Sunday, August 19, 2007


It is the height of summer now. No better time that now for cold, creamy homemade ice cream. This May was the first time I have ever had fresh ice cream, the kind created by people who love food and friends. Kelly and Juliette made Strawberry Ice Cream while I was staying with them. That was divine. The little strawberries from the local pick-your-own were potent and sweet. I am amazed at how much richer and more flavorful homemade is over the store bought. It even trumps the ice cream parlor.

Mint. That one little work conjures up a mouthful of explosive flavor. One leaf is enough to flavor a glass of tea. One stem makes a mojito something more than just rum and sugar. When you think about it you can taste it. And there are different flavors of it, old reliable peppermint, spicy strong spearmint, alluring chocolate mint, and the tropical pineapple mint with its sassy sweetness mixed into all that zing. It's hardy. It will dominate your yard if giving a little nudge. Thankfully, it is plentiful.

I am a chocolate gal. The darker the better and bittersweet, ohhh. Love in a bar. What more do you need out of life than a pint of New York Super Fudge Chunk at the end of a very bad day? Chocolate can so take the pain away. A bite can open your mind and a bar lets all the bad flow out. Not so much to make a tummy ache, but just enough to start pleasure stirring, to feel the silky texture, the melting sensual flavor on your willing tongue. Combine that with the powerful flavors of mint and you've got yourself quite the illicit love affair.

I mentioned in an earlier blog that I had made Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream. Well, the mint in the back yard is starting to get a little out of hand so I'm doing it again. It is steeping in warm cream, milk and sugar right now. In a short while it will get combined with more cream and some eggs, making a smooth and delicious concoction.

I am using the recipe from Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz with only a slight modification. Where he says warm the milk, I actually go for tea steeping temperature, somewhere around 175 F, to bring out the most flavor of the mint. I also bruise the leaves before steeping to release the oils. At the end, just before finishing it off in the ice cream maker, I will be adding the crushed pieces of a very dark chocolate bar. I will not post the recipe here since it isn't mine. If you are so inclined, I would suggest picking up a copy of his book. The flavors he uses and pairs together are inspired.

And here is the finished product. It has a greener color than the picture describes. It is a lovely color of pale emerald. And, oh, the flavor and texture!

The Relationship and Phood Phreek

Cool crock I found at the Archon Art Show
It may be time for me to consider whether I am ready for long term relationships. So far, my track record isn't up to snuff. Some of my friends may question whether I am making the right decision, but I think I can do it. I began a sourdough starter. It is 5 days in the making so far and I haven't killed it or forgotten it yet but our relationship is still new. It is timid and I am unsure. How will it react to my place? Will it grow and flourish here or will it turn on me? Can I live with it without taking for granted that it will always be there? Am I mature enough to give it the care and nurturing it needs or will I end up like others on the blogosphere who speak so callously about how easy it is to start it and ignore it or chuck it if it doesn't suit? The aroma is faint at the moment. It is beginning its life of fermentation. If I didn't know better I would think it wanted to be beer.

And so the story begins....

Monday, August 13, 2007

Finding My Phood Muse Again

Was it really just April 29th when I last wrote? It feels like a year or more has passed. It's been a busy summer, some good busy, some ok busy and some just downright high on the ick factor busy.

I haven't done a lot of in depth cooking since my last entry except for a wedding cake. That was monumental. I wanted to blog the process but really just needed to get the thing baked and delivered. I did take a picture of the final product. I was happy with it. The bride was happier. It was a tribute to flavor. The largest layer was chocolate cake with hazelnut syrup, hazelnut buttercream between layers and a thin layer of Nutello mixed with a bit of apple sauce spread over the layers to help keep it moist. The next layer up, my favorite, was a lemon cake. From a regular yellow cake recipe, I simply replaced the vanilla with lemon extract. It was so brightly flavored. Between the layers was a lemon buttercream and a layer of raspberry all fruit jam. The top two layers were the same flavors, chocolate cake sprinkled with rum and coffee with rum buttercream between. All of it was covered with rolled fondant flavored with either hazelnut or lemon depending on the layer. It worked. I have made quite a few wedding cakes over the years. Each time I am happy with them. I take a few years break, thinking I'll never do that again, then a friend with an as yet unmarried relative comes crawling out of the wood work and asks if I still bake cakes. I always seem to answer yes. About half way through the process I start wondering what I got myself into and how could I say yes again, etc. But by the end I feel like I've accomplished something wonderful for someone I care about. It's worth it.

