Category Archives: Experimenting with food

Cake of Catastrophe

I keep making promises and getting myself into these situations that end in one kind of catastrophe or another. Last weekend, I had promised to provide a cake. After all, I had a recipe for glazed lemon bundt cake that sounded appealing. And I have a bundt pan – a bit more elaborate than the standard ones, but how could I have resisted buying a pan that looks (sort of) like a rose in full bloom?

CakeOfCatastrophePanThe cake wasn’t that hard – it’s basically a half-pound pound cake, with a bit of baking soda and some buttermilk and some lemon juice and grated rind added. And while it baked, I mixed up the glaze – butter and confectioner’s sugar and more lemon juice. Everything was going smoothly.

At first. The recipe tells you to let the cake cool just ten minutes, then turn it out of the pan so you can pour glaze over the hot cake and let it sink in. Only the cake refused to leave the pan. I tried cautiously running a knife around the edges to loosen it. No good. I shook the pan good and hard. The cake didn’t budge. I banged the upside-down pan on the counter a few times and whacked it with the palm of my hand while shaking it some more.

CakeOfCatastropheTopNope. It wasn’t moving. Total failure. Catastrophe, in fact. Finally I admitted defeat and spooned glaze over what was supposed to be the bottom of the cake. I was too tired to try something nice and foolproof, like brownies, so I just didn’t show up with a cake at all. Instead, we had some of it for dessert last night. Now that it’s cold, the slices come out of the pan nicely. Well, almost. Except for the parts that stick.

CakeOfCatastropheTopPartlyEatenIt does taste good. So maybe it wasn’t a complete catastrophe after all.

 

Halloween Hand of Horror

Well, you never know what’s going to happen when you click on Internet links. Again, today’s post isn’t what I had planned – I got waylaid by another irresistible oddity. Meatloaf, this time.

No, really. Strange meatloaf. Four years ago, Megan over at “not martha” came up with the ultimate Hallowe’en dinner, and I more-or-less copied her genius last night.

HalloweenHandOfHorrorYou start with your usual meatloaf mixture…probably non-carnivores could use their favorite veggieburger mix, though that seems kind of off – this dish is all about looking gruesome. Megan packed her meatloaf into a special mold, but I just shaped mine in the pan to look like a big clutching hand.

There are two details that really make this concoction work. First, the fingernails. I took half the outer layer of a large onion (well, really a quarter of the layer – I had used about half of the onion earlier for this’n’that). Cut the onion layer into five segments and trim them into fingernail-like chunks, then put them on the meatloaf. Don’t worry, they’ll stay put.

About halfway through the baking, I checked on the hand and realized that Megan was right – a catsup glaze really adds to the effect, so I spread some on. (She also topped her meatloaf with sliced cheese; I didn’t.)

HalloweenMeatloafOfHorrorCookedAnd here, in all its gory glory, is The Hand. Not something I’d make any other time of year, but last night it was a huge hit with my husband and son.

 

Beautiful soup

I am not a soup lover. Pretty often, I’d rather go hungry. But there was something about the squash soup recipe – well, more nearly a concept than a recipe – Gilly Gee posted recently that caught my interest. And when today turned out raw and wet, and unexpectedly snowy in the morning, it seemed like a good time to try making soup.

SoupPeppersSquashSo I cut up some butternut squash

SoupCarrotOnionand some carrot and red onion

and poked holes in a few red peppers (because once in a while vegetables really DO explode in the oven. A baked potato blew up and spattered itself all over the inside of my stove years ago, and ever since I’ve been careful to stick a knife into potatoes or yams or peppers before they go into the oven.)

Just seeing the bright colors of all those goodies is enough to make you feel warm.

Then I roasted them all until they were nice and soft and slightly browned – Gilly says you don’t absolutely need to bother, but it does improve the taste. I peeled the squash and peppers and cooked them all together till they were nice and soft, and more or less pureed them in my little food processor – “more or less” because I prefer things to have a bit of texture…or to be kind of lumpy, as most people would probably say.

SoupA little more cooking to get the puree nice and hot again, and it was really very good for supper (even though I forgot the ginger; I’ll have to put some in the leftovers tomorrow). Thanks, Gilly!

