Wednesday, October 17, 2012

serious biscuits

I made a batch of "serious biscuits" from The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook (due out next week) tonight.  Lightly crispy on the outside, pillowy on the inside, and deliriously buttery through and through.  With half a biscuit left on my plate, I had a flash of genius: drizzle them with maple syrup!

book bonanza, part 1

colorful Tacoma from the 17th floor
Last weekend I attended the Pacific Northwest Booksellers' Association fall trade show with a few hundred booksellers, authors, librarians, and publisher sales reps.   The event took place at the Hotel Murano, just a few blocks from the Museum of Glass in downtown Tacoma.  Each floor of the hotel features a different glass artist, and each time the elevator doors opened a new surprise was unveiled.  It would have been fun to take a walk down each hall, but I just didn't have the time.  I guess I'll have to go back!

On Saturday evening, after a day filled with educational sessions, a horde of booksellers descended upon King's Books for a party celebrating several Northwest authors.  After a bit of mingling, each of half a dozen authors spoke for about five minutes. 

Jennie Shortridge (whose When She Flew rocks!) talked about her new novel Love, Water, Memory (kudos to the cover designer!) and the non-profit group Seattle 7 Writers, which promotes literacy in Seattle and King County through projects and events including pocket libraries in food banks, homeless shelters, and other locations.  These folks are staunch supporters of independent bookstores, libraries, and other literacy organizations and programs like 826 and Writers in the Schools.  So much to love! And they're nice people too!

Among the authors was one of my favorite Northwest artists, Nikki McClure, who told the story of her latest book (actually the first book she ever made), Apple, and another, How to Be a Cat, due in Spring of 2013.   I got a peek at the cat book, and I think it's one of her best.  I've had her gorgeous calendars on my living wall every year since 2006, and I'm excited to head to Bellevue and see Cutting Her Own Path, a retrospective of her work that starts November 13 at the Bellevue Art Museum.

If you know me at all, you know I'm a food enthusiast, so it will come as no surprise that I was excited to meet Seattle chef & restauranteur Tom Douglas and pick up a copy of his new Dahlia Bakery Cookbook.  Douglas is the kind of guest everyone wants at a party: funny, personable, and bearing several boxes of delicious treats!  Maple eclairs, pecan brownies, gingersnaps, chocolate chip cookies, and his famous triple coconut cream pie kept party-goers hovering around his table. 

Many thanks to our host, the inimitable Sweet Pea, owner of King's Books, and the staff, both human and feline, who probably had a sizeable mess to clean up when the rest of us headed back to the hotel for the Nightcapper party and met another 30 or so authors.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Pear pancakes

and then there were four

I woke up this morning thinking about the six remaining pears on my kitchen table.  They need to be used today.  I've already made pear cupcakes and pudding cake this week, so I wanted to use them for breakfast and make something at least marginally nutritious.  I considered adding them to oatmeal or making crepes, but eventually I decided on pancakes. 

I usually use the basic pancake recipe in my Betty Crocker's Cookbook (the one Mom bought me about 20 years ago after I went off to college) and alter it in whatever way comes to mind: toasted nuts, fruit, spices, etc.  Today I substituted 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour for some of the all-purpose flour and added 1/4 teaspoon of almond extract as well as 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla.

Even though I have a few dozen fancier cookbooks, I still refer to this book often for basic ratios and recipes (oatmeal cookies, for example).   I've always been a messy, somewhat disorganized cook.  On the pancake page, there's a big oil stain at the top that matches the one on the facing page.  Over the years I've improved a great deal, but this book definitely has its battle scars.  I'm no stranger to getting halfway through a recipe and discovering that I'm missing a vital ingredient. Fortunately James is generally willing to make last-minute trips to the store.

Okay, enough babble, on to the pear pancakes!  Here's the rough recipe for the pear topping.  I didn't measure or write down anything :

2 firm but ripe pears, peeled, cored, and sliced about 1/4 inch thick
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup real maple syrup

