Thursday, February 11, 2010

Everything bagels

I've been meaning to post about bagels for awhile now, since the first time John made bagels, but it slipped. Now maybe this will prompt him to get on the ball and make more. He's been doing a lot of bread baking since we moved up here, and for the most part it's been awesome. (He might argue but this is my blog so I get to praise his breads all day long if I want.) We'd been buying a local brand of bagels called Bagels Forever, which are about $1.30 for a four pack at Jenny St. Market, that have no preservatives. They probably the best bagels I've bought, but they're not the best bagels I've had. No, that honor belongs to these:

Well, those and all the other ones John's made. This was his first batch so they were a little asymmetrical, but it's possible I could take some of the blame, as I helped poke holes in them and twirl them. I didn't know anything about how bagels are made, so it was fun watching the raw dough boil. Why yes, that is my $8 wok from Ikea! (Actually, it's my second, and it's going much quicker than the first, but to be fair, I've used it a helluva lot more than the first. If you don't have a wok I highly recommend getting one. I use mine 3-4 times a week and, at $8, I don't mind when someone forgets and uses metal on it and scratches the nonstick coating. Ok, I do, a little.) When I made crackers in January I topped them with a variety of seasonings -- poppy seeds, sesame seeds, garlic powder, fennel seeds -- and what I didn't use I saved for John. He used egg white for the glue and had enough for eight of the bagels, then left the other four plain. Both kinds were delicious.

The second batch turned out beautiful, possibly because I didn't touch them. They looked just like bagels you'd buy at the store but tasted so much better. We toasted them then slathered them with cream cheese. We ate them with hummus. We ate them with cream cheese, tomatoes and fresh-ground pepper. We ate them as sandwiches. We fought over who got the last one. I won since I'd been keeping track of how many we each had eaten. (That might sound strange, or even obsessive, but we had been eating them for breakfast daily, then he had one for a snack when I didn't, so it was an easy call.) I guess if John had started to tear up I might have shared it with him, but luckily he didn't, and I didn't have to share.

I'll leave you with a picture of the greatest bagel sandwich in history: egg, tomato, spicy brown mustard, cheese. Too bad I didn't take a picture of its only contender, one that had kale. Yes, kale. It makes a nice substitute for lettuce.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Snickerdoodles and Vanilla Icebox Cookies

Just over a week ago my new choir friends Terri and Rachel invited me over for a dinner party, which worked out nicely since John worked that night and I would have been sitting home alone otherwise. I didn't want to show up empty-handed even though I was assured that I didn't need to bring anything. I decided to make Snickerdoodles, because who doesn't love Snickerdoodles? They were the first cookie I made out of the Betty Crocker Cooky Book so I didn't have to worry about showing up with some cookie that might or might not be good. I baked half the batch (3 doz) and loaded up a plate. I didn't bring any home. Okay, so I did send my other new choir friend Renee home with a bunch for her fiancé and left the remainder with my hosts, all the while reminding them that I didn't need to eat them, I had the other half of the dough at home.

Next I wanted to try something new. I had been looking at icebox cookies in the both the Betty Crocker book and the ATK Family Baking Book. The ATK book suggesting saving the cardboard roll from a roll of paper towels in order to help maintain the shape of rolled, refrigerated dough and so I had managed to snag a couple of rolls before they went in the trash. I decided to make Vanilla Icebox Cookies, a recipe the book claimed was "Great for Beginners." I'm not exactly a cookie beginner, but I was intrigued by the suggestion of rolling the dough log in something else -- chopped nuts, colored sugar, sprinkles -- before baking to give it added texture. So then I looked up how to make colored sugar. Turns out, it's really really really easy. Take some sugar (I used 1/4C) and add a few drops of color and mix it in with a fork (or your fingers, if you're like that) until it's a uniform color. If you want a deeper color, add more drops and mix some more. I made three batches.

