Monday, November 24, 2008

Where I Am At


Please don't cut me off. I need to get these words out and fast because I'm about to make a somewhat impulsive decision, but I believe it's a good one and am going with my gut in the moment. Some spontaneous acts are meant to be credited -- not all, of course -- and when a conviction with solid foundations is actually stronger than the other half of me that would prefer to remain oblivious, I better not choose the unsteady ground.

So, here I am before friends, acquaintances, and lurkers (who are always appreciated on this blog) saying that this hungry soul is taking a break from blogging. I'm not saying how long it will last because I do not know.


What I do know is that I have enough obligations before me right now to keep me up all night playing with typography in InDesign, staining my fingers cadmium red while applying oil paint to masonite panel, and, oh goodness, let's not forget the people that I kind of sort of moved back to God-forsaken Abilene, Texas to spend some time with. It would be nice to see their faces, I think. (By the way, I can tend to exaggerate in regards to Abilene; all sarcastic comments are spoken in love.)


So, the whites of my eyes have turned slightly pink in their weariness and the worn, seeking heart that I mentioned earlier have banded together to convince me that this is going to be okay.

I'll let you know if my blogging picks up somewhere else un-food related because I have a weakness for the melody of clicking computer keys and will continue to document life's story through my camera lens.


That's where I'm at. It's brief and just touches on the surface of all that is inside my head and heart right now. If we happen to be in the same town, I'd be happy to sit down sometime and talk with you more about it.

I'll miss feeding off your creativity, too, but for now I'm going to take an absolute break and then maybe I'll be able to slip back into your life as a commenter. Or maybe a blogger once again. I'm not holding any options too tightly.

Love to you. Thanks for taking the time to read my blog, encourage me, and share in the enjoyment of life and food.


[Not to tease, but the pictures on here are just a random assortment that have been sitting on my computer waiting to be shared.]

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie and Whole Other Canvases

It must have begun my first year of college. I no longer had to add my name to the long list of students who had used and abused the old textbook before me, scrawling their name in its front cover and admitting ownership and responsibility for that year. Nope, as a freshman I dropped a stomach-sickening amount of money on thick Chemistry, Nutrition, and English Composition books to be able to claim them as my own as well as face the dilemma of getting rid of them (especially after realizing I didn't even want to study sugar's molecular structure; I just wanted to paint).


But along the way I realized that I could highlight and doodle and underline and still get a decent buy-back price from the bookstore. I started wanting to do that in all my books. I even began to hunt through used bookstores for pages with rich texture created by text arrangement and paper surface and they became a whole other canvas.

As an artist, I love the idea of a personal mark, and it's so nice to happen across this in a book someone else has held before me...a little anecdote in the side margin, an exclamation point stuck onto the end of a statement or recipe title.

So maybe one day when I am sorting through my pile of cookbooks or when I am heading overseas and reducing my earthly belongings to a suitcase or two, I'll have to hand off Dorie's cookbook and someone will pick it up and appreciate the yeses and the question marks and the adjusted cooking times and the reminders of fun variations and not just see it all as messy. That's what I like to think, anyway.

This week's recipe is certainly worthy of some black ink because, according to the comments on the TWD site, a lot of us had problems with ratios of rice to milk and achieving a pudding-like consistency. After reading through other people's experiences, I estimated most of my amounts and came up with a very satisfactory result.

You can find the recipe posted on the blog of this week's host for Tuesdays with Dorie, Isabelle, at Les Gourmandises d'Isa (and I would kill to know how to pronounce that with a convincing French accent). She notes her adjustments, but here are mine as well...

Instead of white arborio rice I used brown sweet rice and cooked it to al dente. I halved the amount of milk (it was actually watered down half-and-half; I rarely have milk on hand) and brought it to a boil with only a tablespoon of sugar. Then I added half a cup of rice and stirred it very attentively for about forty minutes. At this point I could push my spatula across the bottom of the pan and see some of the metal before it all sank back together, so I called it good. I distributed the pudding between two cups and stirred a teaspoon of vanilla extract into one (half a teaspoon probably would have been fine) and generously sprinkled cinnamon into the other.


There are no pictures of my finished product of properly thickened pudding because the sun has set, and with it my camera has said goodnight, but I can testify that they both turned out great (not that they're both gone; goodness no, this is one rich little dish). I think the cinnamon flavor is my favorite, though I could easily be won over by chocolate.

This recipe is basically the same idea as my mom's Norwegian rice porridge that we share for Christmas Day breakfast. And I may be a little biased, but nothing will ever ever compare.

Friday, November 14, 2008

More Important Things


This blog's header used to have a subtitle that read "food and thought". I still believe the thought part is as important as the food -- the words just got sacrificed in the improvement of my design.

But tonight a friend reminded me why I started this blog.

