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Experimenting

We conducted a number of cooking experiments on Sunday, with mixed success.

The Food 52 Sara’s Granola Bars, that I’ve been meaning to make probably since the recipe was posted in 2011, are delicious.

Sara's granola bars

Sara’s granola bars

My lime & white chocolate blondies recipe worked just fine with coconut oil instead of butter – but they’re still not vegan, since most white chocolate has dairy. Who knew – I always thought white chocolate was cocoa butter, vegetable fat, not milk. Which it is, white chocolate has plenty of cocoa butter, but what in dark chocolate would be cocoa solids, in white chocolate is usually replaced with milk solids. I guess you can make vegan white chocolate with soy milk powder.

Broccoli-Ham Frittata wasn’t much of an experiment – I’d made similar before – but it was good, especially with fingerling potatoes on the side. I ate the last three strips of potato cut up on top of pea salad for dinner on Monday – peas tossed with creamy Italian dressing.

Ham and broccoli frittata with fingerling potatoes

Ham and broccoli frittata with fingerling potatoes

Jane Grigson’s lemon rice pudding, by way of Laurie Colwin, was the loser. We tried to make it with brown rice, and even baking for 4 hours in milk was not enough to soften the rice. I think we should’ve cooked the rice in water first, then added the milk. Must be the same reason why you’re not supposed to cook brown rice in 100% home made meat or chicken broth – it has too much gelatin, protein, and can’t penetrate the hard rice grains enough to cook them – you need to add water.

Mrs. Grigson's lemon rice pudding

Mrs. Grigson’s lemon rice pudding – DO NOT make with brown rice – unless you cook the brown rice in water first

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Just a Thursday

uglyschedYesterday was kind of hosed – it started with 4 advising appointments back to back, the first in-person, so I had to be in the office by 8:00 AM, the rest by phone.

Then I dashed off to a meeting at 11:00 – deadly stuff, HR policies – but they gave us lunch.

I had just enough time to go to Starbuck’s for a coffee – I found myself craving one of their flat whites for the extra richness of the 96% fat free whole milk. It was good, but not as good as when I make one of my stove top espresso maker lattes with good Organic Valley whole milk. But it was free! When I tried to pay, my Starbucks app had logged me out, and while I was fumbling around getting logged back in, the kid at the register said, “It’s OK, I’ve got it”. I thanked him, but not too loudly, since I didn’t want to get him in trouble.

I took my free coffee and marched up Bascom Hill to Bascom Hall, where my next meeting was, where there’s a nice vestibule area, with tall counters, where you can plug in your laptop. This second meeting was pretty deadly too, governance and budget issues, spawned by our evil governor. The 2015 – 17 WI biennial budget not only proposes huge cuts to the University, it also repeals Chapter 36 of the state statutes,  which is where tenure for faculty, shared governance – our procedures for involving everyone, faculty, staff, and students, in running the University, the definition of the University itself – is all spelled out.

Got out of the second meeting, strolled back down the hill to get my bike, and made the mistake of going into my office and trying to clean up email. That took about an hour, and made me late enough going home that I scrapped my dinner plans. I was going to make BBQ ribs & tofu, and greens with peanut sauce. I got a small rack of ribs – about 8 bones, in my last pig purchase. Instead, we went to the wood-fired pizza place at the “nice” shopping mall. Which was good, we split a salad and 2 pizzas, three ways. One of the pies had salami, artichokes, and fresh mozzarella, and one sausage and fresh mozzarella – the fresh cheese made bottom crust a bit soggy, but they were still good. I had a small glass of slightly fizzy red wine, Gragnano frizzante – that was good, too. And, this dinner option had the added advantage of being next to the grocery store so I could pick up a bag of food for Megan’s cats.

Espresso pot with cat for scale

Espresso pot with cat for scale

 

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Overworked, under-noticed, and generally crabby

I’ve read a few things recently about how creative people, and everyone really, need downtime to re-charge.

