Monday, March 31, 2008
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Just thought I'd get that out of the way. I have whiled away entire afternoons reading her cookbooks, enjoying a mild envy of the way she arranges her life, which seems spacious and comfortable and full of pleasure, without Martha's control-freak neuroticism. Her food is always gorgeously photographed, fresh-looking and luscious.
This cake came about because I had some yogurt left after making raita a while back, and I was already feeling guilty about throwing things away as I cleaned out the fridge. Then I remembered this recipe. The description has always made me smile, as she earnestly describes is as "good for you." It is marvelously easy to make, since you don't even need to break out the mixer, and the result is moist yet sturdy.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
3 extra-large eggs
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
For the glaze:
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease and flour the pan. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into 1 bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, lemon zest, and vanilla. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. With a rubber spatula, fold the vegetable oil into the batter, making sure it's all incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes, or until a cake tester placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.
Meanwhile, cook the 1/3 cup lemon juice and remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set aside. When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Carefully place on a baking rack over a sheet pan. While the cake is still warm, pour the lemon-sugar mixture over the cake and allow it to soak in. Cool.
For the glaze, combine the confectioners' sugar and lemon juice and pour over the cake.
Once upon a time, the vast majority of my life was lived on a straight line between Lechmere T station and Porter Square, a distance of about four miles. Stopping at the grocery store after work to pick up a few things was a perfectly sensible thing to do, particularly since we didn't have a car and shopping trips were limited to what I could carry home. Then I got a job farther away, and we did have a car, and then we had a baby, and then we moved, and time in the evenings became a precious thing. I started doing a week's worth of planning at a time, and doing pretty much all of the grocery shopping at once.
It has become one of my favorite things to do, as long as I am not too tired or rushed, and it's something like doing a jigsaw puzzle. What's on sale or in season this week, what do I have in the fridge to use up, what's in the freezer that could be slotted in, what new recipes have caught my eye, what standbys have gone unused for a while, how much time am I going to have to cook?
This Saturday I got up, set JJ on the Gymini and settled down next to him with my notebook, cooking magazines, and so forth, and in an hour I had a week's worth of food sorted out and a shopping list written. I wanted to roast a chicken, since it had been a while. My normal recipe involves olive oil, garlic, and spices, and is wonderful, but I thought it might be nice to try something different, so I leafed through a folder of untried recipes until I came up with this one. For sides, I kept it simple with a box of long grain and wild rice mix and some steamed cauliflower.
This recipe was extremely good, and I'd make it again, but the honey didn't come through particularly (perhaps mine is too mild?), and I think the amount of cumin could be usefully increased (it's one of my favorite spices).
1 (3-pound) roasting chicken
1/4 cup honey
1 1/2 tablespoons grated orange rind
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
Preheat oven to 400°.
Remove and discard giblets from the chicken. Rinse chicken with cold water; pat dry. Trim excess fat. Starting at neck cavity, loosen skin from breast and drumsticks by inserting fingers, gently pushing between skin and meat.
Combine honey and remaining ingredients. Rub honey mixture under loosened skin and over breast and drumsticks. Lift wing tips up and over back; tuck under chicken.
Place chicken, breast side up, on a foil-lined broiler pan. Pierce skin several times with a meat fork. Insert meat thermometer into meaty part of thigh, making sure not to touch bone. Bake at 400° for 30 minutes; cover loosely with foil. Bake an additional 40 minutes or until the thermometer registers 180°. Let stand for 10 minutes. Discard skin.Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 3 ounces)
CALORIES 273 (27% from fat); FAT 8.2g (sat 2.2g,mono 3g,poly 1.9g); PROTEIN 31.2g; CHOLESTEROL 95mg; CALCIUM 37mg; SODIUM 241mg; FIBER 0.2g; IRON 2.4mg; CARBOHYDRATE 19g
Cooking Light, JANUARY 2000
4 medium sweet potatoes
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup reduced -fat sour cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Prick sweet potatoes with a fork in several places. Microwave on high until tender all the way to the center, 12 to 15 minutes. (Alternatively, place in a baking dish and bake at 425 degrees until tender all the way to the center, about 1 hour.)
Meanwhile, in a medium microwavable bowl, combine beans, tomatoes, oil, cumin, coriander, and salt; microwave at high until just heated through, 2 to 3 minutes. (Alternatively, heat in a small saucepan over medium heat.)
When just cool enough to handle, slash each sweet potato lengthwise, press open to make a well in the center and spoon the bean mixture into the well. Top each with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of cilantro.
295 cal, 6g fat, 6mg chol, 52g carb, 8g pro, 9g fiber, 572mg sod.