In my first blog post, just over a year ago, I stated my philosophy about food and still stand by it. Food is something worth taking a stance on when it plays as much of a role in life as it does in mine. Somehow it has crept in and filled my spare time, determined my budget, turned my conversations, and motivated my artistic endeavors. If something shapes that much of my life, I like to make sure I have the right perspective and priorities.

So excuse me while I forgo sharing a recipe with you tonight. Hopefully this will not just be some selfish public journalling but maybe will benefit you as well.

And I think that just hit upon something important. Doing things selfishly is what starts to prick my conscience and makes me want to simply remove myself from those things, leaving them behind. But that can't happen with food. We are required to eat it to live, and it is only a small percentage of humanity that has the luxury of getting sick of it. Many other bellies, those that are perpetually hungry, have no concept of this.

So, I don't want to react begrudgingly or ungratefully when my life gets a little out of balance, and it feels like food and this food blog and my food photography and the comments I'm expected to make about food are to blame. I have thought about ceasing this blog at those times, and while I'm not signing any contracts for the coming year (or five), I'm not saying all of this to get to the word goodbye.


I am taking life in small increments right now.

Tomorrow I get to sit around a big, long table eating soup and bread with friends, and that's an image I love.

Less than two weeks from now, I'll be celebrating Thanksgiving with my mom, sister, brother, sister-in-law, and (the star of this year's holiday...) my two-month-old nephew. And as nice as roast turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie may be, it is not these things that get my heart racing for the plane ride that will take me home. It is the faces I'll get to see and the shoulders I'll get to rest my head on.

And now I'm really leaping ahead, but in July I'll be packing my bags and leaving Abilene, Texas with a university diploma under my arm. I don't know where I'll be yet or what sorts of foods I'll be eating or if this blog will even be possible in those circumstances, but I do not want to make the last two unknowns determining factors in my decision.

I always want life to be bigger than food. After all, I have soul cravings.

Just has I have a stomach that growls when it's meant to be fed, I have a heart that insists there's something more.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie and Wishing My French Blood Ran Stronger (again)


Usually yeast and I get along quite well. I enjoy the interaction of releasing its sweet, fermenting flecks into a big bowl of warm water or whisked flour and letting it do its thing over the next couple hours. There's always an element of risk, an intrigue of the unknown, and I can get excited about this because rarely do I dislike the final result. It's harder than some think to kill yeast and so, even if my loaf isn't as tight as it could be or as flavorful, I generally get a good rise. Like I said, yeast and I usually get along.

But something went wrong with the Kugelhopf I started on Sunday evening and eventually baked at eight o'clock Monday night. The directions I was following only addressed the use of a dough hook, not the manual method I was using, so maybe I didn't "knead" the dough long enough with my large spatula. I don't know exactly. It rose happily until I put it in the fridge overnight and then it never came back to life very much. Or maybe I was just too ambitious, placing it in a large bundt pan (large as in average size, I believe) and hoping it would climb all the way up the sides when it really only doubled in size and sat stubbornly at a level several inches from the top.

So, presentation was lacking and likely delicacy in the crumb as well, but from the slice I had at breakfast this morning to the one I nibbled on pre-dinner, this cake grew on me quite a bit. Per Dorie's instructions, I stuck my last slice in the toaster and smeared on some marmalade because it had already started to dry out. But it was still delicious.


Three things would encourage me to make this again...

1) It was my first experience with anything resembling brioche (something I've been wanting to try), and I think I like it even better because it's slightly less rich.

2) I boiled my raisins with rum and then let them sit for an hour, and anything that is compatible with rum soaked raisins makes me happy.

3) The yeast got the better of me in this recipe, and I will not be beat. (This is one of only a few areas where my competitive side comes out.)

So, if you're still confused about what on earth a Kugelhopf is anyway, here's a little bit of history.


A big thanks to Yolanda over at The All-purpose Girl for selecting Kugelhopf out of Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours. I'm always glad to try something new in the culinary realm. And thank you as well to the ladies who keep Tuesdays with Dorie running.

You'll find the recipe here:

Friday, October 31, 2008

Hay Hay: A Rosy Recipe

"Hay hay, it's Donna day!" That's just fun to say! It sure can garner some confused looks from people who aren't familiar with Donna Hay, though, and then their foreheads begin to wrinkle even more as I attempt to explain it away as simply a food blogging event. A what? Um, never mind.


For most of you, there's no need for explanation, so let me just hurry up and tell you about this amazing yogurt. I was excited and intimidated by the prospect of something so simple to work with in Marita Says' pick for HHDD and vacillated between a lot of different options. The idea that kept nagging me involved a bottle of rose water I bought at a great Egyptian restaurant in Fort Worth. I knew it would work wonderfully in a syrup, and then a few days before the deadline, I promptly settled on a new idea of keeping the rosewater but including the mint from the original recipe. I didn't want the yogurt to get too perfume-y, and the two flavors seemed to fit together perfectly. They definitely did. And my kitchen filled with such a sweet, heady smell as the syrup simmered away on the stove. I wish I could have captured that in a bottle.

