Archive for the ‘food’ Category

birthday cake

This is not the most photogenic piece of cake. It’s been getting jostled around in the refrigerator for the three days since my birthday; although these occasions are exceedingly rare, from time to time, I do wish that I owned something large enough to contain and store an entire cake (rather than being forced to hack it into chunks to fit into a series of nesting mixing bowls). Speaking of the aesthetics of this cake…it was kind of a mess, although I managed to patch it back together with frosting and some distracting embellishments.

I got the idea that I wanted a yellow cake stuck in my head the night before my birthday and landed on this recipe. At first, while wandering the aisles of Woodman’s, I thought about going the Duncan Hines route. The list of ingredients, though, was a little too disturbing. More disturbing, even, than half a pound of butter. After a narrow escape from the gravitational pull of the pinata aisle at Woodman’s (actually, there are several pinata aisles), I got down to baking. All is going to plan. And then, chaos—rescued kittens (another component of my birthday celebrations) start creating a ruckus in the back room—I go to check on them—and the cake pans begin to overflow. And then, the cakes begin to fall. I have no idea why—the pans were the right size, my oven was at the right temperature, and the batter seemed fine. I ended up with a rather doughnut-like cake—raised on the sides and heavily indented in the middle—but it was actually still delicious. The texture of this cake is much more dense than the eerie lightness of box cake, but it’s a good kind of dense. And the sour cream frosting might convert me to a frosting person after all (I usually scrape most of it off of my piece of cake before eating it). Luckily, Ricky and my mom were more than willing to eat ugly-ish, delicious cake. And now my freezer is full of ugly-ish, delicious slices of that cake—the kind of thing that one can only serve to family and true friends.

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For some reason, Erich* and I have been talking a lot about Chipwiches lately. I don’t think that I’ve ever had a Chipwich, actually, because the idea has always seemed kind of appalling—I would rather just eat cookies. But last night, inspiration struck—in the form of an overly full refrigerator (so much disappointingly marinated tofu), a lust for chocolate, and about eight leftover bits of dough from the Nestle Toll House Mini Chocolate Chip Cookies that I bought to feed the crowd who convened the other night to watch this train wreck (a BNL music video? really?).

Sandwiched with Trader Joe’s tart frozen yogurt and rolled in the tiny chocolate chips that I seem to always have on hand, these were kind of odd little concoctions. But also kind of delicious. We’re already planning a second round, with some modifications—more frozen yogurt and more time in the freezer after assembling and before eating. These were very melty and squishy, but I still took a quick picture before I ate mine. The picture was so bad, though, that I went all out with the effects on iPhoto to try and make its blurriness into something artful.

* /Ricky

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Today was a gray, slow sort of day—although it began for me with a bracing bike ride in the rain to meet with the farmer’s market crowd for magic coffee and browsing. I bought ten pounds of small red potatoes, which I eat almost every morning, like this:

I bought five pounds last week, at the season’s first market, but I ran out by Wednesday. I’ve gotten into the habit of long, leisurely weekday breakfasts in the company of the mildly annoying hosts of the Today Show. I like to get up a little earlier now—I woke up on Friday at 6:45 without an alarm—so that I can linger a while in the morning. These breakfasts are the only real cooking I’ve been doing lately and the only respectable meal I’ve been eating in the course of most days. I’ve gotten lazy with cooking, although I did make two strawberry rhubarb crisps this week. In my defense, it’s a healthy-ish recipe and probably the only thing that’s keeping my from getting scurvy as I try to work through some of the odds and ends of my pantry. I don’t know how I ended up with so many cans of black beans. The rhubarb is in the same category; I still have another freezer bag full of pieces that I labored to clean and pack away at the peak of the season last year.

But back to today. With the exception of the brief shower that drenched me on my bike this morning and the overnight rain that—I deduce from the progress that my hostas have made in the last 12 hours—must have been much heavier, we’ve had nothing but clouds threatening rain for the entire day. I love storms—even the menacing St. Louis ones that turn the sky green—but I don’t like almost-storms. So I didn’t accomplish much today.

But I did watch this movie and you should, too—I loved it. It was beautiful. And the perfect antidote to this kind of day.

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Um. I should probably post about my trip—I have some pictures of New Orleans and of College Station, though not many— but this just arrived in the mail. And I think that I am ashamed. It’s like the grad student version of that silver card that the George Clooney character in Up in the Air gets for flying constantly— suitably less impressive. As far as I can tell, this shiny card gives me nothing that my other registered Starbucks card doesn’t. But my other card has birds on it. . .and this one has my name. It’s a sad looking thing, really.

