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Some of you know that my family and I are addicted to Taste of Thai spicy peanut chicken and peanut sauce. I often post appeals for this stuff to be mongoled to us in the UK, as they don't sell it over here. Our last shipment included mostly peanut chicken bake and very little peanut sauce, and we have a houseguest this week, so I wanted to make Thai chicken. We were out of peanut sauce mix, and just on a whim I went looking for recipes online to see if I could concoct some myself. Turns out it's quite easy to make!

I found this terrific recipe at Cooking With Amy, which looks to be a great food blog, though I haven't explored it very far beyond the peanut sauce recipe linked above, which I'll reproduce in its entirety below the cut tag. If you've ever wanted a great zipper-style (you can put in all kinds of extras) peanut sauce recipe, this might be the one for you!

Perfect Peanut Sauce )

Making Rice

Jan. 9th, 2008 12:00 am
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I didn't tag this entry "Harper's Kitchen", because when we're done, you might not think this entry is really about making rice.

See, my mother hated making rice, and she wasn't very good at it. In fact, my mother, bless her heart, was not the world's greatest cook (although she was better than some). She didn't like to cook. It was a chore for her. I think she was really pleased when I got seriously into cooking in my late teens, as it meant I did most of the cooking, and she got to wash dishes, which she actually enjoyed quite a lot. Some people. ;)

Anyway, my mother wasn't very good at making rice. So I spent my youth eating Minute Rice, which actually took longer than a minute to make. Carefully, my mother would measure exactly the amount of water, an exact level tablespoon of margarine, and an exact level quarter-teaspoon of salt into a saucepan, then watch the pot until it boiled, "because if you leave it too long, you won't have enough water to make the rice." The whole process took about 10 minutes, give or take.

And so when I began cooking, I made Minute Rice. Somewhere along the line, we got a wok, and I learned how to make fried rice -- with Minute Rice. Later, I moved to Louisiana, where everybody has a rice cooker. You put X amount of rice in, then add 2X water, turn it on, and in 15 or 20 minutes, you have rice. Everybody in Louisiana (well, South Louisiana anyway: North Louisiana is another planet) does this. Everyone in Singapore does this, too.

And that was all well and good, but I was a poor college student and had no rice cooker. So I kept making Minute Rice. And housemates taunted me, visitors scorned me, and I kept the fact that I had no idea how to make rice-- to myself. It was a dark, shameful existence.

Eventually, I became a good enough cook that I began experimenting with real rice (Minute Rice really is pretty vile, actually, not to mention more expensive than regular rice), and I made it come out all right most of the time. When I bought a steamer, my results were a little better. Making rice on the hob (stovetop, Americans) continued to boggle me. Some people say measure twice as much water as rice. Other people say measure exactly as much water as rice. Some people say you absolutely must use margarine, others say only butter will do, some say rice has no flavour without salt, and others insist that rice will kill you if you put salt in it. Rice apparently fights back.

And then I moved to England, with a husband who'd been all over the world and really liked his rice. And do you know what? He taught me how to cook rice. Now, laugh if you will, but all those years ago, amid all that reverent measuring, my mother had made it very clear to me that you must never put more water than the recipe calls for, because if you do, the rice will be ick. I believed that for a long time, and I still believed it four years ago when I moved to the UK.

It's not true.

Here's how you make rice.

  • Put a whole bunch of water into a pot.
  • Put some salt and butter in (more or less, to taste, margarine is of the devil, olive oil is acceptable).
  • Bring the pot to the boil, then throw in about a quarter cup of rice for every mouth you have to feed (more if the mouths are hungry).
  • The water should stay boiling! You can stir it if you feel nervous, but really it'll be fine.
  • Set a timer for 10 minutes.
  • When the timer goes off, start tasting the rice. Taste it every minute or so until you like the way it tastes.
  • When you like the way the rice tastes, drain all the water out immediately. Otherwise it will go gooshy and you won't like that. Never leave rice in water after it's done. We have a big strainer that has extendable arms so it fits right over our sink. We use it for everything, including rice.


That's all there is to it.
Whole thing takes maybe 15 minutes, less if you boil the water in your electric kettle and then pour it into the pot.

And that's how you make rice. Any kind of rice. There is no cryptic formula, no secret scroll of rice enlightenment. You can experiment with all kinds of wonderful rice (my favourite is Thai jasmine). Of course, now that they have those microwaveable packets of rice, it really is quicker to just do that-- but I promise you those don't taste as good as the rice you concoct on your own hob. This rice is always perfect if you remove it from the pot the moment it tastes just right. No hesitation; just pour it all in the sieve.

I think just about everything in life is a lot like making rice. I was told dozens of ways to make rice before I discovered that there was no secret to it at all. Everything, rice, religion, batteries, soy sauce, socks, dishes, spice cookies, remote controls, mobile phones, the mysteries of the universe -- everything is as simple (or as complex) as making perfect rice.
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I was checking out something for [livejournal.com profile] mokatiki yesterday, and I couldn't believe I hadn't put this recipe up on my journal! This is a favourite at our house, and this morning's crisp weather makes me crave it. Yum, yum, yum.

Corn and Potato Chowder

INGREDIENTS
1 potato, peeled and diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced (I like red ones, too)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons unbleached flour
2 cups (550ml) fresh or frozen corn (I usually use tinned)
3 cups (700ml) lowfat milk
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper (to taste; I usually use cracked pepper)

1. In a large pot over medium heat, sauté the potato, onion, and green
pepper in the butter until the onion is soft, about 6 – 8 minutes.

2. Add the flour and mix well. Then add the corn, milk, salt, and black
pepper, stirring thoroughly.

3. Turn the heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring
occasionally, until the vegetables are tender and the chowder has
thickened (do not let it boil).

Now, some people say you should put this kind of chowder into a blender and puree it, but I can't stand that. I like having lumps of potatoes and pieces of corn in the soup.

If you're into corn or corn chowder at all, this easy recipe is very addictive! It can be easily modified: many other vegetables can be added.
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A couple of weeks ago, [livejournal.com profile] filceolaire, G and I went on an adventure into the edge of Epping Forest, via Knighton Wood. We took a break and had dinner at a nice little pizza place on the street, where the pasta was excellent and the company was even better. I've probably talked about pizza here before, but today let's explore flat breads. I began thinking about flat breads again because of that restaurant. You see, they served up this delicious, crisp garlic flat bread that was brushed with just a bit of olive oil and dried herbs, and it was delicious. We, um, might have fought over it a little. Let's just say if we ever go back there again, we may have to order two baskets of bread.

So I got to thinking about that bread today, when I saw some notes on low-fat snack alternatives, served on crisp breads. Oh, sure; I'm the mistress of pastitsio (or at least an accomplished journeyman!), a born bread-baker, an admitted slave to sumptuous desserts, and I have indeed conquered the fine art of creme brulee-- but who am I to blow against the wind? I like flat breads, and if they happen to be healthy and low-fat, well, those folks out there who are carefully watching their fat intake can possibly benefit from the experiments I am about to perform.

We begin, of course, with the online recipe search. "crisp bread recipe" doesn't yield much, but "flat bread recipe" is a gold mine.

