Notice

As those of you who have been following this blog have probably picked up, it is no longer active. The existing posts will stay up for reference, but I am no longer adding new content. Thanks for a fun two years! ~Tamara

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pumpkin Pancakes

The more time I spend in my graduate program, in classes like "Human-Computer Interaction" and entry-level positions like "Usability Intern," the more it bothers me when people give things inaccurate descriptors. A link farm is not a "Research Guide;" it is a list of "Databases" or "Resources." People looking for databases would not click on "Research Guide," and people intrigued by "Research Guide" would be disappointed to find a static list of general databases.

Outside of professional concerns, misleading or vague descriptors are still a pain in the tuckus. We spent several hours last weekend trying to find a tri-wing screwdriver to dismantle our Wii, because both online and brick 'n mortar retailers waffled between calling it a security screwdriver, a precision screwdriver, or a "Nintendo" screwdriver. Recently, the powers that be at our favored Kroger decided that aluminum foil was no longer a "Baking Need," but a "Paper Product." Have you tried to find a cell phone lately? Not a smartphone, or an iPhone, or whatever fancy gadgets with soaring monthly bills your provider wants you to buy, but a cell phone in the cell phone section? Fun times.

Proceeding down the funnel of nitpickiness, we arrive at the relevant example for today's goodies: calling foods other foods they are not. People love to slap the names of popular foods onto less popular ones to make them sound more appealing. Tomato sauce and mozzerella do not make your standard casserole "Pizza Macaroni"...they make it lasagna with differently shaped pasta. Grilling a portobello mushroom does not make it a "steak" any more than sauteeing rib-eye would turn it into a mushroom. The "pie" misnomer is especially popular with anything involving fruit and sugar. I've probably done it myself in the past; you might find a recipe for "banana cream pie oatmeal" or some silliness in the archives. But that was back when I was too undernourished to think for myself. Bananas and milk in hot cereal is not banana cream pie. Squeezing lime juice into cake batter does not make a batch of "Key Lime Pie Cupcakes." You wouldn't call chopped apple sprinkled with cinnamon a complete apple pie, but stir it into yogurt and you suddenly have "Healthy Apple Pie a la Mode."

And according to Google, there are about 185,000 recipes on the indexed Internet for "Pumpkin Pie Pancakes."

These are not "Pumpkin Pie Pancakes." They do not contain bits of pumpkin pie. They are not prepared in remotely the same fashion as pumpkin pie. They contain the same vegetable and spices as pumpkin pie, and there the similarity ends.

Why do I stick on this point? Why can't I just accept the irrational naming conventions of breakfast foods and move on? Because I do not want my pancakes to be stuck within the constricted definitions of pumpkin pie. There are a lot of downsides to pumpkin pie: it's squishy, it often comes straight out of a frost-bitten box, and it's associated with high-pressured cans of whipped corn syrup and stressful holidays stuck at crowded relatives' houses. Not everyone likes pumpkin pie. And even if they do, calling my dish "Pumpkin Pie Pancakes" makes them sound like they aspire to be pumpkin pie. Like they are a watered-down stand-in for the "real thing" because actual pie is "fattening" or "off-limits" as a breakfast food.

No. My pumpkin pancakes are pumpkin pancakes. They are excellent pumpkin pancakes. Hefty, fluffy, delicately spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg and a trickle of molasses. I don't need to call them "pie" to convince myself they are delicious.

Now, I've written about pumpkin pancakes before on this blog, way back when I relied on boxed mixes because I feared the baking powder. Erase any memories of that pseudo-recipe from your mind (even if I just put them there with the preceding sentence), because these are the real deal.

Pumpkin Pancakes Makes 12 large pancakes
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup milled flax seed
  • 1/4 cup wheat bran
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup pureed pumpkin
  • 1 tsp molasses
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups soy milk

Mix the flours through cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, beat the eggs. Mix in the pumpkin, molasses, vanilla and soy milk until uniform. Carefully stir the wet ingredients into the dry, just until combined. Fry up 1/4 cupfuls of batter over medium heat.

