April 25, 2011 § Leave a comment
A jolt of creativity flowed through my office today, thanks to Jade.
Jade has been coming to work with her mom occasionally when there’s a school holiday since she was a toddler. Even as a little kid she’s visited my office and gifted me with her creations. They were never just kitties and rainbows. Usually it was a complete drawing or two with very interesting written narratives included, or sometimes a sculpture of some sort. Having a mom in the design department is a benefit to her inventiveness.
Today she started with a white board drawing. I let her clear off all the outdated project notes and my old sketch diagrams to give her a full canvas. About 6 feet wide. It was a school themed drawing with her recollection of recent STAR testing as the focal point. STAR is a program of standardized performance assessment tests in California. She’s not a fan. In her drawing she also included the fun her classmates may be experiencing–nothing to do with the test, as far as I can tell. “Paranoia test?” I asked, she answered and it went over my head. She’s eleven. Sounds about right.
After the massive wall creation she came back with all of her gear and plopped down on the corner of my desk. Next was robot building. Robot Duck. I asked her to read the instructions aloud while I worked–to allow me to give her a bit of guidance if she got stuck. For me it was a bit of cross-training from a different industry… completely applicable to our own systems’ label diagrams. It went smoothly, working the first time. Waddling back and forth on the carpet. She decided to give the duck the missing head it deserved. So, Jade asked me if I had a ping pong ball. To her surprise, I said “Yes.” So with that ball, a head, complete with eyes and bill was added to the duck robot. And a tail too. Other items in my office provided a bit of distraction during the drawing and duck building: music and sculpture.
I happened to have my DSLR with me today so I had the chance to document Jade’s creativity. That gave me the opportunity to a create a mini photo essay. What a fun, creative kid. Thanks for the visit Jade!
more images in [slideshow]
April 14, 2011 § 2 Comments
I am on a quest to learn how to make amazing homemade bread. After a couple of failures over the last month I’ve finally achieved what I consider a success.
There are so many facets to real bread making, whether artisan or just “homemade.” Even at the mere beginning of this bread odyssey I’ve learned lots of new baking related terms to mispronounce: boule, hyper-diastatic, leuconostoc–yeah, I know! The most important information I’ve learned so far is that there are numerous factors in yeast bread that just don’t come into play when making things like banana bread: ambient temperature, relative humidity, flour type, oven sprint, bad bacteria (leuconostoc), hydration level, etc. Learn the essentials first, then experiment. Got that edc?
Last night, a successful bread was finally born in my kitchen. It’s Peter Reinhart’s Pain au Levain recipe-a wild yeast (natural yeast) bread. Yes, I added a bit of the optional baker’s instant yeast to guarantee that I would have a fully risen loaf of bread in my oven, instead of the low slung breads previously created. My self-made, 14 day old natural yeast starter is a mixture of whole wheat, rye, and white flours. The white flour is a very high gluten bread flour from Giusto’s.
The recipe produced two small loaves, so I tried different shapes. Both were baked separately, using the dutch oven method. The round loaf, baked second, did not rise as much of as the batard loaf, which was handled more during the shaping–a factor? The batard shown above curled because it wouldn’t fit in the dutch oven otherwise. They both had an excellent crunchy crust. Flavor was nice and mild, just a very slight tang. The texture was soft and lightly chewy, what I classify as a classic italian bread. It’s good bread. I have to admit that the sexy photos make it look 10x more amazing. I want really amazing.
My long bread story is still in process. Wild yeast destinations and others. There will be a bit more specifics in future posts.
additional photos [slideshow]
April 3, 2011 § Leave a comment
Bunny Fools. A combination April Fools, Easter, and Spring kick off party held at Terri’s strawberry house. Kids and adults donning long ears, fuzzy tails and other festive decoration. I had very ripe bananas on deck to try another banana bread recipe in my never ending search for banana bread perfection–I am not there yet. But I wanted to make something more interesting for the party. Chocolate and banana came to mind. I found a bundt recipe or two online for quantity reference and referred to my banana bread recipes. I made it less cake-like since I didn’t want a super sweet frosted cake (I never do). Good thing because there were “a hundred” cupcakes, of all sorts, with frosting piled high.
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March 30, 2011 § 1 Comment
I had two bunches of chard in the fridge, I had forgot I had already bought one at the end of last week at Sigona’s I needed to use it up. Over a year ago I made a interesting chard tart and my friend Jen told me she had a similar tart in Italy I think. She passed along a recipe for the Italian version of a chard tart, Torta Verde di Lucca. The version I had previously made (from Epicurious/Gourmet) was from Southern France. Both versions combine savory and sweet flavors with the leafy greens. I used a combination of rainbow chard and regular chard. Kale and spinach can be substituted or added in (I added some spinach to my first attempt.)
