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March 2007

March 30, 2007

Washington and Oregon wine and cheese pairings

One of the sweet things about living at the confluence of the Columbia River and Pacific Ocean is that I get to claim Tillamook Cheese as my local cheesemaker. The factory is close enough that I could drive down for the afternoon and still make it home for dinner. Since Tillamook cheddar is one of my all-time favorites, this is a real stroke of luck for me. It also means that when a local burger place needs a local cheese, they can go to the source of some very nice stuff indeed.

But the Tillamook folks aren't content to just promote their own fine cheeses. They have created a couple of wine and cheese pairing lists that highlight selections from local wineries, and even other cheese producers.

I have had a number of the listed cheeses and they are very nice indeed - Cougar Gold, for example, is a  longtime regional favorite and it was nice to see it on the list. A number of the wines were less familiar to me, but there are a few I am looking forward to checking out.

If you live in the area and want to expand your options for locally made sips and nibbles, you really should check these lists out!

White and Sparkling wines
Red wines

March 28, 2007

This is why I use parchment!

Tomorrow is my day to post a pizza crust recipe over at A Year in Bread so this afternoon found me sorting through photos of pizza. While it is not what I was looking for, I had to share this one shot. The story goes something like this:

One night we were making pizza and I discovered we were out of parchment paper, which I generally use when baking breads. The stone was already hot, the pizza crust was poufy, and we were hungry. What to do, what to do?

After debating a run to the store, we decided to put the pizza directly on the stone.  Parchment is nice and all, but cornmeal is usually enough to stop a pizza from sticking to the stone. Actually, the plan was to throw caution to the wind and gently place the bare crust on the stone, quickly top it and get it back in the oven. (This actually isn't as absurd as it sounds, I've done it a number of times, with a different dough. Remember that "different dough" part for later.)

Everything that was to go on the pizza was sliced, diced and arrayed on the counter. We reviewed the plan of attack: crust on stone, toppings on crust, back in oven. Check.

someoneElse extracted the 500 degree pizza stone from the oven and perched it on the range so we could work. I looked at the crust, made from this great new recipe I was playing with, and decided that I couldn't afford to put it down on a peel or anything like that, I had to move it by hand. I picked up the crust, dashed all three steps across the room and flipped the crust onto the stone.

Continue reading "This is why I use parchment!" »

March 19, 2007

A brief mash note to food blogs (in general and specific)

chocolate coated raspberry marshmallows

I just want to say that I love the Web in general, and food blogs in particular. They are a valuable, and marvelously fun, addition to the stacks of books and magazines that already clutter my life. While I'd like to say they are a great free source of recipes and such, I am not so sure. I am constantly going to someone's site and deciding to buy something. Like my new ice cream machine (thanks to David Lebovitz for the recommendation), which is wonderful and all, but not so free!

Naysayers, (you know who you are) who swear blogs are all dren run by people writing about their cheese sandwiches lunch and soooo not relevant to the serious media, listen up! There is a reason why food blogs occupy a favored spot in the hearts and minds of a vast readership. Let me tell you a story about why...

I have made marshmallows on a number of occasions including those lovely chocolate coated raspberry marshmallows right up there. What I have not made is chocolate marshmallows and, while that may seem simple, there is actually rather complex chemistry at work between the very few ingredients in marshmallows.

Boil the sugar syrup to a phase other than soft-ball and you get something different - although not necessarily bad, I want to experiment with making marshmallow fluff by boiling the sugar a bit less. Too much fruit puree seems to destabilize the sticky mass just enough that mine stayed a little too soft; too soft to roast on a fire, and that's no good! Worse, the merest hint of oil and the mixture can become totally undone, refusing to whip into a billow of wonderfulness and settling into an sullen, glutinous mass in the mixer bowl.

Fortunately for me, I know McAuliflower, just down the road at Brownie Points, is a bit of a mad scientist (and she's got the coolest toys!) and has done all sorts of marshmallow experimentation. Better yet, I know several things about McAuliflower's recipes:

  • They are actually tested (I've yet to have one of hers fail) and she is open to corrections and enhancements when she finds a better way.
  • If there is a technical reason for something, she explains it.
  • There are likely to be variations for things she is really into - she has a category for marshmallows!

Knowing that marshmallows are one of those things she is seriously into, I knew this was a great source for what I needed. At her site, it took me two clicks to find this great post on chocolate marshmallows and am no off to make some of my own, secure in the knowledge that it will work and with a solid explanation for why I want to add the chocolate at the end of whipping them. (read it and see for yourself) I'm going to do it with a mixer, rather than by hand, as it seems McAuliflower did, but I know why she did it her way and how to make it work my way.

The entire process of finding the right post took me about 45 seconds. (Last time I needed a recipe for something semi-obscure and went to the cookbooks, I was still there twenty minutes later.)