I found lots of recipes, and I'll try at least one of them tonight, once the grocery delivery has been completed and I have a chance to get out of the house and do some shopping. For now I'll just present the recipes, and then I'll do an experiment later and get back to you. ;-)

Recipes ranged from a naff Kraft offering using prepared pizza dough (from a tin! ugh!), to ultra-traditional Swedish flatbreads using rye and pumpernickel flours.

traditional Scandinavian flatbread )

Injera, an Ethiopian flat bread )

Sardinian Flat Bread )

And now, I'm off to procure a very large skillet and things like rye and pumpernickel flour, and maybe some goat cheese to top things off with, and we'll see how it goes. Stay tuned. :-)
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[livejournal.com profile] mokatiki turned 22 on Friday.
[livejournal.com profile] mokatiki loves bananas.
[livejournal.com profile] mokatiki and I had a bananagasm in a Ben & Jerry's in Burlington, Vermont, with a flavour not sold in the UK (*SOB*) called Bananas on the Rum! So when I asked moka what sweet thing she wanted for her birthday at our place, she said she'd maybe like something that tasted like that.

A google search on "bananas on the rum"+recipe yielded this fantastic recipe, which I will reprint here, but please know it is 100% the property of the author. I have made no additions or changes to it: it is perfect as it is, and we all loved it. The only thing I will do that the recipe author did not is explain how to prepare the praline topping at the end!


The search for banana liqueur, and a banana-rum cheesecake! )
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I really like that we're having [livejournal.com profile] the_magician over to the house more often. He has this idea that I'm a fantastic cook, see. So I put in a little extra effort just to keep the illusion going when he comes round. ;-)

Today, he's arriving a little early for games, and I plan to serve dinner at 7:00. Rather than end up rushing around at 6:00 while everybody else is enjoying a nice game of whatever and feeling grumpy because I have to cook when they're all having fun, I have prepped every single little thing ahead of time! I am a Good Harper.

Yeah, I know. You don't care what a great prep job I've done. You want to know what's on the menu!

It's maple tuna, served with a spinach and fruit salad, and for dessert either berries and cream or a lovely lemon avocado chill.

Maple Tuna )

Fruity Spinach Salad )

Lemon-Avocado Chill )

Berries and Cream )
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Wow! It really tasted like Singapore.

I took a whole chicken and rubbed it with salt, soy sauce, and sesame oil. I stuffed it with shallots, green onions, garlic and ginger. I put a big stockpot of water on until it was at a rolling boil, then immersed the chicken and turned off the heat. I let it steam for an hour. At the thirty-minute mark, I heated up the water again to make sure I still had enough steam. I took the chicken out and cut off the wings and legs, then added them to the stock and put it on to a hard boil until it was way boiled down, two or three hours.

Then I took Thai jasmine rice and rinsed it, rendered the chicken fat (just a few tablespoons), and cooked sliced ginger and garlic in the fat until the saucepan was nicely smelling of garlic. I added the drained rice and stirred it around in the pot until it felt all covered with oil and spiciness, then removed the bits of chicken skin that were left. Then I added about three cups of chicken broth, just a little more than would cover the rice, and brought it all to a boil. I stirred and stirred until the water level was below the top of the rice, then covered it tightly and turned down the heat. I let it simmer for 10 minutes, then turned the heat off completely and gave it another 10 minutes to steam.

I cut the chicken off the carcass and cut it up into bite-sized pieces, then served it over rice with the actual, real Singapore dark soy sauce my husband found at a London Asian market, hooray! If anybody had wanted it, I would have produced Thai sweet chilli sauce, because I didn't feel like making my own chilli/garlic/ginger sauce (it's too hot for me!). I was going to serve the rice with little sprigs of coriander, but by the time it was done, everybody was so hungry I didn't even cut up the cucumber to serve with it: guess we'll have cucumber for salads later this week.

Success!

To answer an earlier question: In Singapore and I would assume in other Asian countries as well, there are several different grades and varieties of soy sauce. The kind most commonly called "dark" soy sauce is not only very dark but also quite thick. It has some added sugar and is used both in the preparation of food and as a dipping sauce.
kniteracy: You can get this design on a card or a picture to hang! (cooking and baking)
Most of you know that my family and I spent several months in Singapore, in 2005. Some of you know that I mostly hated Singapore and that the best part about our time in Singapore was the fantastic last two weeks when we had [livejournal.com profile] khaosworks back from the US and hanging out with us for awhile. I'm sure I talked about the terrific food in Singapore, about the prawn mee right across the street from our apartment, about our forays to hawker centres with some friends I knew from a former online hobby, how there is simply no substitute for bak kwa (which I may or may not be spelling right), and how sometimes I think about the things I liked about Singapore in order not to dwell on the things I disliked about it.

Yesterday, I found myself struggling with a serious craving for chicken rice, which became a staple of my diet in Singapore. Now, various quick explanations of chicken rice will tell you that the chicken is either roasted or boiled, but yesterday I went recipe trawling, mostly going through food blogs based in Singapore, and I came across a couple of recipes that explain how the chicken is actually cooked: it's put in a pot of boiling water, and then the heat is turned off. The chicken is steamed, but makes its own broth (which is then used in the preparation of the rice) at the same time! Most peripheral explanations of chicken rice just tell you that the rice is prepared using chicken stock instead of water, and I've done that with good results. What they don't tell you that the recipes I found yesterday do is that, like most dishes that taste amazingly good and are completely addictive, chicken rice has an unhealthy secret. Before boiling, leftover fat from the chicken is rendered in a saucepan, and the rice is actually cooked in the fat first before chicken stock is added. Some cooks add coconut milk to the rice, but I think I'll stick to the basics.

Right: I've got a big stock-pot, a whole chicken, salt, garlic, cilantro, sesame oil, and ginger, plus plenty of chilli, garlic and ginger for sauces. (Alas, it's almost impossible to find proper dark soy sauce in England; you can only find the thin variety.) Chicken rice for dinner at my place!
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[livejournal.com profile] janewilliams20 and her fearless husband D went to the US a few weeks ago. When they asked me if there was anything I needed or wanted from there, we briefly considered the possibility of their bringing the Walnut Monster over, since they were leaving from Baltimore, but as planning communications were difficult to arrange, we fell back onto the kind of thing I'm always asking people to bring back, namely Peanut Sauce Mix and Spicy Peanut Bake from A Taste of Thai.

Now, I know what you guys are thinking. "But Harper, you hate to use prefab ingredients! Don't you feel guilty using that stuff, instead of, you know, crushing up a bunch of peanuts yourself and mixing them with exotic spices?"

Nope. Bring on the additives! I have four packets of spicy peanut bake and three packets of peanut sauce. That's three complete meals and one meal that will miss its peanut sauce so much I may actually go out and buy satay sauce for the rice, since that's what it tastes most like.

That's right, y'all. No actual cooking at Harper's house tonight-- move right on along. I'll be here, rolling chicken in a coating mix and just adding coconut milk!
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Last night, we had [livejournal.com profile] the_magician for dinner (who knew how good he would taste in a cream sauce?), which we're trying to do more often. We also had a surprise visit from [livejournal.com profile] pola_bear, which meant enough people for a really nice game of Apples to Apples after dinner, but I digress. ;-) This time, I intelligently planned dinner with [livejournal.com profile] the_magician on a day when I didn't have to work so I could get stuff done early-- and then I filled up the day with house administrativia, research, practising, and of course a nice nap-- so I didn't get started cooking until late. Luckily, everything came together pretty well.

I don't know that I've ever posted my beef stroganoff recipe here, although I think several of you have probably had it. It comes from an old cookbook my mother had around the house when I was a kid, with the usual Harper-style modifications. I decided on beef stroganoff last night because I had some very nice, inexpensive thin frying steaks that had been in the freezer for awhile, plus our organic box from Waitrose included some very nice mushrooms. I decided on a sweet potato souffle because we had lots of sweet potatoes to get rid of. Of course, now we have lots of regular potatoes, so I will have to find something to do with those, as well. I'm trying to make more sweet potatoes because [livejournal.com profile] filceolaire loves them, and they're a low glycemic index food and packed with lots of good vitamins, so expect to see a sweet potato manifesto in this space sooner or later!

