Today in the Refrigerator Drawer

Things that needed using: carrots (though I still have mountains of those); leeks; potatoes; oranges; roasted (frozen) squash. I washed and cut up the leeks, cut up a large onion into large wedges, and tossed it all with garlic cloves, olive oil, and salt, and then roasted them awhile. The leeks got a bit too papery, so I pulled them off the pan and laid them across the potoatoes. The potatoes got cut up and boiled a bit. The carrots got cut into large chunks (too large, I think), and tossed with grated orange peel, ginger, oil, salt, and some thyme that was sitting in the fridge. I peeled as much of the pith off the oranges (after grating) as I could, cut them into thick slices, and roasted the slices for awhile, too. In retrospect, I could have skipped that step and just used the juice, and we all would have been happier. All the roasted veggies (except the leeks, which I pulled out of the potato pot after the potatoes were cooked) got thrown in the pot with some water and chicken stock and cooked until the carrots were a bit softer. The immersion blender made a coarse puree of all of it, and I tweaked the flavor with ginger sesame marinade, ginger juice, honey, salt, and a little butter. If I had any creme fraiche I’d throw that in as I heated it, and I’ll likely grate some cheddar in there, too.

The rest of dinner is going to be venison and possibly some homemade bread.

Today’s main question, however, was, “What would happen if I put some chocolate in the Anzac biscuits?” Anzac biscuits are an eggless cookie, made with butter, oats, coconut, flour, water, baking soda, Lyle’s Golden Syrup (which is dangerously good), and some salt and vanilla. They were originally sent to Australian and New Zealandian troops (hence the “ANZAC,” for Australia and New Zealand Corps), and are intentially made without eggs so they keep better. There are a million recipes for them, all of which I read in early December in an effort to find one to make for the beer school cookies.

I made a batch this weekend, on a whim, but most of the cookies are gone, so I thought I’d make another batch. But how about adding some cocoa? I like the coconut/chocolate combination, and I like the caramely flavor of the Lyle’s, so I just added some cocoa powder. They’re pretty good, actually, though there’s too much chocolate, if you can imagine such a thing. I also drizzled some Lyle’s and melted butter on top of the baked but still warm cookies, to sweeten and soften them a bit. It will all require some tweaking, but these are just fine.

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Rooting Around

So it’s a new farm share season–a new year AND a new season, actually. The winter share is delivered only every other week, and it tends to be pretty much the same from week to week: roasted tomatoes (in jars), carrots, roasted and frozen butternut squash, spinach from the greenhouse, and root veggies if they’re around (turnips, rutabagas). Truth be told, these are some of my favorite deliveries, not least because everything other than the spinach will keep for quite a long time. I think I didn’t use the last of the carrots last year until into May, and they kept just fine.

I have several things on the cooking agenda, though no telling when I’ll get to them. First up is some kind of stew, using mincemeat, tomatoes, carrots, and garbanzos (I cooked up a bunch last weekend and threw them in the freezer), and possibly some lamb, maybe with spices that lean toward the middle east. I’ll look up the Moosewood stew I used to make to figure out what the spices were for that. I also cooked up some adzuki beans, which I had never made before, and I think I’ll make some quinoa to go with those, probably with some kind of greens to throw in as well. At some point I’ll make more bison bolognese sauce–my downstairs neighbor was gifted with some ground bison (it’s labeled beef but she said it’s really bison)–but given the vat I made last week, that can wait. I also got some more pork shoulder at the farmers’ market last Sunday, and I’ll likely make the shredded pork I made on New Year’s Day again. There’s venison to consume, too, and a bunch of baked goods–chocolate cupcakes (with flaxseed replacing some of the butter), the mincemeat cinnamon rolls, some ginger oat pumpkin bite-sized things, and several loaves of bread. Essentially, it’s time to work my way through the freezer and use stuff up.

I’ve also discovered a fabulous new cooking show. The NY Times made mention of it a few weeks ago, and it’s on PBS: the Great British Baking Championship, or something like that. It’s a bunch of regular folks competing against each other. Apparently the season I’m watching now is the fifth season, but I haven’t been able to run down the previous seasons yet. It’s really a lot of fun. Each week they do three bakes. The first is something that they make themselves at home. The second is the technical challenge, where they’re each given the ingredients and a basic version of the formula to use, but they have to have some know-how to actually make whatever it is because the instructions aren’t detailed. The third challenge is the “showstopper,” where they have to make something big and fancy in whatever category of baking they’re in. This past week was bread; last week was cookies (or biscuits, as the Brits called them).