I feel like I get the illustration of lack of downtime every semester, when I think oh, I’m going to re-vamp this course, and I have all these creative ideas … and then, in the rush to get it done, I tweak, and do things more like the same old way.

The last few years I have just gotten busier and busier. Thanks, Mr. Governor, yes, I have been regularly teaching one more class. I always work on the weekends, and almost every evening during the week. And, somehow, the more I do at work, the more I feel passed over for the younger [smarter?] ones.

No cookbook offers after 8 years of writing this blog – thos definitely go to the younger, cuter, ones.

I think over-busy-ness makes me less creative – it’s certainly making me less happy. And I’m getting old. Am I really going to set the world on fire at this late date? I might only be around for another 30 years or so. Can I still become a grande dame of cookbook writing at this age??

I think I’m blogging less – I know I’m taking photos and posting recipes less.

And, well, this is not architecture – less is not more. Thanks, Mr. Van der Rohe. Who’s a 3/27 brother – didn’t know that till just now. After all the photos of his buildings that I cataloged when I lived in Chicago … but then again, when I was an art history major, they taught me to look at the work, not the artist’s life.

Yesterday, I started working on menus for three Sunday suppers at Dinner at DebS – but I didn’t get very far. I think sometimes I make myself more busy, by making myself feel like, I only have this one window of time in which to produce something – and feeling guilty when I don’t make it. I guess I should give myself more space.

Well, I got all my tax stuff together today, to take to the accountant tomorrow. I made a full English breakfast. I washed my hair. I fed the cats and scooped the litter. I unloaded the dishwasher. I graded 2 or 3 students’ quizzes, and one journal, and emailed a realtor, to set plans in motion to sell the supper club house. I did a little work email, although I didn’t get the raft of professional association emails that need to be sent. Oh, well, I guess there’s always Monday, right? And, oh yea, I made a loaf of semolina bread too – the recipe needs perfecting – the dough was too wet – but it’s completely edible, even like this.

Notwithstanding all that, I think the new recipe has to be not to think about how much I’ve done, and how much I have to do, but look for little chances, to stare out the window, and do nothing.

Semolina bread, first try

Semolina bread, first try

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Weekend to Wednesday

On Saturday, I put pork chops rubbed with rosemary and garlic, and carrots rubbed with chile spice into the oven to roast on timer, and we went to see a pretty hilarious movie, What we do in the shadows. I made a pot of soft polenta, and and covered it and left it on the stove – turned off.

It was a nice day so we walked to the movie, and walked home, and it was an early show, so we were tucking into dinner around 6:30.

On Sunday, spring ahead morning, I got up and made cherry muffins.

cherrytopmuffin2

cherrytopmuffin

On Monday I made another baked-on-timer dinner – beans baked with the last half pork chop, bacon, and molasses – kind of my honey baked bean recipe, but with molasses instead. I think the pork was even better cooked in the beans than on Saturday as chops. The polenta got gooey, though, instead of frying. It looks almost like scrambled eggs (which are appropriate next to baked beans as any Brit who knows what goes into a proper fry up will tell you). Note to self – polenta made to be soft polenta doesn’t fry – it just melts.

There were only 5 cherry muffins left by Tuesday, so I made maple walnut muffins, to make a baker’s dozen to take to work.

I’ve been reading up on the Food 52 piglet gate coverage. In which Adam Roberts got called sexist for his comic book review, and the author who lost, Mimi Thorisson, posted a response on her blog, and then Roberts got defensive, and one of the Food 52 editors poured oil upon the flames …. I agree with Pete Wells, Tim of Lottie & Doof seems to have summed it all up the best. We’re all pretty boring, and white. A lot of food writing is taking place in a closed, insular space, where everyone knows each other too well to give real criticism.

