What do you think?
Feel free to discuss this issue further in the comments….
Oh no!!!! Say it isn’t so…you didn’t!
…I’m afraid I did. I burned my own birthday cake.
It started out as a stubborn notion that, no, I didn’t want a store bought cake. I wanted the chocolate carrot cake I made for a previous year for my boyfriend’s birthday. The cake in question was baked years ago before this stupid, stupid notion that all of the homemade baked goods in this house have to be made of unrefined sugars, preferably from a local source. I wanted to make the cake exactly the way I made it the first time. It turned out perfectly. It had real sugar. Two cups of it (in the cake before you even start to think about the cream cheese filling and the gorgeous chocolate ganache). It was my boyfriend’s idea to use honey. He takes full blame for the catastrophe that ensued.
A perfect storm of too much honey, black cake pans and too many distractions during the allotted baking time conspired to leave me with two charcoal briquettes. But, where some people would see coal, I saw diamonds. I remembered some treats on Dan Lepard’s site that used cake crumbs. Once I cut away the blackened exterior of the cakes, I struck gold. The interior was soft, rich cake. After the salvage mission, I could still have a birthday treat: rum balls. Mine are a little different than the ones I read about, they are filled with raspberry instead of apricot. Heady with the aroma of rum, they may not be beautiful, but they are just wonderful!!
Before we talk about the method of turning a ruined cake into concentrated delight, I have a couple of happy announcements! I have a job and I completed my first week there. The people are nice and the work is interesting, so life is good! In addition, my good friend Amy at Ohiofarmgirl’s Adventures in the Goodland gave me an award. It’s been a wonderful week indeed!
Chocolate Raspberry Rum Balls
5 cups crumbs from any unfrosted chocolate cake
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
5 tbsp fruit juice sweetened raspberry fruit spread
6 tbsp rum
½ – 1 cup chopped almonds
Mix cake crumbs, cocoa powder, raspberry fruit spread and rum. Form into 2” balls. Roll the tops of the balls in chopped almonds. Proceed to gobble them up!
Did you hear the news this week? The FDA is close to approving genetically modified salmon. When I read about this for the first time earlier this week, I got a little knot in my stomach. I’ve always been opposed to GM foods but somehow, it felt a little easier to me to accept that man is messing with nature on a plant level. Once we begin to play god with higher order creatures…who knows what mayhem will ensue?
You see nature has a way of doing it’s own thing. Did you see Jurassic Park? The park owner hired geneticists who assured him that the cloned dinosaurs could not breed since they were sterile females. They ended up breeding anyway. I know what you are thinking: that was a fictional story. According to the article on GM salmon, the GM fish will be sterile females. The geneticists are doing this on purpose so that the salmon won’t be able to breed. If they get out, wild salmon stocks will be safe from contamination from these GM abominations. But, fish are strange creatures. They can change their sex from female to male if there are not enough males for breeding in a given population. It has also been documented that a shark held in captivity had a virgin birth. Hopefully fish cannot reverse sterilization.
As I was doing research for this post, I came across another scary article. According to this article, Russian scientists carried out an experiment where they fed GM foods to hamsters. The GM food was fed to each succeeding generation of hamster. Eventually, the fourth generation fed exclusively on a GM diet became sterile. Genetically modified foods are included in something like 75% of our processed foods now. This has been happening since the 1990’s. We should be on our second generation and going on our third generation of people who have been eating GM foods. This could get interesting pretty fast.
Now, I understand the urgency to get a salmon to market that will beef up to marketable size in fewer weeks than a conventional salmon would. Could you imagine how much money a McSalmon sandwich would make for McDonald’s? It would be huge for them! When beef cows and chickens were hybridized to grow to market size quickly, it revolutionized fast food. It made it possible to provide those billions of Big Macs and chicken McNuggets that are served every day. I just wish that corporate profits weren’t tied into the possibility that our health could be compromised in ways we never knew existed.
