Sunday, March 14, 2021

I Suppose This Was Always Going To Happen.

 Hi! Long time to see, huh? How you been? Work going ok? Are they letting you work from home?

So, you might be wondering where I've been for the last few months.

Well, if we're being honest...

In short, broad strokes, it's mostly the Covid-19. For the majority of the school year, our kids were doing distance learning at school. If you don't have kids (lucky you) they were staying home and doing their work on a school issued iPad.

We both had to change our work schedules to accommodate this. That meant I had to start going in to at 6am and leaving at 2:30pm, and she had to go to second shift, roughly 4pm to 12:30am. Which meant that I had the kids solo in the evenings, and the only time we were really together was on the weekends.

Those weekends grew to be too important for me to spend time on this blog, which has brought in six dollars in the almost three years I've been doing it. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy doing this, and I always knew I'd be coming back sooner or later.

Eventually school started up again, and we went back to our original work schedules complete with evenings together.

Everything was coming along swimmingly until last week when I had to have a physical exam done for my job.

My job at work is, among other things, to drive the route truck. To do that professionally you need a DOT certificate indicating that you passed a physical.

It seems the United States Department of Transportation has tightened up their requirements regarding sleep apnea and the Body Mass Index (BMI).

Guess who has two thumbs, an 18 inch neck, weighs 260 lbs. (118.5 kilos), and snores like a chainsaw?

How's it going?
Also, that's a shirt about cheese. Because of course it is.

The doc signed my certificate, dated it for six months, and then told me that if I didn't lose 30 pounds and/or get a sleep study done, he wouldn't sign it again.

Those things are supposed to be good for two years, under ideal conditions.

He recommends losing the weight by cranking way back on the carbs. Goody, huh?

That was really the only way that was going to happen, wasn't it?

Ok, fine. Time to pare off some of my awesomeness.

I told you some time ago that changes were coming to this blog. It appears the federal government has forced the issue.

So be it. I'm going to be changing things up a little.

But first, let's get something straight right now.

 One does not "go on a diet." The food one eats is one's diet. I'm going to change my diet. Semantic quibbles are the best kind.

Before you jump in with advice, please realize something. The words "keto," "paleo," "primitive eating," and the like do not arouse my curiosities. I'm not convinced these aren't fad diets, and I've yet to see a fad diet yield positive long term results.

My wife won't actually let me eat in the bathroom.

Also, anything labeled "diet" invariably tastes like crap. My grandmother used to swill Diet Pepsi like they were going to outlaw it tomorrow. Tasted awful when they sweetened it with saccharine, tastes awful with aspartame, and the sucralose version tastes like - lemme check my clipboard here - also crap.

I am going to be keeping a weather eye out for refined sugars, e.g. high fructose corn syrup. To that end I haven't drank soda in six days, and I'm unlikely to start up again today. Don't know what tomorrow's going to look like, though. 

By the way, how do I know I'm probably addicted to sugar and caffeine? I've had a dull headache for the last four days. 

Good thing I like my homebrew iced tea. Which, coincidentally, was the first thing I shared on this blog. 

Really, though, I know what the crux of the issue is. It's the snacks. I have to make better snacking choices, including but not limited to knowing the difference between hungry and bored. Eating my weight in granola bars from Aldi is not an altogether healthy habit to cultivate.

We've all been there.

Not that I'm pinning my weight on Aldi or anything they sell. I need to rethink my thinking about what goes into my mouth.

And therein lies the keystone of my current grand carriage. My relationship with the food I eat. What I'm eating, how much of it I eat, and why I'm eating it. I can understand why some people go to therapy for this.

Also water. I should definitely drink more water.

I will also be sharing what I've learned here. Don't know what that'll be yet. Maybe I'll just pop in now and then to complain and shake my fist at the sky. Y'know, like everyone else with a blog.

In any event, your fat guy is going to try to get a little less fat.

So, stay tuned. Stuff's going to happen. Mistakes will be made. Motivations will be forgotten. Frustration will be shared. Good food will be cooked and eaten.

But maybe not in such heroic amounts.

Today is Sunday, the fourteenth day of March in the year 2021. As of this afternoon I weigh 255 lbs. I want to be under 225 by Labor day. We will see.

