at least 15 minutes (they won't keep their shape if they're not cold when they go in the oven). Bake 20-25 minutes, then cool on a rack. Makes 20-30 shortbreads.

As an aside, Ross is now my photographer, which means the quality of the food pictures should be rising exponentially.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Bergamot Caramels

Alright, so y'all know where I'm at right now with the bergamots, yes? In heaven. That's where. So yesterday we did the bergamot sugar, which was important because we need it for these caramels and such. Today, we use that sugar in these caramels. The basis of this recipe is the ever-so-popular (and for good reason; it's an excellent recipe) 2004 Gourmet Fleur de Sel caramels (y'all will have to google for the original recipe, since I printed it ages ago and didn't save the link), with some differences. I made quite a lot of changes to the recipe, but I still like to give credit where it's due so I wanted to mention where the base came from.

I had some little adventures while making this caramel. The adventure was in that I am sometimes cursed with an utter lack of forethought. This was one of those times. It's been raining for days (okay, I'm writing this the Saturday before this goes up, so... I don't know if it's still be raining for days at this point), and high humidity (yes, I know I live in Houston) coupled with sugaring is bad news for whatever candy you're making. However, it turns out, that when the humidity is super high (i.e., it's flooding again in your 'hood), and you decided, like a moron, to leave your back door open overnight while the caramels were setting because you wanted to sleep to the sound of the rain (instead of shutting the door and using the A/C to reduce the humidity indoors), and your caramels come out more like caramel sauce in the morning, it's okay. Just cook it again. Twice even, if you need to. But let's not talk more about that. :)

And now, I want to talk about about syrups. Everyone hates HFCS. I get that. But honestly, a little isn't bad for you if it's a moderation sort of thing. I'm mentioning this, because I did not use corn syrup in these caramels, for reasons to follow. I used beet syrup. That being said, I also understand that beet syrup can be a little hard to get, and when I don't have beet syrup I happily use corn syrup in my candy making. And you should ignore this change in my recipe and use corn syrup if you're married to the idea of a perfectly traditional texture for your caramels. Beet syrup isn't going to give that to you.

When I was taking a chemistry class from the venerable Dr. Bott during my undergrad, we had to design a series of experiments to perform. My second experiment was caramels. What I wanted to know is if it was actually necessary to use corn syrup in candy making, given all the health concerns people have with it. It's not. In my experiment, I used corn syrup as my control, beet syrup for another batch, honey for another (this resulted, interestingly, in toffee), and no additive in another batch. Plus one regular batch for my candy wrapper assistants. Unlike what would normally happen with a chemistry experiment, we ate mine. The corn syrup ones were as you'd expect them to be. The beet syrup ones had a butteriness, softness and creaminess that none of the others had and that I'd estimate around 80% of tasters preferred. The honey ones, as stated above, actually became toffee instead of caramel, and the no additive ones, not surprisingly, were more like pralines (and were the least favourite of tasters). And that's why I now mostly use beet syrup when making caramels. I just wanted to tell you guys that, in case you were curious how this recipe came to involve beet syrup instead of corn.

Onward. The caramels came out really interesting, and quite good. They have, on first bite, a more normal caramel flavour. But as you keep chewing, the bergamot comes out, and it gives a sweet-sour kind of flavour where the muskiness of the bergamot comes out, but as more of an understated midtone. This is exactly what I was looking for, so I think the recipe is good to go, without modification. Unless you want to modify, in which case you should do so. Anyway, hope you enjoy!

1 cup heavy cream
5 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon sea salt, plus more for sprinkling
1 1/2 cups bergamot sugar
1/4 cup light beet syrup (like corn syrup, beet syrup comes in light and dark)
1/4 - 1/2 cup bergamot juice (it's about the juice of one orange)
non-stick spray, or vegetable oil

