Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween

I'm going dressed as a cranky, middle-aged woman.
Like my costume?

Might as well enjoy Halloween, as it is a marathon from tomorrow to the end of the year.

Anyone else think the "news" articles warning parents of the sugar content in candy are a bit silly? I mean, not as silly as suggesting sugar-free gum, rationing, and brushing teeth within seconds of consumption. Yeah, I figured you'd think so. It was bad enough when the media did the standard tampered candy/dangerous scary neighbour/kind of stories. Now we have to fear the candy corn.

Here 'ya go kid, enjoy your organic, ethical, fair trade, carob-coated, free range, stevia-sweetened, guru-approved, recyclable, non-gmo-non-modified-vegan-piece of recycled paper! Don't make spit-balls with it, the school has a zero-tolerance policy.

Hey, is that a loo roll all over my trees?

Happy Halloween.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Homemade Cream Cheese-and other cheese related stuff

There isn't any skill required in making cream cheese at home-just patience, and a large, non-reactive pan. I have to admit a tiny bit of pride serving homemade bagels with homemade cream cheese. I've threatened to make my own graavlax, but that threat is largely idle (maybe).

I used the grocery store rennet tablets from Junket, and followed the recipe in the enclosed booklet. The results were excellent, the instructions clear, and the cream cheese- the best I've tasted.

I used full-fat milk and buttermilk, but it would still work with 2%.

I used a gallon of store-brand milk that was probably ultra-pastuerised and it still worked fine. Since then, I've been able to source some cream-top milk that isn't heated to death, or homogenised smooth which I'll use for some other cheese making. Price wise, it isn't that big of a difference, but I live somewhat local to where it is produced. The worst part was going to the health food store to buy it, and putting up with all the obnoxious people that shop there. Really people, get over yourselves.

I have the wood cut to build my cheese press (yep, a cheese press) and that will probably get assembled today. Hard cheeses are a bit trickier as you don't know if you have anything good until it has aged. I have two fridges, one of which is about to become my cheese cave, and I'm pretty excited at the thought of that. Those cheeses will require purchasing specific cultures, but you can make a basic hard cheddar-style cheese with supermarket rennet.

Finally, skyr. I'm cheating, and using purchased skyr as my starter, but with any luck, I'll be dining like a Viking by the end of the week. I love skyr. Sure, it is sour as all hell, and not really for everyone, but if you can get past the initial shock of, "oh my god that's so sour I'm going to die!" then odds are, you'll probably find it if not delicious, interesting. It gets called "yoghurt" but technically, it is cheese, as it has rennet. The texture is closer to sour cream-the sourest sour cream you can imagine-and then some. Danny really likes it with a blob of apricot jam. Anyway, if you see it in your market, try some-but be warned that first taste will be a shock if you were expecting yoghurt.

Tea Barmbrack

Yeast risen barmbrack is lovely, but time consuming. If you've still not baked your brack for Samhain, this one is quite nice. I'm well aware that candied pineapple, and dried cranberries are not traditional, but that's what I had. Feel free to substitute currants, dates, etc. The recipe is from Darina Allen, who knows all there is to know(!), so I knew it would work (she's yet to fail me). The original recipe calls for self-rising flour, but you can make your own with baking powder and salt (add  1 1 /4 teaspoons baking powder and 1/8 teaspoon salt per cup plain flour). I pre-mix my own mixed spice, but you can go the typical cinnamon-ginger-nutmeg-clove route if you don't have any. I like a bit of allspice and coriander in mine, but that's admittedly odd.

This is a keeping cake, that is, you will enjoy it more after it stores and acquires a softer, sticky texture. You can eat it the day it is baked, but it is worth waiting at least overnight, and you'll find it improves with age (similar to parkin, or a malt loaf). I forget to mention that with so many of these recipes, and I wonder how many cakes/breads/etc have met an untimely end as they seemed too heavy and stale at first sampling. This is particularly true of parkin, so if you're making some for next week, you'd best get baking.

If you add charms, I suggest poking them into the loaf after baking, and wrapping them in parchment so no one chokes on a coin.

You Will Need:

3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup sultanas
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup candied pineapple (or cherries)
Grated zest of an orange-or lemon
1 cup strong, hot black tea
1/4 cup spirits (I used some really strong cherry brandy)
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 3/4 cup self-rising flour
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 teaspoon mixed spice, or an aproximation of mixed spice

In a large bowl, combine everything except the eggs and dry ingredients. Let soak a few hours, or overnight. Add the egg, sugar, and flour. Don't overmix-just stir until everything is wet and combined.