Harper's Beef Stroganoff )

Sweet Potato Souffle )

We have a lot of vegetables to use up, and some kiwi fruit. If you have a favourite dish that involves kiwis, let me know? I'm also interested in other dishes people do with sweet potatoes.
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Harper's Kitchen: Oven-cooking, and creme brulee!

It's been necessary for us to buy less expensive cuts of meat lately as we're trying to cut back on household expenses, so I've been experimenting with cooking things a little more slowly and in the oven. A pork chops that is horrifically tough grilled or pan-fried can taste just fine when prepared slowly at a lower temperature in the oven, if you don't mind well-done meat. Luckily, the only meat that's properly prepared rare really is beef, and if I can't have good beef I don't want it at all, so we've been eating mostly pork and chicken lately.

Chicken Bruschetta )

Well, that was easy! Why not experiment with another meat, and we had some really tough pork chops that had not been a hit at all when the first half of the BOGOF was prepared the way I usually do pork chops-- on the grill.

Oven Pork Chops )

I don't know where I got a hankering to learn how to make creme brulee. It's probably because I just really love creme brulee. I can tell you that it ended up being much easier than I imagined it would be, even without the blowtorch! (I'm not making this up; lots of chefs use blowtorches to burn the sugar on top of creme brulee).

Haven't you always wanted to make creme brulee? )

Yep. It's exciting, experimental cuisine week at Harper's house! Were so classy! Tonight, I'm makin' hot dogs! ;-)
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Culture Shock? After All This Time? You Bet!
Or, Give me hot dogs, or give me death!

Partly due to being colossally fucked over by Tesco Online, your Harper has learned something new!

You see, I didn't just roll over and stop ordering groceries to be delivered. Nope, I tried out two competitors at the same time, Ocado/Waitrose and Sainsbury's Online Groceries. I'm less familiar with the Waitrose product lines, so that took a little while and was kind of expensive. Sainsbury's I've shopped at quite a lot, so it was easy to choose the things I usually buy there. I kept the grocery list to premium meats and specialty items from Waitrose/Ocado and regular everyday things from Sainsbury's, and that's where the trouble began.

I figured I might as well check what Sainsbury's had on offer (sale items, for you Americans out there), and it turned out they had hot dog buns going cheap, two packages for one! Wahoo! Well, I hadn't had hot dogs in awhile, in a long time-- and now I know I must not ever have had hot dogs in the UK. Because of course after I put the buns in my shopping basket, I realised I must then procure hot dogs.

All you Americans are thinking, Well, of course you needed hot dogs, Harper. You just navigate over to "meats," and look wherever they put the sausages, and you'll find them, little packages of frankfurters, beef or chicken or pork, various levels of goodness to horribleness reflected mostly in the price and ingredient level. These items will come in packages of six or eight hot dogs, and they will appear in plastic packets, shrink wrapped and vacuum sealed, with labels that beg you to cut them open for the hot-doggy goodness inside.

You English people have not got over the ridiculous idea that you would look in the "meat" section for hot dogs! No, no; you find hot dogs in canned goods, and they come with whatever meats the manufacturer decided to put in them, usually a combination of pork, beef, and chicken-- and they are tinned in brine. Various degrees of quality are available, but even the premium hot dogs come in a tin. The only variety of the item called "hot dogs" that does not come in a tin? Meatless. I am not making this up. Meatless hot dogs (an oxymoron equivalent to "gourmet hot dogs" are in the frozen food section, presumably because if you tinned them in brine they would dissolve!

Oh. My. God.
What. The Fuck.
Apparently, hot dogs are never barbecued. Go figure.

It's bad enough that "relish" means "canned stuff without pickles," almost all of which are called "gherkins." And don't even think of trying to find kosher dill hamburger slices here. Coney Island-style chili? Forget it. Oh, and chilli has two Ls, just for good measure.

Still, in the spirit of free-spirited exploration that is my trademark, I bought two tins of "Sainsbury's Hot Dogs, Premium x8 400g," at a price of £1.18. Of course, nobody in the UK will really understand how I like to eat hot dogs. Most people in the US barely understand it. Don't worry: I will reveal my secret below, but don't forget to watch this space for the exciting results of the English Hot Dog Experiment.

Read how I like to eat hot dogs below. If you're squeamish, just remember the banana sandwiches.

OK, how does the harper eat hot dogs? )
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I've been trying to find ways to make a chicken soup that my son will actually eat. I love chicken soup with tomatoes; he doesn't like cooked tomatoes. I love chicken soup with carrots; he doesn't like cooked carrots. So last night's chicken soup was made with leeks and celery, with a little tarragon-- and it was terrific!

Chicken and Leek Soup!
It's hard to put together a recipe for something like this, so I'll just tell you what I did. I got up yesterday morning and put a large chicken on to boil with a little pepper and Spike, some sage, and two cubes of chicken stock to make the eventual broth a little more robust. Once the chicken began boiling rapidly, I moved the stockpot onto the simmer burner and turned it down just low enough to keep the chicken on a very low simmer boil. Then, I covered the pot, which cuts down on what escapes as steam. At about 4:00 yesterday afternoon, I took the chicken out of the broth and left it to cool. I poured half the broth into a smaller pot, added three leeks (sliced, of course), three sticks of celery, enough chicken to make it interesting, and penne pasta to fill it out, plus a few shakes of tarragon and a sploosh of tabasco sauce. I added some mixed ground pepper (I really like pepper mixes that include red and green peppercorns along with black ones), brought the soup back up to a rolling boil, then turned it down to simmer boil for ten minutes. Mm, soup Nothing like it on a cold, dark day.

After this post on cakes with jam, I felt morally obligated to make a cake so good it didn't need icing, much less added jam. And so I fell back on one of the comfort cakes of my youth, the sour cream pound cake like my mother used to make I didn't have a recipe handy for this, but they are very simple.

Sour Cream Pound Cake )
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Last weekend's grocery order included a lot of meat because it was £5 off meat week at Tesco. I'm sure lots of people were ordering meat from Tesco last weekend, so it wasn't a surprise when they had to substitute some things. The tiny beef roast for the bone-in rib roast I ordered was a disappointment. But the truly bemusing thing was that instead of lemon sole fillets, they sent whole trout.

Luckily, the fish had already been cleaned and gutted. I didn't fillet it, because ew. I did chop the heads off the fish, mostly because they wouldn't fit in the grill pan (broiler pan to you Americans).

From last weekend's foray to the Blackheath Farmers' Market, I had some oak smoked garlic that I wanted to try, and I just felt like mixing up some herby butter (probably because my son had been asking for garlic butter). So I found a recipe for grilled trout with garlic and thyme, but I substituted tarragon because I like it better anyway and it goes well with fish and we didn't have any thyme.

I took:
4 whole trout (cleaned and gutted)
4 cloves of oak-smoked garlic, sliced
A ramekin-full (maybe 4tbs) of butter
Salt
Pepper

And then:
I preheated the grill to moderate heat. I slit the trout and slid in the sliced garlic (hint: slit both sides of the fish before pressing in the garlic; otherwise the pressure of the knife on the second side makes the garlic fall out on the first side of the fish, and the regarlicking could go on all night).

For the herby butter, I mixed together the butter and seasonings with the tarragon, and once the trout was properly spiked with garlic, I dotted it over during cooking.

