Friday, February 25, 2011

Vintage Cake Carrier

If you like this, you should see the pressed glass relish dish I'm using for the picked beets and eggs tonight.

Yes, I am an old lady. Now get the hell off my lawn!

Salt Wash

For flatbreads, I often mix plain old table salt into some water and brush it generously over the bread before baking. Combined with a bit of steam in the oven, it makes a lovely crust that seems to compliment this sort of bread.

The Other Half of the Sweet Dough

The dough left from the sticky buns became a ladder-loaf strudel filled with apples. Filling recipe is as follows:

2 firm baking apples
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/3 cup cinnamon sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch (cornflour)
Handful of raisins

Combine all and use to fill pastry. It will almost always run a bit as it bakes-that's OK, and although it may look burnt, it cleans-up easily with hot, soapy water. I like this filling for turnovers as well. I'm less fond of it for fried pies, but for baked pastry, it works really well.

Chocolate Poundcake-and Two Dessert Sauces

A good poundcake recipe is adaptable, and this one is no exception. I've flavoured the basic cake with raisins, caraway seeds, orange, cinnamon, browned butter, coffee, and so many other things I've lost count. The cake is remarkably easy to throw together, will last (and last, and last) without going stale, and when it finally does, tastes wonderful toasted and spread with butter. It makes a great trifle as well. Yes, it is indeed a large cake-did I mention it also takes well to freezing? I suppose what I'm trying to say is-you should make this cake.

As the cake is rather plain, I made a couple of sauces to go with it-recipes follow. The sauces keep well in the fridge as well, and are pretty nifty stirred into a glass of milk, or over ice cream.

For The Cake:

1 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup vegetable shortening (I know you think this sounds odd, but trust me here)
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
6 large eggs
3 cups AP flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup whole milk
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled

Generously grease a 9 inch tube pan. Place on a baking sheet.

Cream the butter and shortening together until light. Slowly beat in the sugar until well combined. Beat in eggs one at a time, mixing well with each. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Combine the vanilla and milk. Add the flour mixture and the milk mixture in alternating additions. At the last, mix in the melted chocolate. Pour into prepared pan and place in COLD oven. Set to 325 degrees F. and bake about 1 hour and 20 minutes. You should start checking around an hour, though mine took 1 hour 35 minutes.

Cool 15 minutes in pan on rack. Cake is fragile when hot, so gently remove it carefully. Cool completely on rack.

Caramel Sauce:

1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup Golden Syrup
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine all except extract in a pan. Cook over medium heat until reduced to a thick syrup-about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla. Cool. Store tightly covered in the fridge. Bring to room temp, or re-warm before using. Makes about 1 pint.

Coffee Sauce:

1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup Golden Syrup
4 tablespoons butter
2 heaping teaspoons instant coffee
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine all except extract in a pan. Cook until reduced and thickened over medium heat-about ten minutes. Remove from heat, stir in extract. Cool. Cover and store in fridge. Makes about 1 pint.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Coconut Pudding Parfaits

I had leftover coconut milk from a curry-this made an excellent dessert later in the week. terrible photograph-sorry.

You Will Need:
1 cup milk (I used 2%)
1 cup Coconut milk (not cream)
2 tablespoons cornstarch (cornflour)
1/4 cup (or more to taste) granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon butter
Toasted, sweetened coconut for layering and garnish

In a medium, heavy pan combine the cornstarch, sugar, salt, and egg yolks. Whisk in the milks, and cook over medium heat until it comes to a boil. Cook 1 minute longer, until thickened. Remove from heat, beat in the vanilla and butter. Transfer to a large bowl, cover with a round of wax paper and pierce in several spots with a sharp knife to vent. Chill. When cool, remove paper and whisk until light. Layer in glasses with the toasted coconut. Makes 4 generous servings.

Sourdough Sticky Buns With Chocolate Covered Raisin Filling

The recipe makes an ungodly amount of dough, so keep half in the fridge, covered for up to five days. When you're ready to use it, just shape the rolls and let rise overnight. I typically make my sweet dough with more bread flour, but this time I opted for AP. Your call. The AP dough needs a bit more kneading at the outset, but otherwise they pretty much behave the same.