I lined a loaf pan with parchment which made my life much easier. If you don't have parchment, grease and flour the pan generously.

Pour the batter into a large loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees F. for about an hour and a half-but start testing at an hour. The cake may seem dry as it cools, but it will soften up over a couple days. To store, wrap tightly in wax paper and cling film.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Candied Pineapple

Store bought, candied pineapple isn't very nice. Well, it isn't-I'm not being a snob. I never could taste any pineapple in it-just sugar and preservative. When I tell you how easy making your own is, you'll be hurrying off to buy a pineapple. OK fine, I can wait-go on.

Back so soon? Super! Let's make candied pineapple.

You Will Need:

a ripe pineapple
2 cups water
4 cups sugar

Trim the pineapple, core it and cut it into thick slices, or chunks (I did chunks as my slices always fall apart anyway). In a large, heavy pot, dissolve the sugar in the water, whisking until the sugar is dissolved. Add the pineapple, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium (or your pineapple will fall apart) and cook, stirring occasionally about 30 minutes, or until the pineapple is translucent. You will need to reduce the heat as the syrup cooks down, so keep an eye on it. Remove the pineapple with a slotted spoon, and drain on a rack over a baking sheet. At this point, you can lay it on parchemnt and give it a bit more drying out in a 170 degree F. oven, or use your food dehydrator set at 140 degrees F. You don't want it so dry it becomes hard and brittle-just enough to remove the  worst of the stickiness.

Store it tightly covered in the fridge. I put mine in plastic containers with layers of parchment between the fruit.

But wait! Don't toss out that syrup. Use it to flavour seltzer water, pour it on porridge oats, but don't pour it down the drain. It keeps well in a tightly closed jar in the fridge.

Monday, October 22, 2012

South Dakota

Me:  Oh no, Russel Means died. First it was George McGovern, now Russel Means. I swear, the Universe is trying to kill the 60's.

Danny: Is Chomsky still alive?

Me: As far as I know, he is.

Danny: He'd better stay out of South Dakota.

All in Favour of a Creepy Cake Say, "Eye!"

So yeah, Danny dared me to bake an eyeball cake, and because I'm the sort of person that takes baking suggestions from a child, we have an eyeball cake for dessert. With Halloween nearing, I thought I'd share the technique.

You need an oven safe bowl. I used my thirty year old Pyrex mixing bowl. This bowl is also helpful for flying saucers, the domes of Romanesque cathedrals, and other crap you'll be required to bake in a rounded shape. What? You don't bake Romanesque cathedrals? What sort of freaks don't bake Romanesque cathedrals? Get off of my blog.

You'll also want a sturdy cake. I use the gold cake recipe in the 1950 Betty Crocker cookbook as it has only egg yolks, which makes for a cake that holds a shape well. It also cuts easily, should you need other architectural elements for your cathedral. I wouldn't go Gothic with cake though-flying buttresses, arches and all that...I mean, there's a limit to what cake (or gingerbread) can do. Did I mention Danny dared me to do Chartres in gingerbread? In a moment of...I dunno...calculated risk, I really considered doing it, but the thought of smashing boiled sweets to melt into a rose window killed it for me.

You'll want to frost your eyeball white in a crumb coat, then pipe on red veins across the lower surface. For the centre I used a round cookie cutter as a guide, and filled it with coarse sanding sugar. For the pupil I rolled out a piece of soft licorice, cut it into a round, and made a white dot in the corner with extra icing. That was it-the eyes have it (sorry). Eye would show it to you (sorry again) but the computer won't recognise my camera. Eye need to get that fixed (gah).

Barbecued Short Ribs (in the oven)

These ribs require a bit of advance planning, but the cooking is simple enough. I took the basic recipe from, America Cooks, The General Federation of Women's Clubs Cookbook, 1967. If you run across a copy in a charity shop, I recommend purchasing it-I've had wonderful results from everything I've tried.  For the non-cook, it is still a fascinating read, particularly if you're amused by mid-century cookery.

