New Year, New Pineapple Cakes

I’m starting off 2017 by breaking open a special gift from the in-laws: a box of SunnyHills pineapple cakes from Taipei. If only I knew about this place when I visited Taiwan in ’14. (Or maybe it’s best that I didn’t, considering how many boxes I might have tried to bring back at once…)  Pineapple cakes aren’t for everyone, nor are they very consistent in quality, flavor, and texture across brands. You kind of have to do your own research to find out which versions you enjoy the most. To me, SunnyHills is one of the best I’ve tried so far. The cake is buttery and crumbly, the fruit filling not too sweet and fresh-tasting. Speaking of fresh-tasting: note that these cakes are preservative-free, making the shelf life extremely short. Works for me as I prefer my dessert not ready to last the ages, Twinkie-style.

SunnyHills ships stateside from Singapore and they even have a cute limited edition 2017 box adorned with chicks here.

Even More Cookie Time: Triple Ginger

2016_12_12_bruah013
Sometimes you need to pose with a Poinsettia. (But careful, aren’t they slightly poisonous?) 

December doesn’t exist in my head until some kind of ginger spice cookie is ready for eating.

Last year I baked this recipe for Molasses Krinkles, which was enjoyable, but it didn’t seem to be the cookie I loved from previous years. I think I’ve finally located the version that I love. The difference? Lots and lots of ginger: the dough contains chopped crystallized ginger, minced fresh ginger, and a healthy dose of ground ginger to top it off. Just my style. I would even consider measuring out heaping teaspoonfuls (or 1/2 teaspoonfuls) of the spices listed, if you want an extra kick.  This cookie is pure heaven warm from the oven. It also stays softly chewy for a few days, especially if you only keep it in the oven no longer than the suggested 15 minutes.

One caveat: the previous Molasses Krinkle recipe that I made did have a nice texture thanks to the shortening. Maybe I need to combine the best of both worlds and adapt the recipe? Next year it is!

Recipe Credit: Epicurious

Kitchen Mess: 2 out of 4 stars.

Recommended For: Cookie Lovers and Their Friends

Not Recommended For: ?

Cookie Time Continues! Multigrain Chocolate Chip

2016_12_12_bruah092

Helloooo buckwheat flour. Not everyone’s cup of tea but it works for me once in a while. Yes, the items shown in the image above are cookies- promise. Sugary ones, too. These will make sense when you want a cookie but feel really, really bad about it. I’m a complete sucker for anything that tries to infuse healthy elements into not-so-healthy foods. (ex: grated carrots in canned tomato soup, a scoop of barley flour in buttermilk pancakes) Does it work? Eh, probably not. Although maybe it’s better than snacking on wonder bread and processed cheese sandwiches on a daily basis?  I say yes to that.

Despite having a solid dose of whole grain (whole wheat flour, buckwheat flour, and kasha), these do have a normal amount of sugar. They have sugar, salt, and butter galore. No sense in making them pretend-health-food-cookies, right?

At first I thought the flavor was a little too hearty, but I grew to love them after the second cookie. (one must always try a new cookie twice, just to be sure.) Definitely make sure to sprinkle a little flaky sea salt on these babies- the added salt infusion really goes with the whole flavor.

Another tip would be to let the dough refrigerate for a day or so. I baked two batches: one the day of, another one 36 hours later. I thought the second batch mellowed out the crunchy kasha more to my liking.

Recipe Credit: Design Sponge (note that I used a newer Dorie Greenspan alteration, not on the internet, that has a few adjustments: 1. Reduce the amount of light brown sugar to 2/3 cup and 2. replace the 1/4 cup of cracked rye with a 1/4 cup of Kasha (buckwheat groats). She recommends Wolff’s medium granulation. Another substitute would be 1/4 cup of finely chopped toasted nuts.)

Kitchen Mess: 2 out of 4. A typical cookie mess.

Recommended For: Anyone Who Thinks Adding Whole Wheat Flour To Anything Makes It Healthy, Adventurous Types, Sweet and Salty Fans

Not Recommended For: Whole Grain Haters, Picky Eaters, Purists

 

Moroccan Almond Semolina Cookie Time!

