I fail at blogging, but I bring cookies!

Posted in baking, Daring Bakers, my recipes on November 12, 2009 by playswellwithfood

In my attempt to keep blogging more often, I joined up with the Daring Bakers/Daring Cooks challenges.

And promptly, failed to blog in Oct with having participated in both challenges. Go team me! So, going with the better late than never theory, I made goodies in Oct, and I want to share them. Because they were tasty.

For the bakers challenge, we were to make French macaroons. I’d only had these a few times before, and never tried to make them, but luckily, I had everything I needed in the house already. Yes, I keep almond flour on hand. I’m weird like that. I debated for a while, what kind did I want to make… chocolate seemed like a good idea, but I was (yes, I’m about to say this) bored with chocolate. I wanted something different. Since it was Oct, and thus fall, I was starting to get more into that mood, and some rifling through my spice rack provided the answer:

Ginger macaroons, with pumpkin buttercream filling. Oh. My. God.

I finally buckled down to attempt these tasty little treats one night around 3am, and on the first try, I had feet! I rejoiced, there were FEET! ON MY COOKIES!! Lots of people said feet were hard to achieve on the first shot, but I managed, I was very happy about it too. I may have danced around the kitchen a little, 4:00 in the morning, in my pajamas. No one ever said I wasn’t a dork.

I did a lot of reading and research on making these cookies, to be honest, because there were some serious variations on how people’s were turning out, and even a bit on recipe itself. My recipe was a simple one, that I borrowed from Tartelette, who seems to really know her macaroons. Plus, I like weighing things in recipes like this:

90 gr egg whites (about 3)
30 gr granulated sugar
200 gr powdered sugar
110 gr almond flour
1/2 Tbs ground ginger

The egg whites: I did let them sit out on the counter overnight, covered, which I think helped. When I was ready to go with them, into my KitchenAid with the whisk attachment, and beaten until foamy, gradually added the granulated sugar, until I had a lovely meringue.

I ran the powdered sugar and almond flour through a sifter, got the little chunks of almond out of the flour, which probably also helped, as to not weigh down my batter. Combining these with the meringue, I hand-folded them as quickly as I could to incorporate (47 strokes was my magic number). Into a piping bag — ok, a ziplock bag with the tip cut off — and piped onto baking sheets lined with parchment. I left my cookies sitting on the counter for half an hour, then slipped them into the oven (at 280f) for 20 min. I didn’t have much trouble removing them from the parchment, luckily, when they were done, and most importantly, they had feet! Yes, I found this exciting at that hour.

My filling was pretty simple, a lovely pumpkin buttercream:

1 stick butter, room temp
1/3 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp each cinnamon and nutmeg
1/4 tsp vanilla
1+ lb powdered sugar

Cream butter, pumpkin, spices and vanilla, then slowly add sugar until it forms the consistency you want, and no longer separates. I ended up with a bit of this left over (half or more of what I’d made), so keep that in mind. Filled the cookies with it, and then there was happy nommage. Very happy.

Daring Cooks challenge post to follow shortly, I need to actually eat some dinner here, I’m making myself hungry.


Of cupcakebobs, vampire kitties, and 1am trips to Walmart

Posted in baking, my recipes on June 22, 2009 by playswellwithfood

Five types of cupcakes. Five frostings. Six hours in the kitchen. Four hour drive. Two days of crazy. One party. That sums up the couple days prior to, and the weekend itself.

It all started a few weeks ago with a phone call from the kitchenMage [mom] that my dad was planning a party. Fast forward to a week before the party, and he finally sends out invites. Yep, slacker! Mom and I get to talking, and she sends me a link to Cupcakes that Take the Cake’s post about cupcake kebobs. We could do that… but she’s swamped. I’m unemployed at the moment, which means too much time on my hands. She would make some (mango-ginger, dipped in chocolate) marshmallows, I would make the cupcakes. Simple enough task. Except we don’t do anything “simple” in this family.

Wednesday, I did my shopping in the morning for everything I needed for the mini-cupcakes. I informed my roommates that they were going to buy burgers for dinner, because I wasn’t letting them in the kitchen all night. And I camped out, for the rest of the afternoon, past evening and well into the night, baking. Knocked the temperature in my kitchen up to about 90f/32c at one point just from having the oven on for hours. As I was finished, around 11:30 that night, I packed up the cupcakes, and counted up 238 of the suckers. At the time the party attendance count was about 15 people. Luckily this turned out to be a little low, because way too many cupcakes for 15 people!