I am one angry little consumer and I am doing what I can. I try to vote with my dollars and I go to the FDA site to voice my disgust when they open things up to discussion. If I have no real say on the outcome of the decisions that the FDA makes on our behalf, then all I can wish for or hope for is that the FDA will finally help protect our interests just a bit and call for labeling of GM products. I just want to continue to at least think that I have a choice in regards to what I eat. Unless I am given the luxury of knowing what is in my food, I guess I will just remain afraid. Very afraid.
Okay. I need to time travel back in history to about 2 ½ weeks ago. I hope I don’t offend anyone with what I am about to tell you. If you have a weak constitution, you may want to visit one of the blogs on my sidebar instead of reading on. I got sick. Make your acquaintance with the porcelain altar for it will become your best friend for days sort of sick. After I was feeling a little better, I felt sure that I needed to eat some food that would help the good guys in the battle raging for my GI tract. I could tell they were losing the battle big time.
I felt better enough to risk leaving the house. I went to our gourmet/health food store to buy some relief. I immediately thought Kefir would be a good thing to have. I could drink it like a shake instead of having to actually eat something like yogurt. I went to grab some Kefir but my favorite, Nancy’s, was nowhere to be found. In it’s place were commercial looking brands with labels that screamed “now with NutraFlora!”. WTF?! I don’t know what this stuff is and I am in no mood to figure it out. From what I can tell, it is some sort of fiber and the last thing I need is kefir that has been fortified with fiber. After the previous few days, the last thing I need to think about is being regular. I completed the shopping trip of desperation with a shopping cart full of yogurt, kombucha tea, amazake and a big bottle of acidophilus. I got better and life went on. For the time being, I completely forgot about NutraFlora.
I don’t eat a ton of packaged foods but there are certain things I don’t make from scratch that I enjoy a lot. Frozen desserts are part of that category. I went to Costco last week and saw that they were selling huge boxes of Julie’s frozen yogurt bars. I passed on them last week because they weren’t blackberry flavor. They were strawberry. Julie’s makes the most delicious blackberry ice cream, frozen yogurt, sorbet and these blackberry ice cream bars covered in dark, dark chocolate. Ohhhhhh. If those bars had been blackberry, I wouldn’t have made it to the check stand without eating them. But… they were strawberry. I left them where they sat. I went back to Costco today and saw the Julie’s frozen yogurt bars. They said “Hi Mimi. We are twelve delicious bars for $8.49. Please take us home”. I said, “Okay, please come home with me”. They were in my hand, on their way to my shopping cart when what did my eyes see? “Now with NutraFlora!” I turned the box over and didn’t see NutraFlora on the ingredients list. Just an item called fructin. Grrr. I put them back in the freezer.
I came home and started looking for information on this new ingredient that seemed to be making it’s way into all of the healthy seeming organic food. It turns out that NutraFlora is a prebiotic, meaning that it is a carbohydrate that is indestructible enough to make it to where your intestinal flora (fauna?) live. It feeds them and makes them healthy. According to the makers of NutriFlora, it is present in fruits and veggies but if you didn’t have “one serving of NutriFlora-enriched yogurt, you would have to eat about 22 bananas, 15 onions, 16 tomatoes, or 383 cloves of garlic“. Maybe this stuff is good for us, but I tend to be skeptical when they remove something from food and then enrich food that doesn’t contain it naturally with said nutrient. I am more of a whole foods gal, and I would rather eat the bananas, onions, tomatoes and garlic. It is my reasoning that if I do, I’ll get so much more nutrition than from my cup of yogurt, glass of kefir or frozen yogurt bar.
So, I made my own frozen yogurt bars and they were good. I could identify all three ingredients in the recipe.
Blueberry frozen yogurt bars
1 1/3 cups nonfat plain yogurt
1 1/3 cups frozen wild blueberries*
2 2/3 tbsp honey
Place all ingredients into a blender. Puree until smooth. Pour smoothie into ¼ cup capacity popsicle molds. Freeze until solid.