I grilled the fish for about sixteen minutes, five minutes on a side and then three minutes on a side, brushing a little tarragon butter over the fish each time I turned it.

It was delicious! I think it would have gone well with rice and simple steamed veg, but we are high on potatoes this week, so I mashed some potatoes with the leftover garlic butter (after G had his fix) and sour cream and served it all up with an organic cabbage salad.

Of course, the real fun began when I discovered I had twelve apples in the fridge, but that's another story for another day.

What did you eat this weekend? :)
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That's right: one big chicken. No, I didn't play a drinking game with it.

But how far will one big chicken go? This one arrived at our house on Saturday evening, and it sat blissfully chilling out in the fridge until Monday.

Monday morning, I boiled the chicken in water and spices and a wee bit of Knorr chicken stock. I boiled it right off the bone and kept it simmering until about 4:30 Monday afternoon, when I took the whole bird out of the water and popped it into the freezer to chill, because I'm just cruel like that.

Meanwhile, I poured a little less than half the chicken broth into another big pot. Then, I chopped carrots, leeks, onions, and garlic into the water. After that, I added four tins of chopped cooked tomatoes.

Once the chicken was cool enough, I took all the meat off the bones by hand, after which I had a cubic fuckton of chicken! I put about half of it into what was now smelling like some seriously tasty chicken soup, and I put the rest away. I also put the rest of the chicken broth away.

So we had a fantastic meal of chicken soup and 6/£1 Tesco whole wheat rolls on Monday night, and then the word came down that I didn't have to work Tuesday because my coworker needed to swap with me for Wednesday, so I was able to enact evil plans for the rest of the chicken on Tuesday.

First, I put the reserved broth back on the heat and let it come to a boil, then turned it down to simmer. I chopped celery, carrots, and leeks into the broth. I let this cook for half an hour to soften up the vegetables, and then I mixed two cups of flour with a tablespoon of baking powder and a cup of milk. Aha! Dumplings! I dropped the dough by spoonfuls into the boiling soup, added half the reserved chicken, and in ten minutes, there was delicious chicken and dumplings. So we had a fantastic meal of chicken and dumplings on Tuesday night, complete with chicken and dumplings!

But look, my dears, do you see that? It's nearly a quarter-chicken worth of reserved boiled-up-in-spicy-broth meat. Guess we'd better do something with that.

Now, it's the end of the month, which means we don't have a lot of money to spare, and both [livejournal.com profile] filceolaire and I will be paid either over the weekend or early next week, so I thought, "Hey, I've got this prepared puff pastry dough in the fridge, and some organic broccoli, mushrooms, the rest of the leeks, and one big yellow onion left over from all the rest of the week's cooking. I don't know what came over me, but it suddenly struck me that a quiche with chicken, broccoli, mushrooms, leeks, onions, and of course cheese would be a dandy thing to have for lunch for the rest of the week. Here's how I did it.

I chopped up the broccoli and mushrooms and onion (OK, [livejournal.com profile] filceolaire copped the onion) and sauteed the onions and mushrooms in butter. J grated cheese while I did this, and once the onions and mushrooms had softened up, I added first the leeks and then the broccoli. I added a little water, put a lid on the skillet, and let them steam for ten minutes. I took half a dozen eggs and beat them until they were compliant (not fluffy but light), then grated two whole nutmeg pods into the egg and mixed it with the cheese. Once the vegetables were finished cooking, I added them all together, preheated the oven to Gas Mark 6 (400°F/200°C), and pressed the prepared pastry crust into two 9x9" baking pans (I also use them for brownies and quick breads). As an aside, ordinarily I make my own pie crusts, but this was puff pastry, which I do not make, and it was on sale, so I got some to see how it would work at home. In any case, I mixed the (drained) vegetables with the cheese and egg mixture, then spooned them into their prepared crusts and popped them into the oven for 30 minutes. Because my oven is not big enough to put two 9x9" pans side by side on one rack, I had to place two racks far enough apart that they could be stacked: this meant 15 minutes and then a switch, then 15 more minutes. Once that was done, they hadn't cooked enough all the way (because of all the shuffling around no doubt), so I put them back for 10 more minutes (5 minutes on one rack, then a switch), and they look and smell perfect now.

So the moral of this story is:
If you can just get your teenager to eat quiche and soup, you can just about feed a family of three on a single chicken for a whole week!

That's Some Chicken. :-)
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Today's bread came out beautifully. I think my initial diagnosis was correct. Over time, I have been altering my usual bread recipe just a little bit from time to time, and eventually the proportions got out of whack. I'll have to do a little work on that tomorrow. But now, having enjoyed a meal of leftover roast and veggie bake from last night, plus a corn chowder I put together when I found out that [livejournal.com profile] mokatiki would be joining us for dinner, it's time for bed. Tomorrow, two more loaves of slightly more adventurous bread, and we'll see how things go from there.
kniteracy: You can get this design on a card or a picture to hang! (cooking and baking)
Well, for those of you who are interested, last night's menu was a big success, with one exception that seemed to bother only me: the fat on the top of the pork roast didn't melt down properly, presumably because I covered it with the honey glaze. So next time, I'll use something softer for the first hour of roasting and add the glaze once I'm sure the fat has melted down. The roasting vegetables were terrific: the cabbage in particular was heavenly, flavoured with apples and honey and amazingly not completely limp!

The vegetable bake was a huge success, and I'm having the leftovers for lunch today. I'm thinking seriously about mashing the next potatoes I use for a pie crust, because the potato grating hurt poor [livejournal.com profile] filceolaire's hands and I suspect would do a job on my fingernails-- and we can't have that! I'm sure there's a way to prepare the custard that holds it all together differently, and next time I'll add a bit more salt to the potatoes. The broccoli/cauliflower filling was marvelous, and I will be using all kinds of different veg for filling this kind of a pie in future. Mm, mm, mm!

Tonight, I may force the entire family to eat leftovers, or I may make a sweetcorn chowder in addition to forcing the entire family to eat leftovers. ;)

Bread Therapy

Well, most folks who know me know that I love to bake bread. Yeast breads, quick breads, sweet breads and savoury breads, I love them all. But I haven't been writing a lot about baking lately (yes, [livejournal.com profile] roaming, I will stick the pear bread recipe in at the bottom of this entry, promise!). There was a time when I was baking all our bread on a Monday, four loaves for the week, and freezing it. Did you know a frozen loaf of bread, thawed overnight inside a tea towel, will come out tasting as fresh as if it were just baked and cooled? I stopped doing that. I stopped doing it because something happened to the bread.

You're out of your mind, Harper.
No, really, I mean it. I had been using the same recipe for ages, a nice, rich recipe that includes butter and powdered milk and half a cup of nuts and seeds and finishes up with a butter wash to give a rich, flaky crust. It was wonderful. Everybody loved it. And then, over the span of a few weeks, it just went to hell.

I swear, the bread came out heavier and more sour each time. I altered the rising periods. I changed the liquid to flour ratio. I did everything I could think of, and it still went wrong. So I got frustrated and stopped baking bread for awhile. Last week, I baked two loaves of bread according to that same old recipe, and although the family were very complimentary, guess what? They were barely done in the middle, wet as brownie batter. So today, I'm giving myself some bread therapy. I'm going back to the beginning, to the very first loaf of primer now-you're-baking-bread bread in the King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook, which as some of you will already know, is my personal cooking and baking bible. This bread will be very, very plain, but hopefully the results will tell me something about what's been going wrong with my bread. Maybe my ratios have been subtly changing without my noticing. Maybe substituting butter for the shortening the recipe originally called for finally caught up with me. Maybe it had something to do with the seeds.