Packing up my car early on Thursday, I changed into semi-dressy clothes, because I was going to see RENT, before trekking down to evenTinierTown where my parents live. Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp reprising their roles for the farewell tour sort of made seeing it a necessity. As I headed out of Seattle at 11pm, I couldn’t find an on-ramp to the freeway that wasn’t shut down due to construction. An extra fifteen minutes of driving around and I managed to finally be on my way, with the need to make one last stop before I got to my parents. For strawberries for the cupcakebobs. Except I wanted to get out of Seattle first. Which turned into a production, because nothing was open at that hour. There are no 24-hour grocery stores south of Seattle (perhaps there are some in Tacoma, but not off the freeway and close), all the way down the rest of the state apparently. Except for Walmart. Somewhere I never shop, but we needed strawberries.

Walmart is remodeling. It’s 1am. It’s pouring down rain. I’m in dressy clothes, ballet flats, and a purple leather jacket. My cell phone in one hand, talking to mom. Pawing through a ton of 1 pound clamshells of giant strawberries, trying to find some that weren’t twice the size of the cupcakes. I must’ve been a bit of a spectacle, everyone kept stopping to give me funny looks. Yeah, well, I felt the same about the girl in the white shortshorts, hot pink tank top that barely covered her breasts and didn’t cover anything else, and flip-flops who was also shopping there at that hour!

And as if I didn’t have an eventful-enough time, I have a lovely bite mark on my right wrist from the barn cat who lives across the street from my parents, who decided that being spooked meant trying to bite my hand off. I’ve been claiming I got bitten by a vampire, because at least it’s more amusing of a story.

All in all, it was a crazy weekend, but worth the trip down, for a party full of good food, good company, and good music. Even if celebrating the solstice around here means watching it rain while we’re all crowded inside. Cupcake recipes are below the cut…

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Now this is what I call playing with your food

Posted in Uncategorized on August 21, 2008 by playswellwithfood

It’s been a quiet morning at work — for once, this week!! — and I’ve been surfing the interwebz. In my searching for things to entertain me, I stumbled upon pimpthatsnack.com and I have to say, I’m having this serious desire to “pimp” a snack of some form. I don’t know what, and I know I shouldn’t simply because it’ll end up being a stupid amount of sugar in my house that shouldn’t be there, but oh, the temptation. Maybe do something I can bring to work and pawn off on my crew. Now, to figure out what, because if this whole idea isn’t the essence of something I truly love about food — being creative and having fun while making something delicious — I don’t know what is.

In case anyone wonders why I hate PETA…

Posted in food controversies on August 7, 2008 by playswellwithfood

I’ve always — even over the years as a idealistic teenager that I was a vegetarian — viewed PETA as a terrorist organization. I know, it’s not kosher (hmm, how many buzzwords can I throw into a single paragraph?) to toss that word around these days, to use it to describe anyone who isn’t from some far away country where they’re clearly spending 24/7/365 plotting the fall of western civilization… oh, come on people, don’t make me roll my eyes again, I’ve been doing it enough this week. But I digress. PETA. Terrorists. Absolutely. Their purpose isn’t animal rights, it’s to terrorize the minds (and sometimes, the persons) of anyone who disagrees with their extremist point of view. And if you question this assumption on my part? Let me point you to this article… a snippet is below:

An animal rights group has tried – and failed – to run a newspaper ad comparing the beheading of a passenger on a Greyhound bus last week to the treatment of animals by the meat industry.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, said on its website it would run the ad in the Portage la Prairie Daily Graphic.

However, city editor Tara Seel said the newspaper had no intention of running the ad, which uses imagery of “an innocent victim’s throat” being cut, in reference to the slaughter of cows, chickens and pigs on factory farms.

“His struggles and cries are ignored … the man with the knife shows no emotion … the victim is slaughtered and his head cut off … his flesh is eaten,” reads the ad, which is posted on the website.

“If this ad leaves a bad taste in your mouth, please give a thought to what sensitive animals think and feel when they come to the end of their frightening journey and see, hear and smell the slaughterhouse.”

Are you kidding me??

I suppose, in a way, this shouldn’t surprise me. After all, this is the same organization that has brought us the “Holocaust on your plate” ads, the woman getting clubbed to death in the subway for her fur coat ads, the woman in the fur coat drinking from the toilet ad, the woman in the fur coat using a litterbox ad, the “are animals the new slaves?” ads, the “got beer?” ads (hell, that one’s tame!), encourages kids to fear their dad if he fishes, — google the ads if you want, I won’t link them, but you can find them on PETA’s site, most of them are under “banned,” — the hypocrisy of their own killing of animals and the fact that their fearless leader is a friggin’ nutjob… no, really.