What makes it especially fun is that they’re not professionals, and they come in all ages (which is particularly nice) and from all kinds of backgrounds. The critiques are serious, but not challenging in a Top Chef kind of way, and everyone has his or her own station, so the infighting is non-existant, too–they actually kind of cheer each other along. The other part that’s fun for me is that I can imagine competing in it, and would likely even enjoy doing so.

That said, I’ve been enjoying Top Chef this season, too. The challenges have been interesting without being stupid, and the cooking looks like it has been really amazing. The asshole quotient is pretty low, too; there was one, but he’s been gone for a few weeks. I have a much harder time imagining competing on something like that–I am not a professional chef, and I have never been one–but I definitely get the occasional food idea. Doug’s carrot soup, for example, sounded pretty damn amazing, and I might have to see if I can find the recipe for that one, given the mounds of carrots that will be taking over the fridge. Plus, carrot soup and homemade bread sounds like a fine lunch.

Mincing Along

As with most of my cooking adventures, I started with a relatively simple thought. I was going to visit my parents over Thanksgiving, and I was determined to make a mince pie for my dad, and, moreover, I was determined to make the mincemeat that went into it. My father jokingly complains that he doesn’t get mince pie since my maternal grandmother died in the early 90s. My mother doesn’t like raisins, which is, of course, one of the major ingredients in mincemeat–she goes so far as to pick the raisins out of cinnamon raisin bread, which amuses me to no end. In other words, making a pie for my dad was an excuse to try to make something I’d never made before.

I rummaged around for a recipe (finding a surprising paucity of from-scratch recipes) and settled on one from David Lebovitz. I emailed the farm from which I have gotten some very good (and organically and sustainably raised) meat–what a friend calls “hippie meat”–and asked if they had any beef suet. Yes! and they would bring it to the farmers’ market near me the following weekend, the last outdoor market of the season. So, for a whole $3, I had not quite two pounds of suet. If you look at that recipe, you’ll note that you need a whole lot less than two pounds of suet–you need about four ounces for one batch of mincemeat.

Yes, well: mincemeat for the masses!

I made a large-ish double batch, using pretty much what Lebovitz recommends, and adding some cranberries, I think, and I think I used an extra apple or two because I had some around. I cleaned the suet a bit, removing membranes and such, and just chopped it very finely rather than trying to grate it. I put the resulting mincemeat in some clean quart jars and stashed it in the fridge. I still had half of the suet, though, so I bought enough raisins and currants and such to make another double batch. I hauled one of the containers (plastic rather than glass) to the east coast and made the pie, which was successful. Seriously, it’s basically a raisin pie with some apples in it, plus a bunch of tasty spices, so it’s hard to go wrong if you like the ingredients.

It’s not terribly boozy at all–I used some brandy remnants that Friend brought over, and some ginger liquer from a local distillery, and some bourbon from the same distillery. I added the bourbon because, after I had added the ginger liquer, I realized it had a lower ABV and thought that might affect the preservation qualities of the alcohol. I can’t really taste the alcohol, though, and I tend to be sensitive to it. I often left it out of recipes in pastry school because I thought it tended to overwhelm the other flavors, but there’s so much going on in the mincemeat I simply couldn’t taste it.

Okay, that’s all well and good–but now I have five more jars of mincemeat sitting around in the fridge, and I am going to do what, exactly, with all of that mincemeat?

For New Year’s Day, however, I finally found a use for some of it: I used some as a filling for whole wheat cinnamon rolls. I doubled the recipe from Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads and got 32 rolls out of it–obviously a substantially larger yield than the original recipe, which said 8 to 10 (or 16 to 20 for a doubled recipe). The result is interesting–it definitely has a bit of a “meaty” undertone to it–but they’re quite good. I threw most of them in the freezer (without frosting) so they’ll be nice to grab and take to work for a quick breakfast. I think even plain cream cheese would be a nice accompaniment if you don’t have extra frosting around.

While I had the oven on, I also diced and roasted the three butternut squash that were sitting around, but I didn’t do anything with the result. The menu on New Year’s day included homemade sauerkraut; pulled pork, to satisfy the spirit of my grandmother; and garlic smashed potatoes, as well as some venison ring baloney and some caramelized onions. But I’m thinking squash, and mincemeat, and maybe some shredded wild turkey dark meat, and maybe some spinach or kale; I have some spinach around, so that’s more likely. I’ll let you know what happens.

Weights, Not Measures

The crackers are pretty awesome. They were time-consuming, in the sense that rolling out the dough to the right thicknessĀ  and putting them all on the pans takes time, but they’re really quite tasty and I will definitely be making them again.

