When I started out on this project, I had no desire to stumble through the history of european candymaking. But, like most of my cooking experiments, it’s all about modifying on the fly so that you won’t have to. It just happened to be that this project turned out to be more than a creative save to my investment,as it was chock-a-block with history!
So as it went down, I had done some reading on the hot grain du jour for 2012: quinoa. No longer delegated to the Birkenstock and communal living crowd, these tiny little orbs have been slowly sprouting on menus and discussions all over the place. (I, being a native of the epicenter of posthippie culture known as Washington, was nonplussed. Much like adzuki beans, so 1989.) When going down the rabbit hole of quinoa related commentary, I came across what was to be my albatross. Popped quinoa. (Bastards!) Read the rest of this entry »
Before today, I had absolutely no knowledge of cooking from Trinidad. Which, considering that I’ve lived in Brooklyn the entire time that I’ve been in New York, is pretty sad. Even for the five years that I was the shockwave of gentrification in a (then) all Carribean neighborhood I hadn’t had the opportunity to experience the local fare. Except for that once where I got a pretty okay vegan roti. That was nice.
Anyways, yesterday I Read the rest of this entry »
So I went out of town for Christmas and whatnot (as you may have already guessed) and I needed thank you gifts for my dogsitters upon my return. Keep in mind that it’s a bit late in the game, but I was determined to get both of them something for their efforts as I sincerely appreciated the kindness. I wanted to give them something unique, something personal. Of course that meant that I would be baking whatever that was. (I’m sure they would have probably preferred the unique and personal green paper gift, but I digress.)
When I came back from eastern Washington I had carefully packed a bag of those graham cracker cookies in my carry on luggage, taking great care to not crush them into tiny bits as they went through the X-Ray machines and over thousands of miles of transfers. Success. All twelve of them made it back to my little enclave in Brooklyn.. where they sat… in my refrigerator… for a while. Much longer than a cookie should sit for.
It took a bit of wrangling to pin down when I would see one of my dogsitters with both of our schedules, but finally I got my act together and figured out a time to meet my friend. Which presented a problem, considering that I made those cookies on Christmas Eve. Failure. Nobody wants to get stale, cold cookies from halfway across the world that were made on Christmas Eve. It was time to up the ante.
I made this carrot bread for her instead, which I gave to her with some coffee I bought from the Pike Place Market. This cake was the perfect accoutrement to the dark and bitter blend. I had wanted to do something a little bit different from the average carrot bread, something that stuck out in the crowd but not offensively. It worked! I had an extra loaf, so I divvied that up amongst friends and the resounding comments were that the spice combination on this recipe left a very pleasant aftertaste.
“A very pleasant aftertaste.” Just what you were looking for in a carrot bread, right? Either way, it is pretty good and a good thank you gift. Try it out yourself!
-2 cups grated carrots
-1 cup pecans, chopped
-3/4 cup dried cherries, chopped (don’t get the sweetened ones)
-1 1/2 cups flour
-1 1/4 cup sugar
-3/4 cup canola oil
-1/4 cup molasses
-1 teaspoon baking soda
-1 teaspoon salt
-1 teaspoon baking powder
-1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
-1 teaspoon ground ginger
-1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
-1/2 teaspoon cloves
-zest from one orange, grated
1. Preheat the oven to 350. Grease two 8 inch loaf pans.
2. In a bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Set aside.
3. In a separate bowl, add things in IN THIS ORDER USING THE SAME MEASURING CUP FOR THE LAST TWO INGREDIENTS. (Trust me, you will thank me later.) Add the sugar, eggs, canola oil and then the molasses. See how it just slips out of the measuring cup without having to scrape it out? Genius. Whisk everything together.
4. Add in the carrots, nuts, cherries and zest. Stir to incorporate.
5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir everything together until homogeneous.
6. Divide the batter between the two pans equally.
7. Bake the loaves 1 hour, or until a cake tester comes out clean from the center.
8. Allow the bread to cool and remove from the pans.
When I was back home for Christmas this year, I had this grand idea that I was going to feature local foods from mom and pop type shops. Although in my mind the Pacific Northwest isn’t the frontrunner in unique regional foodstuffs, there’s a few places that stick out in my mind when I think of back home. One of those places was the Spudnut Shop.
The Spudnut Shop is located in a tiny strip mall called the Uptown Shopping Center and is conveniently located by my parents house. The shop opened in 1948, shortly after a population boom in the area. The Spudnut Shop has been open ever since, serving doughnuts, breakfast and lunch to the hungry masses day in and day out.
