Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Sun Never Sets on This Dish

For reasons that I cannot explain, I came home from the studio today longing for the unlikely combination of soda bread and saag paneer. While I have eaten saag paneer in Ireland, I have never in all my days paired it with soda bread. Saag paneer is an Indian dish, the name means "spinach with cheese".  The cheese in question is usually a fresh farm cheese.  I could have made the cheese and done it properly, but I had some shredded mozarella in the fridge.  As I stared into the depths of my fridge a plan evolved in my head.  It wasn't traditional, but then soda bread isn't traditionally eaten with saag paneer.  I would make creamed spinach with spices traditionally associated with saag paneer, as if I were an Irish soldier of the raj, retired to Sligo, longing for a taste of the subcontinent.

Okay, that's a stretch.  However it was delicious. And bright green.  Really really bright green.

I more or less followed the Joy of Cooking recipe for soda bread, except that I omitted the raisins and caraway seeds on the grounds that trans-British Empire dinner or no, I refused to contaminate my spinach with raisins.  I dumped some cheddar cheese into the batter instead.  If I'd had some chives, I would have added them too.

And now without further ado

Hiberno-Indian Saag Paneer 

All measurements approximate, possibly even more so than usual.  The only thing I measured was the milk.
1 generous tablespoon butter, olive oil, or other preferred culinary lubricant (I used bacon grease but the USDA would prefer I discourage that sort of behavior)
1/2 medium yellow onion minced fine-ish
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
An appropriate quantity of minced garlic from a jar -- I think I used a couple of teaspoons -- or a couple of cloves smashed
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon powdered mustard (or a similar quantity of Grey Poupon)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/8 teaspoon of ground nutmeg (or to taste -- my tastes regarding nutmeg are conservative)
1/2 a 10oz block of frozen spinach, thawed
1/3 cup butter milk
1/3 cup milk
a handful of mozzarella (one of my handfuls is around 1/2 cup)
salt, black pepper, and Sriracha or other chili sauce to taste

Heat the grease in a largish skillet over medium heat.

Add the onion.  Idly wander around putting things away for ten or fifteen minutes, stir whenever you wander by. I cleaned out the fridge.  I'm not sure that this was necessarily the best choice while I was cooking dinner, but I did not kill my appetite.

Add the flour and garlic.  Stir more intently for about five minutes.

Add the spices and the spinach.  Stir for a few minutes.

Add the milks, there will be some curdling.  Pay it no mind.  Bring it to a simmer, and simmer until thickened.

Turn off the heat, and add the cheese.  Taste and correct seasonings.  I realize that not everyone likes quantities of chili sauce in their saag paneer, but I do.

If you timed it right, the soda bread should be coming out of the oven about now.  Tear off a hunk and dip it in the paneer like it's fondue.  Oh so good.

If one wanted my opinion about suitable adult beverages I would suggest an IPA or a very dry white wine.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Sourdough redux

The thing about a stand mixer is that it makes bread easy.  I don't have the same connection with my dough, but I am more likely to make bread regularly, which is good when you have a sourdough starter that you need to keep active and perky.  Also the bread I made in the last post, really did live up to it's smell.

I've got another batch of sourdough sponge rising right now.  I'll roll out of bed and bake it tomorrow.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


Folks, I ought to write about sourdough.  I need to write about sourdough. I have had a very small jar of sourdough starter bubbling away in my fridge for weeks, and it survived me going off to Alaska for Christmas, and nearly my first act on arriving home was to start a batch of pancake batter so as to have a sybaritic breakfast on my first day of class.  Right now I have a loaf of whole wheat sourdough bread rising in the kitchen because I decided I would rather bake bread than buy bread this week.

My sourdough starter happened by accident, when a friend mixed up the necessary dry ingredients for naan and mailed them to me.  My naan did not work out quite right (suspect that the problem was the lack of a pizza stone), and I only made half the batch.  I stuck the rest of the dough in the fridge, vaguely promising to figure out what to do with it later. A couple of weeks later, I remembered it and pulled it out.  I smelled it.  It had the smell, the sour fermented smell that promises bread, fluffy pancakes,  and the best cinnamon rolls on the planet (you have not lived until you've had sourdough cinnamon rolls).  So I made pancakes.  Today is actually the first time I've made a loaf of sourdough, because pancakes are so simple and delicious. I'll let you know what happens.