Rolling the cookies in the sugar was a bigger challenge than I expected, perhaps because the dough was chilled the sugar didn't want to adhere, but I spent several minutes rolling the dough back and forth in the sugar making sure every exposed bit of dough was covered in color. Then I made a mistake by slicing the dough while it was still in the sugar. If I didn't catch the cookie slice it would fall into the sugar, which meant I had to rub the top of the cookie all around in the sugar so it looked like I meant to cover it in sugar. When sliced properly, only the edges of the cookie were covered in sugar. The directions called for two pans to be cooked at once and they had to be swapped and rotated halfway through the baking time. I'm clumsy. I drop things. I roll little balls of dough off perfectly level cookie sheets onto the bottom of the oven. I couldn't pull out both pans at the same time, so I rested the first pan on top of the stove while I rearranged the second, and I cooked them the full 16 minutes due to the wonky oven.

As they cooled and I snacked on a blue cookie, I was disappointed. The color looked great, and the ones that had accidentally fallen into the sugar looked really pretty. But the cookie itself was underwhelming. It was hard and didn't seem to have much flavor. Lucky for me, Vanilla Icebox Cookies actually taste better after they've cooled completely. The cookie was still hard comparably, but it was an enjoyable hardness -- instead of crumbling in my mouth, it fought back and resisted -- and the vanilla flavor was so rich. They kept reminding me of another cookie I'd had before, and I finally placed it on the last day of their existence. My grandmother used to buy tins of cookies with stacks of cookies of varied shapes and sizes in paper cups, and I loved the flavor and texture. These cookies had just the same flavor and texture as the ones I'd loved as a child. These cookies will reappear, if only because I want to try rolling them in other mediums. Like chopped pecans. Or maybe little heart confetti for Valentine's Day. And of course I'll experiment with making other colored sugars. Someone's turning 40 this year so can't you just imagine vanilla cookies robed in black?!

Friday, January 22, 2010

A week's recap

I have been a bad blogger. I have eaten things that I should have taken pictures of, and taken pictures of things that I ate yet failed to blog about. I must do something to rectify this situation. I can't be posting a ridiculously long blog once a week about every little thing I made the week prior. I mean, I can, but I don't want to. So here's a recap of what I have made (and have pictures of).

This Russian Cabbage Borscht from The New Moosewood Cookbook might be my favorite soup ever. After recently re-reading the NYTimes blog "The 11 Best Foods You Aren't Eating," I wanted to make something with beets. When I saw the recipe for this borscht that also included cabbage, I knew I had to make it. It was super easy and super tasty. John and I ate it three out of four days, along with chiabatta bread, sandwiches, anything really. This will definitely be back.

I also made seitan again. This time I used the recipe from Veganomicon, which supposedly was quicker than the Vegan with a Vengeance recipe. I'm not convinced, except that maybe there were less ingredients. Last time I was out of my favorite soy sauce, this ridiculously dark concoction made by Pearl River Bridge (Superior Dark Soy Sauce) so I used Bragg's instead. The dark soy sauce darkened the seitan immensely, which I liked, although it did make them look like little piles of poo and the not-completely crushed pieces of garlic only added to that image. I kneaded them longer than the recipe called for, hoping that if I formed more gluten before boiling them, they would stay together better in the water. I might have been right, but who knows? They didn't fall apart like the last batch did, and there were minimal "crumbs" left in the broth when I was finished. Not that I'm complaining -- I added the bit that I collected in the strainer and added them to all the little crumbs from the last batch, which is currently residing in the freezer, and they will be "ground beef" in some recipe, sometime.

I also used up the last of the red curry paste on this delicious dish, which means soon I will have to make another batch. This is when I really love Brandon's Vitamix. It makes the curry paste so smooth and creamy compared to what I made before with the little chopper. I know, I know, I should be using my mortar and pestle to make curry paste but that takes sooooo much time and the lemongrass is so tough while the Vitamix shreds through it like nothing.

