Wednesday, June 23, 2010

CSA - Start of Summer


I got my first tomato this week! Also, (not pictured) there was eggplant. I selected a lot of kale as well. I wanted more kale chips for my incessant snacking needs and more peanut sauce kale. I used up the last of my canned tomatoes from last summer to make a eggplant/tomato/olive pasta sauce.


There was also radicchio this week and it was awesome. It's not as red and hard as store bought, but it had a nice bitterness and was perfect for our purposes. We had a salad with homemade blue cheese dressing, pecans and dried cranberries. Yummy.


The berries this week were outstanding. The extreme heat is good for something - the berries are sweet. I bought some peaches this week and some apricots last week - I don't know if they will have enough for the CSA share so I didn't want to miss out.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

About Victorian Genre Literature

Who can resist an era in which first aid for any trouble begins with a
shout of, "Brandy! For God's sake, bring her some brandy!"
"All the Dead are Vampires," by Michael Sims for The Chronicle of Higher Education

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Flock of Sheep Follow Up


What to do with the 10 leftove egg yolks that resulted from making the sheep? I searched the web for yolk recipes and decided to make lemon curd and yellow cake.


I put the curd between the layers of the cake and then frosted the cake with buttercream icing. It turned out awesome. The cake was really flavorful and moist. The directions for the cake were different from what I'm used to. Most cakes I've made are the cream butter/sugar and then beat eggs and then stir in the dry ingredients alternating with dairy. This one has you mix all the dry ingredients together and beat in the butter. Then you add the eggs, and finally, the milk. I was concerned, but it came turned out great.

As a side note, between Bob's stomach bug and my dislike of the frosting on the sheep cupcakes, we actually ended up throwing some away because they were finally too stale for even Bob to eat once he was feeling better.

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CSA Basket 6

This week we received Beets, Chard, Cilantro, Basil, Cucumbers, Assorted Squash, Celery, Green Beans, Lettuce, Dill, Carrots, Cherries, Nectarines, Peaches, Grapefruit, Valencia Oranges, Minneola Oranges, and Kale.

Friday, June 11, 2010

June's Cupcake of the Month: Flock of Sheep Cupcakes

As noted last month, I have not previously made a cupcake from the decorating centric section of Martha Stewart's Cupcakes. This coincided nicely with our visit to fellow blogger Rebecca, a.k.a. The Cake Decoratrix Extraordinaire. But I went for cute over complicated in choosing Flock of Sheep Cupcakes for June's Cupcake of the Month.

The instructions for making the Flock of Sheep call for 12 White Cupcakes. The recipe for White Cupcakes yields 24, but if you halve the recipe it results in some unpretty quantities of ingredients. So we made a flock of 24.
Like last month, this cupcake calls for Swiss Meringue Buttercream, but unlike last month, no probably-destabilizing-strawberry-puree is involved, so it's much easier and less stressful. The above picture shows how thinly I frosted the cupcakes before applying additional decoration. If you make the full recipe of Swiss Meringue Buttercream, you'll have plenty for 24 cupcakes, so you should frost them more generously than this.
The instructions for making the sheep shapes are pretty vague. Rebecca did quite a few test runs before we settled on a head shape, which was not so much pear shaped as a puffy L lying on its back, or maybe a Smurf's boot. After all the sheep were decorated we had a flock off and declared the above pictured cupcake Top Sheep.

Our panel of independent taste testers universally approved of the cake portion of the cupcake. The cake was light, somewhere between a spongecake and angel food cake. The hassle of folding egg whites into the batter was deemed well worth it. Generally, the marshmallows were not a big hit. The big complaint was that the texture of the marshmallows takes away from the delicate texture of the cake and frosting. The Swiss Meringue Buttercream was sweeter than the Strawberry version thereof, but was still not sweet enough for some of our tasters (and they're way over six years old this time).

The Decoratrix thought it was interesting that Martha Stewart's Cupcakes generally relies on Swiss Meringue Buttercream for piping decorations as most cake decorators use a simple buttercream consisting of a two to one ratio of confectioner's sugar to unsalted butter (or vegetable shortening). While she appreciated the fact that the Swiss Meringue Buttercream does not harden, or "crust up," in the pastry bag, she found that it didn't take color nearly as well. The color seemed somewhat grainy. Also it took almost half a container of Wilton Gel Food Color to turn 1/4 cup Swiss Meringue Buttercream a very dark gray. Who knows how much it would have required to make a true black (though The Decoratrix insists that if you're really going for black, you would make a chocolate frosting, and tint that black . . . neat trick). We suspect Martha receives a kickback from Wilton to promote Swiss Meringue Buttercream as the frosting medium of choice as it would increase their food color sales considerably.

