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This weekend, under the orders of my aunt, I have made:

  • chocolate chip cookies (interesting crumbly ones made with shortening and no butter)
  • pumpkin pie (with doubled spices)
  • creme brulee
  • another pumpkin pie
  • a birthday cake for Dinah’s 8th birthday

And the best part? My camera broke a couple weeks ago. (I dropped it…). Expect no more pictures till after Hannukah.

Happy Valley Orchards

Can we talk a little bit more about Vermont? Last weekend I found myself struggling with a few difficult decisions: Farmers Market, Organic Garden, or Apple Picking. You can see which one I chose…
Happy Valley Orchard
I’ve never eaten so many apples (and apple related things) in one day. It actually was a great learning experience! Apple tasting, you might say. I needed to know which were the best pie apples, eating apples, baking apples, etc..

Luckily, we had our local apple expert with us, Charlie Hofmann, pictured with the precious remaining ginger golds.
Happy Valley Orchard
For those who survive on Macintosh and Granny Smith apples, you’ve got something to learn. Ginger golds are possibly one of the best tasting apples ever. It’s texture is amazing – the skin isn’t too hard or too grainy and the flesh is juicy and sweet. Unfortunately for us, it was the tail end of Ginger Gold season. We picked the remaining gems from the trees and then searched amongst the fallen for still-good apples.

We snagged a few Golden Delicious as well.
Happy Valley Orchard
As James OB put it, (paraphrasing) Golden Delicious apples really know where it’s at. What other apple can live up to that name? The golden delicious were my favorite after the ginger golds. Also, I found out, they make good baking apples.

Most of our haul was made up of Empires.
Happy Valley Orchard

There was no shortage of Macs, certainly.
Happy Valley Orchard
However, our apple elitist attitude kept us from picking the most abundant apple. Actually, macs have a tendency to be mediocre. I spoke with the old ladies at the fruit stand though about pies (because old ladies at apple orchards make the best pie consultants) and was informed that the macs get nice and mushy inside pies, and that’s what “most people ’round here use”.

So we sent Sarah up into the tree to get the best ones she could find.
Happy Valley Orchard
The old ladies also said that if I wanted an apple that will hold its slices in pie, I should get some of the cortlands. I took their advice, but no picture. I prefer pie with apple slices in it. I really don’t like fruit pies with a lot of goo. This is why, when it came to making pies, I used primarily cortlands and no recipe with the word “cornstarch”. As a side note, I usually don’t like cherry pie because of this. Although I do love cherries.

Apple picking isn’t complete without at least 2 cider donuts each and sharing a quart of freshly pressed cider amongst the pumpkins.
Happy Valley Orchard

Summary:
Pie apples: cortlands (for slices), macs (for mush)
Baking apples: cortlands, golden delicious
Snacking apples: ginger golds, empires, golden delicious

Back at school

I’m back at school. Very busy. I have a short backlog of posts. Let’s see how long it takes for me to get to them.

call me sugarface

One day I went out to lunch with my lab. It was then that I learned of Kristin’s love of waitresses using petnames. Such as “What can I getcha, hon?” Or “No problem, sugar”, “Kay, sweetie”. I suppose it’s reminiscent of diners and places where you order a cuppa coffee an a peesa pie. I agree that it’s cute, but I’m not one to refer to others by nicknames usually. Even my boyfriend is simply “Stuart”. Not “Stu”, not “Stuie” (which my friends-who-don’t-know-him call him), not “pumpkin”, or “honey”, or “baby”. Pretty much the same goes the other way.

So you can imagine my surprise when I got a text one day from him and it simply said: call me sugarface. Of course I did wonder whether he was calling ME sugarface and wanted me to call him. But considering the lack of comma it actually seemed to request that I call HIM sugarface. Teehee.

This is TOTALLY relevant because today I made a Honey Castella, a dense delicious honey cake. I snatched the recipe from No Special Effects’ blog here.

Honey Cake 2

It was pretty easy to make – a different sort of endeavor for me. The batter was so airy and light. However, I found the actual cake itself to be a little…um…chewy. I think it’s my fault. I’m not a good enough trouble shooter to know why it might end up slightly dense (in a not good way). I wonder – should I have let it bake longer? Did I let it get too warm in the initial egg-mixing stage? At my school we have this term called January Term. One month, one class. An awesome J-term class would be The Chemistry of Baking. I would really love to know more about why I mix things slow, then fast, and hot, and cold. That’s what I get for being a biochem major, though. Wanting to know these things.

I used an 8 1/2 in. round pan which I know was a little big. In fact, the cake pulled away from the sides. It is a very simple dessert, which I appreciate a lot. However, with a little extra honey (cause we can all use some extra honey) drizzled on top and a scoop of vanilla ice cream, I completely ignored my botched texture because it was soooo yummy.

Honey Cake 1

Recipe: Honey Castella, as written on No Special Effects

* 88g (1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons) all-purpose flour

* 3 large eggs, at room temperature

* 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature

* pinch of salt

* 126g (1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons) granulated sugar

* 42g (1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons) honey

* 22g (1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons) canola or other neutral oil (you may also use the same weight, or 1-1/2 tablespoons of butter, melted)

Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Spray an 8-inch round pan with baking spray and line the bottom and sides with parchment. Don’t spray the parchment after lining. Sift the flour onto a sheet of wax paper or a bowl and set aside. In a heatproof (or mixer) bowl, add the eggs, egg yolk, salt, sugar, and honey. Place this over a saucepan of simmering water and beat on medium speed with a hand mixer (or use a whisk) for 10 minutes (the mixture will be at least 40°C, or 104°F). Take off the heat and beat on high speed for at least 6 more minutes using a hand mixer (or 10 minutes on a stand mixer if you started out with a whisk). The batter will be cool, pale and form very thick ribbons that take a very long time to sink completely into the surface of the batter.

