Monday, March 30, 2009

Baking 2 - Baklava Muffins

Sunday evening I was at a bit of a loss. With Brothers and Sisters not having another episode till April 19th, I decided that rather than slump in front of the Cookery Channel, I would cook. Whilst browsing the wonderfully named "How To Be A Domestic Goddess - Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking" by the wonderfully sensuous Nigella Lawson, I came across the following recipe for Baklava Muffins. Quick, easy, and not too sweet!

For the Filling
  • scant 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted

For the muffins

  • 1 cup plus 7 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of buttermilk (or 3/4 cup plain yogurt and 1/3 cup low far milk)
  • 12 cup muffin pan lined with 12 metallic baking cups (if you use paper, they will stick!)

For the topping

  • About 1/2 cup honey

1.Preheat the oven to 400F

2. Mix all the filling ingredients together in a small bowl and put to one side.

3. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and sugar.

4. In a large measuring jug, whisk the egg, melted butter, and buttermilk (or yogurt - milk mix)

5. Make a well in the dry ingredients, pour in the liquid, and mix lightly and gently, remember to keep it bumpy rather than going for a smooth batter; heavy handling of the batter produces a heavy muffin.

6. Fill the muffin cups one third full and then put a teaspoon of filling in each one.

(I actually over-filled slightly, be careful the recipe makes exactly enough for 12 muffins so you have to spoon it out carefully)

7. Cover with more of the muffin batter until 2/3 full. If you have any remaining filling mixture (I didn't) you can spoon it over the top.

8. Bake for 15 minutes, they should be golden brown when finished. Remove them from the oven, and stand them still in their cups on a wire rack with a baking sheet underneath. Drizzle them all over with honey and then allow to cool.

They are not overly sweet, so they went great with my morning cup of tea.

Enjoy - and thanks Nigella!!!

Baking 1 - Apple Pie

I have written before about my struggle to make pastry in Houston. The high humidity means that pastry dough becomes very moist very quickly. It then becomes very difficult to roll out and manage.

Well Saturday dawned cold, crisp and dry - a rare combination in the humid location that is Houston. As soon as I sampled the outside air, I knew today was a good pie baking day.

Armed with a different recipe, this one from the meticulous precision that is America's Test Kitchen, I set out to do battle with pastry once more.

And this time I won!!!!!!!

The pastry rolled out like a dream, and the top of the pie didn't collapse when I draped it over the rolling pin and onto the overly filled pie.

Beneath that gleaming mound of golden flakiness was the most wonderful apple filling, resplendent with 2 different types of apples. One chosen for it's firmness and the other a softer apple to cook down and create a wonderful apple mushiness!

Add a scoop of ice cream and enjoy!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sherbet that Rocks!

If you are tired of store bought sherbet that tastes bland and has the color of a neon light here's the solution. It's easier to make than ice cream, so grab that dust-covered ice-cream maker* that is at the back of the cupboard and do your taste buds a favor! Here's another winning recipe courtesy of America's Test Kitchen!

Orange Sherbet

  • 1 Tablespoon grated zest from 1 or 2 oranges (depends on size)

  • 1 cup (7oz) sugar

  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

  • 2 cups Orange Juice. Preferably unpasteurized, fresh squeezed. (This can be notoriously difficult to find, so either squeeze your own, or make sure you buy good quality pasteurized. In no circumstances buy orange juice made from concentrate. It has a cooked unfresh flavor to it!

  • 3 Tablespoons juice from 1 or 2 lemons (depends on size)

  • 2 Teaspoons Triple Sec or Vodka

  • 2/3 cup Heavy Cream

1. Process the zest, sugar and salt in a food processor until damp, ten to fifteen 1 second pulses.

2. With the machine running add the orange juice and lemon juice in a slow steady stream; continue to process until the sugar is fully dissolved (about 1 minute)

3. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a nonreactive bowl. Stir in the Triple Sec or Vodka, cover with plastic wrap and chill in the freezer until very cold, about 30 to 60 minutes. DO NOT LET THE MIXTURE FREEZE

4. When the mixture is cold, whip the cream in a medium bowl until soft peaks form. Whisking constantly add the juice mixture in a steady stream pouring down the edge of the bowl.

5. Immediately start the ice cream machine and add the juice-cream mixture to the canister; churn until the sherbet has the texture of soft ice cream, 25 to 30 minutes.

6. Remove the canister from the ice cream maker and transfer the sherbet to a storage container; press plastic wrap directly against the surface of the sherbet and freeze until firm, at least 3 hours.

7. To serve let the sherbet stand at room temperature until slightly softened.

*I use the type of ice cream maker that has a canister that you freeze for at least 12 hours before using. If you have the old fashioned type that uses ice and rock salt then I have no idea if this recipe will work.