These are only lightly sweetened, to leave plenty of room for maple syrup on top. They're best with unobtrusive drinks like black tea or milk; I wouldn't pair them with juices or herbal teas that could wash out the flavor.

As a final disclaimer, I would like to note that I'm not a maniac about naming things accurately.

Sorry, René, but this is a pipe. As a representation of a pipe, we understand it to be a pipe. It is a pipe as much as the picture our brain creates from light reflected off a physical pipe is a pipe. But we don't understand my pancakes to be pie, or a mushroom to be meat in disguise. Just try to communicate clearly, people.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Mini Donut Pan!

I'm going to reveal something about myself right now that may shock my delicate foodie readers. Fair warning: it may be painful to read. You may feel offended in your very core. If you progress past this sentence, you have acknowledged informed consent and waive any rights to litigation regarding the psychological distress you may endure. Ready? Okay:

I don't like muffins. Or cupcakes.

"Nooo! You lie! The muffin/cupcake is a staple in the food blogger's collection of acceptably posh-looking sugary treats! The world couldn't go on without cute little cupcake stores, cupcake wedding cakes, and homey homemade coworker's birthday cupcakes!"

Sadly, it is true. I don't like any baked goods turned out of a muffin tin. I ate them for years, and even posted old recipes on this blog. But after making them and putting their rosy photos on the web they went straight into the freezer and languished, dry and frost-bitten, until a suitable amount of time had passed to justify throwing them away.

Why am I so full of hate? I admit, the poor muffins never did anything to me. They just annoy me for the same reason triple decker sandwiches, pizza cut into squares, and insufficiently chilled ice cream cones do: they're difficult to eat. You can't get your mouth around the whole thing, so you have to kind of nibble around and into the cakey middle while holding the wrapper gingerly on the other side and hoping the crumbs don't rub into your carpet. In both muffins and cupcakes, the good stuff is usually on top, so after you're done with that bit you just stuff the so-so rest of it into your mouth out of obligation.

I don't have anything against the muffin part of the muffin. I love sweet carby things. There's nothing better than a slice of quickbread with tea in the afternoon. The shape is the issue, and the little bits of paper stuck to the bottom if you use a low-fat recipe. So I was elated when I saw that the black sheep of American baking, the donut, was making a comeback in food blogging circles.

Donuts take a bad rap these days. They're the poster pastry for misguided anti-obesity campaigns. Drawing a cartoon cop without a box of donuts is like drawing a cartoon teacher's pet without glasses or a cartoon black man with normal hair. They top the list with potato chips and Big Macs as the foods we blame for all of our personal problems and the world's ills at large. Its dirty reputation is pretty irrational, given that your standard Krispy Kreme glazed donut has as many calories and fewer grams of sugar than the fashionably "nutritious" Larabar. It's junk food, to be sure, but I'd sooner attribute the skyrocketing diabetes in the Western world to those caramel-infused whipped-cream-topped lattes in the morning than the humble circlet you eat beside them.

All of that was just to build up to this point: I bought a mini donut pan!

(Photo stolen from Amazon, where I bought it)

This donut pan cures all of the problems I have with muffins. Thanks to the hole in the center, they're easy to eat and don't leave crumbs (also, they bake really quickly). The maximized surface area means I can cover the whole thing with "the good stuff." The logistics did take some getting used to, though. The first time I used it I filled the tins too much and ended up with mushroom-shaped mini muffins with holes in the middle.

But that didn't prevent me from messing around with toppings to find the perfect combination.

I tried powdered...

...then added water to my bowl to make a glaze...

...then stirred in melted chocolate chips to make a "ganache"....

...mixed up some cinnamon sugar for kicks...

...then played with coconut flakes.

The winners: cinnamon sugar and powdered. Obviously. They're the easiest to eat, being dry, and have the lightest taste. I focused on these for my second batch, after making some tweaks to the recipe and making a conscientious effort to use less batter per donut.

Isn't that better?

