Monday, July 26, 2010

Baking Fool

Usually, summer is for fruit and salad - delicate, slimming eating. But here in the Pacific Northwest, summer was a late arrival, and sunny days are interspersed with overcast ones. That means I still feel like baking... which does not create a beach-ready midsection.
Sam was asking for "muffin? muffin? muffin?" so I made these. They sounded so good, and I had some raspberries. Raspberry Crumble Muffins. They look good, don't they? Well, they would have been much better if I didn't have some sort of brain hiccup while I was making the streusel topping. I managed to completely omit the sugar. It tasted a bit floury, so I scraped it off every muffin I had. I made a second batch with cherries that were awesome - and not floury. Sam? He decided that he didn't want a muffin after all.

I must take a tangent here to comment on my son's fickle nature, as I have done before. So, he loves raspberries and cherries and all manner of interesting dishes ... when we are out and about and especially if someone other than me has prepared it. I get excited. I buy ingredients. I get it all home, work my magic, and voila! "No, Mommy. O's." Fickle. The boy eats zero vegetables.
But he did eat this - surprise. I put sausage on it - his favorite. I snuck peas into the sauce, along with artichokes. Great! BUT, he wouldn't eat it two days in a row. I spent too much intellectual time wondering about people who don't like leftovers - my son is now one of them. You can't make anything else out of pizza, either. There is no disguising the leftovers.
I made some wheat bread too. I decided to go with my tried and true recipe, instead of the 5-minute-a-day version that makes four loaves. I think I let it rise too long. I think I always let it rise too long because the top always seems to flatten out like that. Hm. I must experiment.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

My New Weapon

I have been so out of sorts. But I have been thinking about you. About us. I will do my darnedest to get back into the swing of things with blogging. What have I been doing instead? Cleaning. And watching two telenovelas, i.e. Mexican soap operas. What? I need to keep my language skills up.

One of the great things about having this blog is that when I screw up in the kitchen, I get to release it all on the page. I go through the intellectual exercise of acknowledging and atoning for my wrongs. In a way.

To wit:
The Cherry Clafouti. You may recognize this country-French dessert, originally from the Limousin region. Basically, it's a fruit cake (not to be confused with a fruitcake, all one word, which is full of candied fruit and soaked with rum *shudder*), with cherry being the traditional fruit, although you will find plum, berry, pear, or whatever fruit is in season. I had never eaten, not to mention made, clafouti of any sort, and really didn't know what it was supposed to be like. I took the recipe from a book that I dislike more and more with each new recipe I try. I think you see what's coming: the dessert wasn't very good. I dutifully ate it, nonetheless.
The saddest part about the clafouti, was not the wasted time, nor spent ingredients, but rather that I made it for my son's second birthday. He took a bite ... spit it out ... and had vanilla ice cream instead. He paid for his ungratefulness with his first intense ice cream headache. Poor Sam howled and grasped at Josh screaming that it was "hot! hot!" I suppose that is how your head feels with a brain freeze, somehow.
Clafouti prep was quite fun, such that I do not regret trying it - which is how I feel normally when I screw something up. In fact, I purchased a new gadget: a pitter! I do want to make preserves and jam this year, so I do plan to use this thing more than once. I also have a few olive recipes where I could employ it, so it won't collect dust, really.

In addition to the cherry preserves, I also hope to make jams from various berries. My neighbor has huge raspberry bushes that she said I can pick from. Actually, she specifically said that I can pick "whatever hangs on your side." She has said this several times, in fact, to both me and Josh, always emphasizing the "your side." Now, I firmly believe in following instructions, so I don't even want to reach across the plane the fence creates, nor would it be following the letter of the restrictions to pull a vine over to my side so that I could pick the berries.

And yet.

I do recall that last year there were scads and scads of berries on the ground such that it became breeding ground for all the fruit flies in Seattle. So, I might allow for some liberal interpretation of her offer because, hey, you can't just let food go to waste like that. I'll even give her some jam.

So I got a cherry pitter for those preserves. And if you have been reading religiously, you know of my run-ins with various purveyors of kitchen equipment and the attitude I have been getting for wanting supplies for atavistic pursuits, such as canning and preserving. So I went ahead and ordered a darn jar lifter online because, as previously noted, you cannot find one in the whole state because "no one cans anymore." God willing, you will see a post with the pitter as star again.
Pitting is nasty business ... and fun. Just like going to the firing range. What? Bear with me. (1) You load your weapon with a cherry. (2) You apply enough force to discharge the weapon and force a solid object from within a fleshy one. (3) Red juice squirts all over. It was messy and a little off-putting.