Lime Sherbet

Follow the recipe above with these changes. Substitute lime zest for the orange zest, increase the amount of sugar to 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons, and substitute 2/3 cup FRESH lime juice combined with 1 1/2 cups water for the orange and lemon juices.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Avoiding the Passion

I blogged last week about some of my current resistance to reading the passion narratives. Most of it was intellectual musings which I entitled Wandering Around Heresy-ville.

Well in my Ignatian Group this week I my made a connection that I think my last post was a way of avoiding.

It can be very easy working in a church to use my job as a replacement to my relationship with God. It happens very slowly. I have to read the bible for my job, I have to pray in business meetings. I don't need to pray and read at home. I've worked for churches long enough to recognize this tendency in myself and to take steps to avoid it.

What I didn't recognize, is that I've avoided reading the Crucifixion. I tell myself that I can recite the passages almost word perfect, but I made another connection, another reason this week.

This may be stating the obvious, but I think the reason I've avoided the narratives is that they describe a death. A particularly harrowing death. And this is the first time I've really paid any attention to them since my mom died.

I was with mom when she died. It was not a touching Lifetime Movie Network scene. She was in the final throes of the cancer ravaging her body. Both my brother and I were with her when she passed away. It was absolutely horrible, and I am so glad I was there for her.

Having witnessed death up close, I can't read the gospels in the same way anymore. Jesus died at the hands of Roman Executioners rather than at the mercy of cancer, but the emotions I associated with watching my mom die are now fixing themselves to a hill outside of Jerusalem.

I remember when I went to see Mel Gibson's movie 'The Passion of the Christ'. I was seated with some work colleagues when 2 people came and sat down in front of us. They both had large 64oz drinks and huge buckets of buttery popcorn. I felt angry. 'We're about to watch a Crucifixion! This isn't some prefabricated Hollywood Script designed to entertain the masses!'

Then I realized.

That is precisely what Crucifixion was to the ancient world. People would gather to watch the criminals die, in the same way they gathered around the guillotine in France and the public hangings in London.

I think of how I would feel if there had been callous spectators at my mom's death...

...I think too much

Having seen death, real death, not some Hollywood make believe, I find reflections of my experiences written into the Gospels. As I read the bible, the bible reads me.

In my last post, I railed against God who seems cruel and impotent in the events of Good Friday.

In this post I've begun to glimpse just how agonizing it must have been for the Father to watch his Son die.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Three Things

Now, here's what you're supposed to do...and please do not spoil the fun. Start a new note, delete my answers and put in your own. Tag all your friends and tell them to tag you. The theory is that you will learn a lot of little known things about each other.

Three Names I go by
1. Peter
2. Pete
3. Titch (thanks brother!)

Three Jobs I have had in my life
1. Insurance Provider for Agriculture and Livestock
2. Packing Warehouse Slave
3. Music Director

Three Places I have lived
1. Norwich U.K.
2. Bratislava - Slovakia
3. Houston, TX

Three TV Shows that I watch (not counting the myriad I watch on dvd)
1. Brothers and Sisters
2. Will and Grace
3. Diners, Drive Ins and Dives

Three places I have been
1. Cambodia
2. Thailand
3. Switzerland

People that e-mail me regularly
1. Steve
2. Houston Board Gamers
3. my boss, Tom

Three of my favorite foods
1. Chips and Salsa
2. Pasta
3. Toad in the Hole

Three things I would like to do
1. Perform on Broadway
2. Travel to Israel, New Zealand and Japan
3. Lose more weight

Things I am looking forward to
1. Getting to see family again
2. Getting below 200lbs
3. Getting more of my music performed.

I can think of a few people I would like to give this too

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

There is nothing like a Dame....

...Dame Shirley Bassey that is!

Getting Involved

Last Fall I went through a month's training in being a Spiritual Director (see all the posts Labeled Hesychia School) - since then I've been praying about what my next step is.

Two people have independently mentioned this project to me.

I'm planning on getting involved with the Houston group.

This is 'out of my comfort zone' - and is a good thing!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Rising to the Occasion

Friday night I was over a friend's house eating the most incredible home made bread. I had forgotten how wonderful fresh baked break tastes, it's so much better than shop bought.

Yesterday evening I was planning the menu for tonight and decided I would make Falafel Burgers. The recipe said to serve them in pita bread, and in a flash of genius (or insanity) I decided to make my own pita bread.

It's actually a very easy relaxing process. Knead the dough, let it rise for an hour and then roll out flat disks.

What impressed me was the way the flat disks of dough inflate in the oven!
They only take 5 minutes to cook and then you just put them on a rack to cool and deflate!


