rushthatspeaks: (signless: be that awesome)
Sometime last year [personal profile] jinian gave me a little box of caramels from a company in Seattle who are primarily chocolatiers and do caramels on special occasions. The theme of the box was 'mirepoix', and it had a caramelized onion caramel, a fennel caramel, a celery caramel, and a carrot caramel. I must admit to eying it rather dubiously.

I had to give away the onion one because I am allergic to onions. The fennel one tasted of licorice. I like licorice, so that was fine. The celery one was exactly the sort of thing you put in a box of gimmicky caramels to carry out the mirepoix theme.

The carrot one filled my eyes with a wild surmise as I started muttering things about why isn't this object in every store in the country how did they do this how can I recreate this I cannot have this only once in my life it is neither humanly tolerable nor fair.

It does not taste a thing like carrot. I took my version to a party tonight and asked people to guess the mystery ingredient. The guesses I got ranged from 'booze of some kind?' to 'nuts of some kind?' to, by far the most common, 'I have no idea but this stuff is amazing'. Carrot-haters will like this. You can't tell what it is even if you already know. The best way I can describe the taste is that it is caramel, but better somehow. I can't even really describe the direction in which it is better. It's just better. If this had been genuinely my idea, I would be seriously considering starting a small candy company right about now.

Carrot Coriander Caramel (makes about fifty bite-sized caramels)

4 medium carrots
2 tsp. canola or vegetable oil, not an oil that has taste
1 heaped tsp. ground coriander
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
5 tbsp. butter
about 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup light corn syrup, or other corn syrup, molasses, malt syrup, whatever of this sort you have lying about

a baking sheet
two large sturdy pots
a bowl
a potato masher
a ladle
a strainer
a candy thermometer if you roll that way
a dish to pour the caramel into-- I have had good results with either a square Pyrex casserole, heavily buttered, or a square silicon cake dish, lightly oiled
wax paper

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Peel and end the carrots and cut them in 1-inch rounds. Halve the rounds lengthwise. Oil the baking sheet.

Put the carrot pieces on the baking sheet and sprinkle the coriander over them. Muddle the whole thing with your hands until the carrot pieces are evenly coated in both coriander and oil and are in a single layer. Roast for 22 minutes or until a fork goes in, but not very easily.

When the carrots are cool enough to touch, put them in the bowl and pour over the cream. Make sure all carrots are submerged. Cover the bowl, but do not refrigerate.

I left mine two hours and I think it was enough, though longer couldn't hurt. Anyway, you can go do something else in the interim. Oh and oil or butter your dish.

Pour the carrots and cream into a pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then turn down to simmer. Simmer it about seven minutes, and then go after the carrots with a potato masher, not too vigorously (you don't want splashes). They will not entirely deliquesce.

Ladle the liquid through a strainer and back into the pot, pressing firmly but not fiercely. Set aside the solids-- they are creamed carrots, and can be eaten, with added salt and pepper, as a side dish at your next several meals. Melt the butter and the salt into the simmering liquid, and stir. Note: salt is really to taste, just try not to burn your tongue. Once everything's stirred together, take this pot off the heat and set it aside.

In the other pot, put the corn syrup, sugar, and water over high heat, and boil it stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Then stop stirring and wait until it goes light golden, swirling the pan gently every so often. This will only be about 2-3 minutes.

Then add the cream mixture. It will froth up at you wildly; that's normal. Cook, stirring frequently, until-- well, if you have a candy thermometer it should say 248 F. But I do this by eye, which means a jelly jar of very cold water at my elbow, in which a drop of caramel should instantly form a soft ball. Honestly, though, if you want to learn candy stages by eye I suggest learning on jam, as the failure modes remain entirely edible.

Pour the hot caramel into the dish, cover the top, and refrigerate for at least two hours but this is the phase where I wandered off for the night and that works too.