186 Cookbooks: Revisiting with second and third thoughts

Some months ago, I finally noticed that I have a lot of cookbooks. (I think – no, I know – the count is actually higher than 186 of them, but that was the first number I came up with, and “186” is funnier than “around 200”.) So I decided to weed them out by testing one recipe from each; if the recipe was a success, the cookbook stays, and if not it has to find a new home.

What it’s supposed to look like…

Well, this post is about a followup. A while ago I tried a cookie recipe from one of my stranger cookbooks, and decided it was a keeper after all. I also decided I wanted one of its cakes for my birthday. That was two weeks ago, and for a series of boring reasons I never did get around to having a birthday cake – so I inflicted it on my husband for his birthday, yesterday.

What a project. First I had to make three layers worth of chocolate sponge cake from scratch. I also had to make a syrup flavored with orange juice and whiskey (!), and a chocolate ganache (chocolate melted with cream). One of the three layers of cake gets cut into cubes and mixed with some of the syrup and ganache, and that mess gets patted into a mound on top of a second layer.

Well, that’s the easy part. Next you take the third, thinner layer and make a “smooth dome shape”. Or, of course, you make a lot of sponge cake shards. Then you add the rest of the syrup and ganache, and chill.

While the cake chills, you make the next key part: a chocolate marzipan layer, rolled thin between sheets of wax paper. That was surprisingly hard work as the disc of marzipan got bigger and thinner; I wound up having to put my full weight on my forearms on the rolling pin to get it to spread out as far as it did. (Probably this part would have been easier if the top of the counter wasn’t above my waist. Ah, leverage.)

Then you remove the wax paper and creatively mold the marzipan into a deeply wrinkled mountainous shape.

And you take the cake out of the refrigerator and discover it’s falling to pieces. I scraped some ganache out of the bottom of the pan and did my best to stick it back together, then flopped the marzipan over everything.

Speaking of pans, here’s one of the big flaws of this recipe. These are only about half the resulting dirty dishes, waiting patiently for attention.

And we’re ready for the finishing touch: sieve plain cocoa over the cake to give it a velvety texture.

By the time I finished, I was expecting the cake to be a disaster – I was almost hoping it would be, considering how much work it was. I was also having second thoughts about whether the cookbook was worth keeping.

Except that everyone agreed it was delicious. So I guess I’ll keep this cookbook after all. Next time, I think I’ll just use orange juice in the syrup – you couldn’t taste the whiskey anyway – and maybe some grated orange rind in the cake, and cube two-thirds of the cake to make a mound on the base layer (that top layer was more trouble than it was worth). But next time won’t be any time soon.

The Turduckening

So, several weeks ago my father-in-law phoned and said “Let’s have a turducken for Thanksgiving!” And he ordered one, had it delivered to our house, and for almost two weeks it sat patiently in our freezer, until I moved it to the fridge last Tuesday to start defrosting so we could eat it today. (We spend Thanksgiving Day – last Thursday, here in the U.S. – with my mother and have my father-in-law over for a second Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday.)

What is a turducken, you ask? Well, it’s a (deboned) chicken stuffed into a (deboned) duck stuffed into a (deboned) turkey. With odds and ends of stuffing stuffed into any available spaces.

It looks almost like a fresh turkey, a little squashed – much wider and flatter than normal. The one we had was about twelve inches (a bit over 30 cm) wide and nearly as long, but only about four and a half inches – roughly 11 cm – high. And it was sprinkled all over with something paprika-ish.

I don’t have a roaster that will hold something that size, so I bought the biggest disposable foil pan I could find. All the cooking instructions I could find said to give it six hours to roast and an hour to rest. Since we were going to have dinner at six this evening,  into the oven it went at 11 a.m.

By 2:20 in the afternoon, after almost three and a half hours of roasting, a meat thermometer said the temperature in the middle was 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius). Not enough – it’s supposed to reach at least 165 degrees (about 74 degrees Celsius).

And by five o’clock, it was all cooked.

Getting it out of the pan onto a platter took two people with four spatulas. (With no bones to help hold its shape, it was pretty floppy.)

But carving was ridiculously easy. Just move the wings (not boned) out of the way and slice it like a loaf of bread.

