Feeds:
Posts
Comments

bake, eat, sleep (later)

IMG_5148

Well, this was one of the stranger years making Easter bread (which explains, I hope at least to an extent, my woefully late post). This is chocolate cinnamon babka, my take on a family tradition to bake and deliver Easter bread on Holy Saturday. I’ve written about it in 2011, 2012, and again last year. Always seem to have something new to tell, which is good, because I have no plans to stop making it.

The good news is it all went off without a hitch*, tasted great, was well received, etc. But I made it in the days leading up to a production of Shrek, for which I’m designing props. This means lack of sleep that generated mild but entertaining and sometimes useful hallucinations; stepping gingerly to the kitchen over googly eyes, glue, grey wool felt, remote control cars and Lowe’s receipts; and tucking the finished loaves under six sheets of foam board in the back seat of my Honda. I’m thinking of creating business cards that say, “Making Easter Sweeter For Three Generations, Though The Most Recent Years Are Closer To What We’d Call Loony.” Obviously I still need sleep.

Here, then, a photo essay of my baking night, which started at around 9pm last Friday.

IMG_5139

Yeast has a big, big sweet tooth. It rises best when it has a little sugar to munch on, so initially the recipe has you add a pinch to the warm milk and yeast. Then it gets a ton more. Got a bang out of watching the mixture change as the yeast chomped their way into a frenzied lather.

IMG_5140

Been making Easter bread for some 20 years now, but due to my aforementioned lack of sleep this was the first year I came up with the idea to change the orientation of my measuring cups to show how many cups I had added to the dough. Here I’m at 6 cups—at 6 o’clock, more or less.

IMG_5141

When the wooden spoon can stand up in the dough, you have a choice. Choice 1: turn it out and start using your hands; choice 2: get a new wooden spoon, because it’s about 11 seconds away from cracking in half. It will, I’m serious.

IMG_5142

My kitchen counter space is about as big as a Ritz cracker. My kitchen table is much bigger, but is drop-leaf—not spectacular for kneading bread dough, since flour falls through the cracks. I decided to use the cookie sheet we were supposed to use in Shrek, a full sheet pan, to knead. It was too heavy for the actress who plays Gingy to carry and dance with at the same time, so I bought it. Yeah.

IMG_5143

Kneading. I love the feel of dough as it’s getting more and more elastic, and the pattern is both grooved and groovy.

IMG_5144

Dough set to rise. It looks a lot like the way cauliflower grows. Picture the parchment as the leaves. Right? Lack of sleep again? Not in this case.

IMG_5146

The next morning. Couldn’t smell better, I’m telling you.

IMG_5147

Gratuitous three-bites-gone shot.

*I’m not counting when some of the chocolate, butter, sugar, and cinnamon filling fell on the floor, which is not a hitch; it’s a crime. That I’ll give you.

hot cross buns

IMG_5114

I do love me a hot cross bun. The kind from the store are okay, but homemade ones are a totally different animal. A very cozy, awesome, affectionate animal. My recipe is from The Joy of Cooking*. It’s a milk bread spiced up with cinnamon and nutmeg and sweetened with a handful of raisins**.

Hot cross buns are very easy to make. I baked them one morning this past week—a wildly hectic week, quite frankly—and didn’t sweat it. Simple, fun, great payoff, kids (especially the little ‘uns) adore cooking…it got me to wondering why more people don’t bake them at home. I think part of it is yeast anxiety. True? Maybe we perceive ordinary things like sugar and eggs and flour as controllable. But we think of yeast as something with a mind of its own. It’s not the case. To an extent, every ingredient on Earth as well as several on Jupiter has a mind of its own. The way to work well with ingredients is to understand them. Don’t frazzle; just know that if you add a little sugar and warm water to yeast, it will grow and make a bread. That’s really it.

Here’s butter melting in a heavy pan. Lovely way to begin anything.

IMG_5112

Added dry ingredients and stirred with a fork until it becomes, below, what some recipes call ‘shaggy’. Post gratuitous Scooby-Doo references in the comments below.

IMG_5113

Once it came together, I added the raisins and kneaded it for a while until it became smooth and stretchy. Then I covered it with a dishtowel (with a piece of parchment underneath to keep it from sticking) and set it on my radiator (which was warm, but not hot, that day). Here’s how it looked after it rose.

IMG_5115

I punched it down (the English call it ‘knocking it down’) and let it rise again. Dumped it out onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet and pondered for an inordinate amount of time whether I wanted to make just one BIG bun. It’s tempting, right?