The next day, or when you get back to them, butter the blade of a sharp knife. Score the lines you intend to cut along before going back over them to cut squares of caramel. Wrap each one in a much bigger piece of wax paper than you think you need, pile the wrapped ones in a bowl and refrigerate again until serving. You will wind up sticky to the elbows but that is, I'm afraid, just one of those things. Store in the fridge; they keep for weeks and they like to try to melt.

Black Cake

Sep. 27th, 2014 01:13 am
rushthatspeaks: (platypus)
Laurie Colwin, whom I have mentioned here recently, is one of the friendliest possible food writers. She understands that people want to eat well quickly, or cheaply, or both, and she understands that things go wrong and that extremely ornate food is rather more liable to go wrong than the simple kind. She has multiple essays devoted to the worst things she ever perpetrated in a kitchen, and an essay on the worst meals she has ever been served which makes me laugh every time I so much as think about it.*

It is therefore probably ironic that the most time-consuming cake I have ever made comes straight out of one of her essays. It is not her recipe; it comes from her daughter's nanny, who came from St. Vincent. The nanny brought in a slice of her homemade Black Cake at a holiday, and Colwin, after rhapsodizing about the taste of the cake for approximately fifteen hundred well-chosen words, got the recipe written down, stared at it glumly, and decided it was just a tad intimidating. Which it is.

The thing is, though, she chose her words very well. I have had many fruitcakes in my life, some terrible, some good, and a couple (from Jamaica, with rum in) verging on the sublime, but two things became obvious to me the first time I read Colwin's essay on Black Cake: 1) I had never in my life eaten anything which could even be considered a relation of Black Cake, not ever; and 2) if I wanted to taste this specific cake, I was going to have to gather my powers and bake it myself, as, even though I have been to St. Vincent and was looking, I did not happen across any for sale.

I read the essay for the first time somewhere between five and ten years ago. This summer, I finally baked a Black Cake, for my birthday, and this is how I did it.

July, or The Fruit )

Late August, or Baking. )

The End of August, or Icing and Serving )

And that is Black Cake.


* In brief, Colwin's hostess says that dinner will be a variation on starry-gazey pie, a medieval dish named after the eels whose unskinned heads can be seen poking up out of the top crust. "In what way," Colwin asks cautiously, "does it vary?" "Well", says the hostess, "I couldn't find eels at the marketplace this morning. So I bought squid."

Colwin does not say anything else about this dinner. No more needs to be, or could be, said.

** Recipe quotations taken from Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, Laurie Colwin, Vintage Books, 2010, pp. 181-3.

tomato pie

Aug. 22nd, 2014 01:35 am
rushthatspeaks: (feferi: do something adorable)
I was reading Laurie Colwin's More Home Cooking the other day, and there was an essay on Biscuits, which I flipped to in order to be smug, as since Bettina's Emergency Biscuits entered my life I have been the sort of person who is very smug about producing really good biscuits at the drop of a hat.

It turns out that Colwin's biscuits are Bettina's, which made me even smugger. And she mentioned-- I had not tried this, as there seemed no reason it would work-- that those biscuits make a perfectly good pie crust, and gave a recipe for tomato pie.

I am unreasonably frightened of shortcrust. I know it to be unreasonable. I know it to be unreasonable because I am less intimidated by the concept of making puff pastry. I would literally rather line my pie tin with puff or rough puff than make a shortcrust, and this is ridiculous, but it is also because in my entire life I have only met one or two shortcrusts I enjoyed eating, and believe me I was not involved in making any of them. Most shortcrust tastes to me like cardboard garnished in sand. So I leaped at the thought of a biscuit pie crust, and tonight [personal profile] sovay and I made tomato pie for dinner, and it was great.

Tomato Pie (Laurie Colwin)

Thoroughly grease a nine-inch pie tin. Preheat the oven to 400 F. You want it entirely preheated when the pie goes in, already completely hot.

Make a full recipe of biscuit dough, from the link above. When it has come together into a ball, knead it for about five minutes to make it strong enough to roll out, and then roll it into two nine-inch pie crusts. Although Ruth informs me that we have a rolling pin, I haven't the foggiest where it could have gotten to, so I just patted out the crust and it worked fine.

