Saturday, August 7, 2010

whole grain burger buns

It must be some unwritten law of slapdash baking. After mutliple disappointing attempts to produce an acceptable (appropriate size, not too dense, mild flavor) homemade, whole grain, burger bun, I gave up and went back to buying them at the health food store. When I could get them. Which could have been yesterday, except I somehow overlooked that item on my list and came home without them. This was a problem, as I had thawed some ground bison and was looking forward to a burger for lunch today.

So, with a big sigh (and the idea of multi-tasking), I decided to throw together a dough last night that might (fingers crossed) supply both a small supply of burger buns and a pizza dough or two. I did not write down what I did. Because I gave up on doing that, where buns are concerned. Pizza dough, too, although that's more because even when it's "meh," it turns into pizza, and I'm happy.

So, that unwritten law I referred to has to do with the fact that THIS TIME, having given up on it months ago, and having not recorded what I did, I turned out a REALLY PRETTY GOOD burger bun. Fortunately (for me) I did use a measuring cup to scoop out the flour, and so have at least some idea of what I did. That may not help you, but here goes:

Slapdash Burger Buns
1 cup whole wheat bread flour
1 cup all purpose flour
2 cups "white" whole wheat flour
1-2 T gluten
1 tsp salt

Put all that in the bowl of your stand mixer, with the paddle thingie on, and mix on lowest speed to stir it all up.

1 T active dry yeast
1/2 C warm water
1 tsp honey

Dissolve the honey in the water, stir in the yeast, and let proof to make sure it gets good and bubbly.

While the yeast is proofing, whisk up (a fork will do) in a small bowl:
1 large egg
1/3 cup whole milk (that 1/3 cup is a guess)
a generous splorp of olive oil (2-4 T? maybe?)

Dump the proofed yeast-water and the milk-egg-oil into the mixer and run on lowish speed, adding in more warm water as needed. This is where it will help if you have some bread-baking experience, because I did not measure. Best guess: maybe another 1/2 cup?

"As needed" means until the dough comes together and gloms around the paddle, pulling away from the sides of the bowl in one mass. I know it when I see it, and hope you do, too. I'd have taken a picture for you if I had any idea that this batch would turn out well. Maybe. Truth is, I hate interrupting my cooking to take photos, which is just one of several reasons I'm a mediocre and sporadic food blogger.

Anyway, back to the dough. Once you've finessed the water content, switch over to the dough hook and run on medium speed until it's done: cool to the touch, firm and bouncy (even if sticky still), with nice gluten development. I wet my fingers with water and pull off a lump and stretch it to see how elastic it is. Beginners, if you are still with me, surely you've figured out this blog is not the best place to begin your bread-baking apprenticeship. The only way to learn when it's right is to make a lot of bread. There's no shortcut, although a good bread baking book, or a cooking class, could shave a few loaves off your learning curve.

I did an overnight-in-the-fridge proof. It puffed up gloriously and then fell by morning, which is fine for the OITF method. This morning I turned the dough out of the bowl, gently deflated, and cut into quarters. Two of the quarters were rolled into balls, pressed into disks, wrapped in plastic, and put in the freezer for future pizza dough use. The other two pieces I cut into thirds, also rolled into (six) balls, pressed into disks, and placed on a baking sheet, on parchment paper, and left to rise on the counter while I went downstairs to the workout room to earn some carb calories.

An hour later the buns had risen nicely, so I preheated the oven to 375 and baked them for 22 minutes. They cooled for about 10 minutes before I gave in and tore one in half to slather it with butter see how the inside looks. Perfectionists would have brushed the tops with something to make them shiny, but I didn't bother. Seeds of some kind would have been nice, but the only ones I could find in the spice drawer were of questionable vintage so I was cautious and left them off.

The verdict: a homemade, mostly wholegrain, burger bun I'll be happy to eat. The flavor is okay, not fantastic, but that's what I look for in a good bun. I want the burger to be the star of the show.

