Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Something about the Way the Wind Blows

This week has been a blur of work, jet lag, and not very much baking or cooking.  I did manage to squeeze a few homemade meals in between the naps and the trying not to nap so I can kick the jet lag.

As soon as I left the airport, I could feel autumn upon me.  Sure the nights had been cooler before I left for Thailand, but this was different.  The leaves had really started to change, and this week the trees have exploded into a gorgeous palate of color.  There's a different feel in the air too, something about the way the wind blows and the air smells.  I love it.

I am not a native New Englander, nor do I consider myself a New Englander (although I admit the place is growing on me).  I come from a place where the changes of season don't really happen reliably or at all - South Florida.  The first time that I recall seeing snow was when I was interviewing for grad schools.

Maybe I'm more attune to the change since it's relatively new to me.  Or maybe not.

I love the change in flavors too.  Pumpkin, apples, pears, sweet potatoes - yum!  I went apple picking with some friends before I left for Thailand, but was so busy I couldn't get around to using my peck of Gravenstein and McIntosh apples.  So I stored them in the fridge and dreamed of homemade applesauce, apple butter, and tarte tartin on the flight home.

One of my favorite desserts growing up was my mother's apple crisp, but I never tried my own until a few years ago.  I've since lost that recipe and decided last week to look for a new one.  I was preparing Roti with red curry sauce for dinner and thought that would be the flavor for my first blog post back from Thailand. 

Apparently it was not meant to be.  I have not yet mastered the art of Southern Thai/Malaysian cooking and actually ruined the Ghee I was trying to make.  Casualties included 3 Tbsp butter and a plastic measuring cup (can we just blame that on the jet lag?). 

In the midst of the cooking disaster I managed to prepare 4 delicious individual Apple Crisps based off of a recipe from Joy of Baking.

Dessert saved the day!

Individual Apple Crisps
adapted from Joy of Baking Apple Crisp
Serves 4

1/4 c all purpose flour
1/8 c white sugar
1/8 c light brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
3 Tbsp salted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 1/2 heaping Tbsp rolled oats
2 1/2 Tbsp chopped walnuts
3 cups of sweet and tart apples (I used Gravenstein and McIntosh and like to always use a combination when baking with apples), cored and cut into 1 inch chunks.  Peel if you wish, I prefer unpeeled.
1/4 fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 Tbsp white sugar
Garam Masala to sprinkle on top

Preheat oven to 375 F.  Butter 4 individual ramekins.

For the topping, combine flour, sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg, butter, rolled oats, and walnuts in a food processor or blender.  Blend until the mixture is crumbly.

In a medium to large bowl combine apples, lemon juice and white sugar.  Divide apple mixture equally among 4 ramekins.  Spoon crumble topping over apples and spread so it is mostly covering apples.  Add 2-3 dashes of Garam Masala to each ramekin.

Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the crumble top is golden brown and the apple mixture is sizzling.  Let cool slightly before serving.

Friday, September 17, 2010

J's No-Pants Mac n' Cheese

Hello everybody.  As you all know the Baking Midwife is off galavanting around Thailand this week.  After much prodding, she graciously consented to me doing a guest post while she was away, and by "consented" I mean I just kept bugging her about it until she was too exhausted to resist.

So this week we will be revisiting one of my old college standbys, mac n' cheese!  I briefly considered trying something more adventurous for this blog post, but I'm a practical man.  I know my role pretty well.  There are things in life that I excel at and then there's cooking (also sports, singing, and most things involving science).  But that's the joy of being in a couple!  You meet someone who compliments your faults so they can cover for you in all the areas in which you suck.  So, needless to say, I lack some of the culinary prowess of my better half and usually defer to her around dinner time.  When the need arises for sarcastic commentary or an encyclopedic knowledge of 80's video games, I take the lead.  When it comes to cooking or delivering babies, I take on a support role (coincidentally, in both of those scenarios my responsibility is usually to boil water).

The Misses is away.  Not going to need these.
Now my love of mac n' cheese is a matter of public record.  This is not a lantern I hide under a bushel.  I let that light shine for all to see.  Along with tiramisu, it is one item on the menu I am compelled to sample at every restaurant I go to.  In my travels I've tasted the best and the worst of what is commercially available.  The Baking Midwife even made a homemade variety for me once that was both delicious and entirely too complicated for me to replicate.

You see, for me, the joy of mac n' cheese is the incredibly small amount of attention you have to give it while it's cooking.  Recipes that allow me to wander off for long periods of time appeal to me.  I like to tell people that it's because I'm a man of many interests and I just can't spare the time to focus exclusively on the mundane task of feeding myself.  In reality, however, I'm just easily distracted and entirely too enamored by the "Play Now" option on the Netflix website (did you know you can watch all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer instantly?  ALL SEVEN SEASONS!!!).  So for me, box mac n' cheese is the way to go.