Slice 2 lbs. plum tomatoes thinly, but not stressfully thinly. Colwin does not say to seed them, but I think it is a good idea. She also says you can use drained canned whole tomatoes if you haven't got fresh, which I think would produce an entirely different but still tasty pie.

Tear into pieces a lot of some fresh herb. I used basil. I do mean a lot. I doubled the amount I thought seemed reasonable and in the final pie it wasn't enough. Probably if you fill a packed cup with coarsely torn herbs that would do. Herbs that would work include any kind of basil, fresh oregano, chives if you like them, tarragon, and maybe dill.

Arrange the tomato slices in layers on your bottom crust, and top with the herbs.

Sprinkle over this a cup of shredded sharp cheddar cheese.

Thin one-third of a cup of mayonnaise with two tablespoons of lemon juice, and drizzle it on top. No, that is not too much mayonnaise. Really. I promise. No, I do not usually put mayonnaise all over everything.

Sprinkle an additional third of a cup of shredded cheese on top of the mayo layer, and put on the top crust. Make sure to make a lot of steam vents.

Bake at 400 F for twenty-five minutes. It is extremely important that you serve it hot, while the cheese is still all melty. Makes a hearty dinner for three, with leftovers; Colwin insists, and having had it I agree with her, that you must must must reheat the leftovers when you eat them to get the cheese back to the right state.

Now, if you know anything about pie, you are looking askance at the quantities of liquid that go into this one, especially since, this first time making it, we did not seed the tomatoes. By the time this went into the oven, I had put the pie tin on a baking sheet because I was convinced that it could not possibly fail to overflow all over everything and then bake itself onto the inside of the oven in an extremely permanent way.

Nope. And the bottom crust baked. It would have been a strong enough bottom crust to be actively load-bearing if we had seeded the tomatoes. I was astonished. The filling was not that runny at all. The tomatoes were at a phase of cooking it is actually difficult to achieve via saute, where they were definitely cooked through but had not yet started to shrink, and they were like that uniformly. Score one for Colwin.

Oh, and if you're anything like me, you're looking at this and going SALT??? GARLIC??? and wanting to futz, and I say to you, DON'T DO IT. A little black pepper, maybe, but there is plenty of salt from the cheese, and this may be the only tomato dish I have ever had which I believe would be destroyed by garlic.

I will keep making pies with the biscuit. If I put a couple of tablespoons of sugar into it for a dessert pie, I can inch it closer to shortcrust, and maybe get over my annoying fear that way.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Made up this evening for me and Ruth and [profile] tilivenn. If this isn't a salad, I don't know what to call it. Vegetarian, not vegan, probably could be made vegan relatively easily. Stealth protein.

Probably Salad

2 red bell peppers
1 lb. fresh green beans
1 lb. tofu
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cloves garlic
~3 tablespoons paprika
~teaspoon black pepper
~tablespoon salt + some other salt

Put a quantity of water sufficient to cover the beans on to boil in a medium pot. Don't salt it yet.

Wash and trim the beans. Cut the tofu into bite-sized cubes.

The water should now be boiling. Blanch the beans for about 45 seconds, take them out with a slotted spoon, and drain them in a colander.

Salt the water as you would for pasta. Don't worry about it having gone green/yellow from the beans. Put the tofu cubes in a heat-proof bowl. Pour the water over them and let sit off the heat at least ten minutes.

Wash the peppers and cut into bite-sized pieces. Combine beans and peppers in a large bowl.

Peel and smash the garlic. Divide the butter into a few pieces. Put garlic, paprika, butter, black pepper, and salt into a food processor and process to form a smooth paste.

Drain the tofu through a colander and put on a plate lined with paper towels or clean dishcloths. Let it sit ten minutes if you have the patience and at least five if you don't, so it won't be watery. Add the tofu to the food processor and blend until smooth.

