Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cook the Books 2013 - Wrapping up with Homemade Pantry

The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making by Alana Chernila was the perfect choice to close out our amazing year of Cook the Books 2013 Cookbook Challenge. I'm not sure how an entire year, or 12 cookbooks for that matter, have gone by already, but here we are.

As much as I appreciated learning so many new things in the kitchen, I came to most value reading other participants' posts. Along with intros, recaps, and more from our fearless leaders: Meg of Grow & Resist and Brigg of Ohbriggsy!. Each month, each post revealed different approaches, which recipes appealed, which ones flopped  literal food for thought. They also gave me personal insight into my fellow cooks; making this communal project influence me in the best of ways. New friends, new perspectives, lots of good food!

And, I think I am going to use Angela and J.K.'s  idea of cooking through cookbooks we already own in the coming year. This will be the perfect way to continue the method, while either weeding out my overflowing cookbook library, or discovering new favorites already on the shelves.

Usually I recap the recipes in the order I made them during the month, but this go around I am going to lead off with the ones I liked best.

Beef Stew
This was nice and hearty with simple but satisfying flavors. I used fancy beef which may seem contrary to stew tradition, but it sure made for tender chunks of tasty beef. I think the key steps here are the drying of the beef (tip of the hat to Julia), and crusting the pieces in the paprika-spiced flour mix before browning. I went with 1/3 red wine and 2/3 beef broth which is the right balance in my opinion.

Cereal Bars (Car Snack 1) 
These turned out great! Not only were they super easy to make, they last well in the fridge and make for a perfect snack on the go. They were also excellent impromptu gifts, requiring just the addition of parchment paper wrapping and a bow. I didn't have enough sliced almonds on hand, so toasted some pumpkin seeds to make up the difference which I liked a lot, and would probably go half/half on next time. Any mix of dried fruits will do, but the mix of coconut, apricot, cherries, cranberries and a little bit of mango was a winner. I also recommend sprinkling a layer of Maldon salt over the top before you put them in the fridge to set. Yum!

Chocolate Pudding 
Previous posts have revealed my love of pudding, so I won't rhapsodize again here. A dramatic cooking mishap unfortunately intervened in my pudding making this time though...I dropped my iPhone into boiling milk, sugar and corn starch. Miraculously, my phone survived! My pudding on the other hand got a bit overcooked, so it set more firmly than I would have liked. Still, this pudding I liked a lot.

Peanut Butter
So easy! Why have I not made my own peanut butter before?!? That is the beauty of a book like this. Per the nut butter recipe, I started with raw peanuts and roasted them lightly. Perhaps not enough, as this had a very unroasted, raw nut flavor. Which was nice, and rather unusual, but I'd go for a bit more time in the oven for my tastebuds next time. Also, I recently scored some spiced peanut butter at the food swap, and see myself definitely experimenting with some chile pepper enhancements down the line.

Buttermilk Ranch Dressing
This is another great use for extra buttermilk. I am not the biggest ranch dressing fan honestly, but the boyfriend is. I reduced the amount of mayo, and used some sour cream instead, which lightened it considerably and made it much more to my liking. I imagine using plain yogurt would work great too. This was awesome on a smoked trout salad.

Potato Leek Soup
A straightforward soup, which always pleases me. Even more so with the addition of bacon! I also used less milk than called for, since overly creamy soups are not my thing. A solid soup recipe to have on hand.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
This was my least favorite recipe/result. The roasted garlic flavor overwhelmed, though I did wing it a bit on proportions, so maybe that was my fault...

Fruit Gelatins: Black Currant and Peach 
I'm cheating a bit here, as I actually made these for the October food swap. But, since they are from this book, I'm including them with full disclosure. Choose your juice flavor wisely — I recommend a clear juice (not something thick like nectar), and something you really like the flavor of as that is basically what these will taste like. Actually, I wonder what you might use to give these a little bit of a flavor boost? Some kind of extract or booze or infusion might be just the thing to make these magnificent.

Many of the staples in this book I have made, or make regularly already, but my biggest regrets this month are not getting to the Toaster Pastries or the Fig Bars. Alas. But, I am inspired for an awesome yogurt flavor I will post on in the new year. Which is literally upon us! Farewell 2013...you delivered a lot of good cooking and good times.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Cook the Books 2013 - The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook

Even though I was very excited for November's cookbook, The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook, after all the rich food from October's Cook the Books I wasn't ready for a lot of heavy baking. I tried to stick to some of the healthier recipes, and I kicked things off with something savory...

Tom's Tasty Tomato Soup - p 342

Tomato soup is good food in my book, and this soup gets top marks.

Most incredible to me is how it didn't taste like it was made with canned tomatoes. And, it was just the right amount of creamy and rich without going overboard. I really appreciate that I now have a trusted go-to recipe using canned tomatoes during the winter months. And, I had scored a huge bag of croutons from the last food swap, so was happy to put them to immediate use.

Seatown's "Golden Spurtle" Steel-Cut Oatmeal - p 115

This recipe has made me a steel-cut oat convert! 

We make a lot of oatmeal around here, but I typically go with rolled oats. I guess I always thought steel-cut took forever to cook, but this recipe was so simple and in 30 minutes there was a delicious breakfast on the table. I like how it calls for including salt and brown sugar in the cooking process, with a result that is slightly sweet but still nutty and savory too. À la Goldilocks, I give this a "this porridge is just right!" endorsement.

Best Bran Muffins - p 77-78

Bran muffins are another favorite — and who can resist the claim of "best" anything, right? — but they are actually something I never make myself, and I am subsequently often disappointed. These do not disappoint.

I also got parchment muffin/cupcake liners for the first time when making these and will never look back. In love...

Roasted Carrot, Leek, and Goat Cheese Hand Pies - p 212-14 (using Whole Wheat Pastry Dough - p 215)

These are perfect for a winter's day lunch. I think that's all I need to say. Except that they were way easier to make than I had anticipated. Afterwards I realized I find it simpler to work with dough rounds (versus rectangles) for a simple popover type hand pie.

I had some leftover dough, and was so inspired that I also made mini apple hand pies. I think my new mantra may be: because one hand pie is never enough. Oh yeah, hand pies are going to be fixation, I can tell.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Cinnamon Streusel - p 106-7

My mom makes a killer cinnamon coffee cake. So I have never bothered. Kind of pathetic, I know. But, now I have changed that! This is fruity and fairly light, and everyone who was served some dished up praise, so well done me and Dahlia Bakery Cookbook!

My biggest regret is that I did not get to the Toasted Pine Nut Amaretti. These type of cookies (pignoli) are one of the only cookies I will go out of my way for. By the way, for you San Franciscans, there are excellent ones at Dianda's Bakery on Mission Street. I will have to rely on those until I make some of my own. And, I will be in Seattle in March and plan to eat a number of the things I didn't make from the cookbook when I'm in town.

Next up is something right up my alley: The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making. Excited!