And even though it'll be plain and dull, it'll be better than supermarket bread by a couple of miles.

Here's today's bread recipe:

2 cups of hot-from-the-tap water
1 tbs sugar
1 tbs yeast
1 tbs salt
6 cups flour

You don't get much simpler than that. Dissolve the sugar in the water and add the yeast. Give it 6-10 minutes to proof, and when it's bubbly stir in the first cup of flour. Add the salt, then add 4 1/2 more cups of flour (you can mix up white and white flours; I used more white than wheat today, because whole wheat flour is heavier than white flour, then turn it out and knead the rest of the flour in. Round it out into a greased bowl and let it rise for two hours, knead again, let it rise again 'til doubled, knead again, shape and put into greased loaf pans and let it rise for another hour or until doubled. Bake it at 475°F (Gas Mark 9/240°C) for 20 minutes. It's OK to lower the temperature to 450°F (Gas Mark 8/230°C) if it's getting too brown on top. To create steam, pour 2-3 cups of water or a tray of ice cubes into a pan in the bottom of the oven to create some steam.

It's down for the first rise now. Let's hope I learn something.

And especially for [livejournal.com profile] roaming, here is the Pear Bread recipe. I originally posted it here, but I've made some substitutions, and the last batch I made really worked, so the altered recipe appears below the cut tag.

Vermont Pear Bread )
kniteracy: You can get this design on a card or a picture to hang! (cooking and baking)
Autumnal Abundance!
Tonight's menu: roast pork with cabbage and apples, broccoli and cauliflower pie.


Recently, I've been talking a lot about how great it is to have an organic vegetable box delivered to the house every week: It's been keeping us in fresh veg, and I've been learning new things about vegetables I've never heard of and experimenting with cooking whatever's at hand.

This past week, however, was half term, and we ended up with an extra kid in the house, so I threw the cooking plan out the window and made stuff that the kids like to reduce my stress level. However, at the end of the week, I'm left with:
  • one big head of cauliflower;
  • several stalks of broccoli;
  • two big heads of different kinds of cabbages;
  • carrots;
  • potatoes;
  • apples;
  • pears.

    That's a lot of veggies, and they're all starting to go a bit limp, so it's time to get creative!

    After our wedding last year, our dear friend Carl stuck around London for a couple of days, and we got to hang out with him. Carl's a vegetarian, so we sought out a really nice place in London's Neal's Yard one afternoon to have a fabulous vegetarian lunch. This place served a bake or soufflé or something, something baked and hot and tasty, that included a potato base (I think), possibly sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, and all kinds of great harvest vegetables together in a cheesy casserole. It was delicious. So for the last couple of days, I've been trying to locate a recipe that might, just might, come close to that experience. I was all ready to fall back on the Monster Pie from my favourite cookbook ever, the King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook, when I found this recipe for Broccoli Cauliflower Pie from the Old Farmer's Almanac online. Wow, grated potatoes for a pie crust? I'm there, and I suspect [livejournal.com profile] filceolaire is too. For the teenager, we'll just have to hope the cheese will make it palatable. ;)

    It's 5:30 now. I'll bet I can put this, together with a nice pork roast (roasted with potatoes, apples and cabbage, to get rid of some of that cabbage) on the table before 8:30.

    At 7:30, the roast has been in for an hour, and the veggie pie just went into the oven. I think we'll have dinner on time!

    Roast Pork with Cabbage, Potatoes and Apples:
    I cut the cabbage into big round slices and laid them on the bottom of a greased roasting pan. Then, I took 8 or 9 small organic potatoes and laid them on top of the cabbage. I took three apples, peeled, sliced and cored, and laid them on top of that. I browned the pork loin in oil seasoned with cinnamon and allspice, then laid it atop the veggies. The oven was preheating to Gas `mark 4/350°F/180°C while I was doing this. Before I put the roast in, I made a glaze of butter, honey, cinnamon and maple flavouring, and poured it over the meat and veg. I put it in to roast for two hours, which is just about right.

    Broccoli Cauliflower Pie:
    While I was prepping the roast and veg, [livejournal.com profile] filceolaire was busy grating the carrots for this yummy-sounding vegetable pie. We squeezed all the water out of the potatoes, then pressed them into a baking dish to make a crust. While the potato/onion crust was baking, we chopped up veggies, then sauteed them with onions and garlic until they were slightly soft. I left out the carrots because I had lots of broccoli and cauliflower and not so many carrots. G made the custard (three eggs plus one cup of milk) and grated the cheese. When the potato crust came out, I assembled the pie by putting half the cheese over the potatoes, then spooning in the veg, then putting the rest of the cheese on top and pouring the custard over. We'd turned the oven temp down in the top oven ahead of time, so we were able to pop it right in.

    I got busy after that making a second batch of glaze to put over the meat and veg after the first hour of roasting, and let's just say that our little house smells like a feast hall!

    Sometime later this week, I'll roast a chicken with the carrots and leftover onions and steam the second head of cabbage. Then we'll be ready for more great autumn vegetables!
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    [Harper's Kitchen] Today's Special: Mangel-Wurzel

    But first, a reading from the book of Tom Robbins, Volume Four, Jitterbug Perfume.

    Today's Special
    The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish admittedly ,is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.

    Slavic peoples get their physical characteristics from potatoes, their smoldering inquietude from radishes, their seriousness from beets.

    The beet is the melancholy vegetable, the one most willing to suffer. you can't squeeze blood out of a turnip . . .

    The beet is the murderer returned to the scene of the crime. The beet is what happens when the cherry finishes with the carrot. The beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded, buried, all but fossilized; the ark green sails of the grounded moon-boat stitched with veins of primordial plasma; the kite string that once connected the moon tot he Earth now a muddy whisker drilling desperately for rubies.

    The beet was Rasputin's favorite vegetable. You could see it in his eyes.

    In Europe there is grown widely a large beet they call the mangel-wurzel. Perhaps it is mangel-wurzel that we see in Rasputin. Certainly there is a mangel-wurzel in the music of Wagner, although it is another composer whose name begins, B-e-e-t----.

    Of course, there are white beets, beets that ooze sugar water instead of blood, but it is the red beet with which we are concerned; the variety that blushes and swells like a hemorrhoid, a hemorrhoid for which there is no cure. (Actually, there is one remedy; commission a potter to make you a ceramic asshole--and when you aren't sitting on it, you can use it as a bowl for borscht.)

    An old Ukranian proverb warns, "A tale that begins with a beet will end with the devil."

    That is a risk we have to take.
    Jitterbug perfume, Tom Robbins, 1984


    Organic Vegetable Boxes
    For the last couple of weeks, I've had my Tesco grocery delivery include an organic vegetable box. I guess I first heard about these on LiveJournal, and when I saw that Tesco would deliver one, full of veggies both common and exotic, to my door for not very much money, I added one to the last weekly shopping order. It was so much fun to sift through the variety of vegetables inside the box and plan the week's menus around those vegetables. It was like a game, and the best part about it was that we had totally fresh vegetables for a whole week, and it was great.. The first box contained bitter lettuce, potatoes, onions, carrots, pears, apples, celery, fennel and beets. We liked it so much we have gotten another one for this week.

    Now, I have always loved pickled beets, which is the most common way they're sold and served in the US where I grew up. I recall going to an Italian restaurant called Provino's with [livejournal.com profile] caomhan when we were in college and actually having to negotiate over the beets in our shared salad. Beets, however, are not normally seen in US grocery stores, at least not where I used to live.

