“To Eat Less Sugar, Bake a Cake”

170x170bbI wish this post’s title were original to me, but I swiped it from an episode of The Sporkful, Dan Pashman’s off-beat and inspiring podcast. I recently discovered this amazing food lover’s feast for the ears, and it is now the soundtrack of my every car ride. Here’s his tagline, “Every week we obsess about food, to learn more about people.” Pashman proclaims himself an Eater, which is, as you know, a distinction dear to my heart. I am not a trained chef, not a restaurant critic, and can’t afford to be a foodie (plus the foodies won’t have me because I still consider peanut butter the nectar of the gods). But boy, am I an Eater.

These wise, liberating words about cake came from the eaterly lips of Yotam Ottelenghi, who was the guest on a recent episode. His cookbooks, including Plenty and Jerusalem, are visually thrilling. Even if you never make one of his dishes, just looking at the photographs makes you want to fondle an eggplant. He is also a fan of sweets, and the inventor of one of my very favorite, stunningly delicious (and deliciously stunning) desserts: the strawberry pomegranate and rose petal mess. I wrote about it here, and have made it many times since. His new book, Sweet, just arrived in stores. Just a side note: he is fabulously easy on the eyes (and ears, with a voice like creamy butter).

Never one to turn down a command, request, or gentle nudge to bake a cake, I got to it. I would love to say I followed Ottolenghi and Goh’s recipe for beet, ginger and sour cream cake to the letter, but as always, that would be a lie. First of all, I used carrots in place of beets. I had the perfect amount of grated carrots in my freezer, plus I can’t get used to beets in desserts, despite their brilliant coloring abilities. It called for 3/4 of a cup of sugar; I used 1/2. It called for sunflower oil; I used butter – and so on. It all came together to make a good carrot cake complete with crystallized ginger and pineapple, (the latter was my addition) but it’s really the frosting I want to dwell on here.

Cream cheese frosting is proof that God loves us, but with fresh ginger juice painstakingly squeezed in? Well, it’s clear God loves us more than we deserve. I was in enthusiastic agreement with Ottolengi’s idea that it’s better to enjoy a homemade slice of cake in the sustaining company of family and friends, than to waste your precious sugar quota on dispiriting granola bars, maneuvered into your face while you drive, or demoralizing Famous (not with me) Amos cookies. Yes, I am a sweets-snob, but that’s not news. So I was careful to eat no other dessert the day I made the cake. But then, due to the creamy, gingery frosting, (coupled with an inability to self-govern) I ate three pieces. Oh well, I will try to do better tomorrow when I bake another cake.

Frosting

5 1/2 ounces cream cheese at room temperature (I used 8 ounces)
1/2 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger, grated into a fine-mesh sieve place over a bowl and flesh squeezed to extract all the juices

Place the cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment in place and beat (you may also use a hand mixer) until smooth (the amount of time this takes will vary). Add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until well incorporated. Add the cream and beat for about 1 minute, until the frosting is thick and smooth. Add the ginger juice, beat for a final few seconds. Slather on cooled cake.

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I Never Tire of Intense Delight

A few days ago, I described one of my younger daughter’s friends as “intense.” “Mom!” commenced daughter, (and I thought, here it comes) “you always describe people as either intense, tiresome, or delightful.” “Ah!” I said, “That’s because they are!” This daughter is known for dispensing – at no cost! – hard truths. Mostly, she’s delightful, when she’s not being tiresome.

Being tiresome

I don’t mean to detract from the nuances and quirks that make humans such slippery creatures – so hard to fathom, to define, to put in a box. Forget all that for now. Most of us are simply this: intense, tiresome, or delightful.

That evening, my older (intense) daughter’s (delightful) friend D. paid her a surprise visit, bearing brownies and Klondike bars. The classic vanilla ice cream sandwich is dependably good, I think, regardless of brand. Around here, what we usually refer to as an ice cream sandwich is ice cream mashed between two cookies, and it’s fantastic. But for years I have said we would try to make a home batch that copies the mass-produced variety. So after D’s visit, I decided it was time to take it on. But wait…what about a California twist on the classic i.c.s? Klondike a l’Orange? Gold Rush meets Golden State.

I love orange ice cream, and it’s a rarity. Orange sherbet is out there, (cheap and unhealthy but kind of yummy if you are feeling nostalgic) but orange ice cream is harder to find. Julie’s Organic Ice Cream used to swirl an organic vanilla ice cream with a mandarin sorbet that was like a whole pint of creamsicle. Need I say it was splendid? The creamsicle is where one generally goes to fulfill the desire for a creamy orange confection. But sometimes, I rely on an old favorite recipe of mine, from Emily Luchetti’s A Passion for Ice Cream.

