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Posts Tagged ‘food’

It’s like this: for the past couple of weeks I’ve spent a wee bit (ok, a lot) of time perfecting my chocolate chip cookie recipe.

(It also strikes me that I do a lot of recipe-related posts on Fridays. Food is definitely on my list of #ThingsILike:)

When I moved north of the border everything changed, including my usual butter, flour, chips, and oven. Mr. Man also likes his cookies with a bit more cakiness than I had with my previous recipe, so it was time to rethink, rewrite and retest.*

I know, I know, hard duty. How I sacrifice! But now Mr. Man (and you, fine readers!) have a new recipe to enjoy. Hope you like it!**

 

Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 1/4 cups [280g] flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt [a pinch less if you use salted butter]
2 sticks [8 ounces or 228g] butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups [300g] brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs, large
1 cup [175g] semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Heat oven to 350F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper if you hate stuck-on cookies.
2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt [I sift, some prefer a whisk or fork, use whatever works for you].
3. In a large bowl, mix butter and sugar until creamy, about 2 minutes.
4. Add vanilla and eggs, one at a time, mix until well combined.
5. Gradually add flour mixture and mix until combined. Stir in chocolate chips.
6. Scoop ~1-inch balls onto cookie sheets.***
7. Bake for 11-13 minutes depending on dough temperature and preferred crunchiness factor. Let cool two minutes before transferring to rack.
…………
* I’m still playing with this a tiny bit (for the greater good, you understand, not because I want to bake more cookies… ok yeah, I just want to bake more cookies:). I’ll add any updates here.

** If you’re interested in how tweaking various ingredients and other factors influence cookie characteristics, Handle the Heat’s Ultimate Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookies (parts 1 through 4) is a good place to start.

*** At this point you can either bake immediately or chill to allow the flavors to develop. I’ll chill if I have time, but I don’t always have the patience:) My compromise strategy: bake a sheet right away, then make balls with the rest of the dough and freeze on a lined cookie sheet. When hard, store the dough in a plastic bag and voila, you’ve got almost instant cookies for the next couple of weeks days whatever:)

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It’s lunch time around these parts and I have a serious dumpling craving. I picked up this recipe when a grad school friend brought these dumplings to our weekly Friday afternoon get-together. I’ve always been a dumpling fan but I particularly enjoy the light, flavorful texture and warm tang of this version. Perhaps I’ll make a batch later as a reward for getting my work done.

Enjoy!

Jaouza, or Dai’s Chinese Dumplings
Dough:
2 1/2 cup flour
2/3 cup boiling water
1/3 cup cold water

1. Add boiling water to flour, then add cold. Knead well, then let stand 15 minutes, covered with a damp cloth.

Filling:
3/4 lb. ground beef or pork
2 small cans mushrooms (your choice, I usually use a healthy handful of fresh shiitake)
2 tsp. salt
1 scallion, chopped fine
2 Tbs. soy sauce
2 Tbs. sesame oil
10 oz. Chinese cabbage, chopped
1/8 tsp. ginger

2. Mix all filling ingredients together.
3. Flatten small blob of dough into a round circle. Place a spoonful of filling in center of dough and fold over. Pinch edges closed.
4. Repeat until all dough and filling have been used.
5. Steam and/or fry dumplings.
6. Dipping sauce: roughly equal amounts of soy sauce and rice vinegar or lime juice. Add sesame oil and chili sauce to taste.

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Today I’m applauding my mother, who wants to build a pollinator garden. What a fantastic idea, and one supported by the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, Honey Nut Cheerios (for obvious reasons), and many others.

She’s interested in planting a series of native plant species that will flower from early to late growing season and support bees and other pollinators like butterflies and hummingbirds. And it doesn’t have to be a large-scale project to make a difference.

I’ve talked about bees here before but the point deserves emphasis: we need them. Which is why this week I’m lauding the pest control company Ortho for removing neonics, the neonicotinoid-based pesticides linked to wide-scale bee deaths, from their outdoor products. Here’s hoping other companies follow suit soon with this and other bee-friendly strategies, before this Whole Foods nightmare becomes a terrible coffee, chocolate and fruit-free nightmare. Coffee, people!

Dandelions are pretty (and if you don’t agree there are more targeted ways to get rid of them), weeding is good exercise, and seventy-five percent of US fruits, nuts and vegetables are pollinated by bees. And killing off millions of enthusiastic workers doing their jobs for free seems awfully self-defeating.

