Monday, September 29, 2008

Challah and Better than Honeycake

L'Shanah Tovah! Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, starts tonight at sundown. And right on time, my box of Arkansas wine arrived, including a nice bottle of muscadine grape juice--much tastier than Welch's for the non-drinkers. More muscadine pix, and a visit to the winery and vineyards, to follow.

Right now, of course, what you need is a nice challah recipe (below), and an alternative to honeycake, which everyone (at least on the eastern-european side) feels compelled to eat, but no one likes very much. And here PQ can help you out, with the famous apple upside-down gingerbread. You can use half molasses, half honey, if you have to get the honey in there. And if you're having brisket and don't want to serve a butter-based cake for dessert, you can sub this no-dairy gingerbread recipe, adapted from the original Silver Palate Cookbook, below.

Very Useful & Easy Gingerbread, with upside-down option

In a glass measuring cup, measure the oil first, pour into a separate cup, and then measure the molasses. This helps the molasses run right out the cup when you tip it, which otherwise it will not do. I've also made this as more of general spice cake, using 2 tsp of mixed "pumpkin pie spice" (also called apple-pie spice--basically, a mix of cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves).

For optional apple/pear upside-down topping:
3 apples or pears, cored and sliced
3 tbsp butter or margarine (if you need to be non-dairy)
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed

1 2/3 cups flour
2 tsp powdered ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg, fresh grated if possible
1/4 tsp cloves
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger root, and/or 2 tbsp chopped crystallized ginger (optional, but I would add both if I were you)
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup molasses, or 1/4 cup honey and 1/4 cup molasses
1 egg
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a square 8 x 8 or deep, round 9" cake pan. To make topping: melt butter in a small pot. Add brown sugar and cook, swirling the pan, until thick, melted, and smooth. Pour mixture into prepared baking pan, spreading evenly. Arrange sliced apples or pears in concentric circles. Fit fruit in tightly, since it will shrink in baking. Set aside. Put 1/2 cup water on to boil.

Sift flour, spices, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. In a separate bowl, beat eggs, sugar, and molasses. Stir into flour, then quickly stir in oil and boiling water. Pour into prepared pan (over the fruit, if using) and bake 35-40 minutes. If using fruit, loosen cake and invert onto plate while still warm, pushing any errant fruit slices into place as needed.

A Nice Round Challah for a Sweet Year (adapted from my own book, Honey from Flower to Table)

1 tbsp (1 packet) dry yeast, dissolved in 1/4 cup lukewarm water, or a decent nubbin of fresh yeast, dissolved in same amount of water
1 cup lukewarm water
1/3 cup melted butter or oil
2 eggs plus 2 yolks
1/2 cup honey
2 1/2 tsp salt
4 - 5 cups flour
1 cup raisins, golden look especially nice
1/4 cup honey, for drizzling, or an egg wash of 1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp water

Mix up water, butter, eggs, and honey. Add yeast. Stir in 2 cups of flour and the salt. Keep adding flour (2-3 cups) until you have a soft, sticky dough. Turn out and knead well for 6 to 8 minutes, adding flour as needed. Doughs with honey are hydroscopic (they absorb water from the air), which means they tend to get more gloppy, not less. Knead with a little oil on your hands, or use a dough scraper. You can add more flour as you knead, but go easy, as you want the dough to stay fairly soft. Let rise until doubled, then punch down. You can do another rise, or go straight to shaping.

Flatten dough into a big rectangle. Sprinkle with raisins, and fold or roll until raisins are fairly well integrated into the dough. Shape 2/3 of the dough into a long, thick rope. Now wrap the rope around itself, starting about halfway down the rope. Tuck the "tail" into the top. Do the same with smaller piece, and nestle the topknot into the top of the dough. This makes 1 big loaf; you can also divide it and make 2 smaller ones. Let rise until nearly doubled in size. Preheat oven to 350F. Drizzle loaf with honey or brush with egg wash. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until puffed, golden, and shiny. Serve with apples and honey.

Makes the world's best French toast the next day.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

put a little steam in your Saturday


You can keep your xtube, your flesh-slapping naked people doing what naked people do. Give me provocation in green satin shoes, any day of the week. I also find this to be the most convincing argument for bisexuality that I can imagine, given how completely dreamy both Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse are here. (It's also fun to note how 6-feet-plus-in-heels Cyd Charisse keeps her knees bent and her hips cocked in almost all of her up-close partner shots, so she doesn't tower over her men.)

