Archive | October, 2012

Sweet and Savory Focaccia

25 Oct

You know what’s funny?  When I try to do homework, I invariably end up on some food blog (including this one), planning a pie, or flipping through a cookbook.

(My desk, while attempting to prepare for a debate.  (Yes, my desktop background is pie.))

One minute it’s American art history, the next I’m trying to figure out how to combine blackberries and brownies (I’m getting there…)

How do you suppose that happens?

In any case, let me introduce you to my new cookbook, courtesy of my wonderful mother who sends the absolute best care packages:

Oh yeah.  Shit’s about to get real.

Also, I’m trying to figure out what I was wearing that would have facilitated a brown scarf and a pink-and-white striped shirt…  Very mysterious.

Now, the first thing I made out of this delightful book was homemade pasta, but I didn’t document the process.  Sorry.  Next time, maybe.

And so I bring to you instead, sweet and savory focaccia.  The recipe in the book is actually for rosemary focaccia, but I made one with cinnamon-sugar and chocolate chips, and another with mozzarella and bell peppers.  Hence the sweet and savory.  You can put pretty much anything you want on focaccia.  It’s a very versatile dough, and a joy to work with because it is not furiously sticky.

Ingredients:

  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 2 1/4 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 cups AP flour
  • 2 cups bread flour
  • 4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • Whatever toppings you want (I did a quarter cup of chocolate chips with cinnamon-sugar and two little bell papers with some strategically placed cheese)

In a small bowl, combine the yeast, sugar, and warm water, and let sit for five minutes.

From this:

To this:

Mix together the two flours and the 2 tsp of the salt in a large bowl.

Create a well in the center and pour in the yeast mixture.

Stir in the milk and 3 tbsp of olive oil until it starts to look like dough.

Then dump it onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand until all ingredients are incorporated.

Put the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover it with plastic wrap and a dish towel, and let sit for 2 hours, or until the dough roughly doubles in size.

Punch the dough down and roll it out until it’s about an 1/8-1/4 inch thick.  Then place on a lightly greased baking pan, cover with a dish towel, and let rise for another 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Then, dimple the dough with you fingers like so:

If making a savory version:

Brush with the remaning olive oil, sprinkle the rest of the salt on top, and add your toppings.

If making a sweet version:

Brush with about a tablespoon of butter, sprinkle cinnamon-sugar on top, and press chocolate chips into the dough.

Bake until golden brown, or about 30 minutes.  If you accidentally overbake (as I did) and end up with kind of tough focaccia, you can just microwave it to soften it.  You can do this if you’re having leftovers, too.  Focaccia is meant to be eaten fresh, but you can store it in Tupperware as well.

And here you can see my very fancy Tupperware…

 

 

Today’s book recommendation is Stanley Tucci’s cookbook, which I used for this recipe.  I thought this guy couldn’t get any greater, and then he published a cookbook.  Craziness.  And not just any cookbook!  The food looks absolutely delicious, and there’s a great variation in traditional and more unconventional recipes.  Best of all, though, the recipes don’t require a lot of specialized ingredients so, as far as I can tell while reading it (maybe every night, what of it) the recipes are pretty affordable, too.  Also, the majority of the proceeds go to the New York Food Bank.  In other words, there’s no reason not to buy this book.

 

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Pumpkin Pie Poptarts

22 Oct

On the eve (okay, evening) of the final presidential debate, I have a paper on the possible need for a World Environmental Organization that I am pointedly not doing, and 14 tabs open in this browser window full of political stories, charts and graphs, food blogs, and other things I have since lost track of.  It is very stormy out today, with bright yellow leaves raining down and sticking to everything, and the end of every sidewalk disappearing into its own jump-across-able ocean.  The tips of my fingers ache from violin.  I’m wearing an I <3 Bees pin and turquoise stockings.  Things are okay.