A little spray of oil keeps the sugar on the donut instead of my counter, but I put paper towels under the rack just to be safe. I also took a shortcut to the cinnamon sugar one by putting a standard crumb topping directly on the batter before baking.

I'm still adjusting baking times to get these just right. After I made them the proper size, they came out a little dry. I also need to perfect my storage methods.

My poor powdered donuts turned into sticky glazed when the condensation in the container hit the lid and trickled down again :(

I'll post my go-to recipe when I'm satisfied with it...if I remember and have the time. I haven't been posting lately because the world is out to get me, but that's a rant for another time on another blog.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Autumn Spiced Potato Doughnuts

My world has been crazy lately. Since I'm at the center of my world, the origin of the craziness is obviously me. I could blame the professors who simultaneously assigned three hair-tearing midterm papers due this week. I could blame the virus that's going around taking all of my group members out. I could also blame the weather, which is wreaking havoc on my lips and skin and makes it difficult to get out from under the cozy covers under the morning.

However, the source is ultimately me. My professors didn't tell me to spend my weekend coding a jQuery & Google Maps API prototype for an app design; we were just supposed to make pretty pictures. (Actually, that's why I did it. "Does the app need to be functional?" a classmate asked. "No," the professor said. "Of course not. Not for this class." That sounds like a challenge to me.) The virus only took down one member in a group of 4, and I have fuzzy pajamas and a new humidifier to combat the effects of the weather. So the problem is really me, for letting the stress pile up irrationally. That, and for spending all afternoon yesterday watching "Community" episodes.

Now, there are two primary ways to fix me, so that I stop whining and things get done. Three, actually, if you split one of them into two variants.

1) Give me money.
OR
2) Give me food.

Obviously, number two is the only viable option right now. The pursuit of the first one is what causes most of my worries in the first place. Hence, even while I'm "supposed" to be reading and writing papers, crafting surveys and designs, or coordinating group meetings and interviews, you will find me on any given day in the kitchen for an extended amount of time. I've made a whole slew of new recipes I've been meaning to post, like these carrot cookies...

...and these blueberry bars...

...or an unpictured batch of pumpkin cookies that appeared on my counter last night around midnight. But given my limited amount of time to devote to things that don't get me a diploma, I could only choose one for today. That one will be these adorable Autumn Spiced Potato Doughnuts.

Aren't they cute? They might be cuter if you had some sense of the scale of them, but I'm not going to take a picture of one in my hand because that would require effort, and I have little effort left to spend.

As per usual, I took someone else's recipe and made it my recipe. The original called for sweet potatoes, but I didn't have any and I don't really like them (the shock!). The original recipe must have been insanely sugary, because after cutting the sugar in half (adding a bit of molasses for flavor) and leaving off the cinnamon topping, they were still pretty darned sweet. I guess to qualify for the name "doughnuts" they have to send your blood insulin levels through the roof, so maybe you should call mine "buns" instead. Buns sounds cuter anyway.

Pro tip: leave your dough really moist for a light and fluffy texture. I usually flour my yeast doughs until they're almost dry to the touch...don't do that. If you leave it just under the threshold of "too sticky" you'll get a lovely, tender little bun, instead of a boring mini bagel. These are perfect if you need to eat breakfast in the car because you couldn't get out from under the cozy covers in the morning, or if, like today, you need something small that would digest in under an hour before you get on the treadmill.

Now, to listen to a Korean rock comedy group while huffing and puffing through two measly miles.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Variations on Pumpernickel

Indiana doesn't believe in moderation. Either you're a hardcore conservative or a hardcore liberal. Either you're a Hoosier or an outsider (or, in the words of a local paper, you come from a "wholesome" Indiana town with strong values or you snuck in from a rude, superficial state where women wear bronzer and designer jeans). And the worst dichotomy of all: either it's blazing hot or freezing.

"Fall? What 'fall?'" Indiana's local representative of Mother Nature asks. "Spring? Don't make me laugh."

