Sunday, April 30, 2006

And now the whole house smells like cinnamon...

I'm not sure where I saw this originally, but the site pointed me to the ever-reliable Baking Sheet blog. Here is Nic's recipe for Homemade Graham Crackers. Per usual, I made my substitutions to suit my dietary limitations. Here is a little photo journal of my version. Overall, I liked them, but I'll have to noodle around with it a bit to make them taste the way they probably would with the molasses and honey.

The dry ingredients in the food processor. Just a side tale of my food processor -- I've moved many times and somewhere along the line, I lost my original blender (and the toaster, but that wasn't a big loss). When I moved to central NJ, I started ordering many of my kitchen items from the Internet. This Krups food processor and blender combo (see this photo for a blender shot). It's worked well for 7 years now, and I'd recommend it to people who don't need a huge food processor.

My dough ball from the food processor (almost too small for this recipe). Using the agave nectar as a substitute for the sugar, I also had to cut the liquid by 1/3. Since I don't eat honey or molasses, I cut those out of the recipe. I'm sure it affected the taste some.

The graham crackers don't stay this wrinkly, but they don't rise much either, despite the 1 teaspoon of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda. Indeed, they succeed at being crackers. I don't have parchment paper at the moment (going to the store later, though), so I made due with aluminum foil. It was not ideal by a long shot, nor do I recommend using it in a pinch. I should have used plastic wrap. The dough stuck a bit, but I was able to get most of it off the foil after leaving it in the fridge a little longer. The recipe says to keep the halves together on the baking sheet (lined with parchment paper -- I just buttered the sheets, and that was alright) in order to have them break apart like the store-bought graham crackers. It worked!

A really close up shot of a fun little cracker.

These were fun. If I did them again, I'd probably add some ginger and some allspice, since I couldn't use honey or molasses. They're sweet enough for me, but we'll see what John thinks. These graham crackers remind me a lot of shortbread, but that may be because there's a stick of butter in the recipe. You can definitely taste it. I might also use some graham flour next time, if John would want them again. Maybe a little lemon or orange zest. I'm not sure, but they seem to be missing something. However, they definitely have a crackery crunch to them.

I had a little fun with the shapes and sizes. Do you always want the same size cookie or cracker? I like smaller ones. Just for scale, the graham cracker on the right is about 2.5 inches long and a little less than an inch wide.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Post-Passover Pizza. Nothing better than Vinnie's Sicilian pie to celebrate the end of Passover. This close-up is for Robyn. And yes, it tastes as fantastic as it looks. I ordered a half and half--half eggplant for me and half plain for John. You can see the basil in the sauce right in the front. I really wish I could eat this more often, but we try to keep it to once a month.

Slice 2, top view. This is the dinner plate, not the small plate. The flavor of the olive oil in the crust is nothing less than magical.

The close up of slice 2.

I decided to make a slow-cooker soup with leeks, garlic, shallots, and a bunch of stuff that needed to be used from the fridge. While it ended up smelling and tasting great, the consistency is not good. I'm not sure how to cure it except by maybe turning it into a sauce to serve over pasta or rice.

Trader Joe's had these great split peas, so I added three handfuls of these to the soup as well as some ditalini. The rest of the soup was vegetarian vegetable broth (organic), spinach (organic), carrots (organic), mushrooms (organic), some frozen green beans (not organic, unfortunately) and a variety of spices.

Here's the soup about 1/2 way through the cook cycle. I added 2 more cups of water then put the top back on for another 3 hours.

Well, it smelled really good, but when the pasta dissolved, it became paste. A huge amount of paste. Unfortunate really. Next time, the pasta is cooked separately and only added at the very end (last 10 minutes of cooking).

