Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Honey Cake Memories

My mom called me the other day to tell me about her search for the perfect honey cake recipe she remembers from her childhood and yet another failed attempt to recreate it. While I will thoroughly research every new baking/cooking endeavor and find the best recipes by learning from the mistakes of others, my mother is a lot more adventurous in the kitchen. On many occasions she has literally thrown whatever she felt like together with the carefree notion of "well, why not?" and "let's see what happens if I add this" and "well, if it doesn't turn out, your father will still eat it". And most of the time her experiments turn out great and she'll call me the next day and happily describe what she did with a touch of the old world instructions that don't actually have any measurements despite my best efforts to extract them. A snippet of the conversation will usually go like this:

Mom: "....and then you add some flour"
Me: "How much do you add?"
Mom: "Just a few handfuls 'till it starts looking like it's enough. You'll see."
Me: "Well, approximately how much did you add?"
Mom: "A few cups should do it. Oh, and then you need some baking soda and vinegar"
Me: "What? Really?"
Mom: "Of course, how else are you going to get it to fizz?"
Me: "It needs to fizz?"

And this is when I give up. None of the recipes I've ever come across even mention vinegar. I write down the ingredients she mentions on any scrap of paper I find along with my guesstimates of the measurements with a quick note stating that it's my mother's recipe and I file it away for future investigation.

But back to the honey cake. I wrote down the ingredients she was using and the two variations she learned from my grandmother and one of her friends and listened to how disappointed my father was when he had to go to sleep at the end of the night with no cake and the whole house smelling of baked goods and honey, and I decided to give it a try. I found a recipe that sounded the closest to what my mom was trying to do here and I decided to make it and bring it over to my parent's when I visit them tomorrow. Who knows? Maybe I can come close and I can give her the recipe to play with as she pleases. I doubled the recipe and made two small 8" loaves and a short 6" round cake. One loaf will come with me to work and the other I'll bring to my parent's for that round one...aside from being my model it'll also probably be breakfast since it'll go great with the green tea I just bought. And in the mean time, I get to go to bed with my whole house smelling of warm honey with a touch of cinnamon.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The woes of working from home

This post will be a bit different from the norm purely due to necessity. I had a dentist appointment this morning and decided to work from home after rather than drool over the keyboard and mumble incoherently at my co-workers in the office. Unfortunately, this would mean that I wouldn't be able to eat anything until about 4pm seeing as how I never eat breakfast at home (I keep cereal and milk at work), I haven't had time to either grocery shop or cook anything in days, and that's approximately when the Novocaine will wear off and I'll be able to put something in my mouth being sure that it won't fall out without my knowledge. Had I been in the office this would have been solved by a trip to something like Jimmy Johns, but things being what they were, the occasion called for musgoes (sp?). This is a term I learned at my friend's house and basically it just means that whatever's in the fridge must go. I realize that usually what I consider to be an empty fridge would feed my little sister and her college roommates for two days, as long as you add ketchup and a bit of ingenuity, but I was lacking inspiration....and then I remembered the package of handmade white wine linguine that I bought at the farmer's market last weekend. I dug up a package of mushrooms and the last onion and made a quick sauce with some beef broth and thyme, tossed it all together and voila! Lunch and dinner! I so have to go shopping tomorrow.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

So much craziness, so little time...

Saturday started out great. I woke up pretty early for the weekend and went with my sister to a monthly farmer's market (indoors, it's freezing outside these days). It was absolutely packed and because of the free food samples, a bit crazy. We bought some yummy cheese, fresh baked baguettes, very pretty apples, homemade champagne pasta, and lamb Italian sausage and pretty much got a free lunch by patiently wading through the mob and trying the different local farm themed foods served up by local restaurateurs. I think next time I'll get there early to shop and then come back and take some pictures to share. When we got back home I made some coffee and used the fun little frother thingy my dad got me for new years...maybe it's time to pull the espresso maker out of storage? I spent the afternoon shopping with a friend and running little errands getting ready to make a cake for my grandma's b-day on Sunday. Having what I thought was everything I needed, I started making the lemon curd. I got a bit carried away with juicing the lemons, so I ended up making more than what was needed, but it's delicious, so no one will care. Here it is before I turned it into frosting:

I started collecting everything for the cake and realized that I'm out of eggs, so I put my shoes back on and trudged back out into the snow get some. 20 minutes later though I was back on track. It was about 11pm and with the cakes almost ready to come out of the oven and I was just finishing up with the dishes as I got a call from first my mom and immediately after from my dad saying that my grandma wasn't feeling well and that my dad was on the way there, but since I'm closer if I could head over as well. Not good. I pull the cakes out, put my shoes back on and headed out. She was not doing well at all and I'm glad I showed up when I did, but to cut the story short I spent the next many many hours with my grandma and dad in ER and they still don't know what happened. I crawled back home around 6am, having stayed until she was looking better and was moved out of ER and into a room, and saw the unfinished cake on the counter. To sleep or to finish the cake? Hmm... Now any sane person would probably go to sleep, but I guess this is yet another testament to just how crazy I am: I stayed up and finished the cake. Now it's no masterpiece, but it was finished and when I came back to the hospital that day after having had a few hours of sleep with my sisters and my dad it was looking like just the thing for the occasion. My grandma was surprised that I had time to make it and I was happy that we didn't get kicked out of the hospital for bringing in a knife (to cut the cake), lighting candles (near my grandmas oxygen tank), singing "happy birthday" (with other people in their rooms nearby and us being not exactly quiet) and feeding their patient cake (definitely not hospital food-like).

