Sunday, August 28, 2011

Going, going, gone.

Tomorrow, I'll wake up at five in the morning. By ten, I'll be in Manhattan. By four, less than twelve hours after waking up, I'll hug my dad goodbye. I'll watch him squiggle through Broadway's post-Irene traffic, headed for home. Without him, I'll be all alone, surrounded by girls identical to me. I'll be an ant in the anthill of Barnard College. Or maybe NYC is the anthill? I don't know what the metaphor is exactly, just that I'll be an ant. 

To my favorite teachers at West Side, to my classmates, to my debate competition, to my music teachers, to my family, to my neighbors, to my friends, to anyone who ever read this blog: if you ever come to New York, come say hi. I know a tiny bit of floor between two beds in a college dorm room that has your name on it. 

(Diane baked me an omgsheiseighteenandmovingaway cake. It was chocolate with marscapone coffee frosting and raspberry sauce, and it was the most amazing cake ever. Not to mention the fact that it followed my ideal meal: meatloaf with green beans and corn. Thank you, Diane!)


My sister is smarter than your sister. My parents are funnier than your parents. My cousins are prettier than your cousins. My grandparents are wiser than your grandparents. And my family recipes taste better than your family recipes. That's the way it is; deal with it.

It had been months since I saw my cousins and grandparents, so my day in rural New York last weekend was much appreciated. In the afternoon, I lay out in the sun with my cousins with vinegar in my hair (note: we smelled like salad, but it didn't lighten our hair) and the next morning, I made corn fritters with my grandma. Corn fritters are one family recipe I've already shared with you. They're less like pancakes than like fluffy piles of tender sweet corn. When touched with a fork, a fritter should fall apart and ooze maple syrup.  

I tried Date Nut Chocolate Bit Squares for the first time while I was there. Apparently my dad and his brother and sister were basically raised on these bars. DNCBS look like brownies, but one bite tells you it's not a brownie. These bars are light and cakey with a crown of currants, chocolate, and nuts. Try them and they'll become your own family recipe.

Nanny's Date Nut Chocolate Bit Squares (DNCBS)

1 3/4 c regular flour
2 T cocoa
1/2 t salt
1 c chopped dates
1 c boiling water
1 t baking soda
1/2 lb butter
1 c sugar
2 eggs
1 t vanilla
1 c mini chocolate chips
1 c currants
1 c chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 325. Grease a 9x13 in pan. Stir together flour, cocoa, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, mix together chopped dates, boiling water, and baking soda. Let the dates cool while you cream the butter with the sugar in a third bowl. Add to the butter the eggs and vanilla, then flour mixture. Stir in date mixture. Pour batter into the greased pan. Top with currants, chocolate chips, and chopped nuts. Bake at 325 for 35 to 45 minutes. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

For Neha

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

By giving me this beautiful new book, Neha gave me ice cream for a lifetime. She knows how obsessed I am over Jeni's ice cream. Thank you, Neha!

If you have an interest in making ice cream, buy this book. I love reading cookbooks, and this one is an extremely good read with stunning pictures and detailed instructions. The flavors are real ones from Jeni's stores, each more intriguing than the last. Flipping page after page of ice cream porn leaves your hands itching for an ice cream maker.

Since I received the cookbook just a couple weeks ago, I have made basil ice cream with honeyed pine nuts, peanut butter ice cream with dark chocolate flakes, spicy curry chocolate ice cream with raisins and coconut, watermelon lemonade sorbet, and beet ice cream with marsapone, orange, and poppy seeds. Our ice cream machine has been spinning wildly and I've eaten more ice cream than I care to admit.