* I used frozen wild blueberries which are a small variety of blueberry. This recipe has not been tested using a larger berry. If you use a larger berry, taste the mixture before you freeze it (this is a good idea anyway since my idea of sweet may not be yours). Adjust to add more fruit and/or honey to taste. If making a change to the recipe creates more yogurt mixture than will fit in your molds, just drink it, this is essentially a thin berry smoothie.
Beer bread is now my enemy and needs to be conquered!
Sadly, I have no recipe for you today. I just need to vent about a bread idea that won’t seem to turn from a good idea into a great loaf. I had bookmarked this recipe for beer bread awhile ago. Last week I decided to bake the bread, but I wanted it to be multigrain so I swapped out some of the white flour for whole wheat, semolina, spelt and rye. I used a dark San Miguel beer for the beer component. Sounds wonderful doesn’t it?
Last week’s failure was the first hint that this bread might be my Achilles heel. I failed to allow the bread to rise long enough and I insisted on baking it as one big loaf instead of two smaller ones. I ended up with a compact loaf that had a really good flavor, delicious really…on either end. From about three inches into the loaf on either side, I had a raw spot in the middle of the loaf. I was so sad because the part that was cooked was sweet and had a delicious malted flavor.
The recipe seemed worth saving so I mixed up the dough yesterday and let it rise three and a half hours. It didn’t seem long enough, but I flattened it and then formed it into a loaf and let it rise a second time… all day. Around 8:30PM the dough still didn’t look proofed enough, so I put it in the fridge and gave up for the night. I brought the dough out this morning and let it warm and rise for… another 5 hours! I finally got it into the oven. I didn’t think the temperature was correct the previous week, so I raised it by 25 degrees. Big mistake. Forty minutes into baking it, I had an over browned crust and according to my thermometer a long way to go before the middle was cooked. I covered the crust with foil and gave the bread another 40 minutes in the oven. Impaling the bread with a thermometer every ten minutes or so (war is not pretty, I tell ya!), I was able to get the interior baked all the way, but now I have an ugly bread that has a tough crust and tastes…like…beer. The long proofing time just succeeded in making the yeast eat up all of the honey I used as sweetener. Ugh. I guess I’ll be making beery flavored sandwiches this week. Or maybe beer flavored croutons?
So much for my bread baking adventures. Tune in next week for something tastier than beer bread.
Here is a brief tour of the carnage:
The crust is dark and tough!
India rejected the nation’s first genetically modified food after their farmers protested. Good for them! Genetically modified food has not been tested on humans. Well…unless… you count the fact that in the U.S., we’ve been tested on for years without our knowledge. “Huh?” you say? According to this Wikipedia article, GM foods have been available to the processed food industry since the 1990s and 75% of all processed food contains at least one GM ingredient. Yep. I never signed on to be a lab rat and neither did you, but sometimes our rights as citizens are benignly neglected for a few dollars in the right pockets.
Now, let’s ignore the fact that we are lab rats for a minute and think about the other implications of genetic engineering. Companies are allowed to patent their GM seeds. Already, there are legal battles going on between corporations and farmers over the simple act of saving seeds for the next years crops. Farmers don’t own the patented seeds, Corporations do. Farmers are required to buy the seeds each time they want to grow a crop, they cannot save seed for this purpose as Farmers have for millennia. If Farmer’s can’t save patented seed, neither can we. Our basic right as humans to feed ourselves in a self-sufficient manner is being removed.
A friend of mine let me know about this documentary on Hulu.com (Thanks R.!). It is called The Future of Food and it runs about an hour and a half with short commercial breaks. If you have time, I encourage you to watch it.Vodpod videos no longer available.
I have been following this issue for years. For me, I try to avoid most processed foods unless they are made of mostly organic ingredients. I eat organics as much as I can and buy locally from farmers who use organic or sustainable practices and grow heirloom varieties of food. I have even gone so far as to seek out organic canola oil that has been tested for GMOs since canola has had problems with contamination in the past. It’s difficult and I don’t do a great job (I have a bit of a restaurant addiction) but I think it’s important to limit my exposure to GMOs as much as I can.
