Mar 312013
Eggs: successful poaching eludes me.

Eggs: successful poaching eludes me.

This has been one of those weeks where Sunday has rolled around, and lo, I have no material to post. It wasn’t for lack of trying: for one, my camera’s two battery-chargers have apparently eloped and my batteries are dead, and two, I’ve been attempting to beat two different recipes/techniques into submission, but the wily bastards have gotten the better of me. I won’t go into huge detail here since they will hopefully get full write-ups of their own, but here are three very important lessons I’ve learned over the last several days:

  1. Lots of people on the internet — people I even trust and respect — will tell you that you can make brown sugar at home with white sugar, molasses, and a food processor. THEY ARE LYING. Shakes fist at Ms. Smitten Kitchen and Mr. Good Eats.
  2. Make sure the water is for-real boiling when you add eggs for poaching. This “almost boiling” crap is not going to cut it, unless you like under-cooked whites and over-cooked yolks. Seriously, how does that even happen???
  3. Also, trying to poach an egg in a little mixing bowl to cheat is totally unsatisfying and produces eggs that are distinctly not poached.

I hope your week in the kitchen was better than mine, and here’s to next week being better!

Cheater poached eggs are distinctly not poached eggs.

Cheater poached eggs are distinctly not poached eggs.

Mar 062013

Raw milk from my erstwhile cow-share in Tucson

Two days ago, I received a mildly-unfortunate diagnosis for my daughter: she’s allergic to dairy proteins. Since my five-month-old baby is exclusively breast-fed, she’s certainly not getting any dairy directly, but that particular protein (casein) can pass into my milk when I consume dairy. And oh boy, do I consume some dairy.

Luckily, there is a way to treat it, but it involves an elimination diet on my part. It’s taken about 36 hours for the fullness of this prescription to sift into full cognizance and it’s not been an entirely pleasant process. It started with “ok, I can’t drink milk anymore. No big deal. I’ll miss occasionally having cream in my coffee, but I’ll deal with it,” but as I thought more and more about my diet (and read food labels in my pantry) I started to come to the realization: that dairy stuff? It’s in everything.

Ok, I’m being a bit melodramatic. I know how to cook sans milk-product and even have plenty of dairy-free or just-swap-or-omit-an-ingredient recipes on this site. It’s just that a lot of things that I like to eat have dairy in them. Like cheese. Or foods that are a wonderful tradition in my marriage, like crepes. Or things I’ve just really mastered and am super-excited about, like pie-crust. And let’s not get started on cookies. Lactating has made me crave them like crazy. Oh, and that trip that we’re taking to coffee-mecca Seattle next week? No cappuccinos or mochas for me.

Home-churned butter from raw cultured cream

In the big picture, I am very well aware that this falls under the auspices of “first-world problem.” My family — including myself and my baby — are still food-secure. We don’t have to worry about tainted drinking water. Nor am I wearing a hole in hospital-hallway-tile night after consecutive night with worried pacing while my baby fights for life. And this allergy? She’ll probably grow out of it — and even if she doesn’t, she’ll wean someday. So this elimination-diet, in comparison with, say, the rest of my life, has a short life-span. Really, things are good here. In the meantime, a few recipes with dairy included in the ingredient list will continue to appear here, but they will be foods that I have previously written-up or photographed and are sitting in my queue.

(And no, I am not willing to give up my breast-feeding relationship with my daughter just so I can have butter on my toast in the morning. Nor would it be advisable to wean, since, hello, formulas are made from cow’s milk or other high-allergen ingredients. Also? Still flu season and baby is still too young for the vaccine. So yes, I am happy to suck up this elimination diet so that she can still get the best of me. And for the record, the thing that is the most devastating to me is that she can’t use any of the milk I’ve pumped and stored for her since it’s all tainted with casein. I have to start over with our freezer stash. I’ll be donating the milk, so it won’t go to waste and another baby in need will benefit from a mother’s milk.)

So, to help me embrace the positive, I’m going to list some things that I’m really, really glad I can still eat:

Scharffen Berger 70% bittersweet chocolate
Nearly all home-made breads
Brussels sprouts
Most home-made soups
Duck (and duck-fat!!!)
Justin’s chocolate-hazelnut butter

But I would be remiss if I didn’t list some things I will miss:

Really good pizza
Goat gouda
Scharffen Berger 41% deep milk chocolate
Home-made cookies (though I can experiment with using lard instead)
Pot-pies (I had just recently started to learn about them and was really excited about to make a duck pot-pie)

I just need to remember that it’s all worth it so that we can continue to do this:

Leah latched-on and eating mama's milk

Jan 042013

I have been bursting-at-the-seams excited about something happening in my kitchen this week.

Something so scintillating, it has propelled my kitchen into a place of magic.

