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: Cooking Confession

    I love to bake bread. OK, that wasn't the confession. I love to bake bread and cakes, and I love to make sauces and things involving fruit and whipped cream, and I'm looking forward to finding an ice cream maker that fits in our new freezer. All these things are true. I love baking almost everything.

    I don't like baking cookies. I like cookie dough, especially in ice cream-- but I don't like the finished product so much, and the truth is that cookies are a complete pain in the *ahem* to bake.

    Tonight, I'm staying up to bake peanut butter cookies, because tomorrow is [livejournal.com profile] filceolaire's fifty-first birthday. Never mind that I'm still not feeling all that great. Of course, the only reason I can do this is that I'm still not feeling all that great, slept most of today, and so I'm awake and all.

    But cookies. Pleh. It's not the mixing of the dough. It's not the hand-rolling. It's not the pressing the fork into the cookies so they'll have that characteristic peanut butter cookie look. It's the fact that when you make cookies, you have to make dozens of them or it's not worth the trouble, and that a panful of cookies only takes about 10-12 minutes to bake, and then they have to be cooled and put on racks and the next dozen has to go in. Cookies have to be micromanaged. There's only one kind of cookie that's really a joy to make, and I make them only around Christmastime. These are joyful because the dough is made, then refrigerated overnight and rolled into tubes. You cut the cookies off the tube, and you can bake them a dozen at a time, no messing about. Now, the truth is, you can do that with any kind of cookie; cookie dough is much more manageable after it's been refrigerated overnight.

    Anyway, I know when I talk about my kitchen, you expect recipes, so here is the recipe for the cookies I made tonight. I can't give you the moravian spice cookie recipe (the ones I only make around Christmastime), because that recipe was on my old Wallstreet Powerbook, which is now a delightful doorstop, currently vacationing in Peterborough.

    Peanut Butter Cookies )
    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: 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)
    As you and I and everyone knows,
    You and I and everyone knows
    How oats and beans and barley grows



    (For those of you on my regular friends list, this is a public post, which is why some information you already know will be repeated or consolidated.)

    It is October! Deliciously crisp, autumn's-nearly-here, jacket-in-the-morning-sun-in-the-afternoon October. As many of you already know, I have been baking bread on the weekend and freezing it so that we can have fresh bread during the week while I'm working and today, Monday, is bread-making day here at the house on the edge of the park. Now, ordinarily I make a combination of breads, often a hearty brown bread with lots of seeds because we like that at my house, but over the past few days, I've been thinking about autumn and about autumn foods and what things make me feel good and happy and pleased that my favourite season is coming around again, short as it might be. Saturday at Sainsbury's, we found Apple and Blackberry OatSoSimple on sale for two for £2, mostly for my son, and I started thinking about one of my favourite comfort foods ever: good, old fashioned oatmeal. Hooray, for oats.

    I recalled having skimmed the King Arthur Flour homepage a few weeks ago, looking for something interesting of which I have no memory now, probably a substitution or a fragment of a recipe that escaped me, or maybe I was just looking for publication information on their cookbook to send to someone-- but I came across an oatmeal bread recipe, and I thought, hm, wouldnt' that be a nice bread to make in the Harper's kitchen sometime, eventually, maybe? Well, in the words of my old friend JD, who used to phone and leave messages that said, "I'll get back to you later," then call again eight or nine months or maybe even a year later and say, "Hey, it's later!" Hey, it's later.

    It's time to make oatmeal bread. Now, I've never made an oatmeal bread before, although I've enjoyed them when other people have made them, and I remember thinking they were a pleasant change from other garden-variety store breads I used to buy back when I had all sorts of reasons for not baking my own bread all the time (like, I kid you not, "Well, it's just harder to slice homebaked bread and it's difficult to make sandwiches out of!" --ha! What did I know?). So I thought, that as a sort of experiment, I'd present a few recipes here, all of them from the King Arthur company (though I'm sure there are many other fine oatmeal bread recipes out there), run down an ingredients list of what I have on-hand in my head, and do what I usually do: that is, come up with a variety of oatmeal bread that bears only a little bit of resemblance to the things I'm seeing on this recipe page. Then, I'll spend a goodly portion of the day baking, even though I won't have to do any work at all for most of it, since the beauty of breadmaking is that most of it is done by the yeast, while the baker, um, knits! Yeah: I have a hat to finish, don't I? And of course the umpteen pairs of socks that are backed up, but we'll talk about knitting another day.

