ultimate summer dessert

August 6, 2012 Comments Off on ultimate summer dessert

C went with me to the grocery store yesterday out of sheer boredom.  And there was a huge, overflowing bin of watermelon greeting us at the front door.  C rarely shows any enthusiasm at all for grocery items, but we’d been shopping for his favorite, pimiento mac, and he was more engaged than usual.

“How about a watermelon for dessert tonight?” he asked.

Well, of course!  Especially at 88 cents a pop.  We got what looked like a big one, but between the three of us we ate the whole thing in a day.  Ice cream, semifreddos, popsicles?  All fine.  But a juicy, crisp watermelon on a hot day…



March 14, 2012 Comments Off on minne

Jeepers that’s a lot of ugly.  Or, really, a lot of uglies.

Spring break.  The schedule has worked itself out to rule against a really massive road trip, but I wanted to at least get out of town for 24 hours.  The kids had gift cards.  I needed a deep fry skimmer.  Mall of America it was.

Philosophically opposed though I may be to the idea of the world’s largest mall (which it’s not anymore, I know), MoA is a perfect 24 hours getaway.  An easy 3 hour drive, cheap motels, and everyone finds at least one store that they like.  Including me, if I’m honest.  It ends up being a spendy day out, but we can usually stop at Old Navy and stock up on clothes for the kiddos, too.

All of us, of course, agree on this one.  The kids usually just end up with a bucket full of pick-a-bricks, but there’s a fair amount of lobbying as well.  I get shown a lot of potential birthday presents.  It’s beyond fun to watch the two of them. O is done pretty quickly–she went across the mall for a coffee after half an hour.  And then we sat and chatted while C scoured the rest of the store piece by piece.  90 minutes, total, which is some kind of record.

That was the biggest stop, but we managed a complete lap of all four levels.  O picked out a nice sweater at the Gap–she liked a similar one at Banana Republic better, but we both decided that she could make do with the $30 downscale version.  C picked up a few must-haves at the prank store.  Don’t accept any gum from him in the near future.  Or borrow his pen.  And I found my deep-fry skimmer, and The Art of French Baking by Ginette Mathiot.

So after a fine evening at the local Best Western, we trekked home this morning.  It was a beautiful day outside, and I don’t think I’d shut off the car all the way before the kids were headed for the playground.  I didn’t see them until almost dinner.

Which was highlighted by this lovely strawberry tart, a la TAFB. When Mathiot said the pastry crust should be 1/8″ thick I think she really meant 1/16″.  But otherwise it was pretty outstanding.  And yep, that’s a real creme patisserie holding all the berries in place.  C’s eyes lit up when he got a spoonful of that.  “Is this ice cream?” he asked.  Nope, I told him.  But I could see where the real vanilla bean and the egg yolks confused him.  There’s some work to do, here–and the financiers didn’t exactly work–but Ginette and I are planning to spend some serious time together whisking various combinations of sugar, eggs, and flour over hot things…

baking sunday

November 14, 2011 Comments Off on baking sunday

I’ve usually tried to take the last couple days of my non-kid weeks and get everything squared away so that the house is well-stocked and ready to go when O and C show up.  Clean sheets.  All the laundry done.  Groceries all in place, cookies baked, fresh loaf of bread, etc., etc.  This time around that didn’t happen because of a glorious work trip to California.  I got the laundry and sheets all done, but the baking took a back seat.  C and I made cookies yesterday, but we were short a fresh loaf of bread, some groceries, and dessert for dinner tonight.  So today was basically baking almost start to finish, the sort of day that I secretly enjoy a lot.  It started, of course, with the New York Times and coffee, of course, but L had to put in a full day of work, so the oven got fired up pretty early this morning.

This week’s bread is a pan bigio from Carol Field’s Italian Baker.  It’s been about a year that I’ve spent working through Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Bread Every Day, and I thought it was time to try a slightly different take.  Field’s book is amazing–dozens of subtly different recipes, and a really thorough explanation of what you’re making, where it’s from, and why that’s important.  She clearly has no time for the no-knead philosophy; you’re spending some time kneading, for crying out loud, and you’ll like it.  This one starts with a biga the night before, which gets nice and spongy on the coutnertop and fuels a four hour set of rises in the morning.  The dough itself is half whole wheat, so it’s arguably healthy.  Most of her recipes seem pretty wet, so getting the loaf shaped was a challenge, but it made it on to the peel fine and spent a full 50 minutes baking away.  Good results–nice chewy crust and as soft a center as you could probably get with that much whole wheat.  I’m sold, at least for the moment, though her ciabatta recipe comes with a warning that one really needs a mixer to deal with the soup of a dough she suggests.  We’ll see…