And, while I'm boasting about improvisational bread successes, here's a pic of a loaf I made a month or so ago. No recipe for this one either, although I did follow Peter Reinhart's method, which is a sure path to success even if my proportions and ingredients are subject to whimsy. This one started with a 6-grain cereal, includes some coarse-ground cornmeal I was trying to use up, and is 100% whole grain and organic, but other than that I don't remember details. I meant to take another pic of this to show off the very nice grain, but by the time I'd sliced and was eating it I'd forgotten. It was delicious:

Monday, May 24, 2010

Soursop Season

... is here, and I'm feeling intimidated. All that juice and pulp in the bowl is up to the "1-1/2 quart" line, and it's from just one fruit. The other bowl, on the right, is the skin (leathery and a bit brittle) and probably 80 or so seeds (hard, dark, the size and shape of of small almonds).

The reason I'm feeling intimidated is we've got another 2/3 of one in the fridge (I put a generous amount in my post-workout smoothie today, and barely made a dent in it), five ripe ones ready for attention, three more that will be ripe probably by tonight, and more on the tree.

Fortunately, evaluation of on-the-tree soursop goes something like this: not ready yet ... not ready yet ... not ready yet ... still not ready .... SPLAT! overripe and on the ground. Which means we won't have to deal with all of them.

I asked my yard guy if he had any advice on when they're ready to come off the tree, and he said, "about three days before they fall off." Thanks, that was helpful.

We plan to puree and freeze (in ice-cube trays) as much soursop as we can, because it is awesomely delicious in smoothies, which are a staple of our daily menu. It's also good frozen with banana, then run through the juicer, which produces a creaming, sweet, tangy delight that is remarkably like a rich icecream but without all that butterfat. Hmmm, I've also got some (purchased) blueberries and blackberries in the freezer, I think toss some of those in at least one batch.

First, though, I've got to make room in the freezer, which is already hosting a vast quantity of frozen bananas (slice 'em, freeze on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, then store in a gallon size zip-lock baggie). And my icecube trays are still full of frozen lemon juice.

The truly amazing moment was about a month ago when, for an entire week, we completely ran out of frozen bananas. I never thought that would happen. But then another huge bunch ripened, so we're good for a while now.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

P90X - "phase 1" results

No one is as surprised as I am that I've stuck with this "extreme home fitness" program through the 30 days of  "Phase 1." I am not naturally inclined toward anything extreme, but hubbie was filled with enthusiasm, so I figured I'd give it a try, dislike it intensely, and return to more girly workouts by the end of the first week. But turns out I like it.

Not that I've followed the program ("lean" version,) exactly. For one thing, I hated (hated!) the "Kenpo X" (kickboxing) workout. Really, completely, loathed every minute of it. I slogged through it once, distracting myself from the so-not-my-type-of-thing awfulness by pondering what I would need to be paid to keep it in the rotation. Conclusion: $125/workout, or $500-$600 a month. No generous benefactor has materialized, so I have replaced it in my rotation with the oldie-but-still-goodie original "Firm Total Body Workout" that's been kicking my butt since the mid 80s.

Two other workout schedule adjustments:

1) "Core synergistics" is okay, but relies far too much on push-up, plank, and chatturanga variations for me; past reconstructive surgery limits my ability to do much of certain upper-body moves, so I'm doing Jillian Michael's "30-Day Shred," also a proven butt-kicker, instead.

2) "Cardio X": a fine workout, but the tougher option, "Plyometrics," is more fun, so I'm doing that one instead. I might, possibly, by day 90, be fit enough to get through the entire Plyo routine; in the meantime, it's fun panting and stumbling through as much of it as I can.