Finished cake. No topper, she didn't think it needed it.

I am settling into my new place. It is a beautiful 1920's apartment with hardwood floors, high ceilings and lots of windows. The kitchen is of an actual workable size. I haven't had any parties yet. There are still a lot of unopened boxes blocking space my dining room. I have, however, taken to making ice cream. The back yard has a couple of nice flower gardens and one is just teaming with mint. So, what else, mint ice cream happens. I used the base recipe from David Lebowitz Perfect Scoop. To that I added more mint (I really like the flavor) and chopped up bittersweet chocolate. That was super yummy. Every now and then I think about the flavor of that first batch and I actually miss it. I must make more before summer is over. Thankfully, summer in the midwest can last right on into late October. My next batch was Maple Walnut ice cream. My sister had given me a tin of Grade A Dark Amber and I found some walnuts at the farmers' market. It was a custard base that came out smooth and super creamy with a heady maple flavor and chunks of maple covered walnuts throughout. At the same time, some friends of mine had just returned from a trip to Mexico and had challenged me to make a sorbet like one they had tasted there. It was mango and chili's. Getting the mango sorbet was a breeze, but figuring out what kind of chili and how much is a work in progress. The first batch was with chipotle powder, only a half teaspoon in 2 quarts of sorbet. It was smokey and hot and frozen all at once. It went best, I think, mixed with a scoop of chocolate ice cream (which is exactly what we did at Stavra's Ice Cream Social). Without the chocolate ice cream, I found the chili a little too overwhelming and I'm no whimp when it comes to this stuff. So what flavor shall I make next? Research Geek and I were talking about sticky toffee pudding ice cream. I'm thinking it's a must! And, yes, I will start taking more pictures as I go. It's a bad habit of mine to forget that I own a camera at all.

So here I am, sitting at my desk in late evening thinking about what will be next. I am going to start a sourdough starter tomorrow night and go for the bread this weekend. I can't wait to try sourdough flapjacks and doughnuts. I promise to write all about it in the coming weeks. I'm busy getting ready for a new semester in school, working hard and settling in, but I miss the writing. I am making more time for it and for the baking and cooking that inspires it. How else will I get any relaxation if I don't make time to work in my kitchen?

More later....and beyond.... ;)

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sorrow and Phood Phreek

When life gets tough, the tough eat comfort food. And doesn't it figure that the week after you start a diet is when life gets tough!? I've had a bad year this past week and I'm sorely tempted to turn to some of my favorite comfort foods to help me at least feel a little better while I struggle through the next month...which might be another year long....

Some of my favorites are mac & cheese, cookies (only fresh homemade), rice with lemon juice and Greek seasoning slathered in butter, Ben & Jerry's New York Super Fudge Chunk, Lay's wavy potato chips (the entire bag) and sour cream (the entire pint), beef stroganoff with really yummy kluski noodles, oh, and sweet, buttery popcorn. Yup, right now I could probably finish off a big pot, plate, or mixing bowl of any of these. But so far I have managed to keep it down to one small piece of chocolate and a couple of cookies. The question is, how long can I hold out while life beats the crap out of me? I'm pretty sturdy. I can make it....I think....

There was a brunch this morning. I cooked. I wanted to. It's what I do best and with the most passion. Cooking keeps my mind busy when I don't want to think about anything else. I made a quiche of bacon and spinach with Emanthaller, roasted potatoes, and stewed fruit. It was good. I was surrounded by friends and tasty, warm food. Yesterday I found out one of my dogs has lung cancer and something just short of minutes to live. I brought her with me to the brunch. It was comforting having her near, if only for a few more days.

Why is it that when we are deep in sorrow we turn to food for comfort? How come a big bowl of mac & cheese or a fresh batch of cookies can make everything least for a few minutes? Is it the warmth of the melted cheese? Or the sweet spice of the fresh cookies? Mostly I think it's that someone who cares about you and sees how much you are hurting makes or bakes something to let you know how much they love you in your deepest times of need. Stavra and I were talking about this just a few months ago. A friend of hers had a death in the family so she started baking for them. We were wondering why it is such a natural instinct for some of use to either hunger for or desire to provide comfort food. My guess would be that it's a basic survival need. We need food to live so when someone dies it's time to eat to help ensure our continued existence.