For anyone interested in Thai cooking, Real Vegetarian Thai by Nancy McDermott has been my bestest friend ever. I have broken the spine of the book from overuse. Although now I'm confident enough in my curry-making abilities to not reference her recipes (that often), I still use the recipes for the curry pastes themselves.

One of the nice things about making curries is emptying out the fridge -- pretty much any vegetable is fair game. The only constant in my curries is onion. And fried tofu, of course. This time I used the remaining half of a butternut squash that had been hanging out for several weeks, a bell pepper that was wrinkly and about to expire, and a zucchini that I had planned to use earlier but forgot about and was also getting a little wrinkly. I didn't have to cook the butternut squash prior to throwing it in the curry -- I just let it simmer for 20-30 minutes before I added the bell pepper and zucchini which didn't need as much time. The one thing I forgot that would've made this curry perfect? Cashews. So sad, but it was so delicious that I forgave myself.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Seitan's Fingers

I made seitan for the first time over the weekend, and I'm fairly happy with the results -- considering it was my first time. I looked at a whole lot of recipes online until it dawned on me that I probably had several recipes in my own home. Sure enough I did, both from Isa Chandra Moskowitz -- one from Veganomicon and the other Vegan with a Vengeance. The recipe from Veganomicon is actually adapted from her original recipe in VwaV, but I decided to go with the original. Looking back now, I think I needed to let the gluten firm up more before boiling it. The outside ended up being a little spongy, and I lost quite a bit to the water/bouillon, but the inside was nice and firm. Next time I will take pictures since I wanted guideposts to see what it should look like each step of the process. Once I was finished, my two cups of vital wheat gluten turned into about 32oz. of yummy seitan. I put all the crumblier pieces in a baggy in the freezer to make ground "beef" later, and kept the rest in the refrigerator in its broth.

John worked late that night so when he got home I was debating how to serve my new seitan. There was a recipe for jerk seitan in VwaV that I knew I wanted to try but it needed to marinate several hours in the jerk sauce, so that was out. I decided just to fry it up, like chicken. I searched online and found a recipe for breading that sounded tasty. It required 4T of nutritional yeast -- which would have been about all the n.y. that Brandon had left and I don't want to be that kind of roommate -- so I only used 1T and subbed flour for the rest. It was my first attempt at frying something I had breaded myself, and I was pleasantly surprised with how easy everything went. The breading stayed on (for the most part) and once fried up the inch thick slices of seitan looked like chicken fingers. John whipped up a batch of homemade mac & cheese and decided to open up a can of chipotle peppers for some added spice, though he underestimated the powerful punch of those little peppers and used three where two -- or even one! -- would have given plenty of flavor. But it was definitely the most flavorful mac & cheese he's made, and I hope he tries again. The seitan fingers were tasty, and only a little spongy inside the breading, and the texture inside was meaty, just as promised. We did end up drizzling them with John's homemade peanut sauce because the breading wasn't especially flavorful, which I blame on using flour rather than nutritional yeast.

A few days later I made the jerk seitan from VwaV and WHOA! It was amazing!For a side dish I made "rice and peas" -- "peas" really being kidney beans -- that included coconut milk, thyme, and cinnamon, and topped with toasted coconut. Bad blogger that I am, I forgot to take pictures before John and I scarfed it all down. Next time, I promise.

