Home - is where I want to be / But I guess I'm already there /I come home -
she lifted up her wings /
Guess that this must be the place...
- Talking Heads, "Naive Melody"

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Goal Roundup: September

I think we're getting good at this!
  • House: Made an offer on a place (didn't get it). A
  • Clutter: Trip to dump, got rid of old junk. A
  • Financial: Met goal! A
  • Health: I can run a 10-minute mile again. A
  • Food: Got my game back on with new recipes and blogging, and even some pictures, then seem to have lost steam toward the end of the month. B
  • Writing: Making headway through Book 2, new scenes coming together. A
  • Reading: Listened to "Gilgamesh" in the car. Good stuff. Also rereading Tolkien, slowly. A
Best grades ever. Holidays will be coming up soon, so that will probably take a major toll on... everything, but right now we're in a very good place.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Iced Mini Pumpkin Loaves with Molasses

Found this recipe on Cookie Madness, and I guess I was in the mood to make something with pumpkin. So I did. Mine were not as pretty as these, but the office maw devoured them in no time flat. They are very moist, scrumptious, and make your kitchen smell like Christmas.



Well, I've learned something this week: don't start a bunch of posts and assume that you'll have time/brainspace to come back and fill in the important details later.

Um... here's a picture of some bread! From a week ago. Bad blogger, bad!

I first tried my hand at challah a few years back, and once I did, I wanted to know where it had been all my life? I think that if you make it, you will also fall in love. I was told that the recipe comes from Beth Hensperger's book Bread. It has come to me through a chain of at least two other people, and I hope you will pass it to others.

I don't bother with the egg glaze. This bread makes the best French toast you will ever have.

2 packages (2 Tbsp) active dry yeast
1/2 C sugar or honey
1 Tbsp salt
5 1/2 to 6 C unbleached all-purpose or bread flour
1 3/4 C hot water (120 deg)
4 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 C (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
Rich Egg glaze
Poppy or sesame seeds (optional)

1 Place yeast, sugar, salt, and 2 C flour in a large bowl. Add water, eggs, and butter. Beat hard with a whisk until smooth, about 3 min. Scrape sides of bowl occasionally.

2. Add remaining flour 1/2 C at a time with a wooden spoon. Continue beating until dough is too stiff to stir. Turn the shaggy mass out onto a lightly floured board. Adding flour 1 Tbsp at a time as necessary, knead until dough is smooth and elastic and a layer of blisters shows under skin. The dough needs to be a bit firm for free-form loaves.

3. Place dough in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 to 1 1/2 hrs.

4. Gently deflate dough, turn out onto a lightly floured surface, and divide into equal portions. Roll each section into a strip and lay 3 strips side by side. Braid, pinch ends, and tuck them under. Place on a greased or parchment-lined sheet (Braids can also be placed in loaf pans). Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until almost doubled, 30-40 min. Because of the eggs, this loaf doesn not need to completely double. It will rise a lot in the oven.

5. Brush the dough with glaze and sprinkle with seeds. Bake in a preheated 350 deg oven for 40-45 min, or until a deep golden brown. Carefully lift braids off of sheet with a spatula to cool completely before slicing.

Yield: 2 large braided breads

Rich Egg Glaze
1 yolk or 1 whole egg
1 Tbsp water, milk, or cream

Whisk together until combined

Also, I did my first two "crits" for critters.org this week. Off to a good start, I hope.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


First of all, we didn't get the house. Kind of bummed even though we expected it; the place really was just about perfect for us.

Second, I've joined critters.org, a web site that organizes online critiques of SF/F/Horror writing. While a part of me is sneering at this--Are you out of your mind? You need another obligation like a hole in your head. It'll never go anywhere--another part of me is aware that I am unlikely to improve as a writer if I don't get some feedback on what I'm producing--something more detailed than a form rejection, that is. I have also been struggling lately with a sense of being out of the loop. Twitter is helping, surprisingly enough, as I find my way to more writers' and agents' blogs, but it would be nice to feel more plugged-in to what's going on in the genre. I get the impression that everyone out there is writing YA/MG urban fantasies and "paranormal romance," but surely there's other things going on.

