Saturday, January 31, 2009

Day 7: Amish Friendship Bread

Upon reflection, the Amish Friendship Bread series is pretty dull. But since we only have three days left, we will see this dough become a loaf and be done with it.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Promised Photo: Day 5, Amish Friendship Bread


Day 5: Amish Friendship Bread

My camera is on the fritz today, so I will post a photo of Day 5 as soon as humanly possible. In the meantime, rest assured that our dough looks exactly the same today as it did yesterday. But if you can guess the color of the placemat in the impending photo, I'll send you a cookie.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Day 4: Amish Friendship Bread

Although it is technically Day 4 of the recipe, this is only my second day with this bread because it sat neglected on the counter in my work kitchen for the first few days of its life. So we will skip the "Mush the bag" directions specific to Days 2 and 3, and go straight to "Mush the bag" on Day 4.

This morning, the dough looks much the same as it did yesterday morning. The only difference is the color of the placemat it is resting on.

Stay tuned to see what changes tomorrow bring (and the color of the placemat I decide to use).

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Amish Friendship Bread

There is a disgusting bag of goop in the work kitchen this morning. It’s runny and leaking out of its plastic bag onto the microwave upon which it has been placed by an anonymous co-worker. A post-it attached to the bag reads: “For the taking,” accompanied by a sheet of the following typewritten instructions:

Amish Friendship Bread Starter Mix
Do not use any type of metal bowl or spoon.
Do not refrigerate; will slow yeast reaction.
If air gets into bag, let it out; also, vent gas produced occasionally. It is normal for batter to rise, bubble and ferment.

Day 1 (Jan 25)-Do nothing; this is the day you receive the batter.
Day 2-Mush the bag.
Day 3-Mush the bag.
Day 4-Mush the bag.
Day 5-Mush the bag.
Day 6-Add to the bag: 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup milk. Mix well.
Day 7-Mush the bag.
Day 8-Mush the bag.
Day 9-Mush the bag.
Day 10-

  1. Pour the entire contents of the bag into a bowl.
  2. Add 1-1/2 cups flour, 1-1/2 cups sugar, 1-1/3 cups milk. Mix well.
  3. Measure out four separate batters of 1 cup each into 4 one-gallon freezer bags. Keep one starter bag for yourself (if you want) and give the other 3 away, along with this recipe. Date the bags with Day 1 date so they can keep track.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
  5. To the remaining batter in the bowl, add:
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup oil
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. vanilla
  • 1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 large (5-6 oz.) or 2 small instant vanilla pudding mix (or whatever flavor you like, i.e. banana, etc.)
  • Any nuts, raisins, chips, etc. that you like, or leave plain.

Grease 2 loaf pans; pour batter evenly into pans. Sprinkle with sugar, if you like. Bake for 1 hour or until done with toothpick test.

There is a handwritten note at the bottom: “This is very yummy bread. Dessert-like!”

Since Day 1 was January 25, the dough must have been up for grabs since Sunday. No one else was going to take it, so in the interest of this blog, I swooped in. I wrapped the bag in paper towels—both to quell the leak and to hide the fact that I was taking it—and hid it in my desk drawer.

When I get my Amish Friendship Bread home this evening, I will mush it, as directed. For the next week, I will document this scary sack of goo and see what comes out of the oven at the end. I’m hoping for some yummy, dessert-like bread.

Today’s discovery is just part of a fascinating ongoing phenomenon called Work Kitchen Leftovers. A whole cultural study could be centered around the foodstuffs people bring from home to pawn off (usually anonymously) on their co-workers. There are the obvious holiday leftovers: Halloween candy, Christmas cookies and Thanksgiving pies donated by the Weight Watchers crowd. There are the leftovers from department lunch meetings: soggy sandwiches, wilting lettuce, slimy pasta salad and, less often, cookies (usually broken but no less desirable).

The most common kitchen offerings are failed baking experiments. I will admit that I have, on occasion, snuck doughy pumpkin bread and dry brownies, artfully arranged in a basket, into the kitchen and watched to see how quickly they were eaten. No matter how bad they are, cookies and brownies go very quickly. Pizza, even cold with congealing cheese, is gone in a flash. But I have found that bread is never popular.