Friday, March 28, 2008
Thursday, March 27, 2008
By the time I reach the highway, the car has warmed up. There's not a lot of other traffic out where we live, but once I pass 495 it thickens up considerably, a steady river of lights headed for Boston, a trickle on the outbound side. Think of all the gas we're using.
It's much brighter out when I get to the city, but the sun isn't actually up yet. The Charles is placid, the surface broken by geese, crew teams, and a few solitary rowers. On the bank are joggers and bicyclists in high-tech, light-weight clothing (and one brave guy in shorts). I make my way to the parking lot among construction workers and the early shift at nearby hospitals, and notice that the car has passed 166k miles. We love Honda.
In good weather, the walk to the office is one of the best parts of my day. Today is chilly, and I'm glad I wore gloves, but not so much that I feel compelled to hurry past the familiar facades of First St. The trees are starting to look impatient; perhaps next week we'll see some green.
I'm the second person at the office today. There's a relatively small bunch of morning people in engineering, and the place will be quiet until 9 or so. I have to restart my laptop ten times before it takes. It's been a little flaky lately. Once it finally gets going, I start a backup, check my mail, and visit the Verizon web site to get my new phone set up. Their service agreement is actually comprehensible (and yes, I did read it); I approve.
My morning has no meetings and I'm ahead on the week's main task, so today is a chance to do fun things like reinstall a product I need to check the UI on, and do some long-term planning. The afternoon is nearly all meetings, and then a presentation on Scrum until 5:30 or so. I make it home around quarter after 7. Dinner, feeding the baby, a few Youtube videos, and a bedtime story take up the rest of the evening.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Once again, the recipe wants you to use boil-in-bag rice. And jarred garlic. And jarred ginger. The magazine has a large audience of novices, I know (I was one of them, quite a long time ago now), but are people that put off by a whole head of garlic, a finger of ginger? This is the sort of thing that makes readers wonder about the advertisers' influence.
Monday, March 24, 2008
Unfortunately, I'm the only one of the family who likes it, so I guess I won't be making this one very often.
She spent most of Saturday making coy approaches to the bag of gifts Grandma and Grandpa brought, until we finally relented and allowed them to be opened. The best part of her Easter basket from us was the bottle of bubble mix!
Sunday, March 23, 2008
In a thoughtless moment I bought my usual brown eggs instead of white ones, so the dyes are a bit muted, but Lydia seemed to like it, quickly insisting on being allowed to dip them by herself.
The menu requested: Mini Beef Wellingtons with Gorgonzola; Yorkshire Pudding; Spinach Salad with Maple-Dijon Vinaigrette. For dessert, an exquisite cake they brought from European Bakery in ME, white layers with raspberry filling.
I had never had, let alone made, Beef Wellington before, but this recipe is relatively straightforward, and since most of it is done ahead there's no last-minute panic potential. The interior is certainly tasty, but I don't quite see the point of the pastry casing. The spinach salad is going to become a regular here; we've already had it twice. How was it they translated Coke into Chinese? "Happiness in the mouth," I think. This salad makes the mouth (and the rest of the body) a lot happier than Coke does.
On Sunday, my attempts to come up with a traditional menu had repeatedly foundered, so I went in quite a different direction: artichokes; Seared Scallops with Citrus Ginger Sauce, and a basic rice pilaf. I was very pleased with myself for actually achieving a brown crust on the scallops; it is, indeed, essential to make sure they're dry before putting them in the oil.
Friday, March 21, 2008
Still, it's an encouragingly sunny morning after days of rain. Every day the buds get a bit bigger on the trees, giving a reddish cast to the hills that promises green will be along in another couple of weeks. I keep looking ahead to the opening of the farmer's markets I hope to visit this summer:
- Barre - May 12
- Kendall Square - June 1
- Coventry, CT - June 1
- Worcester Westside - June 12
Thursday, March 20, 2008
One of the hardest parts of writing comes in taking criticism. What we write is extremely personal, whether it's a letter, a novel, or an installation guide; it comes directly from our minds into its final form, without mediation. So it is difficult, when the criticism comes in, not to feel ourselves attacked, to get defensive, to offer up excuses for why information is missing, or hard to find, or just plain wrong.
Difficult, but vital. It's one of the more annoying universal truths that the easy way is almost always wrong. No piece of writing is perfect in its first draft, and sometimes we're too close to see the problems. Taking feedback and making the necessary judgments--is this really a problem? will the suggested change help? or is this person off their rocker? is part of the craft.* Ignoring feedback cuts us off from one of the main ways we can improve our writing, and encourages writing from habit rather than thought. If I can't answer the question, "Why did you do that/do it that way?" I am not writing well.
