I should have been writing. Instead…apple cake.

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You know how it is.

You find out that the distance between you and YouTube is just a voice command and a few clicks on the TV remote and there really is no reason to leave the recliner.

Okay, maybe you don’t know how it is. [i.e. you are not a slothful low-life.]

Anywaaay, this recipe from joyofbaking.com was the first to show up on the big screen. Stephanie Jaworski’s demonstration was clear and concise. My version matched the one in the video. Always reassuring. The baking time was within the +/- 5 minutes margin-of-oven-performance estimation. Taste and moistness and ingredient ratios–spot on. Final grade: 91%. [Bravo, Stephanie!]

Ready for baking: 

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More than a few notes:

  • One of the best parts of baking–Wife comes in the front door, breathes in, and announces to the world: “Someone’s been baaaaking!”
  • Liked Stephanie’s idea of making an apricot jam glaze. I went with raspberry. Yep, I’d do it again. Always one to hedge my bets, I glazed only half the cake.
  • I add tons more cinnamon than is called for and included allspice as well.
  • I mixed brown with white sugar.
  • No raisins in the house [my preferred dried fruit]. I went with dried cranberries, which I nuked in water for about 45 seconds to tenderize them a bit. Wouldn’t have hurt if I subbed in brandy or creme de cassis for the water.
  • I’m sure this has been suggested elsewhere in the world, but…the microwave’s ‘defrost’ setting works great for melting butter. Ditto for gently reheating certain delicate leftovers like shrimp.
  • Type of apple used: Winter banana [from our weekly community-supported agriculture box. A shout-out to Denison Farms, by the way.]
  • I cook/bake better when a towel is draped over my shoulder. Go figure. I’m not an Emeril Lagasse fan-boy, but he rocks that same shoulder accessory.
  • Yes, I will continue my socially marginal habit of consuming cake by the manually mangled hunk.
  • Where did today’s inspiration come from? A. Those winter banana apples weren’t going to cook themselves.   B. The apple festival-winning cake in last night’s Hallmark movie. [Hey, call me a wuss, but our current crop of semi-journalistically responsible ‘BREAKING NEWS!!!!’ channels are just plain bad for our health. If I’m going to engage in harmful behaviors, they’ll include flour, sugar, butter and a message to someone that I care about them.]
  • If I had more time, I would have revisited Maida Heatter’s apple cake recipe .
  • Lest you think my life is perfection on a plate, consider this:

Our toothpicks are scattered throughout the pot holder drawer. Really…rounding them up and replacing them in a too-small box, from which they will no doubt roll out within minutes…unfathomable torture.

  • I miss having a dog lurking nearby watching my every move.

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Thanks for visiting. Give this recipe a try. It has ‘comfort on a fall Sunday afternoon’ written all over it.

 

 

I should have been writing. Instead…Stovetop Chocolate Cake.

 

File_001Yes, stovetop. A challenge worth pursuing.

This recipe came from Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street website.

And I have to say, as with Cook’s Country/America’s Test Kitchen [C. Kimball’s most recent endeavor], the accompanying video segments were extremely helpful.

***

As the cake steams–yep, steams– toward completion, some questions and notions:

  • This will be my default ‘baking’ method during the heat of summer. 
  • A while back, I mentioned my tendency to do weird, lame stuff in the kitchen, such as mixing or chopping at the very edge of the counter. Wull-gee, what are the odds something’s going to end up on the floor? I do eventually learn from repeated bungling, however. So this time, the floor was spared the usual cascade of ingredients. Bravo.
  • Buuuut, did that keep me from having my laptop hanging precariously over counter’s edge as I began typing this post? Uhhh, no. Seems like once I hit my threshold of competency, all bets are off. Hide the knives, check the burners, and pray. [Doesn’t matter which god you choose, by the way. They all understand kitchen hazards. And at some point in the process, I become the poster child.]
  • I should have hired a first-grader to cut my circle of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan.
  • With this stovetop strategy, will we still be treated to the warm, enveloping aroma of a baked chocolate cake? Answer: No.
  • I’m not supposed to lift that lid till the prescribed 23 minutes has lapsed. I actually resisted. Decision: It needed an extra five to seven minutes. On the upside, unless the water has evaporated, the risk of burning the cake is minimal. In other words, steam bath: forgiving…oven heat: cruel and merciless.
  • When it comes to chocolate desserts, our mantra: Dark = better. Darker = more better.
  • Always remember: Eating cake by the hunk enhances flavor by 23%. [Margin of error: +/- 5%]
  • My wife rolls her eyes at my Philistine ways, bBut I say, ‘If I bake it, I break it.’ And it’s oh-so-good that way. Besides, she gets to even out the ragged edges.