Line bottom (and sides, according to the original recipe, though I never remember to do the sides) of an 8x8 cake pan with parchment paper, then brush or spray with oil lightly. Bring cream, butter and salt to a boil in a small saucepan, then remove from heat and set aside. Boil sugar, beet syrup and bergamot juice in a 3 to 4-quart saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil, without stirring but gently swirling pan, until mixture is a light golden caramel colour (honestly, this instruction makes no sense to me since it's so subjective, so I simply boil it until it's about 340F). Carefully stir in cream mixture, being careful to keep your hands out of the way of what is about to be heavily boiling sugar, and simmer, stirring frequently, until caramel reaches 248F. This takes about 15 minutes. Pour into baking pan and sprinkle with extra salt. Cool two hours to overnight. Cut into one-inch pieces (use an oiled pizza cutter for this) and then wrap each piece in wax paper (Ross does beautiful twists, I do lazy ones. You can totally tell which ones he wrapped when you look at them). Share and eat.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Bergamot Sugar

Alright, so I've decided to post this as a separate recipe, since y'all are going to see it in a few things. It's nice to have on hand, anyway. This method works really well with pretty much anything from herbs to all other citruses. I made a lot, because I have a lot of plans. It's good for baking, and also nice if you have some black tea that you want to turn into sweetened Earl Grey. I'm planning to take some iced Earl Grey made with this stuff to class when I bring them the upcoming shortbreads. Hope you enjoy!

2 pounds sugar
Rind (but not pith) of 1 bergamot orange

Put the sugar and the peel in a food processor or blender. Pulse/blend/whatever, until the bergamot is finely grated and fully integrated into the sugar. Put in a jar and use in all your bergamot-flavoured recipes. Makes 2 pounds.

Note: When you're done, you will have caster, or superfine, sugar. Therefore, if you opt to use it in baking, I'd recommend weighing the sugar instead of measuring volumetrically, so it doesn't mess up your recipes.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Ross' Pita Bread

Okay, so I just want to remind you all that this is not a traditional preparation for pita, though it is quite good. He's got the hydration perfectly set to make pockets instead of the more dense styles of bread that don't puff as much. This recipe is written for use with a liquid type starter (though you could substitute water for the starter and add yeast). If y'all need a recipe for that, say so and I'll post my mother's. Hope you enjoy!

1 cup sourdough starter
1 cup each: all-purpose flour, bread flour, whole wheat flour (you may use different configurations of this, but I think he set it this way to off-set the protein content of the whole wheat with the AP)
1 tablespoon salt
4 ounces beer (Lonestar is what currently is in the house, I'm embarrassed to admit, but y'all use what kind of beer you keep on hand)

Mix together the starter, flours, and salt. It will be shaggy and dry-ish looking when it's all mixed. Then add in the beer and mix again. This time it will be shaggy but somewhat wet looking (slightly wetter than moist). Let rest 5-30 minutes, then knead until soft and supple. It should have minimal bounce back when you poke it, and there should be something of a subtle sheen to the dough. Put the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a wet towel or plastic wrap and let sit on the counter overnight. It will NOT rise very much. There is not enough yeast in this to combat the heaviness of the whole wheat flour, so please don't be surprised, discouraged, or think you did something wrong when you come back in the morning and the size of the dough is not dissimilar to how it looked the night before. Heat the oven as hot as it will go, for at least an hour. If you have a pizza stone, make sure that's in there too. If you don't, that's okay and don't worry about it (you can just put your loaves on a sheet pan). Cut the dough into nine pieces of roughly equivalent size. Pinch/pat each piece of dough into the shape of your choosing (he does different shapes sometimes). When the oven is heated, put all your loaves on the stone (or pan) and bake for 10 minutes. Remove immediately and let cool enough that your bread doesn't burn your mouth. Makes 9 loaves.

(this is not a picture of the loaves this recipe is for. He made them slightly differently this time, so we could settle an dispute about beer and whole wheat flour, so this picture is of experimental loaves that also taste quite good)

Sunday, February 05, 2012

The Essence of Bread

Ross actually reminded me, quite by mistake, that this post needed to be made. When we first got together, he had never (other than rolls for holidays, I believe, though anyone who knows about this should feel free to correct me if I'm mistaken) had home-made bread. Or maybe he'd tasted it but not so routinely that he remembered home-made bread as a thing separate from grocery store bread. As y'all know, I am not really an advocate of buying bread and have done so just a couple times in recent (last couple years) memory. And so when he wanted bread I would make a loaf. This started turning into a loaf a day, which is kind of a lot (in a good way!), and it occurred to me that if I taught him how to make bread, I wouldn't have to make it anymore.

