Monday, November 30, 2009

Sweet potato rolls

I made sweet potato rolls tonight.  There was a recipe in the newspaper last week.  Yes, I know Thanksgiving is over, but I still have leftovers and need something to go with them.  I also needed a way to get rid of the nasty sweet potatoes that my mom brought.
Don't get me wrong - my mom loves sweet potatoes and eats them several times a week during the fall and winter months.  Normally they're quite tasty.  But she tried to get fancy for Thanksgiving and added a LOT of pineapple in addition to the usual brown sugar, and it was too sweet.  I don't think I've ever complained that something was too sweet, but this was.  So I picked out the potatoes and made rolls.
I mixed them up in the stand mixer and then kneaded them briefly.  The dough was a nice light orange color and was tasty.  Yes, I know I'm not supposed to eat raw yeast dough but it hasn't killed me yet. After the dough doubled in size, I shaped them into rolls and placed them into a greased pyrex dish.  The dish wasn't big enough for all of the dough, so I froze about a third of the dough.  I let the rolls rise for about 45 minues and then brushed them with an egg wash and baked them.
After about twenty minutes, the rolls were golden and smelled really delicious.  I pulled them out and ate one immediately.  It was very light and was rich and buttery, with a delicate texture.  I couldn't really taste the sweet potato but it did give the rolls a nice golden color and probably changed the texture. They would be good at a big dinner such as Thanksgiving or Christmas, but are probably even more enjoyable in a simple meal when there isn't a whole ton of other starchy food available.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving report

Thanksgiving dinner went off without a hitch.  The turkey cooked very fast - less than three hours for a 21 pounder, and it was a bit overcooked, although not dry.  Everything else was tasty and I had a nice time with my parents.
When I went to pull off the meat from the turkey, I realized why it cooked so fast, and why there wasn't really that much breast meat considering the size.  The back of the turkey was just completely fat.  I've never encountered so much fat on a turkey before. There was at least two or three pounds of it.  I'm pretty sure it was a turkey, but it had as much fat as a goose.  I picked off as much meat as I could but it was sort of a lost cause on the back. I think I had more leftovers last year with my 12 pound turkey.
I had thought I was living it up, buying the second cheapest brand of turkey. Wrong.  Nest year I'll go back to the store brand ones, or upgrade to a fancy one.
Anyway, don't get me wrong, it was tasty and I still have plenty of leftovers.  The dark meat was a bit of a gut bomb, though. My parents couldn't figure out why they were so full for so long.  Now they know!

Thanksgiving pregame report

I've got an hour to go before my parents get here for Thanksgiving dinner.  So far, so good, with only one minor mishap.
I made pumpkin 'pie' last night.  There is no crust.  I hate making crust, and in pumpkin pie it really doesn't add anything to the overall experience.  I made the pie filling and baked it in a pyrex dish.
This morning, I slept in, and then got up and read the newspaper.  Eventually I got motivated and made the mashed potatoes.  This was the first time I've used the stand mixer to mash them up.  Easiest mashed potatoes ever- much faster than using the ricer.  Then I prepped the cauliflower and got the turkey ready.  It went into the oven around noon. It's on track to be done sometime around 3:30.  I'm going to have to roast the cauliflower once the turkey is out of the oven. There's not enough room in there.
I made stuffing.  Since there was no room in the oven, I'm cooking it in the electric skillet.  There was a bit too much.  I put some in the dutch oven, but it got completely burned on the stove and I had to trash it.  Now my house smells like burnt bread.  Anyway, there's still plenty of stuffing.  I used sourdough bread and put bacon, apples, celery, onions, and yellow raisins in it.
My mom is bringing sweet potatoes, apple pie, and cranberry sauce.  We're going to have a ton of food.
The house smelled totally good before the stuffing incident.  It smelled like bacon and turkey.  Mmmm.  My neighbors' cat, Max, has been hanging around all afternoon, probably due to the aromas. 
Anyway, that's the pregame report.  I'll post more after the meal.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving countdown, 3 days

