Saturday, January 30, 2016

P = Pumpkin Chiffon Cake


1. A fun French word to say.  A chiffarific word to say, actually.
2. A word that, for me, evokes a certain kind of glamour and elegance.

Probably because of this...

As a youngster, chiffon was a word that described a very gauzy, light, delicate, and pretty fabric that dresses were made out of.  See the picture at left.  Dresses like that. Dresses I never got to wear...ever...especially at proms in the 90s, which were all satin and sequins.

Naw...these types of frocks were reserved for the cast of Dynasty and princesses.

So, the question today is: how did this particular type of fabric become the name of a particular kind of pie or cake?

Answer: both chiffons require delicate handling and result in delicate, light products.

We have the beautiful dress above (incidentally, I do have a dress like this in my closet, and I wear it only when I'm baking chiffon cakes or pies).  And we also have chiffon pies, which are gelatin-based and are rather airy and mousse-like.

But, there are also chiffon cakes, which are more like an angel food cake than this pie above.  Chiffon cakes contain no gelatin, but instead are made with eggs, sugar, flour, baking soda, etc.  Angel food cakes get their height and rise from the magic that happens in the oven with egg whites and heat, etc.  They contain no leavening agents (baking soda, powder, etc), and that's why they're practically weightless.  A chiffon cake has more substance behind it with eggs and baking soda...and is more spongy and dense.  Beaten egg whites are gently folded into the cake batter, and that also lends a degree of sponginess as well.

Today, I thawed out a bag of pumpkin puree I'd frozen last fall, and turned it into a pumpkin chiffon cake.  Typically, chiffon cakes are baked in a tube pan with a removable bottom, and had I one of those, my final product would be more angel-food-cake-looking.  As it is, I used a bundt pan and this is what I got.  Still tasted the same - great. looks naked, doesn't it?  However, I'm not really a fan of frosting cakes like these...cakes that have so so so much going on for them without the extra lard and sugar.  But, a drizzle of a chocolate ganache?  That I can live with.  Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of that.

We were eating it.  And it was delicately light and beautiful.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Mango 'N Oh Man!

I am currently awaiting creative writing and culinary inspiration, and thus, today's post in the Kitchen Alphabet Challenge is quite a s-t-r-eeeeeeeeeeee-t-c-h.

I was recently thumbing through a food publication and was instantly intrigued by a clever little tip to quick-peel mangoes.  The process involves a knife, a glass, and a cutting board.  Start by segmenting the mango into four or three wedges (mango pits are, indeed, the pits).  Make a slit in one mango segment end and wedge it over the lip of your glass.  Use both hands to slide the peel down the glass, and the whole mango piece comes off like Boy Howdy!

Note: You ARE pressing down with a fair amount of force on the glass, and if you don't pick a sturdy enough one...

Lesson learned.  Fortunately, NO injuries were sustained.  That. Would. Have. Been. Horrible.

However, now that I know...further danger will be averted in future. Cheers!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Another K and L, Too!

Key Lime Pie.

Oh.  Whoa.  Just had a thought.  If I did a Key Lime-Mango-Nectarine-Orange Pie...I would get KLMNOP all in one go.  Not that there's Guinness World Record for that, but still, impressive enough to put on a résumé, yeah?

Anyway, pie.  Yeah, pie!  My relationship with pie has evolved through the years.  Out of the three desserts I grew up the most familiar with, pie was my least favorite.  Cake was first, followed by cookies, and pie brought up the rear.  (I would not experience such delights as créme brulee, panna cotta, Bavarian cream, cheesecake, etc under years later.)

Since culinary school and, in particular, my baking classes, I've developed a new appreciation for pie.  Cakes can be fussy, and can require add-ons like...frosting.  If we could just eat it, as is, out of the cake pan, it would be great, but generally society frowns upon that kind of savagery.  And then cookies.  Yes, there's a fair amount of creativity one can have with cookies...but cookies are very scientific.  Too much sugar, too little baking soda, one minute too long in the oven, and the batch is ruined; not even fit for the dogs to eat (except for my dog, that mutt will eat anything). But pie?  Ahhhhh, pie.  It's the best of both worlds.  Yes, pies involve a little bit of science, usually in the crust, but the filling is so wide open to whatever taste combinations your little brain can dream up.