I made my own chocolate covered raisins because of allergic issues with Danny, so I can't vouch for how well the store bought ones would work. Mine were bittersweet chocolate melted, and tossed with raisins-nothing else. I can't imagine what goes into a bag of Raisinettes.

For The Sponge:

1 cup fed sourdough starter (mine is fairly firm)
2 cups water
2 cups bread (strong) flour

Mix, cover and let rise 12-18 hours or until very bubbly (foamy is OK too if it goes a bit longer than anticipated).

Final Dough:

All of sponge
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
Enough AP flour to make a dough that can be kneaded, adding more to prevent sticking-but avoiding adding too much-about 2 -3 cups.

Mix all and work until smooth. Place in a buttered bowl and let rise until doubled. As I did not add regular yeast, this can take anywhere from 8-10 hours depending on the temperature of your kitchen.

For the Raisins:

1 cup raisins mixed with 4 ounces melted, bittersweet chocolate. Spread on wax paper, and when cool, break-up.

For The Coating:

A generous coating of Golden Syrup

When dough has doubled, divide it in two. You can of course bake this all at once, but I like to keep half for other days.

Generously (and I mean it) butter a 9x13 baking pan. Coat it (again, I really mean it) with a good slathering of Golden Syrup (a few tablespoons will do). Roll out the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Spread the surface with soft butter, and sprinkle with the chocolate coated raisins. Roll up from the long side. Pinch closed and with a large knife, carefully slice. Place in pan leaving space for them to rise. Cover lightly with plastic wrap, and let rise another 8 hours or so (perfect for overnight rising).

Next Morning: Drag your arse out of bed, and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Remove the cling film (I shouldn't need to mention that, but presumably you'll be dealing with this early, pre-caffeine) and place the pan in the centre rack of the heated oven. Make your cuppa, take your aspirin tablets, and do whatever other morning ritual you like-but do it quickly, as your buns should be ready in say...25-35 minutes. Test them by pulling them gently apart with a fork. When they're done, invert them onto a large baking sheet. Let them sit with the pan still over them for a minute or so-to allow the syrup to run off. Carefully remove the pan, and let them cool slightly before serving.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Teaching Geography

I knew schlepping home all those atlases from library sales would pay off, eventually. Sure, I cursed lugging them back to the car at the time, but as I find myself teaching the current events in North Africa and the Middle East, they certainly are helpful.

Danny finally mastered filling in the blank map of the African continent-a major accomplishment. Sounds more difficult than it was. Obviously, working current world events into a social studies hour helps, but so does tracing paper. I swear, that's my great teaching tool-tracing paper.

Each week, I assign Danny a country, continent, or geographic area I plan to test him on. I give him tracing paper, and the assorted atlases to select from. When the assigned location has been traced, he colours it with watercolours, or couloured pencils. We then mount it on bristol board, cut it out, and there you have it- a puzzle. Between the tracing, labeling, colouring, gluing, cutting and re-connecting, the map is memorised, and the spelling of place names is learned as a bonus.The completed puzzles are stored in envelopes for future use.

I also find blank maps helpful, once Danny has a pretty good idea what belongs where. He can study for his weekly test by doing practise runs on the blank maps and comparing them to the atlas for accuracy. I'm not devoting an absurd amount of time to this-about 30 minutes a day as part of social studies/history. I had only planned to do an atlas of the Classical world this semester, but Danny had most of the islands in the Cyclades memorised in the first two weeks, and I was caught off-guard with nothing else in the lesson plan. I suppose that's one of the homeschooling benefits-being able to adapt curriculum as needed.

I'm glad Danny is excited about mapping Asia, because I'm certainly not looking forward to it. I'll just think of it as some sort of cosmic payback for taking an incomplete in Asian history class in 1985. I remember sitting down, looking at a blank map on the test and thinking there was no way I'd pass, so I might as well leave-and I did. I handed in a blank test, walked out and never went back. Inexplicably, they still let me into a graduate history programme-go figure. While I can't say my life has been worse for not being able to locate the Philippines on a map (OK, I could probably do that-I'm exaggerating) it would be satisfying to be able to complete a map that a six year old can do with ease. I live in terror that someday, he's going to realise what a complete idiot his mother is, and be furious we didn't spring for private school (or at least, a qualified tutor). Worse, he might read these posts and find out I am unable to punctuate. Maybe I'll get a nice edition of Strunk and White for Mother's Day-that would be thoughtful...and heartbreaking.