I don't really have a set menu for Thanksgiving yet, but it will probably be pretty traditional.  There's the turkey, of course, stuffing (made with sourdough bread and whatever else I decide to add), mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce.  I'll make some sort of green vegetable, and my mom will bring the sweet potatoes.  I should make pumpkin pie but may ask my mom to do it.  Regular Recipe Geek readers know how I feel about making pie!
In the meantime, I've been checking out the following list of Thanksgiving side dishes and trying to decide which ones to try. I may not try them for Thanksgiving itself, but they might make good subjects for a future Recipe Geek post or two.  If you have a favorite, feel free to vote!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thanksgiving Turkey Blog, Prequel

I'm doing Thanksgiving at my house this year. My motives are not entirely altruistic. I want lots of turkey leftovers. I bought a 21 lb turkey. That ought to supply adequate leftovers for me and also my leftover loving parents and 5 turkey-loving cats.
It's supposed to take 1 day to thaw for every 4 lbs of turkey weight. My fridge is cold, and the surface area/weight ratio for a big turkey is lower than that of a small one, so I'm guessing 6 days is more realistic. Thanksgiving is one week away. That turkey is going into the fridge tonight.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

KGO Cookie Contest/Almond Anise Biscotti

Every year, one of the local radio personalities, Gene Burns of KGO hosts a holiday cookie contest.  People send in their recipes, along the story behind the recipes (if there is one).  Finalists are chosen.  They bring a big batch of their cookies to the competition, which is broadcast live.  There are a lot of good prizes, including meals at fancy restaurants or stays at nice hotels.  My mom, who LOVES KGO,  told me about it every year, but she always did so after the fact.  This year I told her to remind me as soon as they started publicizing it. 
Today she emailed me to remind me that they were accepting recipes.  Fortunately, it was all online so I was able to submit my application quickly.  It cheered me up from the depressing layoff meeting we had with HR this morning.  They will pick 25 finalists.  Each finalist has to bring 100 cookies and can bring one guest.  From the number of cookies, it sounds like the finalists and guest may get to sample their competitors' cookies. That alone is a prize in itself.
There was no question which recipe to submit.  I had to send in THE biscotti recipe. Yep, the almond anise biscotti dipped in chocolate. I've been making biscotti for almost 10 years.  The parent recipe came from the internet, but over the years I've modified it a lot.  I'm not publishing it here just yet, but I will if I win. In the meantime, if you'd like a copy, email me and I'll send it to you.
I also included the story of the biscotti.   It's not grandma's top secret recipe that she carried with her on the boat from France*.  It's pragmatic rather than prosaic.  I wrote that I'm a chemist by day and a baker/food blogger in my abundant spare time, and that I've experimented with this recipe over the years.  I wrote that I always make several batches to give out at Christmas, as well as throughout the year, that people love them, and that they keep well for several weeks if stored in an airtight container.  Not that they usually last that long.  Oh yeah, and that they even better when dipped in chocolate.
I also posted a link to this blog, so if any of the judges are reading this, please please please pick me!!  I'm about to be laid off and need to come help you sample all those cookies at the final!

*There is a French grandma in this story, but it's not my own grandma.  One of my coworkers, who is French, said his grandmother used to make biscotti that tasted a lot like mine.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dining for Women/New York Style Cheesecake