IMG_5116

Enjoys walks on the beach, candlelit dinners, and fantasies of world domination.

But nah.

Cut the dough into buns and brushed them with just milk. I was out of eggs, so I couldn’t make an egg wash (which is one egg mixed with milk or cream, to make the tops Saint-Tropez tan).

IMG_5117

Plain milk worked fine.

IMG_5118

I icing’ed one with powdered sugar that had a little milk stirred in and made a cross to salute tradition.

IMG_5120

And then I decorated the rest differently since I’m agnostic. Either way, they taste the same: fantastic.

IMG_5119

*The book’s 15 years old and the binding’s split and duct taped. Good thing we don’t all go to seed so early in life.

** I think it needs two handfuls, but that’s me.

IMG_5105

Before I say anything else, I need to emphasize how gratifying it is to know that few, if any, food bloggers are posting about fake ogre sandwiches this week.

Wait, to backtrack, Shrek is my next show; but right now I’m doing The Imaginary Invalid, a Moliere farce that I prop designed. It includes a character described as having a mind ‘unburdened by sparkling wit’ who clucks like a chicken when he gets overexcited. The director wanted him to be fed something onstage when he needs calming. I settled on corn pops, which I learned are even shaped like corn. Quite successful, especially when the actor deliberately gets the cereal stuck in his mustache.

It’s common to work on two or more shows at once, admittedly loony though it is. Last year at this time I was making a fancy dessert spread out of homemade play dough and baking real popovers for Little Women, all the while tracking down a local music director who would loan me 25 band instruments for The Music Man. This year it’s corn pops and ogre food that’s heavy on the fiber.

The script for Shrek calls these sandwiches s’nothers. They’re Dagwoods, filled with anything and everything a cranky, misanthropic ogre might find in the forest. The one above is for my friend Jay, a most enthusiastic carnivore, who plays Shrek. It’s stuffed with moss, raffia, sticks, leaves, bark, and an unfortunate woodland creature (a squirrel puppet) held together by more raffia and copious amounts of Gorilla wood glue. The girl who plays Shrek’s love interest (Fiona) is a vegan, so I kindly left out the creature in hers. Just a little service I threw in.

Next week I’ll talk about something more or less edible, I promise.

marzipan

IMG_5096

Marzipan is a pale cream color until you add gel paste. This is destined to be chick yellow.

I’ve been making marzipan from scratch for a good long time, and talked about it awhile back during a particularly gloomy time of year in order to get the grey out my mind. Used it in 2012 for my Traditional English Christmas cake, too. Big success there.

Around the same time, I had contacted local baker Marie Jackson to ask her for a couple of recipes for publication in Edible Jersey magazine. I’d been by a few days prior on a reconnaissance mission to try her croissants. She made them from scratch, which, as an 8-hour process, is not exactly something you can mail in. After poking huge crackly buttery wads of it into my face, I deemed them fabulous.

When I called Marie for recipes, she was champagne-bubbly and fun to talk to—easily as memorable as her croissants. I’ve reviewed her and her shop (theflakytartnj.com) a few times since.

IMG_5095

Future peas. They look a little blue here. Hm.

This year I approached Marie to have a taste of my marzipan, and was gratified to hear she liked it well enough to offer me a spot in her shop to display and—with any luck—sell it.

Today I gave The Flaky Tart a test drive of a dozen boxes of candy in springy pastels: cherry blossoms, lop-eared bunnies, pea pods, and chicks. The bunny and chick look like Weebles. I quite dig them that way.

IMG_5097

Chick assemblage.

I wrote the below awhile back as part of my promotion for the candy, and I think it sums up the spirit of this work…and play.

*

so whatever happened to that little kid who slurped popsicles until there was a ring of orange around her mouth that hung on for a day

?

who was unbeatable at hide and seek (something to do with not being creeped out by the spiders who lived behind the rhododendron)

who sat up straight at the dining room table while dreaming of revolution
and who never ever turned down an opportunity to be ludicrous?

is she gone? in hiding? or stuck in line again at the post office, late for the dishwasher repairman, up to her eyeballs in grown-up clutter?

so wendy from peter pan grew up. so you did too, maybe not even noticing until two years ago Christmas, when your upper arms started to resemble ed asner’s.

no need to panic.

the post office line, the leaky dishwasher, your upper arms…they’re just details. and details aside, you add up to a lot more now than you did back in the day. your youth became tenderness, your cleverness became smarts, and your sass became chutzpah. way the hell better off than wendy.

all she did was mourn the changes. you’ll avoid that at all costs. you’ll celebrate them (yes, even the changes to your arms) because they’re what make you delicious.

besides,
that fearless, sometimes hare-brained, always wildly creative, good-time-charlie kid is no further away than one of your belly laughs. treat her to one. treat everybody who hears, too. why not?

you’ve still got the edge on.

