Monday, April 6, 2020

For the Gentleman

Being stuck at home more means, among other things, that I'm looking for things to do. My husband mentioned he was using my hair styling products in an attempt to tame his mustache and grow it out a bit. Which got me thinking. And Googling. Sure enough, it is very easy to make mustache wax with beeswax and other oils. I have beeswax. I have shea butter. I have jojoba oil and sweet almond oil. I have lots of different essential oils for fragrance.

So, I ordered some tins.

Today I melted 1.5 ounces of beeswax in the tin and added 0.4 ounces of jojoba oil. We settled on myrrh for the scent, everything else was either too citrusy, too minty, or too flowery. So, ultimately I added about 5 drops of the myrrh. It smells very nice. Mostly like my hives, but with a deeper earthy scent as well. I wonder how long this tin will last before I get to make more?


For the past four years, I have been making bread. Ever since I got Legion, I have managed to keep it/them alive, make bread often enough to never have to buy it in the store (except for artisanal loaves, which sometimes I just want), and gradually tweak the bread recipe to be basically where I want it to be.

However, there are times when I want it to be softer, and survive being stored in the freezer without seeming stale when it gets out. I've tried different flours, different sugars, adding more water, vacuum sealing the loaves (which I do NOT recommend) and even adding an egg.

Now that we're home all the time, thanks to the pandemic, I am making bread more often, barely fast enough to keep up with my family and all the sandwiches we're eating. But it gives me more opportunities to adjust the recipe even further. For the past 2 batches I replaced one cup of the water with milk. We are all really liking the results: a softer crumb, better tolerance for the freezer, and a slightly richer taste.

16 oz starter
38 oz bread flour
3 T. sugar
1 cup milk
1 cup + more water (until desired dough texture)
2 T. salt (added just before taking out of the mixer)

I decided to share my bread making routine so you can see how easy it can be. To be fair, I have a slow growing starter so I can let the dough ferment overnight and it works great. Here we go:

This is the dough after fermenting overnight, about 9 hours.

Divided into 3 equal parts (I weigh them) and then rolled and allowed to rest, covered, for 5 minutes.

Pans are prepped with PAM and then parchment on the bottom. Then they're dusted on the sides and bottom with cornmeal. 

Loaves are formed and placed in the pans to proof, generally takes about 4 hours. 

I proof them near the radiator, even if it isn't on. These are ready to bake. They get an egg-milk wash and are scored, then baked at 400˚F for 30-35 minutes, turning the baking sheet every 15 minutes in the oven.

As soon as they come out of the oven, they come out of the loaf pans. The sesame goes on before baking, if you're going to use it. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

All The Pieces Coming Together

After our disastrous macaron attempt last week, the elderchild and I tried again yesterday. It was almost disastrous again but we persevered and got pretty decent looking raspberry macarons!

Here's what worked, and what didn't:
1. The oven, new, is convection, and it seems that it should be set to 275˚F. 300˚F was too hot and they didn't develop their little feet.

2. The parchment, King Arthur brand, was perfect.

3. The egg whites were the near-catastrophe. I had egg whites in a carton which I'd used for a cake. After we tried to make meringue out of them for the macarons I recalled that they don't work well for that purpose (maybe there is a preservative or pasteurization issue? I don't remember). Anyway, we separated some eggs and made a better meringue which we used for the macarons. Not wanting to waste the other egg whites, later I beat the meringue for probably 20 minutes and made forgotten cookies. Which are not bad, after all that!

Forgotten cookies.
4. For the ganache, since I didn't have raspberry purée, I used raspberry syrup I had in my canning inventory. I added together the volumes of the purée and invert sugar and just used that total amount of raspberry syrup, and it worked perfectly.

I am now out of almond flour and don't anticipate buying any more in the near future as my freezers are both overflowing with food.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Tastes Like We Remember

When the kids were little, they went to a daycare which had its food provided by the daycare provider's husband's restaurant. One of the most popular items was chicken-orzo soup, aka Avgolemono. The kids both loved it, as did the adults. From time to time we would go back to his restaurant and buy it by the quart. But it's been a long time since we've been able to do that, and he doesn't have it on the menu every day. I decided to try my hand at making it.

