Thursday, July 19, 2007

Real Men are Missing Out

In a fit of half clean-out-the-fridge, half do-things-the-hardest-way-possible, I constructed a quiche for dinner. The spinach that I kept forgetting to use was just on the brink of going bad, and I had some cheddar cheese I wanted to use up. This combined with the fact that I'd just bought a dozen eggs, and I just happened to have a pie plate...well, I bet you can guess the result.

I was originally going to just buy a piecrust from the store, due to the fact that I'd never made piecrust unsupervised and without power tools before, but my coworkers guilted me into making it myself. And I'm glad I did, even though it stretched the whole operation over 2 days, making the dough yesterday and assembling the thing tonight after work. (You need to chill the dough before rolling it out, and there was no way I was waiting until 8:00 to eat)

I used this piecrust recipe, mostly because it called for butter, which I did have, and not shortening or lard, which I did not have. I was careful to keep the butter really cold as I worked, even going to far as to put it into the freezer for a while before using it. I made do with the equiment I had: a fork and arm power (frozen butter is hard!) to cut the butter into the flour, and I rolled it out with a glass. And despite all that, it turned out pretty good: decently flaky and with a delicious buttery taste.

I poked holes in the bottom of the pie shell with a fork and baked it at 350 for 10 minutes while I prepped the rest of the stuff: spinach needed to be picked through for brown bits and blanched quickly and chopped up, cheese was grated finely, and I wavered on the tomatoes for a bit before just deciding to chop them up and toss them in with the rest. That, plus 4 eggs, approximately 1/2 cup of milk, and some salt, pepper and thyme, was mixed together and then poured into the hot pie shell, which was just beginning to harden at the edges. Back into the oven for 35 minutes of me nervously checking on the thing and wondering if there was too much filling in it or if it was too liquidy and hoping the pie crust would cook properly. It puffed up quite a bit, but settled as it cooled. The picture was taken right after I took it out of the oven, so it still looks a little odd.

I swear, I'm probably the most paranoid cook ever. And it's mostly unfounded, since the quiche turned out mighty tasty in the end. I had 2 pieces. Next time, I'll ditch the tomatoes: they were too watery and I think were primarily responsible for the slightly soggy bottom that resulted. I really like the combination of eggs and tomato though, so I think the next time I make quiche I will have to investigate sundried tomatoes as an ingredient. I think it will be a while before that happens, though: Delicious as it is, I'm not sure the work involved justifies what is essentially an egg pie. Next week though, I want to try out that pie crust on something a little more traditional. Just need to pick a fruit...

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Brownies: Take 1

Oif. Well that was rather disastrous. But a tasty disaster, and so ultimately preferable to anything less delectable that might have come to pass.

I'd been wanting to bake brownies for a while, and so when I saw this recipe for double chocolate toffee brownies I decided that today would be the day. Don't get me wrong, the recipe is quite good and the brownies were delicious--the ultimate doom issued from me alone.

My first mistake was probably the choice of pan: that is, my pyrex pie plate, it being the only ovensafe dish I own. I haven't done the math, but I think the area of my plate worked is more than the 8" square baking pan she uses. It probably didn't make or break anything, but I doubt it helped. At least there were less edges: I've never really been a devotee of brownie edges, least of all crunchy ones.

Ok, then I got a little distracted by the weather. As you can see, I have a pretty awesome view out my window, and on this particular evening it was particularly gorgeous, so I was taking a bunch of pictures and left the brownies in just a little too long. Oops.

The third and most vile error came when I refused to wait until the brownies had cooled to try and de-pan them, wanting to get them out of the heat as soon as possible and trusting to my buttered-and-floured baking dish. Ha! In case you didn't read the recipe, I'll remind you: these brownies contain toffee bits. And melted toffee bits are very very sticky. So it broke into many pieces and left me with very little to actually cut squares out of. Eventually I gave up and just broke the big chunks into smaller chunks and ate all the bits.

(Click for extreme textural closeup)

It's a good thing they turned out to be delicious. And - bonus! - the recipe doesn't contain any milk, unless you count the chocolate chips (and those are easily excluded), so it's workable for the digestive-enzyme-challenged among you or your friends. They aren't a fudgy type of brownie; more of a very chewy cakey texture. And be warned: a beverage of some sort (milk recommended) close at hand is absolutely crucial before any attempts at consumption are made. I will not be held responsible for the consequences if you neglect to follow these instructions.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

When inspiration strikes...look out

I was at a barbeque most of the afternoon and basically pigged out (I have decided that the next time I go to a party I will be bringing 7 layer question. I love that stuff) so I was in no mood to eat a whole dinner tonight. However, I ended up cooking anyway: my roommate was making a batch of soup and when she opened the cupboard, I saw peanut butter and a little light bulb went on in my head. I was going to make soup with peanut butter.