Edit to add:
At one point Bird and I speculated about what hymns would be like if dogs wrote them.  I'm afraid that we thought they would mostly go: "I smell God! I smell God! I smell God! I smell Jesus! I smell God!"

The bread is in the oven, and I feel more or less or exactly that way.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


The Joy of Cooking is in many ways my all purpose cookbook. It is the repository of wisdom that I consult over and over, even when I am actually cooking from another cookbook entirely.  And it has my favorite easy chocolate cake recipe (make it with whole wheat flour and skip the frosting, and it makes a nearly respectable breakfast).  It contains my favorite piece of wisdom on dinner parties:
We can offer reasoned counsels and repeat the lessons of experience and tradition, but the truth is that tif the table is attractive and clean, the food and drink honest and good, the company amiable* and interesting, and the host generous and calm, an affair can be a resounding success no matter where the glasses go or who is sitting where. And that is our last word on entertaining. 
However even Joy sometimes falters as I discovered this afternoon.  A recipe for a soup contains this ingredient: One 14-ounce can whole tomatoes, with juice, crushed between your fingers... (pg. 310, 1997 ed.) How, I ask you, am I supposed to do that?  Is this a seventh degree kitchen black belt thing?

Fortunately the recipe doesn't contain kale so I won't try to make it today.

*"Amiable" is high on my list of favorite words.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Crabapple Pecan Meringue Tart

The obvious thing to do when you are on tap for pies and dinner rolls at Thanksgiving, AND your brother is going to be staying with you for the holiday, AND you need to clean so that he has a place to sleep, is to make one of the pies more complicated.  Ordinarily crabapple pecan tart is topped with unsweetened coconut.  But I forgot to get unsweetened coconut.  So upon reflection I decided that meringue would be an interesting counterpoint to the tartness of the pie.

Sharing this recipe is sheer self-indulgence.  Most people don't make crabapple sauce, but they are one of the few fruit trees that fare well in Alaska, and Bird regularly mails me frozen bricks of it.  You should be so lucky.  If you are not on Bird's crabapple sauce mailing list, here is how you can make your own crabapple sauce.

Crabapple Sauce

1 or more plastic Safeway bags  of crabapples (the bigger kind that actually have some fruit, not the kind that are pretty pink skin wrapped around seeds) scavenged from the crab apple trees of friends
Sugar to taste (but not too much) (1/3 -1/2 cup usually)
1 food mill
brandy (optional)
1 cup size freezer containers

Wash your crab apples

With a sharp paring knife (you can use a dull one if you must, but it's kind of annoying), remove the stems and that weird woody nodule on the bottom of the crabapples.  This is best done with a friend, as this step can go on for kind of a long time, and if you have a friend there, then you have someone to talk to.  Ooo and aaa at the luminous pinkness of the little fruit. Toss the stemmed crabapples into a large stockpot.

When the pot is a third or so full, add enough water to come up about halfway up the crabapples.  Place over medium heat, cover, and bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, slosh in a little brandy if you feel like it.  Meanwhile stem more crabapples.

When the crabapples are mooshy and a bit exploded, run them through a food mill until the skins and seeds are all that is left in the mill basket, and you have a bowl of brilliantly pink crabapple sauce.  Add 1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar, and spoon into the freezer containers and allow to cool.  While you are doing this, your sidekick can prep the next batch.

Bricks of crabapple sauce keep brilliantly in the freezer.  With a bit more sugar and some pectin, it also makes rather nice freezer jam.

Crabapple Pecan Tart with Optional Meringue Topping

I made up this recipe for Bird sometime after our first venture into crabapple sauce making when we realized that Bird's freezer was full of crabapple sauce and we didn't know quite what to do with it.  I was reading my Gourmet Cookbook and found this recipe for a cranberry walnut tart.  A lightbulb went off and the rest, as they say, was history.