Instead, I have a container of creamy, drinkable yogurt sitting in my refrigerator, and I'm not looking to make any trades. After whisking everything together, I poured myself a small glass and sipped it slowly and deliberately. I may have even run my finger along the inside of the glass afterward and licked it clean. It was that good.



So, while this is perfect on its own, it occurred to me that including it in müesli might work out quite nicely. My mom included two müesli recipes in our family cookbook, a sign that we've eaten a lot of it. Growing up, my family never had boxes of sugary cereal in our pantry or gallons of milk in our fridge, so müesli, oatmeal, and homemade granola were our basic breakfast foods.

For a single portion, I tweaked my mom's "Müesli II" recipe by halving the amount of oatmeal and water I mixed together the previous night and then just tossing in the handful or two of fruit and nuts that looked appropriate. I squeezed in some lemon juice, poured yogurt on top, and called it good. The last thing I wanted was to overpower or complicate the pure taste of the flavored yogurt, so I kept it to pistachios, sesame seeds, and sultanas. It was possibly my favorite breakfast this year. (...Wait, too many others are coming to mind. How do people make blanket statements like that? Let's just say it tied with a lot of great stuff.)

Happy Hay Hay It's Donna Day!


Rose & Mint Yogurt
Adapted from Donna Hay's recipe, on Marita Says

1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup mint leaves, shredded
1/3 cup water
2-3 Tbsp. rose water
1 cup chilled yogurt
1 cup half & half*

Make a syrup by putting the mint leaves in a small saucepan with the water, rose water, and sugar over medium heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar, and let it simmer for four minutes. Remove from heat and sit for five minutes.

Meanwhile, measure the yogurt and half & half into a large bowl.

Strain syrup through a sieve, pressing moisture out of the mint leaves with the back of a spoon. Whisk everything together, and that's it!

*I used half & half because that's what was in my fridge at the time. Obviously, the result is a more fluid consistency, more lassi-like, but if you want something spoonable, use cream, as suggested in Donna's original recipe.

Mum's Müesli (#2)
By my mother/mom/mum.

Combine & refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight:
1 cups rolled oats
1 cup boiling water

Before serving, add:
2 cups dried fruits (e.g.: dates, prunes, figs, apricots, raisins)
1/2 cup chopped toasted almonds (or any other nuts)
2 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 cups grated apple

Serve, passing yogurt and additional honey to add, if desired.

11/04/08: The roundup of delectable yogurts can be found here at Marita Says. Thank you so much for hosting, Bordeaux!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Rhubarb: Long Overdue

I have the fickle weather to blame for this recipe, which bounces between the flavors of summer and fall as often as the temperatures here fluctuate between sweater cozy and flip flop breezy. Yesterday morning I headed out the door at 8 o'clock with a scarf looped around my neck, and today I am back in sandals and a t-shirt. So, can you see why I found myself in the kitchen last week with two stalks of tangy rhubarb in one hand and sweet Bartlett pears in the other?


As spring ripened into summer this year, I spent a good deal of time reading about other bloggers' mouthwatering rhubarb recipes but never managed to acquire any for myself.

I have sweet memories of walking the worn trail along the tree line of our property back in Bellingham, Washington on warm summer evenings with a wrinkled grocery bag and my mom's butcher knife. The path dipped unevenly and awkwardly and felt best on the soles of bare feet, even if I had to brave a portion of gravel once I got to the end and crossed our neighbors' driveway. But beyond that driveway rhubarb grew against an old shed, its massive green leaves fanning up and out from grey walls of old untreated wood. As I bent over to part the green canopy and reach my fingers down toward the dirt, Tanir, our family dog, who had trotted ahead of me the whole way here, would dart after an invisible rabbit. Raising each stalk of rhubarb in front of me, I would swing my knife through the air and slice cleanly through it, letting the poisonous leaves accumulate in a decomposing pile to the side.

Not every rhubarb gathering day was sunny and peaceful. Some involved my mom prodding me to put on a jacket and face a chilly breeze or drizzly rain, and I would head out simply to get the job done, forgetting to notice the deep green, towering pine trees around me (I promise never to take them for granted again!). Surely what occupied my mind as I counted the number of stalks filling my sack and thus mom's quota, was the idea of a house smelling of rhubarb-y baked things. Warm muffins with brown sugar piled on their craggy tops. Custard bars with rhubarb in the creamy middle, a cookie crust, and whipped cream cheese on top. Dark, nutty coffee cake.

