Sunday, January 26, 2020

Weeknight Focaccia? Why not?

Note: for a follow-up on last week's Vinegar Pie, check out the bottom of this post.

About a year and a half ago, I wrote and talked about a Focaccia recipe I'd found on the Smitten Kitchen website. It's a really good recipe - but it takes some time to make. I mean... even in the "quick" version it takes a few hours. And I really don't want to wait that long most weeknights after work.

But we needed something to take to an event this week, and since we took cookies the last time we thought it would be good to change things up with something savory. And - for some reason - I thought "maybe focaccia would be good."

For those of you who prefer video, allow me to explain what's going on:

Wait. I skipped a few steps. Here are the ingredients:

4 cups (520 grams) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
2 cups lukewarm water, made by mixing 1/2 cup boiling water with 1 1/2 cups cold water
4 tablespoons olive oil
Flaky sea salt

For the record, the olive oil I'm using is a garlic oil from a local olive oil purveyor.
Prior to showing off the bowl in the video, above, the ingredients looked like this:

A quick stir turned it into:

And then, just before filming, I covered it with a homemade beeswax-coated cloth:

And then I went to bed.

In the morning, I moved to the next step:

Post-stirring, it's a rather sad looking blend.

So, once again, the cover went on...

And this time I set it on top of the fridge to do its thing for the day while I went to work and did my thing for the day.

And it did its thing quite well over the course of the day, so that it looked like this at the end of the day:

A little garlic olive oil on the pan...

A little Play-doh time with the dough...

And after the "normal" stretching, I went a little off the rails and went at the dough with a bench scraper to make this batch into breadsticks.

Prior to baking, as I was sprinkling salt on them, they looked like this:

Post-bake, they looked like this:

How were they? Pretty much as good as you'd think. Not a single one of them came back home with us. And I really want to make more so I can eat the full pan...

Wouldn't you?

Lots of people checked out last week's Vinegar Pie, and one of them was actually someone who grew up with Vinegar Pie. As I had guessed, his recollection of the reason behind it was to replace lemon when it wasn't readily available. As such, it pretty much did its job. 

Also - weird thing - it didn't do well over time. A couple days later when I went in for a final slice, the flavor had "turned" a bit. It was still edible, it just wasn't enjoyable - the flavor had gotten less bright, and more sour. 

But I'm still very glad I made it and tried it. I recommend you trying sometime, too. 

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Novel Food - Vinegar Pie

Wow. It's been a while since I've put up a blog post. So why not start back with some food that seems fairly improbable - but also totally doable with what most people have in their pantries on a cold, snowy winter weekend?

And, come on. Who doesn't like a nice slice of pie?

But... okay... the title of this post says that I made a "vinegar pie" - what the hell is that? And where did I get the idea? I'm so glad you asked...

(By the way... YouTube has seriously updated the way you upload videos in the past few months. We'll see if I take advantage of any of them to class up my videos in the coming months...)

So... Yeah... Vinegar pie was inspired by Farmer Boy - book three of the "Little House" books by Laura Ingalls Wilder - which I read for my Book Club. There's a scene in the book where Almanzo Wilder (at the time, about 9 years old, I believe) is eating all sorts of food, and "vinegar pie" is one of his favorites. 

This sent me on a quest to find out whether such a thing existed in the 21st century - and whether I could find a workable recipe. (In other words, nothing that talked about brining pork in barrels or making my own vinegar...)

Happily, the recipe I found only needed 5 ingredients (plus an unbaked 9-inch pie shell): 
As you can probably see in those screenshots, the recipe came from
Quick and easy recipe. Good Book Club tie-in. Seemed like the perfect pairing to me!

So I gathered my ingredients (and... well... made a pie crust - but you can totally just use a store-bought one if you'd prefer):
Somehow, knowing that these were the only ingredients didn't make me less nervous about the pie. It did, however, make me re-check the recipe for how much vinegar was going in. 
I started by melting the butter (so that I could cool it a bit and not end up with scrambled eggs).

After that, this is pretty much a dump - mix - bake recipe. 

Eggs and sugar first.

Which gave me this consistency:

Then melted butter, 

for this consistency:

Then vanilla (the brown spot)...
I won't lie. Part of me wanted to stop here with just a nice vanilla custard kind of thing going on.
 ...and vinegar,
This made me more nervous than I thought it would.
and I was happy to see that it didn't really cause this all to fall apart.
"Happy" and also very relieved.
Into the pie shell:
At this point, yes, I'm realizing that this was a really easy recipe and the photos are probably really boring. Thank you for staying with me to see how it turns out.
I started out checking it on my finger to see what the consistency was like. It held together pretty well - not too loose, but not glue-y, either.