Today I wanted a big lunch since we have plans for the evening, and I wanted to use up the last bit of seitan in the fridge. There wasn't much -- about 8oz. -- so I knew I'd have to go heavy on the sides. After the delicious Russian Cabbage Borscht yesterday (post coming another day), I had some beet greens that needed to be used as well. I wanted to try my hand at frying again, and greens would go well with fried anything. I rounded it out with my own version of a recipe I found on for mashed potatoes that were then baked with sautéed onions, shredded cheddar, chopped green onions, and vegan bacon bits. I couldn't find the original recipe I'd used for frying last weekend so I did more searching and found one much, much, much better: Chicken Fried Seitan from the Voracious Vegan. I was really intrigued by using mustard in the wet ingredients, as well as the combination of spices in both wet and dry. Since I didn't have much seitan I decided to double-dip the pieces, and I'm glad I did, as it added needed bulk.The seitan fried up even nicer than it did the first time with even less trouble with breading. They tasted like chicken nuggets, only better! The mashed potatoes were delicious -- only needed salt and pepper, which I somehow forgot to add before throwing them in the oven -- and were just like eating a baked potato. As tasty as everything was, I think the beet greens were my favorite. I used a recipe from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison for collard greens but using beet greens instead, and they were to die for! Onions, garlic, and red pepper flakes sautéed in butter before adding the slightly boiled greens -- yum! I think beets will be a new addition to my garden this year.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Cookie Time!

I promised cookies and now it's time to deliver. I had been eying the recipe for Chocolate Crinkles in the Betty Crocker Cooky Book for a while but because the dough needed to chill for at least several hours (up to overnight) I skipped them. I want instant cookie gratification, not delayed satisfaction! But now, I see that it was totally worth it. Late one night last week I wanted to whip up some cookies and since I didn't care about eating them before bed I wanted to try a batch of refrigerator cookies. Immediately I decided on the Chocolate Crinkles. The picture caught my eye the first time I opened the book since they look just like Snickerdoodles, but instead of sugar cookies rolled in cinnamon and sugar they're chocolate cookies rolled in powdered sugar.

I made the dough that night and let it chill overnight, and the next morning I started baking. There were a few casualties, unfortunately. As I was pulling out the first pan I tried to multi-task and put in the second pan with my left hand, and two cookies took the opportunity and threw themselves onto the bottom of the oven. This halted production for a few minutes as I had to rearrange the oven racks so I could retrieve the poor things from with a set of tongs. I'm sure John would have been horrified had he been in the room, given my immense ability to harm myself unintentionally, but he was upstairs programming at the time.

The recipe was easy and almost vegan on its own -- instead of butter or shortening it called for vegetable oil. I have promised Brandon I'll make a vegan batch for him; in fact I will probably do this with every batch of cookies once I've made the "regular" version, just so I can have a point of reference. Rolling out the dough into teaspoon-sized balls yielded me 7doz. cute cookies, even with the casualties. They were tasty coming out of the oven, but the flavor has intensified as they have sat in the cookie jar. They are a little fudgy in the center and they've remained quite moist. I would say these are my favorites but the next cookie is quite a contender.

The first attempt at making my grandma's lemon cookies was fairly disastrous. The recipe was a little vague in parts so I guessed on a few things, like the order in which to combine ingredients -- I did wet ingredients first, then dry stuff, just like every other cookie recipe I've used -- how long to chill the dough, whether to use a greased cookie sheet or not. After about an hour I rolled the dough into balls and threw them on a greased cookie sheet and into the oven, where they promptly attempted to escape the cookie sheet. Every batch, no matter how carefully I placed the pan in the oven, ended up slipping and sliding at least half an inch from where I'd placed them, and one of them ended up sliding over the edge and dripping its dough on the oven floor. (So yes, there is lemon cookie and chocolate cookie residue on the floor of my oven.)

Despite the cookies being delicious -- while John like them, he didn't "love" them, but Brandon and I simply devoured them -- I was completely frustrated and not sure what needed fixing as I'm still a novice at the science of baking. I had changed the lemon part of the cookies from 2t lemon extract to 3T fresh-squeezed juice, so I knew that could be the cause (or possibly I beat the dough too much when I kept adding more lemon juice to get a better lemony flavor), or maybe it was the "light corn syrup" concoction I made so I didn't have to buy light corn syrup that I wouldn't ever use.