I found this recipe on line and made a few tweaks based upon what I had in the house. Instead of four quarts of chicken stock I used two quarts of my "Ducken" stock and two quarts of water. I used about 3/4 cup lemon juice. Other than that, I followed the recipe to the letter. One thing I would change for the future would be to try using four eggs instead of three. It just wasn't thick enough. Otherwise, it tasted just like we remembered. The children were pleased.

The other project for today was more bread. Now that everyone is home and eating lunches here every day I need to make bread much more often. In my quest to get softer sandwich bread from my starter, I tried something new with this batch. I replaced some of the water with 1 cup of milk. I'm pleased to say that the bread is super soft and springy, and I will definitely use that trick again!

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Redeeming Myself

After the macaron debacle I purchased better parchment paper. It's amazing how much variation there is for something that most of us who bake would think is a standardized product. The paper arrived the other day, just in time for me to make a birthday cake for my husband.

Note the bread, which I made yesterday, for our cheese fondues. 
In the fabulous cookbook, Marbled, Swirled, and Layered, is a recipe for a pistachio chocolate cake with a brown sugar buttercream. I decided to try my hand at making it. It most definitely required high quality parchment paper to make the thin chocolate cake required for rolling with the filling. Essentially, it is a jelly roll, on its side. It's been a while since I've done anything this complicated, that is for sure!

And yet, despite all the swearing, somehow I managed to make it look almost as good as the photo. Even if I was a little heavy-handed with the buttercream.

Happy Birthday! 

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Serious Disappointment

Ever since the new oven arrived and I discovered it had a convection function (I'd forgotten) I had been planning to make macarons and try it out. My theory was that my barely functional gas oven couldn't maintain a stable temperature and that convection was required so the heat would be drier. Today the elderchild and I made a small batch of macarons. Everything was going fine. Until it wasn't.
Note: every single cookie cracked. All are stuck to the parchment.
My best guess is that the parchment I bought was just... crap. There is no other way to describe it. I had cheap parchment before, and then I bought a batch from Amazon that was great and worked perfectly. So when it was time to buy more, I went through my order history and ordered the exact same product. That was somehow completely different when it arrived. I'd had heard this complaint about Amazon recently, that other vendors were reselling products on Amazon that were not the correct product and not of the same quality. This is why, in the past I had not purchased toilet paper and other sundries through Amazon; mainly because the reviews for various products indicated that they were also subject to the same bait-and-switch.

Anyway, you can imagine our disappointment. We can't even pry all these broken macarons off the paper without the paper coming with the cookie. It's ridiculous. Every single cookie was ruined. Every. Single. One.

Setting aside all the work involved, almond flour is not cheap.

I have ordered King Arthur Brand parchment. And if it arrives being anything other than King Arthur Brand parchment, I will send it back. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

North American Soup?

The other day, this recipe for Sopa de Lima showed up in my inbox. It sounded very tasty and I wanted to make it. I'd had some wild game and turkey bones in my freezer for a while that needed to go if I was going to have more room for other meats and vegetables. After all, if we're going to be socially isolated for a while, I need to have provisions. Obviously I don't have chachalacas, but I do have one full chukar breast and one full Canada goose breast. So I set to work early this morning.

First, I used the turkey bones to make stock, and set aside 1 quart and the meat from the bones for the soup. The rest of the stock is being chilled so I can remove the fat before canning it. Maybe tomorrow....

Next, I put the goose and chukar breasts in a pot with the stock and the rest of the soup base ingredients and cooked them until I was sure the goose was cooked through. I will point out that goose isn't exactly a white meat, but in the end it worked out okay, if a little darker than the photos. I did have to pick out a little bit of birdshot out of the goose while I was shredding it.

Finally, I put all the soup ingredients together, skipping the habañero but using a poblano pepper. With the cilantro and tortilla chips, it was popular all around. Even the youngerchild had a full bowl, minus the goose which was "too gamey."

Why North American? Well, Mexican recipe, American turkey, and Canadian Goose, of course!

Monday, March 16, 2020

Unintentional But Funny

Yesterday we went for a long hike through Dogtown, the abandoned colonial town in Gloucester, MA. It was good to get out, particularly in this time of social isolation. One of the odd findings in Dogtown are the Babson Boulders, a series of inspirational admonishments carved into the glacial erratics which are scattered all over the area. We found all but the last five which would have involved crossing active railroad tracks, something we felt it would be prudent not to do. Babson probably would have approved of our prudence.