2016_12_12_bruah071

Dorie Greenspan’s new cookie book looks perfect. Everything I’ve tried so far from various magazine/internet articles has been a winner, so I think it’s time for me to go buy a physical copy. This Moroccan Almond Semolina cookie was the first recipe on my list. In my opinion, semolina desserts are the best. (but so are almond flavored sweets….and lemony scented dessert….and also anything with a splash of orange flower water….so here you have it, a cookie that combines all of these elements!)

If you’re not one for the specific texture of semolina, I’d definitely move on to another cookie. No sense in messing with that crucial element here. However, one item that can be omitted is the orange flower water. If you’d like you can try adding an equal amount of rose water instead, or perhaps a little extra lemon zest. It also says nothing at all is fine too. I’d really suggest trying it out first- it adds a lovely floral hint to the cookie.

This recipe seems to be both very specific and versatile all at once. What is specific is the flavor and texture. The versatility comes in when and where it can be used: I can see this working as part of a whole holiday cookie platter, as a teatime snack, or at a springtime or Easter brunch. Play around and see what makes the most sense!

Recipe Credit: Dorie Greenspan via NY Times

Kitchen Mess: 2 out of 4 stars. Not bad considering it involves a little powdered sugar

Recommended For: A Different Kind of Cookie Platter, Holiday Parties for Adults, Days When You Want To Bake Cookies But You Only Have Canola Oil, Not Butter

Not Recommended For: Kids Parties, People Who Dislike Orange Flower Water

Roasted Cauliflower Pasta With Capers

november-pasta Pasta, if I may generalize a bit, is everyone’s favorite comfort food. Cauliflower is a highly popular vegetarian entree on it’s own. Together they create a quite yummy pasta entree. Despite it’s popularity, cauliflower is a veggie that isn’t usually my first pick for pasta toppings. But when you want pasta for lunch and you have 2 heads of cauliflower hanging around, you might as well go for it. This recipe gave me a reason to use half of my brassica stash. Oh, and the recipe is called Pasta With Roasted Romanesco and Capers, but says you can sub cauliflower or broccoli as needed. Versatility is my friend.

The recipe has a few steps so don’t bother when you need a 10 minute dinner fix. It also requires multiple pans: one for frying almonds and capers, then a roasting sheet, then a dutch oven, and yet another pan for cooking the pasta. The perfect detail from this meal is that it makes a full 4 servings of pasta, so even if you spend a little time on this then planned, you will definitely have another meal for a 2-person household.

Here are my tips/thoughts:

  1. Perhaps I’m throwing off the pasta-to-vegetable ratio here, but I used the whole head of a small cauliflower even though the recipe calls for half. In my opinion, the more veggies the better.
  2. I used rotini pasta instead of shells. Close enough, sort of?
  3. No white wine in the house = I went with chicken stock instead.  I’m usually a proponent of subbing one out for the other in an emergency. This time it worked fine – I can see why the white wine might flesh out the overall flavor, but overall stock was a decent stand-in.
  4. Best to take the recipe’s directions seriously and use a dutch oven for the pasta tossing. It’s probably not as fun or as easy to toss this much pasta & oily nut bits without high walls shutting you off from the mess.

Anyways, this gets an A for being leftover-friendly, flexible (choice of brassicas in the recipe, liquid substitutions, possible nut switches), and vegetarian.

Recipe Link: Bon Appetit

Kitchen Mess: 3 out of 4 stars (seriously, how many pans can you mess up for one pasta meal? Apparently a few.)

Recommended For: Dutch Oven Owners, Fall Sunday Dinners, Vegetarians and Those Who Love Them

Not Recommended For: Brassica Haters, Non-Tomato Sauce Pasta Haters

Spicy Sausage and Swiss Chard Pasta

CSA season, which lasts from May to November, is my crazy challenge. A CSA, short for Community Supported Agriculture, is a way to buy into a local farm for the growing season. You pay for a yearly subscription upfront and, in turn, receive a share of produce from the farm on a set schedule (usually weekly). The produce is, of course, picked that week and so you receive whatever is in season right then, with no exceptions. Some CSAs give you other share options besides vegetables, such as fruit, eggs, or cheese. I’ve been doing this for 3 years now. The vegetables are exceptional and I enjoy being able to pitch in to support an area farm.