Garden update: the creeping phlox has started blooming. It seems that I have four varieties in flower at the moment. Most of them appear in the plot next to the garage, however, the image in the center square is from the little circle around the tree. The yellow ground cover that I planted near the roses has come into bloom (alyssum x compacta), but the saxifraga (supposed to be tiny white blooms) didn't winter very well and is struggling. In the lower corner photos, you can see that my columbines are very happy. I have many more red and pink volunteers, and scattered between most things is an outcropping of the cute blue forget-me-nots. Love spring. Nearly all the tulips are gone, the late breaking daffodils are here, and the very tops of the gladiolas have broken ground. Mom's transplanted irises are doing well, and I expect them to have buds in two weeks or less. The roses are much bushier than last year, but the carnations haven't budded yet. It's only the end of April, I know, but I'm determined not to plant anything new this year.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Just in time for Passover

Check out this Mazto Ball Timer at Chosen Couture. They have the best T-shirts, too. My favorite is the Jon Stewart for president shirt.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

For this evening's dessert, I had originally planned to make another of the cakes from Vegan with a Vengeance, but this recipe for coconut cupcakes looked a lot easier and I had most of the ingredients already. The frosting was a bit of a challenge, though since I don't use sugar any more, and I'm using agave nectar. As you will see from the next few photos, it all worked out well in the end. Nice recipe, Isa!

In most of her cake/dessert recipes requiring flour and other dry ingredients, there's usually sifting involved. It was nice to read in the front of VwaV that Isa uses the same sifting technique I do.

The blended cupcake batter prior to adding the unsweetened coconut.

Like the coconut milk, I opted for some lighter versions since we're trying to eat healthier. I can't remember where I found this, and I wish I could because it was shredded so finely, it would be easy to use in breading shrimp.

The frosting recipe using the cashews comes later, but here's the view of the soaked cashews, the coconut milk (substituted for orange juice), and agave nectar. My bad, though. I used roasted unsalted cashews, and I should have used raw. Not that it tasted bad at all. They were Trader Joe's cashews, and those are always good.

Blender nose dive! Like Mom said, it became a kind of cashew butter, after blending until smooth.

This is the recipe I found online for the raw frosting. I decided to try two different types of frosting just in case the original one in VwaV didn't work out. I'm very glad I did.

These are the full-sized cupcakes as they came out of the oven. I filled the minis first and this is how much was left. Isa said to fill the cups 2/3 full, and they didn't sink at all after coming out, so they must have worked out well. They did turn out perfectly golden brown.

Here's the finished minis. I guess they had some air bubbles that popped -- hence the holes. I tried one while it was still warm, and it was airy, but not in the least bit dry. I could sense the coconut texture, but couldn't taste it, even with the cup of coconut milk and unsweetened coconut. I did taste the vanilla, though. I would definitely say they were good, but I'd figure out how to add more coconut flavor.

Mom decorated the ones on the left (she's a lefty, she gets to do that). She had the cashew-based icing. I had the very drippy coconut one that I tried to make more stable by adding a bunch of arrowroot. I have no idea what to do with all the leftover drippy icing. Any suggestions?

This one is for my friend Robyn who loves to look at "innards". The larger, full-sized cupcakes were moister inside, but not in a bad way at all. Which is not to say that we didn't enjoy the minis. I like them too. Mom and Dave really enjoyed the whole dinner, and I sent them home with four cupcakes, two with each flavor of frosting.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

I'm going off-topic today--more garden photos because it's April and my wee garden is in bloom. This is a duck that was probably blown off course during the very windy days in the beginning of this week. He or she is gone now, but it was nice having some wildlife around. I also saw a wild turkey about half a mile west of the house. It was on the lawn of a condo development. Back on topic for a moment -- Mom and Dave are coming for dinner tomorrow to dine on the lovely Polish pottery they gave us for our engagement. John and I will take plenty of photos of the cooking, but just as a tease, the menu will include tilapia (we haven't decided how we'll make it, but I'm leaning toward lightly breading it in seasoned bread crumbs and either trying to pan sear again or bake it), mushroom risotto (from Vegan with a Vengeance) and coconut cupcakes (also from VwaV). It will be my first experience making my own cupcakes with agave nectar. I'm concerned about the icing, but if the icing doesn't work out, I'm sure we could have them without. John's got peanut butter cookies. Will let you know how it works out. But, for now, please enjoy my garden.