Final verdict: This recipe is a keeper. The cake came out dark and dense and moist. What more could you want?

 

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The steaming takes place inside a Dutch oven–actually any pot with a tight-fitting lid and deep/wide enough to fit an eight or nine-inch cake pan. The coil of aluminum foil simply keeps the cake above the heated water.

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The chocolate shmeer on the plate is a sure sign of this cake’s moistness. [The added chocolate chunks don’t hurt either.]

Added notes: Apologies to Bitter Ben, whose blog I follow. Rather than bittersweet, I used semi-sweet chocolate chunks from Trader Joe’s.

And to faithful reader Virginia [Roses in the Rubble], try this recipe. It should be a fair payback for the recipes you’ve shared with me.

 

I should have been writing. Instead…biscuits.

 

 

biscuits reduced size

Yep, biscuits. So much more rewarding than wrangling over a first draft that points to the dwindling intellect of a ‘certain writer’.

They were the finale after the arugula pesto and the tofu spread.

Pretty sure I lost my two readers with those last two words, but stick with me here…

Solution to tofu that tastes [and behaves] like spackle: Heat the olive oil, bloom the spices in the oil, *then* add the tofu, the caramelized onions, the arugula, and whatever else won’t resist your purposeful grope into the fridge.

Essentially, you make a tofu scramble and pulverize it in the food processor. Now you actually have something with flavor that you can spread on bread, but without the sinfulness of cheese.

Back to the biscuits…today, I used the New York Times’ all-purpose biscuit recipe as my starting point. I had already sullied the food processor when I made the pesto, so I snagged a cube of butter from the freezer and grated it into the flour. [The photo below is telling me I should have also added parm to the mix.]

parmesan-cheese grater

 

So, no cheese this time, but afternoon coffee and biscuits ensued.

dog mug

Sitting in the backyard sun, feet up on another chair, two of my favorite foods, my truly favorite person, and the knowledge that the writing projects will still be there when I saunter back. Life’s good.

 

 

I should have been writing. Instead… [the sequel at 375 degrees].

The weather is cool enough to fire up the oven, so it’s time to roll out the crusts I made on Saturday.

My French teacher, Brother Reinkens, would prefer I call it a ‘galette’–do you get the feeling I’m haunted by my high school years?…time out…my facial tics are back…….okay, the medication’s kicking in…I call this, not so simply, “If Picasso made a rustic apple-dotted-with-raspberries pie.”

rustic apple pie

This is the smaller, experimental cinnamon-with-vanilla crust, so you’re looking at a pastry with six-inch sides. I turned over the larger crust to my wife, who opted for those plums from the neighbors. That hummer is still baking.

However, here is the real reason to make extra pie crust–in this case, sour cream pie crust.

pie crust strips

These food-like mutants of dubious origin will soon morph into strips of bubbling butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon.

Like this, for instance…

pie crust strips baked

Finally, lest** you think barbarism reigns supreme in the kitchen, my wife dials things back with symmetry, order, even beauty [though don’t think I’m not reveling in the plentiful ooze on the right edge].

plum galette

 

**My apologies for the snooty use of ‘lest’. Trying to make up for the ‘arson aftermath’ look of the pie crust strips, I’d say. [An aside: I really don’t get why Food Network hasn’t come calling for my descriptive flair. I think Ina Garten and her Hamptons crowd and I would hit it off quite well.]