Put all of the pears in a large bowl. Combine all of the spices in a small bowl, break up any clumps then add them to the pears and toss to combine.  Melt the butter in a saucepan or skillet that's big enough to hold all the pears with a bit of room to spare.  Once the butter starts to bubble, add the pears and stir.  Cook just long enough to warm the pears through, then add the maple syrup and bring to a simmer.  Remove form the heat and set aside.    Now make your pancakes in whatever way you like, whether it's from a box or from scratch. Spoon the pear topping over them.  The pears will break down a bit as they sit in the hot maple syrup, but that's okay.  They'll still be delicious.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Cheryl greeted us with a delicious rhubarb custard pie.
(Oops, I just found a draft of this unfinished post.  maybe I'll finish it one of these days)April 2012- After talking about a bookstore tour of San Francisco for months, last weekend I boarded a plane, planning to rendezvous with my mom, who lives in Kentucky, at SFO.   By some miracle of airline kismet, both of our flights arrived early (!) and without incident. We met at the BART station and boarded a train for the East Bay, where Cheryl collected us in her car to complete a planes, trains, and automobiles journey.  In fact the trip began just north of Seattle with a bus and light rail to the airport, so I managed to travel all but the last mile without a car.

Cheryl browsing at Readers Bookstore
We enjoyed a leisurely morning of coffee and pie, then headed into the city.  Our only plan was to go to a bunch of bookstores, so we got off the train at Civic Center Station and aimed for Books, Inc. at 601 Van Ness.  A quick look at the map put the SF Public Library's main branch in our path, so of course someone said. "Let's just pop our heads in and check out the building."  To our delight, we found a little bookstore called Readers at the Main, run by volunteers of the Friends of the SFPL.  This lovely, well-lit little shop boasted a well-organized  inventory with plenty of bargains, and we were a little sorry we'd found the shop so early in the day, reluctant to buy too many books that we'd have to lug around the city.   We talked of coming back but knew we probably wouldn't make it.   I think this was the first time I said, "Next time we do this...."
City Hall
After making our purchases, we set off anew, strolling through the plaza in front of City Hall, where all sorts of delicious smells wafted from a raft of food trucks, and we watched a freshly-married couple having their pictures taken in front of the gilt-detailed dome.   In retrospect, this was a good start to our somewhat random walking tour; wide, clean sidewalks alongside museums and theaters made us feel less conspicuous when consulting the map and snapping pictures.
Large Four Piece Reclining Figure, Henry Moore 1973
Within a short walk we found Books, Inc. and Rich, a fellow bookseller I'd met at a conference in January.  He kindly pulled out a Streetwise San Francisco map and pointed us on a pedestrian-friendly route to our next destination, 826 Valencia, a writing center for kids that raises funds in part by operating San Francisco's only independent pirate supply store.  I have been a fan of Seattle's 826 branch, the Greenwood Space Travel Supply Store, since my first interstellar journey, so this was a must-see while in SF.   ARRRR!
En route to 826,  we stumbled upon Miette, a cute little confectioner that Cheryl and I recognized from their eponymous book.  Sadly, everything I wanted to buy in the shop would have been crushed or melted by the time our day ended.  Oh well. I'd just have to drown my sorrows in more pie later.  

We found Valencia Street and paused for a seat and a snack at Venga! Empanadas.  With so many great eateries to try, we agreed to snack our way around the city rather than have a full meal.  I had the spinach, Cheryl tried the sweet corn, and Mom ordered the mushroom, all freshly baked.  They were all baked to order and tasty, though mine would have been much better if it hadn't been cold in the middle.

Tomatoes and Pears

I came home from work tonight and saw the pile of tomatoes on the counter and knew it was time to take action.  They'd been ripening there (after being plucked from my friend Rory's garden) for a week or so, slowly moving from "these are so green I don't think they could possibly ever turn red.  They must be a yellow variety," to "hey, whaddaya know, they're a little orange today," to "holy crap, I'd better figure out what the heck I'm going to do with those."  I'm not much into raw tomatoes, unless they're having a salsa party, and I made salsa last weekend.  I flipped through the index of The Cook's Illustrated Cookbook for inspiration, and suddenly I was making pizza!
My go-to weeknight pizza crust hails from Frank Stitt's Bottega Favorita cookbook.  When our kitchen was destroyed by The Great Deluge a few years ago, it was one of the few cookbooks that was damaged beyond repair, but I salvaged the page with the pizza crust recipe before throwing out the soggy book.  The dough only has to rise for half an hour, and the pizza only takes 5-7 minutes to bake on a stone. The quick rise allows just the right amount of time for preheating the pizza stone and prepping all the toppings and cheese, so I didn't want to mess with making tomato sauce.  The ripest of my tomatoes were only about 1.5 inches across, so I opted for marinating them in balsamic vinegar, which soon called out for fresh herbs (from the deck), a little olive oil, and a few grinds of black pepper. 