Best pleasant surprises:
-- "Ab Ripper X" (tough, but more fun than endless crunches, and it works!)
-- "Plyometrics" (even though I'm so wimpy at it still)
-- "Yoga X": this I did not expect to like. Yoga, I figured, should be taught by yoga instructors. But whaddayaknow... it's a VERY good (tough!) power yoga routine. I hesitate to describe a yoga workout as "brutal" as that language is so un-yoga-y, but wow, does this one kick yoga butt.
-- "X Stretch": the best hour of stretching I have ever done. Not sure yet how I'm going to fit it in more frequently, but I want to, 'cause it feels so good.

RESULTS from 30 days of upping the workout intensity six days a week:
Weight:  2.5 pounds down; had hoped for 3-5, but 2.5 is okay given noticeable improvements in strength overall
Waist and abs: each 1" smaller
Upper arms: each 1/2" smaller, and noticeably firmer

I regret to say that hip and thigh measurements have not budged since day 1, but things are definitely firmer down there, though not yet smaller. I have hopes for slimmer results by the end of Phases 2 & 3.

That's all WITHOUT DIETING (!). The program comes with a nutrition and menu plan, but I'd rather chew nails than weigh all my food and track nutrient ratios and calories. Pleh. Been there, done that, and just don't want to. I have nudged my eating, in general, SLIGHTLY towards fewer carbs/fat and more protein, but haven't changed much: less cheese and chocolate, wine on weekends only, that's about it.

What have I been eating?
Breakfast (post workout): banana-berry smoothie with a little yogurt and a scoop of vanilla whey protein
Lunch: turkey or bison burger on a whole wheat bun, maybe a small salad on the side if I'm feeling virtuous
Snack: small apple and some tamari almonds or a spoonful of peanut butter
Dinner: chicken or fish (sauteed with a little olive oil and spices 'cause it's quick and easy that way); lots of steamed fresh organic veggies; brown rice or quinoa; salad

I have not blogged about any of that because,well, it's chicken or fish, veggies, a grain, a salad. Not the sort of thing I use (or record) a recipe for.

Desserts, although limited to Sunday night only, have not completely vanished from the menu. I've got a post or two coming up about that, but this one seems plenty long enough, so I'll stop here.

Bring on "Phase 2"!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Feeling tubby

The Cake Junkie is feeling tubby. With good reason because, let's face it, I am a little tubbier than I used to be. "A little" in this case being a slow but steady gain of 20-something pounds over the past 20 years, since I was in my early 30s and looking and feeling pretty darned good. You can call it Middle Aged Spread (MAS) if you want to, but it's still pudge and I don't like it.

I had a plan to get rid of it. A nice plan. An easy plan. A plan based on simple math: a half-pound of pudge reduction every week, for one year, would result in being 26 pounds lighter by the end of 2010. That's more than enough! I could hit my target by Columbus Day, easy. And only half a pound a week? Even factoring in a middle-aged metabolism that ought to be doable without too much sweat and deprivation, right? (The Cake Junkie doesn't mind a little sweat, but she prefers a moderate workout to an all-out effort, and who are we kidding: deprivation in the food department is not ever gonna happen.) I figured some mental attention to LOA principles and some mild improvements in the move-your-hiney arena and I'd be on my way. No diet required.

Then Mr. Wonderful filled some night-owl hours by channel-surfing through a glut of workout infomercials, and got majorly psyched to make 2010 the year he fulfills a lifetime dream of becoming "super fit."

So, while I'd been making my minimal-effort-required slim-down plans, Mr. W went ahead and ordered the P90X workout, which promises jaw-dropping body transformation in just 90 days. Now, this kind of high-intensity, push yourself to the max 6 days a week for an hour at a time workout program is not exactly what I had in mind when I decided to get serious about losing weight (slowly!) without going on a diet. So when Mr. Wonderful told me all about it and how excited he is to do it, I figured it would be his thing. He’d sweat and grunt and jump up and down, and I’d take a more leisurely path to a new me. 90 days? What’s your hurry? I just want to be slimmer by the end of the year.