I changed a few things (added mustard powder, honey, stuff like that) but otherwise I kept pretty close to the directions-until the end. I looked at the pan, all the wonderful carmelised fats, spices...I had to deglaze it and reduce it to sauce. I had to. That turned out to be a good call, as I brushed it back on the ribs, returned them to the oven for five more minutes at high heat, and they took on the appearance of ribs cooked on a grill. Perfect. The original recipe was for spare ribs (pork) but it worked just dandy with beef.

I don't eat meat (nor does Danny) but Mr. ETB does, so these were his lunchbox treat this week-or at least that was the intention. He just informed me they were demolished at lunch. He did offer to go out and purchase more for me to prepare. I guess he liked them.

You Will Need:

4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup ketchup
1 onion, finely minced
Black pepper to taste (Mr. ETB likes quite a bit)
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard powder
1 tablespoon paprika

Mix all together, place in a plastic freezer bag with,
3-4 lbs. shortribs. Seal well (I always put the bag in a bowl in case it leaks), and let it sit in the fridge 24 hours.

Next day:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Arrange ribs in a roasting pan, and discard extra marinade. Cook ribs, uncovered at 450 degrees F. for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 325 degrees F. and cook 1 1/2-2 hours longer, turning every half hour or so. When ribs are cooked through, remove to  a plate. Heat oven back to 400 degrees F.

Place pan on a fairly hot burner, add a splash of port, and stir, scrape, and do whatever you must to dislodge the cooked-on bits from the pan. When you've removed enough for a sauce, transfer it to a smaller pan, cook over high until reduced to a couple tablespoons. Brush this over the ribs, return them to the oven and let them cook five minutes longer. Tent with foil, let stand at least ten minutes before serving.

You should probably make more than you think you'll need.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Pumpkin Buttermilk Cake

I have baked so many spice cakes over the years it becomes difficult finding something to say that sets them apart. I suppose the obvious difference here is the buttermilk and pumpkin combination which lends the cake a lovely texture and good keeping quality. I would absolutely make this again, though I'm not sure I would use a raisin/pear filling as it is expensive, and more work than a layer of frosting.

This would work well as a sheet cake adorned with little more than a dusting of icing sugar. I did a cream cheese/maple frosting outside that was nice, but again, a bit expensive for such a plain cake. Penuche is always a winner with spice cakes-maybe next time.

I took the basic recipe from Better Homes and Gardens Pies and Cakes, 1966 edition

You Will Need:

1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup tinned pumpkin drained 30 minutes to remove excess moisture (you'll be shocked how much there is)
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 3/4 cup plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarb
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons mixed spice
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Grease and flour 2 8 inch round cake tins or a 9x13 pan.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light. Beat in eggs one at a time. Combine pumpkin with buttermilk. Sift dry ingredients together. Add, alternating with the pumpkin/buttermilk mixture. Don't overbeat it. Pour into pans. Bake about 30 minutes for rounds, 40-45 for sheet.

A Fantastic Bread Sponge

I've started using this as a basic sponge for several varieties of crusty bread, and am pleased with it.

2 cups water at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
(about) 3 cups strong flour

Mix until combined-the dough should not be liquid, but not dry either-more like a very wet clay. Cover, let sit at room temperature 24 hours (yes, that long).

At this point, you add salt, half a teaspoon more yeast, more water if needed, and a sweetener if you like. Add your flour (I've used both white and wheat for this) until you have a somewhat sticky dough you can handle in folds. This will be a couple cups of flour at most. Over the next two hours, fold the dough several times, taking care not to completely deflate it. After two hours, shape as desired. Let rise another hour or so until doubled slash, and bake in a hot oven with steam for the first twenty minutes (I preheat to 485 F. then drop to 425 F when I load the bread). Rotate bread pan after 20 minutes, remove steam pan if using one, and bake about 20 minutes longer until the bread has an internal temperature of around 205 degrees F. At this point, I kill the heat, pop the door of the oven open, and let the bread sit in there another five minutes directly on the rack. This helps it to release steam slowly giving the crust a crackled effect. It won't always work, but when it does, the five extra minutes is well worth it.

So that's my new basic bread sponge, and what I've been doing with it. So far, I'm sorry to say the boys prefer this to the sourdough loaves. That's a drag, as I have three lively starters at the moment.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

"And" Does Not Mean "Or"

I post this hoping to hear readers reassure me I've not lost my mind. I bought a set of salt and pepper shakers yesterday. The sign on the table read, "Salt and Pepper Shakers, $2.99."