And you? Your favorite don't-make-'em-like-they-used-to moments of screen steam?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Baking Bread at Steph's Cafe

So, the house smells like baking bread again, not a bad thing. This is the third round of bread baking I've done since I got here, and the most successful. The first, from a recipe from the Inn at Dairy Hollow cookbook (the B&B that was here in this space, before it became the writers' colony) Did Not Work. Really, it was like a horrible dense brick that never rose. Bummer. The second version rose like a charm, only we lost our power that day, and with an electric oven, I had to keep punching down the dough and waiting before I could finally fire up the oven and bake. When I finally put the bread in, it had over-proofed and looked collapsed and wrinkly. It baked up okay, but I never got that beautiful swoosh of oven spring, and the loaf was a little dense.

This round, though, poofed up gorgeously in the oven, rising to about double what it was in the pans, and was light and delicious. I had a little bowl of orange-cinnamon-lavender sugar lying around, extra from the plum cake I'd made on Thursday, so I swirled that into one of the loaves, and damn if it wasn't just heaven's morning toast.

Bet y'all like the recipe now, wouldn't you? Well, so would I. I have to admit that I just sort of threw stuff together without measuring on this one. Once you have a sense of the basic dough proportions, you can do this, and it will almost always work. Having done this for a while, I also have a pretty good eye for guessing measurements, so the recipe below should be roughly accurate. Mess around, experiment, and let me know how it goes.

Re: buttermilk. I love buttermilk, for drinking straight and in all kinds of baked goods. The only way it doesn't work for me is, weirdly enough, in pancakes. I know, that's the place it's supposed to go, but every time I make a buttermilk pancake batter, I get a wet, gummy-rubbery result. So now I use regular milk and save my buttermilk for baked-in-the-oven things.

Orange-Cinnamon Oatmeal Bread

3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup rolled oatmeal flakes
3 tbsp butter, softened
2 tbsp honey, sorghum, or pure cane syrup
1 tbsp salt

Mix all together and let sit for 20-30 minutes.

1 packet dry yeast, dissolved in 1/4 cup water
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

Stir dissolved yeast into flour, adding enough water to make a thick, clumpy batter. Cover and let stand while oatmeal is soaking.

Stir oatmeal mixture into whole wheat flour. Add enough white flour (probably 1-2 cups) to make a soft but kneadable dough. Knead for 6-8 minutes, then let rise until doubled.

Meanwhile, make sugar mixture:

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
grated rind of 1 orange
1 tsp crushed, dried lavender flowers
1/4 tsp cardamom

Punch down dough and divide in two. Flatten one ball of dough into a rectangle, and sprinkle with half the sugar mix. Roll up tightly into a loaf shape, and place in lightly greased loaf pan. Repeat with rest of dough and sugar. Let rise until nearly doubled, then bake at 400F until well browned and risen, about 35 minutes. Tip out of pans (to prevent soggy sides/bottom) and let cool on a rack.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Robert Steinberg, 1947-2008

Robert Steinberg, doctor, chocolate aficionado, co-founder of Scharffen Berger chocolate, and a man of quick mind, boundless curiosity, and much passion, died on Wednesday. A sad day.

I met Robert in San Francisco in the mid-90s, shortly after he and business partner John Scharffenberger started their quirky little bean-to-bar chocolate company, Scharffen Berger Chocolate, with a space between the two words so customers wouldn't confuse it with the Scharffenberger winery, a sparkling-wine operation run by John's family up in the Anderson Valley. Robert was a doctor who'd left practice after being diagnosed with lymphatic cancer. A man of many passions, he decided what he really wanted to do was make chocolate. Really make it, from sourcing the beans to wrapping the bars. At the time, no one in the U.S. was doing this. Plenty of people were making fancy chocolates and even fancy bars, but they were all buying their chocolate elsewhere, usually from Europe, and then blending and flavoring it to suit their tastes. Robert and John, however, were going to go back to basics.

For equipment, they had to go to Germany, buying up old fire-engine-red, Willie-Wonka-ish machines from small family firms, then retrofitting them to run on American current. The flavor they were after was dramatic: smoky, fruity, smooth but forward. It evolved over time, but you still can't confuse SB with any other chocolate.