These are the things that made me yearn for rhubarb starting in late spring and through this summer. Even into the middle of fall, I hesitated to give up the idea of going without for a whole year, which is why, when I saw rhubarb at the Central Market in Dallas two weeks ago, I didn't have to debate with myself very long before grabbing two stalks. However, when I put the produce sticker on the bag and saw that I had just committed to paying $6-something my jaw almost dropped. Sure, it's Texas (where produce doesn't come cheaply or abundantly) and, sure, these were probably rare late bloomers, but I don't think I've ever paid for rhubarb before! It always could be gathered at our neighbors' or tracked down through other friends.

From all that reminiscing comes today's recipe. It has to do with that rhubarb I payed a black market price for and took form when I realized the ends of the stalks were starting to turn brown and soften. Not wanting to lose an inch more of my precious purchase, I surveyed the contents of my fridge and cupboards, and gleefully concluded that a clafoutis was the only fitting solution. I opened my mom's cookbook to her Apple-Raisin Clafouti recipe for inspiration and, in need of a bit more fruit, grabbed two perfectly ripe pears.


Now, my mom put her clafoutis recipe in the dessert section of the cookbook she made for her children, but I think it could just as agreeably be found in the breakfast section. After all, the batter is a lot like that of an oven pancake and it's loaded with fruit, so why not?


Rhubarb and Pear Clafoutis*
Adapted from my mother.

Serves 6.

3 cups rhubarb, small cubes
2 cups Barlett pear, small cubes
1/4 cup Turbinado raw cane sugar
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
2 Tbsp. butter
2/3 cup flour
1/2 cup milk
3 eggs
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla
Powdered sugar, for sprinkling

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. Combine first four ingredients in a large bowl.

3. Melt butter in a 2-qt. baking dish in oven. Place fruit mixture on top of melted butter, and bake for 15 minutes, or until fruit is soft.

4. While waiting, combine the rest of the ingredients in a blender and whir on high for 1 minute.

5. Pour batter over hot mixture and return to oven for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool slightly. Dust with powdered sugar and serve warm.

*My mom spells Clafoutis without an s ("Clafouti"), and from Googling it, it seems like both spellings are acceptable, but if I'd love to learn more about the two forms. If you're a French speaker, please pipe up!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: A Dose of Honesty


I sit before you as the same tired girl who was here last week, but I'll refrain from sharing the details of my all-night escapades because 1) "escapades" is a far too exciting word to use -- they're quite boring -- and 2) many of you lead equally crazy lives.

How does life get so crazy? Personally, I have to admit a lot has to do with this laptop resting on my legs. I can't live with it, and I can't live without it. Email and Skype keep me connected with friends too far away to hug, Picasa keeps my photographs stored and organized, and good ol' Microsoft Word keeps words flowing (or stumbling) out of my brain and into typed words that eventually make their way onto crisp white paper in the hands of the professors who, as my graduation date draws closer, seem to hold my future in their all-powerful hands. And, yet, this computer works against me by offering a million less important distractions from the things that I must accomplish before sinking into bed each night.

Tonight I'll be researching the works of illustrators such as Lane Smith, and committing the mood and sway of Glen & Mar's album to memory through iTunes, all from the comfort of a cleared spot at the end of my bed, which as gone unmade for a shameful eight days (not to mention that it is now sheet-less, because I washed them two days ago and haven't put them back on).


Why am I admitting all this to you dear people (who I'm sure have a squeaky clean image of me and are surely quite surprised to learn I'm not perfect)? Well, I tend to be quite honest when I'm tired.

And, along the lines of being honest, I have to counter that I can live without this laptop. People do, and I can learn to, again, if need be. I'm very grateful to the generous friend who gave it to me, but I don't ever want to get so attached to something as fleeting as a computer (which can be killed in a few seconds with water dumped across its screen and keys -- I would know), or convenient as a cell phone, or even as luxurious as $8 New Zealand honey (totally worth it, that once -- I hadn't tasted it since my childhood on our regular visits to the honey shop between Waiwera and Auckland).

But, as long as I have access to a kitchen and the internet, I will likely continue to take pictures and blog about my gastronomic experiences, so thank you so much for joining me tonight.


I have been retracing my steps all evening long, ever since I started scooping this muffin batter into its designated tin and wondering why it was so thick. I can't figure out what I did wrong. Dorie Greenspan presents a lovely sounding pumpkin muffin recipe in Baking: From My Home to Yours, and I have been looking forward to trying it for a couple weeks. But what I pulled out of the oven in no way outshines other pumpkin quick breads or muffins I have made. The most appealing way to describe its appearance was "rustic." The batter was too thick to fill out the muffin liner while baking and remained piled on top.

The only things I changed were that I made a one and a half recipe, switched out 1/3 of the all-purpose flour for whole-wheat, and used a very runny and sour yogurt instead of buttermilk. I do no see how these could have dramatically affected the consistency.