Upon ringing them out, I am charged the price for each shaker.

"But they're a set. No one buys just a salt or a pepper."
"Unless they're connected to each other, they're sold singly."
"But, the sign says, "Salt and Pepper Shakers" not "Salt or Pepper Shakers."

My money was refunded for the extra shaker, but I had to endure being, "educated" by a teenager that salt and pepper shakers are sold singly.

Well? Is this how it is where you live, or is it just here in Idiocracy? Am I mad to expect "Salt and Pepper" means a duo? I hate being the complaining old lady, but not as much as I hate being over charged.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


I'm not much of a telephone person.  I have an unlisted number, favour written communication over spoken, and keep the land line only for the sake of emergencies. Sometimes, I get calls to remind me of appointments, the odd poll taker-that sort of thing. When the phone rang at 2PM Monday, I figured it was about delivery of the new washing machine. What I heard on the other end was:

"Hiiiiieeeee, I'm (super-fast-sing-song-up-inflecting-young woman) calling (again, so fast I couldn't make it out) is (more blather ending on a high note which I suspected was a question but given the pitch of the rest of it, I couldn't be certain)?

Look, I'm middle aged, almost completely deaf in one ear, and somewhat grumpy when I feel my time is being wasted. I hold the phone to my good ear, and I had the volume at high. I wasn't having difficulty hearing her, but I was having a hell of a time understanding her. I asked her to repeat it.

"Bleeeeeeeeie, bluuuuuh, chiper-chipper-uh, you know eeee...Chadron State."

OK, so at least we got as far as Chadron State. She was calling from a college, or trying to call a college.

"One more time please? I asked.

(Somewhat less chipper at this point) "Is Kelsey there?"

Oh, she was calling from the admissions office for someone named Kelsey. That took three tries. Not wanting some poor kid to miss an important call from an admissions office, I explained that this was a wrong number, and that she should check it, or make note of it so they can get in touch with poor Kelsey who is probably waiting to hear from the admissions office.

Here's where Danny says I was, "mean."  He used the word mean. I told the person on the other end of the line that if she intends to keep working on the telephone she ought to pursue diction lessons, as it shouldn't take three attempts to understand the purpose of the call.

"You told some kid to get diction lessons. That's mean." He insists.
"I told her that if she intends to use the phone in a business situation she should take a class."
"You told her she needed to get diction lessons-that's really mean. You have an accent."
"I do, but you can understand me. There's nothing wrong with a regional accent provided it is clear you are speaking the same language.
"You're mean."

At least I resist the urge to insist young cashiers  count back change when they hand you your notes and coins in an unsorted pile. God, I hate that. Probably further evidence of my meanness.

The following day, I got another call from Chadron State, but at least I could understand that one. I dunno, if your name is Kelsey, and you're waiting for a call from admissions at Chadron State, maybe you better get on the horn and give 'em a holler. Or not. Maybe this is some sort of sign that they'll screw up your records a week before graduation, and you'll never get your diploma.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

That's Christmas, Sorted

I have six Christmas puddings being stored after the initial steam, a Christmas Cake (wrapped in apple brandy soaked cheesecloth) and enough dried fruit left for a second cake (someone should stop me before I bake again).

With Danny's Birthday so close to Christmas, I try to get things done as early as possible. Last year I had the puddings made by the 18th-so I'm a week ahead this year.

Tomorrow, the new washing machine arrives-hooray! I've been hand washing everything for a week now, which is obviously a pain.

I have Danny's Halloween costume ready-he's dressing as Uncle Pennybags from the Monopoly game (he's kinda Monopoly obsessed) which was great as he already had a suit so all we needed was a walking stick, and a hat.

The quilt is coming along. I still haven't located a suitable backing fabric, but I'm doing the front by piecing into the design of the board. The sewing isn't so terrible (no worse than other square-based quilts) but the embroidery on the properties, Community Chest, Utilities, etc. is killing me. Nothing makes you realise you need new glasses the way that tiny embroidery does (not to fear, I see the optometrist in a couple weeks). I'm fairly confident it will be completed by Danny's Birthday.

I guess it really is too soon to start making Christmas cards, eh?

