Thursday, January 26, 2006

Sugar Low Cupcakes

This is an entry in Sugar High Friday, hosted by Sam at Becks and Posh--but this time it's Sugar Low. The idea was to use less fat and sugar, and possibly to experiment with other sweeteners.
My idea was to make some low-sugar cupcakes, using staples that I already had in my kitchen. Toward that end I browsed around the internet and my cookbooks, looking for a recipe that used honey, found a few, jotted down some notes, and started to get out the bowls and spoons. Many substitutions and mistakes later, I had the above not-quite cupcakes--really more like muffins. I'll give the recipe, but I don't recommend using it w/o changes.
First, I discovered the honey was almost gone, so I decided on maple syrup. Then I remembered that I had a big container of whole wheat flour that I'd been meaning to use up, so I got that out. Finally it turned out I only had one egg. (A less determined or smarter cook might have given up here.)
Even though these weren't an unqualified success, they weren't bad, especially if you said "muffin" to yourself, firmly eschewing the idea of "cupcake."
Whole Wheat Maple Muffin-Cupcakes
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup wheat germ
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ginger
zest of one orange, chopped
1/4 cup butter
1 egg
1/4 cup plus 2 tbs maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup orange juice
1/8 cup yogurt
about 1/2 cup chopped 70% chocolate
Mix first 6 ingredients in a bowl. In another, cream butter, add first the egg, then after whisking a bit, add maple syrup and vanilla, finally orange juice. The mix looked really unpromising at this point, grainy and not quite together. But I persevered, and added the dry ingredients.
The batter looked a little dry to me, so I added an eighth cup of yogurt, on the grounds of why not. At this point I tasted the batter, and it tasted very uncake like. So I decided to add the chocolate, on the grounds that chocolate improves everything.
With some misgivings, I filled the muffin cups (I used paper liners), and baked them at 375 for about 28 minutes.
How were they? As I said, not bad, in a muffin kind of way. There was really too much wheat germ, and it gave them a undesirable grainy feel in the mouth. The tastes were good though--the maple syrup, the hint of orange, and the chocolate--which might make me try them again. If I do, I think I'd substitute white flour for half the whole wheat. I'd use a second egg. I'd reduce the wheat germ or maybe get rid of it altogether. The orange juice didn't seem to make any difference--all the orange I tasted was from the zest, so I'd get rid of that.
I made an icing which tasted wonderful, but was a) too gloppy, and b) tasted better on its own than top of the cupcake-muffins. It was a yogurt and butter mix, flavored with maple syrup and a bit of ginger. I found that I had to put two tablespoons of powdered sugar into it to make it come together, which it then did miraculously--a little chemistry lesson, which if I'd read Harold McGee's book, I'd understand more deeply.
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Sunday, January 22, 2006

soup and more soup

I was out for dinner last night at the friend of some friends, a dinner where everything was very good, but most especially the potato soup. I'm planning on begging for the recipe. The soupmaker, K, apologized for it before hand, reminding me so strongly of my mother, who often stood by the table, wiping her hands on a dish towel and listing all the things that were wrong with a dish that a tableful of guests were slurping and drooling over. She was a perfectionist, and she didn't want us to like the apricot chiffon pie or the stuffed pork chop unless we knew how wonderful it could have been, if only she'd done this or that, or hadn't run out of the other.
One of my thoughts about this blog was that I'd cook some of the things that she cooked, recipes I've never attempted. For a long time, there was no need for me to make the black walnut cake or the torte, because my mother would be doing it, sooner or later. And then, poof, she was gone--she and my father both died in 1999, and all that was left of her lifetime of superlative cooking were taste memories, a dozen or so cookbooks, and a pile of recipes in a black folder held together by crossed rubber bands, one red and one blue.
My first venture in this direction was the torte, which I made for Christmas dinner. It's a meringe torte, a kind of dacquoise (sp?), I think, that she got out of some magazine in the '50s. Two layers of slow-baked meringue, filled and frosted with whipped cream mixed with chopped cherries and pineapple. It's the kind of food that seems like more than the sum of its parts.
I agonized over it somewhat, especially when I had trouble getting the layers out of the pans (and had to patch it all together with extra gobs of whipped cream). And just as my mother had, I warned of dire consequences to anyone who touched it as it sat in state in the refrigerator, or moved, or even breathed on it too heavily. It was pretty good, but like my mother, I feel constrained to tell you that it was a little squat, not quite as pretty as my mother's were, and that I wondered if I might have put in a little more pineapple than I did.
My plan now is to start going through her cookbooks and follow the bookmarks (old envelopes, shopping lists, ancient Christmas and get-well cards) and the food-stains marking favorite recipes. Swedish Meatballs, anyone? Veal Stew and Dumplings? Stuffed Cabbage?

Monday, January 09, 2006

chicken soup

Like a lot of other foodbloggers, I feel a need to abjure cookies and all their ilk for a while. It's true that yesterday I went out to lunch with my sister and had dessert--a tiny chocolate cake with a molten chocolate center, topped off by vanilla gelato. But that's absolutely the last of that kind of thing for a while. (Unless I'm tempted beyond my strength.) Therefore, tonight I'm making chicken soup for dinner.

Chicken Soup

This is not my mother’s recipe, for she didn’t make chicken soup. She made vegetable soup and split pea soup. In a frisky mood, she sometimes made vichysoisse, but she served it hot, not sure why. Maybe cold soup seemed silly to her. It was fine. But I don’t remember her ever making chicken soup. When we had that, it was from a red and white can, often for lunch with a grilled cheese sandwich.

I did use recipes originally when I made chicken soup—I have a recipe card from when I first got married hubristically titled “Chicken Vegetable Soup Supreme.” My experimental contribution to the annals of chicken soup was adding a chopped apple. But now when I make chicken soup, I go with the flow. If I have time, or if I have some in the freezer, I make a separate chicken stock. But often I just poach the chicken and use that poaching liquid as the basis for the soup.

This time, I have on hand

1 whole chicken breast, skin on

3 onions

4-5 carrots, both the regular orange and also some maroon ones I got at the market

3 medium potatoes

1 stalk celery with some leaves on it

½ red pepper

a big pinch of tarragon

a corresponding pinch of dried mint

a pinch of basil

a few shakes of cayenne pepper

a slug of white wine (about a half cup, I’d guess)

salt and pepper to taste

Put the chicken in a pot with one of the onions and the celery. Cover with water and throw in a few shakes of salt. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for abt 20 minutes. Take chicken out and cool, then take the meat off the bones and cut bite-size; discard skin. Other recipes always say to discard the solids in a stock, but I often just cut them up and put them in with the rest of the soup. If this is a bad idea, someone please let me know. Put the chopped carrots, onions, and red pepper in the pan with the chicken-poaching water and the wine. Add a little water if it seems like not enough. Add the herbs and the pepper and a bit of salt, and cook until the carrots are approaching doneness. Add chopped potatoes and simmer for maybe 10 minutes more. Add the chicken.

At this point, I taste the broth and sometimes add a bit more of this or that—more of what’s already in there (basil, tarragon, mint), or something else that seems to have potential: a bit of smoked paprika, a tiny pinch of oregano, a little turmeric. Also a good time to add a cup of cooked rice or pasta, if you’ve got some leftovers you’d like to use profitably. And this is the time for the salt and pepper to-taste.

This is a crowded soup, with chunks of vegetable and meat, and flecks of herbs floating in it—not to everyone’s taste maybe, but very good.