The upshot of yesterday's exercise is that I didn't do the best job I could have done with the documentation. Having given myself a few minutes to sulk about how it's not my fault, it is now time to fix it. In a few weeks I'm going to sit down with this team again, and we'll do the whole test again, and see if it's better.
*I am in the "tech writing is craft, not art" camp, in case anyone cares. Perhaps I'll post more on that subject at some point.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Only one substitution was required this time. My supermarket had no napa cabbage, so I picked up a package of "broccoli slaw" to give it some crunch. I think this was actually better than the cabbage would have been. Next time I might want to use a sturdier type of lettuce, but that was the only issue.
I've been doing a lot of cooking from Cooking Light lately. One reason I turn to it often is because they have a lot of good, fast, "one-dish" recipes. On a night when I have to drive home from Cambridge, I can barely handle making rice, and don't want to fuss around with a lot of side dishes. Still, I should make an effort in next week's planning to hit a cookbook or two.
Monday, March 17, 2008
Never have I tried a homemade bread as light and delicious as the honey-oat loaf at The Green Mountain Inn in Stowe, Vermont," writes Rebecca Rothaug of Westbury, New York. "With your help, I would like to share this bread with my family and friends."
Serve slices of this tender, slightly sweet bread with plenty of butter and honey.
1 3/4 cups warm water (105°F to 110°F)
1 tablespoon dry yeast
3/4 cup quick-cooking oats
1/3 cup honey
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
5 cups (about) all purpose flour
1 large egg, beaten to blend
Additional quick-cooking oats
Stir 1/4 cup warm water and yeast in large bowl. Let stand 10 minutes to dissolve yeast. Stir in remaining 1 1/2 cups water, 3/4 cup oats, honey, oil, and salt. Stir in enough flour to form soft dough. Coat another large bowl with oil. Transfer dough to oiled bowl and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap, then kitchen towel and let rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
Oil two 8 1/2x4 1/2x2 1/2-inch loaf pans. Punch down dough; shape into 2 loaves. Place 1 loaf in each pan. Cover and let rise in warm draft-free area until almost doubled in volume, about 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush tops of loaves with egg; sprinkle with additional oats. Bake until brown on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool completely. (Can be prepared up to 1 day ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.)
Makes 2 small loaves.
It is a very rare thing for me to taste something I've made and say, "Wow, that's good!" This recipe elicited that reaction. Most Cooking Light recipes tone the spices down too far for my taste, but this one is blissfully hot as written. I cheated on the raita and didn't drain the yogurt; I think it would have been better if I had. Next time I make this I want to try to thicken up the sauce a bit.
My plan to make naan was unfortunately derailed. Leaky diapers and J's decision to compete for the Middleweight Spitup Champion title necessitated that he receive a bath, pronto. Maybe next time....
Sunday, March 16, 2008
The cover story on the troubles of a local condominium development is a bit depressing, but not really unexpected. The perennial efforts to "revitalize" downtown Worcester never seem to gain the necessary momentum to become self-sustaining. If we have a recession, that's not going to help.
Friday, March 14, 2008
Thursday, March 13, 2008
I get the impression that developers don't like writing unit tests. I imagine that they're not fun, that they feel like you're getting nothing done, making no progress toward those exciting deliverables, but one of the principles of agile development is that you have to do unit tests. It is the only way to make sure that you are delivering solid code at the end of these short development cycles. It's the sort of thing that gets done as you go, or it does not get done at all, because no one wants to take the time required to catch up when that time could be used to code another new feature--whether or not it works.
Here's a quick overview of agile concepts.
Needless to say, for the two of us I make a half recipe, and we generally have some left over. I am not particular about the onions except to use a mix of colors. Maybe it wouldn't make any difference, but I haven't done it with just one kind yet. I use Pacific organic beef broth, and way more olive oil than the recipe calls for (I have never figured out what they do in their test kitchen that lets them caramelize anything in that little oil). And I use dried thyme, given what they charge for fresh if you can find it at all this time of year.
It won't be too much longer before warm weather makes this dish less appealing. It's hard to live in the moment at the end of winter, to enjoy these things while we can.
There are no such convenient bagel spots in Kendall Square, alas; Dunkin Donuts' efforts are pathetic, and Au Bon Pain can't quite seem to get the hang of cream cheese. Now, however, they are putting a Finagle a Bagel into the corner of the new condo complex at 1 First St., which is not in Kendall Square, but is on my route to the office. I've not had their bagels before, but am looking forward to comparing.