I started this post in early March but have not been able to sit down to it again until just now. So, here I am. In sorrow for the loss of a pet, under a lot of stress from family member's severe illness and selling my house. How have I managed this? How have I ensured my continued existence? How have I persevered? Stavra's molasses cookies helped a lot. Spending time with close friends went a long way. Things are starting to look sunnier on the morning of my new life. Maybe one day, hopefully soon, I'll cook something again. I have a wedding cake project in my near future. I think I will have to post something on that soon. Carry on. Move along. Don't waste precious time be dragged in the depths of misery. Write something, cook something, eat something, live.

Oh, and the diet....PHAH...maybe next week.....

Monday, March 5, 2007

No-Knead Bread Adventures

**Edited on 4/15**

I, like everyone else in the food blogosphere, have tried Jim Lahey's no-knead bread recipe. It's pretty cool that you can make a fairly tasty bread without the work and without buying any extra gadgets to do it.

For those who don't already know, here is the original recipe:

Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
1 1/2 c water
cornmeal or wheat bran as needed

  1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 1/2 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
  2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.
  3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
  4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
Now I'm experimenting with the recipe. I thought I'd share my combinations, trials and errors here. But before I do, here is a funny email I got from Stavra as we were discussing breads and caramels.

**A couple of weeks ago on a Saturday I was making lunch. I had gone to Straub’s the day before and gotten sliced roast beef for sandwiches, as I always do when I’m there, because they have the absolute best I’ve ever had. It’s perfectly rare, and is, well, actual roast beef, not “lunchmeat roast beef.” Also, I had some day-old No-Knead Bread that I’d made. So, I make myself a roast beef sandwich with the fantastic roast beef, the leftover super-yummy bread, some of this special spicy mayonnaise that I can only find in New Orleans or in Houston and otherwise have to special order (which I had just done; I got three jars—if you’d like to try some, I’d be happy to pass a jar on to you), lettuce, organic Colby, fresh ground pepper, and a sprinkling of real fleur de sel on top. So I have just finished constructing this masterpiece, and I’m sooo looking forward to it, as it’s my favorite sandwich and I don’t often have that roast beef on hand, and Steve walks into the kitchen. I should mention at this point that, as it turns out, I had PMS on this occasion. This will probably become clear in a moment. So, Steve walks in, looks at the sandwich on the plate in my hand as I’m walking out of the kitchen, and says, “Wow, that’s a hearty sandwich.” At which point, I gasp, and say, “It’s just because the bread is homemade, and you can’t slice it thin, so it looks gigantic, and there’s lettuce, and IT’S NOT THAT BIG!! I just—oh, forget it, here, YOU EAT IT! I DON’T EVEN WANT IT ANYMORE! YOU’VE RUINED IT FOR ME AND I WOUDN’T ENJOY IT ANYWAY.” Steve, I can’t imagine why, just stands there, baffled, with his jaw hanging open. I shove the plate in his hand, turn on my heel, and stalk out of the kitchen. He eats the sandwich in the kitchen, and tiptoes around me for the rest of the day. A couple of days later, after my period has started and my sanity’s returned home from its short vacation, I said to him, “Okay, I’m really sorry I lost my mind about the sandwich. I know you didn’t mean anything by it, but, you know, I just don’t think most girls want to hear that their sandwich is ‘hearty.’ At least most PMS-y girls. To me, what I heard was, ‘Jesus, that is one gigantic sandwich, you horrible cow.’” To which Steve of course responded, “But I—that’s not—I didn’t—“ And I reassured him that I know that’s not what he meant, but that’s what my hormone-addled brain heard. He nods his head and walks out of the room to take a shower and no doubt ponder the wisdom of letting women run for office, vote, and drive cars, and then he pops his head back in and says, “By the way, I just have to tell you—that was the most incredible sandwich I’ve ever eaten in my life. I wanted to tell you then, but I was afraid to talk to you. The whole time I was eating it, I kept thinking, ‘Man, she even makes better sandwiches!’” At which point I burst out laughing. We realized sandwiches were probably one of the few things that he really makes for himself. Because to me that was a fairly standard sandwich, one that I eat with some regularity, but it had never occurred to me to make him one, because if I’m making it it’s usually on a weekend and we’re just fending for ourselves and not necessarily eating at the same time. But I think it was one of the best food compliments I’ve ever gotten. And I’ll probably have to make his sandwiches from now on. **

That made me laugh so hard I had to share. Now, back to the bread making.

At Stavra's recommendation I increased the salt to 1 tablespoon in the original recipe. I used flour on tea towels for the last rise and had used an 8 inch base cast iron dutch oven for the cooking. This came out perfect.