There was a lumpy loaf of “Sweet Bread” last week that most definitely was not sweet. It sat around the kitchen for most of the day, but was gone by 3 when lunch was long over and people were bored and peckish for something—anything—to snack on. One Monday morning was brightened by a vast display of homemade cookies and muffins. All of the cookies disappeared by the end of the morning, but one container of muffins sat on the counter all day until someone took pity on them and threw them away. The honesty of their labeling probably had something to do with this; a note on the container read, “Healthy muffins. Sorry—they taste healthy.” I tried these, and they were truly terrible. It’s unfortunate that for this person, “healthy” meant hard, grainy, and strangely metallic. I think they were supposed to be bran muffins, but I couldn’t be sure.

I just hope the person who baked those muffins is not the originator of my Amish Friendship Bread, because when this recipe is finally over, I know exactly where I will be leaving my three extra starter bags of goo. I wonder who will be brave—or foolish—enough to take them home.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sundays in the Kitchen

My husband F says I can't relax. But I think he and I just relax differently. While he is able to sit in one place for hours and read or watch football, I like to wander the city, poking in shops and stopping in coffeehouses. While he is able to sleep in on Sundays, I like to get up early so my weekend lasts longer. While he is happy spending a whole day inside with the kitties, I go stir-crazy and start cleaning or cooking or organizing my books.

Today is Sunday and I've been relaxing in the kitchen since 9am. So far, I have relaxed by making Buttermilk Oatmeal Pancakes, Prosciutto and
Gruyère Pinwheels, and Curried Squash-and-Pear Bisque. Still ahead: Apple Puff Pastry Tart and a loaf of Cranberry Quickbread with Raisins and Hazelnuts.

What could be more relaxing than a Sunday in the kitchen? I've spent the whole day in my pajamas, as you can see in the photo above. I added the apron just for effect; my flannel pants are already dusted with flour and
Gruyère. Despite the title of this blog, what you see there is my preferred kitchen attire, wool socks and all.

I've dedicated this Sunday to cooking for a number of reasons. Firstly, it's Soup and Bread Day. Every Sunday for the last few months, I have made a big pot of soup and a loaf of bread that I bring to work for lunch all week. The soup is really just an excuse to have a big hunk of bread, so the two recipes don't necessarily have to go together. So far, I have made banana bread, carrot cornbread, almond cornbread, cranberry-hazelnut bread, harvest bread, apple-rosemary bread, whole-wheat raisin bread and sage dinner rolls. Today is
bisque and quickbread day.

Tonight is also my monthly supper club dinner, and we are making a puff pastry feast. The main course is Beef Wellington and I am bringing one of the sides:
Prosciutto and Gruyère Pinwheels, a recipe from Gourmet:

Prosciutto and Gruyère Pinwheels
Yield: Makes about 40 Pinwheels
3/4 cup finely grated
Gruyère (about 3 ounces)
4 teaspoons chopped fresh sage leaves
1 puff pastry sheet (from one 17 3/4-ounce package frozen puff pastry sheets) thawed
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto

I decided to halve the recipe, since I doubt that eight girls, no matter how much they love food, will be able to eat 40 pinwheels on top of two other sides, the Wellington, and two puff desserts. And I don't want leftovers floating around the house, since I would eat them all.

My relaxing Sunday in the kitchen began, as usual, when F and I woke up around 9:00. I got breakfast started while he went down the street for coffee. This morning, I made Oatmeal Buttermilk Pancakes from
Cooking Light for F and plain oatmeal for myself (I will be feasting on puff pastry this evening, after all). After breakfast, I started on the Pinwheels.