Scrape contents of food processor into a medium skillet, and set it over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the bite of raw garlic has mellowed and the paprika has toasted. Taste and adjust salt, pepper, or other seasonings if necessary-- the quantity of tofu involved means that it wants more spicing than you'd initially think.

Then scrape the sauce over the peppers and beans and stir roughly to blend. Serve immediately.

What I enjoyed about this was the combination of unctuous, warm sauce and fresh crispy vegetables, as well as it being surprisingly filling due to the stealth protein. I am pretty sure this would work with many other vegetables and many combinations of herbs and spices in the tofu. Pick what you like. It also came together reasonably fast.

Nominations for things other than 'that saladish thing' to call it cheerfully accepted.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Adapted from an Annie's Eats adaptation of a Cook's Illustrated recipe. The original has zucchini and yellow squash (you know, the kind exactly like zucchini except yellow), but I only eat zucchini if they are incredibly young and tiny and I have never yet had an experience that indicates that yellow squash is food. So I added more eggplant and went in a different squash direction.

Ingredients:

12 lasagna noodles

Tomato sauce:

1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
scant teaspoon salt

Ricotta sauce:

4 oz. grated Parmesan cheese (this is about two cups)
1 cup ricotta
1 cup heavy cream
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon cornstarch
scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Vegetable filling:

~2 1/2 lbs. eggplant, peeled and diced into 1/4-inch cubes
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
~1 lb. butternut squash
~3 tablespoons olive oil
12 oz. baby spinach
fresh thyme
black pepper

12 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese

Boil the lasagna noodles in lightly salted water for about two minutes less than the package tells you, and drain. Spread out a sheet of tinfoil or wax paper and arrange the noodles on it in a single flat layer to prevent sticking.

Mix everything listed under 'tomato sauce' together in a large bowl and set aside. Mix everything listed under 'ricotta sauce' together in a different large bowl and set aside. If you do this before the rest of your prep, the flavors will have time to mingle.

Preheat your oven to 375 F.

Toss the cubes of eggplant with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt in a large bowl. Line a plate with paper towels and put a single layer of eggplant cubes on it. Microwave for ten minutes on high, stirring once in the middle. (If your microwave is the size of mine, you may have to do several batches.) The eggplant should appear dry and be a little shriveled. Make sure to dump the accumulated juices out of the original eggplant bowl and wipe it down before putting the parcooked eggplant back in it.

At my grocery, they sell halves of butternut squash-- peeled with a lathe, chopped in half, seeded, and shrinkwrapped. One of those is about right. Otherwise, you need to cut off about a pound of a squash with a cleaver and then seed it with a sharp knife. If you're butchering your own squash, don't bother peeling it at this stage. If it came pre-peeled, chop it into 1/2-inch cubes. If not, don't. Line a baking sheet with tinfoil and grease it thoroughly with a neutral oil. Either scatter the squash cubes on it, or put the half on peel-side-up. Bake about twenty minutes, stirring/moving things around every so often-- how much is up to you. Since the foil is metal, the squash will heat more on the side touching it, and has the potential to caramelize, which is fine as long as it is not allowed to burn. Stirring will allow you to control the amount of caramelization. Remove squash from oven when it is about the consistency of a cucumber and can be pierced by a fork with some effort. Peel and cube it if that hasn't already happened.

Stir the eggplant and the squash together.

For years I thought I hated thyme, because it always did the thing rosemary does, where you're going along perfectly happily eating and then it stabs you in the gums. Then I spent a while working in a restaurant. The way I now manage thyme is to take one of the large woody sprigs, break off the few leaves at the very top, and then run pinched fingers from top to bottom, removing all smaller sprigs and incidental leaves. Discard larger sprig. Do the same for the smaller sprigs. The thing is, the smaller sprigs will break off in such a way that the potentially gum-stabbing bits of stem at the end stay with their leaves, which is why I then pile the leaves any-which-way on a cutting board, set the blade of a chef's knife edge-down on top of the pile, and rock the blade back and forth across the pile from tip to base without using much pressure. If you have a good knife, this will basically powder the leaves or at least chop them very finely, and it will not chop the bits of stem you don't want, which you can then pick out. Anyway this recipe wants about a tablespoon of finely chopped thyme. (No, this does not work for rosemary. Rosemary is evil that way and simply has to be chopped into powder. Yes, a lot of restaurants have somebody low on the totem pole down in the basement chopping fresh rosemary into powder and hating the universe. Yes, I have been that person. No, I don't cook with rosemary, why do you ask?)