Why care about pollinators? Personally, I like bees, and I like food. I like to imagine a future filled with more possibilities, not less.

I also care because we’re more dependent on nature than we like to think. Because a future of limited food and little variety is a recipe for human and natural disaster (also? bland!). And because I don’t want to spend my declining years describing the rich red taste of ripe strawberries to children who have no idea what I’m talking about.

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🐛 #NationalGardenMonth #milkweed #monarchs

A post shared by Pollinator Partnership (@pollinatorpartnership) on

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For today’s installment of #ThingsILike, I give you maple syrup. (Honestly, is there anyone out there who does not enjoy this delicious treat from the northern woods?) Lucky me, it looks like this year’s wacky weather patterns have resulted in a veritable tsunami of syrup!

For those of you not intimately familiar with the process of maple syrup production, it goes like this:

[Maple] trees store starch in their trunks and roots before the winter; the starch is then converted to sugar that rises in the sap in late winter and early spring. Maple trees can be tapped by drilling holes into their trunks and collecting the exuded sap, which is processed by heating to evaporate much of the water, leaving the concentrated syrup.

Here’s a video to showing a basic tap and bucket assembly, but I’ve seen outfits with setups running what look like miles of bright blue tubing directly from the trees to the sugar shack.

Even with modern improvements, this isn’t the sort of agricultural process that can be exported to alternate climes. The trees require cold winters and sap production levels depend on spring temperatures finely balanced between colder nights and warmer days.

It turns out that the weather this March has been pretty near perfect, at least if you are a sugar maple. Waking trees drink up groundwater during the day, convert the stored starches in their roots to sugar, and pump the resulting sap up their trunks and into waiting sap buckets.

Collect, boil, repeat, at least until the sap stops running.

Making syrup requires a lot of work and patience. The old fashioned way involves big black kettles and a steady supply of wood to keep the fire going. Even with new, more efficient boilers, reducing sap to syrup takes hours.

My mother took us to a friend’s sugaring party when I was a child. My brother and I ran from tree to tree, hauling half-full buckets through the snowy woods to the kettle and back. The fresh sap tasted like the Entish draughts of my imagination, its clear cool taste instantly refreshing. We also poured hot syrup onto plates of snow to make maple taffy. Freaking amazing.

As luck (or clever planning?) would have it, I am located in the heart of maple syrup country. Quebec and Ontario are the largest maple syrup producers in Canada.

If you happen to be in Ontario this weekend and you love maple syrup as much as I do, you’re in luck. It’s Maple Weekend and I plan to stock up for the year. Because delicious!

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It’s a bit before lunch and I’m feeling snacky, so today’s edition of #ThingsILike is food related. (Let’s face it, a lot of the things I like are food related:)

In honor of the coming Pi Day (March 14th, for obvious reasons:) and my mother’s cooking, I give you one of my favorite fruit pie recipes. Thanks, Mom!

Blueberry Orange Pie

Crust:
2 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup butter, shortening or a mix (I use butter for flavor)
1 tsp. grated orange rind
1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts
5 Tbs. ice water

Filling:
4 cups blueberries (frozen work fine)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
pinch of salt
touch of vanilla, Grand Marnier, or lemon juice if the berries need a flavor boost
2 Tbs. butter
Powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
2. Mix flour, salt and sugar in a bowl. Cut in butter until it is no more than pea sized. Add orange rind and nuts. Add water, 1 Tbs. at a time, mixing after each addition. Form into a ball and refrigerate* one hour before using.
3. Roll out half of the dough and use to line a 9-inch pie pan. Mix berries, sugar, cornstarch, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt and any extras. Pour mixture into pie pan and dot with butter.
4. Roll out remaining pastry and cover pie. Seal edges with water and cut vents in the top for steam. Bake 1 hour, cool on rack and sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.

Note: This pie will probably overflow. Use a cookie sheet or foil beneath the dish unless you like cleaning ovens;)
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* If you don’t have an hour I’ll note that I’ve skipped this step; the dough is harder to work and not quite as perfect, but the end result was still nommy. Since we’re fessing up about time-saving measures, I’ll admit that I’ve also used store-bought pie crusts, seasoned with the orange rind and walnuts. Desperate times, but in the end, pie:)

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I have recently discovered that stalwart of public television, The Great British Baking Show (known on the other side of the Pond as The Great British Bake Off). I don’t usually do reality programming but I was drawn in by the general aura of positivity, the educational content (so that’s how you cool angel food cake!), and of course, the food.