Part 1: Tomorrow evening I'm going to a "Dining for Women" potluck.  "Dining for Women" is an organization that raises money for women's causes throughout the world. The premise is pretty simple.  The hostess volunteers her house.  The guests bring potluck dishes, learn about the charity, and donate what they would've spent on a dinner out, or whatever they can afford or feel like donating, to the charity. I'll blog more about it once I've actually attended.
Anyway, it was a kind of funny coincidence.  Judy heard about it and was interested in trying to start a group.  A few weeks later, Kathy mentioned that she'd been attending some dinners and asked if I was interested.  I said that I was and that Judy was interested as well.  So we will be going to our first dinner tomorrow.
This group is apparently mellow about what people bring, so people bring what they want without worrying about overlap.  Kathy said it always seems to work out food-wise.  Which makes sense - I have no objection to meals withover representation in certain types of foods, particularly dessert. 
I'm bringing a New York style cheesecake.  I almost made a chocolate terrine, but a few too many red flags went up with the recipe so I didn't want to risk it for the potluck.  Yes, I have learned a few things from my recipe geek experiences, and  I couldtotally see it being softer than planned and looking like literally like shit.  I decided to follow my mom's example and bring a cheesecake. That was her standard dish for potlucks when I was a kid.  It was always well received, since there was usually an overabundance of casseroles.
I'm using the recipe from the Cook's Illustrated book. If you'd like a copy, email me and I'll send it to you.  Basically, you make a graham cracker crust and bake it for about 15 minutes.  To make the filling, you beat 2 1/2 lbs of cream cheese (yep, you read that right) until it's smooth and creamy, add 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1/3 cup sour cream, and 2 tsp each vanilla and lemon juice and blend well,  You then beat in 2 egg yolks and 6 eggs, a few at a time.  I was really glad I have a big stand mixer.
The filling is then poured into the springform pan containing the crust and placed in a 500F oven.  After ten minutes, the temperature is lowered to 200F and baked for another hour and a half or so.  The high heat is necessary to form the dark top crust, which isapparently traditional.  After about 45 minutes, it had risen a bit and got a nice brown top crust.  After an hour and a half, it looked pretty much the same but wasn't as jiggly. I pulled it out of the oven and let it cool.
While all the preparations were going on, the Recipe Geek taster cat was nowhere to be found, despite the presence of all that butterfat in the kitchen.  She was sleeping in the living room, completely oblivious.  After I poured the filling, i put a few spoonfuls into a bowl for her and called her. She ate it all and then promptly went back to sleep.
Part 2: Potluck report
The potluck was fun.  I walked in, not knowing anyone, and they offered me my choice of wine, whiskey, or Tuaca with cider. That was a very good sign.  Naturally, I chose the Tuaca.  Kathy and Judy showed up later.  It was a really nice group of people.  Afterwards, Kathy, Judy and I went out for more drinks.
The cheesecake was a tiny bit overdone but good.  It definitely had the taste and texture of a real cheesecake, with a different texture on the outside vs the inside, and took me back to the cheesecakes of my childhood, although those consisted mainly of cottage cheese.  I can't say it tasted that much better than the lighter cheesecakes, so 100% cream cheese isn't necessary.  I have a lot left over, so it's good that I liked it!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

No knead whole wheat bread

The authors of "Artisan Bead in 5 Minutes a Day" have a new book out now.   "Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day" is very similar, with more of an emphasis on healthy ingredients.  I really really like white bread but bought the new book anyway.  The master recipe for whole wheat bread is posted on their blog now.
A few months ago I bought a book by some different authors for another variation on no-knead bread.  It just did not do it for me, so I won't post a link or name names.  Everything seemed more fussy and inconvenient.  However, they did rely heavily on wheat gluten, so bought some before I lost interest.  So when I got my new book and saw that they used wheat gluten, I didn't even need to go to the store.
I haven't had a chance to read the whole book yet, but I made the master recipe tonight.  It's about 2/3 whole wheat and 1/3 white flour, with a bit of gluten added for extra rise. The remaining ingredients are salt, yeast, and water. Like the recipes from the old book, it's pretty easy.  Combine the dry ingredients, add water and mix until blended.  You then let it sit at room temperature for three hours, and put it in the fridge until you are ready to use it.  The master recipe makes 4 1 lb loaves, although I end to make them a bit bigger andusually get three out of each batch.
The dough grew a lot faster than expected.  The authors said it grows more slowly than the white bread recipe, but that was not my experience.  (Or maybe my house is a lot warmer and less drafty now that I have new windows!)  After an hour it had gotten pretty big and was threatening to overflow the bowl. I hadn't originally planned to bake it tonight, but changed my plans rather than risk a mess in my fridge.  I pulled off about a pound of it, tried to shape it, and let it rise.  It was a lot stickier than expected so my shaping efforts were not all that skillful.  Chilling it in the fridge helps make it less sticky and the dough develops more of a sourdough flavor over time.
The dough ball grew quickly.  It was quite puffy after 20 minutes.  Again, that was a lot quicker than I ever observed for the white bread.  I am definitely going to have to start adding gluten to that recipe too!  After 45 minutes, I made three slashes in the top of the loaf, brushed it with water and sprinkled it with a mix of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, and anise, and put the loaf in the oven.
The bread expanded sideways as it baked.  It was moderately dense, moist, tasty but a bit bland.  It was not too sweet, so that is good.  A few days fermenting in the fridge will hopefully improve the flavor for the next loaf I bake.