I mean, I read Martha, but those lifestyle books that mostly say, “my life is better than yours” creep me out. Kinfolk, anyone? I think Food & Wine tends to have the most of those type of articles out of the mags I subscribe to. Like these Midwestern recipes from last August, although they’re more of a hipster bent than beautiful people.

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Joel Robuchon bittersweet chocolate tart

I’m making Joel Robuchon bittersweet chocolate tart – on the first sunny, relatively warm (40°) day in March, when I probably should be out walking.

It’s kind of a blast from the past; I think I first made it in the late ’80s sometime when the recipe was published in one of the cooking mags, I think Bon Appetit. The tart recipe is in Patricia Wells’ cookbook, Simply French, in which she adapted Robuchon’s recipes for the home cook. I asked for the book, and my mother gave it to me for Christmas in 1991. From her inscription, looks like Ole Ma read the publisher description of the book – “Recipes from Robuchon’s restaurant, Jamin, along with tips to make a good cook a great cook.”

It’s been a dessert for state occasions; I see I made it for a School Woods dinner in 2007. But I’ve also had dalliances with caramel chocolate tart, and flourless chocolate cake. Both have served their terms as my  ultimate chocolate dessert.

Kind of everything went wrong with this tart – including the battery in my camera dieing – but it smells good and I’m pretty sure it will taste good, too.

choctartfilllump

Tart filling looking lumpy

choctartfillstir

Tart filling well whisked, looking better

hazelcrust

Shell for the tart - I used some hazelnuts in the crust, and baked blind weighted with foil & beans - and the crust stuck to the foil

crustedges

All the messy edges of the crust

pouringintoshell

Filling going into the crust

intooven

Ready for the oven but still not so smooth

inscript

Flyleaf inscription on my book, from Mom, OM for "Ole ma", as she signed her letters to me & my brother when we were in college, which became Oma when my kids learned how to talk

donebubbly

Tart - done but looking kind of bubbly

choctartslice

My slice, topped with crust shreds. Suitably creamy and chocolatey delicious

 

 

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A Chicago weekend of no pictures

We came down to Chicago on Friday. I’d picked this weekend because it was the first one when I thought I could stay over till Monday since the library conference/Super Bowl/blizzard weekend.

We walked over Publican straight from the train and it was kind of a miracle. One minute we were standing there with all our luggage and the next minute our bags were checked and we were seated waiting to order.

We got frites and what they called barbecued carrots – I’d call them chile-rubbed – and ribs, and a plate of bread. I think I’ll have to recreate the carrots – they were really good. And the ribs came with a slaw with peanuts – also really good. Mark decided the ceiling lights were kind of garish – but I like them.

On Saturday, we got up and tried to get Grateful Dead tickets – for two hours – nothing doing. We went grocery shopping at the Mariano’s on S. Clark, and bought food for breakfast, then went for a walk and had coffee at the Intelligensia in the Monadnock building – where Jacobs Bros. Brothers bagels used to be. And I guess a one brother version of Jacobs Bros. Bagels is back, up on North Ave. as Brobagel. I’ll have to check them out my next trip.

We met John & Megan at a Pho place up on Argyle St. The Pho was amazingly good. I had beef. Then we went to see the Punch Brothers at the Riviera – which is a dump, but historic, designed by Rapp & Rapp. I’m  not sure if I’ve been there before – I know I’ve been to the Uptown – even saw the Grateful Dead there – and the Aragon Ballroom, which are both spitting distance from the Riviera, and the Vic, another crumbling movie palace converted to a rock club, a little south of the others.

On Sunday we were supposed to have brunch with Al, but he didn’t feel up to it, so we walked to Lou Mitchell’s. I’d been wanting to take Mark there – I never ate there when I lived in Chicago, but had been there one time on my own, when I’d come back as a tourist. I had poached eggs on rye toast. The potatoes were just right – cooked through and some really brown parts but not mushy. Served with real Heinz ketchup – at room temperature from the bottle on the counter. The best. Our old lady waitress was a bit confused, but got the job done. There must’ve been a midday Bulls game; there were a lot people grabbing breakfast before.