Along the way we found huge patches of wintergreen, some with no berries at all and some with TONS of berries. (Metaphorically speaking, of course.) We picked a lot. The elderchild asked if we could make them into muffins. Easily done!

This morning I used this recipe but without the chocolate chips and made a dozen chocolate-wintergreen muffins. Which look a lot like those pictures of the coronavirus. I promise, it was not intentional. But it seems apropos anyway.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

So Much Has Happened

New oven!
Yeah, sorry about that. It's been quite the month and a half. It started with a trip to Malaysia for our friends' wedding in the latter half of January. And then we got back, work picked up, family members were sick, there were trips out to see colleges and said family and then the flu hit, I fell off a horse, and now we're all stuck at home waiting to see what will happen with the state of the world. I am the only one who doesn't get to work/study from home so this is going to be interesting.

Both children will now be doing some sort of remote classes after their respective spring breaks end. We were supposed to be going to Scotland today to visit more colleges, obviously that isn't happening. All the concerts and lectures we had tickets for are postponed indefinitely or canceled. It makes sense but it's frustrating all the same.

You know what I can do? Bake! Especially now, that I have a NEW OVEN. Right before we went to Malaysia the oven died its final death. Which meant my sister was staying with the youngerchild without an oven, but they managed. I got a new oven delivered the day after we got back and haven't even really had much time to play with it except for making bread. That will change this week, as I had already taken the week off (for the aforementioned nonexistent trip to Scotland) so plan to start trying to bake some things. Starting with today - Pi Day!

Using the filling from eat the love's Strawberry Rhubarb Galette, I made a Pi, with the help of the elderchild. The oven worked swimmingly. We can't wait for dessert!

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Mixed Fowl Stock and Soup

Winter season canning has begun!

I needed to get all the bones of chickens and ducks out of the freezer so the other day I threw them ALL (3 ducks and 3-4 chickens) into my lobster pot and added 12 quarts of water. Once the stock was made I set it aside and took all the residual meat off the bones and saved that as well. Today the stock was skimmed, warmed back up, and 14 pints were canned in the pressure canner. I was running fairly low on stock so it's good that I made so much. This way, since it's duck and chicken together, it'll add a richer taste to whatever I'm making.

The rest of the stock, all the meat, and some vegetables from the fridge were combined to make a variation of Turducken Soup. This time, I added about a cup of turkey stock which was still in the fridge so I can technically call it Turducken but just barely. I added 2 small leeks, 2 parsnips, 7 small carrots, 1 rib of celery, 1/2 red onion, and half of a small can of tomato paste, plus wild rice, salt, pepper and bay. I may or may not can this as I'm running out of pint jars. If we don't eat most of it today, maybe I will just save the rest for when I'm working this week. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

New Year Catch-Up

Happy New Year!

Since I was working on the 31st and the 1st, I didn't do the cooking. My husband roasted 3 ducks on New Year's Eve, which were more than enough for 6 of us to enjoy. We had almost a whole duck left over, which I used the other day to make a terrific duck pad thai.

But with those ducks came duck livers and I had enough to make a triple batch of paté (recipe from Duck, Duck, Goose). Actually, it was an all-fowl paté as I'd been freezing livers from ducks, geese, chickens and a turkey. I had just about 22 oz. once everything was thawed, then I sautéed them with shallots, sage, capers and cognac and blended them with butter and cream. I used my new little ramekins to make 8 small pots of paté plus some for that evening. Each ramekin was sealed with a layer of duck fat and eventually stored in the freezer for later. It came out a little runnier than expected so I hope that while they're in the freezer they will dry out a little and fix the consistency. One of my Christmas gifts was reusable food wrap and I'm trying to use less plastic wrap in general. Sealing the pots in fat should provide coverage for the paté but I'll probably have to check on them soon to make sure it's sufficient.

Yesterday school started up again and the youngerchild was responsible for bringing snack to advisory. There's a whole schedule. I've sent in cookies before but decided to make mini muffins this time. I used this muffin base recipe and added wild blueberries (from the freezer stash) and a few white chocolate chips and ended up with 4 dozen little muffins. They're excellent, and bite sized, and they were popular with the advisory group.

There's been a lot of take-out, too. We have a fridge full of leftovers which is helpful when I'm working so I can either take something for myself or leave something for everyone else so they don't have to cook. Last night I finished the duck pad thai and they finished the pizza. I think there may still be some Indian food.....