Last Saturday we had a high of 98°. By Monday morning, we were down to 67°. Now we're back in the 70s, but only because it's going to rain. This happens every year, so I'm more or less used to it ("No it doesn't," Sweetie protests. "This weather is unusual. It will be better next year." Uh huh. We've just had "unusual weather" every year since 2006.) Since I take most of my behavioral cues from the environment, every year when the chilly weather returns I feel the overwhelming urge to do one thing: bake. For the past couple of weeks my trusty plastic sweets box has been filled with this:


Or these:


Or any number of other things. Double chocolate cookies. Fudge brownies. Maple-oat scones. Incidentally, I've gained a couple of pounds lately, and I have no idea why.

A few days ago I got it into my head that I wanted donuts. But I didn't really want donuts. Not fried Krispy Kreme things. Not sugar-topped cake things. I just wanted some pastry shaped like a donut, with the yeasty texture of a donut, but not the greasy feeling or sugar-crashing aftereffects. In short, I had no idea what I wanted.

So I looked at recipes. I found a recipe for "chocolate doughnut cupcakes" on The Cupcake Project with the caveat: "they...tasted more like pretzels or chocolate bread than doughnuts." To Stef this was a bad thing. To me, it was just what I was looking for. I went to the original recipe on Coconut & Lime because Stef's reprint got cut off. Then I transferred it to my own site so the amount conversion I programmed would pump out the halved ingredients for me. I hate having to do it in my head; I always forget halfway and end up using the full amount of something.

The results:



Sweet, chocolately, unremarkable. Just what I was going for. The sugar and chocolate are just strong enough that you know they're there. I'm thinking the only difference between "sweet bread" and "doughnuts" are the frosting and other toppings. I left off the toppings, which means I can freeze the lot and top with whatever I feel like later:


Breakfast today: chocolate bread with Tofutti cream cheese and English Breakfast tea. Substantial? No. Delightful? Of course.

As I was trying the finished rolls yesterday, it occurred to me that here was something familiar about the muted cocoa flavor. Pumpernickel. I think that was what I was after all along. So even though I had already baked that day, I dove into another recipe that popped up at the top of the search results for "pumpernickel": black bread from The Smitten Kitchen. Once again I made some modifications and stuck it into my recipe box site for handy-dandy conversion to a single loaf. I left some things out because I am not as adventurous as Deb. No shallots or fennel seeds for me. No espresso powder, either, because I hate coffee. I was pushing it enough already with caraway, chocolate and apple cider vinegar.


I must show my age here when I say: O.M.G. It smells like rye, but is hearty and slightly sweet, as pumpernickel should be. It would have been even better if I actually used molasses. I'm not even sure if I can call it "pumpernickel" or "black bread" without molasses, but plain old sugar was good enough.

My one issue: it didn't rise much. The texture is soft and spot-on, but I like a little more fluff. With all of the roughage in there, the yeast must have had a tough time reacting with the proteins to effectively trap the carbon dioxide bubbles that make bread rise. A tablespoon of wheat gluten would have helped, but gluten is expensive. Next time I'll make my machine do the work and incubate the dough instead of kneading by hand and leaving it out at room temperature. Alternatively, I could shape round artisan-like loaves so I can say it looks like that on purpose; the only reason it looks so sad and flat is because I expect a big sandwich loaf to come out of the pan.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Butterscotch-ish Ice Cream

I don't eat much out of the standard rotation these days. Pancakes, peanut butter, ramen; scones, pizza, ramen; smoothies, burritos, ramen. Don't dis the ramen; it's where I get half of my vegetables.

But yesterday I deviated from my well-worn path to make a variety of ice cream that is not dark chocolate. As I posted some weeks ago (the last time I touched this blog >.>;), I've made many batches of ice cream, but all chocolate. Frankly, I've been afraid to try any other flavors. It's very difficult to screw up chocolate. If the texture is wrong, it's still chocolate. If it freezes too hard, well, it's still chocolate so I'm willing to wait. If the flavor is too bitter or too sweet, I have a wide range for tolerance...because it's still chocolate.