On the bright side, they're pumpkin flavored, so they're hard to hate (who are you crazy people saying you don't like pumpkin?) and loaded with cranberries (another minor alteration) and pecans and coated with crunchy sunflower seeds, but I could easily add these things to one of my preferred pumpkin muffin recipes.


These are my thoughts on Tuesdays With Dorie's recipe this week, but I'm looking forward to finding out how others' baking sessions went (as soon as I find the time). I could have just encountered something weird and only relevant to my kitchen; I'm willing to give Dorie the benefit of the doubt.

The recipe can be found here:
Pumpkin Muffins

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie & Homemade Biscotti: Two New Favorite Things

I often find myself in conflict with the dark, rich brew known as coffee. I straddle a line that was clearly drawn out in my youth. My mother is on one side shaking her head in sadness that this is even a point of argument as she holds out a hot cup of fragrant, floral herbal tea. My dad is on the other, so casually sipping his thick, strong coffee that I am intrigued by its mystery as well as its intense aroma.

Now, you might be wondering why at the age of twenty-two, after being out of my parents' house for four years, I am still trying to keep a foot on both sides of this abyss. Why haven't I made up my mind for myself? I wish the answer was a simple one, but it's not. Ultimately, I am grateful for those who have led the way in living with a love for both tea and coffee. This is where I prefer to place myself. If the coffee is poor (because living with my dad and being in the Pacific Northwest were excellent trainers for knowing when a cup of joe isn't worth swallowing), I'll usually take tea. If biscuits are present, black tea with a spot of cream is preferred. If it's the morning after a depleted night's sleep, thanks to a little bit of procrastination and an additional bit of overlapping class due dates, then it's coffee I want for the extra jolt.

Why all this talk of coffee, when I'm supposed to be talking about two new favorite things: Tuesdays with Dorie and homemade biscotti? Well, I have been loading up on coffee a lot recently, trying to finish assignments, and that's why, when I saw that the recipe for today was Dorie's Lenox Almond Biscotti, I was very pleased. In my opinion, the only thing better than a good cup of coffee is a good cup of coffee with a biscotti.

I had never made my own biscotti before, though not out of fear of difficulty. It has remained on that perpetual list of things to do that I keep stored in my mind but don't stress myself out for not getting to (because I have enough lists elsewhere). If it's really important, it will make its way to the surface and work itself out, or demand my attention enough to get me moving. While biscotti wasn't a particularly dynamic or vocal item on my list, I'm glad our paths finally crossed.

I trust Dorie's recommendation to put cornmeal in the biscotti dough and want to try this on my next batch. For now, I substituted the cornmeal with whole wheat flour because I also two teaspoons of dried lavender to the dough and didn't want too many elements fighting for attention. Additionally, I knew my biscotti would be nubby enough because I chopped up slivered almonds instead of using sliced, wanting the crunchy bites of the nut to serve as a reminder of the biscotti's star ingredient: almond. This also kept me from hesitating when I saw Dorie's instructions for a generous amount of almond extract. I have yet to be displeased by a strong almond flavor.

The lavender was a lovely component, and I am very glad I added it. In the last stage, with the nuts, I scooped in two teaspoons of the dried, edible flower buds and tasted a bit of the dough after shaping two logs on the cookie sheet. The lavender flavor was so strong that I became worried I had overdone it. But, from then until the end of the baking process, somehow the flower's flavor and scent mellowed out and became a pleasing undertone, only reappearing distinctively in the very occasional bite.

Thank you so much to Gretchen of Canela & Comino for choosing this delicious recipe. You helped me check something off my to-do list, and that is always a wonderful thing to experience, even if it's very little.

Dorie's original recipe for these biscotti is located here, and it's basic enough to be wide open to variation. I look forward to exploring these variants in the future.

For blog scanners versus readers (no biases intended; I just know you're out there), here is a set-apart link to the recipe:
Lenox Almond Biscotti

[Sorry if this post is disjointed or lacking in personality. I find my eyelids heavy tonight as my body tells me to give it some rest after spending all of last night in my photography class's photo lab.]

Sunday, October 5, 2008

"In the Bag" Event: The Best Orange Cake with Even Better Company

I dumped my bags on my unmade bed, unloaded my groceries in the kitchen, and popped open my computer when I got home today. So, here I sit in an otherwise empty room listening to songs rise out of my lap top's speakers, songs that I want to commit to memory and hold fast to as a picture of this past weekend.

I got to spend Saturday and half of today with people I love dearly. If I were to name the college friends I plan on sticking around Facebook for after college, who I would move out of the country to room with in a little European flat, who I want to keep my drawers stocked with stationary for, knowing that a letter sent through the mail is worth the extra time and postage to try and communicate my sincerity, and who, right now, bring happiness by simply snuggling on a couch together, arms intertwined and legs stretched across each other, these would be a good number of them.