[I am trying to write and post this in 15 minutes or less]
This recipe posted on a blog, is in European measurements, so I followed those instead of converting. Authentic, eh? Plus, I have a cool digital scale that has grams, and measuring in ML is easy in any measuring cup unless it’s American made from the 50s. So I was measuring the European way, by weight, rather than the American method of using volume (cups/spoons).
I made the dough in the food processor but only briefly then hand blended it by hand to combine the dry bits. I left out the vanilla and liqueur the recipe called for, as well as reduced the sugar by one-third. The greens filling is easy enough. I used some of the tender stems only discarding the big white sections, I just chopped them finely.
The dough is a bit odd in that it has eggs. It ends up being like a Pate Sucree dough, though the recipe said to roll it out. I think that pate sucree is usually just pressed into the pan, but I rolled it. It ended up a bit dry even though it was not overcooked.
Torta Verde di Lucca has a very similar flavor combo to the Epicurious recipe: sweet and savory with a bit of citrus, which is a great combo.Though but this one was more sweet and a bit drier overall. It’s hard to remember exactly, but the Epicurious version of the chard tart was a bit better. I do like the open face of this one. The other version uses a double crust which is topped with confectioners sugar–which would be hard to do with the open top.
Yeah, it looks pretty good. It did the job for dinner, with a salad. But I’d give this version a 6.5 out of 10 and the Epicurious Chard Tart an 8/10.
Photo note: I tried the flash tonight for these photos, also quick endeavor. All handheld: camera and off-camera flash. The camera has a cool wireless flash triggering capability. Room lights were low, so looking in the viewfinder there was a very dark platter and tarte. I focused by distance. I guess you had to be there. And I am not a flash user. But a few snaps and then I ate.
[OK that took 20 minutes just to write, now to post.]
03.31.11 edit: So when one tries quickly write a blog entry there’s no time for research. This morning from my friend who had the tart in Luca and via the interwebs, I learned that this tart is SUPPOSED TO BE SWEET/DOLCE! So I was having dessert for dinner. That’s fine by me!
I found another recipe with a little background of the Torta Verde di Lucca [here]. And judging by her recipe, another egg to my recipe would have made a better filling.
this tart is aka
Torta di Verde Lucca, Torta coi becchi, Torta di Lucca, Torta di verdure and Torta d’ erbe.
March 24, 2011 § 3 Comments
Late start for dinner as usual. Tonight I got sucked into youtube, allmusic.com and pandora looking for some unique additions to a playlist mix for an Eighties party that I’m heading to this weekend. Instead of late night cereal-for-dinner routine when I forget to eat, I had to make something good, and warm.
Recently I’d come across this online and had nearly all of the ingredients, so I went for it. Quinoa is a new pantry item for me. I added it because it is super easy to prepare and super healthy. It’s packed with protein, even though most would think it would be only a carbohydrate. I’ve tried a couple of quinoa recipes and this dish is my favorite by far. I used mostly red quinoa with a small amount of the regular variety.
It’s a bowl of happiness. Because it tastes wonderful and also because it takes less than thirty minutes to make. only about 10 minutes chopping and preparing.
Lacinato kale (Dino or tuscan) gives it a firm crunchy, chewy texture. Packed full of goodness too. It essentially gets steamed along with the fast cooking quinoa. Similarly, the quinoa has a chewiness as well, so I think you burn a few calories eating this!
Ultimately it’s the unique combination of flavors that makes this a great dish: tangy, earthy, salty. The Meyer lemon (thanks Li and Berndt) adds a nice fresh backing flavor. My variation was to stray from the “one pot recipe” by adding a shallot and garlic, which were sauteed in a small skillet. The recipe calls for toasted pine nuts which I pan toast anyway. Toasted pine nuts are a favorite of mine, reminds me of bacon bits–addictive.
I can see this recipe being the basis of many variations of happiness bowls-add any fresh vegetables which are in season–those that can cook by steaming within 10 minutes.
Happiness recipe after the jump… « Read the rest of this entry »
January 23, 2011 § 1 Comment
Getting a late start in the kitchen last night I dove right into these–I didn’t do the multi-source, cross-check research that is very typical for me before making a new recipe. So, essentially I just used the recipes as they were. I didn’t even read the posted reviews.
I came across the recipes on Facebook in the last couple of weeks. Yep, Facebook. My friend Rena forwarded a bread recipe which turned out to be a forward of a forward. I wonder if there is a word yet for an item that is passed along numerous times? There should be. The soda bread was appealing since I really like seeded and hearty breads. The soup(stew) was listed on Good’s Facebook page. Good is a real printed magazine about things that matter in the world. Good things.
Also, I’ve been very interested in trying my hand at bread making. This soda bread is a “get your feet wet” step, since it isn’t a yeasted bread. I’ve already had my fair share of quickbreads, but now with my new stand mixer I will be trying real bread soon.