I had some memories of the place, but I was never a regular. Being just a wee food junkie back then, I remember The Spudnut Shop being an okay place, a spot to get a doughnut and maybe some coffee in thick white mugs. Nothing that special. However, as a full-fledged adult food junkie, I knew that we had a unique product sitting in the Uptown Shopping Center and I figured that of course they would be interested in fielding questions from a bona fide New Yorkah so that I could write a sparkling and wistful article about these artisanal doughnuts. OF COURSE. They’re from Eastern Washington! That’s practically like Canada South on the politeness scale. Without hesitation, I called.
Who I got was Jolene.
When I called, I mentioned that I was from Richland, I had grown up eating Spudnuts religiously (a lie) and that now I was a writer who wanted to feature The Spudnut Shop on my blog. I had more pluck than a chicken factory and oozed honey from my lips.
Jolene was not impressed.
She gruffly took my name and curtly informed me that the owner was out of town that week. Instantly, the back home charm snapped off and I reverted back into my “I need to get shit done” New Yorker mode. With my take no prisoner edge, I lobbed back my information to her. I knew the owner would probably never see the invisible ink on the paper that didn’t exist on Jolene’s notepad.
I was not deterred by my less than stellar doughnut receptionist. Everyone has a bad day, I figured. This year was hers.
When I got home, I decided to just go down to the shop and see if I could just wrangle an article out of my own experience there. So I went down at about four in the afternoon one day. One way or another, I was getting this article and I figured that the Jolene experience must have been a fluke.
Nope. I met Jolene II when I went in. She looked about 16. The entire staff of the Spudnut Shop appeared to be a crew of surly, nonplussed teenagers, just working here long enough until they went to college or married their sweetheart who was enlisting.
I sat down at a table (which hadn’t been updated since somewhere in the early seventies) in the empty shop where J2 informed us that they had shut the grill off two hours before closing. I quietly noted to myself that shutting down a kitchen two hours prior to your posted closing time would have never flown anywhere else, but I hid that behind my smile and piercing stare. I wasn’t about to get intimidated or shooed by someone half my age. I told her that it was fine, all I wanted was a doughnut.
“We’re out of those too.” J2 countered, blankly. Not even a smile or a half hearted apology.
So what she was telling me is although they were technically still open, they didn’t have any food to serve or any doughnuts to sell. This, countered with her stellar attitude, was not looking good in terms of an article. I’ve lived in New York for 15 years and even I thought these people were assholes. I left, more irritated than before but with a resolve that I would get one of these stupid doughnuts to write about if it was the last thing I did.
A couple of days later, I went back in the morning to the shop. This time I found it was slightly more busy than my afternoon venture and the doughnuts were piled up on sheet trays. Thank the lord. I bought four and encountered Jolene III. She was easily confused and had obviously been trained by J2 and O.G. Jolene in regards to customer service.
I told her that I would like one plain Spudnut, one white glazed one and two maple nut. She tried to give me two maple nut, a white one (which she matter of factly informed me was “Oh, you mean coconut”) and couldn’t figure out what the one I wanted aside from that, even with me pointing at the pastry directly. At this point, with my patience running thin for this local institution, I just didn’t care. I didn’t even want to eat a Spudnut anymore. It was the hardest $2.82 that I ever wanted to spend but I finally got the little effers in my hand and I was out of there for good.
FINALLY I got home with my precious potato doughnuts. This was so going to be worth it after all that work, I knew that I was going to be eating a bit of manna from my youth. These doughnuts were going to be succulent and pillowy, like a bit of heaven with sugar glaze. I knew it! I was finally happy and excited to be eating one of these generic looking pastries! I bit into one before photographing them, anticipating greatness.
WHAT! They were nothing special. In fact, I wouldn’t even bother going out of my way to get them.. even if I lived next door to the place. Spudnuts were just average doughnuts, no better than from a grocery store. Way too cakey and springy, not like a pillow of sweetness. I can’t believe I wasted all that time just trying to get something that I could have had in five minutes at any Dunkin Doughnuts or Winchell’s. I was so not pleased.
So, long story short, The Spudnut Shop in the Uptown Shopping Center somehow manages to continue open its doors day after day, SOMEHOW, but the doughnuts aren’t anything to write home to mother about. So rather than make you, the dear reader, have to encounter the jerks behind the counter, I’m just going to give you the recipe that I found after doing some research.
Take that, Jolene(s). Might have helped you if you learned to be polite.