In addition to the great Martha Stewart/Wilton kickback controversy, the other negative to using Swiss Meringue Buttercream as your primary cake decorating medium, according to The Decoratrix, is that you can't control the consistency. With The Decoratrix's simple buttercream you can make it thinner for actually icing the cake so you don't tear up the cake surface. Then you can make a thicker batch for piping. Also, you don't need to have any eggs on hand to make The Decoratrix's frosting and it doesn't require heating or whisking, making it much more convenient to go from plain cake to masterpiece.

Flock of Sheep Cupcakes adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes: 175 Inspired Ideas for Everyone's Favorite Treat


  • 12 White Cupcakes (see recipe below)
  • Swiss Meringue Buttercream (see recipe below)
  • Pink and black gel-paste food colors
  • 2 cups (about 4 oz.) miniature marshmallows, each cut in half

1. Using gel-paste food colors, tint 1/4 cup buttercream pale pink and 1/4 cup black. Transfer tinted buttercream to pastry bags fitted with only couplers. Using an offset spatula, spread each cupcake with a smooth layer of untinted buttercream. Transfer remaining untinted buttercream to a pastry bag fitted with only a coupler.

2. Starting in the center of each cupcake, pipe a pear-shaped head with untinted buttercream, increasing pressure as you pull back. Switch to a small V-leaf tip (#352), and pipe ears. Pipe black eyes and a pale-pink nose and mouth using a fine plain tip (#1).

3. Place 3 marshmallow pieces on each sheep head, cut sides down. Working from the base of the head out, continue to cover each cupcake with halved marshmallows, cut sides down. Refrigerate 30 minutes to allow frosting to set. Cupcakes can be refrigerated up to 4 hours in airtight containers; bring to room temperature before serving.

White Cupcakes adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes: 175 Inspired Ideas for Everyone's Favorite Treat

  • 3 1/4 C cake flour
  • 1 1/2 T baking powder
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1 T pure vanilla extract
  • 1 C plus 2 T milk
  • 1/2 C plus 6 T unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 3/4 C sugar
  • 5 egg whites, room temperature

1. Preheat oven to 350. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Sift together cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir vanilla into milk.

2. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter until smooth. Gradually add sugar, beating until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of milk, and beating until just combined after each.

3. In another bowl, with electric mixer at medium speed, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form (do not overmix). Fold one third of the egg whites into batter to lighten. Gently fold remaining whites in two batches.

4. Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Firmly tap the tins once on countertop to release any air bubbles. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool 10 minutes. Turn out cupcakes onto racks and let cool completely. Cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature, or frozen up to 2 months in airtight containers.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream very loosely adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes: 175 Inspired Ideas for Everyone's Favorite Treat

  • 5 large egg whites
  • 1 C plus 2 T sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 C (4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 tablespoons, just barely room temperature
  • 1 1/2 t pure vanilla extract

1. Combine egg whites, sugar, and salt in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the bowl. Cook, whisking constantly by hand, until the mixture reaches 180 degrees and sugar has dissolved (the mixture should feel completely smooth when rubbed between your fingertips).

2. Transfer the sugar/egg white mixture to the room-temperature bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk on high speed until completely cool (test by touching the bottom of the bowl). The mixture should have doubled in volume and become thick and shiny. This might take about 10 minutes.

3. With mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter 1/2 tablespoon at a time, mixing well after each addition. Once all of the butter has been added, slowly increase the mixer's speed every 10 seconds until you reach a medium-high speed. At this point, your frosting may appear to be a curdly soup (mine didn't, but I think that's due to waiting until the bowl was cool to the touch AND not taking my chopped up butter out of the fridge until sometime during step 2). Do not abandon hope. Continue whipping on medium-high speed. It should return to a lovely mayonnaise-like consistency. Once all butter has been thoroughly incorporated, whisk in vanilla.

4. Scrape down sides of bowl with a flexible spatula and switch to the paddle attachment. Continue beating on low speed until all air bubbles are eliminated, about 2 minutes. Keep buttercream at room temperature if using the same day, or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to 1 month. Before using, bring to room temperature and beat with paddle attachment on low speed until smooth again, about 5 minutes.