So it shouldn’t surprise me that they’ve taken the next step in idiocy and decided to compare the poor kid just riding the Greyhound home and getting beheaded to the plight of animals. Because after all, according to Ingrid Newkirk, their wack-job founder, the world would be an infinitely better place without humans in it at all, so why not exploit the death of one, or of millions (Holocaust ad, slavery ad) to bring the point home? Who cares if you’re coming across as the most insensitive people on the planet, right? Besides, 80% of PETA’s approach is to cause controversy, with “10% celebrity, and 10% truth.” Nice.

Of course we should treat animals humanely. There isn’t a reason for the way we raise food animals, in tight, cramped quarters, forcing antibiotics and hormones into their bodies so they grow faster and stay alive longer. I did the vegetarian thing for all the “right” reasons, and it was spawned by driving by one of the cattle ranches and seeing the cows, all clustered together without enough space between them to even turn around, the babies getting lost in the crowd, it just turned my stomach, and I gave up meat for five years.

Did a number on my health from it, and I have come to the conclusion that meat isn’t bad for you, but there are ways to get it that are more humane. And frankly, that are better for us as well. Free-range. Organic. Hormone/antibiotic-free. Grass-fed beef. Buy local. Buy from a butcher that can not only tell you the farm your meat came from, but if the animal had a name could have told you that (I once had some lamb that, when it was passed on to me, the woman said, and I quote, “Willy was such a bastard, I didn’t think he’d be so tender.” I couldn’t help but laugh — and it was damned tasty meat too!). Buy from the local farms at your farmer’s markets. There are all sorts of ways to work to make the lives of our food animals better, without resorting to extremes.

In the end, this is just one more in a long list of things PETA has done that make my stomach turn. Usually, they just make me want to go eat a cheeseburger, but right now, I feel kind of sick from it all.

Seafood soup… strange form of comfort food.

Posted in my recipes on May 20, 2008 by playswellwithfood

I’ve been working out this whole new diet thing, and it’s still causing problems, but it’s getting easier.

Today was gloomy, kind of cold, your typical day in western Washington, and I was having a serious craving for warm comfort food. I wanted mac & cheese — pasta’s off my diet list right now. I wanted mashed potatoes — I can’t have potatoes right now. So I had to improvise, and I stopped at the local co-op on my way home, because lucky for me, it’s a block from my office. Looking around, there was some scallops, and they looked pretty good. I snagged them, and some fresh cod, along with a few other things that didn’t end up in dinner tonight. There was shrimp at home in the freezer, and I plotted on the drive home what to do with these things.

Since it’s cold — 49 degrees when I drove past the temperature gauge that had read 93 on Saturday — and rainy, soup sounded heavenly. What I wouldn’t have given for a nice, fresh loaf of crusty bread to dip into the broth, but I’m not dwelling on what I can’t have these days.

Instead, I can have things like this wonderful, filling seafood soup.

This was simplistic, because it’s been a long day, and the art of cooking soup is often, for me, in the simple task, not the overly energetic efforts.

Soup, for me, reminds me of my dad, who is always talking about wanting to feed the world, and he’ll do it with soup. So whenever I make soup, it makes me smile, thinking he’d like that I was making it. Maybe I’ll freeze some of this the next time I make it, to take down to him.

Seafood, in all its various forms, is one of my all-time favourite food groups. I’m quite content to live off various types of seafood. In fact, I’ve had more fish this week than anything else, but how could I pass up fresh Copper River salmon, and exquisite, local-caught black cod? It’s something that comes with growing up in the Pacific Northwest, where seafood is abundant and fresh; we eat a lot of it. You can often tell someone is local by how they like their seafood, and their coffee. And when it’s cold, what better than to combine one of these loves with one of the simple pleasures of food, a lovely, hearty broth?

I did end up using a store-bought veggie broth rather than making my own, again for simplicity. Normally I make my stock, but tonight I bought some low-sodium, fat-free organic veggie broth to use as my soup base.

Chopping up a quarter cup of onion — stored in the fridge, so it was cold, and didn’t make me cry — and a clove of garlic, they were tossed into a heavy stockpot with a tablespoon of olive oil, to cook for a few minutes, until the onion was nice and tender. I added 1/4 cup of white wine, and let it cook down, as the smell started to permeate the house, making it feel homey, and the smell making me hungrier by the second.

Once the wine cooked down, four cups of broth were added, along with four tomatoes, chopped. Letting this simmer for a little while, I could go sit, check my email, relax a bit from the long day at work, and let the smell invade every corner of the house.

After about half an hour, I tossed a pound of scallops into the broth, and let them cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally, already envisioning eating by the time I added the pound of cod, cut into one inch cubes. Another couple of minutes, and in went the shrimp to finish off cooking.