But do you know what’s better than okay?  These pumpkin pie poptarts.  Everyone who had one–including me–went, “Whoaa… oh my god!” when they tried these.  I wrapped some up and gave them to a friend for her birthday.  I received an enthusiastic text an hour later.

These things are gold, okay.  Wow.

They are also heaps of fun to make because they’re very hands-on–a lot of kneading, cutting, filling, crimping… This is why I love dough.  I love to set aside the utensils and implements and work with my hands.

The recipe, to change things up, comes from Joy the Baker, and includes a delicious maple glaze.

Ingredients:

For the crust:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 sticks butter, cold, cut into cubes
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1 large egg (for brushing dough)

For the filling:

  • 3/4 cup pumpkin purée
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar

For the glaze:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp milk

Now, to make the delicious, buttery, fluffy crust:

Combine the flour, sugar, and salt.

Add the butter and combine with a food processor or by hand.

I did this by hand but, as I mentioned, I like to just… get in there.

Maybe that’s just me.  Also my food processor can hold about 1/3 cup at a time…

It should look sort of like this.  Now whisk together the egg and the milk and throw it into the flour mixture, stirring until the egg has soaked completely into the flour.

On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough until it holds together and all the ingredients are really integrated.

Divide the dough in half, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for half an hour.

While that’s going down, prepare the filling.

In a small saucepan, heat the pumpkin with the spices.  Joy says that this draws out the spices, and I believe her.  I pretty much trust her implicitly…

Put the pumpkin in a small bowl and add the rest of the ingredients.

Stir until combined.  Now trade the pumpkin for the dough.

Take on dough ball and press it into a rectangle.

Roll it out until it’s about 1/8 inch thick.

Trim the dough so that it’s a neat little rectangle, and divide it into nine smaller rectangles.

Refrigerate while you repeat the process with the second ball.

Then, take one batch of nine and brush one side with egg.

Drop some filling onto each buttered square.

Top with another pastry square and crimp closed with a fork.  It’s okay if some filling oozes out.

Poke some holes in the top for ventilation and allow to rest in the fridge for another half hour.

In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown.

While they bake prepare the glaze by whipping all the ingredients together.

These tarts are best when drenched in glaze, but don’t take my word for it. Do it.

After baking, consume as soon as you are sure you will not scald your esophagus.

 

Pumpkin Pie (From Scratch!)

20 Oct

Consider this my warning to all of you: I will be posting a nauseating amount of pumpkin-related recipes in the coming weeks.  Why?

Because I decided to make pumpkin pie from scratch.

How scratch is scratch?

I went out and bought a pumpkin, gutted it, roasted it, and blended it to make purée.  Yes.  Very scratch.

(Here’s how to make purée from scratch)

And so, it will basically be a pumpkin fest for a while.  I don’t know about you guys, but I am totally okay with having my diet getting taken over by a squash.  More than okay, even.

So here goes.  This recipe is, as usual, from The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook

Ingredients:

I made my own crust using a recipe adapted from Good Life Eats, but you can buy a crust instead.  If you do, don’t buy one that’s been baked already.

  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 stick butter, cold
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 3-5 tbsp cold water

For the filling:

  • 2 cups minus 2 tbsp pumpkin purée (or one 15 oz can)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 cups evaporated milk

To make the crust:

Mix together the dry ingredients.  Cut the butter into a cubes and add to the flour mixture.

 

I realized I could make a butter pyramid.  Disgusting, but awesome.

You can do this with a food processor, pulsing until the mixture becomes crumbly.   You can also do it by hand, massaging the butter into a flour until only pea-sized bits remain.

Dump all of that onto a lightly floured surface.

 

With liberal quantities of flour, knead the dough until it doesn’t stick to everything in sight.  Then, roll it out into a circle, about 6 inches in diameter.

 

Wrap that in plastic wrap and either freeze for thirty minutes or refrigerate for an hour.

In the meantime, prepare the filling.