Seed collector. I tried to grow fennel in my backyard patio garden a couple of years ago. I didn’t succeed, but I saved the cool stens with seeds. I pulled down those remnants from my pantry. I used them up but it provided less than a teaspoon. Since the Fall other recipes called for pumpkin or sunflower seeds so I had them in my collection. I could have spent a couple of hours arranging just the seed for some interesting photos, if I had a photo lighting set up instead of the overhead fluorescents in my kitchen (belch!), and more time. but just some quick shots of the ingredients are included. Shown in the shots below is only half of the amount used for the bread.
The bread was so easy. Wet added to dry, typical technique. So, prep went quickly. The smell that emanated from the oven was great. Some fennel some flour. The spelt flour definitely added to the aroma. In forty five minutes I had a huge chunk of six-seed soda bread. Without the yeast it doesn’t have the typical bread texture or flavor complexity. It was sort of a cross between a scone and wheat bread. With lots of seeds! I wonder what it will taste like today for lunch? It was a nice partner for the lentil stew.
Dinner last night, was like recreated meal in a vegetarian cafe in SF. Tassajara comes to mind. So pure. The soup was simple to prepare too. maybe too simple? In the end I felt it needed a bit more depth. The base was just a few cloves of chopped garlic. I am sure that a bit of chopped celery, carrots, and shallots would improve the base. And more garlic. But I wanted to stick with recipe. I needed ‘simple’ at the late hour I started dinner.
I used green french lentils. They hold their shape better than the regular lentils. The original recipe only makes two servings, so I increased the recipe by one-half to ensure leftovers. I used Pacific brand vegetable stock, in the box, which provided 4 cups. I had to add a little water to make up the difference. The quality of the stock has a large part in the resulting soup, vegetable stocks have been disappointing in the past. The Pacific brand was pretty good, not overly carrot-y as some others are. I am still searching for my goto brand. I also added some fresh thyme. Why not? When tasting for salt pepper when the soup was done, I found that the soup was lacking depth so I seasoned just a bowl portion–I added more lemon juice, more cayenne, and some cumin too. Better. Don’t leave out the fresh lemon and mint, otherwise it’s just plain old lentil soup.
The recipe lists feta cheese as an option, which sounds great but I didn’t have any and didn’t want to make a run for just that. I think this is really not optional in the recipe as it likely adds some complexity and contrast to this simple soup. Maybe some feta for the left over leftovers after my Rainbow foods shop today?
This soup/stew is something I could experiment with in the future. Even now it likely will hit the spot when I get back from my bike ride this afternoon, if I decide not to have a second breakfast instead.
FOLLOWUP EDIT: The soup improved overnight–as expected. I even added the feta, but the flavors in the soup–definitely a stew consistency now–blossomed quite a bit on its own. It wasn’t a simple soup any longer. So maybe either a longer, low simmer or even making it earlier in the day would intensify the flavor on the cooking day.
Then two days later, I still had bread! So the last slices were topped with a great fig jam. This bread is good. The buttermilk gives it a tanginess and a bit of moisture. Grabbed the camera a snapped a few because I wanted to remember the inside as well.
Odd Blood – Yeasayer
Good News For People Who Love Bad News – Modest Mouse
A Strange Arrangement – Mayer Hawthorne
Recipes after the jump…
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December 16, 2010 § 2 Comments
Baking continued on the weekend. I had a couple of parties on Saturday night and I felt that these gatherings needed cake.
I’ve made this apple spice cake before. It is a good recipe from Food and Wine mag from almost a decade ago. Though I’ve made it before, I forgot a small fact. Nope, I didn’t forget an ingredient this time. It was the nuances about the bundt cake pan. This cake is too chunky for the sculpted pan I own and the deep grooves have caused problems in the past. The cake may have better release results in the smoother style bundt pan. The cake releases, in general, were fairly good. One was better the the other. But a few apples did remain stuck to the pan for both. Maybe I should use shortening and flour pan instead of butter and flour. But I really think with chunky ingredient cakes (in this case, apples and large nuts) it would be wiser to use a smooth tube or coffee cake pan. I have neither. Yet.
Ingredients of note for this spice cake: I did use the official Calvados, the real apple brandy, from Pays d’Auge, Normandy, France. With many recipes calling for spices I tend to increase the amount– up to about double, but this time I did not. Reason one: Vietnamese Cinnamon, this stuff is strong. Very strong. Recently I picked this up at Rainbow Grocery Coop, in the bulk section. It maybe available in Asian grocery stores. Reason two: freshly grated nutmeg. This is a great smell and potent as well. I am thinking about giving the grated nutmeg a whirl in the electric spice grinder to make it a bit finer for future recipes. Flour: Bob’s Red Mill Organic All Purpose Sugar: Because I used raw cane sugar, which naturally has larger crystals than regular granulated sugar, I decided to use the food processor to make the sugar finer.
There are no photos of either finished cake, dusted with powdered sugar to cover the missing chunks and cracks, which I did on location.
Lots of thumbs up from the festive cake eaters.
The Power Out – Electrelane
then Electrelane seeded Pandora and last.fm stations. Woman who rock!
Recipe after the jump…