So, I will give it a try. I ought to be able to manage to read one short story a week, right?

Finally, this morning I got an idea for a not-entirely-serious project to add to my list of Things to Write Someday. It might be good to work on something light-hearted for a while. I'll make some notes and put it on the compost pile.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Oh jeez, not this again....

We found another house we like, so are getting all the usual crap sorted out to put in an offer. This one is a total long shot, not expecting anything at all, but what the heck. It doesn't hurt to put in an offer.

Brazilian Fish Stew

I can hear the jokes now--"wow, that's a lot of fish!"

This recipe comes from an odd little specialty cookbook I picked up, oh, ages and ages ago, called On Rice. It's short, and one of the most heavily used books I have. I do an awful lot of one-dish cooking, as you may have noticed, and there was a time when I did even more, because we had this teeny tiny apartment stove on which it was difficult to place more than two pans at one time. (This may be where my side dish blindness set in.) Last week I had the book out on the counter for some reason, D* flipped through it a bit and said, "Maybe we could have this sometime?" Always on the lookout for ideas that will fill the latter half of the week, when both my inspiration and my energy tend to be running low, I was happy to put it on the menu.

2 lb cod, scrod, or haddock fillets, cut into 2-inch pieces
3 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 lb ripe plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped, or 1 16-oz can Italian plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 c homemade fish stock or bottled clam juice
2/3 c canned unsweetened coconut milk
1/4 c chopped cilantro
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground red pepper

  1. In a medium bowl, toss the fish and the lime juice. Set aside to marinate while preparing the sauce.
  2. In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until the onion softens, about five minutes.
  3. Add the tomatoes, stock, coconut milk, and cilantro. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, partially covered, for 10 minutes.
  4. Add the fish and marinating juices. Cook, uncovered, until fish is opaque and firm, 4-5 minutes. Season with salt and ground red pepper. 
  5. Serve over rice. (They recommend coconut rice or steamed medium-grain rice.)

This dish felt unbalanced; even the pound and a half of fish that I bought turned out to be more than I think was really needed. If I make this again, I will cut the fish down to 1 pound and perhaps add some more vegetables.

I quite liked the ground red pepper, which worked with the coconut milk to give a relatively subtle heat. The recipe makes 4-6 servings, depending on appetites and what else you're serving with it. We had challah, which is entirely outside the cuisine, obviously, but also always good, and which will be the subject of another post I hope. On the whole, this didn't blow me away, but it's something I would be happy to make again should a space labeled "fish" come up on the menu.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Swiss Chard with Cannellini Beans and Tomatoes

I hardly ever blog side dishes. This is because I hardly ever make side dishes; throw some vegetables in the steamer and make some rice, is my idea of a "goes-with." But every once in a while I have no choice, because I have chard in the refrigerator and nowhere for it to go, and I do hate throwing away market vegetables just because I was too lazy to do anything useful with them.

Much as I love my cookbook collection, the internet is really useful in these situations. No one book has more than a handful of chard recipes--fun if you have time to browse through a dozen or more books, not so good if you really need to figure out a menu now--while a quick search puts hundreds of them in reach. Like this one, for instance.

With this sort of cooking (unlike with Indian food), I view the recipe as a sort of vague guideline. I didn't have two pounds of chard, so I halved the entire recipe from the start. There was no way I was going to get out another whole pot, and there is no way chard takes fifteen minutes to cook, unless you have some kind of mutant chard from hell that is trying to climb out of that pot. I threw it in a braising pan with some olive oil and let it soften there, added the garlic, beans, and most of a can of diced tomatoes since I didn't have any fresh ones.

The results were perfectly fine. I am not sure I'll make this again, but it was quick and effortless and reasonably tasty.

This should be a good week for cooking, so I hope to continue with more regular blogging. Our supper club will be meeting this weekend for the first time ages, the forecast continues relatively cool and fall-ish, and other parts of my life are pretty quiet for a change. I am in major pantry-stocking mode, and my shelves overflow with pasta, beans, and broths.