To quote Rachel Maddow, watch this space.

Six-pack? Bah.

Sunday, October 25, 2020


Pain Au Lait

aka milk bread

aka one of the most versatile bread recipes you'll find

aka my favorite bread roll

How it's traditionally served. If you're familiar with The Great British Baking Show, you've probably seen this picture before. If you haven't, I feel you for you. It's on Netflix, make haste.

So, what is this stuff? Well, it's white bread made with milk, milk powder, butter, flour, salt, water, yeast, sugar, alligator toenails, pencil shavings, no water or milk powder, are you paying attention?

Are you?

I've made this for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, and it's been a big hit. I've made hamburger buns out of it for summer cookouts and not had any left over. This one is well worth your time.

We begin.

Your tools and equipment are as follows -

  • Assorted measuring cups and spoons and implements of destruction

  • Two mixing pitchers

  • Mixing bowl (or bread machine or stand mixer)

  • 9” x 13” baking pan

  • Cutting board

  • Oven

  • bowl scraper

And representing the edibles team are, in no particular order -

  • 12 oz by weight of AP flour

  • 2 teaspoons of dry yeast

  • 2 teaspoons of salt

  • 2 tablespoons of sugar

  • one large egg

  • 2.5 oz by weight of unsalted butter

  • 5.5 fluid oz of room temp whole milk

The day before you intend to bake, make a poolish starter. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll already know what that is. If you're new here, I'm happy to have you here and everything, but what the hell took so looooooooo I mean I'll tell you right now.

Well, since you're here, go wash your hands.

It is, simply put, a young yeast starter that adds extra yeast flavor to your bread. For this recipe mix two ounces of AP flour and two ounces of water, both by weight, with a pinch of dry yeast. I recommend a two cup measuring pitcher. Everything in said pitcher, mix it up good with a fork, cover it with plastic (the cup, not the fork) and let it luxuriate in your refrigerator for 24 hours. When you pull it out to use it you'll have a nice yeasty flavor that hasn't turned into a sourdough starter yet. Given time it would, but we're not concerning ourselves with that right now.

Before you start in earnest, make a sponge starter. Same deal as before, if you've been a regular reader (heya, Donna, Kayla, Kailah, Mom, et al) you'll probably know what that means. If you're not a regular, well, I'm choosing to celebrate the fact that you're here now. Combine one cup of your flour and all your milk and yeast in a one quart mixing cup or bowl, whisk it together until it has the consistency of pancake batter, and let it sit on the counter, covered, for about half an hour to sixty minutes. When it's all bubbly and lively it's ready to go.

Combine the rest of the ingredients, dry stuff first, wet on top - including the starters -in a mixing bowl.

Unless you're using a bread machine, which I'm 100% okay-fine with you doing. If it's helping you make your own bread, then excuse you while you kiss the sky. Put all the ingredients, dry first and wet on top, in the work bowl. Set your machine to the dough setting, push the button, and go take a meditative journey to the center of your mind until it's ready.

Take it down a notch, Mr. Natural.

Unless you're using a stand mixer. I'm also completely fine with that. It will combine, and knead your dough much faster than doing it by hand. Ingredients in the bowl, dry first, wet on top. Put the bowl in place, and using the dough hook, combine on slow speed for three minutes, then turn up the speed to medium for three minutes. Put your dough ball in a lightly oiled mixing bowl, cover with plastic, and let sit, undisturbed, until the ball doubles in size. Punch it down, which is to say use your hand to knock the gas out of the dough, and let it rise again until the ball doubles in size again.

Unless you're doing it by hand. This is the classic method, after all. This is how it was done before there were stand mixers and bread machines. Mixing bowl, wet, then dry. Using a bowl scraper combine your ingredients until they form a shaggy looking wad. Then turn the bowl out onto a lightly floured purpose and knead by hand for one hundred and fifty (150) turns. Use the windowpane test to see if your dough is ready.

The windowpane test. I've touched on that elsewhere, too. Pull a bit of dough up from the ball, gently run your thumbs over the bit to stretch it out. If your dough does not rip before you get a thin membrane of dough you can see daylight through, you're all set.