The fact that our kitchen has produced five flavors should by no means suggest that making this ice cream at home is easy. Most ice cream recipes require very few ingredients, just cream and sugar to make the basic recipe, but Jeni's is not that simple. Her easiest flavors involve cream, cream cheese, whole milk, cornstarch, corn syrup, and sugar. I'm usually extremely comfortable in the kitchen, but making Jeni's I find myself in all sorts of disasters, like pouring a bubbling black mess of pine nuts down the drain or straining white globs of cornstarch out of my liquid ice cream. It's fair to say these recipes are a challenge. I now totally understand why they're sold for $12 a pint. Jeni's is worth every penny.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Corn and Tomato Pie

On my way home from the farmer's market with a bag of sweet corn in one hand and a selection of heirloom tomatoes in the other, I had only one image in my mind. In my mind, I could see the glossy page featuring a large, brightly-colored corn and tomato pie. I knew that would be dinner. I quickly searched all resources where I could have seen the recipe, and it turns out that my memory was from Gourmet two summers ago. Oh, those happy days of Gourmet. 

These tomatoes look like lace coasters when sliced thinly crosswise, don't they?

Once I found the recipe, the pie came together very simply. I used a mixture of white and whole wheat flours in the wet biscuit dough for the crust. It mixed up in a flash and rolled out quickly, too. Although I usually don't roll dough out with plastic wrap, I recommend doing it this time because the dough is so sticky. 

Between the crusts, you layer tomatoes, corn kernels, cheddar cheese, and herbs. I didn't bother peeling the tomatoes. And I skipped entirely a mixture of mayonnaise and lemon juice which you are supposed to add. Adding mayo to a fresh veggie pie just didn't seem right to me. 

What a pie. 

I drained the vegetables, but still, the pie was very juicy when served hot. After a day in the fridge, though, the cold leftover pie slices held together much better. Both ways were delicious, though. I'm not a huge cheddar fan, but the cheddar flavor added substance without overwhelming the sweet, fresh corn. 

Tomato and Corn Pie
Adapted from Gourmet, August 2009

2 cups flour (Either all-purpose or a mix of all-purpose and wheat. I used 1/2 cup wheat)
1 T baking powder
3/4 stick cold unsalted butter, plus an optional 2 t melted
3/4 c whole milk
1 3/4 lb tomatoes
3 ears corn
2 T finely chopped basil
1 T finely chopped chives
7 oz coarsely grated sharp cheddar (1 3/4 c)

Peel your tomatoes if you feel like it, then slice them crosswise 1/4 in thick. Put the slices in a colander or sieve and allow them to drain for an hour or so, pressing down on them to release the liquid. Cut the kernels from the corn and put it in a sieve, pressing down. Chop the herbs finely. 

Preheat oven to 400. 

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and 3/4 t salt in a large bowl, then blend in cold butter with your fingertips until it resembles coarse meal. Add milk, stirring until mixture just forms a dough, then gather into a ball. Divide dough in half and roll out one piece between two sheets of plastic wrap into a 12-in round, 1/8 in thick. Remove top sheet of plastic wrap and lift the dough using the bottom sheet of plastic wrap. Invert onto a 9 inch pie plate, and smooth it out before removing the plastic wrap. 

Arrange half of the tomatoes in crust, overlapping. Sprinkle with half of the corn, basil, chives, cheese and 1/2 t salt and 1/8 t pepper. Repeat layering with remaining tomatoes, corn, basil, chives, salt, and pepper, and cheese.

Roll out remaining dough into another 12 inch round and fit over filling. Fold overhang under edge of bottom crust and pinch edge to seal. Cut steam vents in the top crust and brush crust with melted butter or milk if you prefer.

Put the pie on a baking sheet to catch potential drips and bake until crust is golden and filling is bubbling, about 30 to 35 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Changes and Chocolate Chips

If I blog from my brand new laptop, is my writing the same? And if I have a driver's license in a new state, am I a more experienced driver? What if I have a new gym membership at a fancy, urban gym? Can I run faster? If I have no family, no home in Indiana and no plans to back, am I still a Hoosier?

Everything is changing and I'm trying to hold on. Going to college is the biggest transition I've ever faced. I'm excited for the changes; I want to grow into myself the way only college students can. But how do you know how much to change and what to hold on to? And when the people in my life are dispersing across the nation, who's going to tell me if I start to lose my way?