Tracing paper-trust me on this one.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Other Uses For Golden Syrup

This upside-down cake called for making a boiling hot dry caramel to pour over the fruit in the base. Yeah, I wasn't up for that today. I drizzled the fruit with Golden Syrup instead, and proceeded with the recipe. Worked perfectly, and no one had to risk severe burns.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

File Under, "What Was I Thinking?"

A white, knit, sheath dress. Mr. ETB blurted out, "Are you going to wear it without underwear, like everyone wore that sort of thing in the 70's?" I suppose it is a bit vintage looking. I will indeed be wearing undergarments, and am presently looking for a full-slip in the correct length. I do not, however have a clue what sort of shoes/boots one is supposed to wear with this sort of dress. This is likely why I've never gone for winter white. That, and I live on a farm. I wonder how long the dress will last before it gets splashed with mud getting in or out of the car? I paid $4.00 for it (new! How fantastic is that?) so I suppose it wouldn't be a terrible loss.

My fashion sense still firmly rooted in 1972, I bought this dress. I need a large, straw bag with flowers on it. Maybe a floppy hat. This dress set me back $7.00.

I hadn't really invested in clothing since Danny was born, as we had so many other expenses, and who needs nice frocks to have a child spit up all over them? He spit up an awful lot. Really, and awful lot. Still, I was starting to look a bit shabby, so I've slowly been replacing the shirts with frayed collars, worn shoes, and moth-eaten sweaters. I think my $11.00 was well spent, but if he spits up on any of them, I'm going to be annoyed.

Sourdough With Some Whole Wheat

-but not entirely whole wheat, as the boys wouldn't eat it. These breads had about 1 cup fed starter, 2 cups water, 2 cups strong flour as a sponge. The remainder was whole wheat-roughly 2 cups. The breads took 3 days, but they were well worth the wait. I'll try to remember what I did here come August, as I think they would be terrific with tomatoes and butter.

Cheese Potatoes

Well, "cheese flavouring" anyway. I used some of a packet that comes with the store brand macaroni and cheese. I use it on popcorn, Chex-Mix, and pretty much everything except macaroni. A packet lasts a very long time as you only need a sprinkle. I try to stock-up when the boxes are on sale for .19 cents. It works well as a topping for mash as well.

So, these potatoes. They were first boiled, then sliced, then slowly cooked in a pan with olive oil and a sprinkling of the cheese powder. That's it. Have some left-over boiled potatoes? I doubt anyone will turn their nose up at these-and if they do, that's more for you.

The original idea for cooking already boiled potatoes in a pan with oil came from a post at The Cottage Smallholder, and they have since become known in our home as, "Smallholder Potatoes", though I take credit for the vulgar addition of powdered cheese. As Mr. ETB pointed out recently, "Our lives are so much better because of that blog." Quite true, and I have a shelf of green tomato chutney to back up the statement.

I have some small, waxy yellow potatoes I bought today that will probably get a similar treatment.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Alergy Warning on CK Decorating Sugars and a Request for Hy-Vee

I wish I'd noticed it before I bought them, but yet again, something I never imagined would have nut warnings, did. This caused me to check the other sugars in the cabinet which were thankfully, labeled, "nut-free, peanut-free."

While I'm on the subject, may I issue a sort of general request to supermarkets that feel they have to display a huge (and I mean, huge) stand of loose peanuts directly at the entrance to the store? Yes, I'm speaking to you Hy-Vee on Center Street in Omaha. I mean, I can avoid the corner of the produce department where this stuff typically lurks, but we all have to enter through the same set of doors, and frankly, severely allergic people don't exactly get a sense of welcome when the potentially deadly nuts are there as a greeting committee. I've stopped weighing my produce because of the shared scales, and I wouldn't dream of letting Danny ride in a cart-but really, what am I to do? Have him hold his breath as we enter? I've started shopping at Cass Street because of this peanut display arrangement. I don't expect preferential treatment, and we don't dine out because I wouldn't expect a kitchen to accommodate us. Hell, I home school my child-it isn't like I'm forcing someone's child to forgo a PBJ or classroom cupcakes. So really, all I'm asking, is to move the peanuts someplace we can reasonably avoid them. I can avoid restaurants and school cafeterias, but unfortunately, I still have to shop for groceries as do all the other nut-allergic people.