Poke me for Pasta!
I used to be a Kraft man, but that was when I hated my body and sought to destroy it.  These days I go with Annie's Homegrown.  It claims to be organic, but I take that claim with a grain of salt.  It's a box of mac n' cheese after all.  How natural can that be?  I'm not sure if Annie's is available everywhere, but it's pretty easy to find in New England.  You'll know it because it's the only brand that features a rabbit's butt on the "push to open" tab.  I'm not entirely sure what kind of statement Annie is trying to make with that, but I'm pretty sure it's inappropriate.

You'll start by boiling some water.  This is going to take some time, so wander off for a while and distract yourself.  I passed the time burninating things.

Once the water is boiling, go ahead and defile the bunny and then pour the macaroni into the pot.  The box says to let the noodles boil for 8-10 minutes, but you've got some wiggle room.  I prefer to to boil until just after Buffy wraps up the big action sequence and comes to a natural pausing point.

Yum! Dehydrated cheese product
Next, drain the noodles in a colander.  While they're sitting there, take the opportunity to prep the sauce.  I've always been fascinated by the chalky orange dust that puts the "cheese" in mac n' cheese.  Is it really cheese?  If so, what unholy process did they put it through to make if come out like this?  Of course, these are questions you should push far out of you mind while preparing this dish.  It's really best not to think about it.  If you do, you may end up so intrigued that you pour all of the powdered cheese into the measuring cup first so you can study it and take a picture.  Only then do you realize that you need that cup to measure out the 1/4 cup of milk you're supposed to add.  So then, really, you have no other recourse than to pour the powdered cheese out of the measuring cup into a dirty coffee mug that just happened to be lying around.  You then measure out the milk as quickly as possible, pour the cheese back in, and look furtively about to make sure no one saw what you just did.

Always think through your plan
ahead of time.
Once you're done mixing the sauce, take the noodles and return them to pot in which you boiled them.  Add the sauce and mix it in thoroughly with a big wooden spoon.  If you're a responsible human being who actually stirred the noodles while they were boiling, you probably already have one out.

At this point, you should have an entirely edible meal in front of you.  However, if you want to kick it up a notch (and who doesn't!), dig around in the fridge and find that bottle of ketchup you've had in there since the Bush administration.  You know the one.  Apply the ketchup liberally to the mac n' cheese and whip it in with the big wooden spoon.  You know you've added enough when the liquidy cheese substance turns a peculiar shade of fuchsia.

I think I might throw in my
Half-Baked VHS.
You're now ready to enjoy your meal.  If you're fancy, you can go ahead and pour the mac n' cheese into a bowl.  I prefer to just eat it out of the pot I made it in with the big wooden spoon I stirred it with.  I mean, why add to the pile of dishes if you don't have to?  The trick here is to put a dish rag underneath the pot so you don't end up singeing the rug.  Also, if you're fully following my example and doing this without pants, you really want to be careful to keep that pot far out in front of you.  It was just on the stove, after all, and you don't have a lot of padding down there.

This meal should serve one shameless human being.  It's a perfect meal for any laid back evening when you're newly divorced, chronically depressed, or just plain lazy.  The Baking Midwife should be back next week with more delicious recipes (God knows I'm counting the days).  Until then, enjoy the mac n' cheese or, better yet, just go out and get something at the pub.

J's No-Pants Mac n' Cheese
Inspired by the recipe on the back of the box and a complete lack of motivation.

Boil Water over high heat.

Discard Pants and dick around for a while.  Suddenly remember you have water boiling and rush back into the kitchen.

Add noodles to water and wander off again.  Briefly enter a fugue state and lose all track of time.  Fret about whether the noodles have been boiling way too long or not long enough.  Remove from heat.

Mix 1/4 cup of milk with the dehydrated cheese product.  Avoid questioning where the substance came from or where it is about to go.  Under no circumstances make comparisons between the dried cheese and the burnt up dreams of your idealistic youth.  Whip until smooth.

Drain noodles and add the cheese sauce.  Stir in with wooden spoon.  Add ketchup to taste.  Do not experiment with mayonnaise.  You still have standards.

Check wooden spoon for splinters.  If none found, dig in.  You can move the pot to the rug in front of the television, or just eat it standing at the stove.  In either case, avoid all reflective surfaces while eating and try not to make direct eye contact with the dog.



Probably shouldn't have left that there that long.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Busy Midwife

Things have been crazy lately. 

Busy calls, early morning births.  Friends and family in town, big dinners.

And now, tomorrow, I leave for 10 days to go to Thailand to visit my sister and her family.  I have big plans to play with my niece, relax, and eat good Thai food, among other things.