The thing is, now that he’s so pumped up at the P90X idea, I have to admit that I’m kind of curious. Exercise is good. I'm not opposed to it. I do like to move my body some every day, and I do want to be more fit. It’s just that I’d planned to get there the long and lazy way, a teeny tiny bit at a time, over a long time. And I hadn't planned to ever aim for "super fit." Cake Junkie doesn't like to work out that hard, and besides, she's a girl, and she thinks six-pack abs on a girl are weird.

The Law of Attraction works in unexpected ways, however, and I’m unable to ignore the possibility that maybe my beloved hubbie was inspired (in part) to order P90X because it’s something that will be good for his beloved and slightly tubby wife, too.

So probably I ought to at least give it a try. When it gets here.

Good thing the parcel is still in transit, because no way am I starting on a workout program the moment my period arrived (hate the cramps, love the excuse to be lazy and eat chocolate for 48 guilt-free hours). Plus, I’m still working myself up to getting serious about maybe, possibly, doing a workout program with the letter X (for EXTREME!!) in it.

That's not a word that features prominently in my vocabulary. I'm more of an "easy-peasy" type, in all ways.

Herbed Spelt Popovers

These little lovelies are from the "Herbed Spelt Popovers" recipe in this book.

Don't know why I had popovers on the brain, but I did. But I wasn't at all convinced they are the kind of food item that can be duplicated using any kind of whole grain flour.

But apparently they can be. I actually followed the recipe almost entirely exactly. The only change I made was that it calls for either whole grain spelt flour or whole wheat pastry flour (and a small amount of AP). I'd planned ahead and put spelt flour on my shopping list, but when I got home from the health food store and reread the recipe I realized that no way was my white and fluffy spelt flour from the bulk bin "whole grain." So I mixed 3/4 cup each WW pastry and spelt flour and added 1/4 C AP and hoped for the best.

I also used whatever dried herbs I had on hand, and about 2 TB of pecorino-romano cheese. The batter was so thin I couldn't imagine I'd get anything other than eggy hocky-pucks from it. The recipe made exactly 3 cups of batter according to the marks on the side of my blender so I used a 1/4 cup measure to fill my buttered 12-muffin tin. Each "cup" was way more than the half-full recommended, which then had me worried that instead of remaining hocky pucks the batter would puff too quickly and I'd end up with baked-on and burnt popover batter all over the floor of my oven.

But my fears were needless. These puffed up gloriously, did not leak and overflow in the oven, and are delicious. Unfortunately, most of them de-puffed significantly as they cooled, so by the time I snapped this pic they were no longer at their most magnificent. I suspect this means they are slightly undercooked, and will bake them a few minutes longer next time. Fortunately, the yum factor is unaffected by deflation and once pulled open they perform admirably as what popovers of any kind really are, which is a delivery vehicle for butter.

We enjoyed these warm from the oven with soup for dinner on Friday night, and yesterday I used one cold from the fridge to make a chicken-avocado-sprout sandwich for lunch. Which was quite good, but the popover was not at its best cold. So for Saturday dinner I sliced a couple open and ran them through the toaster on a light setting. Yum again. There are still a couple left, and in a few minutes I'm going to make myself another chix-avo sandwich, but this time I'm going to toast the popover first. (A microwave oven would probably reheat them nicely, too, but then you'd be microwaving your food, which I don't do for reasons I'll maybe get into some other time and which will reveal my nutjob side.)

Seeing as how it's Sunday, which is "dessert night" in this house, after lunch I am going to make some kind of cupcake (carrot, maybe?) to hold up the leftover lemon frosting I took out of the freezer this morning.

And then I'm going to get serious about slimming down.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Best Thing I Ate for Christmas

Hawaiian-Vanilla ice cream with Lemon-Ginger Sauce and crystallized ginger

No, I did not make the ice cream. I don’t do that. If I had an ice cream maker I might be tempted to use it, and then there would be way too much ice cream in the house. I do buy ice cream for special occasions, although I try to keep that indulgence to a few times a year.