The next time I talk about my cherry pitter, it should be when I am making preserves. The cherries can't wait forever. I hope I get my lifters and pint jars soon!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Potatoes? Can you just grow those?

I spoke ill of my garden in the last entry. Let me just amend with the fact that the real pride and joy of the farmland here is the potatoes! Josh has been tenderly nursing them in containers. Do you know what a potato plant looks like? I was raised in a suburb of San Francisco and my parents were not gardeners of food, so I definitely had no idea what many things looked like, or if they grew in the ground, on trees ... or in plastic containers!
Speaking of being far-removed from our food and what the heck it looks like, I had a conversation with a grocery bagger the other day about chamomile. She said that, until she started working at the co-op, she had no idea that chamomile was a flower. I then commented that I have discovered a whole host of things that I didn't realize a person could just make. Like, really, who makes a marshmallow? No way. Who grows a potato? And I went looking for jar lifters and was told that "no one cans anymore" so no stores carry these necessary items. Really, sweetheart? These skills are coming back with a vengeance. I bought jars and now I need to lift them out of boiling water without breaking them or burning my hands! Stock some jar lifters! Doesn't Oxo make jar lifters?!
So my garden ... There are a few things that work and imbue me with enthusiasm and hope in spite of my deep-seated pessimism and Russian-novel-driven angst and self-torment. Josh planted the potatoes and we harvested and ate the first batch - see above. How do you know when to harvest? It seems that the plants die back when the potatoes are ready. Fascinating, right?
Then there are the peas. Josh threw a billion peas all over our yard. We have peas everywhere and they fruit like mad, baby! I believe I already spoke of my peas, so I won't bore you with more. But I will say that if you have never grown your own, and you like them, you really should throw some around your yard. You can even grow peas on a balcony if you live in an apartment. That crispy, snappy, sweet goodness is simply divine right off the plant.
Speaking of divinity, the Berry - any color and creed - is my very favorite. Our strawberries have been teasing me all strawberry season... which is pretty much over. All of Seattle's strawberries behaved badly this season because of the crazy weather and complete lack of spring, but ours were especially rotten. I caught glimpses of berries that would shrivel up and fall off. We have several species and the one above looks like the only plant that might deliver. My cat killed a rat the other day, so that's one berry-robber down.

There's so much hope in a green berry, isn't there?

And yet.

We have a species of green strawberry, and I realized the other day that I won't know when to eat them!
Our lettuces are going pretty well, too. I planted a few more rounds, so we should have lettuce for a while. I also want to plant squash and a cover crop and I just don't know how that will all work. I listened to a radio show on gardening on Tuesday and, basically, you are supposed to have several areas for planting so that you can leave an area fallow every year. Ug. I seriously need to get someone out to get rid of our awful vinca so that I can plant a cover crop in the current bed. We really need to build humus.
I set a goal for myself: Do one small thing in the garden every day. I have done this ... zero times. Sam simply won't let me get anything done while he is awake. That leaves approximately 2.5 hours of nap time to do IT ALL. "It" often includes feeding myself, cleaning up ... and my Mexican soap opera. What? I need to keep up my language skills!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Gardening Vicissitudes

Did I tell you that I gave up on my garden? Well, the yard, really. I keep planting and thinning in the raised bed just so I have something to moan about when the crops don't look incredible as ... my next door neighbor's, who must have the best humus anywhere on the planet. We have a huge yard in front and back and, according to the same neighbor, work has not been done on it for roughly 10 years. Josh and I weeded and built a raised bed. We also pulled out a bunch of dead heather and crazy viney plants that were taking over, and planted flowers and herbs to take their place. We amended the soil. We dreamed.

But those damned weeds are so very good at what they do. I know I have said this before. And crap! how about grass? Why does anyone have grass? I think, if you aren't pasturing a ruminant in your yard, get rid of the lawn! I have been drooling over rock gardens as of late. I'm not kidding! Why bother weeding when it all comes right back? Ug.
But peas make you dream. They just grow so ... easily and fast. Their flowers are so cute - like little bonnets. And you think, when they all flower and fruit like mad, I am a gardener! Look at the life I have created! Look what I nurtured from seed, I say!

Then your beets and leeks and turnips all end up in some sort of strange suspended animation. And the weeds come back with a vengeance. And grass starts to come up from within the wildflowers you plant. And. It's. Too. Much.
But we did have peas. Ah, the peas.

That I managed to overblanche. But they were still delightful with a bit of butter and salt.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Baguettes and Knives

No, this is not another version of the classic economics exercise with guns and butter; this is my life.

Forgive me for being so completely out of the blogging loop. I haven't been able to keep up with the blogs I follow, and I definitely have not kept up with my own writing and cooking. I've been feeling down and in a deep deep rut ... my toddler is dragging me through this rut, actually. I have no time for anything. I don't know how I ever thought that I was busy when I didn't have kids. Hell, I don't even work and I have no time!