The puff pastry needed to thaw for 40 minutes, so I laid it to rest on the counter while I prepared the rest of the ingredients:
Grated the cheese and chopped the sage:
After 40 minutes had passed, I placed the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface with the long edge facing me.Then brushed lightly beaten egg across the top inch of the sheet and added a thin layer of prosciutto, leaving the eggy inch free.
And sprinkled the cheese and sage over the prosciutto.Then, starting with the non-eggy side, rolled the pastry sheet into a log, wrapped it in parchment paper, and placed it
(seam-side down) in the fridge to chill for three hours.1:00pm
Since I only made half of the Pinwheels recipe, and the pastry dough package warns against refreezing the dough once it has been thawed, I decided to make a dessert for F (I often make him desserts, so I can enjoy them vicariously). A quick search on led to a recipe for an apple tart from Bon Appetit. I halved the recipe, so my tart was more of a breakfast pastry than a full dessert tart.

First, I brushed an inch of each side with lightly beaten egg and folded the sides to make a raised edge. Then, I made 1/2-inch-long cuts
spaced a 1/2-inch apart all around pastry edge and scored the center with short strokes.
Technically, the recipe says to spread apricot preserves over the center of the pastry. As this was a last-minute recipe and I didn't have apricot preserves, I threw caution to the wind and used orange marmalade, chunks and all. Next, I arranged the apple slices over the marmalade. Since I didn't have a Golden Delicious apple, I used the Braeburn apple I had on hand, feeling very Top Chef-like in my resourcefulness. The recipe calls for the apples to be arranged "in 3 rows, overlapping apples and fitting tightly together." There didn't seem to be enough space in this little pastry for three rows of apples, even if they were overlapping, so I just made up my own pattern, below. Lastly, I brushed each edge with egg, and sprinkled cinnamon and sugar over the entire thing. Then into the oven to bake for 30 minutes.
While the tart was in the oven, I puréed the Curried Squash-and-Pear Bisque from Cooking Light that had been simmering on the stove for the last hour. F was a good sport and waited patiently for his lunch while I artfully arranged the soup and French bread and took a half-dozen photos, shifting everything this way and that until I achieved the desired effect.
I love this soup. It's thick and creamy and sweet, and very filling. It's the best recipe I have found so far in my ongoing experimentation with cubicle lunch soups (see the previous post about the vastly disappointing parsnip soup, also from Cooking Light). And it's a pretty color, which definitely counts for something. A few weeks ago I tried a Pacific-brand mushroom soup that tasted fine, but was a milky gray that gave my co-workers pause when they entered my cubicle. It's never a good sign when people gasp in horror at your lunch.

By the time F and I finished lunch, the apple tart was baked to a golden brown. The crust was flaky and the center was bubbling and steaming.

Poor F. His face fell when I gently took his dessert from his hands before he could take a bite and ruin the aesthetic. Again, he waited patiently while I arranged the tart on a variety of plates on two different tablecloths and took a dozen photographs. It was worth the wait. F proclaimed this tart better than the shrink-wrapped apple strudel from 7-Eleven. High praise, indeed! I took a little bite in the interest of journalism, and it was pretty delicious. The marmalade ended up being a great substitution for the apricot; the citrus added a nice twist to the tart apple.2:00pm
My Pinwheel log was still chilling, and now that I had the bisque for my lunches, it was time for the bread. My current favorite is
Cooking Light Cranberry Quickbread with Raisins and Hazelnuts. It's moist and dense, and the hazelnuts add a distinctive richness. Below: the flour mix, the wet mix, the golden raisins, chopped cranberries, and hazelnuts, all ready to go.
And as if by magic, the loaf fresh from the oven:3:30pm
At last, it's time to bake the Pinwheels. I cut the log into 1/2-inch slices and set them 1 inch apart on a baking sheet.
After 15 minutes in the oven, here is how they came out:
They didn't really puff, but I'd like to think that's a minor detail. The sage really makes this recipe. It threatens to overwhelm the
Gruyère, but only just, so the effect is a sweep of earthy sage followed by the subtler flavors of salty prosciutto and sweet, nutty Gruyère. The pastry soaks up most of the cheese, so the outside is crispy and flaky while the inside inside is soft and a little chewy. Next time, I might take these out of the oven just a minute or two sooner, but all in all, this delicious two-bite hors d'oeuvre was a successful first venture into the realm of puff.