This is Roselani Hawaiian Vanilla. It’s a beautiful creamy, almost ecru shade of ivory, amply speckled with vanilla bean and a luscious foil to any other flavor you might think to pair with it.

I thought “lemon” because the lemon tree is our yard is producing lemons the size of softballs. Seriously, some of them are huge. Here’s a quick quiz: which of these is the lemon and which is the grapefruit?

Yup, that's the lemon on the left. Freaky.

Sometime in early December I had made ae quick lemon syrup by juicing and zesting a few lemons and adding a roughly equal amount of light brown sugar and heating it all to a simmer on the stove. Yum, but runny and rather aggressively sweet-tart.

I used some to make lemon-pecan cookies (no photo of those: they were not the kind of holiday lovelies you think of as “Christmas Cookies”), using the syrup both to sweeten the dough and to brush on top before they went in the oven. Uh, no, no recipe either. They were a basic butter cookie, with a generous amount of ground pecans and some lemon zest added. I was not in a measuring or documenting mood, as so often happens in this kitchen.

The Lemon-Ginger Sauce came about because I was pondering what to make that would involve lemons and/or lemon syrup, and while browsing through my dessert cookbooks was advised by Sherry Yard, in “The Secrets of Baking” that a lemon sauce can be made by thinning lemon curd with simple syrup. Aha.

I figured I could use my lemon syrup to make a thin curd, by whisking in some eggs and cooking over low heat to around 170 degrees. I started with about a cup of the syrup, and added one whole egg and one yolk, and -- here’s where the true inspiration came in -- about a tablespoon of fresh ginger juice (made by grating a large piece of very fresh and moist gingerroot and pressing the results through a fine sieve). When the sauce was slightly thickened and to temp, I whisked in about a tablespoon and a half of butter.

OMG, this stuff is delicious! And it packs a very gingery punch. The sweet, cool, smooth, creamy vanilla ice cream is awesomely perfect with it. Add some diced crystallized ginger on top and yum.

We had this for Christmas Eve dessert. I’d thought maybe I would use the remaining sauce to make some kind of lemony-gingery mousse (reheat with another egg yolk or two, add some gelatin, fold in whipped egg whites and whipped cream... yes, a day will come when I will need to make that particular vision a reality) but the ice cream combo was so delicious we simply repeated it the next day.

If you want to try making something like this, start with a basic lemon curd recipe, cut the egg quantity in half, and the butter to very little, use light-brown sugar instead of plain old white, and add a generous amount of fresh ginger juice. It might not turn out exactly the same as mine, but I can promise you it will be delicious.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Lemon Layer Cake

We had a birthday in the house this week, and birthdays call for layer cake. I made this one with fresh lemons from the tree in our yard.

For the cake layers I made the Whole Wheat Genoise from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book. The only change I made to the recipe was to blend a about 2 TBSP of fresh lemon zest with the melted butter before adding that to the cake. This recipe made a generous amount of batter. So generous it was almost too much for my mixer bowl. If I make this again (and I probably will) I'll adjust the quantity downward by about 20-25%. Other future changes include adding lemon extract, which I would have used  had I remembered to buy some). With just lemon zest the citrus flavor of the layers was not as pronounced as I would have liked.

This genoise is the basis for Daffodil Cake on page 404 of the cookbook. I glanced at that recipe but planned to use other sources for the lemon filling and buttercream parts, so didn't study the details. Now I wish I'd read the bit where they recommend soaking each cake layer with 1/4 cup of citrus syrup, which seems like a lot. I thought I'd drenched generously, but probably only used at most half that amount per layer and yes, the final result is a little dry. Not a problem if the cake is served with lots of icecream, but next time around I'll drench more thoroughly.

Overall, I'm impressed by any genoise that can handle 1-3/4 C of whole wheat flour, even if it's ww pastry flour. This did turn out well, and managed to not have the overly eggy flavor of the last genoise I made. It is a little denser than a white flour genoise: it does not slice as cleanly and should be flavored more aggressively.