I guess the key is to maintain my integrity as a person even as I adapt. I'm changing qualities of myself just like I might take half a cup of sugar from a recipe for zucchini bread, switch out the vegetable oil for applesauce, or add in a grated summer squash. The result is slightly different, sure, but with any luck, it's for the best.

This delicious recipe from my aunt makes two loaves: one to keep and one to give to a friend (if you're feeling generous). If you prefer muffins, it will make about 24 muffins.

Oh, and if you're like my dad and you think chocolate with vegetables is just plain confusing, feel free to leave out the chocolate chips.

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread
recipe adapted from my aunt, Eliza

3 eggs
1 c vegetable oil or applesauce
1 1/4 to 2 c sugar (you don't need as much if you do applesauce)
2 t vanilla
2 to 3 c shredded zucchini (or a mix of zucchini and yellow summer squash)
3 c flour
2 t baking soda
1/4 t baking powder
1 t salt
1 1/2 t cinnamon
1/8 t nutmeg (optional)
1 to 1 1/2 c chocolate chips (a mix of regular and mini chips looks nice)
1 c walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350. Grease two 9x5x3 loaf pans or muffin tins.

Combine eggs, oil (or applesauce), sugar, vanilla. Beat until smooth. Stir in flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, zucchini. Fold in chocolate chips and nuts.

Spread batter in two greased pans or in muffin cups (filling 2/3 full).

Bake at 350 for 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out clean. For muffins, bake 20 minutes.



Above, see photographic proof of my obsession with sugar. At Sweet in Harvard Square with Neha yesterday, I devoured a mini cappucino cupcake sprinkled with cinnamon, then followed with a shot of cream cheese frosting. 

But these things have consequences. Less than 24 hours after my frosting shot euphoria, I was squirming in the dentist's chair as he squirted novocaine into my cheek. It was only one filling and it was over soon enough, but being numb is no fun. My dentist told me that I was allowed to eat, but I should be careful of accidentally biting my numb tongue. I ate some vegetables and discovered that between my teeth, a mushroom and a tongue feel pretty much the same. Which one was I chewing? I gave up on solid food and turned to my favorite mushy snack.

I like yogurt, but only if I add flavor and sweetener myself. Fruit-on-the-bottom just doesn't taste right to me. I stir together nonfat yogurt or Greek yogurt and brown sugar, maple syrup, or honey until the yogurt is smooth and shiny, then I add fruit. Today, I mixed the yogurt with cinnamon sugar, making a sweet cinnamon cream to accompany applesauce. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Cousins and Coffee Cake

The only ingredients you need for a successful vacation from vacation: an engaging book, a few wonderful family members, and a slice of cake.

Evie chose this cake recipe, a mocha walnut layer cake from the Fanny Farmer Cookbook. (I'm not sure why this cake is called a mocha cake, because it doesn't actually have chocolate. It's technically a walnut coffee cake, but I guess that doesn't have the same ring to it.) I loved the nuts in this cake, and it was a nice change from chocolate or vanilla cake. The cake was really good with whipped cream. 

 Question: why does penuche frosting taste like maple? It really really does.

Walnut Mocha Cake
from Fanny Farmer

3/4 c milk
3 T instant coffee
2 t vanilla
1/4 lb butter
1 1/2 c sugar
3 eggs
2 1/4 c cake flour
3/4 t salt
3 t baking powder
1 c chopped walnuts
penuche frosting and whipped cream

Preheat the oven to 350. Butter and flour two 8 inch round cake pans. Heat the milk and stir in the instant coffee until it dissolves. Add the vanilla and let cool. Cream the butter and gradually add the sugar, beating until light. Add the eggs and beat well. Stir in the coffee mixture. Combine the flour, salt, and baking powder, and add them to the first mixture, mixing well. Stir in the walnuts. Spread batter in the pans and bake about 30 minutes. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes before turning out onto racks. Frost with penuche frosting and serve with whipped cream. 