Put your dough into a lightly oiled bowl and you no doubt have the gist by now.

In the interest of disclosure, I used this bad boy this time around.
As ever, you do you.

Our first and second rises have ended and it's time to consider portioning.

Weigh your dough on a digital scale. Divide the number by twelve. That's how many rolls you're going to get. Cut off a hunk of dough, weight it, add or remove as necessary. Once your dozen is divvied up, you can start shaping. Knead all the pieces together, should only take two or three turns, then roll them against your floured surface using just the tips of your fingers. This is what makes them rolls. You've rolled them into shape.

Takes practice.

Put your balls into the...the dough balls, people, c'mon now.

Go to your room and think about what you're doing with your life.

Put the dough balls into a greased pan, cover with cling film, Or (you just know there was an or coming, and you probably knew what that or was going to be) you can boil a small pot of water on the stove, place that steaming pot on in the oven on a rack on the bottom position, then put your pan of rolls on a rack on the second to top position. In either case, let them rise until they've doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 425F – remembering to take the rolls and water pan out and putting the top rack onto the second to bottom position - and bake for five to six minutes at 400F. Then turn the pan halfway around and bake for another five to six minutes to ensure even baking.

The rolls go in,

The rolls come out.

And there's your new favorite dinner roll.

That's not enough, is it? It's ok, you can double the recipe, or make more than a dozen rolls. You're in charge here.

I'd advise eating this with a good quality butter. It's a holiday feed, after all. You want something special.

This is a good choice, and I'm not being paid to say it.
Picture courtesy of our good friend Kayla.
She was the one in the panda head end of last year.

Other suggestions - these make good buns for sliders, sloppy Joes, melted cheese sandwiches, slathering with butter and cramming into your maw late at night. Make eight rolls instead of twelve and you've got hamburger buns. Shape those eight dough balls into hot dog buns and have a brat feed, or lobster rolls.

This stuff is great, I'm tellin' ya.

Parting thoughts - I have no parting thoughts that are food related. My kids are arguing over Minecraft and the wife is downstairs taking a nap in the spare room. I'm pretty much out of bandwidth right now.

Love people, make good food.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Deep Draught - Tishpishti, or, Sephardic Walnut Cake with a Honey-Lemon Syrup.

How's that for a slice of fried gold?

Ah, now, this one. This one right here. Lemme tell you about this one.

We'll get there.

In a minute.

I have casually mentioned in the past (sometimes I'm even asked first) that I am a formally trained pastry chef. Specifically I went to the (now defunct) Le Cordon Bleu College of Patisserie and Baking in the Twin Cities. This, as it turned out, was a mistake and a boon at the same time. A mistake because I found out in, what let's call a fairly definite manner, that I don't have what it takes to be a professional pastry chef. God bless those folks who do, I wish them nothing but joy and happiness in their fields of effort.

Whatever, though, right? Plenty of people get out into the real world and realize that it's not quite what they thought. That's life. It's fine. My training is a tool, not an end destination. Therein lies the boon.

I'm a foodie with a relatively high level of expertise and ability. I drink deeply from that well of knowledge and am always thirsty for more, and since I have been divested of my fear of making mistakes - because very little could be bigger than the one that brought me here - the world of food is open to me. Which, I suppose, is a pretty florid way of saying that even if I goof I have a pretty solid chance of still making something pretty tasty.

Super great.

Which brings us to the here and the now. We're making a tishpishti, which is you read it in the title. What makes it Sephardic? I don't know. I do know that Sephardic refers to Jewish people whose ancestors came from the Iberian Peninsula, the spit of land where you'll find Spain and Portugal. So, I'm going to operate under the assumption that this technique is probably French. Because I have no freakin' idea if it is or not and when it comes to European cooking, that's usually a good guess.

Bunch of cheese eatin' surrender monkeys anyway, right? Well, no. Not right. Not right at all, actually. Just before World War Two, France had one of the mightiest armies in the world. Then another wildly overpowered force emerged, propped up by the rantings of a charismatic madman and more than a little amphetimine. Seriously, the Third Reich's army ran on speed.