So much for the wonders of stem cell research. On the fringes of a science that promises us the cure for disease comes the secondary promise of true mystery meat. Yes, it’s true, we can look no further than the lab for the next pull on our wallets. Researchers see a world in which Soylent green is not people, it is pork with the texture of scallops grown in petri dishes and sold for pennies on the dollar.
We live in an interesting time. At the same instant that some people are yearning for real meat grown the old fashioned way on grass, seafood that is harvested from the wild and vegetables that are grown on small farms with no chemicals, we have cowboys running around leading the charge towards a world of purely processed manmade food. It seems to me that once you can grow meat from cells, there is no end to how it can be manipulated for taste, texture and scent.
This quote amazed me: “Fish stem cells could be used to produce healthy omega 3 fatty acids, which could be mixed with the lab-produced pork instead of the usual artery-clogging fats found in livestock meat.” Fish get their omega 3 fatty acids not from being fish, but from eating a diet based on plant matter (or in the case of carnivorous fish, eating other fish that dine on plant matter). Pasture raised terrestrial animals contain omega 3 fatty acids from eating grasses and plants. The whole reason that people eating a western diet are deficient in essential fatty acids such as omega 3s is because we don’t eat a diet based on leaves. We eat too many processed foods based on seeds and too much protein fatted up on seeds.
When lab produced meat becomes available, my only hope is that labeling laws become much better. At this point consumers are left on their own to figure out what is in their food, from genetically modified organisms to trans fatty acids. Hopefully, we will get the chance to choose between natural and unnatural “meat”.
For those of you who have blogs, you’ll understand that nagging feeling that I have when I want to post to my blog but I can’t.
You see, I’ve been going through a run of seriously bad cooking luck. It’s like I have a curse on me. It all started with a really tasty lamb stew. I can’t write about it because the Weight Watchers cookbook that I was cooking from, had a serious problem with the instructions for the stew. The author instructs you to bake it in the oven. After forty minutes you still have hard lamb which is when she instructs you to add potatoes and green beans to cook for the last twenty minutes. After twenty minutes you end up with warm but raw potatoes and green beans. I had to take the whole mess out of the oven and simmer it on the stove top for I don’t know how long until every thing got tender. So… I had no idea how I made the delicious stew and I’ll have to try it again to give you instructions. No picture to share with you. I got lucky on this one and the curse of doom did not prevent us from enjoying this meal for days.
My next attempt at something blogable was this yummy looking orzo dish:
It looks pretty good in the picture. Sort of. By the way, the recipe said it was a side dish. I tried to pass it off as a main course. It was just ok served warm, but it needed something badly. I tried to squeeze some fresh lemon juice on it to give it some kick. What it really needed was something in addition to the artichoke hearts. I didn’t have much of anything in the house at the time except the exact ingredients for the recipe so it pretty much got made the way it was supposed to. My boyfriend enjoyed this dish so I’ll make it again, but next time I’ll add more veggies (roasted red peppers and/or steamed broccoli) and we’ll definitely have it as a cold pasta salad instead of a warm pasta dish. Leftovers were o.k. cold from the fridge. If you want to try it yourself, here is the link to the recipe on epicurious.com.
Look at this bread!
It looks pretty huh?
This was my failed attempt at baking for this week’s YeastSpotting event. It’s been three weeks since I contributed and I am feeling horrible about it! What’s wrong you ask? The bread looks great you say! Well, look closer. I didn’t let the bread rise long enough, or my sourdough was wimpy or I didn’t let the bread rise long enough. The bread was hard and tough! It breaks into little braid bits when I slice it. Just a few minutes ago, my boyfriend was just running around chomping on braid bits chanting, “write in your blog that I love the bread, it’s delicious, I love it, write that!!” Ugh. I’ll be trying the bread recipe again and hopefully it will work out next time, it had a good flavor and it looks pretty. I think it is salvageable.