There's only one problem with getting it on my finger: That meant I really had to taste it. But I couldn't do that without sharing the results, right? (Even though the pie had just gone into the oven.)

(REMINDER: Eating raw eggs and uncooked flour is potentially hazardous to your health. Don't do it.) (And, if you do, at least remember that I warned you.)

Somewhere around mid-bake, I looked in the toaster oven and saw it looking like this: 
Yes, I opened the oven door to take this photo. I know... I know... You keep telling me not to do that...
I was a little freaked out by how dark the top was, but I realize that that was probably due to baking it too high (too close to the top heating elements, etc.) in the toaster oven - not a fault of the pie. At this point, it was actually still obviously liquid under the dark top, so I slid it back in and walked away and trusted in the recipe. 

When I took it out at the end of 50 minutes, it had a slightly domed top as I set it on the rack to cool. 
Hmm... you can probably see the dome better in the toaster oven photo above.
And it almost immediately started to deflate. 
I tried to get a photo of the steam escaping from a crack in the dome, but it didn't turn out. 
By the time it had cooled, it was looking a bit sad, I have to admit. 

Though not as sad as the pup, who apparently felt that the pie smelled like something she should have been sharing.

I left the pie to cool and wait for Book Club. Which got postponed due to... well... due to it being January in Minnesota. But I still wanted to try the pie, obviously. 

It had a really good consistency - and the custardy filling didn't break or weep at all when I took out the first piece (considering how liquid-y the center had looked halfway through the bake time, I was a little worried about that). 
The crust issues were all on me - not the fault of the recipe, obviously.
The flavor wasn't quite as "lemon bar" as it had seemed to me when I tasted the batter before it baked. It was definitely more sweet-vanilla-forward, with the tang of the vinegar just kind of cutting through some of that sweetness.

I ate the whole piece, though, and went back for another one.

Christopher agreed to try a bite of the second one (I guess it seemed safe since I'd already eaten a piece), and he deemed it to be "not bad" - but something he would probably not be asking for more of.

Will I make it again? Probably for whenever my Book Club actually reconvenes to talk about the Little House books.

Would I make it outside of that arena? I'm not sure. I suspect - as you'll see if you read through the recipe comments - this is something that you love if you grew up with it, but might take some work to become an acquired taste if you didn't.

Even so, it does take a relatively attractive photo.

I know that at the end of most blog posts, I ask for your comments, suggestions, and discussion topics. But as I mentioned in the opening video, the amount of weird in the world has been on my mind a lot lately. 

So this week, in response to the devastating Australian wildfires, here's a link to an article in USAToday that lists a whole bunch of relief organizations - some for people, some for animals - if you're so inclined, making a donation to one (or many) of them might be a nice thing to do: 

Friday, August 9, 2019

Chili-Lime Melon Salad. (Wait... Chili?) Yes. Chili.

This week was National Night Out - as many of you probably already know. Our neighborhood goes pretty all out for it. The past few years we've gathered around a few grills and some potluck-covered tables while the kids enjoyed a bounce house (and the parents of those kids got progressively more and more nervous as the kids got more and more adventurous).

This year, there was a fiesta theme, complete with face painting and piƱata, so I decided to make a summer salad that has some south-of-the-border flavors: chili powder, lime, and Cotija cheese.

It's a recipe that I've made once before when we had some friends over for brunch, and people really seemed to like it, so I thought I'd go for it again. (Plus, it's quick, easy, and fairly cheap - things I definitely enjoy when making food for a crowd.)

Allow me to explain:
I have NO idea what I was doing during what became the freezeframe image for this video. But... HOORAY!

So, yeah... This is, once again, a recipe from The Smitten Kitchen. You can find it on her website, here. (Because it's a pretty simple recipe, I'm not going to type it all out, here.)

Here are the basics that you need:

  • 4 cups of assorted melon (I went for watermelon and cantaloupe)
  • Some lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon of cilantro
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon of chili powder
  • Some Cotija cheese
  • Some course salt
  • Toasted/salted pepitas (which are what's "inside" a pumpkin seed)

The hardest part of this whole process is getting the melon into bite-size pieces. Well, that and - depending where you live - finding the Cotija cheese and the pepitas. But, around here in Minneapolis you can get Cotija cheese either as a chunk or as crumbles. (As you probably saw in the first video, I went for the crumbles.)