The cheese drawer held a hunk of asiago and a small block of parmesan reggiano, which is totally worth the seemingly outrageous price- it packs so much flavor you'll never go back to that green can, and it goes a long way.  Use the small holes on your grater and you'll be amazed at how long a few ounces will last.  Also, while I'm handing out cheese advice, wait to add it as a melty topping until the last minute or two of cooking.  I don't remember where I heard this, but it's true: the flavor is best when the cheese has just been warmed.

Digging in the fridge, I came up with a red bell pepper I'd bought at the Farmer's Market on Sunday and a bunch of organic broccoli that was on sale at Central Market last weekend. Have I mentioned how fabulous that place is?  Probably.  When I need ingredients I've never heard of, they generally have what I need.  The cashiers never have to ask me what that piece of produce is, though they might occasionally confirm "water chestnuts, right?" before typing in the code.  The people who work there seem happy and relaxed.  I buy all of my spices from the bulk department there; it's much cheaper than buying them in jars, the spices are fresher, and I can buy a few tablespoons of an ingredient if I don't think I'll use it often.  Fennel seed, for example, is repulsive to me, but I'll buy a little if I'm trying a new recipe or making garam masala or something.  

I had a little extra time to kill before the dough was ready, so of course I started leafing through cookbooks, trying to figure out what to do with all the rest of the pears I'd bought on Saturday.  They were 78 cents a pound, so naturally I bought ten, with the clear image of my favorite pear cobbler in mind. I've been biking to work four times a week since the first of March, but the past few weeks I've let things get in the way ("I baked a cake. I can't carry that on my bike").  I knew the cobbler would not be easy to transport by bike, and I bake way too often for the goods to stay at home, so I had to find another pear path.  
Ozark Pudding Cake
buttery pear cupcakes

Last night I made an Ozark Pudding Cake from Julie Richardson's new book Vintage Cakes, which used up two of my lovely pears.  Tasty, but again, not too bike-friendly.  I decided to modify one of my favorite recipes from Richardson's previous book, Rustic Fruit Desserts (which I cannot recommend highly enough).  Mimi's German Apple Cake only takes about 15 minutes to assemble, and it quickly became a staple in my kitchen in circumstances when the need for cake arises out of the blue (does this happen to other people?).  Anyway, I decided that cupcakes would be more portable, so I doubled the recipe, used chopped pears instead of apple wedges, and added a little cardamom because it is so nice with pears.  The finished product was buttery, moist, and delicious.  Now I just have to figure out how to pack them in my panniers without smashing them.

Oh, right, I was making pizza!  It turned out surprisingly well with my improvised tomato vinaigrette sauce and a sparse sprinkling of cheese.  Sorry, I was busy eating and forgot to take a picture.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

National Perohi Day!

If you are unfamiliar with perohi (not to be confused with piroshki, which are also delicious, but different) you have my sympathy.  I first encountered this glorious food when I was about ten years old and made a batch with my mother and grandmother.  My mom says that when she was a kid, the ladies at their Russian Orthodox church in Ohio would make hundreds of them every Friday.  I, on the other hand, had only encountered them in my own kitchen until I was 30 or so.  Throughout my life I've met people, mostly of Polish ancestry, who knew about them, but only a few have been motivated to cook them.  They're similar to ravioli - tedious and time-consuming to make, but so tasty it's hard to stop eating them.  I have eaten my way to a bellyache more than once, only to realize that I spent all day in the kitchen and barely had enough left for lunch the next day.

At work this afternoon I discovered that it was National Perogi Day, and immediately I knew what I'd be doing tonight.  About halfway through the process, I decided I should share the recipe.  This recipe makes about 80 pieces.  The whole process took me 3 hours tonight, but I've had lots of practice.  Try it when you have plenty of time if you've never done it before.

For the Dough:                                    For the Filling:
4 cups flour                                          8 large potatoes, peeled & chopped
1 /1/2 cups potato water                       8 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 eggs                                                  2 Tablespoons butter
1/8 teaspoon salt                                   salt to taste

For serving:
1/2 cup butter
2 large yellow onions, diced

In a medium pot, cover the potatoes with cold water and add a few shakes of salt.  Bring to a boil and cook over medium-high heat until tender, roughly 10 minutes (depending on how big your chunks are).  When the potatoes are done,  reserve 1 1/2 cups of the cooking water and refrigerate it - you will use this in the dough.  Drain the rest of the water.  Mash the potatoes and add the butter.  Add the cheese a handful at a time and mash to incorporate.  Salt to taste.  Chill until ready to use.