For the thin cake portion of the i.c.s., I turned to Jennie Schacht’s recipe, reprinted on the King Arthur Flour website, which I have linked to here. Never have I smoothed a batter out so meticulously. I didn’t give this much attention to the GREs, which explains a lot. I made a half recipe because I suspected that despite the obvious, inarguable deliciousness of this treat, and my daughters’ willingness to assemble the sandwiches for me, they would decline to eat any of them. I was correct. They treated the Klondike bars like they were a delicacy, but shunned mine, because, “orange doesn’t go with dark chocolate.” “Tell that to the chocolate orange!” I huffed. I then delivered the remaining ice cream to my friend Kirstin, * and the i.c.s. themselves to my friend Elke.** They both raved, and I asked Elke to describe them so I could quote her. “It’s…yummy! But I guess you can’t write that can you?” Oh, I can and I will. Offspring=tiresome. Friends=Delightful.

Orange Ice Cream

3 egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/8 tsp. kosher salt
2 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup whole milk
2 Tbsps. orange zest
1 Tbsp. orange juice, freshly squeezed

Whisk egg yolks, 1/4 cup sugar, and salt in a bowl, and set aside.

Bring cream, milk, zest, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar to a simmer in a saucepan set over low heat; remove from heat; gently pour some hot cream mixture into the egg mixture to warm it up and temper it. Pour the tempered egg yolks back into the saucepan.

Return pan to low heat; cook custard, stirring constantly, until it reaches 175°F on candy thermometer; *** pour into a bowl set in ice water bath; cool to room temperature, stirring as needed to keep skin from forming.

Stir in juice; cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate at least 4 hours.

Strain ice cream base through fine mesh sieve into clean bowl; discard zest; chill custard for at least 4 hours. Place custard in ice cream maker; process according to manufacturer’s instructions; transfer to airtight container; freeze.

Cook’s Note: I reduced the sugar by a tablespoon and next time, I will reduce it by three. In lieu of the cream/milk mixture, I used 3 cups of half and half for simplicity’s sake. I also used an extra tablespoon of orange juice because I love citrus.

*Delightful, a little intense

**Delightful, a little tiresome, never intense

*** I do not know if the thermometer I use is an actual candy thermometer. In any case, it’s not a human thermometer, because we don’t use those. The two human temperatures in our house are “you’re-not-feverish-you’re-anxious,” and “you’re-hot-go-lie-down.”

Salad for the Ruminant in You

Last week I traveled with my sister and daughters to Colorado to visit my younger brother’s family. I do love my crazy weasel niece and nephews but the real reason I went was to see the giraffes. Some people would fly to Kenya to view them at a preserve, but you know what? Colorado is closer, and not only am I in my lite rock and lite beer years, I am also in my lite adventure years. Do I need to take malaria tablets before I go somewhere? Then I am not going there. I see it as my contribution to restoring America’s international reputation: who wants another American tourist clamoring for wi-fi and soy milk?

When we arrived at my brother’s house, my SiL – a woman who has domesticity down to both an art and a science – had stuffed the fridge with vegetables. Long acquaintance with our family has given her familiarity with our ungulate ways. For a herbivorous Perry, there is no such thing as a side salad. Salad is the center, so just consider the amount you would make for anyone else, triple that, and get ready to chew.

I know I just wrote about salad in The Salad of Destiny, but sometimes destiny strikes twice. I read once that mixing lettuce types is a key to successful salad-making. I read that salad article instead of the “How to Get a Beach Body in Five Minutes” article. * I don’t have five minutes for that nonsense, but I do have time to make a salad that promiscuously mingles leaves.

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And as I learned the next day at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, I am not the only creature with a pressing and perpetual hankering for greens. These elegant, impossibly tall creatures, who actually seem to float along, are committed, enthusiastic herbivores. I chose the one with the most polite tongue and offered this long-lashed ruminant some romaine. It was a delightful moment. I envied her height, her fetching coat, and her four stomachs. I think she was less impressed with me. But we don’t choose what form we take in this world. Some of us get a beach body, some of us get cloven hooves. But in this human form, we are given the ability to appreciate. We are able to admire, and I did. To behold an animal so lovely was worth the flight, and were I more bold, it would be worth a flight all the way to Kenya.

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Spring Salad

One head Bibb or Boston lettuce, gently torn
One head iceberg, chopped (optional)
a couple cups mixed salad leaves of whatever kind you like
a few mini peppers, sliced into rings
a few stalks of asparagus, raw or blanched, and chopped
a few snap peas, sliced
fresh herbs like parsley, mint, or lovage, chopped
chives, chopped
Olive oil
a splash of white balsamic or rice vinegar
splash of pumpkin seed oil (optional)
salt to taste

Mix. Serve to ungulates.