Piecrust sufficient for a single crust pie (homemade if you are ambitious, store bought if you are incompetent or feel that life is too short)
4 large egg yolks (or three eggs if you are not making meringue)
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick) melted and cooled (apparently optional, as I forgot my melted butter in the microwave and people still raved about the tart)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup crabapple sauce (thawed if you are using a frozen brick)
1 cup chopped pecans
unsweetened shredded coconut if you don't feel like fussing with meringue
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup water
4 egg whites at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup white sugar, preferably superfine

Place crust in a pie plate or tart pan.  Preheat ovn to 425. Lightly prick crust in several places with a fork.  Line crust with foil and place pie weights, raw rice, or dried beans inside.  Bake until edges are golden, about 15 minutes.  Carefully remove foil and weights ad bake crust until pale golden all over, 5-10 minutes more.  Cool.  Reduce oven temperatureto 350.

Whisk together eggs, brown sugar, butter, salt, vanilla, and crabapple saucein a medium bowl until smooth.  Stir in nuts.

Pour filling into crust.  Bake for 25 minutes.

While the tart is baking make the meringue.  I used a recipe that I got from Joy of Cooking, for a meringue stabilized with cornstarch, as it stands up well to refrigeration.

In a small saucepan thoroughly mix the corn starch and 1 tablespoon of sugar.  Gradually stir in the water, making a smooth runny paste.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring briskly all the while.  Boil for 15 seconds.  It will form a thick, viscid, translucent paste.  Remove from the heat, cover and set it aside.

In a clean, grease free bowl , beat the egg whites on medium speed until foamy.

Add the vanilla and cream of tartar and beat until soft but definite peaks form.  Very gradually beat in the 1/2 cup of sugar.

Beat at high speed until the peals are very stiff and glossy, but not dry.  Reduce the speed to very low and beat in the cornstarch paste one tablespoon at a time.  When all the paste is incorporated, increase the speed to medium and beat for ten seconds.  If you timed things right, the timer is about to go off.

Remove the tart from the oven and spoon the meringue over the top of the still hot pie, being sure to start by spooning a ring around the edge of the crust to anchor the meringue and keep it from shrinking away from the edges, then mound the remaining meringue in the middle.

Return the pie to the oven for another twenty-five minutes, or until the meringue is golden.

If you are not messing with meringue, at the twenty-five minute mark sprinkle the top of the pie liberally with the unsweetened coconut, and either employ a ring of foil or a pie shield to keep the crust from overbrowning. Cook for another twenty to twenty-five minutes.  The coconut should be nicely tanned.

Either way allow to cool before serving.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Behind again

In case anyone is wondering, 20 credits is a course load for lunatics.  My brain is like unto an orange after it has been juiced -- somewhat flattened and kind of oozy.  Despite this, or perhaps because of this, I have been cooking.  Cooking rather a lot. Other domestic tasks not so much.  My apartment has definitely assumed the mid-quarter chaos, that signals that it is the abode of a very tired person who does little more than cook, sleep, read, and sometimes water the plants.  But as I mention I have been cooking.  In order to get caught up on food based blogging I need to give the recipes for Black Forest cheesecake brownies, squash and bacon pasta al forno, the latest iteration of orange vegetable coconut soup -- NOW with extra legumes, as well as discussing the perils and delights of sour dough starter, venison meatballs, and the Greek place over in Queen Ann that is now my favorite Greek place.  I'll start with the brownies, widely acclaimed as the best brownies ever (okay, only Carolus Calvus described them thus) but they are pretty darn good.

The brownies in question were my solution to the problem of wanting a birthday cake, and being the only person around who would bake one (Okay, Jackie volunteered, but she doesn't actually like cake, and I didn't feel like a big party this year, so it seemed a bit unfair). Mom always makes me an Italian Cream Cake, which as far as I know has nothing to do with Italy but rather has a lot to do with pecans and coconut (the recipe seems to originate in the American South).  But in the absence of Mom, I opted for something that was nothing like what she makes me.