Tuesday, October 09, 2012


Danny has two weeks until his dental appointment. Because he has a tooth growing in behind another that will not fall out, it will probably require removal. Last visit, the dentist told Danny to try wiggling it a couple times daily, to see if he could dislodge it himself. No luck so far, but it is pretty loose. I offered to help out by grasping the tooth with one of those gripper things people use to open jars.

"Absolutely not! I want a licensed dentist. You're not a dentist, you're an anthropologist."

You know, these kids today are so picky. "EEEwww, I don't want you to remove my appendix with a razor blade, and a bottle of scotch. I want a licensed surgeon!"

Oh, and the Tooth Fairy sneaks into my put-up cordials and helps herself-then she tosses money all about Danny's room. We know it is her, I mean who else would be taking such healthy swigs of the cordials when it isn't Christmas? Anyway, I'd better lock up the booze as soon as that tooth comes out.

Pudding Time

I've been drying/candying fruit all summer and fall in preparation for the yearly puddings. This is the first year where nearly all the fruit is home dried/candied. I also have some homemade apple brandy for the spirits, and my own bread for the crumbs. I feel like it is 1840-well, except for the electric dehydrator. Dudes, you should get one of those machines, they work a treat.

Today, we did all the chopping, grating, etc. and tomorrow I'll do the initial 6 hour steaming leaving the last 2 for Christmas Eve. I'm doing small ones this year (8 of them)  because I like the idea of individual servings-and I don't like to share.  There's something special in having your own pudding to set alight, isn't there?

Here's what's going in for fruit:

Concord grape raisins
Black grape raisins
Dried Italian plums
Candied ginger root
Candied orange peel
Candied lemon peel
Candied grapefruit peel
Candied cherries
Dried cherries
Candied apricots
Dried apriocots
Dried apples
Dried pears

For the bread crumbs I have a buttermilk fennel bread, and the remains of a pumpkin challah.

I told Danny he has to help me stir so he can make a wish. Personally, I think that was a way to get the kids to help stir the heavy ingredients (it gets to be a chore for a large batch) but he fell for it. I have a gigantic bowl reserved for just this task.

Next up-the Christmas cake. I'm letting Danny select which recipe we use this year, though I will limit it to ones I'm familiar with, or come from trusted sources. Fruit and booze are too expensive to be tossing out on some recipe that wasn't tested.

Anyone else getting an early start on the holidays?

I Made That Chuck Roast, I Did

The Internets weren't much help locating my mum's brisket recipe, so I improvised. Mr. ETB really enjoyed it, so I'd better record the recipe here as I froze the other half of the roast.

I needed my oven for bread, so I treated it like a boiled supper, and cooked it on the hob. Four hours did it, over the lowest heat setting.

You Will Need:

Chuck roast
1 large onion, sliced
1 bottle chili sauce (any kind will do)
1 cup Concord grape sweet wine, plus extra to rinse the chili bottle
3 cloves garlic, peeled
4 carrots, diced
1 parsnip, diced
2 beef stock cubes
A bay leaf
A generous grinding of black pepper
Beef suet for searing (sure, you can use oil)

Heat a couple knobs of rendered beef suet in a Dutch oven. Sear the roast. Add vegetables, and stock cubes. Cover all with chili sauce. Add wine. Rinse chili sauce bottle with additional wine. Add bay leaf and pepper. Cover, and cook over low heat several hours until tender. Remove meat and vegetables from pot. Strain through a fine sieve. return to pot and boil rapidly until reduced and thickened into a gravy. Serve with roast. If you aren't serving immediately, chill the sauce and scrape any additional fat that rises to the surface. Otherwise, what the hell, this ain't health food.

First night I served this with a crusty baguette. The second evening I served it over noodles. Tomorrow, it will be a sandwich.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Chuck Roast

Flipping through the grocery circular, Mr. ETB remarked that chuck roast sounded good.  He's a pretty good sport about living with two vegetarians, so on the way home from the city, I stopped and bought the largest one they had (I'm going to freeze half).

"Well, you'll need wine and chili sauce" Mr. ETB reminded me.

"That's how I cook brisket, but I could cook a chuck roast the same way, I guess."

