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Archive for the ‘Food and…’ Category

I’m at the start of a brief vacation from the day job, and it feels good. My plan for today included making bread, testing an experimental hazelnut chocolate pudding, working up a new soup recipe, and enjoying a cold glass of sangria in the warm afternoon sun.

I am happy to report that I have accomplished the most important thing on that list.

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Photo by Whitney Wright on Unsplash

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I love that there are still so many things to learn. Take fox nuts, for example (the food, not the, well, you know). If you have more than a passing familiarity with Indian cuisine you’ve probably heard of them, but I had not. I ran across a reference today and thought, “Fabulous! What the heck are those?”

Where do Makhana (fox nuts) come from?

Fox nuts, or makhana, are seeds from the prickly water lily (euryale ferox). When cooked they puff up, a little like popcorn (if all the action happened inside the shell and required a blow with a wooden mallet to release the final product). It is a very popular Indian food for snacking and other dishes.

Fox Nuts: How They Are Grown and Prepared

I wonder what they taste like? Time to head over to the local South Asian grocery and find out. 

And this has been today’s edition of Learning at Lunch.

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This is a different, admittedly more photogenic, type of waterlily. Photo by Jimmy Chang on Unsplash

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I recently tested two new recipes. One worked, one (through no fault of its own) not so much. I’ll start with the less good.

Butterscotch Peaches Recipe – NYT Cooking

The recipe is fine, the butterscotch flavor excellent, and it could have turned out great. Emphasis on “could.”

If you don’t have access to the New York Times recipe collection, here are the ingredients I used:

  • 6 medium or 5 large ripe peaches
  • 4 T. unsalted butter
  • ½ C. cream
  • ½ C. sugar
  • 1 T. maple syrup
  • Pinch of salt
  • ¾ t. vanilla
  • In sum: peel and chop the peaches, brown the butter and sauté the peaches for three minutes, then let rest. In a second pan, add all remaining ingredients except vanilla. Stir over low heat until the sugar is dissolved, then raise heat to medium and let simmer/boil for 12 minutes or until browned. Add to peaches and stir to combine.

The result? My peaches were a bit of a disaster. The first peaches of the season often are, but I held out hope. They were beautiful, I‘ll give them that, but after washing and scoring and boiling and peeling (a pain, I’d skip it next time) and slicing, I had to accept the facts.

The peaches were decidedly mediocre. All but two had at least some internal brown spots, and three were nothing but mush. And eaten fresh, even the prettiest fruit was mealy and low on flavor.

I cooked them up and made the butterscotch. Then, as I was nearing the finish line, I waffled over the final product. Should I go ahead with the subpar peaches or skip the fruit and just eat the butterscotch? While I considered my options, the butterscotch started to harden. By the time I decided to say what the hell, I was on my way to Candyland. As in, the butterscotch was hardening into delicious-yet-difficult-to-mix candy.

I went with it in the end. The final product tasted good, actually, but there were chunks of semi-solidified butterscotch throughout. (It would have made for a delicious addition to ice cream, in fact. Maybe next time.)

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On to the good:

So there I was, stalking Felicia Day’s library on Goodreads (as one does), when I ran across this book:

I picked up a copy last week.

I need to start testing some of the thousand (!) recipes here, but if there is a more perfect type of cookbook for me, I don’t know what it is. I love the ease, reliability and reach of books like Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, but this new book’s approach not only tests the many (many) variations of each recipe, it also tells you what they tried, why, and with what results. Then you get the finalized recipe.

I made the banana bread. Mr Man’s double helping for dessert say it was a success.

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Photo by Tusik Only on Unsplash

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I recently had a request for an update on the baked milk situation so here we go.

Short answer: The first version was pretty good.

Longer answer, one that will surprise no one who knows me: I made a few tweaks.

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Here’s my previous post with the original recipe link: Baked What Now?

I kept the proportions but used 2% milk and kefir because that’s what I had. It worked fine, but:

  • the final result wasn’t as caramel colored or flavored as the store-bought version
  • it wasn’t quite as thick as I’d hoped
  • with summer on the horizon, I wasn’t enthusiastic about keeping the oven on for six hours at a time.

Over several iterations, I now have a version that addresses these issues and works for me. Between this, biweekly yogurt, and air-quality concerns, we may have used it as an excuse to pick up a portable induction burner (on sale, totally reasonable!).

The new alternative uses whole milk, kefir plus sour cream, and skips the oven in favor of the induction burner. We have a remote thermometer for yogurt so we use that, but keeping it at temperature can be a bit of a hassle. If you have a slow cooker that will maintain a steady ~210F, try that. (I’ll try that next time if I can find my slow cooker.)

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Baked Milk

4L whole milk

  • heat milk to a simmer, then maintain temperature at ~210F for 6 hours
  • let cool to 115F, add:

7 T. kefir

1 T. sour cream

  • mix well, jar and close with vented lid (cheesecloth, fermentation caps, heck, paper towels would work, whatever you’ve got)
  • let sit on the counter at room temperature for 36 hours or until set; I put mine in an insulated grocery bag but it’s not required.

Is it good? Yes. Keeping the milk around 210F using a burner gave me a better depth of caramelization than 225F in the oven. The process is a bit more of a hassle than I’d like so I’ll continue to look for improvements.

Is it even better when mixed with guava juice and lemonade? Yes, it is.

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Photo by Anshu A on Unsplash

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My father’s mother baked from scratch, but she always had a container of Cool Whip in the fridge when we came to visit. Did she always stock it? I don’t know, but it was a special treat for us.

I don’t buy it for myself but even now the taste of Cool Whip reminds me of hot summers and warm smiles.