As for you asswipes that walk through the store munching the (unpaid for) peanuts and leaving the shells on shelves, or in lemon displays-get some damn manners.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Your 5 A Day On A Plate

Sometimes, I have no idea what dinner will be until I start rummaging through the vegetable bins at 5 PM. This is what I came up with tonight. It was ready to serve at 5:45.

You Will Need: (but really, you could use whatever you have)

Asparagus (about 10 stalks)
4 small carrots, cut into matchsticks
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
2 bunches scallions, chopped
1 tin chickpeas, rinsed and skins removed
A handful of chopped, black olives
1/2 block extra-firm tofu, pressed dry, cut in cubes, and lightly stir-fried in oil,
A bit of extra olive oil for finishing
Thyme to taste
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
A few thin slices of Provolone cheese

Seasoned rice (white rice cooked with a veggie soup base and minced, dried onions)

Lightly steam the trimmed asparagus. Rinse under cold water and drain. Set aside.

After you cook the tofu, add a small bit of extra oil to the pan and quickly cook the carrots and garlic. Add scallions, chickpeas, olives, and spices. Cook for about 2 minutes-just until flavours combine. Mix in (gently) the cooked asparagus and tofu. Give it another minute. Serve over rice with a bit of cheese if you like.

Valentine's Cake

The pictures are awful, and I had a terrible time trying to cut it, but the cake was delicious. I suspect the mini-chips in the cake contributed to the difficulty slicing-but who cares? Look everybody, cake!

I used the recipe in the 1950 Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook for the fudge cake, but added the chips instead of nuts. The filling is a simple buttercream of butter, icing sugar, and vanilla extract. The coating is a rich ganache that left me with enough extra for a dozen, generously sized truffles.

For The Cake:

1/2 cup soft butter
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 egg yolks (large)
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup chopped nuts or mini chocolate chips
2 egg whites, beaten with 1/2 cup sugar until a stiff meringue

Grease and flour 2 9 inch pans. preheat oven to 350 degrees F. with the rack in the centre position.

Cream the butter and sugar together. Beat in eggs and chocolate. Mix vanilla with milk and add alternating with the dry ingredients(flour, baking powder, salt) sifted together. Stir in nuts or chips. Fold in beaten egg whites and sugar.

Pour gently into pans and bake until they test done-about 30-40 minutes (mine took 40). Cool 10 minutes in pan, then cool completely on rack.

Fill and frost as desired.

The Megaron

What didn't show well in the photo are the dolphins Danny drew for the frescoes (the piece of cardboard at the rear). He did this without any help, in fact, I didn't know what he was up to until I saw it. Particularly innovative was the use of the porcelain miniatures from Red Rose Tea for statues of various gods. I wonder if Red Rose ever had an ancient Greece collection of figurines? I'll bet they did-I should look into that.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


The poodle would like to register his displeasure with being given a bath as he was just starting to achieve the level of "dog smell" he likes. Clearly, we don't appreciate the finer things, and he's getting a bath. It reached 70 degrees F. here today, which is probably a sign of the apocalypse. Since all dogs go to heaven, we thought we should clean him up a bit.

Gel Mat

This gel chef's mat was a birthday gift. I had my doubts, but it really turned out to be a terrific way to ease fatigue in my legs. It is designed well enough that I don't trip over it (it is heavy) and it wipes clean. This seems like a great improvement over the mats we used to have behind registers a million years ago when I worked in the supermarket. Those had open spaces that you could catch a heel in. This is much, much better.

That's A Fine Looking Pocket Protector

...And no, he doesn't always wear his pants that high. He's sticking his gut out as well.

Finding a pocket protector these days is quite difficult-even the old ladies working at the Ben Franklin had no idea where to find them (but they sell rain bonnets, cobbler aprons, and other assorted OAP gear, so it wasn't outrageous to ask). Finally, Mr. ETB stumbled into an Ace Hardware, and was given one from a stack that had been sitting in a drawer for 20 years because no one wanted them.