-1 cup shortening
-2 cups cool mashed potatoes
-4 cups lukewarm milk
-5 eggs, beaten
-1 cup sugar
-2 tablespoons of yeast dissolved in 1/2 cup warm water
-1 1/2 teaspoons salt
-12-15 cups all purpose flour
-1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
-Oil for frying
-1 cup powdered sugar
-2 tablespoons water
1. Scald the milk and add the shortening, sugar and salt. Stir until melted.
2. Add in enough flour to make a thin batter, like a cake batter. Then add in the mashed potatoes and beaten eggs and stir to incorporate. The batter should not be warm but not hot.
3. Add in the yeast and stir well. Continue to add flour until a soft dough is achieved. Put the dough in a bowl and cover it.
4. When the dough has risen, punch it down and let it rise again.
5. Roll out the dough and cut it into doughnut shapes. Let the dough rise a third time.
6. Heat your oil to 375. Drop each doughnut, raised side down into the hot oil.
7. Allow the doughnuts to cook for a short while, then turn them once to fry the underside.
8. Remove the doughnuts from the fryer and drain. If desired, glaze the doughnuts by dipping each when warm.
Makes 12-15 dozen doughnuts.
Ah, holiday candy. How fleeting you will be come January first, when I and 99.5% of the nation scales it back a bit.. or buys bigger pants. BUT! I still have a few days left where I can cram in all the candy and carbohydrates in that my butter soaked heart desires in reckless abandon.
One of those things that I’ve been hoovering is homemade fudge. I make it every year for my father as a gift. He loves it. And I love it because he shares it with me if I ask (or just happen to be standing at the right place at the right time).
At any rate, I’m just going to blow up my spot here and admit that I usually just cheat and make the marshmallow no-fail fudge rather than the real McCoy. I mean, have you really ever read a traditional fudge recipe? It’s hard work! It looks like it takes about 20 hours to make and you have to stir it from now until it’s the consistency of creamy concrete. As much as I love my dad, he definitely didn’t raise a fool. If I can get away with making cheater fudge, I’ll take it by a country mile. Who’s going to know the difference?
But.. is there a difference? (You know where I’m going with this already, right?)
I got to thinking about this while I was hurriedly whipping up a batch of the no-fail variety on Christmas Eve. I was under the gun and I didn’t have the luxury of time to practice my driveway mixing skills. The fudge lived up to its name and in just minutes I had a box of candy ready to go (which seemed to be well received). But then on Christmas day we had some time to kill and we decided to make some of the old fashioned type to compare. It was interesting what we discovered.
The no-fail fudge was lighter and sweeter, and in some ways just better. It was admittedly chalkier than the old fashioned variety, but I could look past that because it didn’t have the intensity. The no-fail fudge was the type of fudge that you could just sit down and devour without thinking. The old fashioned fudge was smoother, but it was an intense burst of chocolate all at once. Not a bad choice either, but you wouldn’t want to eat much of it all at once either.
Still, you be the judge! Here’s both the recipes.
-1, 12-ounce bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
-7 ounces marshmallows
-1 stick butter
-2 1/2 cups white sugar
-3/4 cup evaporated milk
-1 teaspoon vanilla
-1 cup walnuts (optional)
1. line an 8″x 8″pan with foil. Butter the foil.
2. In a heavy bottomed saucepot, combine all but the chocolate chips. Turn the heat on low.
3. Stir the contents of the pot until everything melts and comes to a boil.
4. Continue to stir everything while the contents are boiling for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat.
5. Stir in the chocolate chips until they melt. If desired, add the nuts at this point.
6. Pour the fudge into the buttered pan.
7. Allow the fudge to cool and cut into 1 inch squares.
Old Fashioned Fudge
-2 cups sugar
-1/4 cup light corn syrup
-1/2 cup half and half
-1/2 cup heavy cream
-1/8 teaspoon salt
-6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
-1 teaspoon vanilla
-1 cup walnuts (optional)
1. Coat an 8″x 8″pan with foil and then proceed to grease it liberally.
2. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, half and half, cream and salt in a heavy bottomed saucepot. Turn the heat on low.
3. Stir until the contents come to a boil, then stop stirring and allow the contents to boil for 1 minute.
4. Wipe down the sugar from the sides of the pan and add in the chocolate. Stir all to incorporate and allow the chocolate to melt.
5. Turn the heat up slightly and allow the mixture to reach the soft ball stage (238 degrees) without stirring. It will take a while.
6. When the candy reaches the soft ball stage, turn off the heat and allow it to cool to 110 degrees. The fun is just around the corner!
7. Start stirring the chocolate until it starts to snap and lose its sheen. It will take 7 forevers, and the candy will harden as you go.
