Saturday, December 27, 2008

Saturday, September 6, 2008


I'm titling this post with that phrase because it has such interesting connotations. It makes me think of the Disney song from Hunchback of Notre Dame. It's such a good phrase, indicating not your average kind of chaos, but the kind of craziness that dumps you upside down and shakes all the change out of your pockets, but also thrills you with strange and exotic gifts.

Life's like that right now. It's my first weekend back in school, and I'm neatly tucked in to my back corner of the library. Portland is both losing and gaining some of its finest: Brenna, beloved housemate, leaves for Italy tomorrow afternoon (lucky girl!), but a dear friend from high school has just finished unpacking boxes in a townhouse not one mile from me.

I'm not cooking much these days, because my loans haven't gone through yet, and I'm living on the kindness of friends and a few very precious farmers market tokens. I'm also making some delicious slapdash meals from the sorts of foods that hide out in the back of my cupboard and the leftover boxes in my fridge, but those aren't really the kinds of meals you talk about. Well, ok, maybe they are, but not in the braggy way where I photograph it sixty times and then pretend I just threw it around on to the website. (I did make some half-mashed potatoes with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, feta, and mustard that were amazing; and a baked pasta casserole that included skinned broccoli stalks).

The meaning of all this is to be a check-in, and to declare a mini-break. I won't be gone long, but for now, a short hiatus. Be well, go eat some yogurt and brown sugar.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

You say it's your birthday,

it's my birthday too.

Well, it was yesterday. And I'm having people over in about 15 minutes, so I'll just stop in to make a suggestion. It's definitely nowhere near precise enough to be a recipe, but it's a bit more conceived than an idea, so, indeed, we'll call it a suggestion. It's what I'm drinking for my birthday, and it's probably what you should be drinking too, special day or no (I mean... every day is special, right?)

It's a lime-honey whiskey sour, and it's delicious. It's like this: combine two parts room-temperature lime juice and one part honey, stir or shake until the honey is somewhat dissolved (it won't want to, so it might take some effort). Shake with ice and whiskey to taste (might I suggest somewhere around the amount of lime?), pour into a glass, and top with a dash of soda water.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

August; or, imitation autumn

Oh, thank god, it's fall.
I don't think you'll be hearing that much. The blog world definitely seems to be noticing it, especially in Finland and in my own Pacific Northwest, but it's not being championed so much as accepted. In my small corner of the world, though, I've officially kissed the summer goodbye.
I don't know if I have that reverse-SAD condition ("Summer SAD", google tells me), but the season always seems harried, and overly bright. I have this picture in my mind of the perfect summer moments: twilight dinners on porches, late-night dog walks, watching meteor showers on golf courses. I'm also very partial to gardening when it's sunny. But there's this suspension of regular life during the summer, and everyone gets so frantic to make use of every single summer moment. I don't like the pressure of summer. I'm an autumn and winter girl, I am. I like my seasons imperfect, and honest. February might soak me to the bone and throw mushy masses of grey leaves onto my new suede boots, but at least it tells me that it's going to.
Now that I've said all of that, I will say that I'm rather partial to August. It's not July, after all. It's not bleached out. August is my birthday month, and there's that certain fall smokiness to August. You really have to savor August because there's so much crammed into it, and September is, of course, a month in which everyone gets back to business. August is a month for back-to-school clothes and new beginnings.
And there's so much late-summer produce in August. Tomatoes, peppers, blueberries, corn, melons, huckleberries (especially huckleberries). Pretty much everything everyone loves about summer comes out in August.
In honor of blueberries, I have here a recipe for blueberry pie. It's gluten-free blueberry pie, at that. It's kind of the perfect August food, because it can be eaten barefoot, picnic-style, in your backyard early on in the month; or it can be eaten out of the pan on the counter, in a sweater and thick socks on one of those first cold evenings. And we all now know how I feel about cold evenings.

Gluten-Free Blueberry Pie
The crust is an altered version of this glutenfreegirl classic recipe. The filling is everything that sounded good to me, with the half-cooked/half-raw trick that I read about somewhere on the internet last summer.