The real fun, though, was dessert tonight.  We did a simple brown rice pilaf that was in the Times today, so I figured we had both the time and the calories to tackle a pumpkin pie.  Alice Waters’ Art of Simple Cooking had a recipe that looked good–cream instead of evaporated milk, a truckload of spices, and less sugar than one I’d been eyeing.  I’ve always liked pumpkin pie, but wanted to do one that wasn’t too heavy, and this seemed perfect.  And, maybe more important, I wanted an excuse to use my grandmother’s crust recipe, which the folks sent me earlier this fall after my inaugural, blueberry attempt.  Grandma’s recipe used shortening instead of butter, and her recipe notes that it’s “marvelously flaky,” which is absolutely true.  It’s not sweet–no sugar at all–but it lets the filling do the talking, and it stayed dry and flaky even on the bottom.  I baked the crust on its own  first, then baked it again with the goop in it, and we topped it with some fresh whipped cream.  The result was pretty miraculous.  I’m not quite sure what I did right.

panna cotta

October 22, 2011 Comments Off on panna cotta

So after a rough start, today was a quietly brilliant day.  Lots of chores done, and the kids spent almost the entire day outside, enjoying what was surely one of the last warm fall days.  The bathrooms are clean, the house is vacuumed, I tackled the gross cabinet under the kitchen sink, and I got a nice loaf of ciabatta baked for dinner tomorrow.

Simple stir fry tonight, with velveted chicken.  But for dessert?  That quivering blob of dairy freshness to the left.  I had exactly one panna cotta in Rome and was totally entranced and mystified–though not enough to give up the regular gelato run at night.  Cool, sweet, and fresh, and with a consistency that boggles the mind–sort of jello-like, but also creamy.

And as my love affair with Alice Waters’ Art of Simple Food continues, I found it’s recipe and was just a bit taken aback.  Hot cream, milk, sugar, and gelatin.  A bit of lemon zest and vanilla, pour them into chilled ramekins, and let the fridge do its work.  Seriously?  And that’s not even that bad for you.

As you can see, they didn’t firm up real well, but enough to stand up to some macerated raspberries.  O wasn’t all that impressed, but for C (always a sucker for a good fruity dessert) these were right up there with pavlovas.  And I’m hooked.  This is one of the rare Rome memories that I’ve been able to adequately replicate–super light and creamy, but with a nice mix of sweet, creamy, and just a hint of zesty bitterness.

grilled chicken, radicchio, and…

October 3, 2011 § 3 Comments

So, another handover weekend, and this one went pretty well.  Nothing forgotten, apparently.  It helps that the boy isn’t wearing his retainer anymore, and that Mrs. K insists on throwing herself in front of the door two hours before departure.

Anyway, we finished up this two week Domestically Challenged stint with a blast.  I bought season tickets to the university’s student theater program, since they’re doing Rent, Love’s Labour’s Lost, and To Kill a Mockingbird, all of which I think the kids will enjoy.  Their opening was Hedda Gabler, a Henrik Ibsen play about which I knew nothing.  But after last week’s successful string quartet outing, I figured the kids would be fine.  L came up and we planned to grill quickly after the boy had his weekly comic store card game session.

So we’re sitting watching the fire get ready and L asks what the play’s about.  “I don’t know,” I admitted.  “Norwegian existentialism.  How could we go wrong?”  She Googled it.  “It’s about the wife of a bumbling academic.  She has an affair and tries to get him to kill himself,” she said.


We stayed in and watched Toy Story III instead.  But we did grill, and we did it pretty well.  The kids had organic brats and dogs, but L and I went one step further. I brined a couple of chicken breasts, she marinated some radicchio and portobello mushrooms.  It was a full grill, but since we figured this might be the last of the season it was worth a bit of charcoal debauchery.  You can see the results, at least the bits that photographed well.  The kids were happy, we were happy,everyone was full, and Toy Story III was a bit less of a downer than Ibsen promised.

And for dessert?  O had been pestering me to grill pineapple for weeks.  Grilled apricot hadn’t worked all that well, so I had been reluctant.  But once L caught wind of O’s idea, they were off and running.  No grill, they decided.  Saute pan, butter, and sugar.  L got it started, but O manned the spatula.  “The secret is to not touch them until they’re ready,” L told her, and O waited patiently until the bottoms were nice and browned.  Lesson for the day?  A Maillard reaction equals delicious nommability.  And do some research before you take the kids to a Norwegian drama.

bagels and pie

August 6, 2011 Comments Off on bagels and pie

We all knew this would be the toughest week.  K moved in to her apartment Thursday, and while the paperwork will take a few more weeks to make things official, we’re now two households instead of one, with all the emotional and logistical baggage that entails.  Her parents came out to help her move, and everyone handled things incredibly well.  But it was still a sad moment, and past experience has shown me that I deal with these best when I can a) run a ton in the mornings, and b) have a ridiculous project or two to focus on.