In sad news, the end of farmer's market season is in sight. The Kendall Square market, which has livened up my Thursdays at the office for the past few months, officially lasts through October, but yesterday only one farm showed up.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

660 Curries - Kheema Mutter

Although I don't post there very often, I do still spend a fair amount of time hanging out on the Cooking Light bulletin board, where there is always some new recipe or interesting food-based discussion going on. Most of those discussions run pretty short--a half dozen posts, a couple of pages at most, unless it's one of the regular features.

Or the discussion of 660 Curries. This one was swelled, admittedly, by the fact that the author dropped in to answer questions and provide encouragement--surely a model of self-promotion in the Internet age, and I mean that as a compliment--but even without that it took on considerably more life and enthusiasm than most similar threads I have seen.

After all of that, I finally picked up a copy of the book. It certainly did look interesting, and challenging. An opportunity arose to use it this week after I picked up some grass-fed ground beef at the farmer's market. At six bucks a pound, I didn't want to make meatloaf, so I was glad to find a recipe that was new, would put the meat to good use, and didn't require me to buy or make anything particularly exotic--the one problem with the book, I gather, being that you really need to have a spice grinder and an Indian market, neither one of which I have readily to hand.

I am far from an inexperienced cook, but all the buildup I had read actually left me a little bit nervous about making the recipe. I was very careful to chop, measure, and otherwise lay out my ingredients before I started. This is generally a good idea anyway, but I must admit it's something that I've gotten sloppy about; most of what I've been cooking this summer has been forgiving enough that if it cooks an extra few minutes while I dig out a utensil, or I have to leave out some herb I don't have on hand, no one really notices. I am under the impression that Indian cooking is not like that, so for once I followed the recipe very carefully

Kheema Mutter (Spicy Indian Ground Beef)
660 Curries, Raghavan Iyer
2 T canola oil
2 t cumin seeds
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
3-5 fresh green Thai, cayenne or Serrano chile peppers
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 T minced ginger
2-3 cinnamon sticks 
2 fresh or dried bay leaves
1 lb lean ground beef
2 t coriander seeds, ground
1 t cumin seeds, ground
2 t kosher salt
1 t ground turmeric
1 cup frozen or fresh peas
2 T chopped cilantro
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Add the cumin seeds and cook briefly, until they sizzle, turn reddish brown and are fragrant, about 5-15 seconds. Immediately add the onion and stir fry until limp and golden, 5-10 minutes.
Add the ginger, chile pepper, garlic, cinnamon sticks and bay leaves. Cook until caramel-brown, about 5 minutes.
Break up the ground beef and add it to the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the beef is browned. Sprinkle in the coriander, ground cumin, salt and turmeric and stir to coat the meat evenly. Reduce the heat to medium low and cover the pan, simmering for 10-12 minutes. Stir in 1 cup of water and let the meat simmer for 5-8 minutes. Add peas and cilantro, cook until peas are done. 
Serve with basmati rice and, if you wish, a chutney.

The only change I made was to use a jalopeno pepper, because that's the only kind the market had. I used one large pepper, wary of the potential heat in the result. What came out of the pot was pleasantly spicy but not at all overwhelming, certainly not as searing as I momentarily feared it would be. It was balanced perfectly by the basmati rice, as it should have been. It was not, all my fears aside, particularly difficult, and I will absolutely make it again--and also, I hope, many other recipes from this book.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of this one.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Walnut and Rosemary Loaves

The weather is cooling off a bit, the trees are starting to turn on their colors, the flavor palette is shifting. I am finding recipes I had all but forgotten about over the course of the summer, even as short, cold and dark a summer as the one we just had; pot pies, braises, roasts are coming to my attention as if for the first time. And the idea of walnuts and rosemary (indeed, of any sort of bread) sings to me in a way it did not only a few weeks ago.