It's damned hard to provide this sort of 'perfect for me right now' resource without a large pool of talented and passionate people who are free to write about what they love.

And at the moment I love Brownie Points. Thanks, McAuliflower!

A Year in Bread: Come bake with us!

slice of light

It all started with this chat message from Farmgirl Susan to me: “We’re plotting something...and it involves you!” I got her to tell me that "we" meant her and Kevin of Seriously Good. This was immediately followed by Susan dropping offline, which should have been my first clue this wasn’t going to be easy.

Ten minutes later, she was back.

me:  oh sure, you tell me there's some plot that involves me afoot and then you drop offline... see how you are... :)

farmgirl:  I didn't drop offline!

me:  Chat said you were offline.

farmgirl:  Computers lie, you should know that!

me:  So what's the plot? Are you going to tell me or do I have to torture poor little Bowtie? (Bowtie is Farmgirl’s virtual cat, who lives with me and I am not above torturing his adorable face...usually by rubbing his belly or something equally dreadful.)

farmgirl:  Don't you dare! I'll be right back! Geez! Thug!

me:  But he's got such cute little toes! ...and ears! ...and what do you mean "be right back?" You just got here!

farmgirl:  DO NOT EAT MY CAT!

me:  He's getting HUGE! It's either eat him or feed him. Eating him would be cheaper!

farmgirl:  I repeat: DO NOT EAT MY CAT!

me: someoneElse says he’d be great with lemon and pepper. Yum! Plus he (Bowtie, not someoneElse) hangs out under the rosemary so he's herb-infused. Wouldn’t that cost extra at most places?

farmgirl:  someoneElse says everything is great with lemon and pepper! Probably even brownies.

me:  someoneElse says he's a very good cat. Congratulations on raising him so well

farmgirl: No problem! Oh! Email from Kevin! Be right back.

me: Be right back? Be right back! Oh sure, you go talk to Kevin… But leave













farmgirl:  oh give me a break

me:  Sure! Arm or leg? Man you have a mouthy cat! Bowtie is in the other room just mrowing away. Sure I can’t cook him?

farmgirl: If you ever want to find out what the plot is, do not eat my cat!

me:  So send me the mail already! I want to bake bread!!! ...or eat a cat...

farmgirl:  Oh okay! Hold on! Geez!

     Impatient little thing, aren't we?

     Barrettes on too tight?

     Brownie withdrawals?

     Somebody drop a house on your sister?

me:  That's it! Brownie withdrawals...or maybe it was the house thing.

farmgirl:  oh! another email from Kevin! be right back!

This went on for the better part of an hour, ending when Susan dropped offline again. It took until the next day for me to actually pin both Susan and Kevin down to chat... the three us at A Year in Bread on the 21st for the rest of the story...

March 14, 2007

kitchenMage's everMorphing Blueberry Muffin Recipe

blueberry muffins

For a number of years now, I have been fortunate enough to live in a house that had blueberry bushes in the garden. Right now I have about eight bushes, which having been attentively pruned and tended since we arrived, are now producing about a gallon each. That is enough to let us enjoy blueberry treats for several months, put up a dozen pints of blueberry habanero chutney, and still have a gallon or two in the freezer so I can make muffins to stave off the mid-winter no-fresh-fruit doldrums. In fact, I probably have enough berries for one more batch of muffins before I run out. Not bad for the end of February.

blueberries on vine

Most people would see this as the embarrassment of riches that it is, but I am utterly spoiled by our last house, which had a blueberry orchard! Two patches, each holding a five-by-five square of high-bush blueberries, kept us (and our friends) in berries all year. Each June found me in a race to empty the freezer of the previous year's harvest in time to make room for the berries that weighed down the fragile looking twiggy branches just outside my kitchen window.

This wealth also led me to an ongoing quest for the perfect blueberry muffin. During the heavy berrying season of late summer, when I could fill my basket in less time than it took the oven to preheat, I baked muffins weekly. (Remember what I said about berries for friends? I ate far too many muffins myself, but I did share!) This quest, however tasty, has proven fruitless-well, as fruitless as something involving gallons of berries could be-as I determined that there is no such critter as the perfect blueberry muffin.

Maybe I can blame it on my age. When I was a child, muffins were relatively dense and dry little things; tasty, but not particularly sweet or rich. Then sometime in the eighties, a transformation occurred. Muffins grew, more than doubling in size until one could be shared between two people who knew each other well enough to breakfast together. That wonderful rustic crumb, perhaps weighed down by the sheer bulk of the salad plate sized behemoths muffins had become, collapsed into a sugar-laden little cake-truly the only thing missing is the frosting. (I fear there is an entire generation of young people growing up who will think that the cakelets at every drive-through espresso stand are real muffins...but that's my own personal nightmare.)

blueberries in bowl

My favorite recipe straddles the line between the two versions, making a reliable, middle-of-the-road muffin: not too sweet and with a fairly "old-fashioned" crumb...but not too dry. It's a very good muffin and I can make it in my sleep. More importantly, many other people seem to be able to make it in theirs.