Nothing screams, "I write boring software", like a pocket protector, and too-short pants. Still, if he's happy, then I am.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

He Fondled a Filly

Oh, I know-bestiality isn't funny, but the attempt by a newspaper to describe the act, without being too graphic still goes into John Waters territory. The formality of, "Improperly touched the horse" just seems at odds with the rest of the absurdly written article. The reader gets the impression the author could have used a hand with editing.

Ask The Internets

Hey, Internets? I have a question. I want to make jam-filled sandwich biscuits, but I don't want to make anyone sick. Must I keep the biscuits chilled after filling, or can jam sit at room temperature in once it is spread between biscuits? I was thinking Jammy Dodgers never killed anyone (that I know of), but I don't think that's actual jam in them, at least not before it has been engineered to withstand nuclear apocalypse (yeah, laugh but when nuclear apocalypse comes round you'll want a packet of biscuits). Anyway...what do I need to do to keep the blob of jam in the centre from becoming a bacterial magnet?

Thanks in advance.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

A Nut-Free Battenburg Cake

No one really likes marzipan anyway. I ended up making a roll-able covering from homemade butter and icing sugar. It worked fine, though my decorating skills could use some work. I made the cake with the egg whites left from the curd, rather than make a traditional sponge. The pink section is flavoured with rose water, and the yellow with lemon. The squares are held together with the blossom water marmalade. I ended-up with a cake that tastes like Turkish Delight, which isn't a terrible result.

I've been interested in re-doing traditional desserts/sweets in a nut-free manner. So far, I've had some excellent results, and this one did not disappoint.

Grapefruit Curd

What part of eight egg yolks and 12 tablespoons of butter sounds unhealthy? It made an entire pint...that ought to last a few days. I even managed a science lesson on emulsification as I incorporated the butter.

Grapefruit Brittle Praline With Salt

I don't know what possessed me-but I'm glad it did. I had quite a bit of extra grapefruit juice left from making curd (I always juice more than I need) and this sounded good. I've used this recipe with blood oranges, but the salt was a new idea.

You Will Need:

2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
Grated zest of a grapefruit
1/2 cup strained grapefruit juice
2 tablespoons butter
Coarse salt
Prepare a large baking sheet with a covering of parchment.
In a large, heavy pot combine the sugar, syrup, zest and juice. Stir until dissolved, then cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until it reaches 300 degrees F. Remove from heat, beat in butter and pour onto pan. Sprinkle with salt. When cool, crack into pieces.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

I Just Wanted Wholemeal Biscuits

I've made these silly biscuits so many times, it would seem impossible to ruin them-yet that is exactly what I did...twice.

The first attempt, I used too much brown sugar, and let the dough get warm-those turned into a very thin, shapeless molasses type sweet. Not bad, for what they are, but not what I wanted. The second batch, I forgot to add half the butter. Those are also still edible, and not horrible, but still far from what I wanted. Oh, to be like everyone else and go purchase a packet! I rarely engage in this sort of self-pity, but damn it, I now have a big, bloody tray filled with biscuits I'll likely end up crumbling for a pie crust after they go good and stale.

Oh, and I have a fever. A really awful, swell the mercury fever, which I guess is nice as I was the only person in the household not freezing this morning in the sub-zero temperatures.

#%$()&^%#$& biscuits! I don't think I'll be trying a third time today-the Universe obviously thinks I don't need them.

Monday, February 07, 2011

ImpressiveVegetables, On a Budget

Red bell peppers were on sale, so I stocked-up. With carrots, generous amounts of parsley, preserved lemon peel, and cooked, frozen peas you have an impressive looking assortment that won't bust the budget. Two tablespoons of olive oil-at the most. Add some dried thyme, salt and pepper and cook it quickly over high heat starting with the carrots, then the peppers, and leaving the parsley and cooked peas to be tossed in at the last.

I served this as a side-dish, but you could easily toss it with pasta, or serve it over rice. Leftovers would work pretty well in eggs. You get the idea.

Balsamic Roasted Sweet Onions

The original recipe is a Donna Hay, but it called for red onions. I had sweet yellow onions, so I gave this a try. The boys really liked them, and the technique is quite simple. I did end up baking mine longer than the recipe indicated, and I found occasional basting helpful.