To the internets! But all I could find were recipes where the flavours were peanut and only peanut, and that wasn't really what I wanted. I was going for more of a peanut-vegetable combination, but wasn't sure what sort of vegetable would go well with peanut butter. I decided to just go for it, and opened the fridge: Mirepoix time! Onion, check; carrot, check; celery....heyyy, celery goes with peanut butter! And I just happened to have the remains of a head that was just past the point of when I wanted to eat it raw.

So the celery and a little bit each of carrot and onion became the base for my experimental soup, which by the time it was done included peanut butter, milk, curry powder, cayenne, nutmeg, brown sugar to make up for the fact that there was none in my peanut butter, and salt and pepper. I added enough water to make 3 smallish servings, guessing that with the peanut butter it would end up being rich enough that I wouldn't want to eat a lot.

It turned out decent enough, although it is without a doubt the ugliest thing I've ever cooked, despite my attempt to garnish (green onion would have been better, but.....I didn't have any. Unless you count the brown slimy mess that I cleaned out of the crisper today). The celery wasn't really there the way I would have preferred, but I'm not sure whether the solution is to just use more celery, or add celery seed or celeriac (neither of which I have ever cooked with).

Either way, this is something I want to try again sometime, although maybe I'll leave it for some time when it's not pushing 30 degrees out. I wonder if I could eat it cold?

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Je me rends! I surrender!

So instead of constantly bombarding my friends with tales of culinary endeavours, I set this up so I can prattle as much as I want and simultaneously enjoy:
  • the ability to reach out to the entire world, and
  • no actual readers.
You see, that's my rationalization for adding to the already subway-at-5pm cramped world of food blogging: I don't actually expect anyone to read this. It's alright, I don't mind: my photography's not that great and my writing somewhat less than inspired.

...still here? Oh alright then.

These are my favourite cookies. I could probably count on one hand the times when I baked cookies that weren't from this recipe. They don't always come out perfect, sometimes the oven is being fussy or the vibe just isn't there, but they're usually great: chewy, slightly browned and lumpy with chocolate chips and tangy dried cranberries.

But here's my shameful confession: I don't actually own cookie sheets. (See upcoming "equipment I really actually need but refuse to buy so I don't need to keep moving it" post) So my cookie-baking is limited to when I go home, at which point I will bake a batch (or 2), leave a few, and freeze most of them to take with me wherever I'm going. I make them small, so they last longer, and I rarely share.

The recipe is adapted from I believe the 1987 version of the Canadian Living Cookbook and makes as many as 40ish cookies, depending on how big you make them.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

½ cup Butter (at room temp)
½ cup Shortening (ditto)
1 cup Granulated sugar
½ cup Packed brown sugar
2 Eggs
2 tsp Vanilla
2 cups All-purpose flour
1 tsp Baking soda
½ tsp Salt
1 cup Dried sweetened cranberries *
2 cups Chocolate chips

* You could use raisins, or nuts I suppose, if you were going to be boring. Don't put in more than the 2 cups of chocolate chips though. Trust me, it doesn't work.

  • Cream together butter and shortening, then gradually add the brown and white sugars. Mix until fluffy. (the best way to do this is with an electric mixer, but I've done it by hand. The trick is to start with room temperature (but not melted!) butter and shortening)
  • Beat in the eggs and vanilla till you get a soupy but delicious smelling mess. At this point, you are hereby prohibited from sampling the raw cookie dough, or else you will get salmonella from the eggs and die.
  • In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt) and then mix it into the wet stuff a little at a time. Say, in 2 or 3 batches. Put away the mixer, you're done with it.
  • Stir in chocolate chips and cranberries with a spoon for a mostly even distribution. At this point, it is recommended (but not essential) to put the dough in the fridge for a couple of hours to chill. I've found that it effects the baking less than you'd think, especially with small cookies. Plus I'm lazy and impatient so I usually skip it.
  • Cover your cookie sheets with parchment paper. If you've never used it than trust me, it's the best thing ever. So much easier than greasing the pans, and stuff never ever sticks. Plus it's reusable, and makes cleaning up super fast. Oh, and you preheated your oven to 375˚F right? Sure you did.
  • Your cookie formation method will probably involve some sort of combination of spoons and hands. I like to make a ball no more than an inch and a half diameter, and then flatten it slightly between my hands before putting it on the cookie sheet. Also, if I had refrigerated my dough, most of the benefit would be gone after all this handling. Just letting you know. Keep your cookies pretty well separated on the pan (It's not just about making sure they don't touch, they will brown better with lots of space between them).
  • Bake for 8 to 9 minutes. The cookies should be golden brown around the edges and slightly underbaked in the middle. If you poke it lightly in the middle and it completely deflates, though, you need to go in a little longer. After you take the cookies out of the oven, let them sit on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes or so to finish setting up, then move them to racks to cool.