Even if the new bagels aren't much good, Dunkin Donuts is about to lose a customer; they've started putting an inch of foam on top of their chai drinks. When I am already paying two dollars for a drink that cost twenty cents to make, I at least want the cup to be full, people.
In other local eatery news, there's a new lunch spot going in on Main St., the "Cafe on Main." It's not open yet, and all that can be seen of the interior is a sign proclaiming that they will be serving Starbucks coffee. More news as this story develops....
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
The tofu needs to marinate, so this is not a good last-minute choice, but we liked it. The peanut sauce was fabulous on rice. I'm always looking for new ways to like tofu. I made half of this as a main dish for two, and cooked it under the broiler since a) we don't have a grill and b) even if we did, it's not good weather.
2 12-ounce blocks extra-firm tofu, each cut crosswise into four slices, then horizontally in half
16 8-inch wooden skewers
1/4 c vegetable broth
1/4 unsweetened light coconut milk
1 1/2 tsp mild curry paste
1 tsp minced peeled fresh ginger
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 c hot water
1/2 c chunky peanut butter
1/4 c unsweetened light coconut milk
2 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp tamari soy sauce
1 Tbsp tamarind concentrate
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
- Thread one tofu piece lengthwise on each skewer. Place tofu on paper towels to drain, 1 hour.
- Whisk all marinade ingredients in a small bowl to blend. Arrange tofu in 13x9 glass dish. Pour marinade over, lifting skewers to allow marinade to flow beneath. Let stand 2 hours at room temperature or refrigerate up to one day.
- Blend the satay sauce ingredients until smooth. (Says blender, I just whisk.) Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Spray grill rack with nonstick spray. Prepare barbecue to medium-high heat. Grill skewers until heated through, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to plate, serve with satay sauce.
Makes 8 appetizer servings
Five minutes after this picture was taken, he spit up copiously and had to be changed. He slept through the night last night, but was up early this morning.
Big sister is getting bigger, too!
She's had a good week food-wise. Not only are hot dogs back on her "will eat" list, but she's tasted rice, cucumber, peanut sauce, and a lemon. I doubt she's going to eat any of these as a regular thing any time soon, and her favorite food remains Chicken & Stars soup, but I have some hope that her extreme resistance to trying anything new might be lessening.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
I've bought them before, but I always assumed (cynically) that the packaging was a front for the usual factory farm shenanigans. If that's the case, all I can say is that they're really going all the way with the Web site, hitting all the right buttons for liberal foodie-wanna-bes like yours truly.
They are expensive eggs, mind, and I probably won't buy a dozen to decorate for Easter, but maybe I can use them for April's supper club. (Still trying to think up an idea here. Make my own egg noodles? That would certainly stretch the old culinary muscles.)
I eventually found the site I was looking for: Cook's Valley Farm. Looks like no local asparagus until May at the soonest. I have tried not to buy it at the supermarket all winter, but now that it's March I find that I can't resist, even if it is from Mexico.
I really want to like agile methodologies, but I remain skeptical about the ability of most people to use them effectively. There's a mindset and a degree of self-discipline involved that I suspect will be hard to come by.
Monday, March 10, 2008
- Make three new recipes every week, one of them baked.
- Keep track of what I've made (hey, a blog...).
- Eat vegetarian three times a week
- One fish and/or soup recipe per week (originally one of each, but there's only so many days in a week!).
- Take a cake decorating class.
Since I don't know how people will feel about having their names here, I'll stick to initials.
- D. - Green salad with dried cranberries and sunflower seeds
- H. - Spinach ravioli
- K. - Broccoli-cheese casserole
- P. - Risotto with peas and green peppers
- R. (me) - Chocolate-Mint Bars, White Sangria, and Mummy's Brown Soda Bread
April's theme will be "eggs." We tried something new this time, with each member randomly pulling a course to do (instead of figuring it out as we go along). I drew "main," which may be a challenge, since we're not meeting at my place, and none of the egg dishes I can think of so far travel well. But, that was the whole idea of the drawing; I know I tend to get into a bit of a mental rut and default to baking something, so this should be fun.
Sunday, March 9, 2008
Our last visit didn't go well. They were having a big event, and our daughter was alarmed, cried, and wouldn't eat lunch, all of which upset my then-pregnant self way more than was warranted. Yesterday's was better. We went up there for the annual pancake breakfast, held in observation of sugaring season (which I hear is going well this year). Our attempt to attend last year was snowed out, and this year the morning was foggy and wet, with the prospect of seriously heavy rain across the region later in the day. We slogged in, found seats, and enjoyed breakfast--they make their own sausage, and have "fair trade" organic coffee and tea on hand. While I tried to nurse the baby discreetly, I got an enthusiastic "good for you!" from a woman sitting farther down our table, and we had a brief and sympathetic chat. We wandered around the grounds a bit and visited the warm barn, where the new goats and chickens are kept out of the weather.