Video fo the Octotuplet Mom Giving Birth!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Pot Pie Light!

Whilst making Salt and Vinegar Kale Chips I also decided to make a Chicken Pot Pie. I had seen an episode of 'Throw Down with Bobby Flay' that was dedicated to creating the ultimate pot pie.

It got me craving some chickeny goodness of my own. The problem was I'm dieting so I knew a usual chicken pot pie recipe was out of the question.

One of my cooking light books had a low fat chicken potpie recipe in it!

So, this morning, I boiled veggies and chicken in water to make chicken broth. I strained the broth and shredded the chicken. I cooked veggies (potatoes, leeks, mushrooms, carrots, peas and red pepper) in the broth. Thickened it with flour, salt and milk. Added the shredded chicken. Made low fat biscuits and topped the mix with it.

Then I popped it in the oven for 30 minutes whilst I cleaned up the mountain of bowls I had used in it's preparation!

Here it is hot out of the oven in all it's golden goodness.

It tasted......disappointing. Like many low fat recipes it tasted like something was missing. The sauce, while nice and thick, did not have that creamy richness I associate with Pot Pie. The biscuit topping was lacking the buttery fluffiness of full fat biscuits.

Next time I'll try the recipe from Cook's Illustrated instead :)

Experiments with Kale - Don't Try This At Home

I skim a lot of different blogs each week. One that caught my eye this past week was Big Red Kitchen. They had an interesting article on making Kale Salt and Vinegar Chips.

I LOVE salt and vinegar chips. They are the number one selling flavor of chip (or to be accurate crisp) in the U.K. I don't eat them very often because I'm trying to lose weight, but I do miss them. So when I stumbled upon this chip recipe I was intrigued.

I'm not particularly fond of kale. I do like it in my Kale, Tofu and Chickpea dish, but generally Kale seems to me to be less of a food and more of a garnish. It's the wilted green curly leaf that fruit gets placed on. It's a food groupie - hanging around with the rest of the band hoping that it can become cool by association.

Could this Salt and Vinegar Kale Chip change my opinion? Time to get cooking.

1. First get some fresh kale and cut out the midrib in every one and rip it into pieces about an 1 1/2 long.

2. Put them in your salad spinner and spin dry (see below GRIN)

3. Whisk together 3 tablespoons of Olive oil and 1 Tablespoon cider vinegar.

4. Dress the kale with this, getting your hands in to get it really coated and glistening.

5. The recipe then says to put the kale back in the Salad spinner and spin as much oil as possible off them so that they will crisp up well in the oven - but what do you do if, like me, you don't own a salad spinner?

You google 'Improvised Salad Spinner' and see what you can find :)

In this case a website says to line a plastic grocery bag with paper towels (taken from that draw in the kitchen that is overflowing with them!). Then put the leaves inside.

Then twirl the bag round and around and voila! Dry leaves!

(My poor cellphone didn't know where to focus)

6. Spread the dry leaves out on a cookie sheet coated with parchment paper (I used my silpats instead) and sprinkle with salt.

7. Bake in the oven at 400F for 12 minutes until they have crisped up.

8. When they are crisp, take them out of the oven and when they are cool keep them in an airtight container.

As easy as that!!!!

The big question is of course HOW DO THEY TASTE?

Well, I may have over salted a little! They taste like what I imagine fried seaweed would taste like. If the color sea green had a taste, this would be it. Not really something I can imagine having bowls of at my next game night.

The other thing I didn't expect is how fragile they are - they crumble at the gentlest touch, so they are a non-cooperative finger food. You grab one and it crumbles to pieces usually somewhere between hand and mouth.

So, if the idea of the taste of fried seaweed appeals then cook up a batch, otherwise DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Wandering Around Heresy-ville.

I've been rereading the crucifixion narratives as part of my small group that is going through the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. Well, I've actually been avoiding reading them for some reason. It's strange, I really enjoyed reconnecting with the Birth Narratives even though I practically had them memorized. There was something about revisiting them with 'Contemplative Eyes' that helped me see them in a new light.

Not so the Crucifixion.

I've been studiously avoiding them :(

Today in group I wrote down some garbled sentences that have me thinking.

First I wrote "The Impotence of God. The embarrassment of a weak God". When I read the Passion accounts in the Gospels it strikes me how silent God is through all of this. At the time of Jesus' deepest need for God, he experiences deepest separation from God.

"Eloi! Eloi! Lama Sabachthani"

The cry of 'My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me!' has caused much study and debate over the years. Is Jesus just quoting the psalms, or is his statement an indication of some rift in the Godhead?

The statement creates some tension for me. Jesus seems at his most human at this point - he's not working miracles or sharing incredible teaching. He's feeling weak and abandoned. A well meaning friend quoting a bible verse at him or reading 'Footprints' to him is not going to touch his profound loneliness and help him cheer up.