It is a magic elixir.

It is duck-stock. (What, you want a recipe? Couldn’t be simpler. Take everything from the duck that you didn’t eat — backbone, neck, all other bones, gizzards, skin, rendered fat, everything — put it in a pot, cover with water, simmer 4-24 hours, cool slightly, strain it, skim off fat and save it, reduce the stock if desired, and store it.)

Made from the remnants of Christmas dinner, this precious liquid also gave me something else: duck-fat.

Shiver of excitement (Yes, I stole that line from Alton Brown. He summed it up perfectly.)

These two substances have led me to the question: what to do with them?

The duck-fat query is the easier question to answer: anything. It’s one of the finest cooking fats in the world and can beat up bacon-fat and take its lunch-money any day of the week. Its flavor is unsurpassed and the smell… oh my, the smell. If you’ve never had the pleasure, please, let me know, and I’ll invite you over next time I’m cooking with it. I’m always looking for an excuse to pop up some pop-corn in duck-fat. Yes, you read that right.

Shiver of excitement

But what to do with the stock? Being totally flummoxed, I asked Facebook and immediately got nothing-short-of-inspiring answers from my friends Heather and Adri: risotto.

I’m just gonna let that sink in for a minute.

Ok, are you better now? Because I certainly felt as though I had been taken by a case of the vapors when I first heard their suggestion. However, I think I’m going to wait until the spring to make it because I can think of nothing better than fresh in-season asparagus to go into the risotto with my favorite fowl.

So what to do in the meantime?

I thought about putting it in a soup: something simple that would really let the stock shine. Perhaps a cream-less potato-leek soup? That certainly sounds amazing! But what could I do if I wanted to expand beyond soup?

Duck pot-pies! Poach up some duck in the duck stock and then use it to make the gravy that goes in the pie — glorious, yes? And we all know that the crust is easy to make (if you have the right recipe that calls for some vodka), but really good fat makes for really good pastry…

You see where I’m going with this, right? It’s only logical:

Duck-fat pie-crust! YESSSSS!

I did a bit of research, and of course, I’m not the first one to think of this (Exhibit A | Exhibit B). It turns out that duck fat is excellent in pastry, producing a wonderfully flaky and flavorful crust. Which means…

It’s on like Donkey Kong.

I simply can’t wait to do this. You know you’ll be hearing from me when I get an opportunity to get into the kitchen and go bananas!

Dec 302012

Red lentil stew with quinoa

This recipe came to me by way of a dear friend and backpacking/adventure buddy. About a year ago, Heather and I had kicked the planning for our six-day Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim backpacking adventure into high gear and had begun to draft a menu so that I had plenty of time to cook and dehydrate all of our dinners. I was basing much of the menu off of that summer’s Denali menu, but because the Grand Canyon adventure was longer, I needed more meal ideas. Heather suggested this chili, and I was impressed by its credentials. Her husband, a weirdly picky eater, loved it, so I decided to make a test batch.

Now, my husband is not a weirdly picky eater (he’ll eat anything I put in front of him — even the most fail-y of my experiments), but he isn’t normally so vocal about food that he enjoys. He repeatedly enthusiastically complimented it, so I knew I had a winner on my hands. That’s right: it got the stamp of Manproval from both of our husbands! So by all means, hurry up and try this yourself — your taste-buds will thank you!

Red lentil stew with quinoa

For guidance on making this for dehydration, see the “Variations” section at the end of the recipe.

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Oct 092012

Leah (seven days old) and mama

There’s been some silence around her for the last couple of weeks. With good reason, I should add: as I had mentioned in several posts, I was (very, very) pregnant and on September 11th, I gave birth to a little girl named Leah. She has a winning personality, the most adorable smile you’ve ever seen, and she’s completely won us over. She is, without a doubt, the cutest thing I have ever cooked up.

Little Leah

Needless to say, I haven’t been much cooking or blogging since. The posts that went up on the day of her birth and a few days after were scheduled ahead of time, so I definitely wasn’t trying to put the finishing touches on my salmon with green sauce post before we headed out to the hospital. Instead, I’ve been focusing on recovering and bonding with our new family member, and relying on food cooked by very helpful visitors and the food I cooked and froze in the final weeks of my pregnancy.

Sleepy swaddled Leah

This is all a long-winded way of saying that while I might be taking a bit of a break from the cooking, photographing (baby excepted), and blogging, it is for good reason and I will return. I have a bunch of posts already written up that just need photographs, so I do have material lined up. And never fear: though this post is pretty well saturated with baby-ness, I have no intention of turning this into an “OMG LOOK AT HOW KEY-OOOOOT MAH BEHBEH IS” blog. For just this post, though? OMG LOOK AT HOW KEY-OOOOOT MAH BEHBEH IS!