Robert was like that, too. He had a sardonic wit and lots of opinions, but unlike a lot of opinionated people, he wanted to know what you thought, too, and why. You couldn't get away with mindless conversational fluff; he really wanted to hear what you were doing, and what you thought about it. I first met him down at the company's original South San Francisco warehouse, and from then on we'd chat at various industry events and food deals. I'd run into him at the farmers' market, at the James Beard Awards, and always, he seemed to know everyone there. He was a man of taste, and dedication, who said what he believed. The evolution in chocolate that has occurred over the last 10 years was spurred in many ways by his dedication, curiosity, and passion.

More background,here.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

in the kitchen

Brownedbuttersugarplumsvanillalavenderorangecinnamon, that's what my kitchen smells like right now. With a little bit of garlicky spinach thrown in there, and if you open the fridge, Thai-curry-coconut-pumpkin soup. Outside, it's soft and warm and sort of late-summer-edge-of-fall. Just pretty beautiful all around. Oh, and I did mention the dishwasher? Nothing to you suburbanites, but a crazy luxury for this low-rent city gal.

Everyone likes pancakes! You can put anything in a pancake, I think, and if you pour enough syrup over it, it's yummy! Made butternut squash-apple-spice pancakes at the farmers' market this morning, over a propane stove, and doused them in sorghum syrup from the aptly named Ozark, Missouri at the end, and they were a hit! Who wouldn't like a nice hot cinnamon-spiced pancake on a crisp September morning? I think everyone at the market moseyed over for a pancake or two (I made them silver-dollar sized, so there were plenty). Recipe's below. One guy even ate up all my leftover steamed butternut squash. It's just so fun to pick out produce from the stands and then cook with it right there, without even going home.

So that was breakfast, and then an Ozark caponata--with eggplant, green tomatoes, red pepper, vidalia onion, and lots of fresh garlic and basil--was lunch. Served with triscuits and pita chips, and it was all gobbled up. Nary a recipe sheet or eggplant cube was left by the time I left. Much fun!

And now, on to Poet Luck...and spinach quiche, pumpkin soup, plum cake, and the recipe-testing caponata, made into a pasta salad with fusilli.

Spiced Pumpkin Pancakes

2 cups all-purpose or whole wheat pastry flour
1 tablespoon sugar, or to taste
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated if possible
1/4 tsp cloves
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup pumpkin purée (made from steamed or roasted pumpkin or butternut squash)
2 tbsp butter, melted
1 large apple, cored and diced, and/or handful of toasted chopped pecans
butter for greasing griddle
Sorghum or maple syrup and butter for serving

2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and spices. Stir to blend.

3. In another large bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk, and pumpkin purée. Stir in flour mixture, followed by the melted butter and diced apple and/or nuts. Stir until just blended--do not beat! Add a little more milk or water if batter is too thick.

4. Heat a heavy skillet or griddle, and lightly coat surface with oil or butter. Spoon batter onto griddle, using about 1/4 cup per cake.

5. When pancakes are lightly browned on the bottoms (after about 2 minutes), flip them over, and cook another minute, until browned.

6. Place pancakes on warm plates, garnish with pecans, drizzle with butter and warmed maple or sorghum syrup, or spread with apple butter.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Lizbeth, eat yer squish!

Summer squash. Winter squash. Purple hull beans. Okra. Green beans. Cherry tomatoes. Potatoes. Leeks. Peppers. Rhubarb. Apples. Herbs. Lettuce. Eggplant--white, purple, lavender, baby striped. Flowers. Summer and fall were colliding in abundance out at the farmers' market on Rt. 23 in Eureka Springs. It was so nice to be back there and see Heather the market manager, and Patrice, the French businessman-turned-organic-farmer, and meet some of the other farmers working the area. Vela, an apple farmer, social justice activist and poet, told me that it's just about impossible to grow peaches organically here, because the humidity and bugs mean fungal diseases like brown rot spread like wildfire, even inside a cooler. His apples are transitioning, though, and they're delicious, especially his Melrose apples, a big, tart, full-flavored apple that I hadn't tasted before. I think this will have to go into a batch of the famous upside-down apple gingerbread, for Thursday's open-mike potluck here at the Colony, dubbed the "Poetluck" and much fun for all.

Reading about eggplant in the NY Times, I was reminded that despite its unassuming spongy nature, eggplant is actually kick-ass good for you. Or, more specifically, purple eggplant SKIN is, since it's full of nasunin, which is not an Indonesian prime minister but one of those brawny antioxidents, part of the flavinoid family of anthocyanins also found in beets, red cabbage, and blueberries.