Vanilla, on the other hand, is a tricky business. You don't have anything to hide behind. Either the sweetness is spot on, or it's blah. If the texture is wrong, the flavor isn't intense enough to make up for it. Still, even I can tire of chocolate. I sought out viable alternatives: Peppermint. Pistachio. Butter Pecan. All of them, unfortunately, would require me to get to the store for special ingredients.

"Salted Caramel" to the rescue! The title sounds hip, and who doesn't like caramel? Just some water and sugar and patience, et voila, right? Not right. After ten minutes watching syrup bubble, I produced nothing but a hard, sticky mess that wasn't anything like the "deep amber color" all the websites said the combination should magically produce. So I poured it down the drain and applied a tenet seared into my brain during my formative years watching the Food Network: "When in doubt, add butter."

Buttescotch-ish Ice Cream
-1/4 cup water
-1 packet unflavored gelatin
-2 1/2 cups soy milk
-2 tbsp butter
-1/2 cup sugar
-vanilla
-1/3 cup egg whites

Soften the gelatin in the water for ten minutes. In the meantime, melt the butter and sugar in a saucepan and stir until bubbly. Turn down the heat and wait for the syrup to burn (3-5 minutes). Heat the soy milk in a large mixing bowl, and dissolve the softened gelatin in it. Pour the "butterscotch" into the milk, mixing vigorously (it will bubble vehemently!) Stir in the vanilla and put the base in the fridge to set up overnight. Break up the gelatinous "pudding" and mix thoroughly if the fats separated to the top. Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Fold in the pudding, and pour the base into an ice cream maker to freeze.

I don't have photos to share because the quality of my shots would just send you running away, instead of enticing you to try the recipe. I was genuinely shocked that this turned out so well. Sweet, but not ridiculously sugary, with a full body hiding underneath the unassuming vanilla exterior. "Real" butterscotch uses brown sugar, so my lazy granulated substitute made it less complex than it could have been, but I am happy.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Notice: My New Blog

Hi all,

Since I've been doing such a stellar job writing regularly for this blog (cough cough), I decided to start a new one!

The subject matter is completely different, on reading/writing and related esoteric matters, but the author is the same. I have a unique domain for it, thanks to the efforts of Sweetie to set up the redirects and CPanel magic for it. I didn't use any authoring software, but constructed the site from basic PHP, MySQL, and XML. One day I may port other blogs over to it, but that depends on how easy Google makes it to convert its data structure into mine.

There's only one post so far, but if you're interested you can read it at http://blog.tkmarnell.com/.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Soy Ice Cream Experiments

So. Our country won't be defaulting on its debts. Yay. It only took months of rancor and mud-slinging to get to the eleventh-hour "decision" that everyone knew was coming.

There's nothing like looming international doom to show you exactly what kind of people you live with. Today I cracked open the local university-centric news sources to read eloquent, barb-studded comments about "socialism for the rich" and the destructive force of those dumb, dirty Tea Partiers. Then I drove a couple miles south to get groceries and listen to my good neighbors explain to the teenage cashier that all the woes of the federal government come courtesy of "Those damn niggers. They lie. And steal."

Bloomington, Indiana: Pick your favorite flavor of intolerance, and we'll deliver.

Speaking of flavors, lets talk about something a little less prone to flaming: ice cream!

Since writing my post about my new ice cream machine, I've made four batches of frozen treats. However, I have no photographic evidence of these treats, because ice cream is horribly un-photogenic. And by the time I set up to take good photos in bad lighting with cheap, ugly bowls, my precious fruits of labor would have gone to waste. So you'll just have to take my word on the descriptions.

But this isn't a look-at-the-pretty-food post, anyway. It's an informational one. A lab report on my little kitchen experiments, so to speak. So let's start off with a nice diagram, shall we?

This is water. Water likes other molecules a lot. Water will hold hands with anyone who has a free one to spare, and sometimes even when they don't. When you make water cold, it feels especially touchy-feely and grabs on tight and doesn't let go.

However.