What's that got to do with cake? Well, in all likelihood, nothing. It's just that, like many people who've worked in the food industry (I have about ten years in varying non-managerial capacities behind me) I have a real love/hate thing with the French. Art, music, wine, food, the French have made some of the finest. Have you ever had to work directly for one for more than half an hour, though? I have. Just about gave me PTSD. Definitely gave me anxiety. How bad? I'd flinch whenever I heard Jacques Pepin's voice. I could go on, but this part is already in mortal danger of being edited out.

Let's get moving, doofus.

So, yes, cake. Cake is what brings us here. This one can be a complete showstopper, too.

Might get a handshake out of this.

You will need the following hardware:
  • Nine inch round baking pan.
  • Fine mesh strainer.
  • Various measuring cups and spoons
  • Mixing bowl
  • Whisk
  • Wooden spoon
  • Rubber scraper
  • Oven
  • Large sauce pan
  • Small sauce pan
  • Range
  • Round cake pan
  • Microplaner
Edibles include:

For the cake -
  • 1 cup (two sticks) of butter, cut into pieces. If you don't want to use that much butter* you can use half a cup of butter and half a cup of vegetable oil.
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 cup of honey
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
  • 2 cups of finely chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 1/2 cups of AP Flour
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 4 dozen perfect walnut halves, optional for garnish
* Who hurt you?

For the sauce -
  • 1 cup of honey
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • The juice and zest of two lemons.
You can probably already tell, there's a lot of stuff going on in this cake. I like to make it for special occasions; birthdays, anniversaries, office potlucks when everyone is sick to the gills of Karen's "secret recipe" rum cake that you know is a box mix and it's time to let Karen know who the 400 lb. gorilla is and where they sit.

Or just because. You do you.

We begin.

Put your two cups of water, one cup of sugar, one cup of honey and one cup of butter in the large sauce pan and put it on the stove to boil.
You might notice there's no sugar in the pan. I jumped the gun with the camera. Put in the sugar.

Next, using the fine mesh strainer, sift the flour, salt, cinnamon, baking powder and baking soda into a mixing bowl. Whisk to combine.

You need to mix it up now, because once you start the next part it'll be too late.

Is your large pan boiling? Good. Now stir in your chopped walnuts. They're going to float, that's fine. Because they won't be for long.

Here's the odd part.

You're going to pour, in three batches, using a wooden spoon or rubber scraper, the flour mixture into the boiling liquid. First third goes in, give it a stir, be sure to scrape the sides of the pan. Work quickly, because thanks to the magic of our leavening agents - the baking soda and baking powder - there will be some gas forming and releaseing in the pot. It's fine, it's supposed to happen. Maintain a brisk pace. Second third goes in, the batter will be stiffer, so give it a more vigorous stir, scraping the sides of the pan. Third third goes in, stir it good and hard because it's going to be like halfway set concrete now. That's why I instructed you to sift the dry powdery stuff first. If you have lumps of flour in the bowl, you'll have lumps of flour in the cake. Scrape the sides of the pan. 

First batch

Second batch
Third batch. The more astute might notice that I swapped out the stirring tool. This batter gets stiff by now, and you need something up to the challenge.

Now that your batter is red hot it's ready to bake.

Look, I have no clue how this technique came about. Like I said before, I'm reasonably certain this is the handiwork of some inventive French person - probably a woman who never got her propers for coming up with it - who was feeling experimental and decided to try something weird.

WITH FOOD IN THE KITCHEN! Keep it together, sleaze-o.

By the way, if you like The Great British Baking Show you might actually recognize this technique as the same one used to make a boiled pie crust. Cool, huh?

The batter goes into a greased baking pan with a parchment round on the bottom.

Yes, do explain, s'il vous please.

Ok, junior chefs, it's arts and crafts time! Get yourself a piece of parchment that's a little bit longer and wider than your cake pan. Fold it in half, then in half again, again, and again a fourth time. Similar to making a paper airplane. Holding your paper airplane (let's just call it that, ok?) over your pan, put the nose over the center of the pan. With a pair of scissors, cut off the tail just far enough in so your airplane just reaches the inside of the pan's wall. Open up your plane. You now have a parchment round that should just cover the bottom of the pan. Spray your pan down with pan spray, place your parchment round on the bottom, and spray the parchment. 