    So here are some oatmeal bread recipes, three of them, each under its own cut tag, each with some editorial remarks broken out, in case you don't want to bother with reading the actual recipes. I left in the bread machine instructions, in case those of you with bread machines are interested in making tihs in your machines, although those will be cut out of the oatmeal bread recipe I eventually put into my Squishy to have onhand for baking wherever I go.

    Oatmeal and Brown Sugar Toasting Bread )

    This is the simplest of these recipes, and I'll probably go with something very similar to it, although I suspect I want to add some honey, since honey and oats just go so well together. The downside to following this recipe is that I do not have steel-cut oats in the house. I suspect they are for texture, since the only difference between steel-cut and rolled oats is the fact that rolled oats have apparently been steamed, and steel-cut oats take longer to cook. The recipe calls for less of the steel-cut oats, so I am betting the oaty flavour will come mostly from the rolled oats, and the steel-cut ones are there to make people go, "Hey, there are real live oats in this bread, Harper!" Which, you know, they might do anyway. Right. Next recipe.

    Oatmeal Sandwich Bread )

    If you're curious, Lora Brody Dough Enhancer is a dough conditioner. It's a combination of gluten, ascorbic acid, and malt. Basically, it keeps baked goods from going stale, and people say that if you use it with heavy ingredients (like honey, oats, brown sugar, various kinds of sweetmeats), it helps bread dough rise better and improves the texture. I have never used a bread dough enhancer, and I'm only using what's on-hand in my kitchen for this bread, so Lora Brody doesn't make it onto my personal ingredient list today. She might never, to tell you the truth. This recipe calls for ground oats, and I don't have a grinder (other than a hand-operated coffee grinder, which I am not about to put oats into, thankyouverymuch!), so I'd have to coarse-grind half a cup of oats manually with a mortar and pestle. It does, however, call for honey, so maybe I'll use the honey measurement out of it and see where the flour measurements are different to produce the Harper Oatmeal Bread.


    Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Bread )

    Granular lecithin? Sounds like something big bakeries put in bread to make their ingredients lists longer.... Ugh. It's a moistener/preservative of some kind? Ew. It's apparently used in some diet foods as well. I think I'll pass, unless someone who comments would like to clue me in on the wondrous benefits of something with such an unfortunate name? And again with the dough enhancer. This recipe also calls for molasses or dark corn syrup, neither of which I have (and it's hard to get corn syrup in the UK, at least as far as I know).

    So here's what I know from reading these recipes. When you bake with oats, people mostly use boiling water, which doesn't surprise me. Doing all these things doesn't leave any yeast-proofing space, which makes me a wee bit nervous, though I suppose I could cut down on the amount of water in the boiling water mixture and proof yeast in another bowl. I'm always a little nervous when a bread recipe tells me to add yeast along with things like salt or powdered milk, so I'm going to go mostly with the second recipe, since that one doesn't call for boiling water. In the future, I should probably try it with the boiling water, just to see if it changes things and if so how. Probably I'll just make a substitution with some of the brown sugar for the honey in recipe number one, and we'll be good to go. Oh, and that milk will want to be room temperature or near it, so better go do that before we start anything else. I'll set out the ingredients while I'm doing that. You don't have to worry about that thing: just wait here and I'll take care of all the preparation. Also, I'm very likely to make a double batch, since the yield for this recipe is only one loaf. It's something like 11:00 now, and I don't expect it to take too long to put it all together.

    A little more than an hour later, the bread is rising. Aside from forgetting the milk and having to put it in later, I think everything went all right. I ended up using the mortar and pestle to grind a cup of oats (remember, I'm doubling this recipe) after all; it wasn't that much extra work. In an hour and a half, we'll see what has happened with the bread dough. It took a little longer to get things together than usual because I had a few interruptions, and while grinding the oats didn't take much extra time, it did take a little extra time.

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