The pepitas can be ordered online, if you need to go that way, but I got mine from the bulk section of my local grocery store. The last time I made this salad, I used raw ones and toasted them myself. This time, I picked some up right across the produce section from the melons and the cilantro.

So, here we have photos of balling melons, which is really the main piece of work:

Here's how exciting it looks to use a cookie scoop as a melon baller.
Yeah... not much activity in this recipe when you come right down to it.
Recommendation: If you have a cutting board that is grooved for meat, it's also good for cutting juicy fruit. (Not the gum.)
Bonus to using a melon baller: I really kind of love the designs you get in the melon rinds. 

Feel free to ooohh and ahhh, at any point.

And, since this is a really easy recipe, this all goes directly into the bowl you'll be serving it in.

Then you add in all of the other stuff. Which, honestly, is just a whole lot of dumping things together. 

So, instead of just showing you the final photo, here's the wrap-up video, first: 

Now, with not quite a month of summer left - and watermelon at its freshest of the year - why not try a new way of eating it? (The Smitten Kitchen and I would never steer you wrong!)

Oh - And if you're wondering what to do with all that juice that builds up in the watermelon rind while you're making melon balls, here's one recommendation:
After all, it's basically a giant bowl/cup, right? 
How've you been? Any cooking questions come up while I've been gone? Let me know if there's anything I can try to answer!

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Sound of Comfort Food

Hey, there.

I know I've been gone for a while. And, honestly, I don't have a really good reason. But here are some honest thoughts on the matter (in no particular order):

1) Work has been strangely busy, which has been keeping me from wanting to open my laptop when I get home at night, but that's not really a great reason.

2) I had a couple of side projects come up and felt like I needed to focus on those instead of focusing on my own work.

3) We went to New York City for a week to visit family and friends (and friends who are more like family) at the end of May.

4) We've each had some family things going on that have been at least a little distracting.

5) The world has gotten weird - and I don't always feel like writing a frivolous blog about food and day-to-day life is really right. And I wonder whether I should be writing pithy pieces about the world, instead of frothy pieces about my kitchen.

A couple of days ago, however, I had a good experience in the grocery store (as we all know - grocery stores are my happy place), and I wanted to share.

No. It's not a recipe. And, no, there's not even a tasting at the end.

But I hope you enjoy this quick video, even so.

And - believe it or not - I'm also working up a post that should be coming up on Friday of this week, as well.

Hopefully we'll see each other then!

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The Scotcheroo/Frosted Chew Debate

The people I work with are a fairly varied group. Different ages, different backgrounds. But for the most part we do have strong opinions about food. (Thus we have the occasional bake-off as discussed last week.)

We also have discussions that come up such as "What do you call that peanut butter and chocolate bar that has cereal in it?"

You know, these bars:

Are they Scotcheroos or Frosted Chews*? (spoiler alert: that photo is both)

Let me explain...

For starters as we discuss how great these are - whichever cereal you use - we should discuss how few ingredients they have:

The recipes are the same (and are both on the Kellogg's website), but here they are. (Get the feeling that one of the sites is expected to bring in more money than the other?)

**REMINDER: This post is focused on two half batches, each one using a different type of cereal. If you're working with full batches... well... you'll have twice as much.

In case you're wondering what a pan full of sugar products looks like, here you go (it's a half cup of white sugar and a half cup of light corn syrup):

While that is on the stove over medium heat, it's a great time to grease your pan. Yes, I use old wrappers from margarine or butter for this (instead of sprays) when working with flat pans. And - yes - Christopher gets frustrated with all of the wrappers stored in the fridge. It's a give and take.

But - the actual point, here - you have to grease the pan (one way or another) or these bars will seriously stick.
So often my photos get weird because of the outside light. I love how in this one the light actually accents the margarine on the pan.
Checking back in on the stove, we have now melted the sugar, and are to an all-syrup stage.

Somewhere around the point when it's finally beginning to bubble around the edges, I tend to start getting impatient. But you need to just keep stirring and waiting. 
It's bubbling - but only around the edges. This is not good enough.
Luckily, it doesn't take too long for it to go from there to where it needs to be:
See? Bubbling all over the pan. That's what we were waiting for. 
I have a few different recipes that I tend to make at about the same time of year that involve this same type of process, but with one major difference: This only needs to be brought to a boil - and then it's done. The other recipe needs to be boiled for multiple minutes. 

I mention this because if you boil THIS for multiple minutes you'll end up with something more akin to a brittle - which is not what you're going for. 