We walked up to Mark’s favorite Starbucks at the Intercontinental, then walked back to the South  Loop stopping for a paper. I graded student assignments until almost 5:00, then made chocolate chip bars to eat with Downton Abbey season finale.

Monday morning Mark went to work, and I packed. Can’t figure out why I needed three bags to get down to Chicago, and only two to get back, after only leaving a few things – although I am sure the extra pair of shoes was key.

Stuff I'm taking, laid out on the bed

Stuff I’m taking, laid out on the bed

Stuff I'm taking, on the dining table

Stuff I’m taking, on the dining table

Stuff I'm leaving here, in walk-in closet

Stuff I’m leaving here, in walk-in closet

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Sunny snowy day in Madison

Walking on Bascom Hill. The Bucky snowman has lost his head – but I didn’t take a picture.

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Out on a Monday, oh my

Last night Robyn Hitchcock played the High Noon Saloon here in Madison. Which meant I was out on a Monday night. A frigid Monday night. But it was all pretty civilized – we had a table up close, and Robyn ad his sidekick Emma both said the place was far too clean and smoke free to really be called a saloon.

Here’s the set list.

Tuesday I was in no hurry to get to work. My first meeting of the day was not until 10:00, and I had an online class meeting at 8:00 PM, so I thought I should be leisurely. Plus I’d been out on a Monday night – until 10:30, a seeming late hour for us old folks and Midwesterners.

Walking home I was struck how dirty and old and frozen the snow is getting.
snowbank

dirtysnow

Good thing the 60% chance of total daytime accumulation of less than 1/2 an inch on Wednesday turned into to more like an inch and a half.

I raided the vegetable bin, and came up with an onion, a few stalks of celery, a carrot, and about 1/4 a bunch of parsley, and turned it all into a pilaf, with rice, a few handfuls of whole wheat pasta, and the last hunks of Saturday pot roast. I had cooked the pot roast in pureed roasted red peppers and veggie broth with a few whole cloves of garlic tossed in. I carefully strained this juice through a slotted spoon to get the fat and whole garlics out, but not lose too much of the puree, and used it as the liquid in the pilaf. Put it in the oven to cook while I went out and shoveled. The snow had been walked on by too many people, so shoveling the sidewalk wasn’t much fun, the snow wasn’t coming off, but Megan got back in time to help with driveway and it went quick after that. Got back inside and the rice still needed 10 more minutes or so to cook.

beefricepilaf

 

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It’s been a long, cold, week

Culminating in my mother’s and Eustace Tilley’s 90th birthdays. Eustace, the fictional dandy who was on the first New Yorker magazine cover,  and my mom both arrived around February 22, 1925. It used to be George Washington’s birthday, too, but now we have President’s Day.

The nine New Yorker covers for my mom & Eustace Tilley's 90th

The nine New Yorker covers for my mom & Eustace Tilley’s 90th – I got the bottom row on my print mag

I left off with pumpkin stuff and soup, last Saturday. On Sunday I made the Portuguese Stone Soup from Asparagus to Zucchini – it’s a vegetable soup with sausage and Cannellini beans – white kidney beans. But we didn’t eat it Sunday night. I made cheesecake. I used the very last of the Christmas cookies that had been in a bucket in the basement fridge ground up for the crust; a bunch of the Moravian ginger thins and a few of the gember koekjes to make the crumb crust, which meant that there was ground candied ginger in the crust. I had a piece for dinner on Tuesday, and there’s one piece left that looks a little shopworn, but also kind of looks like lunch, to me.

lastpiececheesecake

Mark got to stay in Madison Sunday night, instead of returning to Chicago as usual, because the ALA gave him President’s day off. We watched the Saturday Night Live 40 years shenanigans, with a break for Downton Abbey.