Here's the embarrassing part-that was how my mother cooked brisket, and how I prepared it not knowing any different. It has been at least ten (probably closer to fifteen) years since I made anything like this, and I'm not really sure how to do it anymore. I tried steering (unintentional pun there, but I'm leaving it) him toward a more traditional pot roast recipe with peas, carrots, and some sort of floury gravy, but he insists the chili sauce/wine combo is better. Fine. I at least remembered enough to purchase a bottle of kosher wine (Concord grape, of course) though the brand of chili sauce my mother favoured is nowhere to be found in Nebraska. I'm sure the store brand will do. I think there are several onions involved. And carrots. I have a jar of rendered beef suet, maybe I ought to brown the roast in it first?

The "Teachable" Moment:

Danny, I want to tell you about this three dollar bottle of wine I'm buying. Someday, you'll be a teenager and as most teens do, you'll be tempted to hit mum and dad's booze. Because we're not the types to keep a stocked bar, you'll find yourself looking at a bottle of Pimms, and half a bottle of Mogen David that was left from the last time I cooked a brisket/chuck roast which will probably be this weekend. You'll think, "Hey this stuff isn't too bad, kinda sweet, goes down easy." You may find yourself with a bowl of popcorn on your lap, a movie on the telly ( or perhaps some sort of progressive jazz concert at an outdoor venue...but this isn't about me at Ravinia in 1981)...son, if you learn nothing else from me remember that the sickest you will ever be-the worst headache you will ever encounter-the first time you will pray for the ability to vomit on will all come courtesy of that innocent looking bottle of Concord grape wine. Oh, and maybe bourbon and ginger ale-don't drink bourbon and ginger ale. Scratch that, just don't drink bourbon. Or Mogen David. There, I've shared a life lesson so someday when you run off and join the merchant marine as you threaten routinely to do, you'll know to politely refuse the offer of a nice glass of wine and insist on grog like a proper sailor. And don't spend all your money on floozies when you get in port.

There, I'm done parenting for today. Hey, who wants Chuck Roast?

Friday, October 05, 2012

Raspberry Devil's Food Cake

Oh, how I wish the new Blogger interface would work with my browser. Instead, let me resort to descriptive writing. Four layers of rich chocolate cake. Raspberry ganache filling and icing. Artfully arranged raspberries atop the cake (OK not really, I just plopped them on pointy side-up, and called it a day). The recipe comes from Nick Malgieri's wonderful cookbook, Chocolate: From Simple Cookies to Extravagant Showstoppers. This cake? The latter. I keep peering into the fridge, all self-satisfied. "I baked that." Yes I did. Maybe not the perfect dessert with a meal of lasagna, but eh, I'll bet Nick would approve-he looks like the sort of guy that can appreciate a slab of lasagna and a hunk of cake.

I don't like to cook at the weekend, so I try to make a nice dessert that will see us through. Unless we have unexpected company, this cake will probably last weeks. I'm going to freeze half as I've had good results freezing ganache/mousse type cakes. Sometimes they're better slightly frozen. We'll see.

The recipe called for covering the entire cake in chocolate shavings at the last. I have rheumatoid arthritis-I don't *do* chocolate shavings. Chopping up a whopping twenty ounces of chocolate for this cake used up all the hand strength I could summon today. What's more, no matter how neatly I work (and I'm pretty neat in both senses of the word) pressing chocolate shavings onto the surface of a cake results in a mess to clean up-and waste. While I'm not above stooping to lick clean the counter thus avoiding waste, I'd still have to clean it again, and well, to hell with that, I just chopped twenty ounces of chocolate. I mean, how much chocolate do you need? Nick? Nick? How much chocolate Nick?

Finally, I thought twenty ounces of semi-sweet chocolate was insane, so I used half unsweetened to make a bittersweet of sorts. It is indeed quite bitter, but against the sweetness of the cake we thought it was just about perfect. Adjust according to your tastes. You will have ganache left over, so let it firm up in the fridge, then form balls, roll in cocoa powder and make truffles. Or just eat it with a spoon when no one is looking. I won't rat you out.

Cake Batter:

2 1/4 cups cake flour
3/4 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
12 tablespoons unsalted butter-very soft
1 3/4 cup buttermilk, divided
4 large eggs


10 ounces frozen raspberries with their liquid (I used fresh and added 1 tablespoon water)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
20 ounces semi-sweet chocolate cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1/2 cup raspberry preserves

Chocolate shavings, or as I did, topped with fresh raspberries and a scattering of pearl sugar for brightness

Grease and flour 2 10 inch cake pans. Nick says to line the bottom with parchment. I just spent about fifteen bucks on chocolate, butter, and raspberries so pardon me as I channel my grandmother..."You vant I should vaste parchment to bake a cake?" Funny, I just got the strangest craving for kasha and bowties. *Shrug*. Anyway, line the pans as you see fit, but butter and flour worked fine here.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Set the rack in the centre of the oven.