Gently fold in the flour into the batter in 3 additions. Take about 1/2 cup of the batter and whisk it into the oil until completely homogeneous, then drizzle it back into the batter, folding continuously as you add it.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes, then turn the heat down to 150°C (300°F) and continue baking for 18-25 more minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few very fine crumbs. Cool the cake completely (cool inverted on a sheet of greased parchment if desired). Unmold to a serving platter.

BLTG

It may have taken a whole two months – almost the entire summer – but I’m getting the hang of planning meals. That is, taking things you make and using them the next day for something else entirely different! Or somewhat different. Which leads me to my Bacon Lettuce Tomato Guacamole Sandwich

The BLTG

I had my tomatoes left over from yesterday (that went into my guac) and of course the guacamole from yesterday. I stole a piece of romaine from Rebecca, and I was all set! I had an entire package of bacon that I had to thaw, so I just went ahead and fried it all up and offered out the leftovers. People can’t seem to turn down a piece of bacon (excepting our vegetarians). I had just enough left to play with when I cook dinner tonight.

BLTG deconstructed

My guacamole added an interesting kick to a classic. It added the texture that’s so pleasing in the BLTA with some limey, cilantroy, peppery goodness. Speaking of texture, that’s my favorite part of a BLT(A/G). Slightly toasted bread, crispy lettuce, cool tomatoes, salty crispy/chewy bacon, and creamy avocado/guacamole.

Mmm BLTG texture

To me, texture is VERY important in my food. It can completely make or destroy something for me that’s otherwise only “ok”. This sandwich? Well beyond “ok”.

And now I need to get back to shuffling through my references about the anatomy of the Aedes aegypti alimentary canal.

Final product

Having a paper to write does wonderful things for my motivation to cook. That is, my desire to procrastinate. My desk has been cleaned, my papers are organized, my inbox is clear. However, I have made none of mentor’s corrections. Oops! Let me just say that when I have some beautiful, ripe avocados in front of me, writing about the peritrophic membrane of mosquitos (and trying to write with some flow) takes a back seat. I guess that’s why I’ll never be a PhD. And that is JUST fine.

Then Michaela wanted to go to the store and the avocados were just perfectly ripe right there, and on SALE. So what else would you do with a lovely avocado but make some guacamole! Guacamole is so easy to make and everyone loves it. Honestly, all you need is a sharp knife, a mixing bowl, and a fork. And, of course, some wonderful fresh vegetables. What beats any sort of store bought guacamole is the freshness you get in home-made.

Guacamole vegetables

I also finally dug out my camera, because everyone had been through my pictures on iPhoto and noticed the category “Blog Photos”. They all thought it was tres cool, so when I asked them to slide over a bit so I could borrow the light, everyone happily obliged. Michaela was quite enthusiastic about me asking her to hold a chip.

Enjoying 2

In the end, I had a TON of guacamole. Luckily it’s Fridays when the younger crowd from the lab likes to get together at the dock. They were down there with Coronas when I provided them with guac and chips, so a significant portion disappeared. Interestingly, people have a lot of opinions about guacamole. Today I got things from: “wow, you put lots of THINGS in there. I usually just put some spices”, to “ach onion!”, to “what’s that green stuff? cildanro? gah, ew”.

Well, I like my guacamole CHUNKY and full of FLAVOR. Whatever they said didn’t seem to matter much after they tried it, because they all ate significant amounts. As far as constructing a guacamole goes, I loosely followed the recipe I found, because I think as long as you’ve got some avocados, everything else is secondary. I really just used what I had plus a couple other things. I don’t really like spicy, nor do I like green bell peppers, so I picked up an orange bell pepper (in large part because it was such an unmarred orange that I couldn’t leave be). Also, I prefer white onion to red onion, and I’ve never been big on cilantro. I love how it smells, but I can’t handle it when it overwhelms dishes, so I also cut down on that.

Guacamole

Recipe modified from http://www.cookthink.com/recipe/4159/Guacamole.

1/4 orange bell pepper, diced
1 1/2 vine-ripened tomatoes, cored, seeded, diced
1/2 white onion, diced
<1 bunch chopped fresh cilantro
2 limes, juiced
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
4 Hass avocados

Mix all ingredients except avocado in a large bowl. Cut your avocado in half, discard the seed, and scoop out the flesh, adding it to the bowl. For an excellent tutorial in avocado dismantling, click here. Take a fork to the ingredients and have a ball, mashing it up until it reaches your desired level of smoothness.

Cookthink?

I was surfing around for ideas for things that I will probably never make nor blog about, when I found this website: CookThink . I’ve been poking around for an hour now finding EASY recipes. It’s really focused on simple, everyday, tasty foods.

One of the best features is that at the beginning of the recipe it lists “things you need” – as in kitchen tools. This is GREAT for me, since I have limited supplies in my kitchen and those I have are sketchy at best. So, if I don’t read a recipe closely, I can get halfway through it and realize I need to do some serious improvisation and construction. For example, it’s great when I find this recipe that only requires a skillet – I can easily make that here. But I can also find something like this and toss it into my recipe box to save it for home.

The website really aims itself to customization, with easy to use “meal builder” features. You can Create a Meal, then add recipes to it as you come across them. To help even more with “meal building”, it has “goes with” suggestions on a panel next to each recipe.

And for a cooking beginner like myself, it has handy-dandy technique articles with each recipe. For example, when I see this and although there aren’t many ingredients or kitchen utensils required, I’m not quite sure when it means “make overlapping diagonal folds” with your parchment paper. Right next to it there’s a link to a How To article with pictures and instructions for “how to fold a papillote“. All it needs next is a pronunciation guide!

I’m so excited to put this to use!