I have lots of things I'd like to blog about, recipes I'm dying to tweak, and an exciting new skill (canning!) to attempt.  I'll come back and this will be waiting for me along with my Partner in Crime.

By the way, I am letting Partner in Crime write a guest blog over this week away.  I'd like to tell those who don't already know that he is a writer by trade and much more witty than I.  Expect food related puns and cheese as well.  He's very excited.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Gorgonzola Onion Turnovers

I, like many others, have read Julie and Julia.  I loved the book, thought the movie was sub-par (because I read the book first and the book is almost always better), and longed after a few of the recipes. 

This is the thing though, I'm one of those mostly vegetarians.  I am a vegetarian who occasionally eats fish, a pescetarian.  I have no qualms about this and have existed this way for years now.  However, given the amount of recipes including animal products in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I couldn't bring myself to buy the cookbook.

Back to those cravings though.  For months now I have been thinking about the Roquefort Turnovers that Julie Powell makes in Julie and Julia.  I've googled them to look for a proper recipe and I'm not quite sure what I did wrong, but I couldn't find any.  As I'm writing this post, I did a quick repeat google search and there are several Pastry Turnovers with Roquefort Cheese recipes.
Which makes this next part even more hilarious.  Overcome by cravings for Roquefort Turnovers, frustration over not finding the recipe, and being adamant about not buying the whole cookbook, I scurried off to the bookstore while I was on call last weekend (there is luckily a bookstore right across the street from the hospital, convenient for situations such as these).  Don't worry, no one was in labor - I did not abandon a laboring patient for a recipe, and won't however saliva-inducing it is.  Once at the bookstore, I made a beeline for the cookbook section (my favorite spot to hang out, second favorite is travel).  Thumbing through Mastering the Art of French Cooking, volume 1, I found the sought after recipe.  Carefully making sure no one was looking, I snapped a few pictures on my iPhone of the recipe, then put the book back on the shelf.

I know, I know, I should be more respectful of the printed word, especially in this day and age of E-readers that are quickly making bookstores like this one suffer.  Normally I am, actually I purchase books here frequently.  But this is one tempting recipe.

Now when I actually had a moment to make a version of this recipe, I decided to make some alterations.  The closest gourmet cheese store at least 30-40 minutes from work, in the opposite direction of my home, so I settled with Gorgonzola instead of Roquefort.  I also used a Vidalia onion instead of green onions and brandy in place of cognac (not sure how much the taste varies here).  Oh and I used my now stand by pastry dough recipe from Chez Pim, which comes out deliciously buttery and flaky.

Even though it was 1030 pm when I finished, Partner in Crime and I popped one each in our mouths before bed, savoring in the warm cheese and onion filling and buttery crust. 

Gorgonzola Onion Turnovers
Inspired by Julia Child's Pastry Turnovers with Roquefort Cheese (original recipe here)

1/2 recipe of pastry dough from Chez Pim's Perfect Pie Dough
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 Vidalia onion, chopped
4 oz Gorgonzola cheese
2 eggs
1-2 Tbsp whipping cream
3/4 Tbsp brandy
1/2 tsp black pepper

Makes 6 medium size pastries, or 10-12 small pastries (this can easily be doubled or tripled to create little pastry appetizers for a get together)

Prepare pastry dough according the above links directions.  Be sure to do all the chilling and folding as that creates the layers of flakiness.

While dough is chilling for the second 30 minutes, prepare the filling.  First saute the chopped onion in 1 Tbsp of butter.  Once the onion is translucent, set aside to cool slightly. 

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Mash Gorgonzola cheese with a fork in a medium size bowl.  Separate 1 egg, adding the yolk to the cheese and setting aside the white to use later.  Beat together the yolk and cheese until well combined.  Now add the brandy and whipping cream (start with 1 Tbsp whipping cream) and beat together.  The mixture should be a thick paste, add second Tbsp of whipping cream as needed.

Now add onions, a few dashes of salt and 1/2 tsp of black pepper and stir together.  Set mixture in the fridge while you roll out the pastry dough.

Roll out dough to 1/8 inch thick rectangle.  Using the pastry scraper or a knife, cut dough in 2 1/2 inch strips. 

Make your egg wash, by adding another egg to the egg white and whisking together.  Get out your pastry brush.  Either butter baking sheet or cover with parchment paper.

You can make different shapes and sizes for these pastries.  For small triangles, cut strips into 2 1/2 in by 2 1/2 in squares.  Place a 1/2 Tablespoonful (more or less as needed) of cheese mixture in the center of square.  Using pastry brush, spread egg wash along edges of dough.  Fold over into a triangle and pinch edges together.  Using tines of a fork, press along the edges.  Brush egg was over the top of pastry and place on baking sheet.  Repeat until add pastry dough is used up.

Bake in the top third of the oven at 425 F for about 15 minutes until golden brown on top.  Serve warm.