In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin and eggs.

 

Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until well-combined.

 

If she looks like she’s having difficulty with that evaporated milk… it’s because she is.  We, being terribly bright young people, didn’t have a can opener.  So we had to stab holes in the can.  And for some reason, evaporated milk is a lot more viscous than we had anticipated, so we had a hell of a time getting it out of the can.

We have a can opener now.  And a salt shaker.  We only had a pepper shaker before, acquired by highly dubious means.

In any case.

Go resurrect your dough and roll it out until it’s 12 inches in diameter.

 

Also, you want to talk about our pathetic kitchen situation?  I use a poster tube for a rolling pin.  Yesterday I made pasta from scratch as well, and we used jars to roll the dough out.

Your tears of pity are appreciated, but unnecessary.  Dry your eyes and press on.

Speaking of pressing on, take your pie crust and press it into a tin.  Crimp the edges roundabout the pan.

Fabulous.  This is my first pie crust, so.  I was quite pleased.

Now, pour the filling into the crust.

 

Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.  Additionally, if the middle is very jiggly, it is likely not done yet.

Allow to cool for 2 hours.

And then enjoy!

 

Now, I am going to recommend a film director this time.  Bear with me.  Wong Kar-Wai is a Chinese filmmaker based in Hong Kong.  His movies… one critic described In the Mood for Love as a film you could drown in.  It is very true.  My roommate recommended that movie, and I’ve been working my way through his filmography ever since.

He has a highly stylized approach, which is all the more amazing and appealing because it isn’t consciously stylized.  Wong Kar-Wai films have a distinct atmosphere, even though they are all quite different from each other.  But Wong never went to film school, never had formal training.  In fact, he often doesn’t get permits to film in Hong Kong, so he and his crew race around with hand-helds.  And somehow the effect is gorgeous.  It looks so perfectly poised, but it’s often fairly improvisatory.  I’ve also heard Wong’s work compared to jazz.  This is also accurate.

In the Mood for Love in particular is amazing.  It’s about a man and a woman (Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Maggie Cheung) who find out their spouses are having an affair and start a platonic affair of their own.  It’s so quiet and so secretive, like we’re spying on them as we watch the movie.  Wong also describes it as a personal portrait of Hong Kong in the 60s, which was a very unique moment in Hong Kong’s history because a lot of mainland Chinese fled there to escape the Cultural Revolution.  So you had these Mandarin-speakers with their own culture living side by side with the Cantonese, and as a result there were films, and music, and literature just exploding across the city.  The movie is also a beautiful, sad love story that’s so unconventional because it’s about a platonic affair.  I mean, what?  What does that mean?

You’ll have to watch it and figure that out.  It’s also on Instant Netflix, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t.

 

How to Make Pumpkin Purée from the Squash Itself

18 Oct

So I had this idea, and it was probably at 2 am or something equally ridiculous, that I would make pumpkin pie from scratch.  I went out and bought a pumpkin.  You’re supposed to use a pie pumpkin, which is smaller and has a higher sugar content.  I couldn’t find anyone, so I got a regular one and it turned out fine:

 

How cool are those pants, first of all?  Very.

Second of all, if you, too, bought yourself a pumpkin with the aim of turning it into pie, here is how you proceed:

First, cut the top off as though you were carving a jack o’ lantern.

 

Then scoop out the guts.  Save the seeds so you can roast them in every seasoning that you have in your cabinet with enough salt to make your tongue swell up.  That’s what my roommate and I did anyway…

 

Place the pumpkins cut-side down on baking pans lined with tin foil.  Pumpkins ooze when they bake, so you’ll save yourself a lot of cleaning up this way.  Also, to prevent burning the skin make a tinfoil tent to go over the pumpkins.  I had no tinfoil so I did neither of things, but do as I say, not as I do.

 

Bake at 450 degrees for 1 1/2-2 hours.  You should be able to stick a fork into the pumpkin pretty easily by the time its done.