8. When everything is dull, stir in the nuts if you’re going to use them. Then scrape the entire contents into the pan.
9. Allow the fudge to cool and set for 24 hours before cutting into 1 inch squares and serving in candy cups.
My mother’s family is unusual. I mean they’re unique in their own way, but how she grew up is unusual. She grew up Molokan.
No, she’s not Hawaiian. That’s Moloka’i. The Friendly Island.
My mother’s family at one time belonged to the Molokan church, which is a group of Russian sectarian Christians that evolved from “Spiritual Christian” peasants that refused to obey the Russian Orthodox Church back in the 17th century. The Molokan name literally means “Milk Drinkers” but it’s not because they enjoy copious amounts of dairy products (which they do) but because they drank milk on the 200 fasting days and especially during lent. The way my mother describes it, they were basically like Russian Shakers and they kept a pretty tight knit community. You were born in, you married within and you died Molokan.
At any rate, when she left home and married my father she left the Molokan church as my father is Presbyterian. (Scandal!) Her siblings and parents also drifted from the church over the years, finding more in common with other less insular denominations. There’s still a community of Molokans in southern California and Arizona though, some of which are more conservative and some of which are less.
I’ve heard many interesting stories from my mother about growing up Molokan, but there’s a couple of themes that stuck out to me with all of them. One, Molokans will sing about just about anything at the drop of a hat. Two, they drink tea in special bowls like most people drink water. And three, they can cook their pious kosher asses off. (Keeping kosher is just one of the quirks of the Molokans.)
Anyways, at some point along the way, someone in my mother’s church organized a cookbook called “The Molokan Cookbook”. As far as anyone knows only two editions exist, the first being in 1963 and the latter in 1965. Both my mother and I have copies of the 1963 cookbook and its chock-a-block with really interesting things from a Russian peasant kitchen. They cover everything from how to drink tea to how to cure olives with just about every traditional Russian soup, dairy product and meat preparation in between. Fascinating stuff.
So every time I visit my parents I make my mother some blintzes- or as we call them “blintzei” from the book. I make them because I love her and they’re a memory from her youth, but I also make them because they’re particularly good. The only difference between the traditional Molokan blintzei is that I soup up mine with some lemon, vanilla and sugar, but they can easily be made without those things and they’ll taste just as good. They’re pretty easy to make ahead as well and freeze well too.
-One dozen eggs
-2 1/2 cups all purpose flour, sifted
- 1/2 gallon plus 2 cups whole milk
-1 lemon (optional)
-1/4 cup white sugar (optional)
-2 teaspoons vanilla (optional)
-Pinch of salt
-Half and half
-Oil or clarified butter.
1. Make the ricotta. I follow this recipe on Serious Eats except I triple the recipe and use lemon juice for the acid. Do not skip this step if you want sweet blintzei, it really makes all the difference. (If you’re making plain blintzei, you can use premade ricotta if you like.)
2. Zest the lemon rind if you’re making sweet blintzei, set aside.
3. Warm 4 cups of milk to lukewarm. Set aside.
4. Whisk 8 of the eggs in a large bowl. Beat in the milk. Add the salt and 2 tablespoons of sugar. (If you’re making plain blintzei, omit the sugar.)
5. Incorporate the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Beat until everything is blended and smooth, no lumps. Set aside.
6. Thoroughly whisk the remaining 4 eggs in a separate bowl. When the eggs are beaten, add in the ricotta, the lemon zest, vanilla and the remaining sugar and mix everything until smooth. (Again, if making plain blintzei… you get the idea.) Set aside.
7. Find something that will cover your griddle pan completely. I like to use a pizza pan. Then oil the griddle and turn it on to medium heat.
8. When the pan is hot, pour half cup measures onto the pan and spread it around as if you were making a crepe. Then take your cover, set it over the top of your griddle and leave it covered until the center is set.
9. Using a spatula, remove the blintzei wrap from the griddle and put on a plate. Put a layer of wax paper on top of the wrap.
10. Repeat steps 8 and 9 until all the batter is cooked. Be sure to sandwich each wrap between wax paper.
11. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and turn off the stovetop.
12. take one of your wraps and remove the wax paper. In the center of each wrap, spoon a couple of spoonfuls of the filling in a line.
13. Fold the sides of the wrap towards the middle and then roll each like a burrito. (You want to keep the filling in the center of the wrapper.)
14. Place each blintzei, seam side down, in a baking pan. they should touch sides.
15. When you have the pan filled, pour some half and half over the top of the rolled blintzei. You want to cover all of them, but don’t have the half and half pooling under the blintzei.