IMG_5103

 

 IMG_5077

So I have this reader who might be the most enthusiastic guy ever, owing at least partially to the fact that his company makes really good hot sauce for a living. I’m sure this factors in. It would for me.

Johnnie Walker’s company is Two Mile Creek (twomilecreekspecialtyfoods.com), out of Colorado. They crank out some of the more creative jellies and jams that I’ve tasted, and moreover don’t have anything weird in them. When I wrote about a gluten-free sourdough recently and thought to smush TMC’s habanero jelly and fresh goat cheese between it, I posted a pretty pic. I ate this sandwich last winter on a day when my heat was flaking out, and it warmed me from the toes up.

The below recipe was gifted to me by Johnnie for my cooking project this year. It features the habanero jelly (properly called ‘Habanero Hot Pepper Jelly made with whiskey-infused apricots’, like you needed any extra incentive to try it), and makes a very simple and satisfying weeknight dinner.

What I did differently:

-Used plain yogurt instead of whipping cream (Have to watch my cholesterol. Boo and bummer, but it was great just the same).

-Used some of the tomato sauce I made from last summer’s crop.

-Left out the wine and served it straight up with no pasta/rice/polenta, but I am sure it would be lovely to add any or all.

-Added twice the amount of hot jelly ;) Wildly yummy.

TMC Chicken POMOrado with Habanero

4  boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Salt and freshly ground pepper

3 Tbsp olive oil

1-2 Tbsp TMC habanero jelly

1  onion, finely chopped

3  cloves of garlic, minced

1  tsp dried oregano

1  14.5 oz. can of diced tomatoes

1/3 c heavy whipping cream

¼ c chopped fresh basil or 1 tsp Italian seasoning

2  big dashes of your favorite white wine like Pinot Grigio (optional)

4  servings of your favorite pasta or rice or polenta

Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel and season with the salt and pepper. Heat one tbsp of the oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium high heat. Cook the chicken until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.

Heat the remaining oil in the pan and when it shimmers, add in the onion. Cook until the onion is soft and clear. Add the jelly and the garlic and oregano. Cook until the aromatics are in the air and in your nose, about 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes and the cream. Add three dashes of salt and bring to a boil. Return the chicken to the skillet and add any juices that have accumulated. Simmer this covered until chicken is firm to the touch and cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Transfer chicken to a plate and cover with foil. Simmer the sauce, uncovered, until it thickens, about 5 minutes. Add the basil or the Italian seasoning and the white wine. Simmer for 2-3 more minutes. Season with more salt if needed. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve over the carb of your choice.

Yield: 4 servings

Thanks, Johnnie!

 

maple love

IMG_4999

Baby maple cream pie. Sunshine in a brioche tin.

Maple doesn’t get much press. But the real thing deserves it, holding its own against any other flavor, and it’s just as addictive. Mind you, if you’ve been searching the Internet for a decent addiction and you landed here, first, welcome aboard; and second, please note that real maple syrup is not the stuff you find in cabin-shaped or Butterfly McQueen-shaped bottles. Their contents are pretty much tinted corn syrup. The real thing is simply boiled-down sap, the purest essence of a tree.

And not to put too fine a point on it, but Grade B is the only maple syrup worth your time. Grade A doesn’t taste like much of anything, and I’ve heard New Englanders concur: ‘The closer to tar, the better.’ I’m happy to stand by their statement.

I think I was a Druid in another life. It would explain my devotion to this stuff. I’ve had pure organic syrup from Vermont and from Canada, and both are outstanding. Canadians are awfully proud of their proficiency with a maple tree. I remember holding up a bottle of syrup to a shopkeeper in Quebec City and asking, ‘C’est local?’ (‘Is it local?’) and she was completely taken aback. ‘Mais oui!’ (‘As IF we’d eat anyone else’s syrup, eh!’)

Late winter is sugaring-off season in the colder regions of the U.S. That’s when the sap of the maple tree starts to run in order to feed the soon-to-arrive leaves, and when sugaring-offers tap the trees with small spouts, buckets beneath.

scan0001

Antique wooden spout, northwest New Jersey.