Pie is the person you want to hang out at the mall with, see?  Cake is elitist and picky and will only want to visit the shops too expensive for you to afford.  Cookies are the overanalytical of the group, wanting to know where the nearest bathroom is and can we please just go now?  Pie, though, doesn't matter what store you want to go into, they'll go, cheerfully, with you.  They'll people-watch right along side of you and they'll share their Sbarro pizza with you, too.

I happened to see key limes at the grocery store recently, and I've never worked with them before.  So, why not today?  When it's cold as January out, and we could all use a little taste of the tropics?

Key limes are funny little things.  I needed a 1/2 cup of fresh lime juice, and I think squeezed about 20 of them to get there.  I also never realized how simple a key lime pie filling really is.  Sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks, juice, and zest.  Bake for a few minutes and let chill for awhile.

Although, I found out that once upon a time, people made this pie without baking it.  They didn't need to, the egg yolk-condensed milk combo set up nicely without any help.  However, it's typically viewed as unsafe to consume raw egg, so...high heat applied for a few minutes, and fear alleviated!  The recipe also called for a tablespoon of zest, but I don't think it's critical.  Some folk prefer that flawless, smooth-looking, silk-like texture to a pie, and they'd want to leave it out.  By all means, do so.  It's your prerogative, as Bobby Brown would say (although, doubtful he was talking about pies).

The picture above is singularly hilarious, as it demonstrates how ridiculously small key limes are.  You'll feel a bit like you're working with miniatures or something.

And here, illustrated in the photo below, is my one problem with this whole recipe.  This is a standard graham cracker crust, and it's too big for the filling.  I mean, a good half-inch of crust there!  I suppose in future, either make my own crust and pack it into a smaller pie pan or double the filling.

Fifteen minutes later, the pie came out nicely, largely jiggle-free.  Into the fridge it went to chill and continue setting up.

And then, yeah, afternoon snack.  We did do a bit of whipped cream on the top, and while I like tart things, I did appreciate the bite of sweetness the topping brings to the dessert.  In some quarters, the pie is not complete without a thick layer of whipped goodness on top, covering the whole pie.  Again, that's your prerogative.  Nobody can tell you what you want to do.

The bright flavor is fun, and most welcome at this time of year.  Also, I got to kill two letters with one pie.  Nice.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

This Post Brought To You By The Letter K!

As a former English teacher and long-time writer, I enjoy playing Scrabble.  However, it's been my experience that 'K' is one of the tougher letters to work into a decent-scoring word.  It is likely that it's really not that hard, and that I'm functioning at a low level of competence.  Or maybe I'm having bad letter luck.  Or, really is that hard to use the letter K.

But when it comes to the culinary world, K abounds everywhere.  The vitamin K. Kimchi. Kiwi. Key lime (that's tomorrow). And on and on and on...

But, we're outside the box a little bit today.  No worries, yeah?  Here we go.

I live in Iowa.  Southeast Iowa, to be somewhat geographically precise.  A few more miles east of me is a thriving, vibrant, visible Amish and Mennonite community.  One of the primary centers of this faith/lifestyle is a little town called Kalona.  The main town is chockablock full of quilt shops, cabinet stores, quaint bakeries...and a pretty BA brewery gastropub: Kalona Brewing Company.

Sometimes, it's incredibly awesome to let someone else do the kitchen work for you.  And I don't mind on this frigid Saturday driving an hour for this kind of adventure.  I'm going to let the pictures do the talking here...I'll provide minimal narration.

Always the MO when visiting a brewery I haven't been to before.  A flight, a sampling of beers.  Perfect way to not commit.  I chose an IPA, an imperial stout, a Belgian-style Dubbel, and a witbier.

No point in leaving the kids out of flight sampling.  Kalona Brewing Company has four draft sodas...and they do flights of them as well.  And my kids feel oh-so-grown-up.

I was divided between the meat plate and the cheese plate.  In the end, I went the carnivore route.  Iowa meats, olives, cornichons (pickles), and pita bread.  Could have used some kind of mustard or jam here though.

The view down the table from my seat.  Wood-fired pizzas, people!  The most impressive part - housemade ketchup.  Tomato ketchup NOT from a bottle...delicious enough to inspire my husband to ask how we could go about making our own. Ah!  Another 'K' word!

The bomber of the Dubbel I took home and drank later.  Night Vision, indeed.

I love these types of trips.  I love these types of days.  It pleases me to no end to know my state is amazingly full of places like this...and not that far away from where I live...where Walmart is king.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

J = One Man's Junk is Another Man's Juicy Deliciousness

Today is January 13.  This month is almost half-over.  Incredible how time flies, yes?

