Friday, June 25, 2010

The BBQ Bake-Off

I had this BBQ Bake-Off with myself by the way.  Yes, that's right, being invited to a birthday barbecue on the first Friday of summer vacation translated to me into "I must spend two days baking." 

In the past 36 hours, I have made Corn & Basil Cornbread, Swedish Plum Pie and a Strawberry Pie, and some Pasta Salad with Cilantro Pesto and Corn. 

I also bought a new pie-carrier from The Container Store.  I like it, but the clasp is a little weird. 

Ok, here we go:

1. Fresh Corn and Basil Cornbread from Bon Appetit
I followed the directions as given except that I didn't have a square pan, so I used a round one.  It rose and overflowed quite a bit (making my forward-thinking baking sheet underneath the pan pretty snazzy).  I then ate the overflowed edges.  I think it is good, but maybe would use a finer corn meal in the future and add it needed more salt.

2. Swedish Plum Pie
I based this off a recipe for Swedish Apple Pie that my mother makes often.  It's not a typical pie in that you put the fruit in the pie dish and then pour a batter over it and bake it that way.  It is one of the easiest pies to make, if you're alright with not having the more traditional two-crust version. 
The recipe I used came out of a cookbook, but is basically the same as this one.  I omitted the nuts and only used 1/2 cup of butter.  I added a splash of leftover buttermilk from the cornbread to thin the batter a bit.  I obviously used plums rather than apples.  I have no idea how many plums it was, I just kept cutting, and cutting, and cutting...

3. The Strawberry Pie
I searched high and low for a strawberry pie recipe that was akin to a regular blueberry or apple pie recipe, but with strawberries.  I kept finding ice-box recipes, but I wanted to bake, and I was afraid to just substitute because of the juice factor.  I finally found a recipe in The Silver Palate cookbook for a raspberry pie and decided that was close enough.  I can't find the recipe anywhere online to link to, so I'll have to put it in my hand the next time I have the cookbook on hand.  Found it!
I have to work on my lattice top.  I made the pastry dough from scratch and used the shortening and butter version from which I typically shy away (I am afraid of shortening), and it made the dough tricky to work with.  Even in a lovely air conditioned kitchen (thanks mom).

4. Cilantro Pesto Pasta and Corn Salad.

This one was kind of a mishmosh of leftovers.  I had leftover pasta and one remaining ear of corn and wanted to do something with it, so I tossed them together with some of the cilantro pesto I made the other day. 
The pesto was made from a supermarket-bunch of cilantro, handful of pistachios, one scallion and some olive oil.  And some salt.  It has a surprisingly mild flavor and would probably be helped by some lime. 

The Pseudo-Guest Post #2: The Salad Cake

Are people aware that there is a National Punctuation Day?  It's on Sept. 24th.  They have T-shirts and stuff.  One of them says "is there a hyphen in anal-retentive?"  That's funny.

OK, back to my story. 

"What's that?" you say, "salad that's a cake?  How ever can that be?"  And that is a good question indeed.  "It is not a cake that is a salad." I would answer, "it is a salad that is a cake."

My friend Anne (of National Grilled Cheese Day fame) has topped herself.  This time, for a salad-themed work potluck, Anne put forth the best kind of salad she could think of.  Actually, this is from a girl who I'm pretty sure just ate her first salad ever about two months ago, so the fact that her donation was full of cake and buttercream is really not that surprising.

It's very cute though.  And I finally get to see what the results of that oh-so-cute, but oh-so-expensive W-S pan are.
Oh-so-cute, but oh-so-expensive Williams-Sonoma pan
Pan results and "bowl" beginning

Salad-Cake! (Cake salad?)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Blueberry Tart

For Father's Day this year I made a blueberry tart.  I should rephrase: for Father's Day this year, I made a blueberry tart with the HARDEST crust of all time.  I have no idea what went wrong.  I'll get to that in a minute.

There was a recipe in the June Bon Appetite for a Lime Tart with Blackberries and Blueberries.  This was perfect because I like lime and my niece, who both her father and my father adore, LOVES blueberries.  I followed the directions pretty much to a T (note the pretty much, could have been the issue).  The curd came out well.  The only issue was getting it into the fridge to chill as opposed to my mouth to be eaten.  I made the crust in the food processor rather than the mix-master and I forgot to poke holes in it when I put it in the oven.  The result to one or the other of these things, or that perhaps I just cooked it for a few minutes too long, was that it was pretty solid.  It was good, but it was "pick up with your fingers, lick the filling off and then eat the bottom" kind of good.  At least it looked pretty.

Of course, the irony was that Maggie, my niece, wouldn't touch the blueberries and had ice cream for dessert.

I should also mention that it being Father's Day meant that the fathers got to choose what they wanted to do.  In this case it was rebuild the back stairs.  And it was approximately 1,000 degrees outside.  Here are the fathers and to pay them due homage, their stairs.

mon frere

mon pere


Monday, June 7, 2010

The Mini-Calzones

I have learned two very important things tonight.  One is that you cannot call your camera like a dog.  Well, you can, but no matter how long and hard you call, it will not respond.  The other is that when you live alone and you can't find your stuff, you have nobody to blame but yourself.  That last one was disappointing (the first one is just kind of embarrassing).

Tonight, I also learned that I have outdone myself.  I didn't think it could be done, but alas, the mini calzones top even the most delightful of strombolis, and that's saying a lot.  And that everything comes out better when prepared while watching Firefly...