1 cup rice flour
1/2 cup teff flour
1/2 cup potato starch
3 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
8 tablespoons cold butter
1 large egg
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
ice-cold water, enough to make the dough stick together (approx. 1/4 cup)

-Mix together all dry ingredients.
-Cut the butter into small pieces. Deposit into dry ingredients. Cut the butter in until the whole mess is comprised mainly of small crumbly balls.
-Make a well in the center. Deposit the egg and the vinegar, and mix it all together, starting from the inside.
-Add just enough water to make the dough stick together. It shouldn't be overly wet, just enough to stick together.
-Put in the freezer for at least two hours.
(-Shauna, of glutenfreegirl, suggests an elaborate rolling out of the dough pre-freezer. I actually just dumped the dough ball in the fridge for two hours, and then tore off small pieces and mushed them into the pan. Get the dough into the greased pie pan, somehow).
-Put in pie weights. Bake 350 degrees until somewhat browned, 15-20 minutes.

Filling-Cream cheese
4 oz cream cheese
sugar to taste, a few tablespoons would probably do it
1 teaspoon vanilla

Filling- blueberries
4 cups blueberries, picked over and washed
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons potato starch
1/4 cup water
pinch of salt
1 Tablespoon lemon or lime juice
1 Tablespoon butter

-Combine the cream cheese ingredients, mix until well combined.
-Combine half the blueberries, the sugar, the potato starch, the water, and the salt in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the berries are tender and the liquid has thickened. Remove from heat.
-Spread cream cheese filling over the bottom of the pie crust.
-Place uncooked blueberries in the pie crust. Pour the cooked blueberry mixture over it.
-Chill, or eat warm and gooey.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

On donuts, and surprises

So, say your dog got sick and couldn't stay inside for fear of damaging the floors. You might have just spent three hours at the vet, and feel a little cooped up. So you and your housemate Brenna might grab a friend and the dog and drive to the base of Mt. Hood, where you might sneak onto a golf course at 1 a.m. and curl up in twelve blankets and a pair of socks, and watch the Perseids meteor shower peak over the southeastern mountain range.

If you're really pure of heart, the noise of the sprinklers being turned on would rouse you before you had to deal with any unfortunate questions, and you would drive back towards your metropolis at 4:30 in the morning.

And if you did all that, well. As reward, a certain donut shop would most certainly catch your eye, and so you would find yourself at Joe's Donut Shop, in the tiny burg of Sandy, Oregon. Consider yourself lucky, you donut-eater, you, because Joe's opens at 4 a.m. and has the best damn donuts this side of your childhood county fair's octogenarian donut-frier's.

I would make a note of it and plan on it again next year. 

Friday, August 8, 2008

This is not about clafoutis

Once upon a time, I went to a French Immersion school. We were taught, besides the irregular verbs, such essential French skills as how to use a period in place of a comma and how to yell "OUBLEK!" at the top of our lungs when the phone rang (Why "oublek"? What does it even mean? I suspect I'll never know). We were also taught, come 8th grade, essential French cooking. Vegetarian that I am (was?), I turned up my nose at the snails in classroom-prepared butter sauce. In fact, I was a bit of a snob about the whole thing. I didn't really like cooking, and I was very, very picky about my food.
One of the dishes we made was clafoutis, a French dish which Epicurious described, in one of those perfectly apt, wish-I'd-thought-that-up descriptions, as "a cross between a pancake and a custard".
I was a rather substandard child, in terms of tastebuds. You know those tiny wee children, only two or three years old, who just can't get enough of things like kale and whole-grain mustard? I love hearing about them, and hope my imaginary future children will be of that type but, no, that was not me. Not anywhere close to being me. When I wanted cake, I wanted it right then, in large quantities, and in standard cake form. Do I even need to explain how much clafoutis disappointed me? No frosting, no artless sweetness, more of an internal custard than a crumb.
Well, I've grown up a bit. I smear my dijon mustard on everything from bread to sausage, and I'm growing kale in my garden. I still haven't gotten around to making a clafoutis, but while I'm waiting on that, I've made a kind of compromise. It's French and it's a cake. It's simple, too, and it includes cherries like the ones I pitted for that original clafoutis. At the same time, it's a cake-cake, the kind that rises. You're not wondering secretly, somewhere in a hidden corner of your mind, whether you've accidentally gone and stuck fruit into an omelette recipe. I think it might even please my younger self, but more importantly, it really, really pleases the current me.