Penuche Frosting

1 1/2 c dark brown sugar
3/4 c white sugar
1/8 t salt
1/2 c milk
3 T butter
1 1/2 T corn syrup
1 1/2 t vanilla

Mix all ingredients except vanilla in a heavy-bottomed pan. Bring slowly to the boiling point, stirring constantly, and boil for just 1 minute. Cook to lukewarm, add the vanilla, and beat until thick enough to spread. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Tom Johnsons and Peanut Sauce

Talking to strangers is generally not a good idea. Talking to strangers can lead to all sorts of horrible things like kidnappings and theft. On some occasions, however, talking to strangers can lead to wonderful things. Peanut sauce, for example.

I would not be sitting in front of my computer, nibbling baby carrots (known more popularly as Tom Johnsons) dipped in home-made peanut sauce, were it not for a lovely lady I met at the pasta store. So it is her you should thank for this delicious, multi-purpose sauce.

If you aren't familiar with peanut sauce and you don't know what to eat it with, it's good with grilled meats, in wraps, in stir-fries (think pra ram), as a dip for vegetables, or just on plain rice. It's basically good on everything, so use your imagination. My friend Alex once ordered rice and peanut sauce as an appetizer before eating pad see ew at Thai Essence... crazy kid.

Peanut Sauce
adapted (only slightly) from easyveggal's recipe

1/2 c creamy peanut butter
1 T sugar
2 T hoisin sauce
1 1/2 T soy sauce
2 t chile-garlic sauce (more or less depending on your heat tolerance)
1 T sesame oil
juice of 1 lime
1/3 c water
peanuts, chopped (optional, if you prefer chunky sauce)

Mix all ingredients together, then add more of things to taste. Eat on everything available. Store in the fridge.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Crumby Fig Shortbread Squares

I have heard it said that you can either be a baker or a cook. Bakers, they say, like to follow directions exactly, carefully leveling the measuring cup of flour with a smooth knife. Cooks like to experiment, I've been told. They toss around ginger and garlic and throw vegetables into the pan on a whim.

I don't know if I believe that's true, because I want to be both a baker and a cook. I love baking, but I love experimenting and making recipes my own, not just following instructions. This recipe shows that. I had an image in my mind of what I wanted, but I couldn't find what I wanted in any cookbook on the shelf or any website. I mixed and matched recipes and it came out as I dreamed it would. These layered fig squares have a strong fig flavor complemented by spices and sweetened by raisins. The crumble is crunchy with walnuts but untouched by oats. They are a grown-up cookie, but kids would like them, too. My seven-year-old and ten-year-old helpers had to leave before the bars were cool enough to eat, but I sent them home with cookies to eat after dinner. I was very pleased to get an email from the older brother saying that he loved them. You will, too.

Fig Shortbread Squares
recipe adapted from the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion and Smitten Kitchen

For filling:
2 c dried figs, stems removed, chopped
1 c raisins
1/4 t ground allspice
1/4 t salt
2 T fresh orange juice
1 T orange zest
1 c boiling water

For crust:
1 c white sugar
1 t baking powder
3 c flour
1/2 t cinnamon
1/8 t nutmeg
1/4 t salt
2 sticks cold unsalted butter
1 egg
1/2 c walnuts, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350.

Mix all filling ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the liquid is mostly absorbed by the fruit, about 4 minutes. Allow to cool. If you prefer a chunky filling, you are all done, but if you want a smoother filling, put most of it into a food processor and process until smooth. I processed about 3/4 of the figs and left the rest for texture.

Butter a 9x13 pan. Stir together dry crust ingredients (except nuts). Cut the butter into pieces and add it. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut in the butter. Stir in the egg.

Pat about 2/3 to 3/4 of the crumbly mixture into the prepared pan, pressing down to make a smooth surface. Spread the fig mixture over the bottom crust evenly. Add the walnuts to the remaining crumbs, then sprinkle evenly over the filling.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top is getting golden around the outsides. Cool completely and cut into squares.

P.S. How's this font color, Daddy?