Geez, the kitchen smells good. Time for an afternoon mug of Mayan Blend…

dog mug

 

I should have been writing. Instead…

First of all, I’m thankful my boss is so forgiving, so understanding, so

  • interested in cooking as I am.
  • accepting of the power of displacement activities. [i.e. baking, procrastination in the form of picking up apples from the backyard, watering the front yard heathers to stave off the 100 degree heat, baking some more, making poblano pesto, watching golf–a sure sign that I’ve completely succumbed to the lures of the passive life]
  • open to writing tasks being mere suggestions in one’s life, not mandates.

Of course, I am he. [Yes, that’s grammatically correct and it sounds so wrong, so snooty, so…sophomore year English class.]

Well, anyway…[picture Brother McCarthy hovering, arms crossed, berating me for not getting to the point within the first 20 words]

I’ve pounded out my first 1000 words already, but I’m in debt from the two previous days of productive weenieness.

I blame my neighbors.

You see, no matter how misguided and unjust the practice, my boss is also firmly on-board withfingerpoinitng

 

Those nice folks dropped off a bag of fresh-picked plums and my wife [and co-boss] mentioned the word ‘galette’ and since I took French during my first two years of high school, I really had no choice.

And because I am extremely intuitive when it comes to baking, I concluded that I needed a crust.

No big deal. I like to try different crusts, but I would say any crust should work for you.one-and-a-half of these little hummers are sitting in the fridge–

I now have one-and-a-half of these little hummers [aka crusts] sitting in the fridge–all those gluten strands relaxing, all those fat/flour/butter globules [hardly prime terminology for cookbook authors] hydrating.

The half of a crust resulted from me thinking, ‘Hey, I have a half cube of butter, plenty of flour, plenty of salt, plenty of sugar, full-fat yogurt, and an adventurous spirit!’. Okay-yes, my inner monologues aren’t quite that formal, but I threw those together in proper proportions, fed that adventurous spirit by tossing in cinnamon and some vanilla, and well…

Will let you know how this all shakes out.

I should have been writing. Instead…Fudgy Mocha Bars

There’s nothing I like better than seeing my wife drive off for a few errands–now, now, now, let me finish–so I can dive into a baking project.

The best part? When she returns, she is enveloped in the aroma of chocolate decadence at 350 degrees.

[Even better? When I have time to clean the kitchen before she gets back. Nailed it!]

The task at hand was Fudgy Mocha Bars from Dorie Greenspan’s Dorie’s Cookies.

fudgy mocha bar _2 with caption

I eased up a bit on the flour [adds to the candy bar effect] and pushed the cocoa [measuring? I don’t think soooo.].

The 30-minute cooling-off period [in other words, infinity] gave me some mulling time:

  1. Since when did manufacturers [aka the insidious “they”] start making chocolate chip packages ‘adult-safe’? Am I now so pathetic that I need to pack a trusty pair of scissors wherever I go? And am I now so lame that I’ll also need a scissors-holster? [“T, how many times have I told you?! No hobbling through the house with scissors!”]

  2. Since when did I drift into a parallel universe where I started dicing, spreading, and/or kneading along the edge of the counter? Have I suddenly forgotten gravity’s peculiar powers? I can see it coming– Roombas pre-programmed with: “Clean up at the east wing of the kitchen!”. 

Result on the Fudgy Mocha Bars: I broke off an ample hunk for breakfast. [Note: food tastes better in hunks. Well, except for soup…and salads…okay, you know what I mean.]



When I saw the photo of the Fudgy Mocha Bars, I wondered how different they would be from just plain brownies. And yet, there was a different, and welcome, consistency.

Speaking of brownies [and I can’t think of a reason not to speak of them], here is my favorite recipe: Best Cocoa Brownies from Alice Medrich’s Cookies and Brownies

Gotta tell you…these two ladies know their way around an oven.