I didn't retouch this photo. They're actually this red! You can see the irises popping up just in back of the tulips. There's also another breed of tulip alongside the red ones. I forgot about these. They must be from when Chuck and I put the roses in last year. Not a weed at the top of the photo, by the way, it's a forget-me-not volunteer. I seem to have a bunch of them around now.

This happened last year, too. This primula is a good example of flower genetics. It's one plant, and it normally starts with lemon-yellow flowers that turn mustardy yellow later. Then, after a week or so of this, a stem of orange blossoms makes an appearance. Just gorgeous! Right behind the plant is a row of yellow daylillies that take over when the sun is too hot for the primula. Taking a page from the book of Mom and Dave, I'm aiming to have something blooming every week until the first frost of the fall.

These are the flowers I miss most when the summer comes. It gets too hot for the poor primulae and they go into non-flowering mode until fall.

There's a very similar photo in my last date of postings of the same garden plot around the now-blooming tree. This time, there are many more red tulips up and in a much different shape than last year's crop. The blossom is much longer and traditionally tulipy-shaped. It may come from the drought that happened earlier in the season, but now it's raining everyday, so I'm not sure why they look different. Either way, it's very cheerful.

Here's just a quick look at the plot by the house. If you'd been really keeping track, I chopped all the dusty miller down to the ground about 9 days ago. It's already sprouting right back up due to the rain and 50-60 degree temps. Right in front, on the left and right are the roses Chuck helped me plant last year. They're doing that leggy thing, but I'd also cut them all the way down as well. The red tulips are much prettier than last year, and for the first time since I planted them, all the primulae will be in bloom at the same time. Some of the lighter-colored tulips are finished (already!!!), but more keep popping up, luckily. The irises Mom gave me last fall are coming up, but they might just be on time for a May bloom. The only ground cover that's blooming is all the way over in the lower left corner. Finally, there's a columbine that will probably bloom next week (show-off!). Not bad for early April, if I do say so myself.

While it's still a bit chilly and rainy (as April tends to be), the primulae will happily oblige by blooming. I've tried to capture a few that I planted around the Japanese red maple. In between the vibrant red and deep blue ones is a pink carnation plant my mom bought me when I started this garden 3 years ago. The carnation ran rampant during the summer and the fall, blooming like mad. I've cut it back to almost it's newly planted dimensions to give all those volunteer forget-me-nots a chance. I also seem to have more than my share of columbine volunteers, which suits me just fine.

I love how the tiny buds on the tree in the middle of the tulip bed pop out of the trunk of the tree.

I've always wanted to be able to paint how the dark trees look against a sun setting in the sky. This tree normally has flat, dark plum colored leaves. But, in early April, the buds cover the branches so that it looks almost like pink cotton candy on the tree. Unfortunately, it's a very messy tree when the buds are shaken free in favor of the leaves. Until then, though, I'm really enjoying the view.

What I really should do it take a photo from my office window of the tree. The best part of working out of my home is sitting in the room that gets the most sun in the afternoon. This does have its drawbacks in the summer, however, but reflective shades come in handy. I also can look down at the tulips in the round garden around the tree, I can see the mail carrier and all the UPS/FedEx folks when they're coming, and all the other great advantages of working out of one's home. The biggest one for me is the quiet. On most days, with the window closed, it's pretty peaceful. I really don't miss working in a cubicle with the constant ambient noise and interruptions.

The little plot by the garage is coming along. Some surprise tulips have emerged, the fushia-colored primula is blooming, and of course, the hyacinths are in full bloom. They're not nearly as fragrant as they were last year, though. Maybe I'll plant some herbs in the "bald spots."

Monday, April 03, 2006

Before I launch into the recipe for peanut butter cookies, I just wanted to share how gorgeous the tulips are. I'm just so happy they came back again! The blush stripe up the side of the ivory tulips make such a nice contrast.

I've really been enjoying spring so far. Even though it had been very dry, once I watered (yep, and today it's raining), all kinds of stuff started blooming. Yay!