The one downfall? My weekly veggie share is a bit, well, aggressive for a 2-person household. So I have fun with it and take a certain perverse pride in using up whatever I can by the end of the week.

This can get daunting, especially when you weekly box has multiples of one item. How many meals can you eat with cucumbers? What about kohlrabi?  Should you just pickle everything? Freeze it into small portions for later meals?  So many options, and usually so little time.

For the rest of the July I’m going to share recipes that have been helpful in my own weekly conquest to finish up the veggie box.

Behold, recipe #1: Penne with Spicy Sausage and Chard, AKA a simple yet elegant meal that uses up an entire bunch of swiss chard.

2016_07_11_bruah098
A cause for a celebration.

This recipe is everything to me. It’s the best weeknight meal you can throw together in a half hour. It’s budget friendly and calls for normal pantry staples (box of pasta, stock, garlic). It also has room for improvisation. Don’t have chard? Cook down some other greens instead. No ricotta salata AND no feta?  Maybe throw in a salty cheese like pecorino, or perhaps even try a sprinkle of goat cheese at the end (I say at the end because soft goat cheese won’t toss well.) Clearly from the picture I’ve gone ahead and used ziti instead of penne – all in the spirit of improvisation, right?  Ziti, penne, whatever – I’m not really a pasta purist so it’s all close enough to me.

What really makes this dish stand out is the cooking down of the chicken stock. Don’t skip this step!  It works as a sort of binder and slightly thickens the overall dish with a savory sauce. It feels more complete instead of simply throwing together the ingredients after the pasta is cooked. Think of it as a more savory version of leftover pasta water that cooks use when tossing linguine and red sauce.

There you have it, one bunch of greens down. If you happen to have TWO bunches of chard, you can always cut the other bunch, blanch it in boiling water for 2 minutes, dry thoroughly, and portion it out for the freezer…

2016_07_19_Bruah046
Mini bunch of frozen swiss chard to be put to use later. (really, I’m not eating that now.)

Recipe: Food and Wine

Kitchen Mess: 2 out of 4.

Recommended For:  After work, ways to use up a couple links of really good hot Italian sausage, a crisper overflowing with greens.

Not Recommended For: Show-offs.

The Best Bread Ever? Yeah, Maybe.

This one was intense.

2016_05_17_Bruah030

It is a homemade bread recipe for the slightly deranged. It is a homemade bread recipe that takes 3 days of your time, albeit with long gaps. It is, in a nutshell, the neverending homemade bread recipe.

Ok, maybe this is all a slight exaggeration. But I will warn you once more, you have to be really, really into baking for this one. Your entire weekend will be planned around the fermentation schedule. The whole process might feel a little excessive but the results, however, are magical. To make bread this good, this flavorful, this, well, artisanal tasting might just be worth all the long, patient suffering endured beforehand. It has brought me to the dark side of baking, or at least taken over any weekend when I decide I want a fresh loaf.

2016_05_17_Bruah035

Here is my most important suggestion to anyone that wants to try this recipe for the first time: read the directions first, maybe even twice. It might also help to watch the posted video to get a sense of the steps involved. Trust me, familiarizing yourself with the steps will be useful later. You’ll end up referencing the written recipe many times over, unless you are a pro at memorization.

Anyways. So you’re ready to do this. The only part of the recipe I felt was a little off, timing-wise, was how long the poolish, or yeast starter, took to properly ferment. It says the initial fermentation will take 12-18 hours, which from my experience is too short. In the 3 times I have baked this bread, it has taken 24 hours, 16 hours, and 22 hours respectively. Maybe the process is slowed because of the yeast I’m using combined with the temperature in my kitchen. The poolish is supposed to be ready when a tiny piece floats in a cup of water. The first time I was trying this “float test” the pieces kept sinking, making me think that the yeast was bad and the whole concoction was done for. Not true. Eventually it floated to the top, luckily before I gave up on the entire process. So don’t worry if this first step takes longer than 18 hours.