Now, that sounds a little bit like I don't like making bread, which is absolutely not the case. I love making bread. I just don't always have time to make a loaf every day. Mostly I can't commit to being home long enough to do it daily. So, I decided to teach him how to make bread. He's not the first person I've taught how to make bread, but he is the first person I taught bread to without recipes. Mainly because my relationship with bread, after around thirty years of baking, had changed by the time I got him.

In my home growing up, freshly made bread was a thing that was part of daily life. My mother didn't make a loaf every day, but like most moms in the 80s, she was a stay-at-home-mother and that afforded her the opportunity to do things routinely that so few of us do now. Because she stayed home, very little of our food was processed, and we kids grew up seeing food being made and participating in that making. It's a thing I'm still thankful for, since my entrance to the kitchen started before I could even write in cursive (which I could do when I was 5). And my mother was, hands down, a really talented baker (I say "was" not because she's dead but because she doesn't really bake much anymore, due to physical constraints). I remember clearly the smell of her starter in the house, treasured and kept in the fridge in one of those absurdly tall mason jars with the flip and clamp lids (I keep my part of her starter in a similar jar, though not in the fridge since it gets used daily). I remember watching her bake breads, cakes, pies, elaborate tortes, cookies and donuts. I assume she learned from her mother, since I have some of my grandmother's bread recipes too. I remember my joy in helping her make these things that we would gobble down so quickly I often wondered (although I no longer wonder) if it was even worth it to spend so much time making these things when they were gone so fast. We usually had some kind of store-bought thing around, but it never had the traffic the homemade items did.

I remember when she went back to work, too. Suddenly, a pretty large percentage of the bread on our table came from the store, rather than from her hands. And you know what? It wasn't very good. Grocery store bread really never is though, is it? I remember when I moved out and got my first place, I needed bread, because I like to eat bread. So I bought bread. My mother observed this happening and gave me some cookbooks that focused on bread baking. And so then I baked bread and I bought bread. I baked bread mostly when I had one job (and when I was in school). I bought bread when I had three jobs. I didn't know about cold fermentation then, so it's no real surprise that life got in the way of my bread.

Bread baking was for me, however, despite this incredible legacy, about recipes. I did not bake bread without a recipe, ever. It never even occurred to me that one might do so. Oh, sure. I would take existing recipes and rework them into entirely new things. But mostly I was sticking with an established base and turning it into something new-to-me. There was creation, but not creating. Nonetheless, I was a competent baker. I moved away from breads and into pastry, and became quite good at pastry. But still, regarding bread I was merely competent. I could get (good) bread on the table. My mouth understood bread, and so did my belly. But my brain and my hands did not yet know the essence of bread. When I taught people how to make bread, it was with recipes. I never taught them what bread was, because I didn't really know.

And then one day, I saw that my favourite baker, who had already started the process for me through which I learned about the essence of bread, Peter Reinhart, was opening up slots to be a recipe tester for an upcoming book. This was pretty exciting to me. I have several of his books, and I was interested to be on the team of testers as an opportunity not only to further my knowledge, but to see how his bread brain works, in progress. A chance to learn from the man who most accurately may be called the best. So I signed up. While testing recipes (and I did not test nearly so many as other testers did), I started realising the patterns. I also realised that because these recipes were works in progress, there was a lot of instructional information given in relation to the appearance, feel, etc. of the breads. And after decades of baking bread, something in my brain clicked. I could see the bread for what it really was. Finally.

After the completion of the testing, there was still a small span of time in which I baked bread with recipes. Mostly because I lacked the confidence to put them off to the side and just play with my flour. It's weird that as a person who so strongly advocates playing with food to learn about it, I was fully inculcated in the school of thought that was keeping me from knowing my bread. And then one day, my confidence was just high enough and I decided, "screw it. I'm not using a recipe. Let's see what happens." I tossed together some flour, salt and yeast. And then I added water until it "looked right." And then I kneaded it a bit and set it off to the side to be shaped, re-risen and baked later. My bread came out well. Really well. And when I tasted it, I knew that I finally "got" bread and that I'd not be using recipes for it again unless there was a specific bread I was wanting that I didn't know the dimensions of by heart. I do still occasionally use recipes for bread, but more as a guideline for a particular hydration I'm not familiar with the feel, look and smell of. But mostly it's all free-form in my house these days. I'm thankful for this, mainly because sometimes I'm in someone's house and there's a need for bread and I can just toss it together without worrying about recipes (this, btw, is a double-edged sword: you really impress them, but you never go to their homes again without making bread).