Black Forest Cheese Cake Brownies

Notes: The brownie layer is actually just a doubling of my favorite brownie recipe.  It's gooey.  Very gooey.  For reasons that I have yet to understand, if you bake these brownies in a glass dish, you will end up with a dish of delectable brownies that refuse to leave their pan neatly, no matter how you butter and flour the pan.  If you bake them in a greased metal pan, no problem. Unfortunately I was making a 9"x13" pan to share with my classmates, and the only pan that size I own is pyrex.  Fortunately taste made up for inelegant presentation.  If you just want a truly excellent fudgy brownie, halve the recipe and bake it in an 8"x8" baking pan, or a nine inch metal pie plate, if that's all that's clean.

Brownie Layer
2 sticks of butter (low fat is only one of the minor virtues, especially if you spend a lot of time walking around in Seattle's winter weather -- icy cold downpours, alternating with wind and icy cold sideways rain)
4 ounces of unsweetened baking chocolate finely chopped
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cheese Cake Layer
16 ounces cream cheese, well softened and cut into chunks (I usually microwave it to goo, but other people choose to do things differently.)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest, if you happen to have it on hand

1 or possibly 1 1/2 cans of cherry pie filling.

Grease and flour a 9"x13" pan. Preheat the oven to 325.

In a large heavy bottomed sauce pan, melt the chocolate and butter over medium low heat, stirring to make sure it doesn't burn.  When everything is nearly melted, turn off the stove and let it coast until all of the chocolate and butter is in fact melted.

Add everything else, stirring until well combined.  One of the reasons I like this brownie recipe? It's really easy, even if you're really tired.

Scrape the brownie batter into the pan, and bake for twenty minutes.

Meanwhile combine everything else except the cherry pie filling, and mix until smooth.

When the brownies come out of the oven, scrape the cheese cake layer on top of the brownie layer and bake in the oven for 35 minutes or so, or until the cheesecake layer is just tinged with brown and beginning to crack on top. and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean of cheesecake, but with a few brownie crumbs.

Allow the cheesecake to cool for twenty minutes then top with the cherry pie filling.  Pop everything in the fridge and serve the next day to general acclaim.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Tex-Mex for Lutherans from Lake Woebegone

Friends and relations who are in the know about such things, point out that the following recipe has no ground beef, and no cream of mushroom soup, so it cannot possibly represent a true Lutheran Hot Dish Experience.  And they are right, although now I am thinking of trying to invent enchiladas that use cream of mushroom soup in a way that isn't horrifying, but I can't really call the following Tex-mex, and it sure as heck isn't Mexican.  It is derived distantly from a cheese enchilada recipe Mom picked up in Sitka.  It's a pretty distant derivation.

Black Bean, Spinach, and Cheese Enchiladas

2 cups or so cooked brown rice (or 3/4s cup brown rice and 2 cups boiling water combined on a medium heat burner for half an, silly, use a sauce pan, don't just pour the water and the rice on the heating element)
1 can black beans
1 packet onion soup mix
1 cup sour cream
1 can diced green chiles
2/3s of a 7 oz brick of frozen chopped spinach
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups cottage cheese (low fat if you want)
1 cup or so shredded cheese, mexican blend or cheddar or whatever you like
1 package of whole wheat tortillas
1 of the larger cans of enchilada sauce
Additional cheese for the top

NOTE: If one wants to substitute say roasted zucchini, more chopped onions, tomatoes, potatoes, corn, or bell peppers for some of the rice, I think that's just dandy.  Or some chicken. Or all of the above.  I  just didn't happen to have any of those things on hand that I wanted to use for this purpose.

Preheat the oven to 350.

Combine everything but the tortillas, the enchilada sauce, and the cheese that you'll be sprinkling on top of the enchiladas in a large bowl. This shall hereafter be referred to as the filling.