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*Hint: A five-minute beach body is achievable with an airbrush. Or, in the interest of time, shave off five minutes and go out there with the body you have. Spend the five minutes you get back shaving some parmesan over your salad, and don’t bother shaving your legs.

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Another Indelicate Culinary Mystery Solved

This post is dedicated to Kai who, as it happens, was right about what goes down on the undercarriage of the largest North American rodent.

The moment my husband alerted me to the worldwide vanilla shortage, I pointed to the door, “Go to Costco!” I wailed at him. “Get the Kirkland brand two pack of vanilla extract before the price triples. WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE?!?” He might as well have told me that there was a worldwide shortage of mirth and joy. There is, actually…

He returned an hour later, harried but triumphant, as I rifled through the boxes. Aha! There it was! “Thank you!” I embraced the bottles warmly, then spied the receipt, “FIFTY SEVEN DOLLARS?!? You paid FIFTY SEVEN DOLLARS?!” His smile collapsed. “You said to get vanilla,” he pointed out.

Thus began an era of paranoia. I would hear a noise in the night and jerk upright. Was that someone skulking around my kitchen, fixing to steal my vanilla? Well they’d have to get through me first.

Once my bottles were empty, I stole my mother-in-law’s. Then I decided that until the up and coming vanilla farmers tended their orchids to the point where they were producing the precious beans whereby all our baked goods are enhanced and made delectable, (so about five years) I needed to get creative. I rely heavily on vanilla to perk up the flavor of not just baked goods, but smoothies as well.

While making scones, I had to remind myself what a spectacular flavor enhancer citrus zest is. Okay, I didn’t actually have to be reminded, because my friend Kirstin said she is surprised I don’t have some sort of “built-in zester like a body part, like one of your arms could transform.” If I ever need a bionic limb, I will ask for it to come with a rasp as part of a Swiss army knife arm that includes an immersion blender.

Vanilla – like salt, sugar, lemon and MSG – enhances other flavors. Vanillin, which is derived from powder on vanilla pods, (or is synthetically manufactured) is sometimes used in place of vanilla. I queried my friend and fellow blogger, Susie, (The Flavor Scientist) who described vanillin as “flat” and vanilla as “rounded” in flavor. But the best flavor enhancer of all, she claimed dreamily, is castoreum. “You know, “she said, “from beaver balls.” Pardon Susie’s French, but we are all adults here (except for the kids who are reading this). Wow, finally an answer to the question of what attracts beavers to each other.

I thought back to my friend Kai insisting that vanillin was made from secretions that emanate from the business end of beavers. Without going into further detail about the seamy side of that industrious, bucktoothed critter, I will just say Kai was right. After much fevered research (I want to steer you gently, but firmly, away from any image searches here) I can say that castoreum is from somewhere near the anal glands of male and female beavers. Susie, despite being an actual scientist, calls them beaver balls because, as she said, “It’s not technically true, but it’s fun to say.” Now that is science in the public interest. And yes, castoreum does show up, labeled as “natural flavor” in some artificial vanilla and, as Susie off-handedly pointed out, “It isn’t kosher.” No it certainly isn’t. That thud you heard was a rabbi, fainting.

So lacking a beaver dam adjacent to your kitchen, Susie suggests coffee or hazelnut extracts to enhance flavor. I like instant coffee powder in cookies and cakes, as well as almond, lemon and orange extracts. Good luck baking in this time of vanilla scarcity. May you not have to resort to luring a wayward beaver into your kitchen to caress your sponge cakes with their hindquarters.

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Join Me for Drunch on March 22

Come let me make brunch for you – in the evening! Yes, evening brunch is the latest craze; it’s called Drunch. Not really, but it is going to be delicious. I will be making a lime-glazed carrot and ginger bundt cake, potato crust asparagus quiche, cherry-orange zest scones, a fancy mint-infused fruit salad, and citrus blossom gin fizzes. Wow! I have no idea how I will accomplish this in a two and a half hour cooking class! Will I make it, or will I chicken out, grab the pitcher of gin fizz, and run? You won’t know unless you are there.

Bayview School of Cooking, Spring Brunch, March 22nd 6.00-8.30 pm

Chocolate + Bananas = Breakfast

I just baked this recipe from a past post and was reminded of how much KER-POW it has. So I am dipping into the archives to repost this one. Read it and bake, Eaters.

Since I am a person with a tendency toward melancholy, it isn’t surprising that I love chocolate. I am sure there are even-tempered, sunny people who also love chocolate, and I guess that’s fine. Though, like youth on the young, its mood elevating properties seem wasted there. This week my chocolate fancy turned to that most crucial of meals: breakfast. I thought, if you are inevitably going to have chocolate some time during the day, then why not as soon as you get out of bed?