So Ross came to me after I had this bread epiphany, and as such, when it was time to teach him how to make bread, I refused to teach him with recipes. He knows where the recipes are, and he's welcome to use them. He also knows how to use the internet, of course, and thusly he may look up any specific recipes he might need that aren't already in the house. But I figured I'd be damned if I was going to inflict on him the kind of restriction that recipes can sometimes cause in one's thinking.

We started with pita, since that is the bread we eat/make the most of. I explained about ratios of bread to water and we talked about the salt content, and how much yeast to use (my opinion on how much yeast to use is "however much you want." If you want it to rise a little more quickly, use a little more yeast, etc.). We poked and touched and prodded and smelled the dough at every step of the way. We only kneaded for a few minutes here or there, and not even always. And then he was off. Now Ross makes most of the bread in the house. I see him sometimes throwing together some ingredients and kneading them for what seems like an eternity to me. I see him other times throwing together some stuff and barely kneading them at all. Sometimes he tosses in some rye or whole wheat flour. Sometimes he doesn't. Bread, for him, is an organic, flowing process through which what you want to do is exactly what you do. The bread turns out as it turns out, and if something you didn't expect happened, you just think about what you did differently, and then come up with hypotheses (and test them) to decide how to create different effects. Because it's so beautiful, the intuitive process by which he bakes, I sometimes sit in the kitchen and just watch him make the bread. Occasionally he asks me technical questions, but not usually anymore. And there's always bread in the house. Lovely breads, rich in character and deep in flavour. Different breads. Sometimes sourdough, sometimes not. Sometimes quick breads, sometimes not. But always, always bread.

What I have learned from this is that there should be no other way of teaching the making of bread. Already, in just a few short months, Ross is a more talented bread baker than I have ever been and than I will likely ever be. I'm rich on technical knowledge, but new on essence. He is all essence, which gives him the technical knowledge he needs, coupled with a flexibility I am still teaching myself to enjoy in my own baking. It's really a wonderful thing to behold. He recently donated some of our starter to his best friend and taught her how to care for the starter and how to bake. And now she bakes. Not only does she bake now, but she gave away some of her starter and that person bakes now too. For me, it's an incredible miracle I'm watching. My mother's starter, which is nearly as old as I am, is making its way around and inspiring people to make their own bread; to play with dough, to be part of their food experiences instead of relying on others to make their food experiences for them. It's incredible to watch. So much so that I find myself running out of adjectives with which to describe the... bigness of process I see unfolding in people's minds, hearts and mouths.

The reason I'm telling you all this story is because tomorrow, I'm planning to post Ross' recipe for pita. He's come up with a non-traditional system for making pita that he showed me last night (because at the end of the day, when a person cooks by instinct alone, sometimes someone with technical knowledge needs to sit down and watch them and write it down so the method doesn't get lost when they die), and I faithfully wrote it all down so y'all can make it. It's not traditional pita, but it's the best pita I've ever eaten (and if it's not the best, I can't remember the pita that topped it) and I think y'all should be able to have Ross' bread even if you don't have Ross. I'll never actually bake this recipe, because this recipe to me is Ross. It's for him to bake, and for me to eat.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Saturday Spending

Hardly any groceries were purchased this week. This is kind of a problem, since we're now officially out of bread flour, and all-purpose flour. Oops. Need to get that taken care of asap, since that means we have no flour except cake flour, Wondra flour, semolina flour and rye flour. So, we're not out of flour, but we are out of the normal types. Next week there will definitely need to be shopping. Anyway, here's the spending!


$1.48 - 1 pound strawberries

total: $1.48

Friday, February 03, 2012

Food Waste Friday

Y'all remember that mention of my nearly criminally empty fridge? Well, it's helped me have no waste whatsoever. So, that's two weeks in a row!

How'd y'all do this week?