When the buckets are filled with sap, they’re emptied into huge vats where they’re boiled down to syrup. Grade A is produced earlier in the season, B later. B is typically used in cooking because of its pronounced flavor, but you like pronounced flavor, so give it a whirl on your waffles and tell me what you think.

IMG_4997

Remembered to dock the crusts before putting them in the oven so they don’t bloat up like balloons in the Macy’s parade.

I have never tasted maple cream, the stuff northerners spread on their pancakes, but just typing that sentence is making me kind of insane to do it as soon as possible.

Another favorite of mine is maple sugar candy. It’s usually sold in little boxes and shaped like teeny maple leaves. They dissolve happily in your mouth and you don’t want to talk to anyone while they’re in there, making them inherently an anti-social candy. You can always make new friends. Find ones that like maple sugar candy and then you’ll be golden.

IMG_5001

About to meet its fate.

IMG_5064

Tomorrow’s breakfast: chunky applesauce with Grade B stirred in. One of my readers, Angie, gave me this idea. I always knew I liked her. That white blop on the bottom left is vanilla organic yogurt, but I wouldn’t argue with whipped cream or creme fraiche, either.

IMG_5048

Maple shortbread. Quite the hit with the cast, crew and staff of the Moliere farce I’m working on now. I’ll have to make more in order to stay in their debt.

I wanted to try making Laura Ingalls-style maple taffy this year by pouring hot syrup onto fresh snow, but the latter melted recently. If we get another storm, I’m making it. In the meantime, I have lots to eat.

IMG_5061

Grade B, baby.

skin deep

IMG_4584

I believe in truth in materials—I’ve argued for it over and over again here on eve’s apple and in my work collecting props in the theatre industry. Truth yes, authenticity yes, perfection no. Very, very no. My theatre friends often accuse me—with affection—of being hyper-detailed, but that’s not the same thing as perfection. I’ll argue against perfection until my voice, or fingers in this case, give out. Then I’ll Throat-Coat my vocal chords and Ben-Gay my hands until I can argue against it again. Stay tuned.

The reason is this: It’s impossible to hit perfection. Also this: perfection is bloody boring. It doesn’t taste like anything.

For years I’ve noticed that the orchard fruit I pick tastes the sweetest if it’s scarred. That sounds like a cliche, except it’s true. A peach or apple that’s been poked by its branches, pressed up against its brothers so tightly that it’s lopsided, partially striped by its own leaves, hanging from a cracked and windfallen tree—these are your best choices, I’m telling you. No way would an average retailer try to sell them to the average American consumer, because they’re not perfect, and the average American consumer demands perfect. But now you have it on my good word what and where real is: at local farms, farmers markets, orchards, abandoned fields.

And you know where Little Miss English Major is going with this, and we’re already waist-deep in a metaphor. So let’s dunk.

My own scars are what make me—well, let’s call it unique.* For sure there are some I would mail back to the universe third-class if I could, and settle for being somewhat less unique. I could live with that. But other scars are cool by me. For everyone who has been scarred—and by that I mean everyone—we’ve earned flavor.

IMG_2181

IMG_2322

Here then, the formula for peaches, apples, and humans to live a scarred and flavorful life:

1) Take a living creature.

2) Expose it to sun, gentle breezes, and blue skies.

3) Expose it to sleet, snow, hail, lightning, and damaging winds.

4) Let other creatures gnaw on it, with teeth or with harsh words.

5) Deprive it, from time to time, of rain, so it has to send roots more deeply into the earth to find water.

6) Deprive it, from time to time, of sun, so it has to make the most of the nourishment it has stored.

7) On sunny days, let it soak it in with especial gratitude.

8) On rainy days, let every drop feel like a baptism.

9) On days in which other creatures nestle in it or beneath it, let it be charmed.

10) When it’s finally ripe, let it look around at—or look inside at—its scars, and know it tastes good.

IMG_3611

*Today I went to see the Lego movie with a friend just because I wanted to see it. Then I went to a party store to see if they had ‘screaming balloons’, because I need to find a fart noise for the Moliere farce I am working on. The afternoon was spent sewing burlap into bags that will hold costumes. My lunch was a half a raspberry Chocolove candy bar, and my dinner was a salad full of tofu, and I loved both. And this was an average day. You can’t buy this kind of uniqueness.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 158 other followers