This confusing array of pictures brought to you by Blogger! Free, and worth it!

Wanna donate to my Ko-fi? Here it is!

It works best to do this step before you start batter assembly, by the way. Once the batter is mixed and hot, you need to keep it hot and pliable until it goes into the oven. Best way to make that happen is to make sure your mis en place is properly in place. While you're at it, set the oven to 375 and start preheating.

What did we do before Google hit the scene?

So, why didn't I put this at the beginning of the instructions? Because I want to impress upon you the importance of reading and understanding the directions before you dive in.

Also, I forgot until just now. I'm not perfect. Moving on.

Here's the chance to really gild the lily, if you want to. Take your perfect, whole walnut halves and spread them evenly on the bottom of the pan, on top of the parchment. This will be the top of the cake once it's all done.

The bottom is eventually the top.
Far out, man.

Dump your batter - it won't pour at this point - into your pan, being sure to work it into the bottom corner with your rubber scraper and smoothing the top nice and, uh, smooth with same.

Don't get super worried about perfection, though. This is the bottom of your finished cake, and no one will be looking.

Here's the most fun part. Pick up your full batter pan, lift it to about twelve inches over your work space and . . . drop it. Straight down. Boom. Now pick it up and do it again. Boom! This is to knock any air bubbles out of the pan that might expand during baking. 

Put the pan into the oven you preheated to 375, close the door, and reset the heat to 350. Bake for twenty minutes, give the pan a half turn to ensure even baking, and bake for another twenty to twenty-five minutes.

Now for the syrup. This one is easy, and can be done front to back while the cake is in the oven.

Four ingredients, no waiting.

You'll want one cup of honey, one half cup of water, the juice and zest of two lemons, and a quarter teaspoon of salt.

Into the small pan put your half cup of water, full cup of honey, and lemon juice. If you want to use the prepackaged stuff, that'll be fine. Fresh juice will taste better, though, and it's way more fun than wrestling with a bottle.

Using your microplaner, zest your lemons right into the pan of water. Then put your strainer over the pan, cut your lemons in half, and squeeze them with a pair of tongs so the pulp and pips stay in the strainer and not into your syrup.

You're more likely to use both hands for this.

Heat to a simmer, then turn the heat down to hold warm.

Unless you did like I did and made the syrup a couple days before you made the cake. Then just put it in a one pint container and stick it in the fridge.

Liquid love.

Congratulations! You've just make a lemon simple syrup.

While you're baking, I recommend you take the syrup out of the coolerator, pour it into a small pan and warm it up on the stove.

The cake is done, and you know this because you've done ye olde toothepicke teste.


Place your baked cake, still in the pan, on a cooling rack for five minutes. What happens next depends on the pan.

I used a springform pan for this, my rationale being the collar can be taken off, which will make transferring to the serving platter easier.

We're almost ready to un-pan the cake. Take a table knife and gently work the blade between the cake and the side of the pan. If you greased the sides of the pan this part will be a breeze.

The following is my preferred method for plattering (sic) a cake for serving.

Et viola!

Turn your cake out onto a serving platter, pull the pan off, remove the parchment, and using another toothpick, poke a series of holes in the top of the cake. As many as you like, and don't worry about the cake drying out.

Care to guess why?

Yup, you're going to pour the syrup over the cake, little by little, as much as it can hold at a time, until it's all in, or you're just spilling the syrup onto the plate. Which is likely. You'll almost definitely have extra. Don't despair, this stuff is fantastic on pancakes, waffles, ice cream, a spoon, your favorite person's...

Stop is a complete sentence!

Allow to cool completely, slice however you like, and enjoy. This is a pretty good holiday dessert, as well. Or family reunion.

Or because Karen in the office needs a good shuttin' up.

Behold! The fruits of our labor.

A final word of warning - this stuff gets sticky and delicious. Like, lick your fingers, lick your plate, lick your neighbor's plate, etc. Make sure the sinks have plenty of soap available.

Vaillance et courage! Good in peace, make good food.