My second loaf was a double batch. I increased the pan size to my 8 quart cast iron/enamal dutch oven. That was the most glorious, gigantic loaf of golden brown bread I had ever seen. It was just the right height at about 5 inches in the middle and a big round foot across. I was incedibly pleased, not only that the recipe worked twice, but worked doubled without increasing any part of it. The freinds I was feeding with it also thought it was quite nice.

Third was an Italian loaf. I substituted three tablespoons of the water with the same amount of fresh pesto. Oh, boy, was that heavenly. It was a little bit lower rise loaf. Part of the problem here I think may have come from pan size. I was using my sister's dutch oven and it is considerably wider than mine at the base. Next time I'll increase the yeast by heaping the original measurement or use my own cast iron.

At the same time, I tried a gluten-free loaf. For that I doubled the yeast and added a pinch more salt. It ended up more crumbly, more like corn bread only not falling apart. It held it's shape, held up to cutting and spreading nicely. I did this one for Mom to try. She is seeing a man that has restricted diet so I thought it would be fun to try. I used Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Flour. It is a mixture of garbanzo flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, sorghum flour and fava flour. The flavor was ok. I think it could have used more salt and still a bit more yeast and, oh, I don't know, some wheat much for gluten free...

Now, the last loaf I tried was a rye. I split the flour half white and half rye. I increased the salt to heaping and the yeast to heaping. This loaf came out sweater than I thought it would but had that nice sharp rye flavor too. Great texture. I think if I do this one again (who am I kidding, there's nothing better than a patty melt on fresh baked bread) I'll do all rye flour, a tablespoon of cocoa for the darker coloring, double the yeast and keep the salt at heaping.

It's weird, the things that make me tick. When I was growing up, we, Mom, sis and me, made bread every Sunday. Usually it was Mom making with us watching, but sometimes we would help and as we got older, we were able to do more. We learned the right textures for when the mixing was done and when it was kneaded just right. I can't remember a Sunday that didn't include baking bread for the week. When I moved into my own place, just a couple of years down the line, I tried making bread on my own. I failed....miserably... It was like I had never seen a homemade loaf. I couldn't get it to work right no matter how hard I tried. I ended up with rocks, blobs, and giant balls of light brown air but nothing that remebled that sweet, white roll of golden bread fresh from the oven. You know the one. It has the light glaze of melted butter glistening on the top. I just couldn't get there. Then one day I baked some bread and it was all fine again. I hadn't changed recipes. I don't know what happened. There was just this 8 year period when I couldn't make bread. I'm think I'll blame it on my first husband. Since I never changed recipes and can't recall changing methods, that's the only thing I can think of that changed during that time. I think he was just bad bread luck...along with bad most other stuff luck, too.

Anyway, now I remember how to bake bread. It came back to me about 9 years ago and hasn't gone anywhere again. I was very hesitant to try the no-knead bread. After 8 years of misery, the last thing I needed was to start crying over failed bread again. Also, I truly enjoy the amount of work it takes to make a fine loaf of bread. To me, it makes what I eat taste that much better to know that I put energy, love and even sweat into it. So this easy to do, no work bread put me off at first. I tried it because I had a weekend with little time and a need for bread (no pun intended). I have to say, it did fill that gap. I spent about 10 minutes total working on it and had a fine loaf afterwards. I don't know that I would ever switch permanently but when I'm running up against a social deadline, it'll do just fine.

More to come as I experiment. Maybe sometime in the future I'll even remember to get my camera out and add some pics to this.

Go bake something.....

Saturday, February 3, 2007

When you just need some pampering...

There are days and weeks when, by the time you get to the end of one, you don't realize it but someone waiting on you would be so splendid. I had one of those months last week. I served jury duty, lost a contract on my house, prepared for an important presentation at work and was generally just too overwrought. I ended up with an evening free which is unusual since I work a late shift, but an early meeting to do that big presentation moved my work schedule up. By the time the day ended I was so aching for something lovely to happen....and it did.

A friend called me out for dinner at one of my favorite places, The Scottish Arms. I was introduced to this warm little place by Research-Geek and her husband about a year ago and honestly wish I had time to dine out more often. This would be a twice-a-week place if only. Take a look at the link to their history of before, during and after photos. I remember the building from about 15 years back when it was this really disgusting little corner store that was known for cashing paychecks on Fridays. It was small and greasy, had a counter and grill, but made the best fried egg sandwiches. That was all I could order though. The whole place so reeked of pork grease that it embedded itself into even the milk cartons in the refrigerator case. But I digress.