Despite it's somewhat sad appearance, it was delicious and was very appreciated by my family and the nurses that I left most of it with as thanks for not kicking us out and for being so nice to my grandma. Boy, do I wish for a nice relaxing weekend.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Limoncello...the end of a 6 month relationship

I've been wanting to try making some kind of a home made liquor ever since I heard about how it's done years ago and since I've wanted to go to Italy for years as well, I decided to make Limoncello: a popular Italian aperitif. Now, I'm all about instant gratification and there are very few things that retain my interest for very long, so when I saw that this will take over 4 months to develop, I was a bit unsure. This very well could have gone the way of my painting projects...dust covered in the closet, forgotten for years, but I decided to give it a try anyways, with the intent of giving little bottles of it for the holidays as gifts. So end of July found me in front of the TV with a giant glass jar on one side, a giant bowl filled with about 3 dozen of the prettiest lemons I could find, three party sized bottles of vodka, and a tiny little peeler. Have you ever tried to peel a dozen lemons, especially while trying not to get any of the white pith? How about three dozen? Let me tell you, the excitement lasted me to lemon #10...after that my hand started to hurt and the morale began to slip. By lemon 30 I was ready to chuck them all out the window...but my hands were numb. In the end though I was left with a wonderfully fragrant jar of very potent vodka that was already starting to pick up on the lovely yellow color of the lemons and the waiting has begun.

I faithfully shook up the jar every day for the first week, then I slipped down to once every couple of days, then once a week and finally it was forgotten on the table only being acknowledged once by the guests at my Halloween party where it played the part of a mysterious lab experiment. When the time came around to "feed the beast" with simple syrup it was Thanksgiving, so I missed that deadline and after that I had trouble coaxing anything out of my stock pot that didn't smell of turkey, so I fell behind schedule by about a month. Then the holidays came and in the cookie baking frenzy the Limoncello was completely abandoned right up to last night when I unburried it from the clutter on my table and decided that the time has come to find out what 6 months have resulted in. I bought half-sized bottles and corks from a wine supply store back when I first thought of starting this project, so I pulled them out and prepped them, filtered out the concoction and bottled it. I made quick labels for the bottles so that people know what's inside and lined them up for sharing later. I would have done more in terms of decoration, but it was past 1am at this point, so I figured this was good enough.

All in all I ended up with over a dozen bottles. It may have been more than that, but I kept tasting it as I was ladling it into the filter cone. I have to know what I'm giving people, right? Right. Needless to say, I slept very well that night :)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Switching Gears and a Stinky Little Fruit

The new year has just begun and everyone's thoughts are turning to change. Anything from trying to lose a few pounds to being a bit nicer (hah!) to what am I going to do with my life? I think the reason most resolutions fail is that they're usually too grandiose, too unattainable or made while hiccuping though a champagne induced haze. I've decided not to make any firm goals or drastic changes that I know I won't stick to, but since change is so obviously needed, I'm going to try and trick myself by making tiny little innocent changes in my life. I've decided to shelve the idea of baking as a side business, at least for a few years (the odd commission for a friend doesn't count). It came down to either I bake or I have a life; in the past few months the two have been in a tug of war and since I've been trying to do both, I have forgotten what a full night of sleep feels like. Now this doesn't mean that I'm going to stop baking, oh no. It just means that I'll be baking what and when I feel like, so if any of my co-workers are reading this, don't worry, I'll still do everything I can to undermine your "lose weight" resolutions...just maybe with a little less fervor.

The good thing is that I can redirect the focus of this blog to not just baking experiments, but pretty much any food-related subject I choose, and therefore today's post: the Mangosteen. I went to the giant Asian market with my friend a few days back on yet another spur the moment "they're closing in 15 minutes, but if we get into the door they surely won't kick us out" shopping spree and while sprinting past the frozen foods aisle I noticed a bag of funky frozen fruit. I've heard of mangosteens before, they're becoming the latest advertised "super-fruit", but I've never actually tried them. I tossed the bag into my cart and continued running to catch up to my friend when a Chinese lady going in the opposite direction stopped me, reached into my cart, pulled out the bag and said "This is stinky fruit, not good!" Forced to a dead stop I listened as she told me how she tried it and how it was a waste of money, but tastes differ of course, so I could do what I wanted. I took the bag from her hand, thanked her for her opinion and continued over to where my friend was standing and giggling at me. Now, the marketing blurbs will mention the tale of how Queen Victoria offered a reward to anyone who could deliver to her the fruit fresh and they will tell you the wonderful medicinal properties of this "miracle fruit", so I decided to try it. After all, the bag was only $3.

Today, I pulled one out of the freezer and as it defrosted I did a bit of research. I learned that the elaborately spun tales and promises are all hype and the fruit, while it looks cool, really doesn't offer much in the way of nutritional genius. But still in the microwave it went...I'm not very patient and it was taking way too long for this thing to defrost. The pictures you see are the before and after shots, but let me describe what the pictures may not convey. The before stage is of the frozen fruit devoid of scent, but full of intrigue....and the after is a stinky leaking mess. I think the fruit was named after a mongoose, for surely this smells and tastes like a wet animal. Bleh! It took a bottle of Febreeze to get the smell out of my kitchen.

The moral? If a Chinese lady you don't know makes it a point to give you advice, listen! Unless you are as curious and stubborn as I am, in which case you can't complain, it's all your fault. Now who wants the other mangosteens now taking up space in my freezer?