Another helpful suggestion is to diligently weigh out all the ingredients on a digital scale, including the water and salt. This step makes for more accurate measurements and a properly baked loaf. (apparently some people have questioned the salt content of the recipe overall. I had no problem with the saltiness when using the scale.)  Following the timings and steps for the kneading, mixing, and multiples rises is also a process in itself but all crucial to help you achieve the impressive final result.

The “slap and fold” step is the most hands-on and fun part once you get used to it. A more extreme version of normal kneading, this process is perfect to do with this stretchy, goopy dough. If you look over the written directions and want to cry from confusion, just watch the video linked to above. This step might feel a little messy and weird at first, but you’ll get used to it quickly, and it really goes help to develop the gluten strands.

After all the kneading, slapping, and various rises involved, the dough still always seems pretty soft to me.  The mass will spread out as far as it can after I invert it onto parchment paper in preparation for baking. None of this effects the end result. The loaf perfectly fits into my 5.5 quart Dutch Oven and bakes within the suggested times, usually closer to the low timing while in a 475 degree oven.

Waiting a few hours for the bread to cool is torturous. My last suggestion is to bake it at the very end of the night. Instead of hovering over the bread to cool you can simply wake up to a happy breakfast. The end product is outstanding, robust with an intense crust. Feels fancier than what you thought you could make at home.

Some other notes:

  • I do not have rice flour, so I used the suggested backup of cornstarch/flour. It was fine.
  • I also do not have a razor or lame on hand to slash the dough. A knife was my substitute, which barely works. No effect on the end flavor.
  • My marble slab was the perfect place to work on the “slap and fold” step of the recipe. This accessory along with a bench scraper makes for an easier process.
  • 2016_05_17_Bruah078

Recipe: BA’s Best Bread Recipe

Kitchen Mess: 3 out of 4.

Recommended For: Masochists, Weekend Bakers, Things To Do During A Snowstorm, Bread Obsessives

Not Recommended For: Impatient Bakers, Busy Schedules, The Person Who Would Rather Buy A Loaf At The Bakery Down The Street And Be Done With It

James Beard Buttermilk Loaf

I’m on a big bread kick right now. Evidence Pic #1:

buttermilk bread03
Buttermilk Loaf

This homemade bread obsession is mainly because I want to become more scientific about the whole process; to really understand the why and how of the steps involved and to accurately forecast the end results. I’ll post my various observations/recipes over the next month, or until it gets too hot to bake indoors.

Last month I received the classic James Beard bread book as a gift, with the suggestion to start with the Buttermilk bread recipe. Now’s the time to mention that I’ve been conditioned since an early age to dislike white bread. My mom had a strict “No Wonder Bread” policy in the house growing up. What that really means is that we had no factory-made fluffy white bread that could be squished and rolled into a small ball hanging out in the house, ever. It is one of those food rules that I’ve carried into adulthood, despite not always making healthy meal decisions on a daily basis.

Despite my initial trepidation I decided to go with the white bread recipe. Two reasons for this: 1. Buttermilk is always my friend and 2. Any warm bread fresh from the oven is also my friend. Plus it makes sense to go with the first recommendation, right?  Upon opening the physical cookbook (a used copy) I noticed  a handwritten edit to this particular recipe, an edit that was hard to avoid because it was written over the original type in bold pen. The markings on the page called for a 1/2 tablespoon salt instead of, well, something else.  I assumed it was 1 tablespoon because any more than that sounded absurd, and no proper recipe book would have a measurement reading of less than 1/4 tablespoon without switching to teaspoons. This is before I realized that the recipe already has a life of it’s own on the internet and has posted on a lot of recipe sites and blogs. The recipe calls for 1 tablespoon, which many seem to think is excessive.

I went with the edited version of 1/2 tbsp. The recipe is very straightforward if you are used to baking homemade loaves.: proof the yeast, add the ingredients, knead for 10 minutes, let it rise, punch down and shape, rise again, bake, eat.