With the heat turned off, you can stir in the peanut butter.
I prefer creamy, but I'm sure chunky would work for this, too. 
It's a bit odd watching the peanut butter melt. The middle stage is weirdest.
It's still a little like peanut butter, but it's also kind of liquid. But not really either one.
Eventually, though, it's... well... let's just say that this next photo makes my mouth water.

For our first half-batch of these, the next step included adding in FOUR cups of Special K.

You've got options on this. You could put the cereal in a bowl and then pour the liquid over the top and stir. Or - as I do - I just plan to use a large enough pan so that I can pour the cereal directly into the liquid and mix there. One less thing to clean up - and, frankly, I think I'm able to incorporate more of the liquid without losing it to the sides of the containers during the various transfers.
Yes, I know it looks like you'll never get it all coated. You just have to keep stirring. 
Tipping it out into the pan, it looks a bit odd and lumpy. And that's okay, because you need to press it down into the pan.

CAUTION: This stuff is hot as lava at this point - or at least as hot as boiled sugar - so you're better off using a spatula for this step.
I've also been known to put my hand into a baggie and then use that - because that way you can just pat the mixture down without worrying about it all sticking to you. But the spatula is probably wiser. 
The recipes talk about making these pretty thick, but we like them somewhere in between. A good gauge is to make them about level with the sides of the pan. (This also makes it easy to get more bars out of one pan.)

Yes, I know that this is precariously close to the edge of the cabinet. Do you know who else thought it had a chance that it might fall?
Ever hopeful in the kitchen...
As we discussed earlier, the recipes are identical until you get to the cereal. For a half batch, of Scotcheroos, the peanut butter mixture gets just THREE cups of Crispy Rice.
Though I mention in the video at the end that I think Rice Krispies might be gluten free - and I still think they might be - I've seen some things online saying that they're not. So please do your research if you're trying to make these gluten free. 
Again, they look a bit odd when they first land in the pan...

...but with a good spatula-ing...

...they turn out pretty respectably.

Though, they do look a bit naked, don't they? So it's time for some topping.

By the way: The recipe calls for Chocolate and Butterscotch chips - not Chocolate and Peanut Butter. In part, I'm sure this is because there weren't any Peanut Butter chips when the recipes were created. But - I have to admit - I've tried it both ways, and the Butterscotch chips give this a much better flavor. Using Peanut Butter chips left these really kind of flat and boring, in comparison.
Consider this to be a Double Boiler - it's a metal pan on top of a saucepan of boiling water. My favorite way to melt chocolate.
As with the melting of the peanut butter, there's a point in this process here it really seems like the chips are never going to melt.

But, eventually, they do.

Once it's smooth, it's time to spread this onto the now-cooled bars.

With the topping on them, it's kind of hard to tell which is which, isn't it?
Please ignore the chocolate chip cookies on the side of the photo. It was a busy night in the kitchen. (Though, if you're wondering, those are the Betty Crocker 1950 Chocolate Chip Cookies we've talked about in the past.)
Now the hard part: Letting them cool so that the top hardens.

Once they're cool, I like to use my "Bash 'n' Chop" (that's the brand name of the old counter scraper that I have) to cut them, because you get good straight lines and have a lot of control, even with something fairly thick.

Since I was taking these to work, I needed to figure out a way to keep them separate. I went with some waxed paper - and flipped half of them upside down.
If you look closely, this gives you a chance to tell which side is which bar.
So, what's the difference between the two? Let's discuss:

Do I think one is necessarily better than the other? I'm not sure. I really enjoy the crunchier, more "substantial" dessert-bar texture of the Special K Frosted Chews. But the more candy-like texture of the Scotcheroos is nice, too. I think this may need more testing as time goes on...

Oh. And if you've read this far along, you may be interested to know that I did not win the cupcake bake-off at work. I actually came in 3rd (out of 4) - with the tiramisu cupcakes coming in first. Basically, the two cupcakes that came in first and second had almost equal amounts of frosting and cake. Mine - and the one that came in fourth - had much smaller amounts of frosting in comparison. I'd like to think that - and, well, the fact that mine had turned blue - had something to do with my placing.

As for the Scotcheroo/Frosted Chew debate, at work the Frosted Chews got about 2/3 of the votes.

*I feel I should mention that, in our family, these are always referred to as "Joy's Frosted Chews" (not "Special K Frosted Chews") because a family friend made these every fall and so they've always been connected to her. Sentiment aside, though, they're really good no matter what you call them.


Is there something you've always wanted to try in your kitchen, but you wish someone else would do it, first? Let me know and I'll be your guinea pig!