So I’m in a baking mood. This week I pulled out a classic recipe for Banana Bread.

For some reason teenaged me loved making banana bread. Maybe because it was easy and good, or because there always seemed to be over-ripe bananas in the house. I serve warm slices with Maple Cinnamon Butter (looking fine in a reusable Riviera Petit Pot with pretty new lid! I’d include a picture of the bread but, well, I ate it:).

Banana Bread

3 very ripe bananas, mashed, or 2 bananas and one apple, peeled and chopped fine or grated
2 eggs, well beaten
1/4 cup plain yogurt or 1/4 cup melted butter
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup (150 grams) brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
2 cups (250 grams) flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Butter a standard loaf pan, or four mini loaf pans.
3. Mix the fruit and eggs together in a large bowl. Add yogurt or butter, vanilla, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Sift the flour, salt, and baking soda together, then stir into the banana mixture. Add the walnuts (optional) and stir until combined.
4. Pour batter into pan. If you’re feeling decadent (and I usually am) top the batter with more cinnamon, nutmeg, and brown sugar, plus extra nuts or oatmeal if you like it crunchy. Bake for 55-60 minutes (35 minutes if you opt for the mini loaves) or until a knife or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the pan to a rack to cool.

MapleCinnamonButter

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I’m in the mood for something positive. In that vein, here’s the start of what will probably be an irregular series of Things I Like. No sponsors, no kickbacks, just a sampling of things that I find useful or fun or funny or sweet.

As I’m writing this just after lunch, today’s Thing I Like is full-fat lemon yogurt from Riviera Petit Pots. I stumbled across this product at the grocery store while searching for a dessert that would nevertheless let me recover from a not-so-minor bout of holiday gluttony, and I’m glad I did.

This fine yogurt comes in the cutest glass bottles* (they even link recipes for foods to refill them with), and they sell reasonably-priced reusable lids to boot. The Laiterie Chalifoux company was established in 1920 and is based in Quebec (sorry, non-Canadians, I think they are a northern delight only, at least for now**). While they also make cheese and butters and creams, I’ve only found the yogurt so far. Eyes, stay on the lookout!

* I’ve liked glass bottles since the day my mother took us on a bottle hunting trip and I found a green glass medicine flask from the 1800s, miraculously still whole and wedged between the roots of a tree.

** Don’t have access to this or another really good yogurt? Don’t despair, make your own. It’s easy and more affordable than buying it from the store, and so much better. For the lactose-intolerant among us (yeah, that’s me), making your own lets you “cook” the lactose out of the final product. I find 18 hours or so does the trick.

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If we do find aliens someday, I hope they are carbon-based and heck, while I’m wishing, mammals. Why? Because I want to try their food.

On some days I think that food is as close to a universal language as we’ve got. This is hardly an original thought, but the millions of cookbooks and posts and discussions on food and its importance only serve to make my point.

dinner

Food is good stuff. It supports us, sure, but it also helps define us as individuals and as social animals. What did you have for lunch today? How did you get your ingredients? How did you cook it? Did you share it?

Many folks’ introduction to other cultures happens over a meal. I grew up in a small town that was relatively isolated in terms of culture. Meat by the loin, heaping helpings of potatoes, sweet corn, one overcooked and somewhat suspect green at the edge of the plate. That sort of thing. I still have a soft spot in my tastebuds for pork and sauerkraut, but by and large the food was straightforward, hardly adventurous.

My parents took care of that.

Facing down a future with nothing more radical than chicken and waffles (yes, my poutine-loving Canadian friends, it’s a thing and you’d adore it:), the parental units got their hands on books like The New York Times Large Type Cookbook and Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook (both of which I still have on my shelf) and went to work. My palate and my social perspective are better for it.

An article on NPR talks about a group of Hungarian foodies fighting anti-immigrant prejudice with dinner. What a brilliant idea. Eritrean sourdough pancake bread, Somali fried bananas, or Afghan pie with fresh Syrian cream cheese? Sign me up, and while I’m there introduce me to the people too.

