Friday, June 25, 2010

The Great Summer Pantry & Freezer Clearance: Day 3

Some recipes (like the two soups I just made) always seem to need a bit of tweaking here and there until they're just right. I expect that. After all, no two people's sense of taste (and food preferences) are the same, so no single recipe will bowl everybody over without some modification. Thus whenever I try out a new recipe, there is always that element of chance: what if I go to all the trouble to make this and I don't like it?* The good thing is that it probably won't be all that bad; it looked good enough on paper to want to try it in the first place, right? With a little adjustment of the seasonings, it'll at least be edible (even if you decide that it's not one you'd make again).

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Great Summer Pantry & Freezer Clearance: Day 2

Lentil, Sausage & Rice Soup
I found the perfect soup to deplete my frozen back-stock of stock. There was still a lot of vegetable stock left, and then there was the last of the turkey stock from last Thanksgiving that I found shoved in the back of the freezer. Pooled together they would be just barely enough for this big soup. What I didn't count on was how thirsty the brown rice was. It just kept absorbing liquid and I had to grab a can of chicken stock from the pantry in order to placate the giant soup-sponge it had become. What the soup pot demands, the soup pot gets. But once it gets everything that it wants, it's happy.

That's what I was shooting for - a happy soup, a soup that's everything it should be: warm, filling, flavorful, and full of good things that are good for you but taste so good together that you don't have to pretend to like them. A good soup is always more than the sum of its parts.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Great Summer Pantry & Freezer Clearance: Day 1

White Bean and Pesto Soup
In my freezer you will find a big bag for collecting veggie scraps and trimmings in. When the bag is full, I make vegetable stock and then freeze that to use later. All in all, it's not a bad system. Unless I haven't made soup for awhile... and just finished cooking up another batch of stock. Clearly, I needed to make some soup. What I wanted was a soup that wasn't too heavy. It is summer after all, though most evenings are chilly. I also wanted a soup that didn't have a shopping list of ingredients. Did I mention that I have beans in the freezer too? Yep, two kinds.  Is it soup yet?  Almost...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Mayo Cakes

Only one of my many cookbooks had a recipe for mayonnaise cake in it, and it wasn't chocolate. Odd really, since the 1950's and 60's are pretty well represented on my cookbook shelf. I just assumed that it was a 50's-era recipe since mayonnaise (and Jell-o, mini-marshmallows and cream-of-whatever soup) figured so prominently in recipes back then. The Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake must have originated even earlier. So until I can lay my hands on a Depression-era cookbook, I turn to the internet and of course find more Chocolate Mayonnaise Cakes than I could ever possibly wish for... not in a thousand lifetimes. 
It seems everything old is new again: If for some unimaginable reason I am not in the mood for chocolate, or am just out of cocoa (but not mayonnaise and dates), I can always try this one...
  • Mayonnaise, Date Nut Cake from page 225 in the "Say, Ah-h-h-h!" Cookbook (1973)* 
*Just don't ask. At least I haven't brought out the "Favorite Recipes of Lutheran Ladies: Traditional Meats (including seafood and poultry) Cookbook", circa MCMLXVI. This is fair warning... I have it and I'm not afraid to use it.

    Thursday, June 17, 2010

    Whole Wheat Burger Buns

    Next on the list of foods to eat with mayonnaise: Cheeseburgers. Admittedly burgers and sandwiches don't use up a lot of mayonnaise, but knowing that my jar of homemade mayo has a brief fridge-life of around 5 days, I'm wanting to get as much use out of it as possible.*

    So today, as a vehicle for my homemade mayo, I made whole wheat burger buns. Something a teensy bit healthier than the last ones... 
    Whole Wheat Hamburger Buns
    adapted from: page 34, BH&G Homemade Bread Cook Book, 1973

    3-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
    2 packages active dry yeast
    2 cups milk
    3 tablespoons butter
    1/2 cup sugar
    1 tablespoon salt
    2 eggs
    3 to 3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

    In a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer) whisk together the whole wheat flour and the yeast. In a small saucepan over med/low hear, combine the milk, butter, sugar, and salt. Stir constantly until butter is melted and mixture is at 115°-120°. Add this to the flour/yeast in mixer bowl, then add in the eggs. Beat at low speed just until combined. Scrape the bowl and beat for 3 minutes at high speed (med-high if using a stand mixer).

    Stir in by hand the remaining 3 to 3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour to make a somewhat stiff dough. Turn out on floured board and knead until smooth and elastic. If using a stand mixer, replace beater with dough hook and add the remaining flour one cup at a time on low setting. Continue until dough is smooth and elastic.