The running part happened mostly last weekend.  But with K’s parents in town I thought I’d try something else in the baking department.  O had mentioned pretzels, and she’d mentioned raisin bread, and together we triangulated those and decided on raisin bagels.  Same dough as pretzel dough (who knew?) but somehow these seemed more wholesome and breakfast-y.  She helped me make the dough, I figured out how to roll them into passable bagel shapes.  Wednesday morning I took them out before an early run and let them rise for six miles, then I plopped them in some simmering water laced with baking soda and tossed them in the oven.  Amazingly easy, and really good with some cinnamon sugar and a session in the toaster.  The baking soda in the water made a chewy crust, but the interiors were nice and light.  There is, of course, a gigantic rift in the world between steamed bagel lovers and boiled bagel lovers.  I think I’m in the latter camp.

So we’re now on a schedule.  I got first dibs on the kids, to give her time to unpack the apartment.  The two of them have been really good about things, probably better than their parents deserve.  C said the other night “eh, you two made the decision, we’ll all just make the best of it,” and we kind of are.  Our first stint is a short one–a long weekend, really, and so we sat down and figured out what we wanted to do.  Nothing big–the local dirt track tonight, if the weather holds, and then two dinners of whatever they want.  O’s night was last night.  Roasted chicken, double-fried french fries.  Really?  Roasted chicken in the middle of August?  I surfed through my recipe clippings, not wanting to blast the oven for two hours to roast a whole bird.  How about pan-roasted chicken thighs, I asked her.  Crispy skin like fried, juicy meat like roasted?  Winner.  And the fries were good, too.  I gave up on Yukon Golds finally and hacked up two Russets, taking a tip and soaking them in ice water for a couple of hours before dropping them in the dutch oven (which nearly bubbled over this time–that would have been a fine start).

O said that the chicken was now officially her favorite Dad Dinner.  And it was pretty amazing.  But the real adventure came when, in the midst of chopping potatoes, O casually mentioned that she’d like pie, too.  Peanut butter honeycomb, if possible.  Not possible, I told her.  And besides, your brother hates peanut butter.  I have never made a pie before, I told her.  Can we please start with something simple, like blueberry?  She licked her chops.  Of course.

So I ran out to the store and bought shortening, flour, and a metric ton of blueberries.  I hesitated at the frozen pie crusts.  First attempt at a crust, do I trust myself?  And then I thought Ruth Leslie’s grandson should not–ever–buy a frozen pie crust.  Not even as a backup plan.  She made serious pies, and when arthritis and years finally forced her into the occasional frozen crust she apologized profusely.  Homemade crust it is, whatever the outcome.  This one’s for you, Grandma.

It came out pretty much as you’d expect a first pie to come out.  Soupy, and ugly, but not un-tasty.  I guessed on the tapioca/corn starch conversion in the recipe I was using, and guessed wrong (though four tablespoons of corn starch seemed like a lot).  Didn’t matter.  It tasted fine, and the crust was surprisingly good.  Not quite grandma-worthy, but better than expected.  Again, you can divide the world into butter crust people and shortening crust people.  I split the difference, with good results–flaky but also just dense enough to hold up against the onslaught of purple goo.  Lime meringue is next.

C gets to decide what we have Sunday, when K comes to pick them up.  He’s got a pretty stiff menu to compete with here, though I imagine he’ll find some combination that’s similarly challenging.  I’ve already laid some ground rules–like only one starch.  I can totally see mac’n’cheese with a side of fries being his ultimate meal.  But I think we’re off to a decent start here.  We’ve certainly set the bar high.  L, despite being in the midst of an 80+ hour week, drove up to have dinner (and, I think, to check up on us) and approved.  The chicken and fries all disappeared, but there’s still (thank goodness) half a pie left in the fridge.

UPDATE:  Mom sent along my grandmother’s actual pie crust recipe.  She was a shortening woman.  And egg, too.  So now I have a dilemma–go with all shortening and stay true to family tradition?  Or forge a new path by hedging my bets with butter?  Any and all advice appreciated…

banana bread

July 4, 2011 Comments Off on banana bread

How do you take the humble banana, a good source of potassium, fiber, and vitamin C, and turn it into something really bad for you?

Whole-milk yogurt, sugar, butter, and Ghirardelli chocolate chips.  That’s how.  The overripe bananas in the fruit bowl could not have imagined how tasty their afterlife would be.  I’ve had exactly one slice, after an 11-miler yesterday.  The kids have wolfed this stuff down, and seem to be growing a bit faster because of it.

The recipe is from Cook’s Best Recipes book, and they were spot on in terms of making an almost soupy batter and then undercooking it slightly–the result was super-moist and just chunky enough that you got a hit of pure banana every so often.  Pleased to say that the double-stuffed Oreos have been largely (though not entirely) untouched since this came out of the oven.  As loaded with yummy carbs and fats as it is, I figure it has to be at least a step better than those.  Maybe.

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