You Will need:

Onions, cut in half
Balsamic vinegar
Granulated sugar
Olive oil

Heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a casserole dish with parchment and make sure the casserole dish has a lid. Pull the onions apart and add a drop of balsamic between each layer. Fit them back together. Over the top, drizzle some sugar and olive oil. Cover the dish and bake 35 minutes. Remove lid, baste, and continue baking another 25-40 minutes. Serve hot, or cold.

New Rolls From Stale Bread Sponge

These are the rolls I mentioned a couple posts ago. They are starter, and a sponge made of water and cut-up pieces of a stale, whole wheat baguette. They came up quite light, and really held up to veggie burgers, lettuce, tomato and all the other stuff. Sometimes I just can't bear to waste the ends of my homebaked bread, and there are only so many breadcrumbs and melba toast you can use. This is yet another way to avoid waste. Hooray!

Sunday, February 06, 2011

New Sourdough Experiments

I just pulled a batch of hamburger buns from the oven that are made with the stale leftover baguettes from earlier in the week. I soaked the slices in the initial starter/water sponge replacing part of the additional bread flour with bread. Then, after 12 hours, I added the salt, sugar, and remaining flour to finish the dough. It went through two long rises after that, which is why I am baking at 9 PM. They have a somewhat flecked appearance from the whole wheat baguette crumbs, but otherwise look just like regular buns. I've read that using stale bread in new loaves enhances the flavour and extends the life of the bread-I guess we'll see.

On Thursday, I made a batch of sweet dough from the sourdough starter, but instead of adding eggs, I used tons of butter and cream. I wanted to see what it would be like baking with it over a few days, in batches. It kept well in the fridge, and made really magnificent sticky buns Friday morning. As with most sourdough baking, the only real, "trick" is leaving sufficient time for rising. Overnight on the counter was fine for the assembled rolls. In the morning, they went into a hot oven and came out perfect. The very runny marmalade went well with chopped-up bittersweet chocolate, or at least that's what Mr. ETB's co-workers said as they demolished the tray of pastry in less than five minutes. I don't believe people were really milling about Mr. ETB's cubicle trying to lick his face though. Sometimes, he exaggerates.

This morning, the leftover dough became cinnamon crescent rolls. I was concerned the dough might be heavy without eggs, but it turned out fine. Again, long, slow rises and a hot oven seem to solve most baking problems. As the sourdough matures, it gets stronger, and as far as I can tell ( remembering back a couple years) the last starter I lost in the tornado (gee, there's a sentence you don't come across at every cooking blog) was never this powerful, or interesting. I might just be a better baker now, who knows?

I guess what I'm trying to communicate is, don't be afraid to experiment. Certainly some loaves will be better, but so what? If you don't like it, chop the loaf up and re-bake it into a new loaf!


Oh, just go watch the video, HERE.

I Wear The Awful Trends...So You Don't Have To

Sears is having another clearance sale, so I bought the boots I liked at 70.00 for 17.00. There's still plenty of winter left to wear them.

I came home with three dresses-this was the most interesting one. My mother had something like this, in 1970.

The bracelets. Danny loves them (he's been reading the Iliad) and I sort of like them as well...but I do feel a little Wonder Woman-ish wearing them.

Not pictured:

Patent leather, high heeled Mary Janes. Mr. ETB said I shouldn't wear them to the library because of all the elderly men who try to flirt with me. "They're not all pensioners" I reminded him-and proceeded to purchase the shoes.

A pink and grey stripped sweater-dress.

A black sweater dress.

Anyhoo, I bought new clothing at thrift store prices. I'm not being compensated by Sears for telling you to, get over there immediately. Really, I couldn't believe how much clothing I came home with for so little money. Mr. ETB came home with a 10.00 pair of Dockers.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Marmalade/ Jelly Updates

Marmalade-Navel Oranges With Brown Sugar-Good, not too sweet, but very soft set.

Marmalade With Blood Oranges, Cara Cara and Orange Blossom Water-Slightly perfume-y, firmer set.

Grapefruit Marmalade With Brown Sugar and Lavender-About as perfect as marmalade gets. Set is firm, but not too hard.

Three Citrus Marmalade With Bitters-If marmalade could taste like a Manhattan, this would be close, but maybe I just have that association with bitters. Firmer set than the plain marmalade, but still somewhat soft. It does have me wondering if I could make a lemon marmalade with bourbon and maraschino cherries-and of course, bitters. Not the magical transformation I was hoping for, but still a fine batch of marmalade worthy of a good slice of toast. Raymond, guess what I'll be sending your way once the weather eases?