    The organic veggie box packing list said you could roast beets with meats just as you might roast potatoes, so I decided to try that with the chicken breast I was roasting one evening. However, just before I got everything ready to go into the oven, I got a confirmation from [livejournal.com profile] aunty_marion that she'd be coming over for dinner. Plans had to change: AM dislikes beets intensely. So I swapped them out of the roasting pan and into the refrigerator, to be dealt with another time.

    The Saturday Afternoon Grocery Order
    By the end of the week, we'd used up nearly all our organic veggies, except for half a bunch of celery (which is no longer crisp but might do in a chicken soup) and the beets. So as I was making the grocery order yesterday, I decided that I needed to justify that money by making sure I cooked the beets last night, since we were expecting another bunch of beets in the next grocery order.

    When the cook's education is lacking....
    ...the cook hies herself onto the World Wide Web and does the obvious Google Search: How to cook beets. As always, four billion links popped up, and I checked out several. I learned, among other things that there is such a thing as beet cake, which I may or may not look into making at some point, and I found about fifty recipes for borscht alone. I haste to add that I have never actually had borscht, so I am leaning toward the recipe in this blog entry from David Seah, called Better Living Through Borscht, since he'd never had borscht either when he first made the stuff.

    But back to last night's adventure. Because I'm a simple soul, after I read several recipes and how-tos, I chose How to cook beets from ehow.com as the base recipe, since it looked simple and I like beets in general so didn't expect to need to cover up the taste with anything else. Cooking beets this way, just baking/roasting them in the oven, is easy peasy and doesn't take all that long. You just wash and clean the beets, sip off tops and tails (you can reserve the tops to have later with other veggies, they say), stick the in a pan with some water for steam, cover the pain with foil, and roast at 450°F or Gas Mark 8 (converstion information from OnlineConversion.com until they're easily pierced with a knife, between 30-45 minutes. Our beets took 35 minutes. When the beets are done, take the skins off under running water. This is incredibly easy: I used a knife to slice off the tops and bottoms, and under cool running water, the skins just slid away-- and the beets were still steaming hot on the inside!

    I served them up with chicken breasts panfried in butter and garlic, a good frozen Mediterranean vegetable selection, and Thai jasmine rice. I think it all turned out pretty well.
    kniteracy: You can get this design on a card or a picture to hang! (cooking and baking)
    Some of you know that over the years I have searched for the perfect pastitsio. It's brought me joy, pain, frustration, and at least one love of my life.

    I love pastitsio, which is sort of like lasagne, only with penne pasta (not lasagne sheets) and differently spiced meat. It's basically a Greek pasta and meat casserole.

    Over the past six years, I've probably made pastitsio only five or six times. Part of that is because I was busily searching for a recipe that didn't take forever to make but still tasted good. The other part, of course, is that I'm just not in the mood for that sort of dish every day.

    For some reason, I decided over the weekend that I had to have some pastitsio, so I did the usual Internet recipe search and found the usual recipes. I don't know why everything seemed to come together this time and seem so easy; maybe it's my evolution as a cook, or maybe I've only made the stuff when I've felt deeply whiny before: who knows? ;-)

    Anyway, pastitsio must have the following things:
  • pasta (duh)
  • meat spiced with mint and herbs and possibly nutmeg
  • bechamel sauce

    It comes out differently every time. Here's how I did it today. I got this recipe from Razzle Dazzle Recipes, but you never know how long these things will stay up, so I'm going to reprint it below the cut tag for your cooking pleasure.

    Athens Market Café's Pastitsio )

    Even with the inauthentic cheese, it came out really well. I think this one's a keeper!

    And although I'm sitting here telling you this was an easy thing to cook, please be aware that you need several dishes and pots on hand and available to make this kind of food. I know some of you know this already, but the first time I tried to prepare a dish like this and had to juggle half a dozen pre-prepared ingredients, three cooking pots, and a host of mixing and stirring implements, it took hours and I was a bigger wreck than after I baked my first pound cake as a teenager!

    Make sure you do everything in stages. I tend to assemble the whole pasta dish and put all the cooking pots away to be washed before I even start the bechamel sauce. Bechamel sauce, like most roux-based sauces, must be watched and stirred constantly, and trying to do that while balancing a bunch of other stuff is an accident waiting to happen. Nothing is quite as gross as a scorched sauce, ugh! Also, if you leave it after cooking, it will get very thick and be difficult to spread. You want your pasta in place before you make the sauce, trust me.

    Don't use ground nutmeg. Don't even use a nutmeg mill. Get whole nutmeg and a parmesan cheese grater with a handle, and grate it yourself. Also, don't ever ingest large quantities of nutmeg. Trust me on this. No matter how nice it smells.
  • kniteracy: You can get this design on a card or a picture to hang! (cooking and baking)
    Harper's Kitchen: Perfect Guacamole

    Now, I know what you're saying. No guacamole could possibly be perfect. Oh, but you see, that's where you'd be wrong. Now, [livejournal.com profile] casketgirl could tell you that twenty years ago (Good lord, it was twenty years ago, wasn't it?) I didn't like guacamole at all, because she made some for me and I was completely hating it. Let's just say my palate has since seen the light. But it was a long, hard journey.

    You see, I decided after my guacamole experience (and I was all of nineteen at the time) that my problem with guacamole was probably that I didn't like avocados. Or maybe it was salsa. Or maybe tomatoes in general. But over the years, as you know, your tastes change. In university in Louisiana, I discovered that I had a taste for salsa, but only and particularly when it was really, really cold. And then I discovered the joys of tossing fresh chopped tomatoes with olive oil and garlic and a little basil to make fabulous checca, which I didn't want to have to go to an Italian restaurant to get everytime I wanted some. So that was tomatoes taken care of, even fresh ones (at one time I thought I liked stewed but not fresh tomatoes since I enjoyed pasta sauces but not tomatoes on sandwiches or in salads). And then on one fateful day, probably sometime in 2000, [livejournal.com profile] arimathea introduced me to sushi in that, "Just let me order something easy for you-- you'll like this, I promise," kind of way. And I discovered, to my surprise, through the mystical path of the California roll, that avocados are OMG yummy. But guacamole? "I don't like guacamole," I'd say, even though I had never tasted it except for that one time, back before I really cared for tomatoes or raw onions or any of those things that often go into guacamole.

    And then one day it happened. I went next door for lunch. No, really. I was working at Nease's Needlework in Decatur, Georgia, and there is this little place that was next door to the location of the store at the time I worked there called Taqueria del Sol. And they had the most amazing stuff. Fried chicken tacos. I am not making this up. Jalopeno mayonnaise. Oh, yes. Years before, while working with [livejournal.com profile] caobhan, I'd decided I didn't like cilantro (what we think of over here as coriander), but the day that Susan, the owner of the shop, asked me to bring back some chips and guacamole for her to have with her salad for lunch, that all changed.

    "Want some?" she asked, passing me a chip.

    I'd only been working at the shop for a couple of days, and I didn't want Susan to think I was a wimp, so I said, "Sure, I'm not the biggest guacamole fan, but I'll take a little."

    And that's how it starts, you see. Someone offers you a little taste of something like that, and then you find yourself, two weeks later, staring at an empty styrofoam container and wondering how you came to be sitting in the middle of the open-air back dining room at TdS with this margarita in your hand. Zowie.

    And then I up and moved to England and there was no more Taqueria del Sol for me. And the only Mexican restaurant I have been to in this country was complete crap. So I hunted down some guacamole recipes, and they all call for lemon juice and salt and avocados-- and that's where the similarities end. I've been experimenting with variations for nearly two years now, and I am getting to be a pretty good guacamole maker. When [livejournal.com profile] sailing_harper was here, I tried it with fresh tomatoes plus a little ground coriander, and that was nice, and she pronounced it Good.