When the filling has cooled enough to handle, roll it into balls a little smaller than a quarter, and set them aside.  This is a great job for kids who want to help!  It's okay if the size varies a bit - the size of your dough pieces will vary a bit too, and you can always modify them as you go if necessary.
Line 3 sheet pans with parchment paper, then dust with flour.  Set aside.

In your largest skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium-low heat.  Add the onions and stir to coat.  Reduce the heat to low when the onions begin to brown, then continue to cook until they are a uniform golden brown, stirring occasionally.  If they are done before you're ready for them, just remove them from the heat - you can reheat them later.  It's a good idea to turn on the fan over your stove and/or open your windows, unless you want your whole house to smell like onions the next day.

Fill a large pot with salted water as you would for pasta and bring it to a boil while you make the dough.  

In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt.  Make a well in the flour and add the eggs and cooled potato water.  Stir with a fork, slowly incorporating the flour.  The dough will be very sticky.   Liberally flour a smooth counter top or cutting board.    Rub flour on your hands, then knead the dough until elastic but still a little tacky, 5-10 minutes. The dough will absorb more flour (about a half cup or so) as you knead. 

Cut the dough into four equal pieces.  Roll each into a ball, and place three of them on a floured spot (plate/counter/bowl/frisbee) and cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap to keep them from drying out while you roll out the first dough ball.

Dust the counter with flour, then roll out the first ball, starting from the center and working toward the edges.  The dough will stretch and then shrink, and progress will be slow at first.  Make sure the dough isn't sticking to the counter. If it sticks, lift the edges and toss a little more flour under the dough.  If it sticks to the rolling pin, rub a little bit of flour on the rolling pin.  You don't want to get too much flour on the top surface of the dough - it will keep your perohi from sealing properly, and all of your lovely cheesy potato goodness will leak out in the water when you cook them.  Keep rolling until you have a thin, even sheet about 1/8" thick.

A rectangle will be easier to work with than a circle, but don't sweat about the shape.  Cut the dough into roughly 2" squares.  You will stretch the dough a bit as you fill the perohi, so if your shapes are a little wonky around the edges, that's fine.

 Take a square of dough and carefully stretch it a little bit, holding it along its opposite edges.  Place a ball of potato in the middle, and fold the dough in half over the filling.  Pinch the edges of the dough together, making sure the entire edge is sealed.   If the dough sticks to your fingers, rub a little flour on them, taking care not to get any in the seal.
Lay the perohi on the prepared sheet pans in a single layer so that they do not touch or overlap.  Anywhere they rub elbows, they will stick together, and that will be bad news later. 

At this point, you can put the sheet pan in the freezer and save your perohi for a cold winter's night.  If you're going to freeze them, leave them on the pan until they're completely frozen (about 2 hours), then remove them from the pan, put them in a freezer bag, and squeeze out as much air as you can before sealing the bag.
Drop one pan of the perohi (about 24) into the boiling water one at a time, making sure they are in contact with the water when you let go of them - otherwise they will splash boiling water on you, which is no fun at all, or they will stick together, which is even worse.   Stir the pot gently with a wooden spoon to separate any perohi that might be stuck together or on the bottom of the pot.
Return the pot to a boil, then cook for 3-4 minutes.  Meanwhile, remove half of the browned onions from the skillet and set aside.  Add 2 tablespoons of butter to the skillet and melt over medium-low heat.  When the perohi are done, remove them from the boiling water with a slotted spoon (being very gentle so they don't tear!) a few at a time and put them directly into the warm butter and onions.  Toss to coat with the butter and cook for as long as you can stand to wait.  I like it when they get a little crispy, but I'm not usually patient enough to wait that long.

Many people serve the perohi with applesauce and sour cream, but I'm happy with them just like this.

Sit down and enjoy a small plate of perohi before you finish cooking the rest of the batch.  You've earned it.  If you eat too many and get all lethargic, just freeze the uncooked perohi as instructed above, and put the remaining onions and butter in the fridge and reheat them when you're ready for more.

Store cooked leftovers in a thin layer - if you don't they will stick together and become a big solid mass that will break apart when you reheat them.  They'll still taste good though.