Well. There you have it. Hopefully my bad food curse will be lifted soon and I can share something delicious with you soon. And… whoever is shooting me the evil eye… stop it!!!
Judging from some of the interesting comments I get on this blog, most people would be happy if I stuck to cooking and stopped talking about food issues, but I read the news way too much and then I just can’t help myself!
Today it was announced that the FDA has approved cloned animals to enter our food supply. Aside from the visceral reaction I get whenever I read about some new frankensteinian change to our food supply, I really do have valid concerns this time. A healthy food chain is a diverse food chain. A population of animals or plants can survive a catastrophic disease or a change in environment much easier if there is genetic diversity. If we begin to clone the “best” animals to be the parents of our food animals, we may eventually have millions of cows who have a desirable trait such as highly marbled meat but who lack the genes to fend off certain diseases. So really, my concern is food security. We have already lost many heritage breeds of animals and heirloom plants, old varieties that we can breed back to if we need certain traits. The animals and plants we raise for food are already very identical to each other. Adding cloning into the mix will make them even more similar.
One extreme event in our history we can refer back to in order to understand my concern over cloning is the Irish potato famine. One variety of potato out of the possible thousands of varieties found in Peru was brought back to and grown in Ireland. This variety of potato was successful both as a crop and as a desirable new food. The potato became a staple food that people depended on as a major source of their calories. Potato blight wiped out the monoculture crop of potatoes that Ireland depended on. Over a million people perished.
Now it would be silly to say we would all starve to death if all of the cows or sheep or pigs died, but we are a very meat centric society here in the U.S. and our economy would take quite a hit if our meat industry were somehow decimated. McDonalds doesn’t claim to have served a hundred billion burgers for nothing!
Anyway…just a little food for thought.
Look at that picture. Isn’t that quiche just gorgeous? Don’tcha just wanna cut a huge slice of that and chow down? Unfortunately, it is all smoke and mirrors. I could tell you that everything in my kitchen comes out perfect and that we eat picture perfect food every day. I have to say, if I religiously follow a recipe, we probably will eat reasonably decent food. There are the times that I am tired or spacing out while cooking and things get burned or some important ingredient gets left out (case in point, the blackberry muffins I made earlier in the summer that accidentally ended up sugar free. They looked great and were still quite edible, but something was definitely wrong, very wrong).
Anyway, today started out like any day off. I slept in late and sat around reading things on the Internet in my pajamas when I remembered that I really wanted to make quiche before the feta cheese and the milk in my fridge got too scary to use. Quiche for lunch, yum! Grandiose ideas started to swirl in my head and that is when the problems began. Visions of pesto and tomatoes and roasted red peppers were swimming in my head. Was it brilliance or was it just the fact that I have been hitting the gym way to regularly and I hadn’t eaten a thing all morning and I was starting to get loopy? I headed to the kitchen with a formula not a recipe.
I have been making quiche since the mid 80’s. “The Enchanted Broccoli Forest” by Mollie Katzen has been my guide for over twenty years. Mollie created a quiche formula so that you could use any of half a dozen crust recipes she created. You pick a cheese. You pick a combination of veggies and herbs for the filling or make up your own. You decide if you want to use an 8” or 9” pie pan and use the prescribed amount of eggs and milk for the custard. It’s easy stuff that has rarely failed me before.
One of my masterpieces in the past has been a tomato/zucchini quiche with cheddar cheese. Another masterpiece was a Greek quiche made with feta, spinach, and roasted red peppers. Both of these pies come off without a hitch. I had wonderful produce from Saturday’s Farmer’s market. Heirloom tomatoes, a big gorgeous red pepper and a huge mass of basil with the roots still attached, sitting in water for ultimate freshness. I would create my ultimate quiche! A pesto, feta, tomato, roasted red pepper quiche!