Then, scrape out the innards.

 

So that’s all the pulp.  You should leave the skin and any burned bits out, obviously.

 

Do not eat this.

Okay, now do some preliminary mashing before you put this stuff through a food processor.

 

You could do this with a spoon, a potato masher, or various other pulverizing implements.  I just stuck my hands in there and squished.  It’s the kind of person I am.

Put that into your food processor to make sure it’s totally smooth.  You don’t want chunks in your pie after all.

It should look like this when you’re done–pretty much what you would find in a can.  I usually store it in the fridge overnight so it can absorb some of the juices.  Any remaining liquid can be strained out with a sieve.  And then you’re golden.

Fun fact: my food processor is secretly a bean grinder (but my bean grinder is just a bean grinder; I found a second bean grinder in the apartment when I moved in), so I had to spoon in a little bit of pumpkin chunk at a time.  Pumpkin was everywhere.  It oozed out the grinder, it splattered on the microwave and toaster, it got all over my hands…  Maybe I should be a real blender, or something?  Possibly?

Now that you have purée, you can head over to one of my many pumpkin-related recipes and get baking.

 

Fabulous Oat Bread

12 Oct

I don’t know if you’ve noticed that I tend to write more posts late at night.  I do this because I do most of my work at night.  So basically I write up recipes when I should be doing something else.  I’m having a hard time writing the section of my paper on building certification in China, so I thought I’d write about bread and see if it got miraculously easier.

I doubt it, but let me hope, okay.

I got this recipe from the side of a bag of King Arthur bread flour.  I think the recipes that come printed on packaging are seriously underrated.  This bread, for example, is insanely delicious, and I could easily have missed out by tossing the bag out when I was done with it.  Very foolish.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp of honey (or brown sugar)
  • 2 tsp instant yeast OR 1 packet of active dry yeast (if you use the latter you have to “activate” the yeast in a bowl of warm water first.  Just pour it in and stir for a bit.  There should be directions on the packet.)
  • 1 1/4 cups lukewarm milk

The thing I love about bread is that it’s so easy to make and so deeply rewarding.  I think a lot of people can be intimidated by bread because it involves yeast, and rising, and resting, and all sorts of mysterious stuff.  But in fact, bread is just the beautiful and elegant application of friendly food chemistry.  And, best of all, it results in bread.  A friend of mine was talking about how much he loves bread and wants to make some someday because when you’re done, you’ve got this loaf, right.  And the loaf is all yours.  You made that entire damn thing, which you can toast, or use to make sandwiches, or puts eggs on, or eat with pasta, or use as a soup mop.  It’s such an everyday item that, today, we imagine mostly as a processed product pre-sliced.  But it can also be a magnificent and delicious act of creativity and science meeting in one yeasty, warm loaf.

 

Throw everything together in one large mixing bowl and beat until the stuff forms a “shaggy” dough (as the bag says).

 

Yes, that is a fleck of wrapper stuck to the butter.  Yes, I removed it once I took the picture.

 

So now you want to knead by hand (10 minutes) or a bread machine (5 minutes.  Also, what are you doing with a machine?  This is the best part.  Cut it out.)

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let it hang out somewhere warm to do some rising.  At this point, if you’re using a bread machine I cannot help you.

After about an hour, shape it into a log, applying flour to every surface that will touch the bread, including yourself.

 

Cover the log with plastic wrap and let it rise again for about 90 minutes.  The recipe says to put it in a bread tin and wait until it crests the edges, but I don’t have a bread tin.

 

Bake in an oven preheated to 350 degrees from about 35-40 minutes, or until golden brown and hollow sounding when you knock on the bottom.  This may involve pulling the bread prematurely out of the oven and knocking on it. This is my other favorite part of baking bread.