The knife collection is back. The star player, i.e. the chef's knife, was missing for a couple of weeks. I had a Henckels and liked it very much, but the wood handle was pulling away from the tang and reached a point of no return. I asked my knife guy what to do and he said that They should give me a new knife for free because it's a manufacturing defect he sees all the time. Free? New? So I call and customer service tells me to send it in and if they "determine it to be a manufacturing defect," I will get a new knife or be "offered" one at wholesale. No, no, my knife guy said. You tell them a new one and nothing else. Hmmmm. I don't know how to wrangle and bargain. I do not think I was ever a Turk in a past life. Completely foreign; it makes me totally uncomfortable. I am convinced there is a world of secret passwords and just the right amount of complaining at a perfect E flat in order to get what you want.

So I sent my knife in with a note detailing the damage and that I like their knives and I deserve a new one! Then I read the Henckels fine print about "manufacturing defects" and got all worked up thinking that there was no way I would get a new knife. I just knew those bastards were going to screw me! Uh, the humanity!

Happily, I was wrong. I received a lovely, brand new knife in the mail. Yeah! So sharp and delightful.
I made some new bread. I told you I intended to try a baguette, so here it is. I know; I know. It's funny-shaped. When I slid it from the peel onto the stone - I need a new, bigger stone, by the way - part of it slipped over the side, so I tucked it back on, at great peril to my fingers and forearms.
It was good. The texture was nice. BUT I wasn't too fond of the crust. AND the other loaves I made from the dough came out weird. Well, one of the loaves, anyway. I made a batard for my neighbor and one for me. I really hope hers was okay because part of mine wasn't cooked. I think it had to do with a sort of hard, goopy part that was stuck to the container from the last dough that was in there. The authors of my new-fangled bread book said to go ahead and keep adding dough to the same container because you can build a nice particular sourdough, but I don't intend to do that again. Or it might have been my rolling technique. Anyway, how do I get that crunchy crunchy crust? Gah! I'm just going to have to try a real baguette, with its crazy manifold steps and rituals. Do I have to sacrifice something to Escoffier?
It made excellent pizza dough, however. The topping was totally random but so good that I will definitely try to repeat it. Try. Does this happen to you: I tend to throw a bunch of stuff on a pizza and it comes out awesome! Oh! Josh and I oooh and ahhhh about it being the best ever... never to be replicated because it was so organically spur-of-the-moment. Hm. On this one: zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant - all sauteed in olive oil. The sauce: garlic-thyme olive oil made by heating those in oil. Cheese ... and maybe sausage, too.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Pizza and Soup

I used the Peasant Loaf base to make pizza. Since the dough had been in the fridge for several days, it was taking on a sourdough quality. It lent a strange flavor to the pizza, I thought. Josh liked it more than I did. It was definitely a tasty crust - really fluffy and chewy, yet light. Josh never eats his crusts from take-out pizzas but he said that this was a crust that deserved to be eaten. That's a good thing. I topped it with some mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and homemade pesto. Pesto really deteriorates after a couple of days in the fridge. And the verdure is gone in a matter of minutes. I have heard that you can blanch the basil and that keeps the green color, but I have yet to try this out. Who wants to get out a pot, wait for it to boil, uhhhhh. Too many steps.
I am loving this bread book. I am about to try a baguette! If you have ever made one the traditional way, as I have, it's tough. In fact, I didn't even finish my loaf because I messed up the first proofing step. I consider myself a baguette connoisseur. Well, that's too strong. Maybe I am a demi-connoisseur... or a pseudo-connoisseur. Anyway, I have strong opinions about my bread, and I really hope I can make this work.
This soup looks weird and sounds weirder, but is so good! You simply must make it! Chilled Watercress Soup with hard-boiled egg. No way, you're thinking. Not for me. Oh, yes it is.

Watercress Soup:
2T unsalted butter
3 medium leeks, white and light greens parts, washed and sliced
1 medium potato (Russet, or other non-waxy potato, about 8 oz.), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 cups chicken broth (or more)
2 bunches watercress leaves and some stems are fine too
1 generous cup baby spinach
salt and pepper to taste
fresh lemon juice
hard-boiled eggs

Melt the butter in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the potato and leeks and sweat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook until veggies are tender, 10-12 minutes. Add greens and stir to wilt, about 1 minute. Puree in a blender, or a food processor, or with a stick blender, or however you can. Add salt and pepper and lemon juice, to taste. We ate the soup warm with egg, but it is "supposed" to be chilled. Do as you wish, but, for goodness's sake, do!