Grapefruit Anise Jelly-Overall winner with Danny. It tastes like grapefruit licorice. I can't wait to use it for baking fish.

Spiced Orange Jelly-Everyone who has tried this says it doesn't taste like orange, but some sort of honey/apple/spice cake. It does have apple pectin in it, though I'd be shocked if that was the key to it. I used Cara Cara oranges, which have a somewhat subtle orange flavour, but really I don't know what happened. Sometimes you just get the magical combination of fruits, spices, and the Universe rooting for you to turn out a batch of perfection. I guess this is one of those times.

I still can't seem to discern the perfect temperature for setting marmalade as it varies batch to batch. I know this should not be so-and yet. As none were overcooked, or too runny to spread on toast, I'll consider this year's Marmalade/jelly making a success. I have a few grapefruit left, but unless I'm faced with an even deeper discount on massive quantities of citrus, I believe I'll be done for the season, save perhaps for some spiced citrus slices in brandy.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me

My birthday isn't until Friday, but I have a busy week still. I don't really mind baking my own Birthday cake, because this way I get the cake I want. Danny thought I should put my age on the cake, but this kind of conveys the idea.

The cake and frosting are interesting (well, I think they are). I've made my share of cream cakes, but never one that uses whipped cream in place of the butter. Danny helped me demolish the trimmings as we decorated and it really is a light, delicious cake. Honestly, it didn't need frosting-I could see filling it with lemon curd and giving it a light dusting of icing sugar before serving. Of course, I couldn't write funny things on it then, could I?

The frosting is made from browned butter, which is my favourite. I'll get the recipes posted later, but I have to go take apart the Hoover now as it suddenly stopped working, and then dumped a load of what looks like gravel on the floor. Then, I have to write tests because Thursday is test-day around here.

Now...oh you already know.

Damn beatniks with their long-playing records and reefer cigarettes.

Bitters Marmalade Is Made

-we'll see what happens when it cools. Again, I cooked it beyond what all experts claim I should, and the set is rather soft. I guess we'll find out in 24 hours if it firms up or not. I really don't want to re-make it, and I don't think it is anywhere near runny. Time will tell. The bitters smelled nice as they went in at the last.

Baguettes Made With AP and Cake Flour

These came up much lighter, and the crust did crackle a bit. I followed the advice at The Fresh Loaf, and left the bread in the turned-off oven for five minutes to finish venting. That really seemed to help with the crackling effect.

The loaves have a sponge made from sourdough starter, bread flour and water, then the final loaf is salt, sugar, and the Cake and AP flours. An interesting bread-still not exactly what I'm aiming for (and they took almost three days to complete) but closer.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Laughing At Old Man Winter

That's what we did this morning, as I harvested cutting lettuces growing in my sunny dining room window. I still can't believe it worked. I used regular old potting soil (not special seed mix), and the plastic containers strawberries are sold in (save those-they're great for all sorts of things). I improvised a tray from the lid of a plastic storage tub, which worked really well. Danny was thrilled to have little tea-sandwiches with assorted baby lettuces and butter. As the blizzard raced across our lawn leaving a four foot drift directly at the end of the walkway where the car is parked (it is like the Universe knows, and finds the one spot that will require shoveling) I watered my windowsill garden and laughed. Laughed. You take that old man winter.


...And For My Next Trick

...multi-citrus marmalade with bitters.

At Raymond's urging, I scoured my cabinets and found a bottle of bitters I swear we still had when we lived in Boston ten years ago. It is still unopened, so I guess it is good.

I prepared the peels today, and they will soften overnight. I have lemon, grapefruit, Cara Cara oranges, Moro oranges, and Navel oranges. I thought about lime, but decided that would be overkill, though I could see bitters being really good with a plain lime marmalade. Really, I just want some damn Seville oranges. Mr. ETB offered to move us to Spain, but not being able to speak Spanish would be inconvenient. Yeah, there's Gibraltar, but still. I really am carrying on about the oranges, but I like Seville orange marmalade. Anyway, we'll give the bitters a try, and see what a few dashes of gentian root does for marmalade. I like Moxie soda, which is made with gentian, but I don't think I'd like Moxie and orange juice. Eh, whatever.