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Bergamot Surprise

It's February. Y'all knew that though, so why am I telling you? I'm telling you because the bergamot, my favourite citrus and object of my undying devotion, is in season right now. These little guys have such a short season, but they're in my thoughts pretty much year round, as you also knew.

Today, the FedEx guy came with a package. I was expecting this package, though I didn't know what was in it. Lisa, from Meadowood Designs, had gotten my address recently and said she was sending me something, but was delightfully silent about what this something was. I've spent several days waiting while I tried to ignore my insatiable curiosity, to find out what was coming. So while I sat waiting for the package, reading Kitzhaber for one of my classes, the FedEx guy has spent his day making the rounds of delivering treasures to people all over Houston. And finally, he arrived at my apartment. I heard the first knock and started making my way to the front door as the sound of knocking increased in volume until he was literally banging on my door by the time I reached it (I'd left a note saying to knock loudly because I didn't want to miss him if I was outside smoking or taking a shower), which made me laugh. He handed me my little box and wandered off to finish his deliveries.

I grabbed some scissors and cut the box open. Before I'd even had a chance to see what was in the box, I smelled them. I'll admit I cried a little bit. It's amazing how profoundly a smell can affect our emotions, particularly when it's coupled with the kindness of those in our community.

You see, every year or two I go through the arduous task of finding a produce purveyor who is willing to be annoyed by me until they find, usually in California, a grower who's willing to ship a case or two of bergamots to them/me. After which I spend days in the kitchen, processing oranges until my skin is red and there is no smell in the house other than bergamot for a week or two. It's a wonderful time in my life. This year I realised I was low on juice (though not on zest; I have tons of dried zest though no frozen zest) I am (2 quarts at the most remain) and so I started the process again last month (admittedly a little late in the season to be doing this). So far, without success. Just as I was resigning myself to another year without oranges to process and praying that someone could find some for me next year (by which time I'd surely be out of juice), I open a package and smell the exact thing I'd been longing so desperately for. FRESH bergamots. Bergamots to play with. Bergamots to hold. Bergamots to cuddle with (don't ask). Bergamots to cook with. Bergamots to be inspired by. Bergamots, bergamots, bergamots. Today may very well be the happiest day of my life aside from my wedding day. There's a bergamot sitting in my lap now, as I type. Is it any wonder I cried a little?

Somehow, I have a hard time imagining I'm going to get much more homework done today, because my brain is filled with the sweet, musky scent of bergamots and dreams of all the things I can make with these. What could I possibly have done to merit such kindness? I don't know, but I hope I keep it up.

There's more than just (just?) bergamot in here though. There're two little oblong, slightly elliptoid blood oranges (so far beyond cute, I can't even tell you) that I believe will be going into a custard. Or maybe custard tarts. We'll see. There's also another citrus, which is Lisa's favourite. I'm not sure if it's a grapefruit or a pomelo yet because I haven't opened it yet (which one is it that's your favourite, Lisa?). All I can think about right now are the bergamots, though. Jesus, they're so beautiful. The purveyors have never sent me such incredible looking specimens. In fact, I've never seen them even close to this pretty excepting the times I've flown to California to sneak some back to Texas (don't arrest me - I do it out of love).

And so I had to make an extra post today, so share with you what happened in my day that could remove me so thoroughly from any cares whatsoever about my schooling. The one thing that can make me stop working on school stuff (the bergamots will not be hearing any sort of, "honey, you need to ignore me today and pretend I'm not here so I can get all this work done"). What an incredible distraction from my daily life.

And so, I am set to make some new things with these oranges. No bergamot pies (in fairness, the pies come out better with frozen and thawed juice). No curd. No marmalade. These are all things I do routinely when I get bergamot so I can preserve it. Not with these. Here's what I think I'll be making with them (we'll see how far into this list I can get):

Bergamot spoon sweets (I have been dwelling on these for the last two months)
Bergamot caramels (don't ask how long I've been contemplating these)
Bergamot-Lavender shortbreads
Bergamade (strangely, I've never posted this recipe for y'all, but it's one of my favourites)
Bergamot sugar (like vanilla sugar, except...)
Bergamot souffle
Bergamot upside-down cake
Bergamot syllabub
Bergamot granita
Bergamot marshmallows (well, provided that someone lets me use their stand mixer, as my holiday marshmallow making burned out the motor in mine)
Bergamot bars
Candied bergamot peel

And we'll see what else happens in my head. This is just what I've been thinking about over the last twenty minutes. As will not surprise y'all, I intend to squeak every last bit of life out of these guys. I AM SO EXCITED!!!!!!!!