I have some pictures of me crouched next to my oven holding my loaf and looking really triumphant, but they are silly so you cannot see them.  (I was crouched next to the oven because my apartment is rather frigid, and I usually huddle with the oven for warmth when it’s on.)

But here are some things you can do with your bread:

 

Poach an egg and drop it on top.  Or, scramble or fry the egg.  Hard-boiled eggs will probably not work very well here.

 

Heap Nutella on top.  Or pumpkin butter.  I have put all sorts of things on this bread.  Delicious.

The possibilities are endless.  The loaf is yours.  Go forth.  And bake some bread.

 

 

One of my friends is taking a class on Modern Japanese History, and she gets to read this book by Haruki Murakami (I know I’ve mentioned him before) called Underground, which is actually non-fiction.  It’s an aggregation of people’s stories who were the victims of a sarin attack on the Tokyo underground by a religious cult called Aum some years back.  He interviewed a bunch of people and compiled all the stories in a book interspersed with some of the details of the attack–which lines were targeted by which cult members, that kind of thing.

So I checked it out a couple of days and I’m about halfway through.  And… it’s an interesting experience because it’s at once very chilling and very mundane.  The stories are told by normal people, with normal lives and feelings and personalities, so in that sense the book doesn’t feel like an account of such a dramatic, tragic, and eerie event.  On the other hand, it is about a dramatic, tragic, and eerie event, and it’s a little bit terrifying as a result.

What I love best about it is that, aside from the bits of background information, it’s not about Aum.  I still know nothing about them.  Because they don’t matter.  It’s the action that matters, but most importantly, it’s the people themselves.  The ones who died, who were hospitalized for days, the ones who never recovered, the ones who want to forget, the ones who feel like they got off lucky.  And I think this is how stories of crises should be told.  I think it does the victims better justice, in any case, because trying to analyze the motives of, for example, a terrorist or an extremist group like Aum gives them power and legitimacy, and that should be the opposite of what we want.

 

In other news, a Chinese national won the Nobel Lit Prize today, making him the 3rd of 7 Nobel laureates in China who won in a field outside of physics.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

10 Oct

(This has been saved in my drafts for a week and a half now, and I really need to be writing about the difficulties of implementing sustainable architecture practices in China, but instead I’m finishing this post.  I just want you to appreciate that, okay.  Take a moment.  Appreciate.)

So my butter sauce exploded yesterday.

I didn’t know that was possible, but as I was browning a tablespoon of butter and talking to my mom on the phone I went to add lemon, as you do, when it sizzled, crackled, and exploded. Piercing shriek of the smoke alarm.

Fogged, nasty air.  A perfectly disgusting brown splatter pattern ringing the frying pan.  Charred bits floating in the sauce.

It was one of those days, I guess.

So anyway, these cookies.  These are my go-to chocolate chip cookies, because they are:

a) delicious

b) very easy to make

c) delicious, and

d) as in Delicious. I’ve started to experiment with the recipe, which is adapted from the Magnolia Bakery cookbook, and I’ve finally found a permutation I love enough to tell you about.  And so:

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/3 sticks butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips, or entire bag
  • 1/2 cup broken pretzel bits (optional)

 

Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.  Set aside.

 

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars until smooth and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

 

Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined.

 

Do the same with the flour mixture, and then stir in the honey.  I suppose the honey is optional as well, but I find that it adds a slightly caramel-y flavor to the cookies.  Without the honey, these are very sweet and sugary, but with the honey they’re much richer.  I guess it’s up to you, but seriously, add the honey.

Then, add the pretzel bits and chocolate chips, stirring thoroughly.

 

My cookies probably had a higher ratio of chocolate chips to dough than was strictly reasonable, but they were also wicked tasty so I find it difficult to care.  Also, have you noticed that recipes call for anywhere from 6 to 9 ounces of chocolate chips, which always leaves you with an awkward amount in the bag?  The solution is clearly to dump the whole bag in.  Clearly.