Put a medium skillet on the stove and heat ~3 tablespoons of olive oil on it over medium-high heat until shimmering. Err on the less is more side, here, because you don't want the eggplant to stick, but you've just gone to some effort to get the liquid out of it, and you don't want your vegetable mixture to go greasy. The eggplant will not drink as much oil as eggplant usually does. Fry the eggplant and squash together for five to seven minutes, until the eggplant is a little more compacted and the squash is showing signs of browning if it wasn't already. Throw in the garlic and thyme and cook another thirty seconds, just until you can smell them. Take off heat and put back in the bowl. Add the pepper. (You will not need any more salt.)

Put about a teaspoon of oil in the skillet, and fry the spinach for about thirty seconds, just until it wilts. Put it in a colander or on a plate with paper towels and let it drain for about five minutes; at the end of that time squeeze it out lightly and mix it into the other vegetables.

Lightly grease a 9" by 13" baking dish, bottom and sides.

The layering order:

one cup tomato sauce, evened out with a spatula (just assume you even all the layers out with a spatula)
four lasagna noodles
half the vegetables
half the ricotta sauce
one third of the mozzarella, sprinkled evenly
four lasagna noodles
one cup tomato sauce
the other half of the vegetables
the other half of the ricotta
one third mozzarella
four lasagna noodles
the rest of the tomato sauce
the rest of the mozzarella

Cover with lightly greased foil and bake for thirty-five minutes, until bubbling. Take the foil off and bake it another ten (if it's close enough to the broiler, the cheese will brown, if not, not).

Serves a lot of hungry people. Leftovers should keep well.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Tonight I made a really, really, really good salad for dinner.

Then I noticed that it is vegan, gluten-free, and nightshade-free, as well as filling. I wasn't trying for any of that, but it's always nice to have more things I could cook for any of my possible houseguests.

This will serve two to three as a dinner and probably up to six as a small salad.

Ingredients:

about a pound and a half of beets, sans greens
one parsnip
four clementines
one ripe avocado
about three tablespoons olive oil
about two tablespoons coarse strong mustard
small handful roasted nuts (I used cashews)
salt

Scrub and dry the beets and the parsnip, but do not peel. Toss their outsides in about two tablespoons of olive oil and rub in a small handful of salt. Roast them.

The thing is, the internet has many, many primers on how to roast beets, and either beets hate me or the internet is wrong, because no matter the size of my beets-- and the ones I had tonight were about golf-ball-sized-- the damn things do not roast until it has been way, way, way longer than I would like it to be. I know it's not an oven problem, because it's been true for multiple ovens. I preheat. I've tried wrapping them in foil packets, I've tried parboiling them, I've tried just rolling them in oil and putting them on a cookie sheet, and the conclusion I have come to is that there is something about me and beets, because tonight I roasted eight golf-ball-sized beets and one parsnip in a 425F oven on a preheated cookie sheet for an hour and a half (note: this oven usually runs hot) and they were, when I took them out, just barely tender. It is anti-magical. So I am not going to tell you how to roast your beets and parsnip, because, demonstrably, I am not a person you should be listening to on this matter. Just roast them. For persons not me, I gather this process often takes c. forty-five minutes.

While the root vegetables are roasting, peel the clementines. Chop them into quarter-inch rounds horizontally, removing any pips and extraneous pith. Put the clementines into a colander or sieve over a bowl, adding any juice that came from the chopping, and toss with a small handful of salt. Let sit at least half an hour, stirring occasionally and pressing lightly against the sides of the colander.