The banana muffins also came out well. For those, I actually wrote down what I included (!):
60 g dried nectarines, cut (with kitchen shears) into small pieces
60 g date pieces
60 g flax seeds, somewhat ground up but not flour
45 g barley flakes, ground (in the extra coffee grinder) to coarse flour
48 g oats, ground to coarse flour
100 g honey
30 g buttermilk powder (mine’s from KAF, but there are grocery store brands available)
120 g whole wheat flour
about 330 g bananas (more on that in a sec)
50 g butter
2 eggs
baking soda, a little baking powder, and salt (I can provide amounts if anyone cares)

For the bananas, as they thawed, I put them in a strainer over a bowl. This left me with mushy bananas (which I mashed with a pastry cutter) and about a cup or cup and a half of banana juices. I took that and reduced it somewhat, and I also put the honey in with that, because otherwise the honey is harder to mix in.

When I started mixing them up, I had one bowl of dry ingredients (flours, including the oats and flax and barley; salt; buttermilk powder; and baking powder/soda), one bowl of wet ingredients (the mashed bananas, the melted butter, the honey/banana juice mixture, and, after all of that cooled, the two eggs, whisked until combined well), and the dates and nectarines. I dumped the wets into the dries, whisked enough to combine them all, then stirred in the dates, nectarines, and chocolate chips. Oh, wait–didn’t mention them, did I? They were a last-second addition, because why not. I made 24 smallish muffins–perfect size for a breakfast or a snack. I gave away a couple, tasted a couple, left one out for breakfast, and, yes, put the rest in the freezer. I can grab one in the morning and it’s thawed out by the time I get to work.

You will notice that I provided you with weights rather than measures. I had always used measures, too, but then I went to pastry school, where EVERYTHING is by weight, as it was at the bakery where I worked for two years. And, not just weights, but, at school, in grams. (The bakery was pounds and ounces, which was a pain. The metric system has much to recommend it–way easier to divide and multiply in your head by 10 than by 16.) More and more cookbooks, especially baking books, are beginning to give weights, and, the more you work that way, the more you just translate measures into weights as you go. (For example, a cup of flour is 120 grams.)

For cooking rather than baking, weights are somewhat less important, but I still find it to be much more precise, which is useful if you’re trying to figure out the nutritional content, among other things. My four tablespoons of butter is likely to be the same as yours, given the handy markings on the package, but my four cups of cubed vegetables may be very different from yours, depending on how small our respective cubes are, or even depending on the vessel we use to measure, and flour can vary wildly, depending on multiple factors. I also use my kitchen scale at the other end of the process: when I’m portioning out the final product for lunches, I just weigh it out, and when I’m making rolls instead of loaves of bread, I weigh out the pieces. If you do decide to go the scale route, get one that weighs grams and ounces, and that goes up to at least 11 pounds. You can get a decent one for under $50, and maybe under $30.

The scale is also helpful if you’re trying to figure out portion sizes. Nutritional info on most packages is pretty useful, and typically gives you enough information to measure out a portion, but other things are more difficult. Bulk cheese, for example: how much is an ounce? How about when it’s grated? It can be quite educational to see just how large or small a “portion” or an “ounce” really is, and, after awhile, you start getting pretty good at estimating.

At the bakery, one of the little games my coworkers would play among themselves was showing off how good they were at portioning. Say you have dough for 25 loaves of bread and you need each loaf to be 12 ounces of dough. You would dump the dough on the work table next to one of the scales and use your bench cutter to hack a piece off. If you throw the piece on the scale and it’s exactly 12 ounces, you then point it out and note that you really don’t need the scale anyway. (Half of this conversation is in Spanish, given that most of my coworkers were Hispanic.) Of course one would continue to use the scale, adjusting each piece as needed, but the point is, after working with this dough for years, or even just a few times, you have a pretty good idea how big a 12-ounce portion looks.

The other thing you do, if you’re the coworker who makes most of the breads, is if you have an 8-ounce piece left over, you can either hack it up or you can bake it separately and call it “lunch.” “Lunch” was the catch-all descriptor for the odd pieces, and the best was getting it hot out of the oven and cutting it open just enough to put a slab of butter inside it. (This is actually bad, in that one should never cut bread while it’s hot, but oh my does it taste good.) Much to my delight, when I stopped in at the bakery about six months ago, that coworker buttered up a lunch piece of sourdough as it came out of the oven, and then hacked it up for me to have some. He would also butter up a couple of sourdough rolls for me, when I still worked there, because he knew how much I loved them, and I usually ended up helping him run the pieces through the roll shaper.

But I digress. As I often do.

I think my point was to urge you to buy a scale and to start using it. Or maybe it was just to think longingly about hot buttered sourdough bread.