I love this bread. I make it when I want something a little bit different, and, well, in the winter. It is firm, sturdy, with a strong but not overpowering flavor that takes toppings and sandwich meats well. The perfume while it bakes is better than any candles out there.

I shape mine into oblong loaves, because my oven isn't big enough to do rounds side by side without them running into one another. And even when I do make it in rounds, my loaves don't look anything at all like the picture on the linked page--mine are much loftier. I wonder if they used the wrong photo? Here is my own for comparison. They generally do turn out somewhat dark, even darker this time because I made them on the stone.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Anniversary Dinner at Baba

This past week marked our ninth wedding anniversary (nine years on 9/9/09, oddly enough). His parents came down from Maine for the afternoon to watch the kids, and we got some time to ourselves.

The first thing we did was park ourselves on our own couch and watch The Third Man, which we Neflixed, um, about three months ago I think and still hadn't managed to watch. We have seen it before, several times, at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge (I miss that place), and it remains an excellent film. Then we went out for coffee and tea at the local Starbucks and talked about the movie, about writing, and how nice it was to get out for a bit.

After that, we headed down to the library to kill a bit of time before dinner (yes, we are nerdy that way), stopping in at an old-fashioned used book shop, the kind that breathes a slight must, and has shelves that go higher than is practical full of titles it seems quite impossible that anyone should ever want. I browsed the SF section and the cookbooks and didn't really find anything interesting, though if I ever broaden my collection of the latter to include obscure historical titles, I have a good source. Then on to the library, and then to dinner at Baba.

Why Baba? Because D* likes sushi, and it has a big sign outside proclaiming the best in Worcester as of 2008. I don't know if it's the best or not, because it's the only Japanese restaurant we've been to in this town, but it certainly appeared to be acceptable. I am not a big sushi fan, or indeed a fan at all, but they had a few other things on the menu.

The place is tiny, at least the downstairs; they might have had another room up, that wasn't entirely clear, and they sat us at the sushi "bar" even though the room was nearly empty at the time. We had a nice view of the kitchen, also tiny. I was amused to note on the menu Oyster Bay sauvignon blanc--the same stuff we still have a bit of in the fridge--at $10 a glass. (And yes, I do know a bit about how the business works in that regard, but wow.) I got a shiraz instead, which much to my surprise actually worked with my chicken's gingery dipping sauce. The service was fine, no complaints, the prices in line with what we'd expected for a bit of a special night out, and the food was quite good.

They don't have much of a dessert menu, which is only to be expected with Japanese food. When our server listed them off I was so startled by his mention of a fried dough dessert that I forgot the others, and we decided that we had to try it. We received two small rounds of fried dough, forming cups for a creamy mixture with blueberries in it, the whole topped with whipped cream. It was about as un-Japanese a thing as we could imagine, but we ate it happily.

I do regret not asking about the jellyfish salad, but there's always next time.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Tomato Grows in Cambridge

On the bus side of the Lechmere T station, in a concrete crack just outside the pedestrian underpass below the train tracks, I saw this.

This morning it is raining again. I am making banana bread. The in-laws are coming down to watch the kids this afternoon, so D* and I can get away for our anniversary dinner.

Fresh Sweet Corn Chowder and CI Drop Biscuits

Friday was about 55 degrees and raining out. I took half of the day off so that I could get a few things done, one of them being a visit to the farmer's market that didn't have to be rushed, but given the weather we hurried anyway. I had already loaded up at Kendall Square on Thursday, so I didn't find myself getting much. There is still corn, though it won't be around much longer, and I have been meaning to make something with it other than straight up on the cob. I picked up a half dozen ears, some beets and garlic, some eggs and ground beef from Shady Pine.

I have been craving bacon lately, and my searching turns up this recipe from a site called grouprecipes.com, with which I am not familiar. This is light, straightforward, and on the sweet side. In a brain-dead moment I used chicken stock at the end rather than milk, but it tasted very good regardless, just less, er, like a chowder.

I'll re-learn how to cook one of these days, I guess.