 

Look!  Look at that!  If you squint a bit you can see some dough under all those chips and pretzels!  Amazing!

Now I will tell you a secret and I ask only that you don’t judge me.  Too harshly.  If you can.

I ate these so fast that I do not have a picture of the finished product.  Seriously.  By the time they were cool enough to move to a plate it was evening, which is when I get really gross lighting in my kitchen, so I decided to wait on the picture until morning.  But then I ate a ton of these, brought some to my library friends, and… they were gone in a couple of days.

I’m sorry.  I have an infinite capacity for dessert, so I’m not surprised.  Just disappointed.  In myself.

Speaking of disappointed, I have two midterms tomorrow that I must study for, and so I bid you all happy baking.

 

 

I still haven’t finished any books, so I will just recommend something I had to read for school.  Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior: A Girlhood Among Ghosts is a half-fiction, half-memoir collection of stories about Hong Kingston’s experience growing up Chinese-American in the 70s.  It’s really fantastic and beautifully put together.  She uses a lot of traditional Chinese myth adapted to fit her American identity, as well as stories of her family’s past back in China.  I loved the hell out this book and was very happy to take a class where it was required reading.

Next time, possibly two really excellent books I’m working on.

Home Away From Home – At the Art Institute

1 Oct

Since I got a membership to the AIC, I have essentially moved in.  I get in for free now, so there’s every reason to go as often as possible.  I love almost everything in there, too — I mentioned the Frank Lloyd Wright Japanese art collection in my last post, and I want to call it to your attention again because it’s so understated and beautiful.

The Japanese/Chinese art gallery is always very quiet and smells strongly of ultra clean carpet.  The air is sharp and dry.  As soon as you turn into the gallery, you are shrouded in reverence, pressed into quiet contemplation of the art.  This is not a gallery where you can carry on a conversation.  It’s as much about admiring the art outwardly as using the collection as a mirror to look inward.

Does that sound trite, or cheesy?  It’s hard to describe the gallery.  It’s such a peculiar place, like you’re stepping out of time.

But the rest of the museum is equally amazing.  The staircases, for example.

 

They aren’t even part of any collection, but they’re so beautiful.

 

Architecture is my favorite sub-field in art.  I’m doing research right now on sustainable architecture in China, which is really just an excuse to cram two of my favorite subjects together.

 

Check that out, okay.  Those angles.  That lighting.  Oh my God I lose my shit over geometric design, okay?  I admit it.  I just love the mathematical precision of architecture.  It comforts me like nothing else can.

 

In the Modern Wing, heading up to the European art where there is located a Mondrian.  I could stare at Mondrian for hours.  It’s the same situation as architecture – clean lines, perfect angles, and geometry bring such peace of mind.  That’s also why I love Frank Lloyd Wright so much, and minimalist mid-century architecture more than Gothic, or Sullivan-esque stuff.

 

The window to the new Studio Gang Architects exhibit.  I went to the member preview and spent… two hours?  I think that’s about right.  That exhibit actually gave me the idea to research sustainable architecture, because I had been doing Colony Collapse Disorder in honeybees before. But SGA’s buildings are all inspired by nature, and act as extensions to the natural habitat where they’re built.  For example, their plan for Chicago’s Northerly Island hinges on a hexagonal design like the comb bees make.  I think it’s obvious why I love them.  I wish I could tell you all about SGA, but it would take pages, and pages, and pages, and more time than you probably have,

 

I like to think of this guy as a guard to the Modern Wing.

 

Portrait of a Pencil I Saw Next to Some Guy’s Elbow

 

I’m not going to lie, most of the reason I love this sculpture is the fact that he looks like he’s got a mustache.

 

For some reason I find the idea of a marble mustache hilarious.

 

Sitting outside the New York photography exhibit.  I don’t go down here very often because it makes me miss New York too much.

 

And thus concludes the tour of my second (third?) home.  Back to our regularly scheduled baking posts.