    Place dough in greased bowl and turn over once. Cover and let rise in warm place till double (about 1-1/2 hours). Punch down, cover, let rest for 10 minutes. Divide dough into 16 portions. Shape into buns by folding edges under to make a round ball. Press flat between hands. Place on greased baking sheets (or use Silpats or parchment), pressing down flatten into circles. Cover and let rise for 45 minutes or until almost doubled. Bake at 400° about 15-18 minutes, rotating pan half way through. Let buns cool completely before slicing and serving. Makes 16 hamburger buns.

    My Notes: When shaping them, work fast so the dough doesn't dry out. Maybe drape a damp towel over the dough as it waits to be shaped. They turned out great. Denser than the non-whole wheat buns, not as pillowy-soft, but really pretty good. Should easily stand up to a juicy burger or even a sloppy-Joe or pulled pork sandwich.

    *On the mayo's last day I'll be making my mom's Curried Chicken Divan which uses 2/3 of a cup of mayonnaise. Speaking of 1960's-era cooking classics that use lots of mayonnaise... Mayonnaise Chocolate Cake! It's not something that I grew up with, but it just jumped in my head. I'll have to see if there's a recipe for it in one of my "older" cookbooks.

    Monday, June 14, 2010

    You Want Mayo On That?

    Homemade Mayo
    Well, we finally finished up the gargantuan tub of mayonnaise we had bought at Costco back in the Winter of '03 (just kidding about the date). We used the last of it a week and a half ago but I've been just the teensiest bit too chicken to make it from scratch (there's a pun in there somewhere). Procrastination only gets you so far though, and so without any further foot-dragging, today was declared.... THE DAY.

    Feeling as though my first best hope lay in the direction of Julia Child, I cracked open her tome on French Cooking. Here is where I admit that I've had the two-volume set for almost six months now and have yet to do anything more than just read them. In my defense, they are wonderfully written and infused with the author's subtle wit, so I feel no real guilt. But they are not novels, nor are they kitchen decór. After all, one of the raisons d'etre for this blog is to get me cookin' my books, so to speak.

    Friday, June 11, 2010

    Patio Pizza

    This is the summer that I (hope to) make my own pizza dough and (possibly) try grilling pizza in the great outdoors. Or more specifically, in the back yard on our Weber (maybe).

    In our earliest attempts at home-pizza baking we would begin with a trip to Trader Joe's for a bag of their fresh pizza dough (it was .99 then, such a deal), and with it we would produce something that could best be described as "pizza-esque". Good as it was, we would have to take a summer break since we didn't want to heat up the already hot house. Now we live much too close to a really great "take & bake" pizza place to even tempt us into making our own from scratch. O.k. I'm still tempted, but now... it's all about cooking it fast over the fire.

    The thought of grilling pizza has always intrigued me, especially after we got to try some at a wine-tasting event a few summers back. It was charred and wonderful, and unlike any pizza we'd ever tasted. And yet, the "Grill Master" in our household remains resistant to the idea... of course, we all know what resistance is, don't we?*
    *"Resistance is futile". I once downloaded a Trek (Next Gen) soundset for my computer and that ubiquitous Borg phrase was one of the alert sounds. I would intentionally make errors just so I could hear it tell me how futile my attempts at resistance were. And yes, I am a closet nerd in case you didn't know. Not so much of one as to name my goldfish Locutus or anything, but nerdy nonetheless. Live long and rock on!

    Monday, June 7, 2010

    Triple Berry Bars

    The weather and the calendar are almost in sync. It stopped raining and the sun sort of came out for most of the weekend. Just in time for a big backyard BBQ yesterday. This dessert is the ideal thing to bring to any kind of potluck: it's easy to make, easy to transport, feeds a crowd, and... oh yeah, it's yummy. I do so love an unfussy scrumptious dessert...

    Friday, June 4, 2010

    Banana Bread (Island Style)

    This is what happens to banana bread when it dreams of lolling about on a tropic isle. The slightly less-than-exotic reality is that it's June and today it is raining. Looks like I'll just have to toast up a thick slice of this fantastic banana bread, make a steaming mug of coconut chai to go with it... and day-dream of palm trees swaying in balmy breezes and warm sand between my toes. Sigh.*

    Coconut Pineapple Vegan Banana Bread from Joy The Baker

    My Notes: Argh! I was going to put walnuts in this and forgot. I'm twice as bummed because I doubled the recipe and now I have 2 loaves of walnut-less banana bread. Come to think of it, Macadamia nuts would be even better than walnuts in this (if only I had some!). Even without the nuts, this is a stellar recipe - extremely tasty. If you don't like coconut (we'll talk later), throw in some chopped up dried fruit instead and you'll be all set. I used TJ's baking spray (still trying to use it up), "freezer bananas", and metal loaf pans. Baked for about 55 minutes before the knife-test came out clean.

    *Looks like I'd better put on a Mermen CD while I'm at it 'cuz nobody does psychedelic-moody-surf-trance like they do. And trust me on this: if you're in the mood to listen to that, you'll know it. Somehow... you just know.