As I ladled a bowlful of this warm, sweet soup into one of my new bowls, I almost couldn’t wait to take a picture before I started eating.

It’s not mac and cheese or mashed potatoes, but while I’m in low-carb mode, this will find its way into rotation for those nights I need comfort food, I want something filling and hearty without a lot of filler…

It was perfect for a dark, stormy northwest night, curled up with a bowl of hot soup in my hand as I sat by the window and watched the rain fall down outside. These are the nights I love, and the reason I continue to live here, the place that more than anywhere else in the world, will always be home.

Long time, no post…

Posted in rambling on May 10, 2008 by playswellwithfood

I don’t even have a brilliant excuse for not being around. Just been busy. New job and moving, mostly. That whole “reality” thing.

But recently, I’ve been rediscovering my relationship with food in terms of the differences between things I love and things I can’t live without. Why the reevaluation? Due to being insulin resistant thanks to PCOS, and developing fairly strong hypoglycemia levels (and the random really high spikes — this is apparently common in the combination of things, and all I have to say is it sucks!), my doctor decided to try an experiment:

  • No sugar. Okay, I can live with that, really, I’m still working on losing weight, that’s cool.
  • No wheat. Um………………………………. yeah, no.
  • Nothing that lists on the Glycemic Index at above 50. Ugh.
  • No red meat. But I love steak! And really good burgers!
  • Extremely low carb, in general

That’s nice, thanks doc! I started this a week ago Wednesday, and I’m still about wanting to kill something for a slice of bread (especially when kitchenMage [mom] is taunting me with posts about her bread and making bread for Mother’s Day and I can’t have any! *pout*)

So stay tuned, I actually have a lot of posts stored up in my head, I may be playing catch-up this weekend. I have some recipes from before this last week of insanity to post, and some ramblings about the whole “low carb experiment” as well. But since kM’s been poking at me, I wanted to at least post and say I’m not dead. Yet. But if anyone waves a fresh baked… anything in front of me at the Farmer’s Market today, I can’t make any promises about the outcome!

Mail-order cookbooks…

Posted in baking on January 30, 2008 by playswellwithfood

Normally I’m not one too go for the “buy mail-order stuff from us and we’ll give you a cheap introduction and then you just have to buy lots more later” deals. But… one popped up in my e-mail recently and I admit, I jumped.

The Good Cook offered four cooking-related books for what ended up being $13 once shipping was added, and a decent discount on future purchases. Oh, hell yes, where do I sign up?? So I’m a sucker. But I love cookbooks. I love pouring over them and getting ideas from other people, seeing how recipes evolved. I rarely follow a recipe exactly, sometimes I don’t follow them at all, but it’s nice to have. And I picked up a few that had good stories to go with the recipes. What’d I get? Three for me, and one for my roommate who is wanting to get a better handle on “what you can do in the kitchen.”

So what did I get? I started with Crust and Secrets of a Jewish Baker, which were my “I’m a baking geek!” pick-ups for the week, and The Best of Gourmet because I love things that lend themselves to both simple (well, in my world, but I am my mother’s daughter, and believe it’s simpler to bake bread than to go to the store and buy some…) dinners at home and those nights I want to impress someone with a little something extra special.

I also picked up The Elements of Cooking, mostly for J to look at and learn some things, but I’ve been giving it a glance and it’s kind of amusing. Like a basic cooking school in a book.

But what I’m loving the most right now is Crust, and I’ve been pouring over it, knowing I need to bake something, just trying to decide what. I was sort of amused the other day, I stumbled across someone who is just learning to bake complaining that they don’t have a KitchenAid stand mixer, so how can they learn how to make bread?? I didn’t say anything, but I got a chuckle out of it. I can see the reasoning for the stand mixer if you’re making a giant batch of bread, or if you have bad hands, or just because some days, but I have bad hands, and I still get in there and do it all by hand. It’s how I learned, and I can’t comprehend learning any other way. Once you master it, then hand it over to the toys if you’re in a hurry.

Secrets of a Jewish Baker has instructions for using a mixer, and a food processor, while Crust is all hands-on. And his breads are beautiful. Only a little more involved than I’m going to be able to tackle tonight, I’m afraid. I think I’m going to borrow from my Jewish roots, and maybe go simple, with some biscuits to go with some stew since it’s still bitingly cold ouside these days.

But I have to find some Cabernet grape flour, because Crust’s recipe for Cabernet grape bread looks amazing. I’ll see what I can come up with this weekend, and if I can’t find it here, then hey, I need an excuse to take an overnight trip to Canada. I need to go get my hands dirty in some dough, though, tonight, because they’re itching to make something. Having new books to inspire is only making it stronger