I have been blessed by many wonderful friendships in college, but not many have manifested themselves in a cohesive group like this one. I love you, girls.

One of us is going off to Spain in a couple weeks (not me, not yet), and so we got together to wish her well in the coming year. Plenty of desserts were present, as we threw a party for the fact that she is deserting us, and the Orange Cake I made last spring was requested. I gladly obliged.

This cake is so enjoyable to make because the ingredients are simple and pure, and as the whole oranges cook for two hours, they release a sweet citrus fragrance that fills the air.

As it so happens, today is the first birthday of this wee blog. One Hungry Soul is turning one! So the presentation of this cake is also in memory of the day I started exploring the world of food through a camera lens and connecting with like-minded cooks and bakers. You are all brilliant. Thank you so much for introducing yourselves to me and sharing in this journey. Getting to know you through your comments and/or your blogs has enriched my own experiences in the kitchen and in life.

My previous Orange Cake post is here. There is also a link to it on my recipe index. Both places link back to the original recipe, which I have not significantly altered, but if you want to go directly to it click here (a more detailed description is available here).

My notes:
[Nigella Lawson is one of my heroes in the kitchen. I am indebted to her for the brilliance of this cake as I submit it to The Real Epicurean's "In The Bag" seasonal food blogging event.

Previously, I used almond meal, but it is not the cheapest thing to come by where I live, so I finely ground almonds in small batches in the blender this time, making sure not to let them turn to a paste. I didn't even make sure they were blanched, just using the slivered ones, which lent a more rustic aesthetic to the cake.

While Nigella used clementines in the original, two oranges (375 g. or 1 lb.) are a great substitute. I used Cara Caras, which made the color of the cake darker. And because I had difficulty getting it out of the pan and cracked the cake along the way, it worked out perfectly to arrange some candied orange slices on top. A dollop of crème fraîche went in the middle of my asymmetrical "flower" and more in a bowl on the side to accompany deliciously big slices.]

Please indulge me as I post a few more pictures of my time in the past two days. Granted, they are of food, but the sweetest part of those hours was the company. Including getting to share in some Norwegian company and taste my first Kringla, a Norwegian bread-like cookie (I'm still researching it, so please pass on any information or recipes you have because it hasn't been part of my family's recipe pile, and I'd love to include it.)

Update: And here is the site for the roundup of all the delicious recipes submitted to In the Bag!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Urging Fall into Existence

The walls of my bedroom are empty. I still haven't gotten around to putting up my maps, photos, and artwork since moving in and haven't minded so much, but today their white scratchy texture is ominously silent. I think it's time to let myself settle in a bit more.

One year just sounds like so little time until I pack up my bags, tuck my college diploma under my arm, and head off to another chapter of life.

Yesterday I came back from a couple days in Dallas, and sometimes it is leaving that reminds me that I don't mind staying. This apartment in Abilene is the closest thing to home I have right now. So it's time to decorate the walls.

It's time to let myself move in a bit more and release some grudges against this place that has become home against my will. One grudge I hold right now is against the weather. It is so dang hot here, and we just stepped into October!

I'm looking forward to the night I can crawl into bed and pull all my warm, heavy blankets on top of me. I've tried, but within a couple minutes, I end up kicking everything except the sheet down to the bottom of the bed. I'm hanging onto the idea of baking on a Saturday and enjoying the warmth from the oven, versus walking into another room as often as possible to cool off. And I'm anticipating the foods of fall. Right now, they just don't suit very well. But still I try.

Last night I tried to whip up some fall fare, and it was delicious, despite the fact that as we sat down in the coolest part of the house we could find, our warm bowls did little to keep our sweat at bay.

But if you are in a cooler place than I am, then I encourage you to pull out your cornmeal and make some classic polenta. Its golden yellow color just goes so well with the changing leaves. And even if you're not heading into fall (because I know spring is beginning for my southern friends), polenta is just so good. I don't think your stomach can ever protest against this stuff.

I took my leftover french red onion soup, which I had gratefully been working on since making a big pot of it, and found that age allowed the flavors to mellow out very pleasingly. Slowly softening them a little while longer, and scooping them onto creamy polenta, with the gruyère I bought to accompany they, made for a very happy combo.

It's perfect for fall. Or for those of us who just like to pretend.

Basic Polenta
Based off so very many sources but mostly common sense.

6 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups stone ground cornmeal
1 tablespoon of butter (or up to 3)

Bring water to boil in heavy saucepan. Add salt, and reduce heat to low. Then slowly pour in cornmeal, stirring with a whisk as you go.

Attentively whisk for the next five minutes or so to prevent lumps. Then cover and stir every few minutes. Continue to do this until cornmeal grains have softened and begins to pull away from sides of the pan, about 30 minutes.