Aug 302012

Making guac: we had three ripe avocados!

The Law of Avocado:

You say: “We have three ripe avocados.”

A foodie hears: “Let’s make guacamole!”

Let’s not forget an important relative, The Banana Corollary:

You say: “We have three ripe bananas.”

A foodie hears: “You should bake nanner-bread!

I’m pretty sure The Hubs knows all about The Banana Corollary. He’s gone on banana-eating-strike, hoping to force my hand into quick-bread territory.

Dec 042009

Flour. Water. Yeast. Salt. Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? In fact, when you’re talking bread, it doesn’t get any simpler (unless you’re in Tuscany, of course).

A couple of slices from the second homey loaf with great shiny holes, drizzled with a bit of olive oil!
Nikon D50

But ingredient lists can be deceiving.
So it was with not fear, but a healthy dose of respect that I approached my seventh Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge bread: ciabatta. This is one of the wettest doughs out there – it has to be because that’s where the beautiful, big shiny holes come from. I know from experience that working with a rustic dough like this is a challenge. I’m not saying it isn’t fun – sticky, wet, messy fun – but it takes a certain amount of patience and an understanding of what you’re getting yourself into. Even then, I’d never worked with a dough quite this wet. I came in with high hopes yet a full understanding that I probably wouldn’t end up with cookbook-worthy holes the first time I tangoed with ciabatta.

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Nov 302009

A couple of years ago, several great friends from college came to visit me in Alaska. Back in those days I was always cooking for myself, so whenever I had guests I tended to go a little overboard because I was so excited to a) feed mouths other than my own and b) eat with friends. One of the meals I remember best from their visit was the morning we decided to make French toast. At the time I lived across the street from L’Aroma bakery so Jeremy and I wandered across the street while the other three folks were still asleep. The bakery had challah (pronounced ‘hallah’) that day and as we ordered the loaf one of the other employees ran across the store, raised the roof, and yelled “CHALLAH!”
Ahh, L’Aroma. You just don’t find quality people like that everywhere.

A beautiful golden brown double-decker braid!
Nikon D50

So when all my Thanksgiving baking was done (and really, it was pretty epic), it came time for our sixth bread in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge and I was pretty excited. Not only could I make this awesome bread myself, but I could also recreate that scene in my own kitchen without humiliating myself in front of several dozen strangers at the local bakery in Tucson. I was also excited to find out that this bread is nowhere near as bad for you as I thought. I had imagined challah to be a very close cousin of brioche, but in reality this bread uses only about an eighth of the fat (and that fat is vegetable oil instead of butter) and fewer eggs. So what’s not to love?

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Nov 122009

Continuing in the vein of brioche variations , today’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice bread is casiatello, a sort of savory Italian brioche with meat and cheese stuffed inside.

I’m not gonna lie: I’m kinda overdosing on all of these ridiculously rich white breads. I’m a whole-grain kind of girl and doing these white breads is certainly fun, but it’s not how I like to regularly cook and eat. Add on to that the fact that I’m not a big meat-eater (especially processed meats – I never eat them!), and it’s no surprise that I came into this bread a little under-enthused. Regardless, I decided to just go ahead and do it and get it out of the way because baby, challah and ciabatta are next! Think of casiatello as an investment. I’m sure there are those of you out there who are less Type A and are like “Uhm, Stacey, why don’t you just skip this one if you don’t wanna do it?” Because that’s not how we do it in the BBAC! It’s every bread in the book, in order! Those are the rules and even though there’s no one enforcing them it would really chafe me to break them. I come from a long line of anal retentive people so you can imagine my horror when my Mom told me she’s going to go out of order and she suggested I do the same. I may have to turn her in to the Bread Police.

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Nov 082009

This week the Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge brings us a concoction that I had really been looking forward to trying out. Brioche has a decadent reputation: it’s known as the butteriest of breads, more similar to pastry than even, say, challah. Be it due to its reputation or its availability, to the best of my knowledge, this bread had never passed my lips.

The book offers three variations: the rich man’s (in which the butter is a whopping 87 percent of the flour’s weight), a poor man’s (the butter is a scant 25% of the flour), and the middle class brioche (where the butter only matches half of the flour’s weight). Having heard about the utter decadence of the rich man’s version – and knowing/fearing my self-control around freshly baked bread – I opted not to go that route. That said, I still wanted a real brioche experience, so treating this as a special occasion, I settled on the middle class bread. Plus, I figured, since I made this on my birthday, if I happened to over-indulge I could just skip dessert after dinner. Awfully fitting, since Marie Antoinette is rumored to have actually said “Let them eat brioche” instead of “let them eat (birthday) cake!” I’d rather have bread than cake any day anyway.

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