Peel and dice the avocado. Put it into the bowl under the clementines and toss with the juice to keep it from going brown. Chop the nuts, and leave them separate.

When the vegetables are roasted, peel and end them, which should be very easy, and slice into even rounds.

Mix the avocado and clementine juice with the mustard and remaining olive oil. Being a little rough with it will help the creaminess of the dressing, depending on the ripeness of your avocado, but you do want some large chunks remaining. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Plating:

apportion the clementine pieces evenly among your plates. Top each pile of clementines with rounds of parsnip, then of beet. Drizzle with avocado dressing. Sprinkle lightly with nuts.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Several years ago I wrote down in my commonplace book a very simple recipe by Elizabeth David; I was sitting in some used bookstore or out-of-town library or other, and it was not a book of hers I've seen round since, although nothing of hers is that rare. But I knew I'd forget to do it if I didn't write it down, which is why I have a commonplace book in the first place. (Well, and also for people's phone numbers, and the addresses of various restaurants, and the list of things I want to get various library systems to cough up, and this-and-that quotation, and because [community profile] papersky gave me the book and it was one of those Christmas presents that one can't figure out how one survived before having, but I digress.)

[personal profile] sovay and I finally cooked it, and everyone ought to go and do likewise, because it is brilliant.

Dried Apricot Fool,
freely paraphrased from Elizabeth David

1/2 lb. unsulfured dried apricots. This is Very Important. You cannot do this with sulfured ones; they just won't. Finding unsulfured dried apricots that weren't as shriveled and hardened as a wood ear mushroom is the reason it took me five years to make this recipe, and [personal profile] sovay was the one who eventually found them. (Yes, I know Trader Joe's theoretically carries them. Theirs suck.) Unsulfured dried apricots will be a warm shade of brown, not remotely orange; will have, as the only ingredient, 'apricots'; and may say somewhere on the label 'unsulfured' or 'no preservatives'. They should be plump and moderately soft to the touch.

Honey.
Water.
A pot to put the apricots in, with a lid.
1/4 pint lightly whipped cream, just to soft-peak stage.

Put the apricots in the pot, and just cover them with water. Put on the lid. Leave them to soak for, oh, let's say at least four hours, or overnight, if that's more convenient.

When they've soaked, they will be plump, soft, squishy, and very close to disintegrating outright into the water. Put the entire pot, lid on, adding nothing, into a 330F oven for one hour.

Pour off the water. It will be cider-brown and smell and taste strongly of apricot; I kept it and am calling it apricot simple syrup and using it as such, because it needs no sugar. Coarsely puree the apricots.

Elizabeth David thinks you ought to coarsely strain them, too, at this point, but I can't see why. I suppose if you have any bits that resolutely failed to stop being hard and crunchy you ought to.

Mix in honey to taste. About two tablespoons, maybe? We were very doubtful about the honey, because the apricots are quite sweet enough, but it turns out to add not sweetness but complexity; don't skip it.

When the apricots are cool enough not to curdle the whipped cream, beat the whipped cream in. Elizabeth David would like you to chill the fool now; I'd say, chill at least long enough to get it to room temperature, as it is better than when hot, but you don't need to go all the way to cold.

The result resembles a pumpkin custard, except that it is better than anything of that sort I have ever had. It is as complex as though it had a week of careful stewing with spices, it has none of the tinny taste you can get from canned pumpkin or pumpkin cooked in the wrong pot, it maintains the perfect consistency and doesn't go watery, and it also tastes like apricots, but as though somebody achieved some kind of perfect apricot-pumpkin meld on, like, a genetic level. I instantly wanted to put it in a pie. ([personal profile] nineweaving points out that one should probably blind-bake a pie shell and do it as a chilled, molded pie, or the cream will run when it heats up. I am not sure whether I will try it that way, or beat an egg into it and make a cooked pie.)