On Tuesday I decided I was ready to try again. I did a little research and decided to lower the sugar by a quarter cup to three-quarters, and also changed the lemon juice to 2T, plus 1t of lemon zest. Again using the Cuisinart I carefully beat the dough until everything was just mixed then shut it off. This time the dough had a nice lemony flavor that was more stronger than the first batch, yet it wasn't overpowering. I let the dough chill in the refrigerator for about three hours before I started rolling it.

I really liked the size of the Chocolate Crinkles so I used the teaspoon measure again, but this time using the metal set of spoons I had inherited from my other grandmother. The dough came out much easier than the plastic spoon, partly because of the metal and partly because it was a more oblong shape. This time I didn't grease the pans, and the dough cooked perfectly -- about 1/4" thick and perfectly round. The lemon flavor was spot-on -- not too much to overwhelm the cookie, but just enough to remind you that it IS a lemon cookie. Since they've sat for a few days the lemon flavor has intensified and the cookies are a little chewy, which suits me just fine.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Breakfast Strata and Lentil Soup turned Lentil Curry

This morning I woke up hungry, a direct result of knowing what was in the refrigerator just waiting to be cooked. Per the cookbook's instructions I had left a bag of cornmeal on top of the wrapped breakfast strata in order to make sure the dry and crusty bread soaked up all the egg and half and half juicy goodness. Sure enough, there was a mess when I pulled it out of the fridge, but nothing that a few swipes of the sponge couldn't handle. It smelled lovely, and the only thing stopping me from digging straight in to the cheesy mess as the oven preheated was knowing there were uncooked eggs in there. Six of them, to be precise. But I waited, and was glad I did. An hour later I pulled this out beautiful thing of the oven.

It was a little moister than I'd like, as I'd forgotten to compensate for our oven temperature being off. (Next thing on the to-buy list is a cheap oven thermometer.) The half and half made it rich -- almost too rich. John suggested that next time we have something else with it to balance it out, perhaps biscuits and jam and veggie sausage. But the cheddar jack, combined with spinach and shallots, was simply delicious. This recipe is a keeper, and it will be fun to try out different combinations of ingredients. Already envisioning the next one with mushrooms and onions and Morningstar Farms breakfast sausage....

Dinner tonight was rushed as we were planning on going to a meeting for home brewers. As we surveyed the pantry and refrigerator John suggested using the last bit of the lentil soup and turning it into a curry. I was skeptical but had no better alternative. Then he decided he wanted to make naan as well, and if he was going to make naan then I felt obligated to make hummus. It's practically a staple in our house but we had been out for a week so I whipped together a batch in less than 10 minutes.

Let me take this opportunity to tell you that if you've never made your own hummus, you are missing out on one of the easiest and most tastiest treats you can make at home. The store-bought kind is rarely as good, and it's ridiculously expensive compared to making your own. I weighed it out of curiosity -- because what good is having a home kitchen scale if you don't use it to weigh random things? -- and found it to be just over 30oz. Which makes sense given that I used two 15oz. cans of chickpeas. I estimate it cost about $3 to make: two cans of chickpeas at 89¢, a third of a cup of tahini at maybe 75¢, and the rest can hardly be calculated -- a few tablespoons each of olive oil and lemon juice, plus some cumin and paprika. At the grocery store hummus costs somewhere around $4 for 8oz., which breaks down to $8/lb. I got nearly two pounds at a quarter of the price, and I know this hummus tastes better. The coolest thing about making your own hummus, however, is being able to customize it however you like. We are garlic fiends in this house so when the recipe I concocted from multiple sources says four cloves of garlic I actually use six. Oh, and it's really nice to put on a sandwich.

John decided to make roti instead of naan and he put me in charge of wielding the rolling pin and turning the little balls of dough into thin rounds of dough. I have a terrible relationship with the rolling pin. No matter how much -- or how often -- I flour it the dough still sticks. After rolling out six or seven of the buggers I grew frustrated and threw a fit. John took over, scurrying between the wok that wouldn't stay at proper temperature due to our electric stove and the dining room table where he'd set up the rolling mat and dough. Finally he grew tired of rushing back and forth and said he didn't care about rolling out the last one so I made one last attempt and rolled the little ball of dough out beautifully. John wasn't thrilled with how they ended up but I had never had roti and I loved every last one, as I really only cared about having a vehicle to transport hummus to my mouth.