Sift dry ingredients into a bowl. Add butter and mix on low speed for 2 minutes (yes, this will send cocoa powder and everything else airborne). Add half the buttermilk, and mix 5 minutes longer, scraping the bowl once in a while. Beat the eggs into remaining buttermilk, add in 3 additions, scraping well after each.

Pour into prepared pans and bake about 30 minutes or until cakes are firm on top and test done with a toothpick. Cool 10 minutes in pans on a rack, then cool completely on rack. Meanwhile, make the filling.

Bring raspberries to a boil and reduce slightly. Strain through a sieve to remove seeds (yes, this is annoyingly slow). Cool. Bring cream and butter to a boil. Remove from heat, pour over chocolate in a large, heatproof bowl, and let sit two minutes. Whisk smooth. Whisk in the raspberries. Cool until thickened.

Slice cakes in half to make four more-or-less even layers (hey, I won't tell anyone if your cake is lopsided. You made cake!). Spread with a bit of the preserves, then the filling. Mask the outside of the cake with the remaining frosting. Top with raspberries or chocolate shavings. Serve chilled.

Thursday, October 04, 2012


I can't think of a single circumstance where it would be OK to approach someone in a grocery store and offer your unsolicited advice about someone's child rearing. I understand this sort of thing happens routinely, but largely I've been able to avoid it. Danny's baby formula was by prescription only, so I never had to face the wrath of busybodies ready to, "educate " me about breastfeeding.

I am aware of, and understand the stereotypes  associated with homeschooling-I probably held many of them years ago. The difference between holding, and voicing an opinion is a matter of manners.

I was caught off guard in the produce department. Danny was filling out his grocery price journal when a 60-ish woman swooped in on us. It was cool today, so Danny was wearing a sportcoat over a shirt and argyle vest, with walking shorts and knee socks. That's his style, and as it doesn't feature rips, bleach spatters, or his arse hanging out of his shorts, I let him dress according to his tastes.

"Oh, he looks adorable." Mrs. Swoopy declares. He looks like he belongs at Hravard. They all dress that way at Harvard, my nephew is there he graduated top of his class, I'm a retired school teacher. Where does your son go to school?"

First, a couple points. I know my way around Harvard square, and the Classical Studies department as well, and trust me when I tell you no one wears argyle vests, sport coats, and shorts with knee socks-not even as an attempt at irony. I'm stretching my memory back to the 90's (ow, that hurt) but honestly, I never saw an argyle vest. Ever. What I did encounter were people who would let you know thirty seconds after being introduced that they attended Harvard. Usually, it would emerge they attended the Continuing Education programme, but yeah, technically that is Harvard.

Let's give Mrs. Swoopy the benefit of the doubt, being a proud auntie and all. She was bursting at the seams with pride ,and while I don't think I look terribly approachable, I at least look respectable enough to know Harvard exists.

"So where does he go to school?"

Obviously, if Danny is at a grocery store at 2 PM on a Thursday afternoon, he isn't attending a conventional school with 8-3 hours. A retired teacher obviously knows this. While it seems innocent enough, what she was in fact doing was interrogating me as to why my child isn't in school today. My child was in school today, he was spending an hour making a weekly journal of staple items that he graphs and reports on through the semester. What Mrs. Swoopy was doing was interrupting class.

I try my best to be a good ambassador for homeschooling, but I am loathe to tolerate bullying. I am happy enough to answer sincere questions, but I am not willing to be lectured by someone that has yet to master the basics of etiquette. It is never polite to approach someone, corner them in a public place, and proceed to scold them.

"But there are good schools you could send him to, with trained professionals. I hope you *at least* let him be around people. Children need socialisation."

It took everything I possess to refrain from uttering a remark about being socialised to have bad manners, and be bullied by strangers. If not an award, I should at least get a pat on the shoulder for that because it was really terribly difficult to hold my tongue. I suppose she imagines I keep him locked in a closet reading the Bible all day.

Thankfully, before I could respond, she scurried off, which I imagine was her intent. It was obvious Danny is homeschooled, and she didn't want to let pass an opportunity to share her disapproval.