As for recipes to make at the market on Thursday, I'm thinking about pumpkin-apple pancakes with sorghum syrup, since the demo starts at 9am and we are in the Ozarks, after all. And then maybe caponata, that chunky sweet-tart Sicilian stuff with capers, olives, and vinegar, or possibly's always fun to find things to make that use as much as possible from the market. Followed, perhaps, if I just can't stop cooking, by winter-squash soup, since several farmers at the market told me no one knows what to do with their beautiful squash. There's the classic squash-onion-sage-chicken broth sort of soup, with a little creme fraiche at the end, or possibly a Thai-type one, made with Thai curry paste, coconut milk, hot peppers and lemongrass. I won't have a blender, since I'll be cooking outside with just a propane stove, but if I can track down a hand-cranked food mill, all will be well!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Fun Thursday!

Farmers' Market in the morning, Poetluck in the evening...ain't we got fun? Looks like I'll be doing a cooking demo at the Eureka Springs farmers' market on Thursday morning (Sept 18) at 9am! Yippee! And then, back to the kitchen to make something tasty for the Poet-Luck potluck/open mike at the Writers' Colony that evening. Quiche with the thyme pie dough left over from last week's pie class? Upside-down pear gingerbread? Homemade rolls? Will post more info and recipes soon!

And, apropos of nothing at all, can you guess where this photo was taken? And what it is?

Happy autumn!

It's clear! It's nippy! We've got power! Yes, the hem of Hurricane Ike twitched across NW Arkansas late Saturday night like a drag queen in a snit, and we got trees down everywhere and no power from 3am to 8pm. Hard work for the road crews, and broken branches, leaves, acorns, and twigs all over everything.

Up at the Crescent Hotel, the lights were out all day, which meant a gorgeously spooky atmosphere for exploring this 1880s landmark. Lace curtains gusting out over dim empty corridors, doors opened onto empty rooms, their bedclothes still in a tangle, wide wooden staircases spiraling upwards...a perfect setting for Death at the Old Hotel. Even without power, a wedding went on as planned, and the big Crystal Dining Room seemed to be in full (if unlit) swing. I sat out on the wide back porch with a glass of OJ pilfered from the continental-breakfast spread and wrote letters as the pine and oak trees creaked in the wind and the sun broke through the scudding clouds.

Now, it's a beautiful fall day, crisp and blue and clear, with none of last week's soggy humidity. A day for hot apple cider and walking through the woods...which is just what's on my agenda once I finish up this week's CSA newsletter. And then, of course, more work on the next book, Breakfast at Steph's Cafe. Challah French toast and Dutch babies for all!

Friday, September 12, 2008


It's so beautiful here, I don't know where to start. But start we must, so, Rain! Yes, after many months in mediterranean-dry SF, it's teeming rain here in Eureka Springs. I've got the door open to the porch so I can hear the pitter-pat. It's still muggy and warm out in the early evening, but with the edge-of-Ike thunderstorms coming through tomorrow, maybe the air will stop being quite so wringing wet. But plus side: supergreen, everywhere!

I haven't been here in 2 years (I was last here in June 2006, when I spent a month at this same writers' colony) but it's amazing how completely familiar everything is. I remembered the slightly warped texture of the straw placemats in the kitchen, and the steep steps up to the library, and the funny store that sells only frog-themed tchotckes, and how the shower always drips a little. I think I've had apartments that I was less attached to than this place, my home for only a month.

It helps that NYC was a frantic, sweaty round of packing, mailing, and shoving boxes around. Besides a few dinners, and a nice weekend with my mom, the city part of my trip was pretty businesslike, and mostly involved the less-than-scenic environs of the Brooklyn post office and my storage unit. I did learn than even in hoity-toity Brooklyn Heights, the residents are not so hoity-toity than they won't take free furniture left out on the street. So whoever's living with my baker's rack and kitchen chairs now, thank you! Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Cooking Workshops in Eureka Springs

Alright, I'm going! NYC tomorrow, Arkansas next week. Which can cook with PQ! I'll be teaching two very fun workshops in a beautiful kitchen in Eureka Springs.

Thursday, Sept 11th, Foolproof Pie Making, and
Sunday, Sept. 14, An Ozark Brunch on the Deck.

The hands-on Sunday brunch class will be particularly lovely, as we'll be cooking together, and then sitting down to enjoy our meal on the beautiful outdoor deck off the kitchen. Mimosas, live music provided!

Info and signup,here. Scroll down to get to the cooking ones...