I should have known better than to doubt John when it comes to making Indian curry as he's an expert. He doctored the lentil soup with curry powder, cumin, chili powder, turmeric, cayenne, and cinnamon, and added tomatoes and more onion, then let it simmer. Except for the slightest taste of thyme peeking through on occasional bites, it was hardly recognizable as its former incarnation as lentil soup.

After dinner we headed up to Woodmans to stock up with the last of this week's grocery money. Seeing as I'm doing heavy baking we bought a 5lb. bag of sugar and 8oz. of vanilla extract, which should last me a bit. I also found a bag of vital wheat gluten which means I'm going to make my own seitan. I'm already envisioning making reuben sandwiches -- I can't wait!

You might be wondering: Where are the cookies in this blog titled "For Love and Cookies?" And well you might, since there's only been one post about cookies thus far, but cookies are coming. In fact I've made two batches since I started this blog. And they're good. All about cookies tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Tomorrow's brunch and tonight's "supper"

While John and I aren't late risers, we generally don't get up earlier than 9:30 and sometimes don't eat "breakfast" until after noon. Tomorrow, however, will be different as I will be throwing a breakfast strata into the oven first thing.

John has been experimenting with ciabatta bread since we got the Cuisinart and the Family Baking Book. The first loaf didn't rise much and had chewy crust, but the middle was soft and tasty. Liz suggested if we didn't eat it we could use it for bread pudding, but it didn't last that long, crunchy or not. He'd frozen the other half of the dough so a few days later he made the second loaf, which turned out much better even though he pulled it out of the oven a little early so the very middle was a tiny bit doughy still. But it wasn't too noticeable as we were dipping it in lentil soup.

Yesterday John made ciabatta bread again, this time making halving the recipe and making two small loaves rather than one large. One loaf turned out lovely, though it didn't last very long as we stood in the kitchen and dipped it in our friend Andrea's Tofu Mushroom Spread. The other loaf, well, it was a little darker than it should have been and it sat out overnight on the cabinet.

As we looked at it today after lunch, John said he would make bread pudding with it. I grabbed the Family Baking Book and searched the index. The first thing listed under 'Bread Pudding' was something called "Breakfast Strata with Spinach and Gruyère." I was immediately intrigued. The recipe required half a loaf of French or Italian bread, or 8oz. I grabbed our new kitchen scale (Thanks, Brandon!) and we had just over that. Except for the gruyère, we had everything we needed already. The book listed several other suggestions for cheese, including sharp cheddar, which of course we had. Quite possibly the best thing about living here is the abundance of excellent cheeses at great prices.

I also was able to use the three shallots in the drawer that were nearing the end of their time. Shallots cooking in oil might be more lovely than onions and garlic.

The breakfast strata was easy to prepare. In fact, the hardest thing was finding an 8x8" baking dish, which I was certain that I possess but couldn't find. I did find in the basement a couple of disposable aluminum baking tins -- no idea when I bought them as John and I have moved them a few times now -- which will hopefully work fine.

Since John worked tonight I didn't feel like cooking, but I did feel like eating more of the Tofu Mushroom Spread. Alas, no bread or crackers, but Liz had sent me a recipe for her homemade crackers and I got to cooking. I generally have a hard time with dough that has to be rolled out with a pin but this one didn't give me any trouble at all. The first batch was chewy as I underestimated how done they were, but that was the only batch. The rest came out nice and crispy, with only a handful burnt -- and even then, they were still delicious. They are topped with sesame, poppy, and fennel seeds and garlic powder, and I can't wait to make more just to experiment with the toppings!