What is this place now, you ask? It is one of the finest places for a decent meal in a creative, gourmet Scottish style. It opened a couple years back and, in my opinion, served fabulous food right from the beginning but had a rough start with it's service. The staff was very friendly if a little on the inattentive and slow side. I never minded that since each time I dined there I was more and more convinced that this place would survive on the food and beverages alone. Wait, did I forget to mention the beverages. How could I? The Scottish Arms, with a guy from Scotland running the place, and what is Scotland most famous for? Why, the Scotch of course. And, oh, the Scotch, the Scotch. Over 80 lovely single malts from every little nook and cranny of Scotland. Each one so special, so divinely delicious. And the owner, Allistair (pardon me if I spelled it incorreclty), is so excited about the Scotch that his eyes light up like a child at Christmas. He can tell you anything you want to know about single malts and is so happy to recommend something that will please even the pickiest palette. A while back on another visit, he recommended Dallas Dhu which must have come from a special stash as it's not on the Scotch menu. The first sip told me I was in for a sublime treat. It tasted of honey, smooth and sweat, with a long slow heat moving over my tongue and down my throat. It finished with a mild peaty flavor, a little smoke to go with the warm flame. It was a small glass of all the good that is heaven and all the naughty that is hell.

This particular visit was a comfort food night for me. I really needed all the warmth and love that comes from a good ale and warm, creamy, love me meals. I passed on the Scotch just this once and instead ordered a Scottish ale on draft. It was sweet and had a fruity pear flavor and just enough kick to go to the places in my head that needed some clearing out. We started with an order of the Scotch Eggs. Ever had them? No? Get them here! I've tried Scotch Eggs in a couple of other places, but none were as good as these. The eggs were perfectly cooked and the sausage coating them was light and crisp with a nice zingy flavor. The plate came with a spicy mustard and a few leaves of greens to accompany the eggs in perfect harmony. Next was the soup, like I said, comfort food. I ordered a cup of the Cheddar Soup and, with the ale on the side, was very happy I did so, creamy and delicious.

On to the main event. My friend and I both wanted the same things, Cock-a-leekie pie and fish and chips so we decided to order both and split them. The chips were fine and the fish was good, if a little smaller portion than what I expected. The batter on the fish was crisp and quite nice and the tartar sauce on the side was so obviously fresh and flavorful. It is the Cock-a-leekie pie that will keep me going back again and again, though. This bowl of lovely is what chicken pot pie wants to be when it grows up. It is steaming hot, creamy sauce and large chunks of chicken under a golden brown puff pastry crust. When I say hot, I mean it. Order it, poke a hole in the crust to let some steam out and enjoy your ale while it cools down some. It is so worth the wait. The chicken is perfectly tender and juicy and the creamy sauce is just right, not too heavy, not too thin, with the most wonderful flavor of leek permeating throughout. Simple, divine, warm, loving food. But it's not over yet.

This was a good night to fall to temptation. The Scottish Arms makes some wonderful deserts with Cranachan and Bread Pudding leading the list. I had tried both of those on past visits so this time went for the Creme Brulee Trio, a sampling of 3 flavors, vanilla, cappuccino and ginger. That, with a pot of coffee, was the perfect end to the dinner. Each little crock of creme held a little special different flavor and all were creamy and delicious.

As I mentioned earlier, I had been a little disappointed with the staff on past visits, but that wasn't going to keep me away. About a month ago I had gone to another place downtown and was served by one of the wait staff that had been at the Arms. We asked why she left and she had said she didn't really like the changes that were going on at the Arms so decided to head for something different. Well, I liked chatting with her, nice gal, but really didn't care much for the service she had offered in the past, so thought maybe those changes were for the best. And they were. The bartender and wait staff working at the Arms now are perfectly lovely. Remember that pampering I needed? Well, that was plenty taken care of, not only by the company I kept, but also by the wonderfully attentive and prompt service. The evening could not have been more perfect.

For those of you who haven't yet ventured into the Central West End to try it, go for the Scotch Eggs and Cock-a-leekie pie. Their menu has expanded, changed from what is currently on the website. They have added some more upscale entrees that look fabulous. It was a tough choice between the pie and the newest lamb dish. I'll be going back again and I predict that once you try it, you'll be hooked.

Keep up the great work, Scottish Arms. I wish you a long and prosperous business.