Monday I worked at home, because I had this Medical Expenditures interview in the afternoon. The interview took an hour and a half, and I went back to work afterwards. Then out to dinner at Greenbush – salad and thin crust pizza with argula & bacon. My dinner companion was having a fancy cocktail, so I joined in with a Manhattan. Megan was studying in front of the downstairs TV, and Rach and a friend were having soup and cheesecake and knitting upstairs, making Mark’s cat go nuts over the yarn, when I got back.

On Tuesday, I  had big plans for dinner, but came home and snacked and worked, and, as mentioned above, ate cheesecake in front of TV, instead.

On Wednesday, I made vegetable curry, with squash and potatoes and carrots and kale and peas. Served over short grain rice, with chutney. Mark wasn’t interested when he got home from Chicago, but all us girls ate curry; Rach took it for work lunch on Thursday and I finished it off for work lunch on Friday. I am starting to get a bigger collection of glass containers with plastic lids, that I can microwave food in at work.

Vegetable curry

Vegetable curry

Thursday I think was the coldest day – Rachael and I drove in. A bunch of people at work decided it was too cold to go out for lunch, and so they ordered in Chinese, but I had peanut butter and jelly and an apple. And lots of meetings. Even though I drove, I walked around campus from my parking spot – almost 15 minutes – and from meeting to meeting, and you could literally see people hit the wall on their tolerance of the cold. They’d suddenly speed up, start walking as fast as they could or jogging, like saying, “I just can’t take this anymore”, got to get inside.

For dinner on Thursday, we ate the black bean & butternut squash chili that I had lugged to Chicago for our doomed – or blizzarded, I guess – Super Bowl party, and Mark lugged back. I had online  class, and, during the obligatory talk about the weather wherever you are portion at the beginning of the meeting, one of my students was talking about eating ice cream after class. That sounded like such a good idea to me, that  indulged, too. I made butterscotch sauce – since I atypically, had heavy cream in the house from the [cancelled] dessert buffet, and ate vanilla ice cream with diced candied ginger and butterscotch sauce in front of the Sopranos.

On Friday we finished the soup, with turkey salad (frozen Thanksgiving turkey, shredded) and bean salad (extras of the Cannellini beans).

Saturday seemed well-paced for a Saturday. I made scones, and I stayed in pajamas until 10:00. I had time to go grocery shopping, and still had time to go for a walk before our neighbors with two little kids and a new baby came for dinner. The older kids are about five and three, and  the baby is just 2 months. Mom’s not eating soy, dairy, tomato, or egg. So, I made pot roast – Costco chuck roast that I browned and then braised in the oven with red pepper puree, garlic, and veggie broth. Roasted vegetables – carrots, potatoes, onion, with sage. Big salad – with the cheese on the side, and an oil & vinegar slaw with carrots, cabbage and kale. I made coconut milk rice pudding with the last of the cooked rice that had been served with the curry.  Nothing but coconut milk, the rice, 1/4 cup sugar, and a teaspoon of vanilla – yum. I also made white chocolate lime blondies for those of us that could indulge in butter and egg. I think those topped with ice cream (and maybe caramel sauce) will be our Oscar-watching treat tonight.

The neighbors brought flowers, and Rach brought out the tulips she’d had in her room. We enjoyed them on the sideboard during dinner, but I had to shut them up in the sunroom after to keep the cats from munching them.

Cat proof flowers

Cat proof flowers

For an in-honor of Ruth brunch, I made Marion Cunningham yeasted waffles, lots of bacon, and a few sausages. I cut up one of the new variety of apples that I got at the co-op yesterday – Lady Alice. They’re a little like Pink Lady – firm – but juicier and they don’t turn brown very fast, which Mark tells me is a new holy grail for apple breeders.