Elizabeth David also thinks that if you are feeling particularly flush, you can beat ground almonds into it, too. My brain both trips over itself attempting to cope with the amount of sheer deliciousness that would produce, and starts muttering things about frangipane and phyllo and I could make some honey candy on the side...

... which is my usual attempt to complicate the hell out of a very simple and delicious dessert which is perfect for fall and requires no thought whatsoever except when you are finding the apricots.

Seriously. Do this. It is amazing.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Ruth's birthday cake is indeed the best cake I've ever made. Including the parsnip cake. It is better than the parsnip cake.

Photos exist, but I need to figure out whether we own the cable that would get them from my phone to the computer. If we don't, it's gonna be a while, because both Ruth and I have a terrible cold.

[personal profile] desperance asked for the recipe, and here it is. )
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
As one does, I occasionally read old cookbooks with horrifically sexist yet somehow entertainingly bland vignettes of early twentieth-century life in them. My favorite of these is called A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband With Bettina's Best Recipes, by Louise Bennett Weaver and Helen Cowles Le Cron (1917). Bettina is a Home Economics Mary Sue, or possibly Mary Poppins without the sarcasm, Practically Perfect In Every Way. She is forever explaining things to her friends in a sweetly condescending fashion, has never burned toast in her life, and will only let her husband mix the salad dressing if she first provides him with a multi-step instruction manual-- after which she tells him how proud she is of him for making dinner. And yet she's a progressive, in her way; one of the chapters is about her providing a several-course luncheon for prominent suffragettes from out of town. It's an interesting mixture of unintentionally hilarious, dull, and historically revelatory.

Most of the food would not work for a modern palate. Bettina puts pimento in everything, makes white sauce as a default to go over all foods, and considers something 'deviled' if it has a quarter-teaspoon of paprika and 'curried' if it has a quarter-teaspoon of curry powder (I mean a quarter-teaspoon for, say, an entire leg of lamb). The only herb she has heard of is mint, which she incessantly soaks in vinegar before using it, for reasons unknown to me. She uses one square of baking chocolate per chocolate cake, and makes peanut butter sandwiches by mixing the peanut butter with mayonnaise.

But I decided I would pay more attention to the recipes after I noticed during a recent reread that the chocolate meringue pie I have been making for the last several Thanksgivings, which I got from another source and which has been greatly acclaimed, which is that magical combination of easy and delicious that means you can toss it off while also worrying about the turkey-- is Bettina's. Huh. Not what I expected.

Further poking around came up with a few things that looked usable, and tonight for dinner I wanted a starch, and I didn't want bagels because we use them for lunch sandwiches, and the oatmeal bread Ruth likes wouldn't have gone with the asparagus, and I haven't made any bread lately and we haven't any rice or potatoes and I didn't want to go out to buy anything and we had a limited amount of time before Sassafrass rehearsal--

Bettina's Emergency Biscuit

(as it appears in the book; this recipe is meant for the days you've had to go out and do something that prevents you from making bread, biscuits that need to rise, or cake, or in other words for modernity)

2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons fat (butter, lard, drippings, whatever you have)
7/8 cup milk

Mix the dry ingredients and cut in the fat. Add the milk, mixing with a knife. Drop by spoonfuls on a buttered pan, placing one inch apart. Bake twelve minutes in a hot oven.


I halved it, because there are two of us, and that made exactly the right amount. I used butter, all-purpose flour, and whole milk, and preheated the oven to 350 F. Threw the dry ingredients into a bowl, didn't even really bother mixing them, softened the butter a very little bit in the microwave (I keep my butter in the fridge so you might not need to do this), smashed it into the dry ingredients with a butter knife and cut the knife through the mixture a few times until I felt like I couldn't see any huge chunks of butter. I didn't bother measuring the milk-- just poured it in a little at a time, kept stirring with the butter knife thoroughly between trickles, and stopped when the mixture came together in a ball with no flour left at the bowl bottom. Dropped rounds of it onto a greased cookie sheet without really shaping them and put them in the oven. After six minutes I took them out, rotated them 180 degrees, and turned the oven up to 400 F; they were done at twelve minutes on the dot.