The darker chunks of meat are duck, I believe, and the yellowish part is cornbread stuffing. We never did figure out where the chicken was. That’s all right – it was so much meat the four of us only managed to eat about a quarter of it. But it was pretty tasty, and after all leftovers are part of Thanksgiving dinner.

So our turducken was a success. I don’t think I would want to have one again, though, unless we could find a lot more guests to invite to help eat it.

100 Word Challenge for Grownups – Pie of Newt

I should probably apologize for three posts in one day, but Julia at the 100 Word Challenge for Grown Ups has asked us to provide recipes fit for a witch, and I wanted to offer mine before Halloween comes to an end. Let me know what you think – is this truly horrifying?

Not intended for human or animal consumption under any circumstances.

Do not cook this at home, or elsewhere. 😉

Pie of Newt

Filling:
3 newts
10 rotten apples
sugar and cinnamon to taste (bespell somebody else to do the tasting)

Crust:
1/2 small package of quick-set concrete

Cut newts into bite-sized pieces. Slice apples; do not remove seeds and stems. Mix with sugar and cinnamon.

Line pan with thin layer of concrete. Pour filling into pan. Top with remaining concrete; cut a few steam holes in top crust before concrete hardens. Bake in a medium oven for about 45 minutes.

An excellent treat for testing whether your magic is powerful enough to compel obedience, since no one will eat this concoction voluntarily.

186 Cookbooks: Pretty enough to eat

I bought Wackycakes and Kookycookies by Gerhard Jenne for the picture on the cover as much as for any rational reason. But is it a cookbook, or an art book complicated by recipes? Time to see if anything in it is edible.

I needed a cookie recipe, and Wackycakes offers several – I went with “Two-tone Cookies” because I had the ingredients on hand. (They’re pretty basic – flour, sugar, butter, egg, plus vanilla for the white dough and cocoa for the chocolate dough.)

Jenne includes instructions for a variety of designs, but I settled for the Spirals. (The picture above, from the book, shows an assortment of his patterns.)

First, you mix up the two doughs and chill them thoroughly.

Next, put each lump of dough between two sheets of wax paper. Roll the dough into a sheet about an eighth of an inch thick (around 3 mm, if you speak metric), and as neatly rectangular as you can manage.

Stick the sheet of dough back in the refrigerator again and leave it to chill for at least an hour, until it’s nice and stiff.

Take the top piece of wax paper off each sheet of dough and put the two dough sheets together. Remove the wax paper from the top piece of dough. Now you find out how well you matched the two doughs while rolling them out. In this case, I rolled the chocolate much thinner than the vanilla. Bah. Anyway, trim the edges so you have a rectangular double sheet of dough.*

Carefully roll the two sheets into a log. They’re likely to try to break while you roll them. Patch and coax them together as needed. (You could also let the dough warm up a bit so it’s more flexible. The trouble is, when it’s warm it will want to stick to the wax paper. Pick your frustration.)

Annd – wrap the log in the remaining piece of wax paper and chill it some more! Then cut it into slices – about an eighth of an inch or a little thicker is good (3-4 mm) – and bake in a medium oven for about twelve minutes. Let the cookies sit for a minute or two before you try to take them off the pan.

Is it worth the bother? Well, you get lots of pretty, pleasant tasting rich (and fragile) cookies, kind of like shortbread. I won’t make them often, but the results are worth the trouble for special occasions. And I’ll try one of the cake recipes next, maybe for my birthday.

* And what about all those dough scraps? The easiest thing to do with them is jumble them together into another log and slice them up as marble cookies.

Tromping the oeil

(Yes, I know that title mixes up things – languages – that are normally different. Keep reading, and you’ll see why I think it fits this post.)

A couple of months ago, I came across an intriguing recipe for trompe l’oeil “grilled cheese sandwiches” – toasted pound cake sandwiched with orange icing – on ninevoltcandy’s blog, and I finally got around to trying it out yesterday. This is how dinner went:

Me, putting the plate of sandwiches on the table: I don’t know, I tried out a new recipe and I don’t think it worked. I guess you’ll have to eat grilled cheese for dinner.

Husband: Well, I like grilled cheese.

Son: Oh, okay.

Husband, wandering into the kitchen: What about the stuff in this pan on the stove? It looks pretty good.

Me: I’m just not sure it worked out.