What I really love about this recipe, however, is its flexibility. It can be simply varied to produce a muffin that is adapted to your particular taste and demands of the occasion. If I need a fancier more dessert-like version, I increase the sugar and top them with cinnamon sugar. Less rich muffins come from a reduction in sour cream while richer ones from a change to full-fat sour cream. Flavor changes come from citrus zest and/or spices. And you can always add a handful of chopped nuts or even change the kind of berries you use.

kitchenMage's everMorphing blueberryMuffins

  makes one dozen normal muffins (or 5-6 huge ones)

egg, 1
sugar, 1/2  cup / 3 1/2 ounces / 100 grams
butter, melted and cooled, 3  tablespoons / 1 1/2 ounces / 42 grams
low-fat sour cream, 1 1/4  cups / 10 3/4 ounces / 300 grams
all-purpose flour, 1 3/4  cups  / 7 7/8 ounces / 220 grams
baking powder, 2  teaspoons
baking soda, 1  teaspoon
salt, 1/8  teaspoon
blueberries, 1 1/2  cups / 6 3/4 ounces / 189 grams (if fresh, simply wash; if frozen,leave in freezer until you are ready to use them)

Preheat oven to 375°. Have all ingredients, except frozen blueberries, at room temperature. Prepare muffin pan with paper cup liners.

  1. In a medium-sized bowl, beat the egg briefly with a wire whisk to lighten. Add the sugar and continue to whisk until you can no longer feel any resistance from undissolved sugar.
  2. Add the butter to the bowl and mix briefly to combine, then add sour cream and whisk until mixture is smooth and homogenous. (You can whisk an additional minute or two at this point, if your wrist can take it, to aerate the batter, making the muffins a bit lighter.)
  3. In another bowl, combine the dry ingredients and stir thoroughly to mix and eliminate lumps. (If you have a sifter-I use a 6" handheld sieve-this is a good time to pull it out; the muffins will come together more easily if the flour is well aerated.)
  4. Add the blueberries to the dry mixture and toss them gently for a few seconds to coat the berries.
  5. Add flour mixture to the liquid mixture and combine with a few quick folds.
  6. Scoop batter into muffin pan (a 4 oz scoop is about the right size).
  7. Bake for about 25 minutes.

Nutritional information

Per Serving: 190 Calories; 7g Fat (32.6% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 28g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 34mg Cholesterol; 295mg Sodium.  Exchanges: 1 Grain(Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 0 Fruit; 1 1/2 Fat; 1 Other Carbohydrates.

blueberries on vine


Here's where the real fun starts. These are adjustments that I have tried enough to vouch for how well they work. I am positive there are a lot more, but start here. Once you have made these a couple of times, you will find that you can make other changes with confidence.

The difference in nutritional data from the main recipe is included in parentheses, and is per muffin. (so you can decide just how badly you want to swap out that low-fat sour cream).

  • To make the muffins sweeter, increase the sugar to 3/4 cup. Much more gets overly sweet, but you can probably go to a full cup if you really want to. (+17 calories, +4g carbohydrates)
  • For muffins that are a little drier and less rich, reduce the sour cream to 1 cup. You may need to reduce baking time by a minute or two, but probably not enough that you would notice.  (-6 calories, -1mg cholesterol)
  • For a richer muffin, with a moister crumb, use regular sour cream instead of low-fat. (+22 calories, +4g fat, +6g cholesterol, -2g carbohydrates, -1g protein Exchanges: +1 fat)
  • You can use 1 cup of regular sour cream but you undo the nutritional gains of using low-fat and end up with a drier muffin than with the larger amount of low-fat sour cream. (+11 calories, +3g fat, +3g cholesterol, -2g carbohydrates Exchanges: +1/2 fat)
  • Add 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, or 1/4 teaspoon each cinnamon and allspice, to enhance the spicy, earthy flavors.
  • Add the zest from an orange or lemon (with the liquids) for a different and subtle flavor.
  • For fluffier muffins, let them sit on the counter for 20 minutes after you fill the muffin tin.
  • Dress these up by brushing semi-cooled muffins with melted butter and sprinkling on a bit of cinnamon sugar. (+16 calories, +1g fat, +2g carbohydrates, +3mg cholesterol)
  • It doesn't change the resulting muffins, but for extra entertainment, try whisking with your non-dominant hand. Isn't it amazing how difficult such a simple motion can be? I swear my left hand thinks that "clockwise" means something else!

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