    But last night? Last night, ladies and gentlemen, I finally got it right. I took a bite, once I was finished with the squishing and mixing -- and if I closed my eyes, I could nearly hear [livejournal.com profile] carrielee accusing me of being a guacamole addict, or [livejournal.com profile] 45andaclover asking if I'd front her a buck so she could have some too. Because that was it. That was exactly the guacamole I'd been searching for.

    How do you do it?

    Take:
    Three avocados (Good ones, ripe ones. These were Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Ripe and Ready Avocados.)
    A handful of reasonably well chopped onions. Well, two handfuls.
    Three or four splooshes of lemon juice.
    More salt than you think you need.
    Six or seven ripe, sweet plum tomatoes.
    Several (and I mean several) snips of fresh coriander (what you call in the US cilantro). The powdered stuff, while lovely, just doesn't do it.

    Cut the avocados in half with a sharp knife, around the pit. Scoop the adorably green avocado goop out with a spoon, then get rid of the pits and peels. Put the avocados into a bowl the size of a good-sized soup bowl, and mush them with a potato masher (or a fork if you like). Sploosh the lemon juice over, stirring after every sploosh, until you have a consistency that's the consistency you like for dips. Salt it. I use sea salt, and I use a lot of it. Salt, stir, taste. Salt, stir, taste. That's how it goes. Nowhere is the magical effect of salt on things so apparent as in really good guacamole. Throw in your two handfuls of onions, stir, and taste again. Yummy yet? Well, yes, but wait. Get your herb snips out (or, you know, poultry scissors or something), and snip some cilantro/coriander in. Remember to snip small bits so you make sure the leaves are cut-- this enhances the flavour. Oh, yeah. Now, take the plum tomatoes and cut them up into fourths or smaller, then stir them in.

    I took a bite. "I did it!"

    "You got the right guacamole?"

    "Oh, yes."

    Oh, yes. I got the right guacamole right here.
    kniteracy: You can get this design on a card or a picture to hang! (cooking and baking)
    Harper's Kitchen: Banana Bread -- What Actually Happened!

    So, y'all know I'm a big old lazy cook, right? There I was, staring at those two recipes and quite a lot of very ripe bananas, and it was 9:30 on a school night, and I asked myself, "O Harper, do you really want to stay up half the night and make two distinctly different kinds of banana bread?"

    Well, no. No, I did not. But I did very much want that maple flavour in the banana bread, so here's what happened:

    I took: )

    And then: )

    After that...... )

    I'll let you know how this little experiment turns out. If nothing else, it'll be fairly easy to let the loaves sit overnight! ;-)
    kniteracy: You can get this design on a card or a picture to hang! (cooking and baking)
    Harper's Kitchen: Banana Bread!

    Now, there's this myth that Southern (American) cooks never reveal their secrets, but ih. Do you want to know the secret of fantastic banana bread? I mean, on the off chance you don't already know it?

    The secret of fantastic banana bread, all other ingredients aside, is really, really, really ripe bananas.

    And by really really really ripe, I mean bananas that inspire, "Ooh, time to throw that away!" impulses in nearly all of us, particularly teenagers who are a little squicky about food preparation to begin with.

    So sometimes, particularly when you live with someone who loves to eat banana sandwiches, it's hard to keep bananas in the house for long periods of time. These particular bananas that I'm using tonight are left over from our trip to the Brick Lane Market three weekends ago, so they are just about right. I purposefully hung these in a plastic bag, out of the way, then kept them in the refrigerator for the last several days since I knew they were getting just about ready and I didn't want them to get all moldy on me. Now, if you don't have that kind of time-- if you want your banana bread soon, then I suggest you buy the ripest bananas you can find. You are not going to find ripe bananas in a grocery store: even over here, they sell 'em green. Go to a greengrocer, a market stand, anywhere that sells stuff off a truck, and you should be able to find what you're looking for. And if you still can't, there are still options. First, you can mush up not-ripe bananas and they will work OK; the flavour just won't be as good. The other method is to ripen the bananas in a brown paper sack. Yes, that's what I said. Put them in a brown paper sack, label them clearly with the date (because if you forget them, ew!), and leave them for a couple of days. I've always known about the seriously ripe banana thing, but it took [livejournal.com profile] caomhan to explain to me about ripening bananas in paper bags. Because he really is all that.

    OK, Harper: stop preaching about bananas and get on to the *recipes*! )

    Note: Sweet quick breads taste better if you can stand to leave them overnight. I swear they do.
    kniteracy: You can get this design on a card or a picture to hang! (cooking and baking)
    Harper's Kitchen: The Offensive Lunch? Bananas!

    Today, I am having a banana sandwich for lunch. I make banana sandwiches with two slices of bread, a generous swipe of mayonnaise, and as close to a whole banana as I can cut up (lengthwise) and put in there.

    Now, if you're human and reading this, you're having one of three reactions.

    The most common reaction is: Oh, My God! You Eat *WHAT*?!, followed by all sorts of grimaces that really don't become you, I promise. Stop it. I'm not going to make you eat one.

    The second reaction, one that I see far less but of course love to get, is, Wow, really?! There's someone else in the world who likes banana sandwiches that way?, followed by instabonding and a blood sibling ceremony in a few days if everything works out with the paperwork.

    The third reaction is to turn up your nose at my humble sandwich, but tell me all the ways you do like to eat bananas, just so I won't think you're a banana snob.

    I do not know why banana sandwiches always stir up controversy, but they do. I remember once [livejournal.com profile] weirdsister's daughter C offered to make me lunch. I was craving a banana sandwich. I said, "Got any bananas?" and she answered in the affirmative. "Would you make me a banana sandwich?"

    "A what?" Perplexed, she was.

    "A banana sandwich. You take two slices of bread, spread some mayo on the bread, and slice up a banana lengthwise..."

    "Mayonnaise?" A note of horror crept into her voice.

    "Yeah. And then you put it all together and cut it in half diagonally. Well, you don't have to, but that's how I like sandwiches."

    Her face a ghostly white, she backed out of the room, and-- several minutes later, she returned, with an expression of exquisite revulsion on her face. "Here's your sandwich." She was holding it out in front of herself as if it might infect her somehow.

    "Thanks!" I said cheerfully and took the plate. I don't recall whether or not she stayed to watch me eat the sandwich. It might have been too much for her then-nine-or-ten-year-old spirit to take!

    Now, some people just don't like mayonnaise, and I understand that, and I won't bore you by telling you about my brother in law who hates mayonnaise and the mayonnaise muffins I made and left on the counter at my mom's house which he ate like they were candy. But why the amazingly strong reaction to a banana sandwich, a humble treat from my childhood that makes me feel good? I didn't say, "In my day, we all had intimate relationships with hedgehogs! What's wrong with that?" I said, "I am having a banana sandwich for lunch."

    So why do you (or don't you) like banana sandwiches with mayonnaise? And, if you really must, what's your favourite way to eat bananas?
    kniteracy: You can get this design on a card or a picture to hang! (cooking and baking)
    Harper's Kitchen: Dumplings!

    Last night, I roasted a chicken, a nice, reasonably sized one, stuffed with peppers and onions and basted with homemade teriyaki sauce (soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic powder, onion juice). I wanted a taste similar to the chicken rice I grew to love in Singapore, so I made rice not in salty water but in salty chicken stock with a pinch of coriander.