Thank you, Lisa, for this amazing gift. I don't even know what to say to express how deeply thankful I am, though I hope the above gives a small indication. It's one of the few times in my life where I've simply lacked the vocabulary to express the depth of my appreciation.

Stuffed Acorn Squash

I know, I know. I recently posted a stuffed hubbard squash recipe. But, squashes abound in all the markets, and I can't see a reason not to take advantage of them with different types of fillings. Or, you know, turning them into fillings for other things. Either way, really. So long as there's squash involved. This one is a lot simpler than the last I posted. My process also was a bit different this time. I found the squash in the dining nook/library, nestled in my shelves and hidden completely by books. Had I not actually been searching for a specific text, I can't even begin to guess how long it would've languished there before I found it. As it is, I'm sure that squash has been chilling in the shelves for quite some time, getting a nice, well-rounded education via osmosis. Anyway, I digress. Again.

Since I found this squash, and also found a bag of barley in the pantry (honestly, I'd thought I needed to buy more barley), and I love squash and I love barley, it seemed to me that the most sensible thing to do was to combine them into a single recipe. And so it is. My fridge is bordering on criminally empty (in my world, anyway. Probably not in most people's worlds), and as such I didn't have a massive stack of veggies waiting for some stroke of brilliance on my part (which this is not. This is easy food for making after school or work that takes some time to prepare but mostly in terms of inactive time, which is what those of us who have 4 books and several essays to read by Monday, plus some grading to do and a paper to revise, need). I had a carrot left, and an onion left... and the tiniest middle part of a head of celery left - you know, the part that's still there once you've filled all the big stalks with peanut butter (is that just me?), and is mostly 2 inch stalks surrounded by clouds of leaves? Yeah, that's what I had left. Oh, plus a tangerine. That little guy was looking pretty sad, so I thought he could have a place in all this as well.

Then I just sort of thought, since all this food was going to have the sweetness of both the squash and the tangerine, I might like to spice it up a bit. So there's that too. But otherwise, this is one of those "let the ingredients speak for themselves with very little additional spicing" recipes I've become so fond of over the last year or so. Accordingly, if there're things hanging out, going to waste in your kitchen, I personally think this is a fantastic way to use them up. I wish I had a tiny eggplant to put in the filling. Maybe one of y'all have one and will make this and can tell me how it went. Because, y'know... y'all might be subject to more stuffed squashes from me, if I have one of them and an eggplant to play with. And that'd just be terrible, wouldn't it?

Oh, and, sorry about the no picture thing today. My camera was sitting on the counter just waiting for the squash to come out. But then the squash came out, Ross and I got excited, and we just started eating. I totally forgot to actually snap the picture and that cameras need humans to push their buttons or nothing gets done.

So here's the recipe. Hope you enjoy!

1 acorn squash, cut in half lengthwise and deseeded (reserve seeds for roasting and snacking)

1/2 cup barley
1 1/4 cups water (or broth; I ran out of broth yesterday when Ross made risotto for dinner)
1 teaspoon salt

1/4 onion, sliced into quarter moons
1/2 cup sliced celery and leaves
1 carrot, sliced
juice of one tangerine
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (you may substitute 1/4 teaspoon cayenne if you prefer)
1/2 tablespoon olive oil (alternately, use some bacon grease, schmaltz or tallow for this; I have tallow but it was frozen in a big block and thereby useless to me here)

Turn on oven to 400F. Put the squashes in a baking dish and put water in the dish to half way up them (if you remember. Which unlike me, I'm sure you'll do) and roast them for 45 minutes or so, covered. While that's happening, combine the barley group in a small saucepan and cook for about 40 minutes. You may drain the extra water if you like, or you may leave it to soak in (I forgot I was cooking, so...). Put all of the last group of ingredients in a small skillet and cook over low heat until the smell reminds you that you were cooking. Combine barley and cooked veggies and stuff squash halves with it. Roast the whole shebang for another 15 minutes. Serves 2.