Stack of waffles - note glimpse of Feb. 23 New Yorker

Stack of waffles – note glimpse of Feb. 23 New Yorker

Waffles wrapped around bacon - the way I like to eat them - using fingers rather than fork, dunked in syrup

Waffles wrapped around bacon – the way I like to eat them – using fingers rather than fork, dunked in syrup

I think I don’t have to cook much the rest of the week – there’s at least one bowl of chili, leftover pot roast & turkey salad, scones, waffles that I’ll freeze to become toaster waffles, a big bag of salad greens, slaw … riches.

Guess I better go finish cleaning up, and go for a walk while the sun’s out.

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Deb and Rach make soup

This frigid Valentine’s weekend in Madison is also the Garden Expo. I went to demo soups, from the two MACSAC (Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition) now CSA Fairshare, cookbooks, From Asparagus to Zucchini, and Farm-Fresh and Fast.

Rach is here, so she came along to be my lovely assistant.

It went quite well. I talked about making veggie stock, both as a way to use up those limp veggies in the bottom of the vegetable bin in your fridge, and customized stocks, designed for the dish that you are making, a la Mark Bitmann (and many others). I demoed making one of those customized stocks, based on the Cook’s Illustrated recipe for Silky Butternut Squash Soup, that I have always liked. You sauté the seeds and strings that you’ve removed from the squash in the bottom of your steamer, then add water, and steam the squash above the sauté – so the juices from the squash drip down to enrich the stock. A plus is you use all the part of the squash; you’ll feel better using organic or homegrown squash to do this! I used Megan’s rice cooker to demo the stock. Then I made Kabocha squash soup from Farm-Fresh and Fast (p. 13). It’s a pureed soup where you cube up all the veggies, and cook them in stock and other liquids, and then whiz with an immersion blender or food processor or regular blender. Rach had the smart idea that I should cook the soup at home – not relying on my almost as old-as-me Farberware electric Dutch oven to do the job onsite – and I figured that I could cook it to the immersion blender point. As usual, Rach was right, and that pre-cooking made the demo go much more smoothly. The Farberware got the soup plenty hot enough to serve as samples. Then I talked about making – and showed the ingredients for – Portuguese Stone Soup from From Asparagus to Zucchini (p. 45). I gave everyone lots of tips about substitutions –  like I didn’t go buy a bottle of Calvados for the squash soup – I just used Korbel, and since the soup called for cooked apples anyhow, I put the apple cores into the stock to apple it up a bit more. And using canned tomatoes  (or frozen from last summer) in the stone soup,  instead of fresh, in the middle of winter.

Squash, apples, and sage for soup

Squash, apples, and sage for soup

I had toppings and swirl-ins for the creamy soup – creme fraîche, chopped fresh sage, toasted sliced almonds, and spicy tofu cubes (working on writing up my recipe here; it’s a variant of Lottie & Doof’s variant of David Lebowitz, wh evidently adapted it from yet someone else.

Afterwards, we discovered that the home vermicomposting guy was following us. We’d had to wait for the pruning demo lady to pick up all her twigs so we could get the stage set up for the soup demo. So, we were super glad that we had twigs before us, and worms after.

We only had one minor disaster – spilled the squash stock in the back of thr car when we got home – not on the way, which would’ve been far worse. And it wasn’t that bad to clean – the floor mat is drying in the basement now. We salvaged enough of the squash to have squash cubes with tofu cubes and creme fraîche and chopped fresh sage and toasted sliced almonds for lunch. Seemed like only one of my jokes went flat – I asked the crowd how many of them got a CSA box, to ask if they were missing the fresh produce, now in winter – and only like 2 people raised hands. Duh, it’s the Garden Expo – they all grow their own – so I hastily amended my question.

Still in squash mode, I made pumpkin muffins with dried cranberries and chocolate chips  (I thawed out some squash puree for the demo for in cases). They’re good but sticking to the papers – don’t know if the muffins are too low fat or if the papers are a bad batch.

Pumpkin chocolate chip cranberry muffins

Pumpkin chocolate chip cranberry muffins

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