My sister-in-law, the mad baker, brought this double chocolate banana bread recipe to my attention, along with the wonderland that is the King Arthur Flour website. I have used their organic whole wheat pastry flour for years, and it works well in this recipe in place of all-purpose. Hey, it’s breakfast, so it should involve whole grains.

My husband refused this, since he doesn’t like chocolate at breakfast. Think of the chilling, pregnant silence that followed this pronouncement. This is akin to his nonsense about not liking apricot jam. I know Eaters, what else is he going to say he doesn’t like? Babies? Puppies? Kisses? All I can tell you is that maybe I only dated him three months before we got engaged, but he seemed perfectly fine.

kingarthurflour.com
kingarthurflour.com

My sil and I agree that half the sugar (use brown for maximum flavor) and half the chocolate chips (the darkest possible) are best here. Yogurt in place of sour cream is fine and yields tasty results. She also turned me on to making this in muffin form. Handheld baked goods are a must, now that my family’s busy Spring is beginning. Soon I will be always in a state of pitching shin guards, and sundry odorous protective gear into my van along with some muffins, and taking off for a soccer game. It’s also running season for me; before or after (also during) a long run, these are just the thing. It’s an activity for your mouth other than complaining that the route is too hilly.

I began my romance with bananas and chocolate the summer before my sophomore year of college when I worked in a catering kitchen. The pastry chef, a talented but mercurial fellow, made a buttery, three layer banana cake alternated with almost black (to match his moods) stripes of chocolate ganache. It was a tall, glossy, gorgeous creature, and I got to bring leftover wedges home to my family. When I tasted that cake I knew, I just knew, I had a future as an Eater. In this area at least, I feel confident that I have lived up to my early promise.

And for the record, I am not saying that chocolate will take all your pain away. I don’t advocate using chocolate to treat melancholy. I advocate using chocolate and bananas.

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The Salad of Destiny

One of the many delights my husband brought into my life that ranks just below – you know – children, is the Pagliacci salad. On one of our first dates we went to a movie in Seattle, followed by my first trip to Pagliacci Pizza. For those of you who have not sampled its wares, PP is a Seattle-area chain restaurant, and a good one.

Flash forward three years to me as a very pregnant graduate student at the University of Washington. When it came time for my break from a shift on the engineering library reference desk, I would make my ponderous, bulbous way over to the student center where (oh joy!) there was a little Pagliacci outpost where I could get a salad and a slice. I really feel like the final five pounds I managed to acquire just under the wire, (I almost didn’t break 40!) were owed to that pizza and so, to my husband. Thanks honey.

I mistakenly took this photo without garbanzo beans and with hastily sliced onions. I was rushing to take advantage of the waning, scant winter light, but in the end I didn’t get outside for a photo shoot before the weak sun plopped over the horizon.

Since pizza is cheesy, I am a believer in coupling it with a large salad. Beer is also good with it, but for different reasons. Last week I had the pleasure of recreating the Pagliacci signature salad to serve with pizza for thirty of my husband’s colleagues. Sadly, there is no PP in Olympia, though Vic’s makes fantastic thin crust pizza. My husband had a hankering for the salad he introduced me to on our long-ago date, and asked me if I would make it for the work party. That night was nineteen years ago, before he knew he would marry me, watch me grow to an alarming girth, and shrink (pretty much) down again -twice – producing charming daughters (and making countless salads).

I think the special flare of this salad comes from basil, garbanzo beans and salami. I have used smoked mozzarella when I omit the salami, which is it just as good, I think. Pagliacci even makes a party size salad for groups, or for one immense pregnant person.

Pagliacci Salad of Destiny

3 hearts of romaine
1 colorful bell pepper
1 pint cherry tomatoes
half a red onion (diced is preferable, rather than sliced, as pictured here)
5 slices of salami, cut into ribbons
pine nuts (my addition, optional but tasty)
1/4 cup shaved parmesan (my addition, optional)
1/2 cup cubed mozzarella (smoked if not using salami)
1 can garbanzo beans
3/4 cup torn basil leaves

Dressing

1/2 (roughly) cup olive oil
2 teasoons red wine vinegar (I think a 3:1 ratio of olive oil and vinegar works for most people)
1 Tablespoon dijon mustard
salt to taste
pinch of sugar
small garlic clove, minced

You don’t need much in the way of directions. Assemble salad. Assemble dressing. Combine, and eat with gusto. You may want to set a few of the toppings aside and bedeck the salad after you toss it, so all the pretty bits don’t fall to the bottom before you serve it.

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