I'm down to my last few oranges, but we're still in good supply as far as grapefruit and lemons. I can't think of a better way to spend a sub-zero day (they were calling for some ungodly temperature tomorrow) than standing over bubbling pots of sugar and citrus.

I'll be back with updates after it sets.

Sour Grapes...and Pudding!

I wasn't going to toss out the bag of too-sour Green grapes I'd paid too much for anyway. Instead, I made a compote, and then (because that was kinda plain for dessert) I made a vanilla cornstarch pudding to pour it over. That was good call.

To Rescue Sour Grapes:

Make a syrup of 2 parts sugar to 1 part water. Add whatever spices you like-a vanilla bean would be great if you have an old used one lying about, or star anise, or cinnamon stick, etc. I used cinnamon, fresh ginger, and cloves. Make a syrup by boiling the hell out of it until it reduces by 1/3. Add the grapes, lower the temperature to a simmer and cook, just until some of the grapes pop.Remove grapes to a dish, remove spices, and cover with syrup. Cool, then chill. You won't know they were the same inedible sour grapes you started with. After poaching the grapes, look around the kitchen for other things to poach in the syrup. I did pink grapefruit segments which turned out delicious. If you have any syrup left, store it tightly covered in a jar in the fridge and use for flavouring sodas, tea, or just over yoghurt. Or you can make pudding-the recipe that follows is pretty good.

Cornstarch Pudding:

2 cups milk
2 teaspoons cornstarch (cornflour)
1/4-1/2 cup sugar (to taste)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons butter

In a medium saucepan, combine cornstarch, sugar, salt, egg yolks, and slowly whisk in the milk. Over medium heat, whisking constantly to prevent scorching, cook until the mixture comes to a boil. Cook one minute longer. Remove from heat, beat in butter and vanilla. Pour into a bowl and cover with a round of waxed paper. Cool in fridge. Whip well before serving.

Mushroom Barley Soup-Meatless

I grew-up eating the mushroom barley soup that came in a cellophane tube-and it wasn't bad. In fact, it was one of the few foods my mother couldn't ruin because all you had to do was add water, and set it to simmer for a few hours. The dehydrated mushrooms, and large white Lima beans were pretty decent, and if we were lucky, she wouldn't try to dress the soup up with the addition of leftover brisket, or hunks of dried salami. What always bothered me about the soup was the lack of carrots. Soup should have carrots-and I mean that as a sort of general statement. Maybe not potato soup (though they wouldn't hurt) but a few carrots almost always make food taste better.

I don't know quite when it was I realised you could make mushroom barley soup without the cellophane tube of ingredients. At some point, I must have decided it was more economical to buy a box of barley, and then there was no looking back-except, were the tubes readily available here, I might buy them as a base. I really might, but they're not, so out comes the box of pearl barley.

With a storm coming in, I didn't feel the need to race out and purchase fresh mushrooms for this-so I used tinned. I don't think anyone noticed. Tinned mushrooms are vastly improved over what used to be sold, and with some searching, you can even find portabellas in a tin. These were not fancy mushrooms, but the .50 cent stems and pieces I like to keep on hand for making kasha. Keep in mind, that using tinned vegetables will increase the sodium content of your overall soup, so adjust accordingly. I didn't have any cooked Lima beans, so I used tinned pintos, which made me feel like such a radical. My mother never would have added pinto beans to mushroom barley soup.

We're on the third night of eating this (with potato/carrot kugel) for dinner and as the 40 mph winds blast the farmhouse with -29 below wind chills, a surplus of soup isn't exactly a bad thing to have on hand.

What I Did:

8 cups vegetable stock
6 large carrots, diced
1 large parsnip, peeled and diced
1 large onion, chopped
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 small tins mushrooms, drained and rinsed
1 cup pearl barley, rinsed well, and drained
1 tin pinto beans (or any you like) rinsed and drained

Add everything to a large stock pot, and bring to a boil. Skim if needed, then reduce to low simmer. Cover, leaving a small space to vent, and cook at least two hours until carrots are very soft, and barley has plumped and given off quite a bit of starch to thicken.

Makes a great, big, kettle of soup.