Think about your day, and the role food played in it. Did you go out to the barn to harvest eggs? Or did you open the refrigerator? What would breakfast look like (yours or mine) if the international shipping industry shut down?*

IMGP3041

Food is a big deal, and sharing it is sharing part of who you are. It’s why we invite people over for dinner instead of going out, It’s why Italy, of all places, has made significant progress in gluten-free food awareness as a way to make sure that gluten intolerance doesn’t get in the way of social communion.

Honestly, I’ve always felt that one major flaw in much speculative fiction revolves around food. Let’s see, fantasy = stew plus berries and mead, science fiction = rations that sound a lot like the worst protein bar you’ve every had or meals in a pill.** That’s not entirely fair but it’s not all that far off, either. It’s also not, from my food-oriented point of view, all that realistic.*** Sure, humans can put up with a lot when we must. Conflict, migration, that first year away from home, all times of upheaval, culinary and otherwise. But people still remember their traditions.

What we really want is that moment when life returns to normal, and among other things “normal” means real food. Whether your definition of “real” means Thanksgiving dinner or a Ramadan feast or congee, we use food as a touchstone. Lose that, and we lose an important piece of ourselves. (That doesn’t mean we can’t change, as my childhood diet attests, but it’s not like I’m eating hydrolyzed protein three meals a day either. Things got better. And hey, I feel the urge to add yet another footnote!****)

I’ve always been a bit shy but I learned early that one surefire way to start a conversation is to ask someone what they eat.

So if aliens arrive and invite us to the table, I’ll bring a fork.

* Note to everyone suffering from imagined caffeine withdrawal right now: yaupon is a caffeine-containing tea plant native to the United States. Because aliens, zombies, or no, mornings need a boost, amiright?

** For future reference, fellow SF Canada writer Krista D. Ball has a highly detailed and useful book on realism in fantasy food (just how long does it take to make stew and how in blazes do I carry leftovers?): What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank.

*** For a fascinating look at the intersection of food and space exploration, check out NASA’s Food for Spaceflight or read the section on food (titled “Discomfort Food, When Veterinarians Make Dinner, and Other Tales of Woe from Aerospace Test Kitchens”) in Mary Roach’s excellent Packing for Mars.

**** A good example of this is our family’s holiday smorgasbord: a few years ago we made the shift from Grandma Johnson’s handwritten recipes (so homey!) for dishes like Swedish meatballs and limpa and roast pork to the spectacular versions of same in Marcus Samuelsson’s Aquavit. Yes, an Ethiopian-born immigrant throws down on traditional Swedish food and wins big. See what I mean? The food still says home, only better:)

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Ok, so I guess I wasn’t completely 100% back. I’m better now, mostly. I still have an annoying little cough and the feeling that I could use three solid days of sleep, but mostly better.

Writing is slow. Lulls like this happen, I just have to remember that they fade. They can also be a useful, if tedious, way to refill the well, restock the larder, choose your preferred metaphor.

I made what I believe is my very first cheesecake (Grand Marnier with strawberry puree, delicious). I went for a walk in the countryside with Mr. Man. We had friends over and I was able to carry on whole conversations without pulmonary complications. And drink wine! Speaking of mood-altering substances, I had caffeine for the first time in a month (o blessed nectar of the gods). Cared for the lawn, wrote my city councillor (that’s how they spell it up here), and hit the library; all normal life stuff, and it was good.

I also started thinking about new projects. I checked out recipes for code and food, researched the microbiome, design techniques, medicinal plants, editing, and cosplay armor. It’s great to be pushing ahead.

So, illness sucks, but coming out the other side can be very motivating. Here’s to productivity, and creativity, and to turning the crazy dreams in one’s head into reality.

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Subject: Cake, variation birthday
Year: 2015
Mission: Simple, elegant, tasty (natch)
Goal: Achieved

This year’s cake was chocolate, four layers, with a chocolate-cream cheese frosting. Sure, my original plan involved crazy complicated construction, multiple colors, and improbable royal icing designs, but in the end I wanted a good old-fashioned birthday cake. Nothing stressful, nothing so complex that it would interfere with family time. This fit the bill to perfection.

I used raspberry jam alternated with frosting in the filling, plus raspberries and their leaves on top for decoration, served with Pennsylvania’s own Yuengling Black & Tan ice cream.

Damn fine cake, if I do say so myself:)

Cake2015

CakeSlice2015

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