    There are only three of us, and although the chicken was yummy, it was slightly undercooked, which meant quite a lot of meat left on the bone. And so of course, what do you do when you have a big honking chicken carcass, plus an extra leg quarter, left ovre after dinner? You put it in the chicken broth you cooked that rice in, yes you do, and you put it on the hob, in a covered pot with a teeny tiny steamhole, at a very low simmerboil -- all night. Oh yes.

    It came off the boil this morning, and I've been wondering how to serve it up for dinner. There just isn't enough chicken for a stew, and G hates stews anyway. I don't really care for thin soups, but putting the leftover rice from last night into today's soup would feel like we were having the exact same dinner all over again. Usually, I put stewed tomatoes in chicken soup, but I don't have any, and ih. I'm not in the mood for stewed tomatoes.

    But then it came to me. As I stirred the cooling pot and looked up onto the kitchen bookshelf for inspiration, a single word entered my head and Would Not Leave. Oh, it's a word that made me happy in childhood, and it still makes me happy today. Yes, yes, yes, in Harper's head was the word, and the word was

    Dumplings!

    We will all have chicken and dumplings when she comes! )
    kniteracy: You can get this design on a card or a picture to hang! (cooking and baking)
    Harper's Kitchen: Pear Bread! (And quick bread in general)

    A few weeks ago, [livejournal.com profile] tattercoats and her kids spent a day here while [livejournal.com profile] vaurien did rehearsal-y things with the nMC. While she was here, I made pear bread since we had some pears and they go well in bread.

    As has frequently happened with this bread, it didn't cook completely and ended up being completely undone in the middle while managing to taste terrific nonetheless. So In sort of a "my problem and how I solve it" way, here's the first recipe (lurking playfully behind the cut tag).

    Vermont Pear Bread )

    Now, the truth is, the above recipe makes a yummy batter, but I almost never get it to come out right in baking. It doesn't cook all the way through in the time suggested, and if you cook it longer, the top burns and the inside doesn't get done. If anyone has a recommendation for how to alter the cooking of this recipe so that it works, I would love to hear it! What I usually do, when I'm not trying to show off with this ubertasty batter, is just add pears to my regular quick bread recipe below-- but here's the usual weird cooking-geek analysis behind what I do with quick breads.

    All about quick breads )

    Things to know about baking powder )

    How to make baking powder )

    What's the difference between bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) and baking powder? )

    Anatomy of a quick bread )

    How much leavening agent do you need? )

    Different kinds of quick breads )


    Here's my basic quick bread recipe. It can be changed and modified any way you wish. When I get tired of trying to make the extra-tasty pear bread batter recipe above to work, I use this recipe and add a cup of pears to it. Still tastes great!

    Harper's basic quick bread recipe )

    Just wait 'til I get started talking about yeast! ;)
    kniteracy: You can get this design on a card or a picture to hang! (cooking and baking)
    We made egg nog last night! Now, I'm not much of a drinker, and ouzo would taste terrible in egg nog, so we made it without alcohol, but you can add some alcohol if you like.

    Here is my favourite egg nog recipe: )

    Yum!

    Freebie:
    Cooking conversion tables
    Or if you don't like that one, try this one.
    kniteracy: You can get this design on a card or a picture to hang! (Default)
    First rising. Right now, on top of my refrigerator (it's a good, warm, out-of-the-way place), little one-celled organisms are doing all the work of bread baking for me. In an hour, my little lump of dough will be twice as big as it is now, ready to be shaped.

    Bread baking is good for the soul. I don't do it enough, because I have this conception that it takes a long time. And yes, from water, yeast and flour, it takes four to six hours to get to the bread-in-your-mouth stage. But inside that, you mostly have rest time while the yeast does all the work. When this bread has risen, I'll take it out of the bowl, knead it, and shape it into rolls or braids. Then it will rise again; that's another hour I'll have to read or write or practice or talk to my son. After that, it's 20 minutes to bread. =)

    I don't even have to take the whole second rising period. I can cut it short, because I'm baking hearth bread tonight and it doesn't have to be light, like French bread would be. I can shape it and just hang out for a little bit. Now's the time to decide what shape to make the bread, too. Do I make rolls? Or do I make impressive-looking but easier braids? Or should I chuck all that and just bake loaves? Decisions, decisions. Mm. I think I'll braid it into a dozen braided rolls, then sprinkle everything with poppy seeds. Yeah. That will be good.

    I've always had romantic notions about bread baking. The baking process is long, and bread itself is so full of little life reminders about doing things right or having them come out badly. For the longest time, I tried to make bread. Sometimes it would work and sometimes it wouldn't. I spent lots of time trying to perfect my technique, and nothing seemed to make it consistent. Sometimes it would work, sometimes it wouldn't.

    I followed those recipes exactly, and things didn't come out the same way twice, ever. I'd almost chalked it up to voodoo or weather, when a book came across my desk.

    I was working at a small, weekly newspaper in Alabama. It was a terrible newspaper, run by idiots, mostly a gossip rag, but because they were a newspaper, they got books in to review. For whatever reason, a publisher sent them a copy of The King Arthur Flour Cookbook. The King Arthur Flour Cookbook changed my approach to baking, changed the way I thought about cooking, changed my life in a measurable way.

    It's the only cookbook I've ever read cover-to-cover, the way I would read a novel. I learned how to measure flour. I'll bet you didn't know there was a trick to it. I learned the chemistry behind baking, how to make yeast happy, how to use different kinds of grains. There were stories about bread in history, how different kinds of bread were arrived at; everything from breakfast scones to fancy European cookies, explained in a way that made sense to me.

    So I took that cookbook home, without the editor's permission, and I baked two loaves of bread. My mother and boyfriend watched in bemused wonder as I measured flour into measuring cups with spoons, timed the yeast expansion, kneaded, washed up, and kneaded again, then let it rise, shaped it, let it rise again. I didn't do anything fancy, just made two plain loaves of bread.

    When I was done, I had two plain loaves of bread. Two perfect loaves of bread. My mother's eyes lit up as she bit into the first piece. My boyfriend said it was all right (he wasn't exactly effusive). My son threw it on the floor, but then he was at that stage.

    Since then, I've baked a lot of bread. I baked wedding bread for our wedding; we had bread instead of cake. It was marvelous. I used to try to bake a loaf of bread every week, but the whole time thing started to get to me and I don't do it as much these days.

    Still, I would not be able to give it up. Sometimes, I just have to bake a loaf of bread. No matter what my Adkins-diet friends say, there is something special about bread, something beyond food value, something about lots of things working together to produce satisfying, filling food. I could not ever give it up, baking bread. I love the smell of yeast expanding. I love to watch the dough taking shape. I love kneading the bread. I make up songs while I'm doing it. I think about things. I watch the loaf take shape, feel the gluten harden under my fingers, think of my grandmother and her grandmother, the floured board, the slapping of dough on the surface, the repetitive, meditative, shape of life. I love choosing the different shapes my bread will go in, and that shape will never be a cylinder (goddamn bread machines). I love putting a pan of water in the oven to make the bread steam. I love the smell of bread baking, pulling hot bread apart with my fingers, anointing it with butter, the first taste.

    Did the King Arthur Flour Cookbook teach me all this? No, but it did show me what I'd been doing wrong all along. It allowed me to experience this. And yeah, I buy their flour whenever I can get it. Not living in New England, it's not always all that easy to find. But I do find it, and when I have it, I always want to bake bread. I tell people I buy it for the label, and really that's part of it too. But mostly, it's because that book taught me how to bake bread.

    Visit the King Arthur Flour Company

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