Previous Cupcakes of the Month:
January's Cupcake of the Month: Streusel Cupcakes
February's Cupcake of the Month: Martha's Meyer Lemon Cupcakes
March's Cupcake of the Month: Flourless Chocolate Cupcakes
April's Cupcake of the Month: Tres Leches Cupcakes
May's Cupcake of the Month: Strawberry Cupcakes

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

June's Cookie of the Month: Honey Chocolate Chip Cookies

This month's cookie was actually made in collaboration with all of this blog's authors as Gnomicon West traveled to Gnomicon East for, among other things, a baking fest. I asked Rebecca whether she had any preferences for which cookie recipe to bring, as flying with two cook books seemed excessive. Her only parameter: that it contain chocolate. That poses no challenge for The Ultimate Chocolate Cookie Book. I looked for a recipe that was simple, so we overwhelmed new parents could swing all this baking between feedings and diaper changes. More on how that worked out below the jump.

The preamble to the recipe very helpfully suggested buying a strong-flavored honey like wildflower, pine tree, oak tree, acacia, chestnut, or star thistle. Rebecca tracked down thistle honey at her local organic grocery store. It was light colored and very sweet. You could certainly smell the honey as these cookies baked.

Now, I thought I'd picked a very new-parent-friendly recipe, but I failed to note the instruction to allow the dough to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. At exactly the thirty minute mark both babies woke up and our intrepid new-mom bakers had to snap into action. So our dough rested for more like two hours. Must be nice to be that well-rested.

Like the Butterscotch Chocolate Chip Cookies the original recipe instructs the baker to do some fussy stuff during the baking, which is more of a hassle for new moms than dough rest times. I'm not convinced the extra steps in either recipe make a significant difference, or at least a difference sufficient to outweigh the hassle. To test this theory, Rebecca followed the instruction to flatten the cookies with the back of a flatware spoon three quarters of the way through baking for one batch and then did not for the next batch. The only difference seemed to be that the flattened cookies looked messier as the chocolate chips got squished. In the pictures are two of each and I can hardly tell which are which. The instruction does say, "especially if they've begun to puff up." We noticed no puffing or spreading of any kind. Maybe due to the awesomeness of Rebecca's convection oven? Hard to say.

These cookies were closest in texture to the Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies. Significantly, they both lack eggs. Also, the honey flavor of the Honey Chocolate Chip Cookies was as subtle as that of the banana flavor of the Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies and the butterscotch of the Butterscotch Chocolate Chip Cookies. All three were made with Ghiradelli 60% Cacao chips, which are awesome, but may overwhelm the more subtle background flavors. With that in mind, Rebecca modified the recipe by using only 1 1/2 cups of the Ghiradelli 60% Cacao chips rather than the 3 cups of the original. I think you would not have tasted the honey at all if you used 3 cups.

We had a hard time trying to figure out why one would choose this recipe over the others. Despite its lack of eggs it's not vegan due to the butter and, well, more crucially, the honey. I suppose if you were one of those people who thought refined sugar was the devil's work, then honey is a nice substitute. Or if you just happen to find yourself jonesing for cookies but your pantry lacks eggs and sugar, this recipe could be your next fix. If you're looking for a recipe to make with kids or pregnant women with no danger of salmonella poisoning from raw eggs in the dough this recipe or the Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies would do. Children under 1 year old aren't supposed to eat honey due to the risk of botulism, so that weighs in favor of the Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies. In the end we settled on the unsatisfying conclusion that Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough included this recipe because they had to fill a whole book with recipes for chocolate cookies and that's a lot of recipes. The verdict of the four taste testers who had all had the Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies previously was in favor of the Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies over the Honey Chocolate Chip Cookies. The verdict of the wise sage/taste tester who had not had the Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies previously was, "Better than no cookies at all."

Honey Chocolate Chip Cookies adapted from The Ultimate Chocolate Cookie Book: From Chocolate Melties to Whoopie Pies, Chocolate Biscotti to Black and Whites, with Dozens of Chocolate Chip Cookies and Hundreds More by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough


  • 2 1/2 C all-purpose flour
  • 1 C rolled oats (not quick-cooking oats)
  • 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 lb. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 C honey
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 C Ghiradelli 60% Cacao chips


1. Whisk the flour, oats, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl until uniform.

2. Soften the butter in a large bowl, using an electric mixer at medium speed, about 1 minute. Add the honey and vanilla; continue beating until thick and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the prepared flour mixture and beat at low speed just until a wet, soft dough is formed. Stir in the chocolate chips. Let the dough stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 325 degrees (300 if you've got a rockin' convection oven).

4. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto two large, baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing about 1 inch apart. Bake for 8 minutes, then rotate the baking sheets top to bottom and back to front. Bake for another 8 minutes, or until lightly browned and somewhat firm to the touch. Cool on the baking sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Cool the baking sheets for 5 minutes before baking further batches.

Previous Cookies of the Month:
January's Cookie of the Month: Soft Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
February's Cookie of the Month: Chocolate Cream Sandwich Cookies
March's Cookie of the Month: Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies
April's Cookie of the Month: Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies
May's Cookie of the Month: Butterscotch Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Friday, June 04, 2010

Unifying Theory of the Slip into Truthiness

I know a post about something other than food and babies almost seems off topic for this blog these days, but I was listening to my local NPR station the other day and heard an interview with the authors of Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. If you only have a few minutes, the interview is excellent. I haven't read the book, but plan to as soon as it comes to my local library or is released for the Kindle.

Meanwhile, I've downloaded the following books to my Kindle for our impending trip.

Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by by Randy Frost and Gail Steketee, also found via an interview with Pat Morrison on KPCC.

Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs by Ellen Galinsky, with whom I thought I heard an interview on NPR, but actually I read about her over at this post on the Motherlode blog at the New York Times. Ahh, this post does have something to do with babies afterall. Satisfyingly topical, yes no?

The Help by Kathryn Stockett, with whom I'm sure I heard a radio interview that I just cannot find because I was taken by her accent and her humility in the face of a successful book by a white woman about black women. And the sample was VERY compelling. Of course, the black woman who is the main character of the opening of the book is a nanny, so this is also on topic.

Also on topic, but not on my Kindle, are the following "real" books that I recently purchased and am working my way through:

On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee. I started this in Bloomington, Indiana, but there are not enough renewals available at the public library to get through this 896 page brick of awesomeness. I believe I checked it out after Alton Brown's book sung its praises.

Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking by Michael Ruhlman.

The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America's Most Imaginative Chefs by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg.

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Thursday, June 03, 2010

CSA Basket 5

In this weeks basket we received assorted Lettuce, Avocado, Beets, Apples, Broccoli, Strawberries, Blood Oranges, Radish, Cucumber, Cherries, Apricots, Minneolas, Grapefruit, Basil, Sweet Pea Flowers, and Swiss Chard.

Due to impending vacation the vast majority of this produce went to our dog sitter extraordinaire. But I did whip up another Spicy Orange Salad, Moroccan Style with blood oranges and Minneolas, which make fine substitutes for the navel oranges recommended in the recipe, unlike grapefruit and/or Meyer lemon as lamented previously. We've made quite a bit of this Spicy Orange Salad recently to go with a very simplified version of Mark Bittman's Chickpea Tagine With Chicken and Apricots. The simplification: ignore all the directions, and instead throw ingredients into a crock pot and set it on low for about six hours. If you're a crock pot cooker, ahem Eartha, it's worth a try, especially served with the super quick orange salad and a bit of pita.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Bob does barbecue

I don't have cool pictures (barbecued meat is not nearly as photogenic as fresh produce or cookies.) But Sunday, I cooked up a six-pound pork shoulder (also amusingly known as pork butt).

And of course, after 10 hours of slow cooking (and letting it rest about half an hour), there's only one thing to do with a pork butt: shred it with your bare hands. There is no better way to feel like a caveman who provides succulent deliciousness to his family.

If, for some reason, you crave more details, they're at this link:
I pretty much followed Craig "Meathead" Goldwyn's scheme - I've got a 3-burner gas grill, so I turned on one burner, and put soaked applewood chunks and hickory chips over it. I put the pork butt on the other end of the grill, and just let it go for 10 hours. I threw more wood on every half hour for the first 4 hours, and every hour after that.

I'd like a grill thermometer I had more confidence in (the cheap oven thermometer next to the meat showed about 50 degrees less than the one in the grill top), but the meat thermometer worked just like it should -- creeped up steadily, stalled for a little at 150, and then hit 190 at about 10 hours. At which point the bone was falling out and a fork turned easily.

Then it was time for my beastman impression. RAHR!

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