Remove from heat. Stir in chunks of butter until melted and combined. Serve immediately.*

*The picture you see at the top of the page is of my polenta the next day, so it has more form to it after being in the fridge in a container. Yours should spread out more on the plate or within the bowl.

French Red Onions
Adapted from this recipe

Red onions, prepared according to this recipe**
3 tablespoons port wine

Using a generous amount of butter (depending on how many onions you have and how much softer they need to get -- I had about half of my soup left and used 4 tablespoons of butter) heat red onions (strained from broth) in a heavy skillet at medium-low heat.

Occasionally stir, slowly letting onions soften, about 30 minutes (mine needed this much time because they never got as soft in the soup-making process). Pour in a generous splash of port. Allow all to combine for a couple more minutes.

Spoon onions and sauce over polenta. Shred gruyère over top.

**I had made the soup earlier in the week. Obviously, you don't have to go through the exact same process to get these red onions. I have ideas for how to get the complex flavor of the already prepared onions without a lot of broth left over, but since I did not do it, I do not want to give you specific directions. I'm sure you can figure it out with some experimentation. Just don't neglect the anise. (It's not so bad after all.)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Seeking Variety

I never set out to make a name for myself in the cookie baking department. In fact, looking at my recipe index, it would appear I have a ways to go until that title is truly earned. But ask my coworkers what they expect to find in the break room on Wednesdays, and they'll quickly answer back with "Lael's cookies."

A particular recipe I made a while ago launched me into being a weekly cookie baker in my office and I have stuck faithfully to that recipe since. The wonderful thing about it is that within the same dough you can replace or add any number of things and get something new and different, yet still with a melt-in-your-mouth sensation.

However, I am not always the best example of a creature of habit because while I like consistency in some senses, I can get incredibly bored with it. For one, I'm not the kind of person who eats the same thing for breakfast every single morning. And, while I love to give myself an extra half or full hour to exercise in the morning, the activity may range between walking, running, or any number of yoga sessions.

All that to say, I can't help mixing things up on Cookie Day sometimes. I try to stick to a similar type of cookie, at least, and last week's variation was subtle but still special in its own way. Instead of using powdered sugar, I used unrefined cane sugar and cut the amount of all purpose flour in half, replacing the rest with whole wheat. The eggs were left in the fridge, and a coarsely chopped chocolate bar was mixed in.

I cannot claim this adaptation as an invention of my own brilliance. In fact, it's an entirely different recipe. One from the mind of Dorie Greenspan, and the other from the equally admirable Alice Medrich. Both produce a cookie with similar proportions of ingredients and delicate flavor that spaciously fits in the palm of your hand.

I can't remember where I first saw this recipe, but when Googling it, I found that The Wednesday Chef had made it, and it's quite possible I first read about it there.

Whole Wheat Sables*

*Alice's recipe calls for cocoa nibs or chopped hazelnuts, both of which sound lovely, but I had an Endangered Species dark chocolate bar with espresso beans on hand, so I used part of that.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Anise & Me

Being that it is Wednesday evening, I think we should all settle down with a drink of choice in the crook of a cushy couch and let out a good, long sigh. Maybe gaze out a window at the people moving about in the dim light of an ending day, at the rain drops collecting on your window screen, or turn your attention back toward the warmth of the room you're in and give thanks for the people also living under your roof (if not applicable, give thanks for this roof you are fortunate to possess). At least that's what I'm trying to do today. I find that it's the best way to find energy for the last two days of a weary week.

I'm also trying to figure out what to tell you about the soup I made myself for dinner tonight. It falls somewhere between heavenly and ho-hum. Within this wide spectrum, I'd probably place it at "disappointing." Maybe my hopes were too high, but when I read the words star anise, red wine, and gruyere, I immediately filed this variation on french onion soup into the forefront of my mind, determine to collect the necessary ingredients over the course of the next week.

The attractive little red onions at the farmer's market motivated me further (bordering the white ones).

So, today was the day for my eagerly anticipated, first ever, french onion soup. The entire process was simple and brief (about half an hour), though a little too much time in front of the stove for a warm September night like this, but I was determined (and too exasperated with Texas's relentless heat to care).

The disappointment came with the lack of wow factor in this dish. Without the bubbly gruyere and thick slice of rustic bread, it would have been barely tolerable. The dominating flavor in the broth was the anise, and, while I gravitated toward this recipe because of the anise-touch, I found myself resenting it once the soup was made. I seem to have a vague memory of eating or drinking something with too much anise in it, and that memory was awakened during my supper.

I so want to like anise. In fact, I refuse to state that I don't. We're just in the midst of an uncomfortable relationship right now. Maybe if it was a more subtle flavor in my long-dreamed-of french red onion soup, I wouldn't find it so disagreeable.