The Pinwheels were well received this evening. They were devoured within ten minutes, followed by a second hors d'ouevre of Spinach and Parmesan Puff Pastry Cups, the main course of Beef Wellington with a side of Asparagus Puff Pastry Torte, and two desserts: Puff Pastry Cookies so dense with butter they were more like shortbread (with accompanying homemade whipped cream), and Banana-Rum Napoleon with homemade whipped cream and caramel sauce. And now I'm off to lie in bed with my belly in the air.

That is what I call a relaxing Sunday!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Culinary Adventures of an Unattended College Freshman, Part 1

The first time I baked unattended was disastrous. During the very first month of my freshman year of college, my new best girlfriends and I decided at midnight on a Thursday that we would bake chocolate chip cookies for all of our friends—who were also wide awake at this hour, of course. The majority of our class lived in a brownstone where the resident assistant, Steve, had a tiny kitchen, which he finally granted us after ten minutes of flirtatious pleading. He was a tiny, studious person who read Hume while we consulted the recipe on the back of the Nestle bag.

I doubt Steve had ever used his mini stove, and I doubt my fellow bakers had any more experience with the culinary arts than I did. Perhaps Steve’s oven was too hot, or we were inattentive, but we burnt our first batch of cookies to charred crisps, filling Steve’s studio with the acrid scent of scorched chocolate. We waved our dishrags at the stove to dispel the haze, and set one of the rags on fire. Steve pretended not to notice. I suppose he found Hume more interesting than four freshman girls capering in his kitchen, waving things about and giggling.

Our second and third batches were more successful, and we delivered cookies to each dorm room, giddy with triumph and chocolate fumes. Those who had stepped out or, astonishingly, had gone to sleep, got a scorched cookie taped to their doorknobs.

The second time I cooked unattended also resulted in charred bits… but for that story stay tuned for the next installment of Culinary Adventures of an Unattended College Freshman.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Reconciling Bare Feet

Welcome to “High Heels in the Kitchen”! While I have been known to bake cookies in heels on occasion, the title of this blog is actually in response to the phrase “barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen,” which has always horrified me. Firstly, because being barefoot in the kitchen seems extraordinarily dangerous, what with the threat of knives and chicken breast droppings, and secondly, because the very concept is disturbing.

I never wanted children. I did not want to be distracted by children. I wanted the husband, but I was going to be an artist and career woman first, and a wife, second. And I vowed that I would never be sidetracked by what I considered “wifely” duties, like cooking.

Cooking is as new to me as marriage. Throughout the past five years, like many young couples, F and I had bounced between our two favorite meals: take-out pizza and a large chunk of meat with a generous side of noodles. I shouldn’t have been surprised when I gained ten pounds.

To get back into shape before our wedding in October, I dove into the unexplored realm of vegetables—and realized that I loved them. I discovered grains other than pasta—quinoa! barley! groats! My vigorous research on nutrition led to a serious interest in food and cooking. Now, I pore over recipes during my lunch hour, stop at the grocery store on the way home every day, and start cooking as soon as I walk through my door. I try to make a new recipe every night to educate myself about this new world of cooking, and my kitchen shelves, which used to be filled with Nabokov and Proust, are now sagging under the weight of ever-multiplying cookbooks.

I have discovered that I enjoy making elaborate dinners. Chopping vegetables is cathartic after a long day at work, and permeating the house with the scent of roasting meat fills me with a sense of accomplishment.

And while I am still horrified by the thought of being pregnant anywhere, much less in the kitchen, I will admit that when my new husband handed out candy to the trick-or-treaters this year and told them to “bundle up,” because “It’s cold out there,” I realized that being the mother of his children someday wouldn’t be so bad. These days, having a career and “keeping house” are no longer mutually exclusive.

So here is my blog, where I will chronicle my triumphs and failures in the kitchen as a newlywed. Topics will include my growing obsession with puréed prunes; my ongoing struggle to learn how to prepare dinner in less than two hours; cooking my first Thanksgiving feast, which was finally ready around midnight; and inspiring my meat-and-potatoes husband to try “weird stuff” like Brussels sprouts, duck breast, broccoli soufflé, and tofu.

And now, off to the grocery store!