This is a Jesus I can relate too......and this is a God I don't like. If God the Father would do this to His Son, why would I want Him as my Father? I want a God who is powerful. Mighty and Strong. A God who kicks butt, not a God who abandons his children.

I know the theological answers to my questions - I've spouted them to others when they've expressed similar questions to me. I don't need an answer. I don't really think their is an answer. I just needed a place to give concrete shape to the thoughts in my head.

Later on down the page I wrote "We make the Cross a statement of God's strength displayed in restraint rather than a statement of God's weakness... we focus on God's restraint rather than our own weakness and cruelty."

The Cross as a sign of Strength or Weakness. Restraint or Impotence.

My Inner Evangelical is screaming heresy right now, and my Inner Contemplative is seeing my own Strength, Weakness, Restraint and Impotence all reflected on a simple wooden structure erected on a trash heap outside of Jerusalem.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Food Glorious Food!

One of my fave websites at the moment is This Is Why You're Fat. (Thanks for telling me about it Paul.) People post pictures of incredible food, some that make you want to cook and eat, others that make you feel violently ill.

This morning somebody posted the following pic that impresses with its creativity - though I'm not sure I want to eat it.

This is a Meatloaf 'Cake' that uses mashed potatoes and ketchup for icing!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Two clips that made me smile

Dwayne Johnson was on Saturday Night Live recently. I didn't watch much of it because of the time change, but these two clips made me smile.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Why is it....

...bell peppers are sold by quantity when most other vegetables are sold by weight? I don't want to pay the same for a small green pepper as I do for a large one!

...the blog post of mine that has had the most hits is my post about cooking Lasagna in the microwave? cell phone only seems to ring when I put it down in the other room?

...Facebook, a site that has only existed for a few years, has suddenly taken over?

...I have a closet full of cookbooks and magazines and it's still a struggle to decide what to cook for dinner?

...the last song to be written in a project takes as long as all the other songs combined?

...grief seems to linger around for years? much easier for me to gain weight than to lose weight? This is a serious design flaw I think. driving skills are inversely related to the number of people in my car? closest friends all live outside of Houston?

...some people seem to coast through life without any major problems or doubts? Don't they realize how much they irritate the rest of us?

...God can be so close to me one day, and then the next I feel like a functioning atheist?

...the amount of dishes after I cook a meal for two looks like I've cooked for twenty?

...I own 5 pairs of shoes and 200 boardgames?

...I have a drawer full of socks I never wear?
...the energy used complaining about and avoiding a task is usually far more than the energy expended completing the task?

...what started as a 2 question post has suddenly got a lot longer than anticipated?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Channeling My Inner Girl Scout

The Season of Lent means two things in the U.S.

Deprivation, and Girl Scout Cookies.

Today they collided.

Having only recently discovered the joys of the Lemonade Cookies I was disheartened when Demand outstripped Supply. I went to visit the girl scouts at my local Kroger twice to buy some Lemonade Cookies, and both times they had sold out.

So I decided to make my own. They may not have the pretty pattern stamped on them, but I assure you they are just as addictive.

So if you've never tried Lemonade Cookies before then hijack a passing girl scout and buy a box, but if they are sold out, try the following:

2 sticks butter (at room temperature)

1 cup Sugar (plus extra for sprinkling)

2 eggs

3 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 12oz can frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed and divided (3/4 cup and 1/2 cup - there will be a little left over)

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees
  2. In a large bowl cream the butter and sugar together, add eggs and beat until fluffy.
  3. In a separate bowl, sift together flour and soda.
  4. Add flour mixture alternately with 3/4 cup of lemonade concentrate to creamed mixture.
  5. Drop teaspoonfuls of dough onto lightly greased cookie sheet (Or use a Silpat - highly recommended for these cookies!!!)
  6. Bake about 8 - 9 minutes until just barely done. The bottoms should be light brown.
  7. While cookies are hot, brush them with lemonade concentrate and sprinkle with sugar.
  8. Remove to a rack to cool.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Time for the Weight Update

I said at the beginning of the year that my goal was to lose 5 pounds a month.

So by now I should have lost 10 pounds....

Drum Roll Please.....

As of this morning I have lost 10.5 pounds :)

I'd like to thank the Academy, Bob from the Biggest Loser workout Video (for being an irritating jerk!), and the designers of the Las Vegas Strip who insured that no matter how much I consumed whilst I was there I walked it all off!!!! A special shout out also goes to the Church Historical for creating Lent and encouraging me to give up Dr. Pepper and Chocolate thereby insuring that the pounds keep tumbling (and I'm yawning all the time, but I digress)

Thank you all.