16. Bake the blintzei for 25 minutes. Serve hot with a sprinkle of sugar on top.
Anyways, I got to thinking about things that I could write about for a Christmas article and I thought about WHY we have Christmas.. which lead to communion wafers. (Or, as I thought to myself “What better way to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus than by eating him?”) Before you even think it, yes, I know it’s of questionable taste. However, I was curious about what communion wafers were, so whatever.
Communion wafers, or sacramental bread, is used in the Christian ritual of the Eucharist (aka Holy Communion). The bread comes in a variety of forms- mostly based on what church its being used for. Most of the recipes for communion bread and wafers are unleavened, but some churches (such as the Eastern Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and some Protestant churches) use leavened bread.
The recipe for unleavened sacramental bread is very simple, actually. It consists of wheat flour and water- no more, no less. The prosphora (leavened bread) used by the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox recipe consists only of flour, water, yeast and salt. Most of the time, either the leavened or unleavened sacramental breads will be baked by congregants of the church in good standing or by nuns in the church (if you’re Catholic) but in less strict churches the breads can be baked by anyone or even consist of things such as baked pie dough, matzohs, or regular old wonder bread.
Still, if you’re curious as to making them yourself, consider this my gift to you.
-2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
-1/2 cup all purpose flour
-1 1/2 cup warm water
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Sift the flours together in a bowl.
3. Add the water and knead the dough for 6-8 minutes, until pliable and smooth.
4. Roll out your dough 1/4 thick into a 9″ circle. (You will have two from this recipe.) Prick it all over with a fork. There is no need to pre-score this bread.
5. Transfer the dough to a cookie sheet and bake it for 16-18 minutes.
6. Allow to cool, wrap and store (or freeze) until ready to use.
“twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, this creature was stirring but I was too busy to cook. What better time for a guest post!
I recruited the help of my friend Perry Fuchs, a talented professional cook for the job. I enjoy keeping up with with her not only because she helps me a lot in my own kitchen, but because she has a really solid blog herself, Wake And Bake. Best use of Tumblr I’ve seen since, well, since the early days of Unprofessional Cookery. Check it out right here, then get back to making Mushroom Risotto with her.
It is really easy to make a good risotto. Well, maybe. You have to stand over it for at least 20 minutes and this makes it difficult for dinner parties or for those with little to no patience. The dish is short cut free and needs to be presented shortly after cooking.
To make a good risotto, use only Italian risotto rice. Arborio is the one most commonly available in American markets. The grains of this rice are short and stubby and absorb liquid without becoming gluey (unless they are overcooked). The rice is stirred constantly, with hot stock added a cup at a time, until it has reached a point of softness but with the grains retaining their shape. They should be creamy, with a slightly resistant core and should not stick together or to the bottom of the pan. The whole procedure takes about 20 minutes.
Use a wide, heavy saucepan or skillet (if the pan is too light, the risotto can burn) and a wooden spoon to stir the rice. Always add hot stock (preferably homemade) and, always finish with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese that is freshly grated.
8 cups vegetable stock
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 onion, diced, divided
2 garlic cloves, minced, divided
1 pound fresh baby portobello, cremini mushrooms, and shiitake, sliced thin
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon truffle oil
1-ounce dried porcini mushrooms, wiped of grit and reconstituted in 1 cup of vegetable stock
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup fresh Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
Fresh Italian parsley, for garnish
1. Heat the vegetable stock in a medium saucepan and keep warm over low heat.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1/2 onion and 1 clove of garlic, cook, stirring, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the fresh mushrooms, herbs and butter. Saute for 3 to 5 minutes until lightly browned, season with salt and pepper. Drizzle in truffle oil then add the dried porcini mushrooms. Season again with salt and fresh cracked pepper. Saute 1 minute then remove from heat and set aside.
3. Coat a saucepan with remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Saute the remaining 1/2 onion and garlic clove. Add the rice and stir quickly until it is well-coated and opaque, 1 minute. This step cooks the starchy coating and prevents the grains from sticking. Stir in wine and cook until it is nearly all evaporated.
4. Now, with a ladle, add 1 cup of the warm stock and cook, stirring, until the rice has absorbed the liquid. Add the remaining stock, 1 cup at a time. Continue to cook and stir, allowing the rice to absorb each addition of stock before adding more. The risotto should be slightly firm and creamy, not mushy. Transfer the mushrooms to the rice mixture. Stir in Parmesan cheese, cook briefly until melted. Top with a drizzle of truffle oil and chopped parsley before serving.