Everyone was in a good mood, and the rain held off until we got into the car. Can't ask for more than that. It was too foggy for pictures yesterday--the view does justify the farm's name--but here's one from last year.
I would make a terrible livestock farmer. Baby goats and lambs--cutest things ever.
Saturday, March 8, 2008
In a by-the-book scrum team all members are fully committed to one project. We don't have nearly enough writers for that where I work, but if we did, what on earth would I have spent the past week doing? I will try to remember to raise that at the sprint review. I may also have to ask if our definition of "done" somehow does not include "features are included in the nightly build."
Friday, March 7, 2008
Not such a good day on the home front, apparently, but food heals many ills. Cooking Light's "Superfast" column has been a steady source of recipes for many years now, and I think this one will go into the "tried and true weeknight" binder. It's a solid, basic recipe for nights when I have little time to cook and less to think about it. Aside from the fish, the ingredients are usually on hand, and the flavor is bright with lemon and rich with butter. Extra sauce went happily to the plain rice with which it was served.
I don't do sauteed spinach, though; I steamed some carrots. And even if I was going to make spinach, I wouldn't do it the way they tell you to (just use another pan for Pete's sake). And my store didn't have flounder, so I used some slim haddock fillet. I have omitted the suggestion of boil-in-bag rice from the recipe because I think that stuff is silly. Rice only takes 20 minutes to make. That's less time than the pizza guy will take to get there.
Flounder Piccata with Spinach
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
4 6-ounce flounder fillets
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 tsp olive oil
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp capers, drained, chopped
2 Tbsp butter
4 c fresh baby spinach
- Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper, dredge in flour.
- Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add fish to pan, cook 1 1/2 minutes per side or until fish flakes easily.
- Add wine, lemon juice, and capers to pan; cook 1 minutes. Add butter to pan, stirring until melted. Remove fish and sauce from pan; keep warm.
- Wipe pan clean with a paper towel. Add spinach to pan and saute 1 minute or until wilted.
Thursday, March 6, 2008
Two hours later I returned, refreshed, to a calm household, a happy child, a baby snoozing in his swing, and dinner ready to eat. Small miracles are best.
My decision that I needed to get back into yoga (for both physical and mental health reasons) after having the baby had one immediate and unanticipated effect... on my cooking. If I'm going to class, I need to make something ahead of time that can be ready when I get back, or I risk throwing off the entire evening routine--and when you have small children, you mess with that routine at your peril. I am tentatively rediscovering the casserole, which I can prepare before I go, needing only to be put in the oven some time before I'm due home.
I have never thought of myself as a casserole sort of person. My reflex thought is that they're bland, heavy things that involve canned Cream of X Soup, and (let's be honest) totally lacking imagination. Like a lot of reflex thoughts, this one could stand some adjustment. Butternut Squash and Parsnip Baked Pasta is a good, solid dish for the end of winter, the nutmeg a surprise but not at all out of place. It is also an excellent way to use up the second half of that package of parsnips and the bulb end of that squash you bought to make something else.
As I get older I am less slavish about recipes, and I would readily use other root vegetables in this (make sure at least one of them has some color, though, just for the look), or throw in some beans or cooked chicken if you think it needs more oomph. With no additions, this served the two of us heartily after a stressful day, with some leftovers.
Listening to: Hildegard von Bingen
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Excellent and Consistent Content Development through Agile and Scrum
Wikipedia on Scrum
* I suspect that a lot of the terminology in agile stuff was thought up late at night.
11:00 Scrum! (More on this to come, no doubt.) I get to say that my progress is blocked because the build is broken.
11:05 One-on-one with my boss.
12: Weekly project meeting.
1:00 Meet with a developer to review his feedback on a book.
2:00 Grab some yogurt during impromptu meeting with another writer to discuss some projects we're both on.
3:00 Spend an hour watching IT guys being baffled by the font problem on my laptop (Type 1 fonts no longer work, we don't know why).
4-5:30 Drive home. Stop at grocery store to pick up things for dinner.
Rest of day: Stagger through door, unload groceries, breast pump, and laptop, hug daughter, start dinner, nurse baby, eat, watch Bernard Bear videos on Youtube with daughter, play with baby, get daughter ready for bed, nurse baby, go to sleep.
Today I'm working from home. Thank goodness.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Black-Bean Quesadillas with Goat Cheese
Monday, March 3, 2008
What am I thinking starting this? I have no idea. It may go nowhere. But I'll never know unless I give it a try.