I'm not one for New Year's resolutions, because it's been my experience and theory that people usually intend to change something about themselves or their lifestyle...something they are unhappy with, but up until December 31, they have not quite galvanized themselves to change.  January 1 seems to be as good a time as any to cast away bad habits and begin new ones.  And, then for some reason, those resolutions fall apart in the dreary, icky, cold grayness that is usually January (here in the Midwest, anyway). 

And then, for all that, I did actually make resolutions for myself this year.  Even though I expect to fall off the wagon a lot, I feel I must have something to work towards.

1. I have endeavored to be more creative this year.  I did repair my son's First Act guitar and I have the primary instruction books.  I'm going to teach myself how to play guitar this year.  I also want to write more, and even finish a few of the novels I've done for NaNo over the past few years.  And hey, I think maybe I'll submit one or two to an agency.

2. As a family, we're going to be cutting back more on the processed, high-carb, wheat-laden foods.  Breads, sweets, pasta, rice, potatoes will be replaced by more proteins like meat, nuts, cheese, etc.  Fruit and vegetable intake will increase also.  This, I've found, is really a rollercoaster process...I mean, it's absolutely shocking how MUCH of the American diet relies on starches and sugars.

So there's that.  And I'm still on about this Kitchen Alphabet Challenge, and I admit, I've really slacked off here.  But, all I can do is keep on keepin' on, right?

A few days ago, I opted to make a wonderful lentil chili, and to it, I added some roasted, pureed beets.  The earthy taste was not easily detected, but the color added to the chili was gorgeous.  Then, using this recipe at Food & Wine as inspiration, I saved the beet peels and pureed them with some caraway use a paste rub for pork tenderloins.  The caraway was definitely a nice tasty touch, the beets not so much, but as you can see in the picture at left, it added a beautiful bit of color.  I took the tenderloins out of a 400 degree oven when they temped at 140...and they were juicy and perfect.

Long story short: slightly undercook your pork.  It's worth it.

I've been trying to steer away also from the typical American plate: protein, starch, vegetable.  That's how I (and countless others, I imagine) grew up eating...biggest meal of the day was dinnertime.  Tonight, it was just the pork and a lima bean gratin...modified from the great Alice Waters' cookbook The Art of Simple Food.  The family liked the vegetables, but I'd like to try a more colorful bean next time, because even though I like limas...their color is a little on the blah side.

I admit, I was intrigued by using discarded beet peels for a rub.  It worked out well, and I'll be keeping my eyes open for other such reuseables.  Because - it might be junk to you, but it's not to me!

Friday, January 1, 2016

I = Integration in the New Year

First of all, a healthy and happy start to the New Year for all my readers!  Let this be the year of great things!

This last year has certainly been an unprecedented one for me.  A new job for the husband and a new business for me.  The wheels of life continue to turn and there have been many ups and downs, and we will see exactly what 2016 has in store for us.

For the last several New Years, we have spent the night festivaling at a cousin's house...he usually fixes a decent amount of food, we bring drink and games and we have a great old time ringing in the new year.  He's done a theme, food-wise, for the last couple of years, and last night's was Italian.  He made his own lasagna noodles and bread, and we brought over a nice Chianti and an antipasta platter.

I was at the mercy of the local grocery store's wares in regards to meat, cheese, and olives.  As you can see, we're looking at a pretty standard plate.  Despite this averageness, the contents of the antipasta platter was consumed rather quickly.

I brought a sweet with me, as well, but it was largely forgotten in the massive carboload of the lasagna and bread and bruschetta.  I had in my freezer a half a box of red velvet cake mix and it had been tossed in with half a box of white cake mix...I think sometime ago Kirby had made cake pops or truffles or similar and didn't use all the mixes?  At any rate, I also needed to use the REALLY overripe bananas that were left from Christmas at my in-laws.

Thus, the Integration part of the blog: Red Velvet + Banana Bread = Something That Is Okay, But, I'm Really Glad to Have Cleared Those Two Things Out of My Freezer.

Red velvet anything is something I'm not really into.  I dunno why.  I certainly can appreciate the color, but I'm not into the RV flavor, I guess.  This is a good thing, probably, as we here at Chez Nelson get ready for a January that involved consuming as little refined carbs (pastas, breads, rice, sweets, cereals, etc.) as possible.