Son, studying sandwiches: This bread looks really small. (Pause for thought) Is this pound cake? I think it’s dessert.

Me: That looks like dessert to you?

Husband: I think we should at least try the new recipe.

And both the new main dish – arroz con pollo from $35 a Week – and the dessert of “cheese sandwiches” were hits.

A few notes – first, the photo at the top isn’t really what we had yesterday; I forgot to take pictures then. But I had a little pound cake and icing left over, and used them up tonight in two last sandwiches.

Second, there’s the question of how to toast pound cake. Ninevoltcandy persuaded her toaster to handle it. I tried the toaster for one slice and wasn’t very pleased with the results, so I toasted the rest in the broiler:

Pound cake slices before broiling

After four minutes under the heat

Will I make it again? I’m not sure if I’ll serve it at home after this – the surprise is gone. (It did fool both Husband and Son for several minutes, they said later.) On the other hand, it does taste good, so maybe I will. But the next time I need something easy to take to a potluck or something of the sort, I know what it’s going to be!

186 Cookbooks: Who can resist?

Seriously, who can resist a title like “Forever Summer”? We may not long for the heat and humidity, but when you’re thinking about food, summer is the magic land of luscious fresh produce, more of it than you can eat, more delicious than you could remember after a whole year of waiting for it to return.

And the recipe I tested is so flexible it’s almost shapeless; it’s almost cheating to try it. I (mostly) followed Nigella Lawson’s basic recipe: marinate chicken in lemon juice, olive oil, onion, and rosemary, and grill it. (I used drumsticks instead of whole chickens, and white onion instead of red; I had white onion.) But Nigella tells us that she also marinates chicken in peppercorns, garlic, and wine vinegar, or replaces the rosemary with tarragon, or uses sambal oelek (chili paste).

I haven’t tried those variations, but this one is great. Of course, chicken, lemon, onion, and olive oil are available year round; but the rosemary was about as fresh as it gets, straight off the little rosemary plant at the corner of my backyard garden. So that’s definitely summery.

And a small confession: this cookbook could be classified as a ringer, if this project is intended to identify cookbooks I’m willing to get rid of. There are a few authors whose recipes match my taste so well that there’s no chance I’ll ever give up one of their books: Julia Child, Rick Bayless, and the wonderful Nigella. On the other hand, it is true that I bought this book a year or two ago and hadn’t gotten around to trying anything from it yet. About time. Yum.

186 Cookbooks: Strangely organized, but tasty

Not your standard “natural food” cookbook! I have a variety of other cookbooks focusing on “natural” food, and they’re typically vegetarian (though some have a few fish recipes). Shepherd’s cookbook contains vegetarian forms (see next paragraph) of most of the recipes, but also tells you how to cook chicken and beef and pork and lamb. But this is a very early example of the category, copyright 1975. Maybe people have become more restrictive over the years. This would fit with the fairly recent growth of vegan cookbooks – it seems as if some vegetarians have decided that milk products and eggs just aren’t pure enough, even if they used to eat them.

The way the recipes are presented is unusual, and I think the easiest way to explain it is to give an example from the first chapter (Chinese cooking). First, we get a list of ingredients and cooking instructions for “Broccoli and Onions with Nuts”, a vegetarian dish. Next, “Broccoli and Onions with Bean Curd”; replace the nuts with bean curd. After that, on the next page, broccoli and onions with chicken, green beans and onions with bean curd, green beans and onions with nuts, green beans and onions with meat (pork or beef), and so on. The variations aren’t written out in full – you’re just told what to do with the new ingredient and otherwise told to follow the first recipe in the series.

But how does the food taste? So far, so good. I tried a shishkabob recipe that sounded as if it might be too simple to be interesting: Marinate meat in onion, parsley, olive oil, and lemon juice. Grill. Sprinkle with a little cumin. And it was delicious. (And tastier than the plain grilled meat would have been. Though I don’t think the cumin added much – I like cumin, but I’ll probably leave it out next time. It was the lemon juice, parsley, and onion that made the dish.)

There are a lot of recipes in Natural Food Feasts that I haven’t tried yet. And by today’s strenuous standards for authentic food, this book may be much too Westernized. But some days, cooking a meal that’s somewhat unusual but doesn’t require a two-week search for ingredients has a lot of charm. Another keeper.