Last week, I whipped up a bit of cream to go with fresh strawberries from a farm down the road. I usually add a bit of Grand Marnier but this time, I decided to try a slight twist. 

It turns out that heavy whipping cream plus vanilla, sugar and a dollop of sour cream creates a thick whipped topping that tastes a lot like Cool Whip. Not as it is, necessarily, but as I remember it. Fun, flavorful, special.

Let’s call it Cool Whip for adults. All of the memories, none of the additives.

Thanks, Grandma.

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Photo by Tangerine Newt on Unsplash

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Should I have spent my day writing? Maybe.

What did I do instead? I made bread, lemon curd, braided lemon bread and baked milk. Went for a walk. Staked the Joe Pye weed. Stared at the clouds. Deadheaded the dandelions and filled up the bird bath and rooted butterfly weed. In short, good things.

Works for me.

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Photo by Meritt Thomas on Unsplash

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My father texted the other day to say that he was making a dish from my childhood, Mrs. Chiang’s Eggplant with Chopped Meat. The name brought back memories of hot chili and flavorful meat with rice. I should make that too, I thought. Where is my wok?

Several days later I made the dish with what I had or could get. Two eggplants became one, eight scallions became two huge handfuls from my bag of pre-chopped and frozen, peanut oil became avocado and pork became turkey. Fortunately, the recipe is quite forgiving.

The chili paste stayed the same, as did the complex and satisfying taste. And the fond memories.

I still haven’t found my wok.

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Eggplant with Ground Turkey
(adapted from Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook)

  • ½ lb. ground turkey, pork or beef
  • 3 Tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. sesame oil
  • 8 scallions
  • 2 medium eggplants
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 1-inch piece fresh ginger
  • 5 Tbsp. peanut or other high-temperature oil
  • 2 Tbsp. hot chili paste
  • 1 to 1½ tsp. sugar
  • 1½ tsp. salt
  • ⅔ cup water
  1. Put the meat in a bowl and stir in the soy sauce and sesame oil.
  2. Clean and chop the scallions into small pieces. Mix half the chopped scallions into the meat. Reserve the rest for later use.
  3. Peel the eggplants and cut into ½-1 inch cubes.
  4. Smash the garlic, peel, and chop into little pieces, about the size of grains of rice.
  5. Peel the ginger and chop into pieces the size of match heads.
  6. Heat the pan on high until the oil just begins to smoke. Add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry for 30 seconds.
  7. Add the hot chili paste and stir-fry for another 30 seconds.
  8. Add the chopped meat mixture and cook for 2 minutes, stirring to break up any large lumps.
  9. Add the eggplant and stir-fry everything for another 4 minutes or so.
  10. Sprinkle the sugar and salt over the eggplant mixture, stir-fry for another 2 minutes. Stir stir stir stir stir.
  11. Pour in the water and add the reserved scallions. Wait until the water comes to a boil, then cover the pan without reducing the heat. Cook for another 15 minutes, until the eggplant is soft.

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Photo by Tijana Drndarski on Unsplash

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I spent much of the day in the kitchen, enjoying the fact that my oven works. Now that we have electricity again, I decided to make some “thank you” gifts for the neighbors and some “stay strong” gifts for friends who are still without power.

Menu: brownies, blueberry torte, and a new recipe from Stella Parks via Serious Eats: Sunny Lemon Bars.

The new lemon bar recipe is a win, as tangy as I like with what is essentially a shortbread crust. I needed a double batch and I won’t lie, it was a little shocking to go through six whole eggs plus sixteen egg yolks for one 9 by 13 inch pan. I also ran out of lemon juice at about 90% of requirements and had to make up the difference with Meyer lemon and lime juices, but it worked well.

Nom!

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Photo by Auguste A on Unsplash

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I took a little time today to test out a recipe for baked milk.

Sounds funny? A little, but I’m hoping it will also be good. Baked milk is one of those niche products that spark my culinary curiosity. We had some a couple of years ago (thanks, Costco!) but haven’t been able to find it since. It’s both fermented and naturally sweet, somewhere between milk and yogurt in thickness, with an interesting caramelized depth and slight tang.

I’m using this recipe via The New York Times as a springboard, but it will be a couple of days before I know if it works. Fingers crossed!

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Friends gave us a batch of chili this weekend and I thought:

1) Thank you! So kind. And spicy, delightfully spicy!

Also:

2) Fantastic, an excuse to make my favorite cornbread recipe.

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My Favorite Cornbread

(adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything)

Ingredients

  • 275g / 1¼ C kefir (or yogurt, buttermilk, or 1¼ C milk warmed with 1 T white vinegar)
  • 50g / ~3.5 T butter
  • 183g / 1½ C medium-grind cornmeal
  • 62g / ¼ C all-purpose flour
  • 7.5g / 1½ t baking powder
  • 6g / 1 t salt
  • 50g / ~3 T sugar
  • 2 eggs

Instructions

  • preheat oven to 375F
  • add butter to an 8×8” pan, put it in the oven to melt*
  • whisk together dry ingredients in a bowl
  • whisk together kefir and eggs, add to dry ingredients and mix well
  • pour the batter into the pan with preheated butter
  • bake 30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean
  • serve with more butter, because delicious.

* Alternately, melt butter and add to pan right before baking but why make more dishes? Getting it hot but not burnt is the goal.

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This is not my cornbread. It may be cake, for all I know, but it looks about right. The important thing is that this is not my cornbread because my cornbread smelled delicious and we ate it before I remembered that I might want a photo. Photo by Jose luis on Unsplash

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