Total expenditure of my time: three minutes of mixing, a little futzing with the oven.

Total expenditure of my brain: zero thought required except when halving measurements.

Results: in contention for the best biscuits I've had, certainly better than any I've bought from a store and right up there among the ones from restaurants. They're crusty on the outside, but not hard to bite through, and inside they're ridiculously fluffy, flavorful, and savory. Make sure the balls of dough are at least the size of golf balls, as the one biscuit I made smaller than that was a little dry; also I could tell from the flavor and texture that they would go tough in the refrigerator and dry out on the counter, so only make as much as you need. Would go beautifully with butter and jam, especially when hot, but would also dip well into gravies or sauces, and I was perfectly content to eat them with nothing at all.

It's nice to remember that baking does not have to be Hard Work.

... and okay, props to Bettina. I must try her actual baking-powder biscuits that she considers correct for the days when one has time, as I will be very impressed if they are better.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
This is because of Niki Segnit's The Flavor Thesaurus, which told me that parsnip cake used to be as common as carrot, and also suggested (separately) that parsnips go well with anise and with lemon.

The recipe is a mishmash of various carrot cake recipes I found online but primarily taken from a Cook's Illustrated carrot cake for which I seem to have lost the URL. I think I cut it in either a half or a quarter, so as not to be a layer cake, and I wanted molasses for the dark flavor notes so I readjusted for that. So mostly I suspect it is mine.

For the cake. )

For the icing. )

How it turned out: I am really proud of myself. This is one of the most delicious things I have cooked. The way I can best describe it is that it has the homey, comforting familiarity of carrot cake or zucchini bread or pumpkin bread, except for how it tastes totally different. I don't know if a person could tell it is parsnips without being told, but they add this mellow sweet-but-not undertone. The spices play really well with each other-- I miiiight reduce the anise slightly next time, but I love anise, so I might not; it's definitely a strong impression but it blends. The icing is a light cold sharpness against it, a delicate contrast; it's a lighter cake than it seems and a heavier icing, and it works.

Serve with milk or white tea.

ETA: oh my god you know what is best on the third day? THIS CAKE. Also I am totally cutting the anise next time because it does a buildup as the leftovers sit and I wouldn't say it gets overwhelming but did I mention I really, really like anise? So yeah, less.

ETAA: updates and amendations to recipe.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
composed on the fly, with ingredients we have in the house, and written down because it turned out very well.

The curry paste has no chilis because Ruth is allergic, but you could add them if you wanted.

Curry Paste:

1 tsp. ginger, either finely chopped or ground
1 tbsp. caraway seeds
1 tbsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
about 2-3 tsp. lemon juice (or, if you have lemongrass, that)
about 1 tbsp. brine from a jar of olives (a vegetarian substitute for Thai shrimp paste)
1 tsp. salt
1 medium shallot
5 cloves garlic
vegetable or canola oil, not olive

Peel shallot and garlic cloves and either chop finely or process in Cuisinart until finely chopped but not quite paste. Fry gently in a little oil over medium-low, stirring occasionally, until soft and brown (I don't like a very dark brown, but your taste may vary). Remove from pan.

Fry the ginger, caraway, coriander, cinnamon, and cloves in the pan until lightly browned, probably less than a minute. Scrape into a mortar and pestle and pound till homogeneous. Add salt and shallot-garlic mixture and pound into a paste. Add the lemon juice and brine and keep pounding until paste is fairly smooth.

Put the paste back into the pan with a little bit more oil and fry another two minutes. Makes about four tablespoons.

Chicken/Protein Massaman Curry with Sweet Potatoes )
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Today I had to make something that could be a small lunch for me and then sit around until it could be a dinner for two other people four hours later, and also we had no food in the house. (Well. Cans. Spices. That one shallot at the back starting to look rather sad.)

So I made chana dal, and it was ludicrously delicious.

This recipe is based on Madhur Jaffrey in a confusing sort of way. )

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