Brown Sugar Yogurt Cake
I love yogurt and brown sugar. Given my choice, I could probably eat plain yogurt and muscovado sugar for dessert every night for the rest of my life. If I got to include fresh fruit, I would definitely, definitely be set. Other people might get bored though. I have a feeling that a food blog which said "Dump brown sugar over yogurt. Eat." every day would get old quickly, also. So, doing the next best thing, I made a cake.
I based this on a selection of French yogurt cake recipes. This kind of yogurt cake is traditionally a French country food, but. I made it with plain brown sugar, but I think that if one made this with muscovado, it would probably transcend any stereotypes about "plain and simple" peasant food.

1 c. whole yogurt
1 c. brown sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 c. almonds, ground
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 c. canola oil
enough cherries

-Grease and flour an 8-inch round pan. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
-Wash and pit cherries. Cover the bottom of your pan with them.
-Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Attempt to sift in the ground almonds, too, but don't actually succeed because they're really not that finely ground.
-Combine the yogurt, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla in a bowl, whisk until combined.
-Whisk in dry ingredients. Fold oil in with a rubber spatula.
-Pour the batter over the cherries in your pan. Bake for 40-50 minutes, until the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan, or a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

In honor of my quarter-life crisis

I've been having a lot of hang-ups about my cooking, lately. For a 21-year-old, I have a lot of, as a friend put it, "middle-aged habits". Well, yes. I garden. I read fiction before I go to bed (sometimes I even fall asleep reading on the couch. Although, on second thought, my grandfather used to do that too, so perhaps that's more retirement-aged than middle-aged). I get into habits and, damn it, I like to stick to them. Occasionally, I will tell people that I can't go places because I have to cook something.

(Yes, I like to can my own jam and dehydrate food. Yes, I also call it "putting up food for the winter").

I also live with, and am friends with, many people who take their 20-something statuses very seriously. Which makes my sometimes-creaky hobbies stick out more than a bit.

And so, in an effort to deal with the issue without actually dealing with the issue, I made cookies. Chocolate chip cookies.

Biting into a warm cookie and following it with a swig of milk transported me back to what felt like every chocolate chip cookies I'd eaten as a child; or better yet, every one I'd wanted to eat, and wasn't allowed to (and I wanted to eat just about every cookie I saw when I was young). These cookies were pegged by the New York Times as being a sort of grown-up dessert, or at the very least, one for all ages, but I didn't notice that so much. I was too busy rolling the chocolate and salt around on my tongue, uniting my present wine-drinking self with that inner five-year-old me.

New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies
I'm a johnny-come-lately as far as these cookies. The rest of the blogging and online culinary world was exploding with descriptions of their flavor and texture and crispy brown edges weeks ago, and I'm only just getting around to them. I was also a bit of a skeptic as far as the "secret" of letting them sit for 24 hours. After testing the dough on my own, though, I stand corrected. I made the first batch immediately, the second batch a few hours over 12, and the third after around 30 hours. The last batch was obviously the best, and yes, their edges are both crispy and delicious. They kind of make the first batch look anemic. So, let the dough sit. It's worth it.

(Top to bottom, 30 hours, 15 hours, immediately after making dough. Please compare).

They do seem kind of fussy to me still, though. I think it's the two kinds of flours. If anyone makes them without this detail, report back. The recipe lists chocolate discs or fèves as ideal, instead of chips, which I did, but I wasn't completely blown away by it. What I found more important was using a nice dark chocolate, with a high cocoa content. This combines with the salt to make a much more complex cookie than the normal super-sweet kind.

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons cake flour
1 2/3 cups bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
1 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds good-quality bittersweet/dark chocolate chips (or disks or fèves)
Sea salt for sprinkling

-Combine flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Whisk well; then set aside.
-Cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Add dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.
- When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat.
-Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet. (Note: The original recipe here continues "...making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie". If you look at the picture above, you can see that I did not make great efforts to follow this suggestion. I'm rarely much of an aesthete, true, but the bulky, horizontal-chocolate cookies tasted twice as good as the others, seasoned with the knowledge that I did not spend excess time readjusting the chocolate logistics).
-Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes.
-Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more.