This is what happens when water is surrounded by a bunch of strangers who don't like it back.

This is water's frienemy, propylene glycol. Water wants to be nice and buddy-buddy, but propylene glycol only sorta kinda pretends to like it back, and would rather keep it away from its friends. In other words, it's non-toxic antifreeze (or a very toxic classmate, whichever way you look at it).

Why do I start out a post on ice cream by anthropomorphizing the hydrogen bonds between cartoonish organic molecules? Because, before you even think about making ice cream, you need to go to your kitchen cupboard and look at the back of your bottle of vanilla. Unless you're a gourmand with a paycheck five times the size of mine, you probably bought imitation vanilla extract. And if you bought imitation vanilla extract, it probably has propylene glycol. This can either be a good or a bad thing, depending on what you want to do with your ice cream. In any case, you should be aware of it first.

Now the Recipes
After a lot of reading and mixing and hacking away at slabs of frozen chocolate, I think I have settled on my go-to thickener/stabilizer for non-dairy ice cream. If you're fortunate enough to be able to digest lactose, you don't really need one, because you can pick up heavy cream at any grocery chain. Soy creamer, however, is outrageously expensive, and it doesn't do the trick anyway. Instead, I have signed a contract with gelatin. Lovely, animal-based, foul-smelling gelatin. Gelatin, sugar, and soy milk form the base of all three of the following recipes...what you do with them depends on your goals and dietary needs.

#1: Straight-Up Gelatinized Soy Ice Cream
-1/4 cup water
-1 packet non-flavored gelatin
-3 cups soy milk
-1/4 cup sugar
-1/4 cup cocoa powder
-vanilla

Sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let it stand for ten minutes. Place the sugar and cocoa powder in a saucepan and slowly whisk in the soy milk over low heat. When steam starts to rise from the mixture, remove it from heat and stir in the gelatin and vanilla. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Break up the Jello-pudding-like blob and pour it into your ice cream maker to freeze.

This basic recipe yields an unbelievably full-bodied and creamy ice cream. This is soft-serve-shop quality stuff to a lactose-deprived, dark chocolate-loving young lass. Unfortunately, it doesn't stay that way when you pop the rest in the freezer overnight, and end up with a solid cocoa-flavored cylinder. The only way you can rescue your ice cream is to chop it up and blend it back into its original creamy consistency. It may be possible to avoid this by deliberately using imitation vanilla with propylene glycol, or pouring in another alcohol that would have the same effect. Or, you can try recipes #2 or #3.

#2: Whipped "Pudding" Ice Cream
Follow the same steps as above, through letting the base set in the fridge. Before you freeze it in the ice cream maker, whip it with an electric mixer until it's noticeably larger in volume and full of tiny air pockets. Then freeze in the machine as before.

This ice cream isn't quite as creamy as the first, obviously, but it does freeze better. If you set it on the counter for 10-15 minutes, it's somewhat scoopable by the time you're ready for it. However, if you're going to be making a big batch and eating it over time, I would suggest alternative #3 instead:

#3: Meringue-fluffed Soy Ice Cream
Follow the same steps through refrigeration again. Before freezing, whip two pasteurized egg whites (1/3 cup from the carton) until stiff peaks form. Carefully fold in your base, then freeze.

This ice cream was the most successful, in my opinion. First of all, it gives you a huge volume of base to go into the canister. It thaws more quickly and evenly than the whipped version, and it holds its shape even while it's melting in your bowl. However, the flavor is somewhat diluted, and the consistency can't compare to the first version.

Conclusions
Which recipe you use depends what you want to get out of your ice cream. If you're making a big batch for company, stick to the first for the biggest wow factor, and use genuine vanilla to freeze it thoroughly. If you're vegan or egg whites weird you out, go with the second (using kosher gelatin or agar for the vegans, of course). If you're going to be storing it in the freezer and hogging it all for yourself, I vote for #3. It's the recipe I will probably use for myself from now on, using imitation vanilla with propylene glycol to prevent it from freezing solid.

And now, a video of a barking cat:



End.