It’s very uncool in Madison—and probably in grad school in general— to like Starbucks. But I do. I like the free things that I get with my registered bird card. Sometimes I feel compelled to get free syrups even though I don’t really like them, just because I can. I like that I always know what I’m going to get. I’ve been burned too many times (not literally) by lousy lattes at some of the other coffee shops that are clustered around the university, the employees of which are often more than a little surly. I have my local favorites— places that I’m happy to patronize when I have a long day of work and when I want something better for lunch than the frightening baked goods* that Starbucks seems to truck in from who-knows-where— but for coffee, I almost universally prefer Starbucks. Or Dunkin’ Donuts, but those are sadly lacking in this corner of the world (but not for long, I hear).
And so I got a lame little gold card in the mail and then blogged some free advertising for the corporate giant. Starbucks, you own my soul— you win.
*those tiny sparkle donuts are kind of awesome, though. in moderation.

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good morning

I am a fruit bat.

This week, I went through three cantaloupes, one honeydew, and two boxes of strawberries.

Also pictured: my new favorite breakfast. Quick-cooking Irish steel-cut oatmeal cooked in the microwave with Trader Joe’s organic raisins, topped with cinnamon, maple syrup, and walnut pieces. The green Anthropologie bowl was a gift from Ricky. There’s a frog at the bottom. I love it. When we’re both here, we fight over it.

It snowed last night. I have lots and lots of cleaning to do around the house today.

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lettuce wraps

These are kind of like the lettuce wraps that I’ve had at various restaurants from P.F. Chang’s to Pho Grand, but better. Not so salty; not so sickly-sweet. The original recipe called for half beef and half tofu in the filling. I have no idea why—who needs the beef? I pared down the recipe quite a bit to match what I had on hand and forgot to add the 1 1/2 t. sesame oil from the original version (even though I had it). The recipe seems to be very forgiving. And delicious.

Adapted, barely, from Healthy Appetite with Ellie Krieger, to better suit the contents of my pantry (and to save some cows)

1 T. chili-garlic sauce

3 T. low-sodium soy sauce

1/4 c hoisin sauce

4  T. rice vinegar

2 t. canola oil

2 T. fresh minced ginger

15 oz extra-firm tofu

Heat the canola oil in a large pan and briefly cook the ginger. Drain the tofu, press with dry paper towels, and cut into a small dice. Add to ginger and oil and cook for about 5 minutes over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, mix the remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Once the tofu has turned slightly golden, add the sauce and cook for a few more minutes until the sauce has mostly been absorbed into the tofu.

Serve with lettuce leaves for wrapping–I used hydroponic Bibb lettuce from Costco. The original recipe suggests all kinds of add-on toppings for the wraps: scallions, red peppers, and peanuts. I fished some peanuts out of a bag of Trader Joe’s trail mix and sprinkled those on top of my wraps because they weren’t quite crunchy enough. Classy.

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It’s that time again—the time when I start baking like a maniac in order to avoid writing my final papers. Last year, I went nuts and baked dozens of perfect little gingerbread men, all identically iced with buttons and faces. The decorating, I think, really shows my commitment to bakecrastination. This year, my workload is a little calmer, but that doesn’t mean that I should be making cookies right now instead of writing. I’ve clocked out early this year—I think that the reindeer are further proof of that fact—but I still have three days of class, a paper, a presentation, and an exam to take. And grading! Clearly, it’s time for cookies.

I did try today, I really did. I got in my car right around nine this morning, after twenty minutes spent trying to move the heaps of ice left behind in my driveway by the plows. I’m glad they came; I really am. But the end of my driveway is a nightmare, sometimes filled with four or five feet of heavy, icy chunks. But I did it, and set out on my way to the coffee shop where I was finally going to start this paper.

This was not a good idea. It’s been days since the blizzard, but the roads this morning were still thick with ice—very rarely could I even see the pavement beneath it all. It’s been so cold—windchills around -18—that the ice has just stuck around. I realized almost immediately that I needed to turn around and go home, but even that was a frightening prospect. So I made it all the way down Monona Drive, watching car after car fishtail, spin out, and struggle to start again at stoplights atop hills. The beltline was nearly clear, but on John Nolen I watched a car in front of me skid across four lanes (and my car) and end up facing the wrong direction. At that point, I abandoned my plans, made a quick stop for milk and some fresh ginger (you’ll see why in a moment) and slowly made my way home down Willy Street.