I started this ordeal by roasting my red pepper. No problem. Fifteen minutes rotating the pepper under the broiler in a cast iron pan and I had a perfectly blistered pepper, which I popped into a bowl. I popped another bowl over it clamshell style so the pepper could steam. So far, so good…
Next I made the crust. The “Moosewood book of desserts” has a great recipe for all butter pie dough. I adapt the recipe to stone ground whole wheat. Today, as I inserted the flour and the pats of cold butter into my food processor, I started to add tablespoons of ice water, one, two, and three. The dough did not want to stick together. The problem is you don’t want to process too much because the dough needs to keep bits of butter in it and you don’t want to form gluten. I add water, four. Pulse. Pulse. Five. Pulse. Pulse. I take the barely sticking together dough out of the processor and…ugh. Too wet. I roll it out anyway but it is sticking to everything. That’s ok. I have made this mistake before and it actually makes a light, flaky dough if you are careful. The only problem is that it is a bitch to work with. I scrape the dough off of my floured wooden board and then plop it into the pie pan. It is ragged and torn. I patch up holes. I patch things up so that there are edges where none existed before. I somehow end up with a nice looking crust. I store it in the fridge.
Next. I make pesto. Yes. I make pesto. “The Enchanted Broccoli Forest” also contains an amazing recipe for Pesto. The basil with the roots on it looks like it is two different plants tied together with a twist tie. I think it is a purple Thai variety and sweet basil. I untie the twist tie and the most astonishing thing happens. The thing looks like it is all one plant. It is definitely coming off of the same rootstock. How did they do that?? I grind the bi-colored basil together with a most amazing Parmigiano-Reggiano, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts and salt and come up with the best pesto I have made to date. I still have several stems of basil left even after using it in sandwiches a couple of days ago. The $2.50 a bunch I was scoffing at on Saturday turned out to be a bargain. Things have turned around. This quiche will be amazing!
I grab my crust and spoon a thin layer of pesto into the crust. I grab my feta. I think this is where things started to go terribly wrong…
I buy feta from Costco. They have Valbreso feta, which is a high quality French feta. Like all Costco food, they sell it in mass quantities. I used to wrap the overflow in wax paper and store it in the fridge. The feta would dry out (which was good for some recipes) but it would also go bad in less than a week. Recently, I learned how to make brine for Feta. Now my feta lasts s couple of weeks in brine. The problem is that my feta is quite moist. I dumped a bunch of moist feta on top of my oily wet pesto.
When I have used tomatoes in quiche before, I would sauté them several minutes in pan with herbs. This tends to make them release their liquid. Today, I just sliced the tomatoes and gave them a quick squeeze over the sink, which I thought squeezed out a lot of seeds and liquid. I added more dollops of pesto and a little Parmesan on the tomatoes. I then peeled my pepper, tearing it into moist strips that I topped my moist tomatoes with. I think everything looks wonderful so I mix up my eggs and milk. Dust the top of my creation with Hungarian paprika and pop it into a 375-degree F. oven.
The quiche is to cook for 35 to 40 minutes. I go to get it at 35 minutes. Things are still wet. Okay. No big deal. This has happened before; it just needs a few more minutes. I go back to check at 40 minutes. The quiche still has the jiggles. I give it 5 more minutes. Looks great. I take it out and let it cool a few minutes before we cut into it. My boyfriend cuts into it and this perfect looking quiche that feels solid on the surface conceals a subterranean lake. Oh no! Lunch will be delayed. I pop it back into the oven for 10 more minutes before I decide it’s had enough! I’ve had enough! My boyfriend has had enough! We pull the quiche out of the oven and cut pieces from it. They fall apart in a pool of soft runny custard. The quiche tastes good; it just has a terrible, terrible consistency. So dear reader: no recipe for you. Not yet anyway. The quiche was perfect from the crust to the pesto. It was jut the cheese layer on up that sucked. I am sure it was a moisture thing so I will trade out the cheese, precook the tomato and maybe drain the roasted pepper after I shred it. I will not be defeated! The fantasy quiche will become a reality!!