Spoon a couple or three tablespoons of filling into each tortilla, roll it and stick it in a large baking dish.  I use my 9X13 pyrex dish and that seems just right.

When you've used all the tortillas that will fit, spread any remaining filling over the top, before pouring the enchilada sauce over the whole mess. Top with cheese.

Bake for 45 minutes, increasing the heat to 400 around the 20 minute mark.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

On Round Bread

This is the One Bagel.
As you can see from the picture, I made bagels today*. Or rather I made them yesterday, and baked them today. I have yet to find acceptable bagels in Seattle. They're probably around, I just haven't found them yet. Anyway, in my quest for adequately toothsome round bread, I decided to try my hand at making my own. I used this recipe for bagels. I did not plunk for barley malt syrup and that would make a difference in flavor, but the texture is impeccable. Nice and chewy, but not too dense.

*I was going to take a picture of bagels nicely arranged on a plate, and placed on a ledge in the entryway.  Very artistic with the cool grey light of a Seattle afternoon reflecting off flaking paint, wrought iron, and tenacious greenery.  Unfortunately, my camera's light sensor has died the true death, so instead you get my Frodo impersonation.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


Wind from the Sea, Andrew Wyeth
Little known fact -- my favorite twentieth century painter is Andrew Wyeth.  The exhibition of the Helga paintings at the Smithsonian is the first time art on walls came close to capturing my attention the way the dinosaur bones at the Natural History Museum could. As an adult, looking with the eyes of someone who aspires to artistry, I am humbled and enlightened by his work in one of the most difficult of the painter's mediums. If I could paint with a tenth, a fiftieth even of his mastery, I would be a happy woman.

However I may envy his technical mastery, I would not hunger after his work if he were no more than a bravura technician. The starkness of the world Wyeth paints, alleviated with the touches of civilization, but never banished reminds me of Alaska.  His subjects -- farmers, fishermen, interior and exterior landscapes -- are illuminated by the fineness of his attention.  Stray threads in old lace curtains and decaying work boots with a bit of wear left in them are given equal dignity with fallow fields and hungry sea.  His depictions are loving, finding beauty in the deeply mundane.  The wind blowing nets hung out to dry is given spiritual weight in Pentecost. So I return to him again and again, seeking renewal of my own vision.

T.S. Eliot in Little Gidding gets at this sense of what I want to say about Wyeth's paintings in far fewer words:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning
I am quoting and offering artwork, because trying to talk about moving and making a new life in a place that is not Alaska is something that defies words for me.  I miss the sense of home that illuminates Wyeth's paintings, and while waking up in Seattle no longer causes me to feel like I've just lost everything I love, I still do not feel like I belong. Not really.  I'm making friends.  I have course work I find meaningful.  But I do not have the knowledge of place that tells me the names of the plants I see when I walk in the woods, or where to buy kaffir lime leaves (not that I need kaffir lime leaves right now, but I can easily think of three or four places to buy them in Anchorage). 

But why should I expect Seattle to feel as comfortable as Anchorage? It took me the better part of twenty years to grow into that local knowledge.  But I don't want to wait.  I want to feel at home now or at least not be wedded to google maps for finding anything outside of the Hill and a small section of downtown.

Meanwhile, I have a pot of daal simmering on the stove, and bagels rising slowly in the fridge.  I am trying to bring the kind of attention to my surroundings that Wyeth brought to the environs of the farm he lovingly painted for most of the twentieth century. It's not a bad life, but I miss the smell of the birch forests in September and the sharp feel of the air just before it snows.

Monday, September 26, 2011

While I'm ruminating

A thoughtful cow, presumably ruminating. Found here 

I am ruminating on place, connection, community, and other allied topics.  Ruminant as a cow, that's me.  I am also being deeply thankful that I froze all those leftovers last spring.  Coming back from Anchorage has left me with a bad case of not wanting to cook, even though I have kale.  (Which will probably soon be a big pot of kale and potato soup, because it's disappearing from the freezer fast.)

Meanwhile, have a link to a plum cake.  I want an excess of plums so I have an excuse for a plum cake.