Obviously, you can’t just get down to working after a trauma like the one I sustained this morning. No; you must make cookies. These cookies. I love ginger in just about anything, but I will say that the amounts in this recipe scared me a bit at first—four and a half teaspoons of ground ginger (almost half the jar) plus a pretty big piece of fresh—but it’s perfect. The proportions for the chocolate also seemed a bit off to me. To get six ounces, I ended up using an entire large bar of Ghiradelli’s bitterweet plus half a bar of Valrhona 70%. I really had to cram the chocolate shavings into the dough, forcing it past what seemed like the saturation point.

But I am in love with these cookies. If you make them, don’t change a thing, and definitely don’t skip the coating of turbinado sugar. I was worried about having too many of these—I plan to split the batch between a little get-together tomorrow and the department holiday party on Tuesday—but now I’m not sure that I want to share. I might just make myself ill eating dozens of them here in front of the space heater….because I am never leaving my house again.

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I’m not going anywhere today. Campus is closed. Bus service has been suspended. There’s a nice fellow outside clearing my sidewalks and driveway—I don’t own a snowblower, and it seemed like madness to clean up after this blizzard on my own when I can hire someone to do it for me while I sew reindeer and sip hot beverages (enjoying snow days the way that they are meant to be enjoyed).

So I set out to make this peppermint mocha, a favorite of mine but something that I never order because it costs almost as much as having this guy clear my driveway. I’ve never actually had the Starbucks version, but I can say that the one at Barriques is quite delicious and generally comes with a tiny candy cane hanging off the side of the mug. Last year, I became obsessed with Trader Joe’s peppermint hot chocolate. I don’t remember why, but I bought a little bottle of peppermint extract at some point to attempt turning all things into all things peppermint, so I find myself trapped in my house today with all the necessary ingredients.

I think that this recipe is okay. I scaled the whole thing back to make a smaller mug than the massive serving size it was intended to produce (1/4 cup of sugar in just one mug? no thanks)–about 1 T. of cocoa and a couple of spoonfuls of the peppermint syrup. I found that there’s no reason to boil the syrup for 20 minutes—it started to turn into candy-cane material. I’m not even convinced that the syrup step is necessary at all—why not just add sugar and peppermint extract to the water and cocoa, and then add that to the milk and espresso? I ended up adding a few more drops of extract to my drink at the end to get the flavor without the extra sugar. I think that I’ll keep tweaking this, but it’s kind of a fun snowy-day activity (and treat).

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day 25: no internet access

I made five pies yesterday: three berry and two pumpkin. I also went to the outlet mall (twice–it’s only down the road), picked up centerpieces with my cousin and Ricky from my grandparents’ house—where we spent a while admiring shelves of bells and old photographs of my mother and her twin sisters—and had some delicious (?) Sheetz coffee on the way home from County Market (where we saw some Amish shoppers outside of Aldi).

We’re currently in the intermission between food and pie, and I snuck away to blog on my mom’s computer. Due to the slightly strange status of the internet connection at my aunt’s house—the ethernet cords have to be fished up through the floor from the basement by my cousin—I wasn’t able to blog last night, post-pie. We didn’t finish until about 1am, at which point everyone was sprawled all over the couches, polishing my grandmother’s silver in anticipation of the main event. I made cranberry sauce and went to bed.

I think it’s time for pie now. Then we’re going to take a walk to see the neighbor’s ponies. More blogging to come.

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day 22: scones

As promised, today was a day of scones.

Martha Stewart Blueberry-Buttermilk Scones
Chocolate Chip Scones (originally from Bon Appetit)

and dried cherry scones, which are some incarnation of another Martha Stewart recipe that I’ve adapted too many times to even recall the original. I was so busy eating the other two kinds—both recipes were new to me—that I didn’t sample this version of the cherry scones, which I adapted again by following some advice from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and soaking the dried, chopped cherries in a little hot water before mixing them into the scone dough. It looked, at least, like that helped to incorporate them better into the mixture.

I really liked the chocolate chip scones, but I rarely turn down anything with chocolate. The lemon zest was really nice in that recipe. The blueberry scones looked terrible when I took them out of the fridge this morning but baked up fine. I used frozen, thawed berries instead of fresh, which may have contributed to the watery/scary situation with the dough this morning, but it all worked out in the end. I’d make them again. The Martha version, of course, has the most butter of the three recipes, but I think that they had the best texture. I avoided any recipe that used heavy cream instead of buttermilk—my heart just wasn’t in it after a week of daily pie-eating (finally made it through the whole thing).

All in all, a lovely day of scones and tea, an excuse to use my creamers and my tea cups and to buy sugar cubes. Too bad I don’t have sugar tongs, like my mother.

oh. and it’s not just me. see?

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