I cooked the genoise in two 8" round pans (rather than the three pans the recipe calls for), so they came out about 2" thick each. I then sliced each into two layers, to make four total.

For between-layer filling I started with a half recipe of Master Lemon Curd from this reliable book (made a couple of days ahead).

I did not bother to strain the curd as recommended, because I felt leaving the little bits of lemon zest in there would improve the flavor and I knew no one eating the cake would notice or object to the zesty bits. The lemony-ness of the curd improved noticeably from the make-ahead date to the time the cake was assembled, so advance prep is not only convenient, it resulted in a better flavor, too.

When I was ready to fill and frost the layers I turned the lemon curd into a mousse by first soaking 1 tsp of powdered gelatin in 2T of lemon juice mixed with water. The next step with gelatin (after soaking in cold liquid) is to heat and dissolve, which I accomplished by pouring in a little bit of the hot lemon syrup I boiled up for the Italian Meringue Buttercream frosting (more on that, below). I stirred the warmed gelatin into the lemon curd, then used a whisk to fold in some of the (extra) meringue I'd made for the frosting. Mousse typically also includes a fair amount of whipped cream, but I left that out as unnecessary excess and well over the line into just-too-much-more-work land. I chilled the mousse until it had started to set, then spread some over each of three cake layers and chilled the layers until the mousse was fully set before assembling the final cake.

This lemon mouse made a not-too-heavy but very stable cake filling that did not squish out the sides even under the weight of multiple whole wheat genoise layers. I will definitely use it again, and look forward to experimenting with other flavors.

The final piece of this effort was a lemon frosting which was close to a disaster. I have not attempted a classic Italian merinque buttercream in many years and thought I'd give it a go. As mentioned above, I made extra (2 add'l egg whites) of the meringue so I could use some for the lemon filling. The meringue turned out perfectly! I've used my stand mixer to whip egg whites before, but this was the first time I'd done a hot sugar syrup meringue with it, and the results were awesome, huge, voluminos peaks of fluffy but exceptionally stable sweet lemony whiteness.

Unfortunately, that's where the success ended. Adding the butter sort of seemed to go okay: the whites did not curdle, and remained a smooth emulsion, but the loss of volume seemed way beyond what it should have been, and the result, while not the "soupy" texture threatened by too-soft butter, was not stiff enough to frost with. So I stuck it in the fridge to chill up a bit.

In hindsight, I can see that's where I went wrong. I should have put the bowl of not-stiff-enough into an icewater bath while continuing to beat with my hand mixer as it firmed up. Left to its own devices in the fridge a horrible separation of liquid into the bottom of the bowl occured. This appeared to be way, way, way beyond the "curdled" effect that buttercream troubleshooting tips say can be saved, and I was running out of patience, so I drained off the liquid and beat in another stick of butter and some confectioner's sugar.

At that point it was still a bit soft but I could see it would be way too much quantity by the time I got it to a spreadable consistency, so I removed half of what was in the bowl to a freezer container for some future use. To the remaining portion I mixed in a quickie white chocolate ganache I made by melting a bag of white choc chips in some heavy cream. I have great faith in the firm-up potential of ganache and it did chill up beautifully. The final result -- half failed lemon buttercream and half white choc ganache -- handled extremely well, did not sag or droop or end up in a pool on the cake platter, and tasted divine, with an exceptionally smooth texture and a lovely subtle flavor hinting of vanilla, white chocolate (which can be too cloying on its own), and lemon with no one element dominating. Too bad this exact frosting will never be duplicated, as it is well worth eating again and again, but that's what usually happens when I cook.

Although I will do some things differently next time I make a lemon layer cake (which will not be for a good long while, layer cakes being way too much work for anything other than special occasions, although they can be a fun way to make a mess of the kitchen), this was a delicious cake and we ate a lot of it. Leftovers have been divvied up into more reasonable portions and frozen for future cake night indulgence.