4 ears sweet corn, husks removed
4 slices bacon
½ medium onion, finely diced
1 medium baking potato, peeled and cut into small dices
dash of dried thyme
salt and black pepper
1 cup milk or half-and-half

  1. Remove corn kernels from cob by running a sharp knife from top to bottom of cob – rotate cob, cutting kernels off all sides.
  2. Use a spoon to run down the sides of the stripped cobs to extract as much of the "milk" as possible from the cob, letting the milk fall into the corn kernels. For soup stock, break the stripped corn cobs into thirds and place in a medium saucepan with 3 cups of water.
  3. Bring to a boil; reduce to simmer and cook cobs for 20 minutes. Remove cobs from pot and strain the liquid – you should have about 2 cups of corn stock.
  4. In a medium saucepan, cook bacon until crisp; drain bacon and crumble into small pieces.
  5. Remove bacon, leaving 1 tablespoon bacon grease in pan (if you don’t use the bacon, add 1 tablespoon butter to pan).
  6. Saute onions in grease (or butter) until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  7. Add the diced potato, corn kernels and any "milk" that you extracted from the cob, 2 cups corn stock, thyme, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Bring to a simmer; cook, partially covered, skimming any foam as necessary, until potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes.
  9. Taste and adjust seasoning, if needed.
  10. Add milk or half-and-half.
  11. Heat through (don’t boil).
  12. Serve, topping each bowl with some crumbled bacon.
With the soup we had a green salad, and I made drop biscuits. Since the whole idea was to make something new, I went looking for a recipe instead of turning to one I had already used.

Unlike a lot of people I know, I am not a big fan of Cooks Illustrated. I actually find their attitude kind of irritating, and I don't normally want an entire page of backstory on how they found their idea of the perfect recipe for X. But these are really good biscuits, light and flaky, and incredibly easy to make, so I will give them this one. Grudgingly.

2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1 cup cold buttermilk
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly (about 5 minutes), plus 2 tablespoons melted butter for brushing biscuits

  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 475°F. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt in large bowl. Combine buttermilk and 8 tablespoons melted butter in medium bowl, stirring until butter forms small clumps.
  2. Add buttermilk mixture to dry ingredients and stir with rubber spatula until just incorporated and batter pulls away from sides of bowl. Using greased 1/4-cup dry measure, scoop level amount of batter and drop onto parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet (biscuits should measure about 2 1/4 inches in diameter and 1 1/4 inches high). Repeat with remaining batter, spacing biscuits about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake until tops are golden brown and crisp, 12 to 14 minutes.
  3. Brush biscuit tops with remaining 2 tablespoons melted butter. Transfer to wire rack and let cool 5 minutes before serving.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Oyster Bay Sauv. Blanc

I keep meaning to start a wine journal. This bottle ($15) is quite good with peppered goat cheese.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

This Week's Forecast

... barely gets out of the 60s. Cooking weather is back! And so am I, or will be soon, after yet another holiday weekend spent away, and another week in which easy trumps new and exciting. I am taking a half day off work on Friday, and hoping to spend some of it at the farmer's market, and some more of it with my "to try" recipes, getting my game back on.

Seems like none of the food blogs I read have updated in weeks. Now that things are cooling off, should be time to change that!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Goal Roundup: August

Bit of a mixed bag this month....
  • House: Went to see another place in Maynard. It sucked. No listings since then worth looking at. B
  • Decluttering: Went through Lydia's preschool stuff and threw most of it out. Cleaned out her dresser and one of my boxes of clothes. A
  • Financial: Money went into the savings account, less than goal. C
  • Health: I can run three miles again. Slowly. A
  • Food: Seem to be in a bit of a rut, so I bought two cookbooks. ?
  • Writing: Rejected by DAW, sent packet to TOR, made editing progress but am scaling back my new goal in hopes of not making myself crazy. A
  • NEW: Reading: Read two whole books while on vacation. A
Overall: B

The goal list is getting longer than I wanted it to be back when I started doing this. This may have something to do with the whole making-myself-nuts thing....