Here's my latest venture into Vegan with a Vengeance. I did keep it vegan this time, because there wasn't any reason not to. As always, I made some substitutions. I used agave nectar instead of brown sugar and chunky peanut butter. Otherwise, the other ingredients were the same. I would definitely make these again. Lessons learned: use smooth peanut butter, make smaller cookies (I made all kinds of sizes, so it didn't yield 2 dozen cookies), and use more peanut butter and less oil.

This is my new favorite sweetener for substitutions. No more chemical aftertaste for my stuff. Truth in advertising here. It's not as thick as honey, but not as thin as real maple syrup either. The flavor is reminescent of corn syrup, but not anywhere near as cloyingly sweet. The lable says to cut liquids by one third, but I had to add it back for this recipe. Also, you'll need to cut the baking heat by 25 degrees.

My mixer until the Kitchen Aid fairy arrives. Here's the batter prior to adding the flour, salt and baking powder. The peanuts started separating from the batter a bit. Luckily none of them flew out of the bowl.

This is the batter after everything was added. I then picked up small handfuls and rolled them into a variety sizes of cookie balls.

Prior to baking, Isa says to make the familar crosshatching on the cookies by pressing a fork in once, then again at 90 degree angles. What I noticed with the cookies was that when I made round balls, then gently flattened them a bit with the side of my hand, they cracked a little at the edges. They further cracked when I forked them.

Our spanking new timer. It's LOUD! John was napping while I baked cookies yesterday afternoon, so I wrapped the thing up in a cushy towel. To work it, you turn the knob all the way around, then back to your setting. Here the right side is two minutes into the baking of the cookies. John normally uses the timer for things he cooks in the grill pan.

The smallest 2 cookies on the rack didn't stand a chance. As soon as one was cool enough to try, I bit in. Very peanut buttery. A substantial cookie -- even the smallest ones. Definitely a success. Even John, who doesn't normally eat cookies, tried one and said, "Not bad." He thought they could have even more peanut butter. I could cut the oil and use more peanut butter to satisfy that. They were definitely sweet enough and no nasty Splenda aftertaste. Yay! The best part was that they didn't take long to bake at all. If it wasn't for the uneven heat of my rickety old oven (not my choice, but that of the original owners of this house), it probably wouldn't have taken as long even with the lower heat required by the Agave nectar.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Just a quickie update, we finally ate the pizza slices from Pala. While not as good as the pie at Luzzo's, it wasn't bad. Crispy, light crust, subtle flavors and unusual cheeses make these an alternative to your classic street pizza. So, clockwise from the top, we have slices of Montasio (homemade walnut spread, mantasio cheese and fior di latte mozzarella), Bufala Cruda (buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomato sauce, freshe basil and olive oil from Apulia), Mediolanum (gorgonzola cheese, asparagus, fior di latte mozzarella and tomato sauce), and Classica (tomato sauce, fiori di latte mozzarella and basil). First, I tried the Montasio. This is my first exposure to montasio cheese, and I liked it. There was a definitely walnutty flavor to this slice. Next, I had the Mediolanum, which I'd already tried sitting on a stool at Pala (198 Allen Street, by the way). I kept hearing Wallace say "I do enjoy some gorgonzola..." in my head. It was good, but needed a little salt. John concurred that the pizza was lacking in seasoning. He had the Classica, sans basil. He definitely preferred Luzzo's. Finally, after a few days pizza-free, I had the last slice of Bufala Cruda. By that time, it was hardly fair to judge since fresh pizza should be eaten or frozen immediately. Regardless, I heated it up in the toaster oven and had a nice, crunchy slice to try. Again, it needed seasoning, but it was fine. Next time, I'm just going for the rice balls and a big salad. Besides, I should be eating less pizza now that it's warmer out. In other news, a brief matzoh update -- I finally succumbed and bought a box of egg matzoh at Super Stop & Shop. Isn't it weird that the stores don't sell these in 5 lb packages like they do the regular matzoh? I also saw a box of spelt matzoh on sale for $3.00!!! I do intend to try it, but after the egg box is finished. I'm working on a matzoh brei recipe, so when I've got it down to where I like it, I'll share it here. Have a fantastic weekend! P.S. More of the tulips are open, and I'll be posting some photos next week.