Thank god I wasn't buying baby formula as well.

Monday, October 01, 2012

So Simple a Seven Year Old Can Make It

In an effort to teach my son to cook, I've been covering the basics. Today, he made a basic sauce to serve over white beans. Dinner was Delectica squash halves filled with kasha and mushrooms topped with white kidney beans in the following sauce:

2 cups vegetable stock, warmed
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

In a saucepan melt the butter over medium heat until it sizzles. With a wooden spoon, beat in the flour and cook a minute or so until foamy. Whisk in the stock, and continue cooking, whisking constantly over medium heat until thickened. Remove from heat, stir in beans, and adjust seasonings.

If you prefer a white sauce, use milk in place of the stock.

Danny was pleased with how well his first attempt at sauce turned out, as I was I. The sooner he learns to feed himself, the sooner I can move out. He muttered something about turning my bedroom into a studio, but I don't think he meant it as he really can't paint.

I also taught him how to sew on a button, and hem a pair of pants, so I guess he's better prepared for life than many people I know.

Soybutter and Concord Grape Muffins

Each fall, I make Concord grape jelly, and before it has a chance to set, I'm looking for new ways to make use of it. Last weekend, I introduced my husband and son to my childhood favourite of cream cheese and jelly sandwiches (on white bread, of course). Today, I baked muffins.

As muffins go, these are a bit more work than the, "dump it all in a bowl and stir" variety, but not really that much more work. You need to cut the butter and soy butter into the dry ingredients like a scone, but otherwise, these shouldn't take but five minutes from start to oven.

You may of course, use any nut/soy/seed butter you like. We go between soy and sunflower butters. I personally prefer the sunflower butter, but it is difficult to source where I live, and much more expensive. In baked goods I'm not really able to detect much difference save for aroma-the soy butter essentially has none, where the sunflower could really fool you into thinking it was peanut. Once you toss the Concord grape in there, it overwhelms everything else, so it hardly matters here. Last weekend, Danny woke to what he called an, "aggressive odour of we live in a winery." I told him someday he'd recall it fondly, the way I start missing my Gran when I smell chicken fat rendering, or mothballs, or both at the same time. It wasn't just her flat either-the entire building smelled of chicken fat and mothballs. Long, dark hallways with televisions and radios blaring from behind black high gloss painted doors, chicken fat, mothballs, and sometimes cabbage. And herring. Not bad for subsidised pensioner housing in Chicago. Sometimes her place  did smell like booze as her husband made cherry wine. And herring. In a small, dark, two room apartment in Chicago. See how powerful our senses of smell are on nostalgia?

Right, so these muffins are great, and if you don't have homemade jelly, that's OK-you could even skip it, or use whatever flavour you have on hand. When I was small, my mother would sometimes toss a few M&M's in the centre of a muffin as a surprise ( and boy were we ever surprised because we never saw real, live M&M's laying around the house, so it was always kind of miraculous when they turned up in a muffin-almost as fantastic as the idea of my mother hauling her arse into the kitchen and baking something). The beauty of muffins, compared to other baked items is how flexible they are. Unless you underbake or burn them beyond recognition, you'll likely get something edible. The only hard and fast rule is that they must be topped with coarse sugar crystals. No exceptions. If you don't top your muffins with coarse sugar crystals the terrorists ( and nutrition experts, and other assorted bastards that want to tell you how to live) win.

You Will Need:

2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup sugar (use less if you have a sweetened soy butter)
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (again, adjust for the saltiness of your soy butter brand)
1/2 cup soy butter
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup milk (I used 2 % but anything will do)
2 large eggs, beaten
Jelly/jam for filling
Coarse sugar crystals that you must use

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a 12 muffin tin with papers or grease well. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the soy butter and regular butter until you have a fine meal. Combine milk and eggs and add all at once. Mix just until combined. Drop a heaping tablespoon of batter into each cup. Add a teaspoon of jelly, then top carefully with more batter until all is used. Sprinkle generously with the corase sugar crystals that you must use. Bake about 15 minutes, or until done. Mine took about 18 minutes, but you know your oven better than mine and I like to err on the side of too soon rather than too late, which in *most* things is a good approach to life.

Extra muffins can be sored tightly wrapped in sandwich bags sealed with a twist tie, and frozen.