Back to work
My timing (which I originally touted) with starting a new blog wasn’t great. Soon after my last post I left for my first of three research trips which each lasted at least a week. Those trips didn’t include the two-week vacation I took to Colorado and Oregon in the middle of July. Needless to say, I have spent time neither cooking nor blogging. I do have some pictures of foods from my trips that will probably show up here eventually. Being out of the kitchen all summer was particularly painful because I didn’t get to take advantage of the great farmers’ market. So when I returned from Michigan the first thing I did (the next morning) was head downtown. I picked up some green beans, beautiful carrots, garlic, and flowers (well my boyfriend got the flowers). The next day I had a cooking party (ok, it wasn’t a party because I was the only person who cooked) and invited two friends over for dinner.. I started out by making a biscuit recipe sent by my mother-in-law clipped out of the newspaper from this restaurant.
It involved cutting one stick of cold butter into sugar cube-sized pieces and tossing it into a flour mixture, refrigerating the floured cubes for a couple hours, flattening the butter pieces with your fingers, putting the flattened pieces back in the refrigerator, and then dumping buttermilk into the mixture. I don’t have any picture of the finished product. Because we ate them all.
After I started the biscuit recipe, I began making a southern caramel cake published in Cook’s Country. It wasn’t too terribly difficult – just chop two sticks of butter into tablespoon-sized pieces and drop them in the flour mixture until the mixture resembled small peas. Then I added the liquid ingredients which consisted of buttermilk, vanilla, and eggs whisked together. (Please note: that small measuring cup is not large enough for the liquid ingredients to be whisked in; some of my liquid got on the counter.)
A half hour later, two nine-inch cake layers looked golden and delicious. But they were missing frosting.
Which is where the caramel part came in. The whole point of this recipe was that the frosting was suppose to be less difficult that traditional caramel cakes. I cooked two cups of dark brown sugar, water, and butter on the stove for a bit, whisked some cream, and cooked a second longer before transferring the mixture to the mixer. From there I beat in a lot of powdered sugar, some vanilla, and some butter.
I actually had to race and pick up my boyfriend in between finishing the frosting and frosting the cake, so the frosting wasn’t as smooth as it should have been. So that cake wasn’t as pretty as I would have liked, but it was still damn pretty.
With the cake finished, I started making dinner. Cook’s Illustrated’s most recent issue had an updated version of chicken and dumplings, and I happened to know that was one of my guests’ favorite foods (and I knew the other guest and my boyfriend wouldn’t complain). I started by browning six chicken thighs before removing them and letting them rest.
Then I sauteed onions, carrots, and celery, before adding the chicken thighs back in, some chicken wings, some chicken broth, and a lot of thyme.
While that simmered for an hour, I got together the dumpling ingredients, primarily buttermilk, melted butter, and flour – with some levener and seasonings thrown in too. Then I carefully folded the wet ingredients into the dry so as not to build gluten, before dropping tablespoon-sized mounds of dough into the chicken broth.
I don’t quite have the food blogging down, so there isn’t a finished picture of the chicken and dumplings, except this where they are being packaged for leftovers.
But I have to say, they were a hit. I probably liked them least of all, and I thought they were pretty darn good.
So was the cake. Really, really good. But before we ate cake I cleaned the kitchen.
But while I cleaned, I also threw together two loaves of banana bread. Simple ingredients: mashed bananas, plain yogurt, melted butter, flour, sugar, salt, baking soda.
Similar to the dumplings, the key to banana bread (in addition to the yogurt) is folding gently to avoid creating gluten. Also, note the one classy pan and the one trashy pan.
And so the next morning I had slices of banana bread to take to work on the first day of school. And it was officially back to work. Working on the dreaded dissertation. But damn, was I full.