I decided to make small calzones because I don't love them when they're big (not enough bread-to-filling ratio), and because there is just one of me, so little, compact food makes sense.  I decided to make two fillings because I am an overachiever.

I began by biking to CVS before Whole Foods.  This is only important because it means that I biked 3.4 miles instead of 1.2 miles and that means I can eat more crap.

I decided I wanted to use the asparagus I bought yesterday at the South End Farmers Market, but also wanted spinach and feta, so two fillings...

I made up both fillings because of my aforementioned aversion to following other people's recipe (except for baking, baking on the fly scares the crap out of me.  I envision thins overflowing in my oven...). 

Approximate recipes:
Spinach-Cheese Filling:
Combine 1 box frozen spinach, thawed, with a sauteed half an onion, chopped.  Then squeeze out all the liquid.  Add 1/3 package of low-fat cream cheese, cut into chunks and combine.  Add 6oz of crumbled feta and one beaten egg.  The cheese and the egg helped the spinach calzones keep their shape excellently.

Asparagus Filling:
I put the asparagus in the sauce a la the artichoke tomato sauce.  I sauteed the other half of the onion for a good bit and added the asparagus, chopped into about 1/2" pieces.   Let that cook for a few minutes and then add a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes (this time with garlic).  I let that all simmer for another 10 minutes or so.  In the meantime I cut up mushrooms and opened a can of sliced olives to put on top.  I used mozzarella cheese and a three-cheese combo (fontina, asiago and parmesan, I think).

Both kinds of calzones were prepared the same.  I divided the dough into six pieces and rolled the into circles, maybe 7 or so inches across.  Put filling on one half and then folded the other half over.  I pressed the edges with my fingers and with a fork and with my fingers again.  Nothing leaked too.  It was a success in that regard.

Baked at 450 for about 15-18 minutes.

Here are four of them (I had half of each other the other two for dinner).  Obviously, I'm not going to win a prize for consistency any time soon, but they were both delicious. 
I think I might like the spinach one a little better, but it has more cheese in it, it's not that surprising. 
By the way, they were baked on parchment paper, which I really think might be man's greatest creation.  I didn't grow up in a parchment paper or a paper towel household and I'm not sure how we existed.  Of course, between the three of us, we would have used a roll of paper towels a day, so I'm sure the trees and my parents' ability to retire appreciate it.

The Meantime

In the time between planting the patio garden and now, I have created two other concoctions of significance that I think are worth mentioning.

The first was a mingling of my favorite chocolate chip cookie bars and the Rolo brownies from a few months ago.  I made the chocolate chip cookie bars according to the recipe, except (I love the except!), I didn't have any brown sugar and had just gone to the store.  The sub for brown sugar is white sugar and molasses, so I did that.  I think the cookies came out chewier and gooier than the normal way, so that might be my go-to from now on.  (1 cup brown sugar = 1 cup white sugar + 1/4 cup molasses).  This became overwhelmingly gluttonous when I took them out of the oven and immediately pushed in rolos and peanut butter cups so they could get melty and gooey.  It worked and they were quite a success at the Memorial Day BBQ.

The other treat was that I made the chocolate mayonnaise cake again.  This time I made it into cupcakes and they were super good.  I followed the same recipe, but baked for about 18-20 minutes.  Oh, and I ended up using half Miracle Whip because, again, I ran out of something, but you couldn't tell.  If anything, I think the cupcakes were more moist than the original cake.

The Patio Garden

I live in a lovely little condo right outside Boston (that has recently been industrialized).  The condo itself doesn't have the greatest layout (kitchen's too small, bedroom's too big), but it does open out onto a nice little patio, or terrace, I guess, since I live on the "Terrace" level.  It's an end unit, so I get to claim a little bit more of the terrace area than people who live in the middle, so right outside my back door, I have two chairs and a little table and it's a nice place to sit and read a book and watch the T go by, or sit and drink a beer with friends on a warm evening.

When I first moved in, people who lived in the building had become used to walking by my door and shortcutting down the landscaped hill to the walkway (which is about three feet below).  I didn't like this and the landscapers didn't like this.  So, to combat it, I got three terracotta rectangular planters and put them in a way that blocked the side so people couldn't climb and and down the side easily anymore.  This worked for all except my male friends who seem to get some sort of pleasure out of climbing up the side that I think relates back being 5 years old and playing in the dirt.

Anyway, this past weekend (this has become the longest story ever, sorry), I went to a farmer's market that lacked things from farms in general, but had a booth of organically grown starter plants and herbs and stuff, so I bought some and did my planting yesterday.

I discovered that I would probably enjoy gardening quite a bit as a hobby if it were not for my extreme aversion to bugs and dirt.  Besides that, totally dug it (HA!)

I planted what is either parsley or cilantro in one with bergamot.  Bergamot, according to this totally unsubstantiated website, I should be able to use to heal mild injuries and to drink.  I don't really know what it is, but it's the stuff in Earl Grey tea and I like Earl Grey tea. 

The other two planters have tomatoes and basil.  One has yellow tomatoes and regular basil and the other has red tomatoes and something called, "Magic Thai" basil.  I'm excited for that one.

I alternated the herbs and tomatoes with marigolds because marigolds are supposed to keep bad bugs and small critters away from gardens.

Now I just have to wait a month or two and I'll have lots of fun new fresh-herb recipes to post!

Update:  I actually planted and photographed a few weeks ago, but was too lazy to upload the pictures.  In the meantime, the Bergamot has TAKEN OFF.  I still have no idea what to do with it, but it's becoming enormous.