As you can imagine, this bread is excellent fresh out of the oven. The pillowy softness balanced with the crunchy crust and was perfect with butter and jam. The buttermilk was very apparent and had an excellent tangy flavor when eaten warm. Unfortunately after a day or so it seemed to have lost that special tang, eventually toasting up like basic white bread. (…and making the soft-pillow texture move towards boring bread territory. Dare I even say Wonder Bread territory?)

Because of the quick falloff in quality, I would suggest repurposing the bread leftovers around day 2. Maybe throw stale chunks in a food processor to make bread crumbs, toast squares in the oven to make salad croutons, or soak thick slices in an egg/milk batter to make decadent french toast.

I think my cookbook edit of 1/2 tbsp seems to be appropriate, though I would definitely try 1 tbsp next time to be sure. It might also depend on the type of buttermilk used.

Besides the salt measurement debate, there is another point brought up elsewhere online that I would like to agree with here: the dough in this recipe can easily make 2 loaves instead of 1. The pictures I took here are a perfect illustration of this opinion. The loaf was crazy high – in fact it was almost twice as high as the bread pan. Next time I will maybe try 2 free form loaves and adjust the time as needed.

buttermilk bread02

buttermilk bread01
This barely fit in one loaf pan.

Recipe Credit: James Beard’s Buttermilk Bread

Kitchen Mess: 2 out of 4. I’d say this is a typical amount of breadmaking mess- ending with 2 bowls, a bread pan (maybe 2?), and a flour-covered spot from kneading. Really the part I hate cleaning the most is the cooling rack.

Recommended For: Buttermilk lovers, anyone in need of both a half loaf of fresh bread and a cup or two of fresh breadcrumbs

Not Recommended For: Anyone who likes to wait a day before eating a slice of bread. (is there anyone out there who does this, really?) 

Christmas Cookie Platter

Christmas_cookies

I take Holiday cookie platters very seriously. Once I start baking a batch during the month of December, I immediately move into this slightly crazy meditative state, not stopping until I’ve made at least 5 varieties in a weekend. (You do have to enjoy baking or else you’ll make yourself miserable) If I had more time this I would make at least 8 batches. They make great gifts for neighbors, work parties, etc.

Variety is of the utmost importance. I like to make one cut-out recipe, something spiced, and maybe a filled version as well. I also listen to feedback from my taste-tester family and friends and make amendments as needed.

This is a variation of a cookie platter that I’ve made for many years. Some of the recipes I’ve been making for 5-10 years, and one standard has been part of my family celebrations for at least 20.

The Almond Cookies are the old favorite, originally from an old Slovak-American cookbook that was my grandmother’s. The cookbook is long gone, but the written version remains in my records. Enjoy.

****

Almond Cookies / Makes 4 dozen

Cream 1 cup butter and 1 cup sugar. Add 1/2 tsp almond extract and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract and 2 egg yolks, beat until light. Add 2 2/3 cup flour sifted flour and 1/2 tsp. salt, mix well.

Roll into 1 inch balls. Drop in the 2-previously-separated egg whites and place 2 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet. Press down each ball with 1/2 an almond or a fork (or both!)

Bake for 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

****

Other recipes: 

Polish Apriot-Filled Cookies: Highly recommended and so worth the work.

Coconut-Orange Snowballs: Also highly recommended, and a little less time-consuming.

Christmas Cutouts with Vanilla Icing:  A solid recipe, though perhaps not my favorite cookie overall.

Molasses Crinkles: Good, but I’m remembering another recipe for molasses cookies that I enjoyed more. I’ll have to revisit this later…

 

Vintage Entertaining Ideas

 

In honor of this week’s Great American Thursday Dinner Party AKA Thanksgiving, here are some decorating ideas a la Betty Crocker. I really wouldn’t use anything verbatim, but the fabrics do have their own charm decades later.

–From Betty Crocker’s Hostess Handbook, Published 1967

Betty-Crocker-Vintage.jpg

Betty-Crocker-Vintage_2.jpg