If there is a next time for this soup, I will be using only one whole star anise. Between now and then, I do expect to be trying more french onion soups. I want to go back to the classic and learn what that tastes like. I want to bake up more whole wheat country bread and cut the leftovers into big slices to go in the freezer until it's time to grate a pile of soft, pungent gruyere, and generously sprinkle the stringy cheese on top of the wedge of bread, already soaking up the heat and juices of sweet, oniony broth. Broiled and bubbly, this makes any soup weigh toward the side of heavenly, even if anise and I do not like each other.

Let me know what you think:
French Red Onion Soup Recipe

I am also interested in your favorite french onion soup recipe!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Attention: We have a Recipe Index

This past week I have been putting together a long-overdue recipe index for One Hungry Soul. There is a link to it on the sidebar that will always be there, but in I wanted to call it to your attention with a little post.

So, hop on over to One Hungry Soul's Recipes to find links to posts relating to the above images. While not all my baking and cooking endeavors have recipes directly posted on my site, there is always at least a link to where I got it from.

Bon appétit!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

You Said Farmer's Market?

Hello there. I know it has almost been a week since I last posted and that certainly defies my latest posting average of every one to two days, so thanks for coming back. My blogging frequency will be slowing down a bit as I get deeper into the semester, but I promise at least one post a week of something delicious. Just hang in there. I love sharing this little bit of cyberspace with you.

Today's deliciousness comes in the form of a quiche that I have been slowly nibbling away on since midweek. Considering that one of my roommates is a vegan and another doesn't eat eggs or meat, it was left to me and "roomie #4" to enjoy making this pretty little thing disappear.

I took two of the last three slices over to a friend's house this morning, and our forks dug into the cold, creamy filling as we chatted and tried not to get too excited for the farmer's market we were about to go explore.

Farmer's market? Don't you live in Abilene, Texas? Well, yes I do, and thank you so much for reminding me. But I will respond with the comment that once again I have been pleasantly surprised by this quiet little town.

So, we went with low expectations to a covered parking lot downtown and were greeted by friendly "good mornings" and beautiful produce (albeit a modest amount of it).

I bought red onions and assorted squashes and am looking forward to going back next week with a little more cash to buy a jar of honey. I think I'll be keeping in mind the filling I want to make for my next quiche, too, because I still have things to learn about this dish, and only time and practice will teach me.

For one, this was my first ever pie crust. I think a dread of them was instilled in me because my mom rarely ever took the time to make them. I assumed her lack of interest was because of their difficulty, and if my talented mother finds something difficult, well, I'm kind of, sort of doomed.

However, Tuesday afternoon I fearlessly set out to make my first pâte brisée, and it wasn't all that terrible. I had thorough instructions, thanks to WCS, but had to gradually grate the frozen butter in because I don't have a food processor. I may have been a bit conservative with the amount of water I added as well (erring on the side of too little than too much). It simply ended up a bit tough.

As for the filling, I modified Cook's Illustrated's Leek and Goat Cheese Quiche, using their measurements for heavy whipping cream, milk, eggs, egg yolks, salt, and nutmeg. Instead of the leeks, I sauteed baby portobello mushrooms in a bit of butter, snipped up some chives, and grated pecorino romano into the egg mixture. The flavor was fresh and the texture perfectly smooth, but next time I think I'll try a different filling because the 3/4 cup of whipped cream made for a heaviness and richness almost more appropriate for a dessert than a breakfast dish.

Too bad there aren't farm fresh eggs at the farmer's market...oh well. I'm grateful for something cheerful to get me outside before ten on Saturdays, until the winter closes in.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Rainy Evening

When it rains here my university campus turns into one giant pond. Water comes so infrequently that the ground doesn't know what to do with it, so it flows along the surface of the dirt and pools in every dip of sidewalk and road.

This means that on days like today, when low dark storm clouds move in, and I find myself halfway across campus, the best thing is to wait out the worst of the giant raindrops. Then I roll up my pants, take off my flip flops, and tiptoe through the cold water all the way home.

Today's pond rose above my ankles and splashed water up the back of my pants, making me feel like both a little kid in a giant puddle and like someone quite ready for fall to close in and soup days to begin. In fact, I would have come right home and put on some soup if I had been prepared for this urging, but when the daily high temperature is in the 90s, one does not stock the cupboards for such things.

So, I'll be patient for soup season to fully close in and then, surely, be enjoying it on a daily basis. For now, I'll keep enjoying the rain because despite the way it flattens my hair and ruins the hem of my jeans. I have a fondness for wet weather. Being from the Northwest, I just can't help it.

A good rain shower feels oh so cozy.

And, so, I apologize that I do not have a recipe for you tonight, but my studies are calling my name and those darn slow-roasted tomatoes were supposed to make up a (successful) post of their own. Instead, I give you one of my other loves. Apart from food, I do love rainy weather and have spent some time back home in Bellingham and here in Abilene capturing the world after it has received a generous drink of water from above.